Chicago has long been known as a food city. As a newcomer, it’s easy to see why: from fantastic donuts and coffee, to high-end sushi and modern tapas, the Windy City has so much to offer both new and returning food-lovers. Here are some of my favorite tried-and-true Chicago restaurants—the places I find myself returning to time and again.
Decadent donuts: Firecakes
Start your morning off right with a direct hit of sugar to the arteries. (That’s how it works, right?) Firecakes offers all sorts of unique flavors, and—unlike many donuts—they aren’t too cloying. Personal favorites include the deep-dark chocolate Valrhona and the tangy lemon. If you’re feeling especially bold, try their famous doughnut ice cream sandwich. Yes, you read that correctly: ice cream slathered inside a donut “bun”. You’re welcome, America.
Gourmet IQ-boosting coffee: Intelligentsia Coffee
Intelligentsia is one of my favorite Chicago coffee shops. Their drinks? Amazing. Their desserts? Out-of-this-world delicious, thanks to local French bakery Floriole. There’s a good reason I came here every morning last time I was in Chicago. If you drink coffee and visit Chicago, no excuses: you must go here, too. /// #plethoraetc
Alternatively, how about an excellent cup of coffee with a side of personal validation? There’s nothing quite like visiting a coffee shop whose name actually makes you feel like a genius. In all seriousness, Intelligentsia is highly regarded as some of the best coffee around, and in national barista competitions they consistently turn out champions.
They have multiple locations around the country, but, in my opinion, their Chicago shops turn out coffee that’s simply unmatched. It’s also nice to find a coffee shop that actually pours a decent decaf. Pair their coffee with pastries from Floriole French bakery and it’s tough to find an equal. Plus, multiple locations throughout the Chicago metro area mean you can easily get your coffee fix.
Sushi in an upscale modern setting: Momotaro
You might not associate the Midwest with great sushi, but life is full of all sorts of surprises. This trendy West Loop restaurant has a super-hip vibe with exposed brick and black steel accents, but they won’t turn you away if you aren’t dressed to the nines (especially nice if you’ve been pounding the pavement all day.)
Their omakase (chef’s choice) sushi and sashimi are both super-fresh and incredibly delicious, but they also have a selection of cold and hot small plates that are out of this world—definitely worth trying one or two if you’re eating with a group. Last time I sampled the skewered, fried chicken hearts. No regrets there. And, of course, they’re also known for a great drink and sake selection.
Eating here definitely counts as a splurge meal, but it’s oh-so-worth-it—and it’ll still be cheaper than a similar meal in LA or New York.
Can’t-put-your-finger-on-it cuisine: The Girl and the Goat
It’s hard to quantify exactly what kind of a restaurant The Girl and the Goat is. They offer family-style, sharing-size plates and their menu is divided into several categories: vegetarian, fish, meat, oysters, and goat. (Yes—they really have an entire category dedicated just to goat.)
With dishes like pig face and duck tongues served alongside wood-fired oysters and bread with miso butter and kimchi relish, it’s hard to pin down exactly what this restaurant is. It classifies itself as New American. It’s definitely New Something. Make reservations, buckle in for a wild gastronomic ride full of interesting flavor combinations, and prepare to try something new. You’ll definitely be in for a treat.
Inventive Spanish tapas: Mercat a la Planxa
One of the most magical dining experiences I’ve had in Chicago is at Mercat a la Planxa, and that’s not just the sangria talking. Their modern Spanish tapas are the closest thing I’ve found to the real deal since returning from Spain. It’s also a restaurant where I’m honestly shocked that the Yelp reviews aren’t higher. Every time I go my experience is simply transcendent.
Part of the magic is this: when you order their chef’s tasting menu with a group of diners, you don’t get repeat dishes. If 3 people order a 3-course tasting menu, you’ll end up trying about 9 different courses. It’s a phenomenal deal for the money, and I can’t think of many other restaurants that handle tasting menus this way. Go a bit later in the evening to beat the rush, and the attentive staff will make you feel even more special. And, of course, the sangria is an absolute must.
Divisive deep dish: Giordiano’s
I know that deep dish pizza is a highly-controversial, near-religious debate among Chicagoans. Bring New Yorkers into the picture and you’ll basically have a blood feud on your hands (although whether it’s blood or tomato sauce, we’ll never really know).
Thankfully, I am neither a Chicagoan nor a New Yorker. Thus, I can hopefully get away with saying this: I like Giordiano’s, and I think they have tasty deep dish pizza. Is it the best? I don’t know—but many people do like it. I think that’s enough equivocation that I won’t get any threats in the mail, though you can never be too certain when it comes to the internet.
In any case, you should probably try it for yourself and reach your own conclusions. Plus, they have multiple locations. Convenient! Just be sure to allocate enough time for your pizza to cook—anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on how busy they are.
Those are some of my favorite spots to eat in Chicago. What are some of yours?