CHICAGO … my kind of town. After living in this great city for 10 years it’s still one of my favorites! I will preface by saying that as I no longer live there, please do check out the links beforehand to ensure the places are all still around/in the same place. Also, I’d love to hear your comments on places you love in the city so I can visit them next time I’m in town. If you’re lucky enough to live there or visit, here are a few places I think that are worth checking out:
Fine Dining – if you’re celebrating a special occasion or want to go all-out for the ultimate foodie experience, try these places out.
- Alinea – Grant Achatz’s Lincoln Park molecular gastronomy restaurant by the numbers: 3-Michelin starred, 21 courses. $195, 2 minutes to explain each course and how to eat it, 1 month or more in advance for a reservation, 1 of a kind. Not just a meal, a culinary experience full of creativity, fun, and flavors. We were lucky enough to get in for dinner last May and smiled the whole way through. Each course more exciting than the last, and really, an experience that any foodie would relish.
- TRU – Started by the partnership between Chef Rick Tramonto and Pastry Chef Gale Gand, the restaurant is now headed by Chef Anthony Martin. TRU is a new French fine dining restaurant. I’ve eaten there a few times over the past 10 years and think it’s an amazing restaurant. It used to be only tasting menus, but has evolved to now have a smaller prix-fixe menu as well. Located in Streeterville, near the Gold Coast.
- Spiaggia – One of the premiere Italian fine dining restaurants in the U.S., perched at the top of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. The food is sophisticated, and elegant in its simplicity, and the service is incomparable in my opinion. A meal here will set you back anywhere from $200-400+ per person, but you will have dined at one of the greats. Not to mention, have enjoyed some of the best views in town from their dining room on the second floor or the One Mag Mile building. If you’d like a taste of Spiaggia-style cuisine at a fraction of the price, make a reservation at Cafe Spiaggia across the way, the much more casual sister restaurant. Excellent menu for lunch and dinner, and a great spot to stop for drinks and desserts as well.
- Blackbird – in a modern space in the West Loop, it’s a Chicago favorite and internationally renowned for reinventing local, farm-to-table cuisine in a creative, yet characteristically Midwestern, approachable way. For about $100 per person you will indulge in a 9-course tasting menu that includes things like grilled berkshire pork loin with caramelized white chocolate, beets, and plums.
- Arun’s Thai Restaurant – Thai food like you’ve never tasted! The restaurant has a 12-course tasting menu that is truly a culinary tour. If you love Thai food, come prepared to have your eyes opened to a different, more sophisticated/stylized way of interpreting some of the traditional flavors – especially that balance of the sweet, spicy, and tart, as well as the many textures. The food is plated in such an artistic way that you almost hate to eat it. Until you taste it. We ate at a very fine restaurant in Bangkok on our honeymoon years ago, Sala Rim Naam at the Mandarin Oriental, and despite that meal being an amazing experience overall, I think Arun’s menu is even better. Only downside to this place is its random location, definitely take a cab to this out-of-the-way spot on the North Side of Chicago, as it’s not a place you’d be hanging out before or after dining.
Now for a cursory look at some amazing restaurants that are much easier on the wallet and that are still very memorable for me years later because the food and dining experience was so good. There are SO many worth writing about here, as Chicago truly is one of the great American foodie cities, that I can only begin to scratch the surface.
- Frontera Grill – Rick Bayless’ awesome authentic Mexican cuisine, Frontera is the more casual of his two (Topolobampo is the other) River North restaurants. Brunch at Frontera is one of my favorites, next time I go I’m totally getting the Hot Cakes Indgenas: Iroquois white corn pancakes with whipped goat cheese, piloncillo-agave syrup, grilled chorizo and two eggs sunny-side up.
- Tre Kronor – the most amazing Swedish restaurant, owned and run by a couple of Scandinavian (Swedish & Norwegian) heritage. Off the beaten path up in North Park, near Foster/Kimball intersection, this place is worth the drive and great for young kids as they’re very welcoming. Awesome breakfast or brunch, please do yourself a favor and order the Vanilla & Orange French Toast, while you’re at it send some up my way. Heavenly.
- The Bristol – a great neighborhood restaurant with a very fresh and seasonal menu, which rotates frequently via the chalkboard on the wall. In the Bucktown neighborhood, the menu has some great bar snacks (try the duck fat fries!) as well as some a range of entrees, almost all for <$25 to boot. We ate there last year when visiting and I’m pretty sure I’d be there monthly if I lived in the area. I actually think it’s somewhat similar to Victory 44 (in Mpls.) in concept if you’re familiar with it.
- Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria – Best Chicago deep dish pizza, hands down. Delicious buttery crust topped with hearty meats and a perfectly balanced tomato sauce. Mmmm. We miss it so much that we sometimes order the frozen pizzas online shipped to MN. There are many locations in the Chicago-area, even in the ‘burbs. The one we went to was in River North on Wells, full service with beer and TVs to watch the games.
- The Purple Pig – Their slogan is “cheese, swine and wine”, what’s not to love? Everything is smallish plates, meant to share, and has a Mediterranean influence, some of the plates even have a tapas type feel. Would be great with a group and for lunch, happy hour, or dinner.
- Le Colonial – French Vietnamese restaurant in an old house two-story on Rush St. in the Gold Coast. Asian-bistro type cuisine, fusion before fusion existed, the restaurant sets a charming and romantic ambiance. The bar upstairs is a great place to start before heading down to the dining room, the place almost feels frozen in time, but in a good way. It’s also perfect for a lunch break during a day of shopping as Oak Street and the Mag Mile are all very close by.
- And a few more: Kamehachi of Tokyo- Old Town for sushi; Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (Lincoln Park) or Cafe Iberico (River North) for tapas; North Pond – great seasonal local food in a beautiful arts and crafts style restaurant overlooking Lincoln Park; Bin 36 (River North) or Webster’s Wine Bar (West Lincoln Park) for great wine and accompanying bites.
Shops – the first few are sort of “eats” as well, but a good transition into the shopping then…
- Vosges-Haut Chocolat – for a sweet treat, in the Shops at North Bridge at the bottom of the Mag Mile, in the same mall where the Nordstroms is. Now you have 2 reasons to stop; also in Lincoln Park, and yes, O’Hare airport (B and H/K concourses) If you miss the chance to visit, blessedly, you can shop online and have it shipped.
- Garrett’s Popcorn – for the best caramel corn EVER (really, it’s one of Oprah’s favorite things). Get the Chicago Mix though, it’s the best, caramel and cheese popcorn together – you’ll think you died and went to sweet/salty heaven. Several locations, try Michigan Ave near Ontario cross st., Navy Pier, State & Lake in the Loop, and Concourse B at O’Hare, again, hope you’re flying United.
- Material Possessions – in the Gold Coast, take a stroll through this home decor and accessories store and imagine yourself a lady who lunches preparing to host a dinner party or charity luncheon. The shop is luxurious, richly decorated and beautifully merchandised. I used to wander through the store like a street urchin just to get my fill of beautiful, shiny ornaments and lush linens. But not everything in the store is pricey, and some of the serve ware, jewelry, and frames are unique and definitely gift-worthy.
- Jonathan Adler store – River North, Wabash and Huron. Fun, cheery shop with a selection of furniture, rugs, accessories, and the iconic pottery that started it all!
- P.O.S.H.– Discovered this place because we were staying at the Dana hotel nearby on a recent visit. Their site describes the store best: In 1997 P.O.S.H. opened its doors in Chicago, determined to offer something unique to the consumer that was tired of the ‘sameness’ that had crept into the marketplace of home & table decor. They’ve met their goal in the mind of this shopper. The store is not huge, but one could, and I have, spent an hour in it just poking around, taking everything in. Some of my favorites are the vintage tumblers, Jadeite cake stands and mixing bowls, and vintage linen tea towels.
MORE COMING SOON!