The Windy City is teeming with snazzy steakhouses, multicultural restaurants and charming independent joints, but on any visit here, it’s imperative to try Chicago’s three most famous dishes: deep dish pizza, hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. Are they healthy? No. But they’re delicious, inexpensive and sold all over town.
The small, made-from-scratch independent restaurants in the outlying areas shouldn’t be overlooked either. Trendy new restaurants can be found in hip parts of town, such as Fulton Market or Logan Square, while budget-friendly ethnic eats are spread out across the city, such as Chinatown, Devon Avenue or across the Pilsen neighbourhood. These are the best restaurants for a memorable meal in Chicago.
Authentic versions of two of Chicago’s most famous delicacies – hot dogs and Italian beef – are on the menu at this busy fast food chain. The Chicago-style hot dog is the star, featuring mustard, onions, green relish, tomatoes, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. The Chicago way is to never put ketchup on it. Then there’s the Italian beef, thinly sliced and dipped in gravy for a savoury sandwich. Add french fries (with melted cheese if you like), and a chocolate shake for the full effect. If you have room, add a slice of the moist chocolate cake.
Contact: 00 1 312 587 8910; portillos.com
Nearest metro: CTA 22 Bus to Clark and Huron stop
Reservations: Walk-ins only
Foodies coming to Chicago probably already know about this three-Michelin-star restaurant, considered one of the best in America. It also won a James Beard Award for Best Service. So even though it looks unassuming from the outside, the inside is otherworldly, with chic, modern décor, VIP service, and incredible New American food that’s been described as ‘culinary genius’. The creative, modernist dishes are served in at least 18 courses. It’ll set you back about £230 per person or more, but it’ll be an unforgettable meal and dining experience.
Contact: 00 1 312 867 0110, alinearestaurant.com
Nearest metro: Red Line train North Clybourn stop
Reservations: Essential. Bookings open two months in advance, on the 15th of the month
Best table: The private Kitchen Table is the ultimate spot, full of surprises and an actual trip into the kitchen
Before you order, you need to remember one rule: it’s not a hot dog, it’s a Superdawg. And it’s delicious. While it’s quite a ways from downtown, it’s worth the trip to experience this 1950s Americana-style drive-in, marked by two massive tall hot dog characters on the building’s roof. They serve the namesake entrée with French fries and a pickle slice, all smashed into a paper box with the restaurant’s slogan “Hiya!” Their chocolate milkshakes are so thick and rich, it’s like drinking ice cream through a straw. Eating in your car is not necessary, but it’ll add to the throwback vibe.
Contact: 00 1 773 763 0660, superdawg.com
Nearest metro: Metra Northwest Line to Norwood Park stop
Reservations: Walk-ins only
This tiny, friendly restaurant in the hipster Logan Square neighbourhood has recently been ranked one of America’s best new restaurants, and for good reason. Tables are squeezed together, but you won’t mind, because the food is outstanding. The good-humoured staff provides unpretentious and attentive service. The Clash albums might be softly playing on the vertical turntable. No matter what you order from the always-changing farm-to-table menu – such as warm biscuits with jalapeno butter, craft cocktails or pecan smoked baby back ribs – you’re likely to be impressed from your very first bite.
Contact: 00 1 773 252 0997; giantrestaurant.com
Nearest metro: CTA 73 bus to Armitage and Sawyer stop
Best table: When the weather is nice, try to grab a seat in the light-strewn back patio
Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due
Deep dish pizza is a Chicago specialty, and these two sister restaurants are among the best places to try it. The dark, well-worn interior isn’t impressive, but the pizza is. Buttery crust is molded into circular pans that have been seasoned for years, and packed with thick mozzarella cheese and other optional ingredients, then topped with tomato sauce. One or two slices are all you’ll be able to eat. Other deep dish favourites in Chicago include Gino’s East and Lou Malnati’s.
Contact: 00 1 312 321 1000; pizzeriaunodue.com
Nearest metro: Red Line train Grand Avenue stop
Reservations: Walk-in only, and lines are common
Celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ signature restaurant uses sustainable, organic ingredients for simple, yet bold, upscale Mexican food. Moles are a big favourite on the frequently changing menu, inspired by his journeys to Mexico. Seasonal additions keep things fresh, but you can count on staples, including tortilla and chicken soup, or creative seafood dishes, such as shrimp and scallop ceviche verde. The festive, colourful, casual atmosphere adds to the enjoyment. Bayless’ other Chicago restaurants include the upscale Topolobampo and the more casual XOCO.
Contact: 00 1 312 661 1434; rickbayless.com
Nearest metro: Red Line Grand Avenue stop
Chicago has always been a steak town, and one of the best hometown meat specialists is Gibsons. Portions are massive, so be prepared to share. Expect to feast on high-quality prime Angus beef, sourced from Midwest producers, in a bustling steakhouse setting with leather booths and old-fashioned cocktails. Steak cuts range from a petite 10-ounce filet to a massive 48-ounce Porterhouse. For a more retro steakhouse experience, try the Chicago classic Gene and Georgetti (00 1 312 527 3718; geneandgeorgetti.com), and sit in the booth near the door, where Frank Sinatra always sat.
Contact: 00 1 866 442 7664; gibsonssteakhouse.com
Nearest metro: CTA Bus 36, State and Oak Streets stop
Manny’s Coffee Shop and Deli
Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are among the fans of this beloved, longtime, no-frills Jewish deli in the South Loop. Whether it’s corned beef, pastrami or other classics, each sandwich is piled high with enough meat to provide two meals. The matzo ball soup and potato pancakes are a must as you work your way down the cafeteria-style line, which give you plenty of choices in entrees and sides. Coffee, cakes, and pies round out the meal. The full breakfast menu includes lox, bagels, and blintzes.
Contact: 00 1 312 939 2855; mannysdeli.com
Nearest metro: Red, Green and Orange Line trains Roosevelt stop
Reservations: Walk-in only
Girl & the Goat
The vision of award-winning celebrity chef Stephanie Izard, this adorable cosy-modern restaurant in the trendy West Loop has been lauded with dozens of awards. Small plates with big flavours rule the menu, which includes vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. And yes, there are several goat creations, including goat empanadas. Sister restaurant Duck Duck Goat (00 1 312 902 3825; duckduckgoatchicago.com) features Izard’s creative take on Chinese food, and a few doors down is her casual comfort food spot and bakery, Little Goat Diner (00 1 312 888 3455; littlegoatchicago.com).
Contact: 00 1 312 492 6262; girlandthegoat.com
Nearest metro: Ogilvie Transportation Center stop
Fresh, healthy food is served all day here, but breakfast is Beatrix’s strong suit. Fresh squeezed juices, excellent coffee, and a variety of egg sandwiches and pancake offerings provide a hearty meal. The menu has many vegan and vegetarian options as well. Save room for one of their trademark cookies. Eat in the dining room, with bright and modern décor, or grab something to go from the Beatrix Market coffee and pastry bar, such as the angel food muffin. It can be packed on the weekends, so make a booking in advance.
Contact: 00 1 312 284 1377; beatrixrestaurants.com (several locations across Chicago)
Nearest metro: Red Line train Grand stop