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Be honest – when you think of food in Chicago, you think deep-dish pizza, Chicago style hot dogs and maybe some Garrett’s popcorn – if you really know your stuff.  But I’m here to tell you that the Windy City food scene is so much better than that.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good old Chicago dog every now and then.  But if you and your partner are looking for something a little more adventurous on your weekend away, or you’ve got an entire family full of foodies excited to try the different culinary creations the city has to offer, then we’ve got just the list for you.

 

 

Roister

 

roister chicago kitchen

Where the magic happens. Photo courtesy of Tock.

 

If you’re a foodie who’s done any research on the food scene in Chicago, you’ve likely heard of Grant Achatz, the seminal father of the more recent food revolution in Chicago.  His most famous restaurant, Alinea, is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world.  But unless you’re ready to shell out over $300 per person for his multi-course dining experience, Alinea maybe isn’t your first choice, as much as you’d probably love to eat there (trust me, it’s on my bucket list).

Still want to experience the culinary amazingness that is Mr. Achatz? Roister, another one of his restaurants, is quite truly the next best thing and is easily one of our top three favorite restaurants in Chicago.  

Located in Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood, Roister is surrounded by a plethora of fantastic restaurants in a neighborhood that has quickly become recognized for its food scene.  But it stands a head above the rest, in our opinion.

The menu changes frequently based on what’s in season, but there are a few perennial favorites that maintain a standing spot.  The lasagne is hands down one of the best things I’ve ever had (which is saying something, since I generally do not like lasagne) and the cheddar rillettes are delicious.  Add the Roister Old Fashioned with a hint of brown butter and you’ll have the makings of a meal you’ll be talking about for years.  

 

 

Parachute

 

Parachute is a true diamond of Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.  Located about twenty minutes north of the city’s center, Parachute is definitely worth what some might consider a bit of a longer trek.  The Korean-American fusion restaurant is small, but quaint (as many of the best restaurants often are) and offers a menu that changes seasonally but is always delicious.

Their Bing Bread is perhaps one of their most famous items and literally melts in your mouth.  Other items typically include an innovative take on bi bim bop and pickled vegetables, and their offerings boast a wide array of meats, seafood, and veggies, from duck and yellowfin tuna to pork belly and braised beef.    

 

HaiSous

 

If you like Vietnamese food, or have always wanted to try it, HaiSous is a spot for you.  Nestled in the heart of the Pilsen neighborhood, southwest of the city, it’s received an impressive 5 out of 5 stars from thousands of reviewers on Resy.

The menu mixes traditional Vietnamese dishes with classic street food.  Their vegetable curry was literally so delicious that our table of four debated ordering another one, even though we were all well-beyond stuffed from the other awesome dishes we ordered.  Everything from the chicken wings to the lettuce wraps was perfect.  And of course, you have to save room for their delectable rice pudding.    

 

 

Bonci

 

pizza at bonci chicago

So many options. Photo courtesy of Bonci Pizza.

 

It’s no secret that Chicago is known for its pizza.  Around here, the motto seems to be the deeper the dish the better the ‘za.  But though I might get kicked out of the city for what I’m about to divulge, I’ve never been a fan of the deep dish.  Give me Chicago style dogs any day (hopefully that redeems me a bit?), but deep dish just isn’t my thing.  

So where do I get my pizza fix?  That would be Bonci, a small, counter-service pizza place in the West Loop neighborhood that hails from Rome.  It’s technically a chain, but don’t let that deter you.  Their pizza is like nothing I’ve ever had before.  The crust is at once crisp yet fluffy.  The toppings change daily, with some that are more traditional (meats, cheeses, veggies, you know) and some that are totally wild, like ricotta, blueberry, and honey. 

Bonci’s serves their pizza by the slice, so make sure to mix and match to get yourself some variety.  While there’s no indoor seating, there is some counter space where you can stand and eat, or in the summer, get yourself a spot on their small patio and people watch.

 

 

Irazu

 

My husband and I firmly believe that you don’t have to be James Beard nominated or Michelin starred to be a fantastic, memorable restaurant.  Some of the meals we continue to rave about, even years later, are the ones we got at unassuming food trucks or small hole-in-the-wall enclaves.

One such place is Irazu, a Costa Rican restaurant on the border of Bucktown and Wicker Park that offers traditional Costa Rican fare.  There’s admittedly nothing fancy about this place and the food is simple.  But as Paul Hollywood likes to say in the Great British Bake Off, “If you do things simple, you have to do them really, really well.”  And Irazu does classic Costa Rican better than any other Costa Rican restaurant we’ve been to (outside of the real Costa Rica that is).

Their taco and burrito plates are amazingly good and served with the best fried plantains.  Other favorites include all of the empanadas (of which there are several varieties), the chifrijo, and my husband’s vice – their homemade milkshakes.  In summer, their fun and vibrant patio is hard to beat.  And it’s definitely a place the whole family would enjoy.  

   

 

Aba

 

Where are all my Mediterranean lovers at?  I could eat hummus, falafel, and baba ghanoush all day long if you let me.  One of my favorite Mediterranean restaurants in the city is Aba, a chic and popular restaurant with a beautiful rooftop patio in Fulton Market.

With influences from Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece, their menu is eclectic and expansive.  Some of the more unique dishes include an Everything Jerusalem Bagel which is sublime and a lamb ragu hummus that will forever ruin every other hummus for you.  All of their kebabs are delicious, though the salmon kebabs and cauliflower kebabs are personal faves.  And their green falafel is a must try!

 

 

 

Antique Taco

 

If you’re anything like us, there are times when you want a traditional taco from the neighborhood taqueria and then there are times when you want new aged tacos with non-traditional toppings and unique flavors.

If you’re in the mood for the latter, you can’t beat Antique Taco in Wicker Park.  They’re a small counter-service restaurant, but serve up big flavor.  Billed as “farmer’s market style” tacos, they offer unusual twists on old favorites, like chicken tacos with yogurt, cucumber, and mint to give them more of a mediterrean flare and pork carnitas tacos with barbecue sauce and bacon.  It’s hard to go wrong with chips and guac, but their off-the-cob elote goes great with chips as well.  

Make sure to save room for their horchata milkshake!

 

 

Tanuki

 

sushi rolls

The perfect roll. Photo Credit: Louis Hansel

 

One thing my husband and I are always in the mood for?  Amazing, quality sushi.  We’ve traveled all over the world, and nine times out of ten, if there’s a good looking sushi place nearby, we’re going to try it.  In Napa?  Yep.  Nantucket?  Check.  Amsterdam?  You bet.  Switzerland.  Yes ma’am.  

We consider ourselves sushi connoisseurs.  So it might surprise you to learn that of all the fantastic, upscale sushi places in Chicago, one of our favorites is a little BYOB place in Lakeview called Tanuki.  It’s one of those places that can seat no more than thirty people at a time and where you can get away with a nice dinner for two for under $50.

The sushi is truly fantastic.  They offer a wide selection of traditional sashimi, nigiri, and maki, but what really sets them apart is their diverse menu of signature rolls.  We love some of the more creative flavors, and have a handful that we return to time and time again because they’re family favorites, like the Hell’s Pit Tuna Crunch and their White Castle role with a little bit of fresh mango.

Other things that keep bringing us back to this delightful place?  The spicy miso soup and their $0 corkage fee.  What’s not to love about that?  

 

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Ramen Takeya

 

My husband and I walked to Ramen Takeya a few months back.  It’s about a mile from our loft and we like to work for our dinner.  There was a 40 minute wait, so we hung outside on the curb.  In a matter of 30 minutes, on four separate occasions, groups of people walked by and someone in the group could be heard saying a variation of: “Have you guys heard of this place, Ramen Takeya?  It’s so good.  Some of the best ramen, for sure.”

We realized then that our little ramen secret was out.  But we can’t disagree.  There are several awesome ramen places in Chicago, but Ramen Takeya is one of the top.  They use free range broth sourced from cage free chickens, instead of traditional pork broth, so you don’t feel as heavy after eating it.  Their Miso Bold & Spicy is always my go-to (if you haven’t noticed, I love spicy things) and my husband loves their Fried Chicken Buns.  

 

Loyalist

 

loyalist chicago bar

Burgers and craft cocktails. A match made in heaven. Photo courtesy of Tock.

 

Ask a Chicago foodie where to get the best burger in Chicago and many will say Au Cheval.  While Au Cheval’s famous burger is totally worth the hype, a lesser known burger that’s just as good in our opinion is the burger just down the street at the Loyalist.

Loyalist is the casual basement bar/lounge in the dual-restaurant concept of Smyth & the Loyalist, where Smyth is the upscale tasting room.  Though Smyth has the Michelin stars, Loyalist has the more relaxed vibe and is easily just as delicious.

Though their menu recently underwent an overhaul, their Loyalist Dirty Burg remains and is a burger that’s hard to beat.  And trust us when we say that no matter what you order off the menu it will be culinary perfection.    

 

 

El Che

 

El Che technically bills itself as a steakhouse, but before you start thinking stuffy steakhouse vibes, I’ll caveat that it’s no ordinary steakhouse.  With eclectic Argentinian and South American influences we consider it more of an Argentinian restaurant with steak on the menu. Most of their meat and veggie forward menu is slow-roasted over a live-fire and meant to evoke traditional backyard barbecues in Argentina. 

Personal favorites include their house empanadas, of which they always have two seasonal varieties on the menu.  Though I’m not usually a steak person, I make an exception whenever we go here.  Their steaks literally melt in your mouth and come slathered in the best chimichurri I’ve ever had.  While their menu tends to rotate based on what’s in season, you can’t go wrong with any of their hearth-roasted vegetables – they’re always deliciously seasoned and perfectly charred.  They have a way of turning a single potato into a life-changing experience – just ask my husband who will be all-too-willing to tell you about the fact that I still rave over a sweet potato we had there three years ago.

If we’ve got your mouth watering, then do yourself a favor and get to Chicago to check out all the fantastic food the city has to offer!  We promise not to judge if you sneak yourself a slice or two of deep dish too.

Morgan is a brand designer and writer who splits her time between managing her creative studio, Atlas + Anchor, and writing about her lifelong love affair with travel. A wanderluster at heart, she’s a big proponent of exploring the roads less traveled because they often lead to amazing views, memorable stories, and the most unassuming but life-changing restaurants. Originally from Ohio, Morgan now lives in the heart of Chicago with her family and is quite possibly the only person within city limits who hates deep dish pizza.
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