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(This arti­cle may or may not con­tain affil­i­ate links. What does that mean?)

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? 

 

Don’t miss! A Local’s Guide To The 11 Best Fam­i­ly Friend­ly Things to Do in Chicacgo

 

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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