Every city is known for “must have” foods, the kind that will cut your street cred if you don’t try them at least once. For Chicago, it’s deep-dish pizza and the Chicago-style hot dog.
These iconic foods are always worthwhile eats, but they have competition as the number of barbecue joints, ramen shops and other single-concept restaurants multiply.
Our solution: strategic dining.
Accept that snacking is an official meal period that can happen several times a day. Use this time to reacquaint yourself with the neon relish, pickle spear, chopped white onions, tomatoes, peppers, mustard and celery salt that accompany that all-beef dog in a poppy seed bun. Or grab a sandwich, like the barbecue brisket at Green Street Smoked Meats or the pickle-brined fried chicken at Leghorn Chicken.
Don’t commit to a full meal at any restaurant. If you go to Formento’s, where old school Italian learns some new tricks, stop at Rural Society first for wood-grilled appetizers. Or go with starters and wine at Seven Lions, master sommelier-turned-restaurateur Alpana Singh’s latest restaurant, before hitting Prime & Provisions for a steak.
Some of Chicago’s most notable chefs are stationed in the city’s neighborhoods, so it’s easy to hit several restaurants without much effort. Build an appetite strolling the strips in Logan Square (Fat Rice, The Radler) or Wicker Park (Dove’s Luncheonette, Lillie’s Q). Cocktail culture (Lost Lake, Black Bull) thrives in these neighborhoods as well, making it an easy way to cap the night.
Go for the section of the menu dedicated to foie gras at this modern take on French. Then be impressed with Chef-owner Jason Paskewitz’s take on bistro fare.
In a city where casual restaurant openings far outnumber fine dining, it’s good to know there’s a place to splurge and feel really good about it. Make time for this standout.
A nod to legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher, MFK delivers bold flavors, much of it by sea and often through Spain, located in an intimate space by Lake Michigan.
Modern Japanese played out in a big space with a big menu and fish from all over the world. Get ready to be wowed.
Seasonal dishes showcase local farms, housemade pasta and flavors that just work. No fuss here, just sensible creativity.
Matthew Dean is a Food Fanatics chef from Ilinois who’s all about finding new ways to spin traditional barbecue, no matter what the Midwest weather brings.
Follow the Food Fanatic on Twitter @Chefmathu