Despite living in the Boston area now, Chicago is my hometown. So as a special treat, I
thought I would serve up a super fast breakdown of some culinary hot-spots
- from the high to the very low! I am sure that the locals can provide some quality tips too but here are some steadfast standards.
In terms of food there are soooo many places. Most of the name restaurants are in the River North section of downtown, which would be north of the river, about 8-10 blocks from the Palmer House. A place that I love are Frontera Grill, one of celebrity chef Rick Bayless' places. Bayless has a PBS show and won the first Top Chef Masters on Bravo, if anyone couldn't place the name. It is really good Mexican, about as good as it gets, and reasonably priced. West of the river is a very special, small place called Blackbird, which is also really quite good. The chef and restaurant have been featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. for what that is worth. They are two of the best places I have ever eaten in the city.
I don't know how attendees are serious carnivores but there are a lot of top-notch chophouses. The city was hog butcher to the world, as Carl Sandburg once noted. One of my favorites, although way swankier and far pricier, is Gibson's Steakhouse. It is a place where an alderman or celebrity might be spotted. It also has one of the best martinis I know. So even if you stopped in for a loudmouth cocktail it's worth it. One of the last times I was there, Joe Girardi was at a nearby table. This was before he was managing the Yankees. Others include Gene & Giorgetti's, Chicago Chophouse, Kinzie Street Chophouse, to name just a few, although all those steak places are certainly pricier fare.
There are a host of great Italian eateries too, especially on Taylor Street in the infamous Little Italy, places like Rosebud, Francesca's, or Leona's. This is the neighborhood from where Sam Giancana and others hailed. They are all a definite cab ride, but not ridiculously far, on the other side of UIC campus, just past the expressway that cuts through downtown.
Although for me the best thing about Chicago food is not so much all the fine dining, which there is plenty. It is the food-that-will-shorten-your-life-in-a-hurry places that I love and miss most since moving, the hot dog, burger, Italian beef, and pizza places. The kind of places where they should let you eat over a sink, because it's so messy, and you'll need to clean up after you've finished. Some of my favorites places of this kind are scattered all over the city and not necessarily convenient to where everyone will be.
However, some within striking distance are Portillo's, a local hot dog chain that serves a little bit of everything in River North. If you can't get a hot dog anywhere else, Portillo's will do just fine. I eat at one of them every time I go home.
An awesome dive, worth a visit and immortalized by John Belushi on SNL, is the Ceeeezborgor and chip from the Billy Goat Tavern. You just have to find the place by the Wrigley Building, under the street. It is where are all the newspaper writers use to chow, probably still do to some extent. So if you want to eat where some great Chicago writer's used to hang, like Stud's Terkel, Roger Ebert, or the great Mike Royko, make sure to stop there.
When it comes to the original, Chicago's own, deep dish pizza, you cannot go wrong at Gino's East, Giordano's, or even Lou Malnati's, all north of the Loop. That is the triumvirate of unmatched pizza deliciousness.
By the way, my favorite hot dog joint is out by O'Hare, Gene & Jude's. If you can take a detour at any point, do it. Although, I am not sure I advise knocking one of those down before getting on a cross country flight! So try to get one on your way into town.