It’s no surprise that Chicago regularly tops lists as one of the best foodie cities in America. Chicago is divided into over 75 individual neighborhoods with their own special identities and flavors, so it’s nearly impossible to cull the best of all the local eats down into a single article.
To make things easier, I’ve highlighted some of the most accessible gems for folks visiting the city, touring and staying downtown. Between coffee, breakfast, booze and dinner, keep this guide handy when you hit the Windy City, and enjoy the zest of this beautiful city.
Intelligentsia, various locations
Chicago like all American cities loves it’s coffee. The rise of coffee as a craft form rather than a purely functional beverage is alive and well and many would see Intelligentsia Coffee as the thought leaders in this field. With cafes across the city (and the country) they are easily identified with their signature red star logo and lines out the door. Intelligentsia offer fantastic everyday brews but we certainly recommend trialing their rotating Signature Blends which are highlighted by their Master Roasters. If you have time then a trip to their flagship cafe in Lakeview is the perfect starting point for a tour around the Boystown neighborhood or a trip along the lakeshore path.
3 Greens Market, 354W Hubbard St
The recently opened Three Greens Market in the River North neighborhood is the latest Chicago venture from the well renowned Hogsalt Restaurant Group. While I recommend all of their restaurants to visitors to this city, The Three Greens Market is a unique location to sample a great cup of coffee in one of the most unique cafe surroundings you are likely to find. While sipping on your drink of choice you can enjoy some relaxing time on their indoor putting green, full sized table tennis table or wood panelled library corner. Another added bonus in a trip to Three Greens Market is their well stocked twenty-foot salad bar or if your feeling hungrier their mouth watering Pastrami Burger.
Bow Truss, various locations
Another one of Chicago’s craft coffee staples with locations dotted around the city. Cut from the same cloth as Intelligentsia Coffee, the team at Bow Truss elevate the business of coffee to that of an art form. Bringing together coffee beans from around the world their roasters develop the most unique blends to appeal to the most discerning coffee drinker. When visiting any of their locations be sure to take in the ritualistic care and attention their baristas put into preparing your order. All of their cafés offer a different array sweat treats which are always recommended, you are on your holidays after all!
I’ll let you in on a little not-so-secret secret; big cities love to brunch. There’s something about sitting in the midday din of a restaurant and sipping a mimosa while a portion of potato hash absorbs the last of the previous night’s poor decisions that makes one feel like they’re milking the weekend to the last drop. You will, inevitably, wait in line for spot and be sat at a table that rocks back and forth between two legs of different lengths – but it’s all part of the ritual. Chicago brunchers are a passionate bunch, loyal to their orders and to their neighborhood spots. But for those of you who are new to town – here’s a little lineup to get you started.
Bottlefork, 441 N Clark St
Nestled nicely in the center of River North – home to blossoming media companies and gourmet food destinations alike – Bottlefork’s brunch menu features locally-sourced grub that delivers on both flair and flavor. Fresh and healthy ingredients abound in twists on classic dishes like the Greek Omlette (with tzatziki!) and the Corned Beef Brisket Hash. You absolutely must order the “Bag” of Crisps & Egg – where homemade salt & vinegar chips are shaken up with a soft-boiled egg in front of your eyes. And while you’re having chips for breakfast, layer on a brunch cocktail. I recommend the Ballad of Jack and Sally, a pumpkin pie punch-like concoction that might have you literally licking the glass.
Peach and Green, 33 S Wabash Avenue
A little off the beaten path, but perfect for anyone who finds themselves in the market for good eats after a trip to Chicago’s Millennium Park or Art Museum. Incidentally, this upscale quick-service restaurant is also a fine spot for lunch, but Peach and Green’s breakfast/brunch menu brings flavorful options to Jeweler’s Row that rival those of the more northern neighborhoods. Peach and Green prides themselves on “all natural, locally-sourced, wholesome food” – and it shows. Watch your food prepared with pride by a team of good-hearted folks and enjoy observing the bustle of downtown from their comfy-chic space. (Bonus- grab a coffee here or head next door to the Goddess and the Baker for an extra-special treat)
Southport Grocery, 3552 N Southport
This spot is part mom-and-pop shop and part café – both entirely worth a visit. While they don’t take reservations, Southport Grocery’s food never disappoints. Southern inspirations like Chicken and Grits and Chorizo and Eggs are hard to pass over for those of us who delight in the perfection of a flavor-balanced savory brunch dish. If you prefer to start your Sundays with more of a sugar rush, give the blessedly fluffy Cupcake Pancakes a go, or cut into a Grown Up Pop Tart that will quickly make the namesake’s toaster pastries a distant, disappointing memory.
Milk and Honey, 1920 W Division Street
If you’re in Wicker Park and you’re taking your mother to brunch, Milk and Honey is the place for you. This small but beautiful hideaway offers a refreshing alternative to the hipster vibes of the surrounding neighborhood. The café has a delightful selection of sandwiches, salads, pastries and breakfast plates – made in-house with all of the love and goodness you expect from a homemade meal. Get a fresh-squeezed juice alongside your Orange Brioche French Toast, sit back, and savor. With a fireplace feature in the cooler months and plenty of patio seating in the warmer ones, Milk and Honey is truly a little slice.
Antique Taco, 2014 – 1360 N. Milwaukee Ave
The first time I had the floutas at Antique Taco, I put my frosty Tecate down and took a breath. Was that the the tastiest thing I’d ever eaten? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s worth the trip to Wicker Park to try something that was almost the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten. Choose from an array small and authentic Mexican dishes and wash them down with a perfectly cooled beer. Sit outside on their picnic table patio, or inside in their cozy dining space, and pass some time. Antique Taco is owned by a chic Midwestern couple with Mexican influences, and you can just about feel the love in the space.
Pingpong, 3322 N. Broadway Street
Not sure if you’re in the mood for Asian, Indian, or something smack dab in the middle? Head over to Pingpong. Snug in Northern Lakeview, Ping Pong looks like the best kept secret that somehow leaked. This Asian fusion spot features a truly exhaustive list of generously portioned dishes that pack a lot of cultural flavors into a single plate. Check out their impressive cocktail list and enjoy a drink amidst their stylish space, “clubby music and an outdoor patio”.
Siena Tavern, 51 W Kinzie St
If you’re in River North, you won’t be long looking for a decent place to eat. In fact, River North could almost be considered the hub of Chicago’s culinary scene. That said, Siena Tavern is one I wouldn’t miss. Sample Italian sharable plates with inventive updates while watching the city go by. Try the lump crab gazpacho or any of their housemade pastas, including squid ink linguini. And do share – you’ll have plenty. I promise.
Green Street Smoked Meats, 112 N Green St
Due southwest of flavorful River North is the newly up-and-came West Loop, where Randolph street provides more exquisite food than even the locals can turn their noses up at. Green Street Smoked Meats keeps a little humility in the neighborhood, offering arguably the best BBQ in the city alongside classic southern sides. Find a spot at one of their indoor picnic tables in this converted-warehouse space and pick your favorite house sauce for your brisket. Do not snub the cocktail menu either, they are delicious and strong.
Chilam Balam, 3023 N. Broadway St
Everyone has a story about Chilam Balam. The unassuming basement restaurant has captured the hearts of Lakeview residents for ages, and has recently nabbed some attention in the national spotlight with TV celebrity Guy Ferrari. This BYOB establishment brings delightful Mexican cuisine to life in small, succulent plates. The space is small and covered in brightly colored pillows and wall hangings, and there’s often a line out the door. It’s also cash only which, in Chicago, is a sign that the restaurant is well worth it. From the guac to the flan, Chilam Balam brings personal attention to your table in a way you’ll remember forever.
The Signature Lounge at the 96th, 96th floor, 875 N. Michigan Ave
One of Chicago’s top attractions is the breathtaking views from the observation deck atop the Hancock Tower in the heart of downtown. With an unobstructed panorama it is a fantastic way to get a real sense of the city and it’s unique lakefront layout. There is however a better way to experience the same vista and better yet it is in the very same building. The reason is simple, the Hancock Tower Observation Deck is on the 94th floor and requires an entrance fee in the region of $20. If you continue up two additional floors you will arrive at The Signature Lounge on the dizzying 96th floor. Offering all the same views but with the added bonus of offering a refreshing beverage this is a sightseeing spot that must not be missed. Three pro tips for when you go: 1) go just before sunset to see the city migrate into the night 2) make sure to sit in the main bar by the West facing windows (the opposite side of the building to Lake Michigan) 3) Ladies, be sure to take a look at the bathroom – trust me!
Barrelhouse Flat, 2624 N. Lincoln Ave
Call it a throwback to its long gone connections with prohibition era speakeasies but the classic cocktail bar is a staple in the Chicago landscape. Nothing epitomizes that more than Barrelhouse Flat. Located slightly further North than some may normally venture, this bar is worth every ounce of effort. Their sumptuous selection of seasonal and house cocktails are skillfully crafted by expert mixologists and with surroundings worthy of whiling a night away you could be here some time. For an added treat, when you arrive we recommend putting your name down for access to the second floor where you can snag some dimly lit seclusion for you and a significant other to enjoy the true cocktail lounge experience.
Bridge House Tavern, 321 N Clark Street
If at any point between tours of Chicago’s storied architecture or shopping along Michigan Ave you feel the urge for a quiet drink away from the hustle and bustle then The Bridge House Tavern is your answer. Tucked into the banks of the Chicago River in the heart of downtown, you can enjoy cold beers and passable bar food while watching a constant stream of pleasure crafts of all shapes and sizes. Dwarfed in the shadow of Chicago’s skyscrapers this is truly a bar location like no other.
The J. Parker, 1816 N Clark St
Chicagoans have a deep rooted affinity for rooftop bars. After almost five months cooped up hiding from whatever arctic chills the winter brings nothing spells summer like open-air merriment. There are an endless number of options to recommend but in our mind The J. Parker has it all. Perched atop the Hotel Lincoln you can enjoy views of Lake Michigan and the famous Lincoln Park Zoo, mingle with locals and sample the bar’s fantastic appetizers. Come here at any time of the day or night to kick back in the shadow of Chicago’s majestic skyline.
Raechel has lived in Chicago for six years. Growing up on the other side of the lake in Michigan, she moved to the city to finish college and hasn’t looked back. She enjoys cooking as much as she enjoys dining out, and gravitates toward Asian flavors and craft cocktails. She lives in the Northern neighborhood of Lakeview, easily accessed from downtown.