Learn about 13 places you should absolutely eat (and drink beer) in Chicago, the unofficial capital of the Midwest, the third largest city in the U.S., and a hotbed for creativity.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Paul Kahan has become one of Chicago’s culinary giants, partnering with Donnie Madia and One Off Hospitality Group on restaurants like Blackbird, Dove’s Luncheonette, and The Publican. Avec might be their most beloved restaurant, a seasonal Mediterranean wonderland just west of the Loop. Avec features wall to wall wood, plenty of natural light, a long bar, and communal tables with backless chairs. The share-friendly menu breaks down in to Small Plates and Large Plates. A ramp special was seared a la plancha and served on chunky romesco. Charred calamari joined avocado-spring pea hummus, watermelon radish, pea tendrils, and chile lime vinaigrette. Merguez, a beef and lamb sausage made at Publican Quality Meats, complemented cool rock shrimp, sheep’s milk cheese, cucumbers, and cillatro chermoula. Butcher’s steak with braised escargot, asparagus, hummus, and ramps was small but indulgent. Deluxe focaccia oozed molten Taleggio and ricotta, accented by fresh herbs.
MUST ORDER: Ramps, Calamari, Merguez Sausage, Butcher’s Steak, Deluxe Focaccia
2. Au Cheval
Brendan Sodikoff and Hogsalt helped ignite the Fulton Market District with Au Cheval’s 2012 opening. During my visit, this modern comfort food emporium had a 75-deep line when they opened at 11am. Thankfully, I was in the group that had first crack at the zinc bar and wood booths, all surrounded by wood and brick walls. I sat at the pass, watching a parade of tantalizing dishes, including fried chicken and bratwurst, cross my sightline. Single cheeseburger is justifiably famous, featuring two four-ounce patties with American cheese, thick-cut peppered bacon and fried farm egg. Crispy Fries, skin-on potatoes fried in pork fat, embrace Mornay sauce, garlic aioli, and a fried farm egg. Fried house-made bologna sandwich starred seared clumps stacked on a squishy bun with melted cheese and aioli.
MUST ORDER: Cheeseburger, Fried House-Made Bologna Sandwich, Crispy Fries
Louis C.K. would be proud of the one-two punch available at Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits. Michael Ciapciak founded the business in 2012 with former partners Megan and Dave Miller, who moved on to open Baker Miller. Ciapciak has since expanded to Ravenswood, but I visited the Logan Square original, which features a big back patio with gravel, picnic tables, and door-lined fence. I was stuffed from lunch, but still had to sample both of Bang Bang’s specialties. Their buttery biscuit paired equally well with blueberry lavender jam and dulce de leche butter. Key Lime Pie features creamy custard, lime zest, Graham cracker crust, and whipped cream cap. Pot pies and grit preparations are also popular.
MUST ORDER: Biscuit, Key Lime Pie
Boeufhaus is modern restaurant on the Ukrainian Village/Humboldt Park border that includes a well-curated butcher shop up front and some stupendous beef dishes. Chef Brian Ahern and co-owner Jamie Finnegan debuted Boeufhaus in April 2015. The marble counter, brick walls, and wood tables were impressive, but Creekstone Farms grass-fed, corn-finished beef was clearly the star, particularly the ribeye. This prized cut is dry-aged for 35 days, forming deep flavor, seared in a cast-iron pan, finished in the oven and rested before getting drizzled with sticky haus jus (aka Bordelaise). Skin-on boeuf fat fries with sea salt and malt vinegar aioli were fantastic. Beef also factors into sandwiches like the cheesesteak and boeuf on weck, a play on an Upstate New York classic featuring rosy slow-roasted beef with horseradish, caraway, sea salt, and jus. After such a meaty deluge, I craved green salad, which was far from a throwaway, dressed with fine herbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and onion vinaigrette.
MUST ORDER: Boeuf on Weck, Ribeye, Boeuf Fat Fries, Green Salad