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.
Al Capone’s vault has nothing on Hogsalt Hospitality’s downtown donut den, which draws consistently huge lines. I didn’t see Geraldo Rivera, but dozens of people descended upon Doughnut Vault for delectable fried rings. The tiny shop has a tan brick facade, blue painted menu, and wood tables on a planter-lined patio. Inside, a dark space contains brick and white tiles, and tiny wood counter with old till and chandelier. Doughnut Vault produces large, fluffy glazed donuts and supple old fashioned rings.
MUST ORDER: Apple Cinnamon Old Fashioned, Chestnut Glazed
Paul Kahan and One Off Hospitality Group brought this modern diner to Wicker Park. The glass-fronted space features yellow, brown and orange honeycomb tiles, stainless steel counters with ‘70s style brown stools, old black and white photos of Mexico and Chicago, and an open kitchen with wood awning. Creative plays on comforting dishes predominate. I enjoyed their chicken-fried chicken smothered in chorizo verde gravy and topped with sweet peas and pearl onions. Vegetables also get some serious run. Betabeles, roasted and chilled golden beets, came topped with tangy kumquat mostaza and fried pepitas. House sauces included Tabasco-style red jalapeno salsa and sport pepper-infused champagne vinegar.
MUST ORDER: Chicken Fried Chicken, Betabeles
Chicago’s donut craze continues downtown at Firecakes Donuts, a company that Karen Fox and chef/husband Jonathan debuted in 2013, later launching a second outpost in Lincoln Park. Downtown’s glass-fronted shop contains a tantalizing, donut-topped marble counter, line of whisks along a striped wall, and La Colombe coffee. I enjoyed their relatively lightweight honey glazed donut, but preferred their green, crusty old fashioned donut garnished with sweet crumbled pistachios. If you’re willing to submit entirely to the donut cause, Firecakes serves donut ice cream sandwiches and giant birthday cake donuts.
MUST ORDER: Honey Glazed, Pistachio Old Fashioned
For the first time that I’m aware of, a brewery is focusing on botanicals. Forbidden Root debuted in February in in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, in Hub Theater’s former home. The space features rusted sun chandeliers, a square bar, brick walls, and caged botanicals by the entrance that help fuel creative, flavorful beers. BJ Pichman, a longtime homebrewer, presides over the 15-barrel brewhouse. I ordered a four-taster beef flight, which included Honey Vee Vienna Lager brewed with cranberry blossom honey; WPA wildflower pale ale brewed with marigold, elderflower, and sweet osmanthus blossoms; Sublime Ginger golden wheat ale crafted with ginger, Key lime, lemon myrtle, and honeybush; and Cherrytree Amaro Ale, a cherry old ale featuring cherry stems and spice roasted blood orange. If you’re looking for a light snack, Root Chips feature sweet potato, red beet, parsnip, taro, and ash salt.
MUST ORDER: Taster Flight, Root Chips