Portillo’s– The standard bearer for Chicago style eats since 1963 – Hot dogs and Italian beef are specialties. If you haven’t before, at least once in your life, try a Chicago-style hot dog: yellow mustard, bright green relish, chopped onions, red tomato wedges, a kosher-style pickle spear, a celery salt and sport peppers. Remember, NO KETCHUP, which can be controversial in these parts.
Hot G Dog – For all intents and purposes, the spiritual successor to Hot Doug’s, run by two of the restaurants former chefs. Similar dogs in taste and style to Hot Doug’s, and they are open seven days a week and serve Duck Fat Fries on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sidenote: Wrigley Field opened a Hot Doug’s in the bleachers, so if you are sitting there this year, try it out. You won’t be disappointed.
Piece - Great pizza, creative toppings, and I hear the beer selection is good? I. I like the pizza. This is not deep dish, but probably the best non deep-dish in the city. If I’m going out for pizza in the city, nine times out of ten I’m going here. Go early, gets SUPER packed on weekends.
Deep Dish Pizza: Literally anything except Giordanos, which I find to be low-level garbage. Lou Malnati’s, Pizzeria Uno/Due, Gino’s East are acceptable, but Peaquods is a personal favorite.
Spacca Napoli - Neopolitan Pizza. It is great, awesome vibe too.
Logan Square (My neighborhood)
Longman and Eagle – Think of this as a modern take on a neighborhood tavern. Cutting edge menu – there’s elevated takes on burgers, strip steak, gnocchi and that’s more of the standard stuff. I love their brunch and the bone marrow – yes, bone marrow – was so rich and delicious I still think about it and I had it once two years ago.
Lula Cafe – Café in Logan Square with a crazy good menu, all locally sourced, blah blah. My favorite thing to get is the Lula ’99 turkey sandwich - avocado, chile aioli, sprouts, lettuce, tomato, and onion with bacon and cheddar cheese.
Reno – Great for brunch for for lunch or dinner. I love the bagel sandwiches and Chilaquiles, here – at lunch they have great sandwiches and at night the pasta and pizza are really fabulous.
Boiler Room – Owned by the same people that owned the dearly departed Parts and Labor. Pizza place. People get the ‘PB&J special” – PBR, shot of Jameson and a piece of pizza.
Stephanie Izard Restaurants
Stephanie Izard won Top Chef Season 4. She’s since opened several restaurants in the West Loop. Here are three that I've been to.
Girl and the Goat – This is a shared plates restaurant and EXTREMELY hard to get into. Lots of crazy concoction. Plan ahead. Food was really good, very different. I had something called “Pig Face” last time I went – yes, that was actual pig face.
Little Goat – This is directly across the street, it’s Izard’s take on a diner. Great food, they also serve breakfast all day. Menu is really fun and diverse and good for even picky eaters. Easier to get into but you can call ahead for a rest I think. Favorite of mine and Marge – we recommend tempura mashed potatoes and the pork belly pancake.
Duck Duck Goat – Izard’s take on Chinese food. Went here for my birthday recently. Another shared foods place, served family style. Great stuff – both things you wouldn’t try normally – forbidden goat rice - black rice with goat meat with pickled quail eggs and more traditional meat and noodle options. Really, really amazing.
Rick Bayless Restaurants
Rick Bayless has been in Chicago since the late 80’s doing his spin on Mexican foods.
Frontera Grill – Standard spin on Mexican food – it’s really good, sort of pricey, so plan an ight out if you’re going here. Really worth it. Reserve a table though
XOCO - The Street food restaurant adjacent to it. The tortas are amazing.
Topolobampo – Definintely the most pricy and challenging of the three River North restaurants. Stuff that’s off the beaten path menu-wise, I had some ceviche here that was really great.
The Publican - Amazing, amazing, amazing meat-centric restaurant. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like a spin on classic American foods that makes them modern but not unfamiliar to the palette. I have been here a few times and the meals have been some of the best of my life.
Publican Quality Meats - Publican’s sandwich shop. Think it’s a daytime-early evening spot. Closes at six usually. Great sandwiches.
Smoque – A Tina recommendation. As far as I’m concerned, the irrefutable king of Chicagoland BBQ. This is what we had in the office for Tina’s 20th Anniversary. Just amazing stuff.
Lillie’s Q – Barbecue in Wicker Park. Lots of sauces. I had Kool-Aid pickles last time I was there, which were kind of wild.
Schwa – This maybe was the best meal of my life. This is a molecular gastronomy restaurant, where the food is like art and is designed to taste different than it looks. I don’t know how to explain this place other than you get the tasting menu. They blare loud hip-hop music and there are no servers, just chefs. It’s an experience and it will impact your wallet. Only way to get in is by reservation on the phone if they decide to pick up. Worth your time and money and go in with an open mind. One of the more unique things I’ve ever done in my life. Just Google it to see what it’s like.
Antique Taco - If Pinterest was a taco place. Menu can be kind of cutesy – I recommend getting two different types of tacos if you’re going with someone and splitting them, as they come two a plate.
Big Star - One of Wicker Park’s standard-bearers for tacos. Great, cheap tacos, apparently the margaritas are great. I recommend the pork belly taco.
Kuma’s Corner – Burgers named after metal bands. Don’t let this scare you. It’s legit and voted one of the best burgers in the city. There's several around the Chicagoland area now.
Demera Ethiopian Restaurant – Research Ethiopian food. It’s fantastic. Go in with an open mind and tastebuds.
Big Jones – Southern restaurant in Andersonville. Loved this place. As Eater 38 says, “Chicago's best Southern restaurant culls dishes that revive and update centuries-old recipes with unique ingredients and documentation on the menu, making it not only delicious but a learning experience to boot”. That’s accurate.
Parachute – Amazing Korean restaurant brought to you by Beverly Kim of Top Chef fame. I tried the sesame leaves, baked potato Bing bread with bacon, scallion and sour cream butter then cured hiramasa "bulgogi" with spruce, Paris mushroom and buckwheat, and dolsot bi bim bap with BBQ tripe, nettles, soft egg and gochujang. Sounds exotic, it sort of is, but it tastes SO good.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken – Fried chicken place. Nothing super fancy, but really delicious. Go try it. The Honey Butter is as good as they say it is.