A compendium of the Windy City’s best burger, steakhouse, and more.
In December 2018, Chicago Magazine food writer John Kessler declared the party was over when it came to Chicago dining. Kessler’s takedown scolded the city’s chefs for numerous aspects of the current restaurant scene, among them not yet “figuring out” local and seasonal cooking and a lack of “exciting immigrant cooking.” Soon after, Chicago Readerrestaurant critic Mike Sula offered a rebuttal, naming a number of restaurants that in fact already offer many of the elements Kesseler felt the city lacked. Sula ended the story with a piece of advice for Chicago diners: “If you missed out on any of these exciting new spots, you weren’t paying attention. If they don’t inspire you, you just don’t care.”
“That summed it up for me,” Julia Kramer, deputy editor of Bon Appetit, told me over the phone as we discussed Sula’s piece. Kramer, a Chicago native who spent five years reviewing restaurants for Time Out Chicago, has always been vocally positive about the city’s dining scene. She rebuffed Kessler’s off-putting tone throughout his manifesto (“he just made you want to argue with him”) and praised the positivity of Sula’s: “There’s exciting and interesting food in so many parts of the country. I’m much more interested in learning about that than in some guy’s hot take.”
Of course, Chicago was a food city long before there were glossy food magazines. Deep-dish pizza comes to mind—every New Yorker should try the caramelized crust pies at Pequod’s Pizza. Chicago-style hot dogs are their own animal: all-beef dog on a poppy seed bun, topped with mustard, sweet relish, white onion, tomatoes, sport peppers, a pickle spear, and celery salt, the best of which can be found at Gene and Jude’s or Redhot Ranch. Sandwiches are big too: Italian Beefs are often served au jus, same as they were in the 1930s. Gym Shoes (a West and South Side speciality) pile on corned and roast beef, gyro meat, tzatziki, and giardiniera. Jibarito sandwiches replace the bread with fried, flattened plantains.
And if that’s not enough for you to brave the cold of the Windy City, Chicago is also home to a robust cocktail scene, from tropical and tiki drinks at Lost Lake and Three Dots and a Dash respectively, to house-made syrups at The Violet Hour (often said to have started the craft cocktail movement in the city back in 2007).