10 Must-Eat Dishes and Drinks in Chicago, Illinois – Chicago Food Planet
1. Vienna beef hot dog at George’s Hot Dogs – Also known as a “Chicago Dog”, the Vienna beef hot dog seems to be most Chicagoans’ fast food of choice. Crucially, the sausage needs to be made of beef, the bread needs to be a steamed white bun, and the whole thing needs to be topped with seven condiments: mustard, relish, tomato, onions, jalapeno peppers, and one of those giant pickled gherkin things you see on top (you can use it to squish everything else down). I tried this at the over 50-year old George’s Hot Dogs in Bucktown, thanks to a food tour I took with Chicago Food Planet. I can’t vouch for how it compares with anywhere else, but it tasted pretty damn good to me.
2. Deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s or Pizano’s – Chicago Food Planet – Four years ago, when I first came to Chicago, I tried the deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s. This time, I went to Pizano’s. Probably because I’m an Amsterdammer, I couldn’t tell the difference – they were both indulgently wonderful. Despite the name “deep-dish”, the crust is actually deceptively thin and almost pastry-like; it’s the filling that’s deep – thick with cheese, tomato and sausage. But I hear the locals rarely eat deep-dish pizza because they’re too big and take too long. Which brings us onto…
3. …Thin-crust pizza at Piece –Chicago Food Planet : If you want to eat like a local, thin-crust pizza is where it’s at. If you’ve spent any time in Italy, though, prepare to be appalled. Thin-crust pizzas in Chicago are nothing like those of their European cousins. Where in Rome you’ll want to order a straight margarita (why make a simple thing of beauty unnecessarily complicated?), at Chicago’s Piece you can expect toppings like BBQ sauce, jalapeno peppers and even mashed potato. I know – mental.
4. Mexican food at Shaman – Chicago Food Planet : Any visit to the US is always a great excuse to eat decent Mexican food, and Chicago is no exception. I was lucky enough to be taken to Shaman in the Noble Square area. We ordered a vast array of small plates to share, including goat’s cheese empanadas, pork belly tacos, black-bean gorditas, tangy ceviche and spicy fish with a smoky salsa. It was all stunningly good – and what’s even better is that the restaurant is BYOB. If you’re anything like me, this will save you a lot of money. My only complaint is that the lighting was horrible – hence there’re no decent photos of this one. I’m guessing their marketing strategy doesn’t involve social media…
5. Fusion tacos at Velvet Taco – Chicago Food Planet: If you can’t decide what you want for dinner and aren’t a purist when it comes to tacos, I’d strongly recommend checking out Velvet Taco. They fill their corn tortillas with everything from buffalo chicken and blue cheese dressing to falafel with tahini. In fact, the latter doesn’t even come in a corn shell – it comes wrapped in lettuce. Like I said: not one for the purists, but highly delicious nonetheless!
6. Sushi at Union –Chicago Food Planet: I also get quite excited about sushi when I go to the States. Not because you can’t get decent sushi in Amsterdam, but because it tends to be a rather formal and pious in comparison to its flamboyant American sister. Both have their place, but U.S.-style sushi is just – well – fun. I spent an ungodly amount of money on the stuff at Union – but it was worth it. I can’t really begin to describe what was in all those rolls (apart from the fact that some of them were filled with black rice instead of white – whaaaa?!), but just take a look at the photo collage – it’s got Mouth Party written all over it.
7. Italian beef sandwich – Chicago Food Planet : This is a post-wedding hangover kind of thing. Trust me. It involves thin slices of beef, dripping in their own jus, stacked into a soft bun (to soak up the juices) topped with a whole heap of hot, spicy, pickly goodness. Once again, it bears no resemblance to anything you’ll ever eat in Italy. But don’t let that get in the way of a good sandwich. I ate mine at a pub called Dublins – mostly because it had an outdoor terrace and we had a dog with us.
8. Bellinis and cookies at Restoration Hardware -Chicago Food Planet: And now for something completely different. Restoration Hardware sounds like a furniture store, and indeed is a furniture store. But it is also home to one of the most civilised dining and drinking establishments I think I’ve ever visited. Bedecked with chandeliers and fountains, it might not seem like the obvious place to take a five-year old. But they serve the most amazing chocolate and sea salt cookies (for the five-year olds) and pastel-coloured, elegant bellinis (for the adults).
9. Hot chocolate with marshmallows at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate – Chicago Food Planet: As regular readers will know, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I made an exception, however, for the hot chocolate and home-made marshmallows at the eponymous Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Bucktown. Chef Mindy Segal has won a bunch of awards as a pastry chef, and it’s clear why: she makes quite simply the thickest, richest, tastiest hot chocolate that’s ever passed my lips. And the marshmallows are like dreamy puffs of raw meringue – heavenly.
Yes, it’s speakeasy-style (there’s no signage outside) but there’s no pretensions and no reservations – just turn up and choose your poison.
10. Cocktails at Violet Hour – Chicago Food Planet: Unlike the rest of this top 10, my visit to Violet Hour actually happened four years ago, not last week. However, I passed the mystical door to the speakeasy while walking through the Wicker Park area on my food tour, and it all came flooding back: the graffiti-ed entrance, the plush velvet curtains, the forgiving armchairs, and of course the blow-your-head-off cocktails… Yes, it’s speakeasy-style (there’s no signage outside) but there’s no pretensions and no reservations – just turn up and choose your poison.