The brawny and brash attitude of Chicago sometimes gives the impression that all locals eat are hot dogs and deep-dish pizza. In reality, the city is a foodie’s dream, filled with gastronomical delights.
One day is hardly enough to really enjoy the city’s culinary scene (That would take years.), but it’s enough time to tease your senses. To maximize your time, this foodie itinerary takes you from one part of the city to another, yet provides enough time to make it to all of these phenomenal restaurants in one day.
Chicago boasts great restaurants and the incredible chefs behind them — Photo courtesy of Galdones Photography / EL Ideas
Starting from downtown Chicago, head to Rick Bayless’s XOCO restaurant for a frothy, beans-to-cup Mexican hot chocolate, ground from Mexican cacao beans in the restaurant’s front window. Also try a chorizo empanada, made using homemade chorizo, scrambled eggs and roasted poblano.
The host of several PBS shows and winner of Top Chef Masters, Bayless is known for layering flavors and spices to create dishes like you’ve never tasted. Make note of his other hot spots nearby, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, for next time.
For lunch, head north to Bill Kim’s trendy Asian fusion joint Belly Shack, a little shack hidden beneath the Blue Line train tracks. Locals crave the Belly Dog (a hot dog topped with egg noodles, kimchi salsa and pickled green papaya) with Togarashi fries, brussel sprouts and chorizo. The restaurant also boasts a huge vegetarian following.
For an afternoon snack, try Lincoln Square’s hottest gastropub Fountainhead, where Chef Cleetus Friedman prepares each dish using sustainable and seasonal ingredients. Although the menu changes regularly, some favorites make a regular appearance for good reason: fans love them.
Try the bowl of pickled things or the Cleetus Heatus salsa and parsnip guacamole. The wings feature Bill Kim’s popular Belly fire sauce and are served with celery stalks and yogurt ranch to keep the heat from making your head explode.
Belly Fire wings at Fountainhead Chicago — Photo courtesy of Fountainhead Chicago
For a truly different type of dinner experience, visit schwa Restaurant, where the chef has been called a mad genius. Make reservations (which are mandatory), and enjoy the imaginative and artfully presented meals delivered by the chefs themselves.
The menu changes constantly, but if the Quail Egg Ravioli is among the options, you’ll be in for a treat. Prix fixe meals are standard and a BYOB policy allows diners to enhance their meal. Bring a bottle of wine for the chef, and you will be rewarded with brownie points.
Another experiential dining experience is at EL Ideas (an abbreviation for Elevated Ideas in Cuisine and Dining). After making reservations (They only offer one dinner service per evening.), find the small restaurant located in a very unassuming building with very little outside signage.
The kitchen is in the same room as the dining area, so guests can watch as the chefs prepare their meals, ask questions and even help them plate. Besides just being a one-of-a-kind dining experience, the food is second to none. The menu is constantly changing due to the seasonality of food options, so diners really benefit from the freshest food available, too.
For a cocktail experience like no other, make reservations and head to The Aviary. Order the full-on “Aviary Experience,” a flight of seven cocktails for $75. Expect to be entertained tableside with flaming torches or teapots with dry ice. Other drinks, like In the Rocks, arrive with an ice ball in a highball glass and a mini slingshot breaks the ice to release the beverage into the glass.
Chicago may be known as a meat-and-potatoes kind of town, but its foodie scene is thriving for good reason: the city loves good food.
Drinks at The Aviary — Photo courtesy of The Aviary