Food is first in our discussion of Chicago because food is one if not the most important part of anything you do, especially a vacation. Half the time the place I have chosen to visit is based on many recommendations I have collected on the local foods and restaurants to try. Any city that has over three things I crave warrants serious consideration on my part. If there is only one I will still put it in my research folder but only if it seems really unique or special.
In Chicago there are many delicious things to try. Some are obvious because they are so closely associated with this city. Others are finds that I have made on my own and now will forever be local favorite.
I. Deep Dish Pizza
a. Pizzeria Uno Chicago Grill
Besides trying something new, we must first go to the classics. There is nothing more classically Chicago than a deep dish pizza.
You may think you have tried one because you went to your local Pizzeria Uno or worse had a frozen deep dish pizza. If this is true you need to go and brush your teeth and scrap the taste of such poor food out of your mouth and mind forever for you know not of what I speak of.
The real deep-dish pizza must be eaten in Chicago and the best place I have ever had it was in Pizzeria Uno. It was the flagship starter restaurants for the chain you now see all over the country.
To have the best sometimes we must be patient. Here we must be patient and efficient. There is often a minimum wait of an hour or so. To make use of this time you order as you wait in line because the pizzas take that long to cook.
Once you bite into a slice of this cheesy, crunchy, yummy, yet heavy delicacy you will feel happiness and satisfaction on a whole new level. You won’t be able to finish it but trust me you will want more as soon as you are ready to eat again.
Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s are the other popular pizza joints that I have tried and are also acceptable for anyone coming to the city and wanting to try deep dish pizza. Thankfully Lou has a website that is just waiting for you to order a variety of Chicago’s finest treats such as: deep dish pizza, cheesecake, and popcorn.
II. Pizza Pot Pie
a. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.
What is a pizza potpie you may be asking? Well I will gladly tell you. It is a small rounded shaped pizza served in a bowl and filled over when served. It is baked with dough over the top so that when it appears you don’t see the cheesy deliciousness inside. Ordinarily this might just sound like a version of a Hot Pocket but it’s the quality of the ingredients that make all the difference. You can have regular or one with sausage in the sauce. Toppings are also allowed. When it arrives it is flipped over onto your plate to form a pizza pie-ish look. It is not really like eating pie or deep dish pizza. It is somewhere in the middle.
This is a very popular spot especially for dinner so you will need to show up early or be prepared to wait. There is an enormous hustle and bustle and I didn’t have to wait at all. Thanks to Chef Marc Murphy on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” I now know the different between my two favorite forms of Chicago pizza.
III. Hot Dogs
a. Weiner Circle
After I was completely full of pizza pot pie I stepped out into the beautiful night air and took a walk through Lincoln Park. This was not just a leisurely stroll. I had a destination in mind and I had waited a long time to get there. I was on a hot dog mission after seeing Chef Ted Allen from “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” tell me they were his favorite.
I had to get a classic Chicago dog which apparently is served on a poppy seeded bun and topped with: chopped onions, green relish, yellow mustard, pickle spears, tomato, celery salt, "sport"/spicy peppers.
This place is- wait for it- LEG-END-ARY. Here rude order takers are part of the fun but when I visited it was a quiet day, there was no one else in the shop and the two cashiers were not putting on a show. This place becomes a bigger hang out late in the evening after bars begin to close and people begin to get hungry again.
Alas a Chicago Hot Dog institution, Hot Doug’s, has recently announced that it is closing its doors. It was on my to-do list for next time but I guess it’s not to be. They will be closing for good in October 4, 2014 after opening in 2001.
IV. Cheese Burgers
a. Billy Goat Tavern
As I was going through my Frommer’s guide preparing for this trip I stumbled onto television history. I am a fan of Saturday Night Live especially during the high it was on during the Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Amy Poehler years. But one of the most popular sketches of all time was the "Cheezeborger, Cheezeborger" skit. Jim Belushi and Bill Murray knew about this place from their days here working at Second City doing improv shows. For over forty years the Greek owners would entertain their guests by shouting at them and demanding their orders without giving them a second to think.
You really need to see the sketch to get it.
“It is dead on balls accurate”, as Marisa Tomei says in “My Cousin Vinny”.
This was before my time but I can see the appeal. Once you visit the site of the inspiration it is only that much funnier. I don’t know how this was ever a secret. It seems like it was made for television. It’s lunch and a show all at once.
Beware this place does not take reservations and fills up quickly. But because it is essentially a fast food place so people are moving in and out quickly. You should have no problem, because of seating that is. Good luck ordering! And buy the souvenir t-shirt.
a. Ruth Chris
Here is another place where there is a so called chain restaurant you can have just about anywhere so you might pass over it at first. I did. The first time I visited Chicago was the first time I heard of Ruth Chris. I did not know until later that it had such a great reputation and food.
I won’t delve too much into the specifics here because I have a whole separate post dedicated to this place (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2012/04/for-ruth-chris.html). I will say that the first and only time I had been to this restaurant was on a return trip to Chicago and had put the experience on hold for a special occasion a.k.a. my vacation. It did not disappoint and I was happy to relive my first memories passing by.
Even though I am as big a Starbucks fan as they come, when I first went to Chicago I had heard about this café that known for French roasted coffee and herbal teas served in big cups and Adirondack chairs to sit in. I saw this coffee house featured on Samantha Brown’s Travel Channel show and I knew it would be something I would try. I went on my first trip out there and it is not necessarily in the heart of the city. But it was very much worth it.
Recently Intelligentsia is now in my hometown of New York City but I have not yet visited. It is on my list for sure but for some reason when I go I think I will want to be in a vacation state of mind.
a. Garrett Popcorn
Oh popcorn. It is one of my all time favorite things to eat in this world. It is right up there next to pizza but ahead of fries. I could eat it morning, noon, and night. I will even eat the healthier non-butter one hundred calorie pack in a pinch just to get my fix.
But if I had to tell you about my favorite kind of my favorite food that is easy- Garrett Popcorn!! It has been in existence since 1949 and The Chicago Mix is their most popular flavor. In April 2007 during my very first trip to Chicago I already knew it was on my to-do list and I knew it would be good.
However, I did not know it would be a crippling lifelong affliction. But it is so worthwhile.
I hardly know where to begin. I will just say that I go along with popular opinion and LOVE The Chicago Mix no contest. That is a mix of the Caramel Crisp and Cheese Corn and it is delightful. You have the perfect blend of sweet and salt. I also recommend the Buttery, Macadamia Caramel Crisp, and seasonal flavors that come along. You most definitely cannot go wrong and I thoroughly suggest ordering it as a gift or party favor (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2013/01/for-generous-and-great-gift-giving-ideas.html). I know I would be thrilled to get some in the mail. I just had to buy myself some for my birthday in December. This will now have to be a tradition.
b. Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop and Soda Fountain
If you are on Michigan Avenue and you have gone to Garrett Popcorn (they also have a location in the Navy Pier) and you still have some room I suggest taking a short walk over to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop and Soda Fountain directly across from the John Hancock building.
While this is the mid-west outpost of the original San Francisco shop, they maintain the same incredible hot fudge sundaes, mudslide chocolate bars, hot coco drink mixes, and just about any tasty treat you can think of. It is like going to a real life Willy Wonka factory and you don’t need a golden ticket. During holiday hours or tourist days there will be a line but it goes quickly. They divide and conquer between those who are purchasing items to go and those who are ordering desserts. It is best if you have a partner so you can both be productive. I know that’s how I operate best in a crowd.
VII. New Trends
a. Only in Chicago could they create a “Mac Attack”. If it sounds like heart attack that was probably done on purpose. For one thing if you eat enough of them that is what will happen and for another it got my heart racing with excitement when I found out what it was.
A favorite haunt of mine in Chicago is the Rocket Bar and Grill. They have a great selection of food no matter whether you are in the mood for an entire meal or just something to snack on while you are at the bar. Apparently they are also geniuses back there. They have created a burger that uses patties of deep fried macaroni and cheese as buns! It looks much better than it sounds. I just wish I knew what it tasted like.
If you can’t make it to Chicago anytime soon do not fret, you can make your own
This is a fun, cool place no matter who you hanging out with. If you have never been to Chicago before now you have your first bar to hit up on your list!
To conclude and show you just how serious Chicago takes food, you will need to read this article from the Huffington Post on November 12, 2013 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/12/olive-garden-in-chicago_n_4261900.html). For those of you who can’t take the suspense I will do the honors. Are you ready?! They DO NOT even have one Olive Garden in their fair city!!! This is a place that knows how to do food and how to attract locals and tourists alike. I know the Olive Garden will eventually get there but somehow I don’t think that Chicagoans will be deterred from furthering their foodie dreams.
Even though I have been to Chicago three times there are still many more restaurants I want to try that were on my previous lists that I did not get to. Then there are the new ones popping up that are getting added to that master list. One time I am going to have to go there and do nothing but eat just to make some head way. There never seems to be enough time in my days there, even when I schedule “free time”. Perhaps next time I will have to write “food time” in addition to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. It is time to start thinking outside of the box.
For More Food:
Next up in my Chicago series is:
For a Wonderful Weekend in the Windy City Part III: Magnificent Mile