Once a city most known for its stick-to-your-gut deep-dish pizza and loaded hot dogs, Chicago’s gastronomic star is rapidly rising; in August, it was named the best restaurant city in the country by Bon Appétit. While it is undoubtedly deserving of that accolade, the city is also defined by its neighborhoods, each with its own unique flavor. So before you embark on a full-blown culinary pilgrimage, it’s helpful to break the city down by bite-sized hubs. Herein, a guide to Chicago’s most foodie-friendly neighborhoods, from up-and-coming Wicker Park to long-running Logan Square.
It’s impossible to go anywhere in the West Loop without someone name-dropping Bad Hunter, whose vegetarian-inspired menu has taken the city by storm. Thanks to heavy-hitting plant-based dishes like white corn grits with confit fava beans and charred squash paired with brown butter farmers cheese, not to mention punchy cocktails like the Cosmo made with fresh berries and Campari, this buzzworthy eatery is bound to be more than a flash in the pan.
Few places embody Chicago fine dining quite like Oriole. The 28-seat dining room, tucked in a nondescript building in this once-industrial neighborhood, is tasting menu only – but you wouldn’t want to order any other way. Chef and owner Noah Sandoval’s dishes bring seasonality and style to a whole new level – like the golden Osetra caviar and coconut dashi or the Hudson Valley foie gras topped with a scallops, dried blueberry and oxalis.
One of 2017’s most talked about openings, Smyth & the Loyalist offers guests two distinct game plans: one a multicourse tasting menu in the tony upstairs dining room of Smyth, the other a laidback, burger-friendly atmosphere downstairs at the Loyalist. Don’t leave either without trying a cocktail – like the Brown Dog, made with tequila and white vermouth and dusted with pine pollen.
Avec’s small, communal dining room specializes in Mediterranean food with a Midwestern twist. With dishes like pork shoulder and squid ink stew, the dinner menu is nothing to shrug at, but it’s the brunch that has made this spot an institution. On Saturdays and Sundays, you’ll find a line of hungover locals waiting over an hour for a bite of signature wood-oven baked French toast.
The restaurant formerly known as Trencherman is now Trench, a cozy, white-walled space that’s more neighborhood friendly than the original. While it boasts a fresh, more youthful interior, the eatery’s updated menu is really what brought the locals back. For brunch, go with biscuits and gravy or brioche French toast, and for dinner, you can’t go wrong with the soft burrata and heirloom tomatoes.
Paying homage to San Francisco (but with a welcoming Midwestern vibe), Presidio is a hidden gem in a refurbished brick building. Known for the cocktails (and distinctive menus, hand-drawn by a local artist), the lounge is consistently abuzz, shaking it up with travel-inspired drinks like the Cachaça and watermelon spritzer from Brazil.
At first glance, you might think Dove’s Luncheonette was a retro American diner, but one look at the menu and there’s no mistaking its provenance. In the Americana-themed dining room, chef Dennis Burnard serves up incredible Southwest-infused Mexican food like barbacoa enchiladas with slow-roasted beef chuck and spicy pozole rojo with crispy pig ears – along with a giant selection of imported tequilas.
A relatively new addition, Publican Anker boasts floor-to-ceiling windows and epic people watching. You’ll find a lighter menu than at its sister restaurant, Publican, with a more focus on vegetables and fish. In addition to lighter fare like the smoked mackerel or the golden beet salad with pistachios, you’ll also find a few meat-centric dishes like pork collar with green tomato chow chow.
Giant is easily one of the area’s most talked-about restaurants thanks to its mix of gourmet and comfort. Don’t miss the house made tagliatelle with king crab and chili butter and the spiced onion rings, but save room for the little biscuit, a silk-soft morsel served with jalapeño butter.
No place in Chicago showcases the evolution of the city’s culinary identity like Fat Rice, which offers up a unique spin on one of the Windy City’s trademarks: the hot dog. They reimagine the street food as chunks of Vienna beef hot dog, hot peppers, celery seeds and mustard inside a sweet Portuguese roll. Dogs aside, the sardine escabeche and curried lamb rice noodles are can’t-miss.
With its low-key, flannel-clad clientele, Longman & Eagle is arguably one of the most relaxed Michelin star winners in town. The food looks like pub fare but tastes high end, like the beef fat fries with dill pickle aioli or gnocchi with goat ragu. Or you can go full grunge with their famous PBR breakfast, served with two eggs, house potatoes, bacon and a can of the classic hipster libation.
Summerhouse Santa Monica does a nearly perfect impression of California cuisine, minus the warm weather all year round. But with a seasonal menu full of irresistible bites – from the basic (but delicious) avocado toast to the unexpected Idaho rainbow trout served with a side of mashed tots – this bright and airy restaurant, including its outdoor patio, is nearly always full – even in winter.
A neighborhood favorite 10 years running, Boka reflects chef Lee Wolen’s pride in local ingredients and artistic presentation. The heirloom tomatoes, for example, are served with fresh herb garnishes and striking black garlic and plums. Although most dishes are served a-la-carte, the waiters and chef recommend the 9-course tasting menu, comprised of a sampling of each the chef’s picks.
What’s an affluent neighborhood without an oyster bar? Besides fresh caught, cold-water oysters, the New England-themed Oyster Bah’s specialties include an innovative take on a lobster roll stuffed with crab, mayo and shrimp, and famed Old Bay-seasoned boardwalk fries. The best part? You can nosh on all of it over a 40-oz. of rosé. It just doesn’t get any better.