An Essential and Utterly Subjective Guide to Dining in Chicago

If you're planning to visit Chicago in the summer or fall of 2021, welcome! We could use you--and you should be able to snag dinner reservations most anywhere. While you could and should check the guides offered by Eater Chicago, Time Out Chicago, and others, the value of the list you've landed on here is its focus: only the best and most unique-to-the-city foods are identified. My goal is to give you the guidance you need for an excellent 3-4 days of eating here.

If you're a gastrotourist heading here to checking a few Michelin-starred places off your proverbial restaurant bucket list, know this: you're missing out. Since the start of the pandemic, much of the city's existing and emerging talent has concentrated on casual concepts; many are far more interesting than the city's hotspots or tasting menus. The best eating adventure here will include a mix and range of places, both low- and high-end; don't sleep on some of the virtual/pop-up restaurants either.

But, above all things, enjoy!

The Four Must-Visits

If you fly through Midway, your first and/or last stop must be Birria Zaragoza, which is near the airport and purveyor of the finest tacos--goat meat and hecho a mano tortilla alike--in the city. Flying through O'Hare? Hermosa is not exactly near the highway or train, but worth the detour to explore Ethan Lim's range: he's making creative sandwiches inspired by south Asian standards (i.e., moo ping), infusing Cambodian dishes with local produce, and offering a single Saturday night table doing for an eight-course "Cambodian Family Meal" that's one of the best dining experiences--and values--in the city. Make sure you also swing by Logan Square, the nexus of the city's new dining creativity (see below), to check out its leaders old and new: Cellar Door Provisions is the stalwart and iconoclast, a bakery by day and vegetable-focused restaurant at night; Big Kids is the rambunctious neighborhood kid, offering brilliant riffs on stoner cuisine--their collard melt and smashburger are particularly great--and goofy humor in equal measures.

If You're Gonna Do Pizza

Chicago is going through a pizza revolution, with dozens of new options, many of whom work in less common styles. There's no better place to sample the range and quality of the scene than Paulie Gee's in Logan Square, which offers both Neapolitan- and Detroit-style pizzas; it also serves New York style slices at its front window. Pizza Lobo, which offers an interesting hybrid of Neapolitan and New York, is right down the street and has an outdoor patio, the better to compare wares.

Top Tasting Menu

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Best Dining Neighborhood

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Best Dining Neighborhood

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So You Want to do Chicago Classics, eh?

If you absolutely must do Deep Dish, Labriola is not only right on Michigan Avenue but a league above the usual tourist traps and area chains. Better yet, advance order from Milly's Pizza in the Pan, a ghost restaurant whose pan pizza is almost artful. The original location of Al's Italian Beef will sate your wet sandwich fix, but go to Kurimu down the street for ice cream afterward rather than Mario's Italian Ice across the street. 

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One Better

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