Chicago’s culinary reputation can be summed up in two words: beefy and uncomplicated. And while the former home of the Union stockyards still boasts a healthy stable of steakhouses, it also hosts some of the most exciting ethnic fare, sustainable sustenance and cutting-edge culinary experimentation in the nation.
Like its longstanding mayor, Richard M. Daley, Chicago’s culinary reputation can be summed up in two words: beefy and uncomplicated. And while the former home of the Union stockyards still boasts a healthy stable of steakhouses, it also hosts some of the most exciting ethnic fare, sustainable sustenance and cutting-edge culinary experimentation in the nation. Skip the deep-dish pizza and the usual tourist traps for these spots that break from the herd.
Hot Chocolate 773-489-1747, www.hotchocolatechicago.com
James Beard-nominated pastry chef Mindy Segal leads this urban cafe whose current menu boasts a sesame bagel sandwich with aged cheddar, heirloom tomatoes and roasted ramps, fresh churned butter, a chocolate sorbet terrine with a chocolate s’more tartlet and house-infused vodkas.
Schwa 773-252-1466, www.schwarestaurant.com
Chicagoans wait weeks to get into this tiny BYOB eatery where chef Michael Carlson delivers ever-changing, multi-course degustations. Still, you’ll almost always find two signature evergreens of delicate quail egg ravioli over brown butter as well as perfect ribeye strips paired with taleggio and truffled scrambled eggs.
Hai Yen 773-561-4077, www.haiyenrestaurant.com
Savor the seven-course beef dinner or the wrap-your-own grilled beef at this attractive Little Vietnam eatery.Carnitas Uruapan 312-226-2654. Pick up tender Michoacan-style braised pork to go ($6.50 a pound). Or grab a table and roll the mouthwatering meat in a warm corn tortilla topped with killer salsa and fresh cactus salad.
Bonsoiree Cafe & Delicacies 773-486-7511, bon-soiree.com
This gourmet deli and cafe becomes a 30-person “underground” dinner party most Saturday nights. Guests sign up for invitations online and enjoy elegant five-course BYOB meals.
Fox & Obel Food Market 312-410-7301, www.fox-obel.com
Topnotch boulangerie, fromagerie, charcuterie and a terrific cafe make this Chicago’s top gourmet grocery.
Pastoral 773-472-4781, pastoralartisan.com
Deliciously stinky cheeses (about 85) share their fragrance with expertly cured meats, condiments and freshly baked baguettes.
Chicago’s Green City Market 847-424-2486; www.chicagogreencitymarket.org
Enjoy the bounty of dozens of strictly vetted sustainable, organic and local farmers, artisans and chefs at this twice-weekly summer (mid-May through October) market in the South end of Lincoln Park, 1750 N. Clark St. By November and December it moves inside the nearby Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Angel Food Bakery 773-728-1512, www.angelfoodltd.com
Satisfy your inner child at this retro spot where Easy Bake ovens line the walls and chef Stephanie Samuels makes heavenly upscale versions of Twinkies and SnoBalls as well as a luscious Spanish-style hot chocolate.
The House of Glunz 312-642-3000, www.houseofglunz.com
Taste and choose from more than 1,100 wines at Chicago’s oldest wine shop that has stayed in the Glunz family for more than a century and offers an outstanding collection of port and madeira.
David Burke’s Primehouse 312-660-6000, www.davidburke.com/primehouse.html
A former culinary developer at Smith & Wollensky, Burke ups the ante on the steakhouse game by dry-aging his meat for 28 to 40 days on site in a special salt cave with exquisite results. Also, don’t miss the playful cheesecake lollipops for dessert.
Saloon Steakhouse 312-280-5454, www.saloonsteakhouse.com
Enormous, excellent steaks—try the filet stuffed with garlic and parmesan—and seafood flown in daily have recently been paired with more local, sustainable and organic produce.
Select Cut Steak House 773-244-1500, www.selectcut.com
Away from the usual downtown throng of beef joints this place maintains quality without pretensions. Try the 18 oz. T-bone or one of the city’s top-rated hamburgers that just happens to be ground from aged steak trimmings.