It’s a fairly well known fact that Anthony Bourdain is the love of my life, right after the city of Chicago and my Chihuahua, Elvis. So I was totally stoked when I saw that this week’s new episode of ‘No Reservations’ was in Chicago.
The tour of Chi-town nosh joints that Tony took was pretty indicative of the Chicago food scene as a whole, as he hit a lot of the restaurants that end up in all the national magazines. How can you talk about Chicago without mentioning Charlie Trotter’s, James Beard wunderkind Greg Achatz’ Alinea, the chemical wizardry at Moto, Paul Kahan’s Avec and Blackbird, or the heartburn-inducing ‘Mother-in-Law’ at Fat Johnnie’s? Not familiar with a ‘Mother-in-Law’? It involves a hotdog bun, a tamale, and chile – and was made by those Sox-loving South Siders – so just stick with the fois gras sausage at Tony’s last stop, Hot Doug’s.
I may not have my own show on the Travel Channel where you can watch me eat and drink my way around the world (yet), but I did eat my way through Chicago for 23 years. Here are the places I crave, well, all the time:
- Bin 36: Sometimes you just need perfect appetizers and wine flights. Bin36 is the answer, with carefully curated wine flights and awesome small plates. Think truffle French fries, battered green beans, and thoughtful cheese pairings.
- Mirai Sushi: When my boyfriend and I have dinner in Chicago, we try to go other places. We even make reservations at other places. But somehow, we always end up at Mirai. Everything on the menu is fantastic (we’ve tried it all) but you MUST order these: a sake caipirinha (it’s not on the menu anymore, but order it anyway), the eerily butter-like fatty toro, and Kani Nigiri. Say it with me. Kani Nigiri. It will change your life, so get multiple orders.
- Adobo Grill: Once upon a time, I was a gluten-free girl. Dining out was difficult, but the one bright point was Adobo Grill and their gluten-free menu. I loved scooping up their tableside guacamole with jicama chips, devouring butternut squash enchiladas, and the servers know how to keep the margaritas flowing.
- Lula Café: Lula is tucked in Logan Square, a great little neighborhood on the Northwest side of the city. Go for their indulgent brunch, their surprisingly affordable lunches, or the locally-inspired farmhouse dinners. They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait. Better yet just grab a seat at the bar, order a gin gimlet, and keep the appetizers coming.
- La Pasadita: In Chicago you’ll often find that you’ve just gone to one too many bars and you need a taco STAT. Get the best damn taco north of San Diego at La Pasadita (there are three locations on the same block Damen, go to the big one with seating on the west side of the street). It’s a no frills, no nonsense place with carne asada tacos done right, with two fresh corn tortillas, a healthy helping of meet, and fresh cilantro and onions on top.
- Hot Doug’s: Okay, okay, Anthony Bourdain went here too. Turns out, it’s totally worth it. Remember how as a little kid you got excited about going out to brunch? Well, I have a friend that calls Saturday morning hotdog runs ‘Doug Brunch’. Doug takes the order himself, and enjoy your pick of the perfect Chicago dog, a fois gras dog, a rattlesnake sausage, duck fat French fries, the list goes on. Whatever you do, remember the Chicago rule: no ketchup!
Photo courtesy of moonrat42