Chicago has a really incredible food scene, thanks to chefs like Grant Achatz and Stephanie Izard who have brought an entirely new level of inventive thinking to the plate. And while of course Grant’s Alinea is the foodie’s culinary dream, there are tons of other amazing restaurants that won’t break the bank.
GIRL & THE GOAT (809 W. Randolph Street)
Located in the West Loop/Fulton Market area, Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat is an absolute must in Chicago. If you’ve ever talked with a foodie friend about Chicago, chances are they’ve mentioned this place, and trust me, there’s a reason why. It’s a very laid-back, homey vibe, and the menu is small plate-based, so it lends itself to a family-style meal. Some of my favorites are the roasted beets, green garlic pierogies, strawberry salmon, chickpea fritters, pan roasted halibut, and for the dessert, the blueberry bourbon baba. Oh, and make sure to go early. It can be hard to get a table otherwise! For more info, check here.
Tip: if you’re in Chicago by yourself, have no fear. Grab a spot at the bar and ask which plates are available in “mini” portions. That way you can try several different plates on your own without over-spending (or over-eating!)
LA SIRENA CLANDESTINA (954 W Fulton Market)
Another Fulton Market hotspot is La Sirena Clandestina. Step inside and you immediately forget you’re in the middle of a big city but instead like you’re relaxing in a small beach town in Brazil. Grab one of their delicious cocktails to really solidify that feeling (I’d recommend the classic caipirinha). As for the food, you can’t miss the pao de queijo, the kale salad (I never thought I’d put a kale salad on my “must try” list, but this one is loaded with jalapenos, pepitas, and cotija cheese, so just trust me and order it), and the moqueca.
BAR SIENA (832 W. Randolph Street)
Diagonally across from Girl & the Goat is this gem, Bar Siena. I first stumbled upon this place when I tried to go to GATG and they had no availability for hours, and now every time I go to Chicago, I make sure to get at least one meal at Bar Siena. The place has a very rustic feel, with the main bar and some hi-tops covering the first floor, and a full dining room covering the second. I think at this point I’ve tried basically everything pescatarian that the restaurant has to offer, but some of my favorites are the shaved zucchini app, white tuna crudo, burrata, balsamic brussels sprouts, and basically all of the pastas. The sweet corn ravioli is amaaaaazing, and the lobster angolotti had way more lobster than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise! Make sure to save room for dessert – their homemade gelato is awesome, but the real treat are the bomboloni (italian donuts)!
PURPLE PIG (500 N Michigan Ave)
I experienced Purple Pig for the first time on a trip to Chicago this past June, and now that I’ve been, I have no idea why it took me so long! It gets really crowded, so plan to grab a drink at the bar and hang outside while you wait for a table. As a vegetarian, I recognize the irony in me saying I loved a restaurant called the Purple Pig, but if the veggies (aka not what they’re known for) were that good, I’m pretty sure you’re safe when it comes to ordering their specialty dishes too. To start, we ordered the whipped feta app and the burrata cannoli app (what can I say, I love cheese!). The feta itself was a bit salty, but the sauce on it cut it quite nicely. If you’re sensitive to salt though, consider yourself warned. But what made the meal for me was the burrata cannoli…and it was absolute perfection. It’s been almost two months, and I’m literally still dreaming about it. Unfortunately they were out of most of the seafood dishes the night I went, but the octopus came highly recommended and didn’t disappoint. For more info on menus, hours, etc, check this out.
MONTEVERDE (1020 W Madison Street)
Monteverde is a must if you’re an Italian food fan. The dishes are intended to be shared plates, so grab a friend and try a few things! The servers are really helpful about recommending different types of foods and helping you balance the dishes so you aren’t ordering all uber-rich foods or super light foods. From a starters standpoint, the hamachi crudo is a must, as is the octopus. For the pastas, the shrimp arabiatta and the cacio e pepe are to die for and cannot be missed! Reservations are hard to come by, so try to book in advance, otherwise if you’re like me and don’t have a reservation, go early and hopefully you wont have to wait too long to be seated.
BROKEN ENGLISH TACO PUB (Multiple Locations)
If you’re a big fan of Mexican and not looking to break the bank, check out one of the Broken English Taco Pub locations. A platter of 6 tacos will run you about $18, so if you’re there with a friend, it’s a great deal. You can also get a platter of 12 tacos if you’re there with a larger group, as well as staples like queso fundido, guacamole, and chips and salsa (though note that extra chips cost $2 – there are no free chip refills). They also have all of your typical Mexican cocktails and beers, as well as several flavors of Mexican soda.
THE AVIARY (955 W Fulton Market)
I can’t talk about Chicago food and not mention my favorite bar. The Aviary is in the heart of the Fulton Market neighborhood (conveniently located within easy walking distance of Girl & the Goat, Bar Siena, and La Sirena), and it was created by the same team behind Alinea (Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas). Aviary is not your typical cocktail bar (it’s a bar meets science lab), which means that for most of us, it’s more of a special occasion kind of place than a “sit and hang out all night” kind of place. You’re really paying for the unique experience. Reservations are recommended (do so through Aviary’s tock system here, and note that you do have to put a non-refundable deposit down which is then credited towards your final bill), but they do hold some tables every night for walk-ins (the wait can just be quite long, so be prepared). As for what to order, ask your server for recommendations too, but I usually get whatever they are featuring in the porthole since it’s one of their signatures.
What are your go-to spots in Chicago? Comment with your favorite places so I can check them out next time I’m there!