Chicago To Do List

Summer is coming and that means it’s visitor season.

A lot of people ask me where to take their friends or parents when they come in town…so I decided to take my bookmarked email and post it here for y’all to reference. Hope this helps! You can always email me if you want more personalized suggestions as well: van@chieats.com

Aside from all the amazing things Chicago has to offer: the parks, the architecture, deep dish pizza… there’s incredible food to nosh on while you’re spending your day out on the town too. And of course, Tortas Frontera at O’Hare on the way in and out of Chicago 🙂

These are just my recommendations and favorite spots, where I like to go and take my visitors, unsolicited and not endorsed! this is  even where I’ll go without visitors. Sorry if I missed anything!


The Famous – Where your visitors are probably already asking to go.
The Beer Lovers – To drink like we do in the Midwest.
Cocktails! – More boozing.
The Brunchers – To get your day started on the right foot.
The Fancy Eaters – Wine and dine.
The Picky Eaters – Every group has one.
A Delicious Dinner – All you want is a really good meal.
On-the-Go, Quick Places to Grab a Bite – When you don’t have a couple hours to grub.
Burger Lovers – Who doesn’t love burgers?
The Adventurous Eaters – Those who will try anything once.
For Groups – Those who roll deep.
BYOBs – There are many BYOs in Chicago, why not check them out?

The Famous
The places people have heard of that don’t live in Chicago, that they probably already want to go to.

  • Alinea
    I haven’t been, but Chicago is home to many of the best restaurants in the world – Alinea, is now #15 in the world. They have a ticketing system, so scour their facebook pages or find someone who knows someone. Same with it’s sibling, Next.
  • Girl & The Goat
    One of my favorites in Chicago, this one is definitely worth the hype. If you didn’t plan ahead and get reservations (sometimes 3 months out!), you can try an odd time and to sit at the bar – it’s full service 🙂
  • Pequod’s or Lou Malnati’s
    Deep dish, right? Everyone wants it. I like these spots better than Giordano’s, but try whichever you’d like. PS, you can bring them frozen back home as gifts!
  • Wiener’s Circle or Portillo’s
    WC if it’s late night and you’re rowdy, Portillo’s for a drive thru. Order the chocolate shake at both!
  • RPM Italian
    For Italian…and to see Giuliana and Bill, duh.
confit goat belly, bourbon butter, lobster n’ crab, fennel at Girl and the Goat

confit goat belly, bourbon butter, lobster n’ crab, fennel at Girl and the Goat

The Beer Lovers
Chicago has an incredible craft beer scene. From brewery tours to tap rooms, you can taste beer from this region and eat well, too! You can always go to Goose Island, but here are my faves.

Note: most are no reservations – be prepared to wait (especially on weekends) or go at an odd hour. I’ll note if the place does take reservations.

  • Revolution Brewing
    Incredible beer and food here, free brewery tours on saturdays at noon. they also have a taproom if you want to just try the beer in a non-restaurant atmosphere.
  • Piece Pizza
    Amazing pizza (not deep dish) and award winning brews. get crazy and build your own pizza (i like mashed potato on mine…)
  • Half Acre Tap Room
    BYOF! (bring your own food) with amazing beer on tap. they don’t can a lot of their beer, so go have a tasting while you can 🙂
  • Haymarket Pub & Brewery
    TVs, good beer, and good food. this is one of the larger places, so if you have a group it’s great to stop in – there will be a beer for everyone’s different tastes. their own beer is great and they usually have awesome guest taps as well.
  • Three Floyds
    If your guests (or just you) are really into beer, i’m sure they know of three floyds and would like to make the trek to indiana. it’s only 30-45 minutes and totally worth the trip. make the pilgrimage to get some phenomenal food and take some beer home with you that you wouldn’t be able to find in stores.

Other notables include: Atlas Brewing, Two Brothers (in the suburbs), and Hopleaf (they don’t brew but have an INCREDIBLE list).

PS, this list will surely grow as breweries open tap rooms and brewpubs!

Revolution Brewing Brewpub

Revolution Brewing Brewpub

Cocktails!
The cocktail scene in Chicago is quite amazing as well, not to brag or anything.

  • Violet Hour
    There will be a line and no cell phones inside. Go to Big Star for tacos afterwards.
  • Aviary
    From Achatz of Alinea and Next fame. Get over there!
  • Maude’s Liquor Bar
    Get a reservation to eat here, too! Especially if you can’t get into Girl & Goat or others in the area.
  • Sable Kitchen & Bar
    Top Chef Heather runs this joint in River North – with great bar bites and cocktails.
  • Signature Lounge at John Hancock
    You’re going to hate me for putting this on here, but it’s a great view of Chicago!
View from the John Hancock Tower at dusk

View from the John Hancock Tower at dusk

The Brunchers
Chicago loves to brunch, y’all…and so do I. Here are some great spots for a wide range of guests. Prepare to wait sometimes an hour, even…because everyone in the city will be out at brunch too.

  • Bongo Room
    They seriously have part of their menu labeled, sinful. either savory or sweet – you will be happy with whatever you get here. Try their seasonal specials and try to share some of their ridiculously amazing pancakes (oreo creme, banana hazelnut, i dont even know what else…).
  • Publican
    One of the best bloody marys in chicago. You can get seafood, meat, veggies – anything – on this menu and it will be delicious. You CAN make a reservation here, and drink while you wait in the bar area.
  • Toast
    Stuffed french toast and wasabi bloody marys. Toast is not for a big group!
  • Yolk
    Most visitors stay downtown, so Yolk is in the area. Fresh juices and a big menu.
  • Birchwood Kitchen
    For smaller groups (3 or 4), this BYOB place has an amazing patio with an even better menu.

Other notables: Bakin & Eggs (BYOB and you can call ahead), XOCO (for those staying in River North), and Lula Cafe in Logan Square.

Burton’s maple syrup-braised Publican bacon

Burton’s maple syrup-braised Publican bacon

Fancy Eaters
Perhaps your friend has the list of James Beard award winners or only dines at Michelin stars…here’s a few of Chicago’s top and most famous restaurants.

  • Girl & the Goat
    See above under the “Famous”. You can also check out Little Goat for a diner style, more casual meal by Chef Izard as well.
  • Blackbird
    One of Paul Kahan’s restaurants, and he was just named America’s outstanding chef by the James Beard Foundation. Next door to it’s sibling restaurant, Avec, too!
  • Purple Pig
    Just off Michigan Ave, you can find a pork lover’s paradise. Their slogan says it all: cheese, wine, and swine!
  • Next
    Stalk their Facebook for same night table tickets. I believe the menu right now is Vegan.
  • Longman & Eagle
    A bit more rustic and casual than the above listed, but amazing food and brunch, too!

purple pig

Picky Eaters
Every group has one, whether it’s the person who always makes a substitution or a vegan, here are friendly restaurants to check out with something for everyone. Chicago is a very food-friendly city, so don’t hesitate to ask for what you need/want wherever you go!

  • Karyn’s
    Even as a true meat lover, I enjoyed my meals here. Check it out for tasty and filling vegan friendly meals. Great cocktails too!
  • Slurping Turtle
    Chef Takashi has created a menu large enough to share with all kinds of friends. From ramen to duck-fat fried chicken, you will all find something, and you bet it will be delicious.
  • Frog N Snail
    Another Top Chef, Chef Dale Levitski makes some phenomenal dishes and is worth trying whether you are picky or not.
  • La Scarola
    Who doesn’t like Italian and wine? Definitely a large menu with a nice and accommodating staff. Head over to the bar next door if you have to wait.
  • Jerry’s Sandwiches
    A nice patio and great beer list…and three full pages of sandwiches to choose from, and if not, make what you want. Another must go, whether you’re picky or not.
Slurping Turtle's Tan Tan Men: whole wheat egg noodle, spicy miso with ground pork and spicy homemade sausage

Slurping Turtle’s Tan Tan Men: whole wheat egg noodle, spicy miso with ground pork and spicy homemade sausage

A Delicious Dinner
Some of my favorites to grab dinner around town. They won’t let you down!

  • Avec
    My favorite restaurant in Chicago. Bring a few friends who has similar taste so you can share a ton of dishes. Bacon-wrapped chorizo stuffed dates, anyone?
  • The Bristol
    Local farm-raised fare, and with a unique and incredible menu for everyone. Great cocktails, too!
  • Wasabi
    To be honest, I’ve only had the ramen and pork belly spring rolls. That’s all you need. Ever. (But they do have a full menu and sushi for others, too 🙂 )
  • Piccolo Sogno & Due
    Amazing Italian in two locations. The former has a huge patio and the second is located right in River North for those who won’t venture far.
  • Davanti Enoteca
    For those willing to head over to a different part of town, this place is phenomenal. And there’s a wine bar across the street while you wait. Fear not, they are opening a second location soon! Oh, and get the ricotta + honeycomb please.
Basque cake at the Bristol

Basque cake at the Bristol

On-the-Go, Quick Places to Grab a Bite
If you want something tasty but don’t have time to sit for a few hours…

  • Glazed & Infused
    Since you probably won’t be able to get to Doughnut Vault, try Glazed & Infused with two locations now for some delicious fresh donuts.
  • XOCO
    I dream of these tortas. If you’ve had a few of the original menu already, try the daily special ones and make sure to get churros & chocolate!
  • Del Seoul
    Kim chi fries. And a bunch of other good stuff too.
  • Big & Little’s
    Such a dive, I love it. Slowly expanding but the little yellow awning is still there. Get in and have some of the best fish tacos around. Cash only!
  • Tank Noodle
    If you love Pho and Vietnamese food, come here for a quick and delicious bite of authentic yummyness.
churros and chocolate from XOCO

churros and chocolate from XOCO

Burger Lovers
Man I love burgers and I love that Chicago loves burgers, too. These places are my favorites, must-trys while you’re in Chicago. There will be long waits for most of these, as everyone else loves burgers too.

  • DMK
    Confession: I know the menu by heart. (It’s easy! By numbers! Don’t judge.) Grass fed burgers on fresh buns, what more can you ask for?
  • Kuma’s Corner (and Kuma’s Too)
    Choose your burger by your metal band and get in here for an awesome burger & craft beer. Their mac & cheese is good too if your group wants to split it.
  • Owen & Engine
    This is my favorite burger in Chicago. No messing around, just one option. Order the burger and add cheese and a fried egg. Amazing fries, too. And cocktails. And beer.
  • Au Cheval
    Bon Appetit named this the best burger in America and it’s damn good. Beware of the double patties. Au Cheval is awesome because they have a section on their menu called “With Eggs”…and who doesn’t want fried eggs on EVERYTHING?!
  • Butcher & The Burger
    A build your own place – you can even pick a lettuce wrap instead of a bun if you want to go crazy. So yummy, and BYOB!
The Goatsnake at Kuma's

The Goatsnake at Kuma’s

The Adventurous Eaters
If your guests want to try some crazy dishes this city has to offer, there’s plenty of spots to check out.

  • Frontier
    If you don’t want the whole pig or goat (which you can definitely order, btw), you can try for antelope or bear in chilis, meatballs, and other unique forms. So awesome.
  • Peasantry
    In Lincoln Park, you can get a whole turkey leg or get a brunch hot dog or an octopus gyro. A great neighborhood joint with tons of fun stuff to try.
  • Sun Wah BBQ
    So this isn’t really that adventurous, but you can order a whole peking duck and get a ridiculous meal with it. One of my faves in the city.
  • Hot Doug’s
    Foie Gras hot dogs or rattlesnake? Get wild and crazy, or stay with the original. Regardless, get the duck fat fries.
peking duck dinner at Sun Wah BBQ

peking duck dinner at Sun Wah BBQ

For Groups
If you roll deep, these places are accommodating for larger parties.

  • Quartino
    They take reservations online and can handle big parties. Small plates Italian with lots of wine to go around? Why not!
  • Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba
    This Lettuce Entertain You restaurant can handle your group and fill you all up with sangria and delicious tapas. Ah, and a bloody mary bar for brunch!
  • Three Aces
    A few things here – bolognese fries and Italian with a Kuma’s-ish feel. Read: rock music and great beer.
  • Uncommon Ground
    For local grub and tasty brunch or dinner, stop in here. They may have live music too!
  • Spacca Napoli
    Though it may be filled with more families given the neighborhood, try their Italian style pizzas – especially if you aren’t into deep dish.
prosciutto e rucola at Spacca Napoli Pizzeria

prosciutto e rucola at Spacca Napoli Pizzeria

Other options for larger groups on the list are Frontier & Sun Wah.

BYOBs
Maybe your group drinks too much and you want to save some cash. Maybe you want to just see what this BYO business is all about. Whatever the case, we have awesome restaurants in Chicago that let you bring in whatever you want – and most don’t charge you!

  • Chilam Bilam
    Cash only! Bring your own tequila for margaritas or wine for sangria, and make sure to get the flan. If there’s a wait, which there will be since it’s so small, go across the street and have a beer while you wait for your table.
  • Toro Sushi
    Definitely the best sushi in Chicago in my opinion. Put your number down and they’ll call you when you’re ready. You can walk to Trader Joe’s for wine or to Duke’s for a beer. Try a few of Mitch’s rolls and say hello for me!
  • Tango Sur
    Whether it’s date night or a group of friends in town, you should try to grab a spot here for a filling and satisfying meal that won’t break the bank.
  • Smoque BBQ
    Quite possibly the best BBQ in town, you can eat cheap and eat very well here. Try the sausage – it’s crispy exterior made just like back home in Texas.
  • Isla Pilipina
    A bit off the beaten path and in a strip mall, I cannot recommend this place enough for Filipino food lovers!
brisket and pulled pork, chili, coleslaw, and mac & cheese from Smoque BBQ

brisket and pulled pork, chili, coleslaw, and mac & cheese from Smoque BBQ

PS, you can always follow my food photos as I grub around town on Instagram or Facebook.

Let me know if I’ve left something off or you think of another list you’d like to see 🙂 Cheers!

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5 comments

  1. thirtyfourflavours

    this is great! merci! i’m in town for lolla this summer and need some suggestions. anything closer to the water tower that you recommend? for pints? fish meals? cheap and cheerful?

    • @thirtyfourflavours: thank you! ah, for drinks – definitely check out pippin’s tavern on rush and chicago, a nice hidden dive in a busy area! devon seafood grill is closeby as well and they have great happy hour specials, and a late night one! that’s an expensive area, so i hope you can find something! let me know if you need anything else 🙂

  2. Pingback: Three Floyds Brewpub | CHiEATS

  3. I just moved here and your list is a lifesaver! I’ve been searching for advice as to where I should go out to eat/drink, so this is absolutely fabulous!

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