Arriving in some cities, you have a long itinerary. Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and cable cars in San Francisco. The Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo in Florence. The Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and Bondi Beach in Sydney. Other trips have themes, but are no less focused. Beaches in Rio. Shopping in Paris. And eating in Chicago.
The Windy City has long been known for its steakhouses, hot dogs and sausages, and deep dish pizza. Traditional dishes that stick to your ribs and rarely change for fear of revolt. But a new food scene has quietly been creeping into Chicago. While certainly not a new trend–some change-the-game restaurants are now 20 years old–restaurants in the city are now receiving more buzz and appearing on more “best of” lists, while reservations are harder to come by.
Start at Frontera Grill. Chef Rick Bayless changed what people considered Mexican food years ago at this River North restaurant. After traveling extensively throughout Mexico, he brought Mexican street food home. Including authentic recipes, fresh ingredients, and surprising spices. Summer margaritas have fresh lime juice. Oaxacan guacamole is made with smoky pasilla chiles. Then decide between sweet corn tamales, tacos arabes, and duck with green peanut mole. And order another margarita.
Move from spicy Mexican flavors to bold Asian flavors at Fat Rice. The homey dishes at this Logan Square restaurant blend Macanese cuisine with its Portuguese colonial heritage. Begin with a glass of Quinta do Infantado white port as you attempt to pare down your order. The small, medium, large, and extra large plates are meant to be shared. Start with pickles. Spicy garlic cucumber pickles and lemongrass carrot pickles. Move to linguiça and a Goan cauliflower clay pot. Just don’t pass on the namesake dish. Arroz gordo–otherwise known as fat rice–has a lot of everything in it. Chinese sausage, Portuguese chicken, roasted pork, salted duck, and littleneck clams.
Still feeling adventurous? Brothers Michael and Patrick Sheerin created a turn-of-the-century vibe at Trenchermen. The Wicker Park restaurant is located in an old bathhouse. Sip classic cocktails, like a white negroni or a casino royale, and munch on pickle tots. Yes, pickle tots. An artisianal tater tot in which potatoes are mixed with homemade pickles before being fried. Then pair local beer–a Solemn Oath Scareball or an Off Colors Scurry–with seafood dishes. Scallops with hazelnuts and piquillo pepper broth. Wild Alaskan halibut with bacon, chilies, and yuzu. Blueberry donuts complete the meal.
By now, you’re completely stuffed, yet you barely brushed the surface of exciting Chicago restaurants. You’ll have to return soon for an epic tasting menu at experimental Alinea or peacefully silent Grace, an all-day breakfast at the Little Goat, and the 16-page drink menu at the gastro-lounge Sable Kitchen & Bar. Just make your reservations far in advance. Everyone is going to Chicago to eat these days.