Eating in Chicago (Summer 2012)
Hello Twitter friend. I'm Kevin Pang and I write about food for the Chicago Tribune. You are reading this page because you've probably asked for my restaurant recommendations. I get asked this question quite a lot. Rather than answer in 140 characters, I've compiled this list which, I believe, best expresses Chicago and its vibrant restaurant scene in your short stay. Are these the best restaurants in Chicago? Not necessarily. They're restaurants that are easy to get into, no three-month reservations required. Notice I'm excluding deep dish pizza - I feel it's too obligatory a choice, but more importantly, I don't care for it. If you really want a touristy Chicago treat, get some popcorn at Garrett's or to Al's #1 Italian Beef (Taylor St. location only). Any other questions? Please feel free to contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*For these recommendations, I'm assuming you have a car.
24 Hour Stay - Greatest Hits
Notes: The last few years, we've seen a lot of high-end treatment of low-end food. Burgers, for example. The original was Doug Sohn. He takes the humble hot dog and elevate it to something grand. And he does so with a sense of humor. Here's a column I wrote about them, which I believe is the quintessential Chicago restaurant. Be prepared for a 45-minute wait. After lunch, stop by Rick Bayless' Xoco for a shot of Mexican hot chocolate and churro. Menus at The Publican/Avec change daily, but two constants I love are the beef tallow-fried French fries at The Publican ("Pork, beer, oysters"), and Koren Grieveson at Avec (no reservations) spins magic out of brandade. If you haven't keeled over, grab dessert at Margie's Candies. Anything with ice cream, fudge and butterscotch.
Two-Day Chicago Stay
Day 1: Follow 24-Hour Itinerary above
Notes: Gibson's gets all the steakhouse press in Chicago, but Gene & Georgetti has been around longer, and it's got a more interesting backstory. Panozzo's is your classic Chicago Italian deli, with a bit more culinary verve. I wrote about it here. Stop by and pick up a porchetta and meatball mid-afternoon snack. Yusho is Japanese street food as interpreted by Matthias Merges, who spent 14 years as Charlie Trotter's right hand man. After that, head down the street to Logan Square neighbor Revolution Brewing for a sudsy nightcap.
Three-Day Chicago Stay
Days 1 + 2: Follow above itinerary
Notes: Pleasant House Bakery was my favorite restaurant of 2011. They take on work-a-day British food - Cornish pasties, pork pies et al. Black Dog Gelato serves wacky flavors that somehow work (goat cheese cashew caramel, for example). I've driven around 13 states in the U.S. for BBQ and can say Smoque is in my top five. Please choose the St. Louis ribs over baby backs, and get the brisket (sliced, not chopped) and a half chicken. For kitschy non-ironic German fun, catch the polka band at Chicago Brauhaus in Lincoln Square and wash it down with a glass boot of Stiegl.