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

*For these recommendations, I'm assuming you have a car.

24 Hour Stay - Greatest Hits

11am          Hot Doug's (closed Sunday)
2pm           Xoco (closed Sun/Mon)
6pm           The Publican or Avec
10pm         Margie's Candies (Bucktown location)

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

11am         Gene & Georgetti (closed Sunday)
3pm          Panozzo's Italian Deli (closed Monday)
6pm          Yusho (open for dinner only, except Sunday brunch)
10pm        Revolution Brewing

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

12pm       Pleasant House Bakery (closed Monday)
2pm         Black Dog Gelato
6pm         Smoque (closed Monday)
8pm         Chicago Brauhaus (closed Tuesday)

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.