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Where to Eat In Chicago

March 27, 2012

The real reason behind this weekend’s trip to Chicago was to visit a college friend who now lives there (and to convince her to move back east!). But the second real reason was to eat.

Everyone always talks about what a great food scene Chicago has so rather than space it out over several trips, we crammed as many authentic Chicago foods and amazing meals into one weekend as possible. Here’s the rundown.

Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria

Malnati’s is a chain with more than 30 locations in the Chicago area. This was my first deep dish experience and… it was good. Dense, but good. Two slices of deep dish and you’re ready to hibernate, though. I stuck with the vegetarian “Lou” (Fresh spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes covered with a blend of mozzarella, romano and cheddar cheese) while the table also got the “Malnati Chicago Classic” (Made with Lou’s exclusive blend of lean sausage, some extra cheese, and vine-ripened tomato sauce on our famous Buttercrust).

Wormhole Coffee

Wormhole takes you back to ’80s — themed plastic lunchboxes line the walls and a Back to the Future DeLorean sits on a platform overlooking the action. This Wicker Park coffee shop (think U Street meets Adams Morgan) was packed on a rainy afternoon but had a selection of delicious-looking pastries and served a perfectly spiced chai.

Wrigleyville Dogs

You can’t go to Chicago without eating a Chicago hot dog, right?, and this small place next to Wrigley Field is as authentic as they come. What’s on a real Chicago-style hot dog? Yellow mustard, onions, celery salt, pickle relish, tomato slices, peppers and a pickle. No ketchup. Don’t even ask.

Garrett Popcorn

You can smell Garrett a block away and usually the line extends out the door and around the corner. We must have hit the slow point of the day because we walked right in, ordered a bag of the Chicago Mix (caramel + cheddar cheese) and chowed down. The cheddar turns your fingers into Snooki hands; the caramel is unbelievably crunchy and sweet. Someone couldn’t resist getting another bag at the airport to enjoy on the plane home. It’s that good.

Intelligentsia Coffee

There are a few places in DC that serve Intelligentsia: Chinatown Coffee Co., SOVA, baked & wired and dolcezza, to name a few. But an actual Intelligentsia coffee shop? Those are few and far between. Thankfully, there are a couple in Chicago and we were able to stop by. This espresso was strong and bitter and someone else also commented on how bitter Intelligentsia tasted (which I’ve never noticed at other locations). But nice waitstaff and hot coffee = win.

Perennial Virant

It’s not a weekend without Sunday brunch and Perennial Virant is right around the corner from where we were staying. Their philosophy — ‘Eat what you can, can what you can’t’ — should tell you everything you need to know. Sweet potato doughnuts with chocolate dipping sauce were just as good as they sound, while other table favorites included the 2-egg skillet with peppers. My disappointment: the 3-egg omelet originally came with prosciutto. Rather than make a substitution, they said they could leave it out. Still tasty stuffed with chevre and pesto, but some flexibility would have been nice.

Girl and the Goat

I was so excited to eat at Girl and the Goat after another friend ate here and live-texted me the dinner. We couldn’t get reservations — even months out, it’s nearly impossible — but we opted to wait for 1.5 hours to get a table. (The bar, which is first-come, first-served, also serves the full menu.)

It. Was. Worth. It.

This was definitely one of the best meals of my life, maybe top 3. Each dish made us stop, say ‘wow’ and then continue to chow down while simultaneously trying to savor every bite. Stephanie Izard, who won Top Chef season 4, is the chef and crafted one of the most interesting menus I’ve ever seen.

Here’s a taste:

Fresh bread with ‘Not Campbells’ (mushroom soup butter . tomato soup oil); kohlrabi salad (fennel . evalon . toasted almonds . pear . ginger dressing); chickpea fritters (stewed chickpeas . pickles . red onion . crave brother’s mozzarella); goat empanadas.

Mushroom ragout (sweet potato agnolotti . shroom creme fraiche . capers); kalbi style beef ribs . grilled sweet potatoes . charred okra; chocolate-thai chili gelato . chocolate cake . peanut fluff . pomegranate . left hand milk stout.

Seriously. No words.

Every dish had unexpected flavors and textures. The highlight: mushroom ragout, Moroccan-spiced with hints of sweetness. Every bite contained a surprise, like tiny bits of sweet potato in the pasta and chewy golden raisins in the sauce. Possibly the most incredible thing I’ve ever eaten.

And the dessert? Burn-your-throat spicy mixed with the soothing chill of gelato and sweet-and-salty peanut butter fluff. I never wanted it to end.

We stumbled out into the Chicago cold, stuffed and happy, planning to go out to enjoy midwestern nightlife. But 7 courses quickly put us into a food coma — the best possible end to the night.

This is just a taste of what we ate in Chicago — do you have any favorite spots we missed?

Tomorrow: what to do in Chicago (to work off all the food).

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2012 9:02 am

    Ahhhh that just sounds so decadent. On my (brief) trip, I definitely enjoyed a tiny version (personal pizza) of Lou Malnati’s, and earned the heck out of my Snookie fingers… I do wish I’d had a chance to try the hot dog, but as I was visiting my buddy who’d recently moved there, I think she was a little burned out on “touristy” foods. My loss.

  2. Life's a Bowl permalink
    March 27, 2012 10:49 am

    Oh my goodness, your pictures look so tasty, no words needed! I’ve wanted to go to Chicago for so long- initially to see Oprah, but also cause I’ve heard the food is super yummy 😀

    • March 27, 2012 4:42 pm

      Oprah’s in California now so food can become your primary reason for visiting Chicago. 😉

      • Life's a Bowl permalink
        March 27, 2012 4:45 pm

        Sounds good! And now that she’s in CA, I have another reason to visit again 😉

  3. Beth Cron permalink
    April 10, 2012 8:35 am

    Good choice on the Lou Malnati’s and the wrigleyville dogs!


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