Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago’s Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies

Post originally Published December 18, 2023 || Last Updated December 19, 2023

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Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Deep Dish Delights: Chicago's Iconic Pizza Joints

Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago’s Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies

Few foods say Chicago like deep dish pizza. This culinary icon was born in the Windy City in 1943 when Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo opened Pizzeria Uno, creating a thicker, more substantial pie that could stand up to Chicago’s notorious winters. Nearly 80 years later, deep dish is still a local specialty, drawing tourists and residents alike to pizzerias across the city.

While New Yorkers scoff and argue thin crust is the one true pizza, Chicagoans remain devoted to their trademark deep dish. And why not? A generous crust packed high with cheese and toppings makes for a supremely satisfying meal perfect for sharing. Don’t expect to neatly fold these massive wedges - deep dish demands a knife and fork.

No Chicago food tour is complete without sampling one of these hearty pies. Pizzeria Uno still serves up deep dish in River North, though locals argue Lou Malnati’s makes the best. Lou’s buttery crust and secret blend of cheeses attract hour-long waits at their downtown and Lincoln Park locations. For a trendier spot, try Pequod’s deep dish with its caramelized crust and sweet sauce. Or head to Gino’s East, where patrons scrawl graffiti on the walls while awaiting their pies.

Some purists insist on Pizzeria Due for authentic deep dish. The original restaurant spun off from Pizzeria Uno in 1955, bringing deep dish to a new location while retaining the same recipes. Their sausage-laden pizza layers chunky tomatoes, plenty of mozzarella, and a thick, flaky crust. Due eschews gimmicks, focusing solely on executing flawless deep dish.
For a creative riff, try the spinach and ricotta stuffed deep dish at Nancy’s Pizza. Their generous portions feed multiple people, though you may want leftovers. Or sample inventive topping combos like avocado and fried egg or spicy Thai chicken pizza at Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream. Their deep dishes stay crispy even with untraditional ingredients piled high.

Wherever you go, be prepared to wait during peak dinner hours - most places don’t take reservations, so lines stretch out the door. Deep dish also takes more time to prepare with a good 45 minutes to an hour bake time. Savor an Italian soda or local beer while you wait for pizza perfection.

What else is in this post?

  1. Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Deep Dish Delights: Chicago's Iconic Pizza Joints
  2. Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Tacos and Tamales: Authentic Mexican in Pilsen
  3. Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Chinatown's Culinary Wonders
  4. Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Little Italy's Old World Charm
  5. Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - West Loop's Trendy Eateries
  6. Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - River North's Celebrity Chefs
  7. Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Wicker Park's Eclectic Flavors
  8. Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Bucktown's Hotspots for Brunch
  9. Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Lincoln Park's Cozy Cafes

Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Tacos and Tamales: Authentic Mexican in Pilsen

Pilsen’s vibrant Mexican culture shapes its culinary landscape, with taquerias and tamalerias lining 18th Street. This predominantly Hispanic neighborhood provides a tantalizing taste of authentic south-of-the-border flavors, from freshly pressed tortillas to complex, slow-simmered mole sauces.

Those new to Mexican fare should start with Pilsen's ubiquitous tacos. These fast, inexpensive bites come packed with a variety of meats or veggies sandwiched in warm corn or flour tortillas. Carnitas, barbacoa, lengua (tongue), and al pastor (spit-roasted marinated pork) are typical proteins. Or try tacos Dorados, where the tortilla gets fried into a crispy taco shell. Fillings like huitlacoche (a earthy corn mushroom) demonstrate the diversity of Mexican ingredients.

Top taquerias like 5 Rabanitos, Tacos Tequilas, and Birrieria Zaragoza churn out tender, lightly seasoned meats complemented by fresh diced onions, cilantro, and lime wedges. Salsas, from the mild, tangy tomatillo to the fiery habanero, add extra flavor. Tacos here cost just $2-3 each, so try several varieties in one sitting.
Beyond tacos, tamales provide another authentic taste of Mexico. These hearty corn masa dumplings get stuffed and steamed in corn husks or banana leaves. Savory options include mole chicken or pork carnitas. Sweet tamales satisfy with flavors like pineapple, raisin, or creamy Oaxaca cheese.

Don't skip the beverage pairings: horchata, a rice milk drink, Jamaica, a tart hibiscus tea, or Mexican Coke made with real cane sugar. Top selections for tacos and tamales include Tamales Lo Mejor de la Cocina,Tamaleria y Taqueria La Hacienda, and 5 Rabanitos.

While the selections look humble from the street, the care devoted to handmade tortillas and complex moles demonstrates true Mexican craftsmanship. Rick Bayless of Frontera and Topolobampo fame sources inspiration from Pilsen, working closely with local purveyors. High volume keep taquerias busy, so know your order ahead of time as the line moves fast. Cash only policies are also still common.
Beyond tacos and tamales, 18th Street invites exploration, with panaderias selling tres leches cake and concha breads, plus carnicerias stocking Mexican chorizo and beef cuts like arrachera. Stock up on spices at El Nuevo Mexicano. Try champurrado, a thick Mexican hot chocolate, at Nuevo Leon. Or sample aguas frescas like tamarind and horchata .

Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Chinatown's Culinary Wonders

Venturing south of the Loop to Chinatown opens up a world of tasty Chinese treats. This historic neighborhood dates back to 1912, when Chinese immigrants first settled in the area. Over a century later, Chinatown still thrives as an epicenter of Chinese culture and cuisine in the Midwest. Beyond the iconic Chinatown Gate archway on Cermak Road lies an abundance of flavorful fare.
For the best mix of staple Chinese dishes, check out MingHin Cuisine. Their extensive menu covers all the classics from potstickers to kung pao chicken. Don't miss their signature dish - ginger fried chicken wok-tossed with chili peppers in a sweet ginger sauce. Crispy, juicy, and packing some heat, it's a stellar version of a Chinese takeout staple. Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings house makes delicate dumplings stuffed with everything from pork and chives to seafood and leeks. Their hungry diners gobble up these tasty bundles by the steamer-full.

Regional Chinese cuisine also makes an appearance in Chinatown. Szechuan dishes highlight tongue-tingling chili pepper spice and pungent Sichuan peppercorns. Try the mouth-numbing ma po tofu or dan dan noodles laden with spicy ground pork at Lao Sze Chuan. For a more refined take on Szechuan, A Place by Damao elevates classics through meticulous cooking techniques.
Cantonese dim sum draws visitors craving dumplings, buns, and other small plates. Phoenix and MingHin serve up carts overflowing with har gow shrimp dumplings, stuffed eggplant, and savory barbecue pork buns. Yum cha devotees flock here on weekends to graze on dim sum and sip tea into the afternoon.
Chinatown also houses regional Chinese bakeries and boba tea shops. Quickly Q provides pandan cakes, eggettes, curry fish balls, and almond cookies imported straight from Hong Kong. Serious tea drinkers head to Joy Yee Noodle for their extensive bubble tea menu and Asian desserts like mango coconut tapioca.

Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Little Italy's Old World Charm

Chicago's Little Italy may be small, but it overflows with old world charm and flavors. Taylor Street serves as the heart of this historic neighborhood, where Italian immigrants first settled in the late 19th century. Even as Chinatown and the University of Illinois-Chicago campus grow on its borders, Little Italy retains its heritage. Red, white and green flags wave above Italian bakeries and cafés, while historic churches anchor street corners.

Meander down Taylor Street for a taste of Italy. Stop into Al's Italian Beef for Chicago's famous Italian beef sandwiches. The thin-sliced, garlic-rubbed beef gets cooked for hours then soaked in its natural juices. Order it “wet” for the full experience, with the bread dipped in meat drippings. Pair it with their signature spicy giardiniera peppers for a perfect combo of juicy, peppery and crunchy.
For homemade Italian classics, old timers swear by Francesca's Bryn Mawr. This unassuming spot opened in 1989, but recipes date back generations. Red checkered tablecloths set the mood as waiters bustle around with plates of chicken vesuvio, rigatoni bolognese and lemon chicken. Don't miss their homemade lasagna, a creamy, cheesy tower of noodles and savory ragu. Francesca's sticks to tradition with family recipes and no fusion additions.

Italian desserts shine at Scafuri Bakery, an 80 year old Taylor Street institution. Their cases brim with cannoli, biscotti, eclairs and tiramisu. But Scafuri’s claim to fame is sfogliatelle, a shell-shaped pastry filled with sweet ricotta. Bakers layer dough into hundreds of delicate leaves to create that signature flaky texture. It’s a light, melt-in-your-mouth treat. Take a few sfogliatelle to go and nibble as you explore Little Italy’s sidewalks.

Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - West Loop's Trendy Eateries

With its converted warehouses and sleek new builds, the West Loop has become one of Chicago’s trendiest dining neighborhoods. Industrial-chic restaurants run by celebrity chefs draw foodies from across the city and beyond. Daring new openings keep the scene fresh, with experimental tasting menus pushing culinary boundaries. Even as hype surrounds the latest spots, this is still a neighborhood powered by passion. Talented chefs pursue their culinary visions in the West Loop, whether an intimate 10-seat restaurant or 300-seat special occasion destination. Diners eager to taste tomorrow’s trends today have much to explore here.

Topping many must-try lists is Next, Grant Achatz’s temple to conceptual dining. This imaginative restaurant completely reinvents itself every few months with a new theme and menu. One quarter it’s Paris 1906, with an ornate Belle Epoque interior and dishes like duck a l’orange. The next, it’s Sicily 1990s, channeling rustic Italian fare. Tickets sell out immediately for Next’s limited reservations. Window seats reveal the theater of the kitchen, while tableside finishes like blowtorches dramatize each course. With nowhere to go but up after pioneering Alinea, Next shows Achatz still has plenty of creative combustion left.
For Korean-Southern mashups, Parachute from Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark delights palates. Dishes like braised short ribs with grits or duck fat biscuits slathered with kimchi butter bridge the cuisines seamlessly. Their cozy storefront space offers a more intimate experience than many West Loop hotspots. Minimalist decor lets the artful plates take center stage. Parachute exemplifies how chef-driven restaurants make an impression here through skill, not hype.

Speaking of hype, few openings caused as much buzz as Cabra from Stephanie Izard. The first standalone restaurant from the Girl and the Goat chef focuses wholly on Latin flavors. In a rustic room warmed by a fireplace hearth, diners tuck into small plates like ceviche, empanadas, and tamales. Large format options such as wood-fire grilled whole fish or dry-aged tomahawk steak encourage sharing. With top-notch cocktails like mezcal margaritas and an extensive Latin American wine list, it’s worth braving the crowds for Cabra’s lively atmosphere and bold dishes.
More intimate spots also thrive, like Proxi led by Andrew Zimmerman. Proxi centers its compact menu around a wood-burning oven for dishes like leek fondue flatbread and smoky charred carrots with hazelnut picada. Global influences from Brazil’s feijoada to Morocco’s bastilla come together beautifully here. A glassed-in patio with fire pit extends Proxi’s cozy, clubhouse ambiance. Soothing natural tones and greenery soften the industrial bones, while large-format shareable plates bring strangers together over superb fare and good company.

Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - River North's Celebrity Chefs

River North tempts with celebrity chef driven restaurants, where dining becomes dinner theater. Talented chefs attracted by Chicago's passion for food make their mark here, with glitzy dining rooms putting their cuisine center stage. Yet flashy interiors alone don't satisfy for long in a city obsessed with flavor. These marquee chefs continue wowing Chicago through sheer culinary excellence. Their bold, innovative menus push boundaries while maintaining approachability. Dining at their most hyped restaurants promises excitement, with dishes as entertaining as they are delicious.

Alinea, the temple of molecular gastronomy from Grant Achatz, needs little introduction. Ever since it snatched the James Beard's Best New Restaurant title in 2006, Alinea has made Chicago the fine dining capital of America. From olive oil lollipops to bacon dangling from metal wires, Alinea's plates provoke and amaze through whimsy. But technique supports each artistic vision, with sous vide, liquid nitrogen, and enzymatic thickeners crafting marvelous textures and flavors. Achatz and co-owner Nick Kokonas stay hungry for innovation, refreshing Alinea's menu every season. Dining here feels like opening night on Broadway, with a 19 course performance full of drama and delight.
Another star attraction, Le Colonial charms with a blend of French and Vietnamese cuisine. Palm trees, rattan fans, and colonial lanterns whisk diners away to 1920s Saigon inside its bi-level space. Begin upstairs with cocktails in the lounge or bar. Then descend to the elegant dining room and extensive wine cellar below. Crispy imperial rolls or pho ga chicken noodle soup offer lighter starts before entree standouts like shaking beef tenderloin or five spice roasted duck. Restauranteur Cindy Feheley and consulting Chef Didier Durand bridge culinary worlds for an unforgettable escape.
Topolobampo, Rick Bayless' upscale Mexican restaurant, attracts devotees of regional Mexican cuisine. Like Le Colonial, its luxe interior transports, with natural woods, stone, and artwork celebrating Dia de Los Muertos. But flavors reign supreme, from complex moles to wood fire grilled quail with wild mushroom sauce. Meticulous organic preparation and Oaxacan chocolate souffle give it gravitas. Still, Topolobampo encourages fun, with live music and half-price drinks during social hour. Led by Bayless, one of America's preeminent Mexican chefs, Topolobampo packages adventure and comfort into every bite.

Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Wicker Park's Eclectic Flavors

Wicker Park entices foodies with its creativemashups and globetrotting menus. Chefs here follow no rules, blending cuisines and techniques with carefree abandon. The neighborhood encourages experimentation, welcoming curious eaters eager to discover boundary-pushing flavors. Yet skilled execution and scrumptious results separate the visionaries from the pretenders. Wicker Park's culinary melting pot bubbles over with eateries proving that sometimes, odd combos work deliciously.
Leading the fusion charge, Fat Rice showcases the Portuguese-Chinese cuisine of Macau. Creations like arroz gordo, baked rice studded with linguica sausage and topped with a fried egg, demonstrate how these cuisines complement each other. Their dining room channels 1940s Hong Kong, with vintage tiles and chandeliers setting a moody, romantic ambiance. Be sure to also explore their extensive basement tiki bar. Nearby, Decoy evokes the backstreets of pre-war Shanghai with duck-centric plates. Tender tea-smoked duck over lo mein noodles wows, while dipping sauce options like Sichuan chili oil keep each bite intriguing. Decoy's speakeasy-style basement bar shakes up Asian-inspired cocktails to match.
For a Thai-Southern mashup, try crispy catfish Panang curry and five spice fried chicken with hot honey at Fat Rice. Diner-inspired bang bang pie mashes together chicken pot pie and banana cream flavors for a sweet and savory slice. Their playful cocktails include the Bruised Ego, which mixes bourbon, Thai chili, and pandan, a Southeast Asian leaf. Trailblazing chefs like this keep Wicker Park's dining scene fresh.
Even pub grub gets an upgrade here. At The Violet Hour, upscale bar snacks include foie gras sausage on brioche and Moroccan-spiced squab lettuce cups. Their inventive plates and craft cocktails draw crowds despite the unmarked entrance. Locals squeeze into Boiler Room for juicy lucy burgers stuffed with melty cheese and clever appetizers like Korean fried cauliflower. The lively downstairs dive bar inspires spontaneous mid-week meals among neighbors.

For globally inspired vegetarian, Aster Hall from Chef Lee Wolan pleases diverse palates with a build-your-own bowl format. Diners select a base like Japanese sticky rice or Lebanese freekah wheat before adding toppings ranging from massaman curry to avocado tzatziki. Daily rotating desserts might include Vietnamese coffee pot de creme or matcha butter mochi. Local ingredients and scratch preparation elevate every combination. Nearby, charming BYOB Ada Street satisfies carnivores and vegans alike with Mediterranean small plates. Their cauliflower milanese and reimagined falafel hook meat eaters, while spreads like Muhammara dip made from roasted red peppers, walnuts and spices appeal to all diets.

Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Bucktown's Hotspots for Brunch

Bucktown may be better known for its nightlife, but the neighborhood hides some of Chicago’s best brunch spots. Weekend mornings see Bucktowners braving waits to fuel up on local takes on brunch classics. While typical fare like eggs Benedict and pancakes make appearances, clever chefs add global flavors and local ingredients to keep things interesting. Vegetarians find plenty of meatless options made with care, not just relegated to sides. And Bloody Mary bars with savory snacks and spicy house made mixes provide that hair-of-the-dog holiday weekend crowds crave.

Leading the brunch brigade, Steadfast shows the care that goes into real deal scratch cooking. Their Shakshuka baked eggs nestle in a rich, smoky tomato sauce kicked up with harissa peppers and olives. A generous dollop of tsatsiki yogurt cools each bite. The Bravocado toast slathers smashed avocado, pepitas, and feta atop sourdough, then crowns it with two poached eggs for protein. Even something as simple as ricotta pancakes sings here, with perfect fluffy texture from folding in whipped egg whites. For a sweet finish, their beignets dusted with powdered sugar disappear quickly.
Global flavors influence brunch plates at The Bristol. Chilaquiles casserole revives last night's partygoers with crisp tortilla chips baked under salsa verde, cheese, and eggs. Their Korean breakfast tacos fill soft corn tortillas with kimchi fried rice and spicy gochujang mayo. Creamy miso corn chowder, thick with potatoes, makes a soothing starter. Tableside cocktails add to the festivities, like a bourbon apple cider foam crowned with cinnamon sprinkles.

For meatless options, try Rootstock Wine Bar's vegan brunch plate with scrambled tofu, tempeh sausage, roasted tomato and spinach-cashew pesto on ciabatta. Their Bloody Mary bar starts with savory tomatillo-avocado juice then allows DIY customization with horseradish, pickled veggies and even bacon bits. Parson's Chicken & Fish also impresses herbivores with coconut pancakes with mango butter plus a shiitake mushroom hash with sweet potatoes and kale. A not-too-sweet hibiscus agave margarita tops off the meal.
Not everything here pushes boundaries - sometimes classics done right satisfy. Delightful pastries, stellar coffees, and roomy patio seating make Cellar Door Provisions a neighborhood favorite. Ricotta lemon pancakes, fluffy omelets, and 11 different quiche options hit the comfort food sweet spot. Their bakery up front serves up freshly baked breads, croissants, and cinnamon rolls to take home too.

Windy City Bites: Exploring Chicago's Top 25 Restaurants for Foodies - Lincoln Park's Cozy Cafes

Nestled between the Zoo, the Lake, and DePaul University, Lincoln Park nurtures a crowd seeking laid-back locales for quality coffee and comfort food. Students cramming for finals, young families wrestling strollers through the door, and couples sneaking in weekend brunch all find refuge in Lincoln Park’s cozy cafés. The neighborhood eschews pretension in favor of welcoming spots where regulars mix effortlessly with visitors from across town. While more raucous nightlife thrives nearby, mornings here start slowly with long, lazy meals.
For many, a perfect Saturday begins waiting in line at Frances’, a breakfast institution since 1986. Once settled into a vinyl booth, regulars order the Avocado Benedict, a heavenly combination of buttery avocado slices, silky poached eggs, and fresh tomato coulis atop an English muffin. Giant cinnamon rolls glistening with icing draw oohs and ahhs. Lighter options like yogurt and fruit keep waistlines in check. Enjoy free refills of their rich French roast coffee while kicking back with the newspaper. No laptops or phones disrupt the tranquil refuge Frances’ provides from the plugged-in world.

Looking to linger outside? Make a beeline for Floriole Bakery when the sun shines. Picnic tables line the sidewalk for alfresco people-watching. Their cozy indoor space still entices with chandeliers and fresh flowers on rustic wood tables. Whichever you choose, pair a “cuppa” tea with a pastry - perhaps an almond croissant or ginger molasses cookie. Charm trumps WiFi here, making it a favorite meetup spot. Regulars know to arrive early for the best pastries before the display cases empty.
For a dose of hipster charm, join the young arty set squeezing into Reno. This cozy spot celebrates the artistic side of the neighborhood with rotating exhibits. Patrons sip lattes near comic book characters brought to life through colorful murals. Brunch delivers decadent French toast in flavors like crème brûlée. Even avocado toast gets a gourmet twist with feta, chili oil and microgreens atop artisan sourdough slices. Reno keeps eggs interesting by adding everything from goat cheese to bacon lardons. While you wait for a table, pop next door to pick up baked goods like chocolate croissants from sister bakery Floriole.

If you prefer tables instead of to-go cups, make your way to Cafe Selmarie in the Lincoln Square neighborhood adjacent to Lincoln Park. This family-owned cafe charms with its Euro-chic ambiance. Daily specials tempt with made-from-scratch soups, savory galettes, and French macarons in flavors like salted caramel and matcha. Linger over café au lait, watching leaves drift by the window. With cozy couches and a relaxed vibe, Cafe Selmarie makes an ideal spot for whiling away a slow weekend morning off the clock. Bring a book, have a natter with a friend, and forget your obligations for an hour or two.

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