The food scene in Chicago is electric. There are so many incredible restaurants, bites, and dinning experiences, all scattered throughout the city. To make a list of the best restaurants would be quite an impossible task; there are so many restaurants with constant buzz-worthy new additions. I visited Chicago a few years ago and was excited to visit once again to dine and dish about my favorite food experiences. There are countless phenomenal restaurants in Chicago, this list is really just the tip of the iceberg. But from a friend to a friend, these are my 5 favorite Chicago food experiences I want you to try!
(Chowing down on shrimp and grits, and sourdough pancakes from Little Goat Diner. This adorable breakfast spot didn’t quite make the list but is absolutely worth checking out!)
5 Favorite Chicago Food Experiences
1. Signature Lounge at the 96th
As for Chicago food experiences, this one is the best. A few years go I stumbled upon (by accident!) one of the best bars in Chicago. High up in the Willis Tower is the Signature Lounge, located just a few floors below the building’s ticketed top floor Skydeck, where you can grab a glass of wine and nibble on some bites while overlooking the Chicago city skyline. The Signature Lounge at the 96th is one of Chicago’s best kept secrets! I was searching online for a place with some light bites and a view before my afternoon flight and made my way over to the Willis Tower, not sure what to expect. When I arrived, I whisked past the long line for Skydeck tickets and went straight to the top! There was almost no line at the bar and I quickly ordered a glass of wine and crab cakes, settling in at a table right up against the window. It was heaven! They also have an attached restaurant, the Signature Room, with views overlooking the water – next time I’m making reservations there for brunch or dinner (or maybe both!).
2. BomboBar’s Walk-Up Window Doughnuts
After an awesome dinner catching up with some Chicago friends at BellyQ, it was time for the second phase of the evening: dessert! Our Chicago friends are all about the best and most exciting restaurants in Chicago, so they took us to one of their favorite sweet spots, BomboBar, for a unique doughnut experience. Doughnuts with squeeze bottles full of flavorful filings?! These are Bombolonis (Italian doughnuts dusted with granulated sugar) and they come with little bottles filled with nine different filling flavor possibilities shoved into the center of each doughnut. Mmmm hmmm. To place your order, you walk up to their sidewalk facing window and order one, two.. or a half dozen like we did (no one is judging!). For our fillings, we went with the salted caramel, mixed berry, cinnamon apple, and vanilla bean custard which paired perfectly with the fluffy, airy, and chewy doughnuts. The doughnut texture and flavor was so unique and I loved adding the sweet sauces to each doughnut bite!
3. The Kitchen Bistro
This intimate and cozy restaurant serves up farm to table cuisine with a purpose! The restaurant’s founder, Kimbal Musk (brother of Tesla’s Elon Musk) has a vision of modern farming and its role in everyday eating. The Kitchen Bistro’s philosophy is ‘Real food from American farmers’ bringing the popular farm to table concept to life with locally farmed and seasonal ingredients. The Kitchen Bistro is part of The Kitchen, Kimbal’s larger company, that works hands-on in community gardens, urban farming projects, and providing accessible fresh produce for all. To date, they have placed, grown, and supported over 100 learning gardens in Chicago schools and communities! The Kitchen Bistro in Chicago is one of several restaurants across the US under The Kitchen umbrella, all of which support the same farm to table philosophy. Click here to read an in-depth article on The Kitchen’s vision of modern, accessible farming for the future. The food was delicious, the gorgeous restaurant was in a perfect location, and I loved knowing that every delicious forkful I enjoyed was supporting the cause!
Elske was just named Bon Appetit Magazine’s second best restaurant in the US – so we had to try it! The night my friend Rachel and I touched down in Chicago we headed straight there for dinner. We decided to make this dinner a ‘phones down’ technology-free evening, so I don’t have any photos to share! But I must admit, it was really nice to not think twice about digging my fork into a dish and not take a picture first. Elske is very hip and serves even more buzz-worthy food. Their cuisine can be described as Nordic and Scandinavian influence meets Midwestern flare. We ordered quite a few small plates, including lobster carpaccio, dark rye bread with cultured koji butter, and roasted quail with rutabaga. The plating was so beautiful with scattered flavors of either smoked, cured, or pickled ingredients throughout our many small plates. The atmosphere was buzzing, the food had so much depth, and I was so excited to try this unique cuisine.
5. Enjoy a Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Even After Flying Home
A few years ago, when flying from Chicago back to Arizona, I packed a frozen deep dish pizza in my carry-on luggage. No, this is not a joke! Deep dish pizza is a big deal in Chicago and I would love to someday go back and spend a week trying them all – for research of course. I have only tried two deep dish pizza locations, so I am absolutely not a expert but I will say I do love that style of pizza!
Some of the big local chain restaurants, like Lou Malnati’s, sell frozen deep dish pizzas, ready for you to grab on your way to the airport. They even sell you an insulated bag if you need one! The frozen pizza stays (mostly) frozen for about 4-5 hours and is ready to be popped in the oven right when you get home. How awesome is that? You can also taste a true Chicago deep dish pizza from anywhere in the world – you just have to order it frozen online. I’m planning on ordering one soon, I’m still craving deep dish since I left Chicago a few weeks ago! I am sure other deep dish pizza locations also sell frozen deep dish pizzas, Lou Malnati’s is just the only one I have tried.
Have you ever ordered a frozen deep dish online or carried one in your suitcase through the airport? I would love to hear about it or any other awesome Chicago food experiences you had while visiting. Also, check out my best bites page where I share my favorite food from cities all around the world.
Now, excuse me while I go place an order for something frozen and covered in tomato sauce!