Chicago City Guide

Chicago Restaurants Guide

©2006 Cyprien The Billy Goat Tavern in downtown Chicago is famous for its "cheezeborgers."

Let's get the stereotypes out of the way first. Yes, deep-dish pizza is a Chicago specialty, and if you've never had this heart-stopping, deeply satisfying, high-calorie treat, head to Gino's East (633 N Wells St) or Lou Malnati's (439 N Wells St) for the real thing. Just make sure you've worked up an appetite before you arrive.

For a classic Chicago hotdog (topped with chopped onions, green relish, yellow mustard, pickle spears, fresh tomato, and celery salt), head to Gold Coast Dogs (159 N Wabash Ave). The dogs are either char-grilled or steamed.

It looks like your basic dive (and has very few places to sit), but Mr. Beef (666 N Orleans St) is the best place in town to taste a genuine Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich, topped with sweet or hot peppers.

Many hail the Billy Goat Tavern (430 N Michigan Ave) as the best cheeseburgers in town. As you eat your "cheezeborger," you can check out the walls, which are filled with photos and articles that are a virtual museum of Chicago history.

For the best polish sausage, head over to Jim's Original (1250 S Union St). The grilled sausages are big and juicy, with a big scoop of grilled onions on top, and the recipe hasn't changed in 60 years. Jim's opened for business on Maxwell Street in 1939, but moved when the market was relocated in the late 1990s.

Chef Rick Bayless is widely credited with bringing authentic South-of-the-Border cooking to the United States, so it's no surprise that his Mobil's Three-Star restaurant Frontera Grill (445 N Clark St) is regularly hailed as one of the best Mexican restaurants in the country. To get an idea of Bayless' range, try the sopas surtidos appetizer, a mix of corn tortillas filled with tasty combinations such as chicken with red mole sauce or black beans with homemade chorizo sausage.

Chicago's original celebrity chef, Charlie Trotter, doesn't rely on high-concept gimmicks. His namesake restaurant, Mobil's Five-Star Charlie Trotter's (816 W Armitage Ave) has built an international reputation on his use of flavorful, mostly organic ingredients mixed in non-traditional combinations.

Chicago's history as a magnet for immigrants has given the city a rich variety of ethnic restaurants. On Taylor Street in Little Italy is Mobil's Two-Star Rosebud, (1500 W Taylor St), where regulars go for heaping portions of perfect rigantoni alla vodka.

Greektown, just west of The Loop, is home to a number of excellent Greek restaurants. At Pegasus (130 S Halsted St), you'll enjoy gorgeous views of downtown from the rooftop deck. You should try the shrimp baked with traditional pasta or the boneless lamb with rosa marina pasta.

For a wide range of authentic Latin dishes, try Mobil's Three-Star Nacional 27 (325 W Huron St), an elegant-but-not-stuffy restaurant that features specialties from Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and other Latin American countries; the ceviches and empanadas -- which change seasonally -- are a good way to sample different flavors. The dining room, which has the airy, glamorous feel of a 1930s-era nightclub, transforms into a dance floor on Friday and Saturday nights, with a live DJ spinning Latin pop tunes.  

Tango Sur (3763 N Southport Ave) is an Argentine steakhouse with a simple decor but romantic, cozy atmosphere. Start off with plump empanadas (baked turnovers stuffed with ham and cheese or spinach and cheese), followed by a main dish of grilled meats with vegetables.

The real news on the Chicago restaurant scene is its growing sophistication. Even hard-to-please New York restaurant critics now write admiringly about our top chefs, some of whom are literally reinventing how to eat. At Mobil's Five-Star Alinea (1723 N Halsted St), chef Grant Achatz serves dishes on lavender-scented pillows pricked with tiny holes, so delicate aromas envelop diners as they eat. Try the duck confit and poached quince served on a mace-scented pillow.

Indian and Latin American flavors mesh on the menu at River North's Vermilion (10 W Hubbard St). Must-try dishes include chicken tikka masala, blackened tamarind ribs, or lobster with coconut-curry gravy.

No matter where you choose to dine, the average tipping rate in Chicago is between 15 and 20 percent.

You've just read about more Chicago attractions than you could fit into a month-long vacation. To make sure you hit all the highlights, go to the next page to read our suggested itineraries for visiting Chicago.