Whenever I visit a new place, I always like to look up what the best restaurants are in that new city, and too often they are chock-full with restaurants attached to three dollar signs, or with menus that include things that should not be eaten (i.e., cow tongue and caviar). Restaurant guides that are labeled “off the beaten path” should be labeled “you will get food poisoning here.”
For those visiting or moving to Chicago, take it from a local — these are the best places to eat in the city plus what to order, true hidden gems and local hotspots that you won’t find on Yelp — both affordable and edible.
Location: 1120 S. Michigan Ave., 500 W. Madison St., or 355 E. Ohio St.
Vibe: Greasy but good breakfast spot for nursing a mild hangover (warning: noise level not good for intense hangovers!).
Must-try dish: For sweet-tooths, the banana bread French toast; for a savory taste, go with the breakfast mac n cheese. Even better, share both.
Location: 26 E. Roosevelt St., 181 Michigan Ave., 259 E. Erie St.
Vibe: Simple yet hip hole-in-the-wall donut place perfect for on-the-go donut pit stops.
Must-try dish: The vegan cinnamon donut will change your life — so fluffy, so moist, so sweet.
Location: 113-125 N. Green St.
Vibe: That bougie brunch spot you take your girlfriends to on the weekend, without eating into your rent.
Must-try dish: Waffles. ‘Nuff said.
Revival Food Hall
Location: 125 S. Clark St.
Vibe: Perfect for extra long lunch breaks to hang out with co-workers in a bougie cafeteria-style food hall.
Must-try dish: Grab some Detroit-style pizza from Uno’s if you can, but make a cup of hot cocoa from Mindy’s a priority.
Location: 626 N. State St.
Vibe: You’ll feel like you’re in Europe as you sit outside in the cafe-style setting as waiters bring you dish after dish of pasta.
Must-try dish: This is traditional family-style Italian food, so bring some friends to share with and order a few dishes to sample among you. The penne ala vodka is delicious.
Location: 431 N. Wells St.
Vibe: A casual spot for lots of great Mexican food, perfect for group outings.
Must-try dish: Chicken enchiladas. The sauce is spicy and to die for.
Location: 150 N. Dearborn St.
Vibe: Bustling atmosphere with close-quarters, French style seating perfect for dinner before or after going to the theater. The place you bring your parents to when they come visit you.
Must-try dish: Can’t go wrong with chicken parm here.
Stella Barra Pizzeria
Location: 1954 N. Halsted St.
Vibe: With moody lighting and a boisterous young crowd past 7 p.m., this is the perfect spot for a date night.
Must-try dish: Margherita pizza (egg on top optional, but recommended)
Elephant & Castle
Location: 111 W. Adams St., 185 N. Wabash Ave.
Vibe: English pub atmosphere with lots of sports-reaction amusement and loud Irish music perfect for heavy drinking and heavier eating with your best mates.
Must-try dish: The shepherd’s pie is a classic at this U.K. pub, but their pretzel bite appetizers and apple cobbler are pretty dang good, too.