Follow Me Foodie to Chicago!

Follow Me Foodie to Chicago!

Oh gosh! I love this city! I don’t even care if you haven’t been waiting for this one, but I sure have! Although I know lots of you have because otherwise you wouldn’t be following me foodie! Chicago has been on my foodie itinerary for a while and I finally made it! I have to prevent myself from using too many exclamation marks. Trust me, that is already way less than I wanted to use.

Photo taken at Skydeck Chicago

It was only a couple weeks ago that I was reporting on Follow Me Foodie to New Orleans so I was already on a culinary high, and Chicago just raised the bar even higher and on another level. Seriously the bar is so high I almost can’t reach it. Even in heels! It’s perhaps because I ended it with Alinea, and I promise you’ll hear more about that as my Chicago series continues.

Anyway I went with Follow Me Foodie itinerary in hand and was incredibly impressed by their impeccable food scene. No wonder Oprah chose it as her home! If you’re going to Chicago pack your appetite and your hairspray because the Windy City will literally blow your hair as much as your culinary mind. Welcome to Follow Me Foodie to Chicago!

It’s one of the food Meccas in North America with a world class restaurant scene run by some of America’s best chefs. To be honest I think it impressed me more than Follow Me Foodie to New York. I know! I know. Those are some mighty bold words, but they are often compared. Both cities are culinary wonders in their own ways, and I had high expectations for both, but Chicago kept me enchanted almost the whole time. New York just felt more familiar and the things I tried I had more to compare to. However, it’s really all relative since I approached both cities differently and spent twice the amount of time in New York. Regardless, Chicago’s culinary talent deserves the world renowned attention it receives.

No! I didn’t eat him, but it was fun watching him eat at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Anndd slightly embarrassing… but not enough to make me not post the picture.

I had my selection of award winning establishments and off the beaten path restaurants, but as soon as I arrived everything changed. I had an ambitious list of 40 restaurants (after narrowing it down) that I researched for Chicago and although I knew I wouldn’t get through them all, I plan to some day. In New York I actually went to 56 restaurants in 10 days, but I didn’t do that here. I had only half that time in Chicago and I had to include all the plays, shows, sights and entertainment the city is also known for.

“The Best Goat Tacos” at Birrieria Zaragoza

Even though Chicago has a Little Italy, Greektown, Chinatown and a decent amount of multicultural options, it didn’t seem as diverse compared to places like New York, parts of California and Vancouver (my home town). The Asian dining scene and street food scene is definitely smaller, but I didn’t come for those anyway, although the lack of street food was surprising. The ethnic restaurants just seemed more grouped together in neighbourhoods than spread out, however Mexican eateries seemed to be more commonly found.

Kentucky Fried Quail, Foie Gras Enriched Corn Bread, Country Gravy at Longman & Eagle

Small plates, tapas, and gastropubs were a dime a dozen, not to mention wine bars and their love for bourbon. From what I tried, many dishes were inspired by Southern, Italian or Mexican cuisine which was part of what gave Chicago its unique flavour.

Pig’s Ear with Cripsy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg at The Purple Pig

The world’s admiration for pork was also prevalent as pork belly, sausages and charcuterie continued to dominate restaurants in and outside of the Meatpacking District. Pork has always been loved by the city, considering the cultural population, but it’s even more so now. If you’re a carnivore, have no fear that the city will satisfy your appetite.

Perhaps it was the restaurants I chose, but it would almost be surprising if one of foie gras, bone marrow or various parts of the pig wasn’t on the menu. Chicago tastes and style are adventurous and sophisticated and they really know how to eat. Even though some menu items overlapped, the interpretation and execution for them were always inventive, creative and rarely repeated. There was always something new to try and it took a very smart and eclectic approach to familiar dishes.

The entrance to Alinea – see my post here

As for the fine dining options? Endless. Chicago houses some of the best restaurants in America and a few even top the list world wide. Michelin Star restaurants are everywhere and reservations need to be made months in advance to get into some of the top ones. It’s a competition between diners more so than restaurants as reservation slots are sold online, and on the rare occasion even “initiations” to prove your “worthiness” have to be made in order to get a seat. Michelin Star adjudicators have experienced reservation issues too, which actually meant excluding restaurants that were deserving of Michelin Stars. Yup! Chicago is really that good and that demanding.

I can’t say I’m a fan of the “hipster vibe“, “industry circle” or “exclusiveness” the culinary scene can sometimes give off though, but that’s something that’s becoming more true everywhere. I’m hoping it’s just a trend and that it’ll go away like fake gluten free allergies (I say that with no disrespect to those who actually suffer from the allergy). I don’t want to generalize though and for the most part Chicago’s food scene offers fun and casual atmospheres without sacrificing on the quality of food.

Here is just a small taste of things you can expect from Follow Me Foodie to Chicago!

From classic Chicago Style Hot Dogs

… to Chicago Deep Dish Pizzas (from Pizano’s).

From one man operations (@CarnalSwine’s Chipotle Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork Sandwiches sold at a nightclub) …

… to family operations (@goatboyintl + family at Birrieria Zaragoza)

From bandana wearing rock star kitchen crews (from here)…

… to white coat wearing 3 Michelin Star kitchen crews (from here).

From the local hole in the wall (photo from my Mario’s Lemonade post here)…

… to fine dining . (Photo from my Sepia post here)

From indulging in big portions (from here)…

… to savouring the small moments (Lamb 86).

And while it’s nice to finish with exquisite wine… (at Alinea)

… or a cup of hot chocolate from the famous HotChocolate

… I always suggest to save a little room for dessert (“White Chocolate” at Alinea).

My version of Chicago begins tomorrow… start booking time off now.

Accommodations: I was partially hosted by Hyatt Regency Chicago which is conveniently located in downtown. It’s only a few minutes walk to Magnificent Mile (shopping street) and it completed a $90 million guestroom renovation last year. It’s a AAA Four Diamond hotel with wi-fi (fee), eateries and a 24 hour StayFit gym. Although I’m not really one to visit a gym, I can see how it would appeal to those with a food focused itinerary. I did however see their breakfast buffet at BISTRO At 151 and overall the hotel caters well especially for a business clientèle.

Price: $170-400+/day depending on the season and type of room. 

PS: Just so you don’t think I’m totally lazy, I do get exercise running from restaurant to restaurant. With some encouragement I also did Bobby’s Bike Hike which is a 3 hour guided bike tour of the city. It was a good way to explore Chicago and it helped me discover neighbourhood restaurants I didn’t have on my list. My guide Bryan also knew about the entertainment and restaurant scene too, so he could easily help suggest or narrow down an itinerary!

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