Insider Secrets: Chicago Dining

 

Stephen Wambach’s Epic
Stephen Wambach’s Epic, in River North, has a classic-meets-contemporary menu and a stylish rooftop lounge to boot.

 

Visitors to the Windy City have an ever-increasing variety of top-tier dining choices—from well-known chefs expanding their operations to hot openings in major hotels. We found burgeoning food scenes, creative takes on comfort fare and standout fine dining among the noteworthy newcomers.

A Haute Kinda Town

Over the past decade, Chicago has become well-known for its upscale and innovative dining. And, even if most visitors still head for the deep-dish pizza and classic steakhouse—both for which the city is famous—they’re now also able to feast on creative fare from some of America’s top chefs. Whether it’s the sci-fi-like molecular meals of Homaro Cantu at Moto in the Market District or the gastronomic theater of Grant Achatz at Lincoln Park’s Alinea, haute dining options abound.

Some of the most interesting new kids on the block come courtesy of local favorites. Take Rick Bayless, for instance. His ever-popular fine-dining Mexican, Topolobampo and the veteran Frontera Grill, are worthy of any visitor’s itinerary. But we love his new quick-service café highlighting favorite Mexican street foods at XOCO, where the hot chocolate and fabulous tortas are addictive. And we can’t help being drawn to chef Stephen Wambach’s New American in River North, the hot-and-happening Epic, with its lofty space, exposed brick, steel accents and cool rooftop lounge.

Meanwhile, internationally known, Michelin-starred Milan chef Domenico Acampora—fresh from a stint at the Four Seasons Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—arrived in the city to open Accanto earlier this year. A special-occasion spot in Logan Square, Accanto’s fusion-style Italian menu is rife with delightful surprises, like a short-rib risotto simmered in bone marrow cream.

Neighborhood Noshing

Given its 76 distinct neighborhoods, Chicago has no shortage of dining diversity, says Peter Carideo, president of CRC Travel, to Luxury Travel Advisor. He says the restaurant scene is evolving in a number of neighborhoods. So, after visitors have gotten that trip to a classic steakhouse out of the way, there’s plenty for gourmands to explore among the fresh lot in Logan Square to Lincoln Square and River North to Streeterville.

 

Sable Kitchen & Bar
Sable Kitchen & Bar is fashioned in the style of a 1940s gastro-lounge.

 

In River North, we’re taken with the casual tavern space and New American fare at Gilt Bar, Chef Brendan Sodikoff’s witty newcomer. The cocktail menu alone makes it a worthwhile stop, with expertly prepared classic selections like the Sazerac and Pimm’s Cup. Then there’s Lincoln Square’s RendezVous Bistro, a softly lit Parisian-style bistro with solid coq au vin and lemon mille feuille, and the handful of additions in high-end hotels, including the trendy Sable Kitchen & Bar at the Hotel Palomar in River North, the people-watching scene at the Ritz-Carlton’s 12th-floor deca Restaurant & Bar and the retro-eclectic menu at Balsan in the Gold Coast’s new Elysian Hotel.

In fact, the best way to experience the wide range of Chicago dining is to explore a neighborhood—like the Gold Coast, Old Town and Lincoln Park—by foot. Note: Try Chicago Food Planet Tours, which conducts a Near North walking tour that covers just those neighborhoods.

 

 

Best Bets

For Honeymooners:

The Drawing Room: The Gold Coast’s chic New American with sexy cocktails and late-night hours.

NoMi: The Park Hyatt’s posh New French eatery with a 1,500-bottle wine list.

Sixteen: The Trump International Hotel’s 16th-floor flashy New American.

For Business:

Les Nomades: Streeterville’s pricey French in a clubby townhouse setting.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse: For that classic porterhouse in a Gold Coast space filled with movers and shakers.

Everest: Top-of-the-heap views and a 1,700-bottle wine list cap this New French in the Loop.

For Gourmands:

Moto: Science lab meets foodie heaven in the Market District.

Alinea: New American with eye-catching preparations in Lincoln Park.

The Purple Pig: Ears, tail, snout—plenty for adventurous pork lovers.

 

 

Highbrowing the Lowbrow

We have to admit, even refined palates have moments when only a burger or frank will do. To be sure, today’s culinary scene is chock-full of artisanal burger spots and others just like it that devote themselves to upping the bar on so-called “blue-collar” eats. Good thing Chicago has a bunch of new gourmet versions that have opened this year. The new haute dog eatery Franks ‘N’ Dawgs in Lincoln Park—helmed by Chef Joe Doren, who is behind Sixteen at Trump Chicago—surpriseswith its house-made sausages served on home-baked breads. It’s not just anywhere you can get an andouille sausage with mustard, ketchup, fried okra, shrimp and chives. We also love Michael Kornick’s DMK Burger Bar in Lakeview where the burgers are made from grass-fed beef, and we hear great things about Streeterville’s M Burger, which is adjacent to the upscale Tru and run by the same folks. Evanston’s Edzo’s Burger Shop rounds out the top burger joints.

Speaking of elevating the ordinary, we can’t help noticing the continuing preponderance of the lowly pig in Chicago cuisine. The latest pork-friendly places: Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s The Purple Pig in River North and Longman & Eagle in Logan Square.

 

Sixteen, in Trump Chicago
Sixteen, in Trump Chicago, has 30-foot floor-to-ceiling windows with views of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River and the Wrigley Clock Tower.

 

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