Chicago hot spots
WHAT I love about Chicago is that you don’t need a lot of money to have a memorable meal: think hot dogs and deep-dish pizza, stand-out sandwiches and cheap ethnic fare. I’m also excited by how this fast-food city’s dining has become incredibly sophisticated, with progressive restaurants and young chefs turning out 21st-century food you won’t find on either coast.
The trendy scene: Want to dine with the beautiful people? Slip into Japonais, where local loft-dwellers sip sake cocktails and nibble on exquisite bites of upscale Japanese fare. Nine Steakhouse is the flashiest red-meat joint in town, while a funky crowd indulges in decadent desserts at Bucktown favourite Hot Chocolate.
Culinary adventures: Hot destinations such as Moto, where Homaro Cantu whips up edible paper and barbecued Styrofoam; Alinea (pictured) , with a more accessible menu, or Green Zebra, a fine-dining vegetarian that makes even carnivores drool.
Classic Chicago: No visit to the meat-loving Windy City would be complete without a juicy steak at Morton’s, an overstuffed sandwich at Manny’s Coffee Shop, a Chicago-style hot dog with the works at The Wieners Circle, or an Italian beef sandwich at River North’s Mr. Beef.
Melting pot: Ethnic enclaves brim with global flavours: samosas and curries at Devon Avenue’s classy Indian Tiffin, or gyros and moussaka at Greek Islands in Greektown. On the South Side, fill up on authentic, amazingly cheap Mexican fare at Nuevo Leon.
Rise and dine: Here, breakfast is almost as serious as baseball. For a retro diner experience, Lou Mitchell’s is a well-loved staple since 1923.
Randolph Street hotspots: Ten years after this industrial neighbourhood became a big-time dining destination it’s still a hot ticket. Highlights include the minimalist, modern Blackbird, which offers whip-smart New American fare, and Avec, with a thrilling small plates menu. The crowded Sushi Wabi is still the town’s hippest raw-fish spot. SOME CLOSE-UPS In a recently converted industrial building on the Chicago River, Japonais is one of the city’s most visually stunning restaurants. Inside, water flows seductively over a highgloss red brick wall. The food, created by executive chefs Jun Ichikawa and Gene Kato, is just as stylish. Sushi is impeccable, but it’s the non-sushi fare that’s most impressive, from lovely, light bin cho salad of marinated sashimi baby tuna and shaved daikon spritzed with citrus sake vinaigrette, to Seven Samurais (seven seafood tartares). www.japonaischicago.com.
The brainchild of twentysomething chef Homaro Cantu, the avant-garde Moto, in developing Fulton Market warehouse district, is considered one of the most important dining spots in the country. The setting is clean and sparse, with unadorned ivory walls, cinnamon-leather banquettes and chocolate-coloured wooden chairs. A recent tasting menu included lobster with freshly squeezed orange soda, grilled spring vegetables with barbecued Styrofoam, Colorado lamb with Kentucky fried ice cream, and freeze-dried pina colada. www.motorestaurant.com.
Chicago’s steakhouses offer prime cuts of midwestern beef and highclass atmosphere. Morton’s is still the place to go for giant steaks with delicious sides of creamed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes. www.mortons.com.
Tiffin is the finest restaurant in Chicago’s Indian and Pakistani neighbourhood. In the open kitchen, chefs prepare lip-smacking classics. www.tiffinrestaurant.com.
Breakfast place Lou Mitchell’s diner has been around since 1923 and crackles with old Chicago charm. Bouffant-haired waitresses call customers ‘‘ hon’’ and work their tables with lightning efficiency. 565 WJackson Blvd; +1 312 939 3111.
Local chef Paul Kahan serves topnotch modern food in minimalist Blackbird. Expect to be wowed. www.blackbirdrestaurant.com. ESSENTIAL ADDRESSES Nine Steakhouse, www.n9ne.com. Hot Chocolate, www.hotchocolatechicago.com. Alinea, www.alinearestaurant.com. Green Zebra, www.greenzebrachicago.com. Manny’s Coffee Shop, www.mannysdeli.com. The Wieners Circle, 2622 N Clark St; +1 773 477 7444. Mr. Beef, 666 N Orleans St; +1 312 337 8500. Greek Islands, www.greekislands.net. Nuevo Leon, 1515W18th St; +1 312 421 1517. Bongo Room, www.bongoroom.com. Orange, 3231 N Clark St; +1 773 549 4400. Avec, www.avecrestaurant.com. Sushi Wabi, www.sushiwabi.com. Additional research Joeff Davis, Jason Heidemann, Cara Jepsen. This is an edited extract from Chicago: RealCity Guide (Dorling Kindersley, $29.95).