When Patrick said he was going to take me to Chicago for my birthday I paused for about 3 seconds before I went online and started researching restaurants. This city has always been a big eating (and drinking) town but recent years have seen a spate of nationally recognized spots opening and thriving. The minute the plane landed we knew we were somewhere special – the people are incredibly friendly and the city was bursting with colorful flowers everywhere you look. Perhaps that’s to make up for the 5 months a year its atrocious to live there but at least they have terrific food and drink options to stave off the cold. The only disappointing meals we had were deep dish pizza and sausages – go figure! Likely why I usually avoid these tourist dishes (I would never in good conscious recommend someone visiting Boston to get baked beans). Here are just some of my favorite spots we visited.
Topolobampo – 445 N Clark Street
For me this was a must stop. Rick Bayless is pretty much the father of Mexican cooking in America. I have loved watching him talk about his passion for authentic Mexican cooking on TV and I have several of his cookbooks which are just outstanding. Actually the ONLY jarred salsa I will even consider buying is his Chipolte Salsa (they carry it in most supermarkets so keep a look out). We basically went directly from the airport to lunch at Topolobampo and what a way to start off the trip. The list of mezcals and tequila were dizzying but don’t worry if you can’t decide, just get a flight! They offer a 3 course lunch for only $25 which I am somewhat regretting not doing but we just weren’t hungry enough. Patrick ordered the Soupa Azteca to start with, and man did he order well. The broth, poured tableside was like nothing I had ever had before, so rich and layered with flavor. I had a special appetizer where they cured tomatoes in habaneros. How does one take a fresh tomato, infuse it with the heat and flavor of one of the hottest peppers around and not lose the flavor of the tomato? I have no idea but I guess that’s why they pay Rick the big bucks. Look how beautiful the plate was.
We both got different quesadillas for our main entrees and they were a far cry from the greasy, overly stuffed and flavorless quesadillas that haunt most bar menus. Patrick’s had tender braised short ribs, while I went the vegetarian route with squash blossoms and fresh corn. The service from beginning to end was delightful. With expectations set super high, this place definitely delivered. Apologies that I don’t have more photos but I was so taken with the meal and the experience I didn’t really want to ruin it by being “that” person snapping away. One confusing note – both Topolobampo and the original Frontera Grill also by Bayless share an entrance. Don’t look like rookies as we did walking around looking for another door!
Berco’s Popcorn – 810 West Armitage Avenue
Owner Matt Bercovitz makes you feel right at home the minute you walk into his gourmet popcorn store. While sparsely decorated, the focus here is rightly on popcorn which you can order in a variety of flavors. Matt will let you sample to your heart’s content from flavors like Big Time Butter and Best Carmel Corn Ever. I know there are more famous popcorn joints in town but we loved the popcorn here and it’s great to support an up and coming young entrepreneur. They even have a customizable video wall where I got the blog’s first shout out!
North Pond Restaurant – 2610 North Cannon Drive
This place is special. Situated on a pond inside Lincoln Park in an arts and crafts building this gem turns out delicious seasonal food to tourists and Chicagoans alike.
Many suggested it as a brunch spot so that’s what we did and were not disappointed. It’s a pricey restaurant but the 3 course brunch goes for $34 on Sunday and is worth every penny. Each plate had just the right amount of food to satisfy but not leave you feeling stuffed. I also cannot say enough about the wait staff – perfectly trained to be there when you needed something and effortlessly disappear when you didn’t. The grilled lamb with squash, shell beans, red onion and grilled apricots was delicious and beautiful.
They also have a lovely bar with views of the pond so it would be a good place to stop for drinks or dessert if you didn’t want a 3 course brunch. If you go for the sweets menu I highly recommend the blackberry and peach selection – how pretty is this??
Parsons Chicken and Fish – 2952 West Armitage Avenue
Fried chicken and negroni slushies?? SOLD! This charming place is tucked into a pretty residential neighborhood but my research paid off as we looked for a spot to eat after visiting Revolution Brewery (which I highly recommend). A short walk found us at this retro diner that serves old school classics updated, like pasta salad and pimento toast. They have a killer back patio and several cocktails served slushy style.
Bub City – 435 North Clark Street
Who knew that some of the best BBQ in the country is found in Chicago? I am sure many of my Southern friends are howling right now but seriously, this place is beyond delicious. We stopped in for drinks (the delicious Back Porch Tea with Jack Daniels and sweet tea vodka) and had to return the next night for dinner, the smell was just that good. Patrick had the fried pickles (no comment) and we shared the chopped brisket and mac and cheese. I consider myself a mac and cheese snob – I am still creaming about this rich and creamy version. The brisket was perfectly done and not as greasy as most versions you find. There is also a pretty vibrant bar scene here and they own a tiki speakeasy around the corner called Three Dots and a Dash that we wanted to try but were honestly way too stuffed to keep going! What says America more than our stars and stripes depicted in Budweiser cans??
We had such a great weekend and didn’t even scratch the surface of what the city has to offer. For non food entertainment I can recommend the Chicago’s First Lady architecture boat tour (how we got the perfect skyline shot featured above) and of course hit Wrigley Park (we caught a no hitter!). Hard to go wrong in Chicago and I cannot wait to get back there.