On the Road: Chicago Restaurants
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Photo By: Jason Little
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©2013, Grant Kessler
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When the Swedish owners of a restaurant in Chicago decided to retire, Ann quit her job of 22 years, pooled her life savings and bought herself a diner. Her devotion to made-from-scratch food, especially the cinnamon rolls Jeff Mauro calls "insane," is legendary in the Lakeview neighborhood.
These artisanal donuts were a hit during Sunny Anderson’s country cookout at Food Network in Concert. There are two locations, both serving small-batch breakfast favorites, including vegan and gluten-free options
When Anne Burrell visits Chicago, she likes to start her day at this West Loop diner. "They have the best breakfast, and the owner, George, has even better jokes!" Also known to drop in for egg sandwiches: the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Purple Pig
While exploring The Magnificent Mile in Downtown Chicago, stop by this Mediterranean restaurant for good cheese, small plates and wine. Chopped judge Marc Murphy likes the selection of cured meats and smears for lunch.
The Original Vito and Nick’s Pizzeria
When it comes to pizza, Jeff Mauro claims Chicago thin crust — not indulgent deep-dish (which he only indulges in twice a year) — is the best there is. Up against a New York City slice, his money is on a square of sausage-and-giardiniera pie from Vito and Nick's.
Deep-dish pizza is an obvious must for first-timers to the Windy City. Even New Yorker Alex Guarnaschelli admits: “I'm not a deep dish girl, but whenever I'm in Chicago I always stop by Lou Malnati's!”
Geoffrey Zakarian, Marc Murphy and Alex Guarnaschelli all list Rick Bayless’ Mexican restaurant as a Chicago must-try for lunch or dinner. Expect classic dishes, like enchiladas and mole, with ever-changing seasonal twists.
Chicago French Market
From BBQ to traditional Vietnamese fare, “Chicago French Market has everything you could possibly crave in one convenient location,” says Jeff Mauro. If you like pastrami, the Fumare Meats' Montreal-Style sandwich is an absolute must.
On Cupcake Wars, Molly's head pastry chef impressed with a simple but elegant display of lemon-kiwi confections. Swing by the Lincoln Park spot and sample the award-winning red velvet cupcake, or create a treat of your own by mixing and matching cake and frosting flavors.
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.
Marc Murphy had never heard of a pizza pot pie. But after one bite of the pizza pot pie at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co., he instantly knew it was deserving of the title The Best Thing I Ever Ate. The pie layers cheese and a special sauce inside a fluffy Sicilian crust. Flip the behemoth over and then devour.
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Hopleaf Bar doesn't know the meaning of pub food. They're nixing regular fries and burgers and adding in none other than head cheese (that's pig's head) charcuterie. Or, try a duck and Gruyère crepe. Add a side of frites to that and order from the lengthy menu of beers, and you'll never barhop again.
Photo courtesy of Grant Kessler
Go to: Hopleaf Bar
Blue Door Kitchen (Formerly Table Fifty-Two)
This restaurant may look fancy inside, but on Sunday night Ted Allen knows that fried chicken will be served. The chicken is brined before it is fried with an amalgam of secret spices, which makes it extra juicy and flavorful.
At Alinea, Ted Allen downs his favorite appetizer: Hot Potato, Cold Potato. Ted says it's a bit like a circus on your plate, but it's more like a high-wire act. Alinea takes chilled potato soup and suspends a hot melon-balled potato with black truffle above it. It's hyper-modern and hyper-good.
Mario's Italian Lemonade
For a refreshing treat on a hot day, stop by Mario's Italian Lemonade in Chicago's Little Italy. Open from May to September, the stand makes Italian ices that are like slushies but way better. The classic lemonade has lemon zest in it for a bitter and sweet combo.
Visit Cemitas Puebla for a rare breed of sandwich and a taste of Mexican history. This restaurant is the only one of its kind in Chicago serving cemitas, authentic poblano sandwiches made on sesame seed rolls slathered with avocado and chipotle adobo, then stuffed with meaty fillings.
Wine bar Avec's entrees and small plates echo the wine-growing region of southern France. The chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates with smoked bacon have become an iconic cult dish (Chris Cosentino ordered multiples on The Best Thing I Ever Ate), and the focaccia with Taleggio isn't far behind.
From roasted chicken to oxtails to empanadas, Guy Fieri's a fan of the traditional Belizean dishes served at Garifuna Flava on the south side of Chicago. Chef Yolanda Castillo treated him to homemade hudut baruru, or mashed plantains, with tikini, a peppery cabbage and fish stew, on Triple D.
A Chicago institution since 1949, Garrett Popcorn Shop is known for gourmet popcorn made fresh daily in a variety of flavors, from Plain to Buttery to Caramel Crisp to the Chicago Mix.
Honey #1 BBQ
This family-run rib joint with a fiery secret sauce is a great budget-friendly option in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. Chicagoan Jeff Mauro recommends the Mini Tips Combo: hunks of smoky meat served atop a mountain of fries and bathed in the restaurant's signature sauce.
A mother-son duo brings the flavors of Costa Rica to Chicago at the family-friendly Irazu. On Triple D, Guy sampled two traditional dishes: classic fried Chicarron with pico de gallo; and Pepito sandwiches made with steak, onions and black beans, before telling Chef Henry Cerdas, "You rocked it."
Besides Swedish cookies and coffee cakes, Swedish Bakery also turns out dozens of European and American culinary confections, including Ted Allen's favorite nutty treat: marzipan. Specifically, he loves the little green frog cakes filled with raspberry buttercream and covered in marzipan.