When I’m searching for things to do in a new city, I love finding recommendations from locals. Who knows a city better than the people who live there, right? This is why I’m sharing my favorite places to eat in my hometown. I’ve also asked other Chicago local’s what their fave places are, you can find that list HERE. And, also recently created a part 2 to this list HERE. Plus, if you’re looking for top photo spots you can find those HERE. For now, check out my recommendations below. I’d love to know your thoughts if you do try any of them!
Sweet Maple Cafe– Sweet Maple has been a favorite for a long time. The restaurant is tiny with a southern flair. It does have long waits on weekends, so get there early or an hour before they close. My favorite thing to order is the “Sweet Maple Special” which is simply eggs, bacon, with a side of their heavenly homefries, and toast. I’ve yet to find homefries that beat Sweet Maples. Jorge loves their omelets. The portions are big and will keep you full for half the day! It’s a good place to go if you’re planning a light dinner. Bonus: They have a free parking lot across the street.
M.Henry Cafe– We barely tried this place last February because I wanted to celebrate “National Pancake Month”. I was sad that I wasn’t going to make it out to my fave pancake place in NYC, so I was determined to find a good spot at home. M.Henry was a pleasant surprise. Everything we had was delicious, and their pancakes were well decorated, fluffy, and fantastic.
Meli Cafe– If you’re gluten or dairy free, this is a great spot that offers many options! I love their polenta pancakes (gf/df) topped with fresh blueberries, bananas, and honey. They also have an entire section of crepes that you can make gluten free as well. They have a few locations in Chicago but make sure you go to the one in Greektown.
For Dinner ($-$$):
Smoque BBQ– Hands down my favorite place in the city! They have the most amazing brisket ever. I’ve tried to find places that actually compete with Smoque’s brisket during my travels, but no luck. I’ve tried in NYC and Nashville, but I haven’t made it down to Texas. Either way, Smoque is hard to compete with. A sliced brisket platter comes with fries and coleslaw. Their fries are always perfectly crispy and fresh, and the coleslaw is a unique and delicious recipe. Our bill (for 2) is usually $27.
Spacca Napoli– If you love Italy’s pizza then you need to try Spacca Napoli. I know I’m from Chicago where deep dish is famous, but no thanks. Give me authentic, Italian-style pizza any day. Everything from the crust to the cheese is perfect. While traveling through Milan and Naples, we went to one of their best pizza places and the taste was very similar to Spacca. Spacca knows what they’re doing. I’m so happy I have a little bit of Italy right in my hometown. The prices are also great, we always order two pizzas for under $30. If you’re in the mood for dessert, definitely try their tiramisu! And, if you go on weekends they give you these amazing little cannoli’s on your way out (for free).
Chicago Q– If you’re wandering around the Gold Coast area (which you totally should) you may want to stop at Chicago Q. Some of my favorite things here are the baby back ribs with fries and the carrot cake! When dining in they serve you complimentary “bread and butter pickles” and homemade potato chips. They’re both SO good, and this is considering I don’t even like pickles! I eat them all and usually ask for more. Alright, if I’m going to be honest I mainly go for their free chips and pickles lol, but their baby back ribs are also really good!
Del Toro– I’m picky when it comes to Mexican food since I ate the real deal every week growing up, and also have had many amazing dishes when visiting non-touristy parts of Mexico. Del Toro does a good job with their food, and as a bonus, they have the most delicious sangria! A lot of people like their margaritas, but since I don’t like tequila (more of a vodka girl, heyyy) I always opt for their fruity sangrias. Some of my favorite dishes are the sopes, tacos, and tortas! All reasonably priced, and all really good. Great place to just go for drinks, too!
Small Cheval– This is the smaller, faster version of the famous Au Cheval! You’ll get the same delicious burgers without the long waits. These are definitely our favorite burgers in town. The Small Cheval owners are actually the same owners as Bavette’s (mentioned below). Prices aren’t bad either, and they serve cocktails! WIN!
For Dinner ($$$):
Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf– If you’re celebrating something special or just don’t care how much your bill is, I highly recommend Bavette’s! The atmosphere is certainly nice and the food is phenomenal. Try OpenTable to get a reservation ahead of time. If you don’t see any good times try calling because they usually have more options over the phone. You can also walk in and try to get a seat at the bar. We celebrated our 6 year wedding anniversary here, and we loved everything about our meal. The steak frites, filet mignon, and all the sides were so good. I especially loved their Lillet Rosé martini!
Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab– My beloved Joe’s. I first visited this place on a work lunch, and have been obsessed ever since. The prices are a little hefty, but we’ve never had a bad meal or bad service. They always make my filet mignon just right, Jorge loves all of their seafood, and they have THE. BEST. PIES. Try the Havana Dream or the Banana or Coconut Cream pie. I also love their lemon drop martini’s here. We’ve treated both of our parents to Joe’s on different occasions, and they all loved it! I do recommend making a reservation as well unless you’re cool with sitting at the bar.
Swirlz Cupcakes– LOVE Swirlz! I especially love that they have gluten free/vegan options. I feel like cupcake shops usually have one or the other, but never both at the same time. They offer quite a few options for their gf/df customers (not just the boring chocolate or vanilla kind). I love their unique flavors, and they have a “surprise” flavor every day which you can call ahead to find out what it is.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream– They actually have Jeni’s in a few cities, but if it’s not in yours, and you happen to be in Chicago on a hot day then definitely stop here. The wildberry lavender flavor is so good! I liked that they make their waffle cones in front of you while you wait in line, and they also have several gluten free or dairy free options.
Stan’s Donuts– Delicious doughnuts with locations all over the city! One of my faves is coconut cream (pictured on the right).
Molly’s Cupcakes– Another great cupcake shop! I recommend you visit the one in River East because it’s perfect for Instagram, and the cupcakes are just as good. My favorite ones so far are crème brûlée and carrot cake.
Three Dots and a Dash– Three Dots is one of my favorite bars. I love tiki! Their drinks are pricey ($14+) but they don’t skimp out. All the cocktails are creative and beautifully garnished. It’s definitely an experience in there. I suggest you make a reservation beforehand because it does get very busy.
Lost Lake– Another great tiki bar with slightly cheaper options ($12+). Once you step inside it’s like a tropical oasis, a perfect stop during Chicago’s brutal winters, but really it’s great during any season.
The Violet Hour– This bar has an interesting concept. The entrance is unmarked and covered by a mural that changes often. Their “house rules” includes no cell phone use (yeah sure), but the place is too dark to get any good shots anyway. However, the drinks are well crafted and the vibe inside is great! Drinks are $13+.
Hope these recommendations help you enjoy some great eats while visiting Chicago!