From architectural feats and notoriously loyal sports fans to public sculptures and hip-hop, Chicago is known for many things, and chief among them might be its iconic foods. (No matter your opinion on the stuff, who here can say they’ve never heard of Chicago deep-dish?) Topping-heavy Chicago-style hot dogs, sky-high stuffed pizzas, piping-hot Italian-beef sandwiches, and a shot or three of Jeppson’s Malört are certainly all worth enjoying when you’re in town, but make sure you leave some room in your itinerary, and your belly, for exploring the lesser-known side of the city’s food scene.
Chi-Town has its fair share of celebrity chefs, and a handful of restaurants you’ve definitely heard of—Rick Bayless’s empire of Mexican restaurants is still going strong, and the far-reaching influence of Grant Achatz’s molecular-gastronomy powerhouses Alinea, Next, and The Aviary can’t be denied. But Chicago also boasts a rich and culinarily diverse food scene that reflects the fabric of the city. If you know where to look, you’ll find unexpected fusion cuisines (Polish-Korean diner food, as delicious as it sounds); world-class cocktail spots with stellar bar bites; late-night joints that hand out cookies at midnight; and holes-in-the-wall where you can get hearty, stick-to-your-ribs soups and stews to power you through any Chicago winter.
To help you navigate the many outstanding options, we turned to the folks who probably know the most about eating and drinking in Chicago: a handful of our favorite local chefs. These include Diana Dávila of Mi Tocaya Antojeria, a neighborhood Mexican restaurant and James Beard Award finalist; Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice, a universally beloved restaurant serving comfort food from around the world; Ethan Pikas of café/bistro Cellar Door Provisions; Q. Ibraheem of underground pop-up dinner series Teertsemasesottehg; Erling Wu-Bower of brand-new rooftop hot spot The Laurel Room and Pacific Standard Time, a much-lauded, California-inspired wood-fired-oven restaurant; and Dana Cree of the playful ice cream shop Pretty Cool Ice Cream, known for ice cream bars and pops in fun flavors like sour cherry pie, Thai tea, and peanut butter potato chip.
Below, they point the way to some of their favorite places for late-night eats, drinks, breakfast and brunch, special-occasion meals, and, of course, iconic Chicago foods. Read on to find out where chefs eat in Chicago.