It’s July, which means it’s tourist season here in Chicago. This is the time of year that our apartment sees the most action. The weather is sizzling hot and every weekend there’s a festival or some big summer event that brings the masses to the city. Summertime Chi! I love it, and it’s one of (if not THE) best thing about calling Chicago home.
Around this time of year I know many people are coming to visit. They’re looking for places to go and things to do, and they could use a helpful recommendation or two. I’m writing this post on the request of my friend Michelle – the genius nail blogger of All Lacquered Up. She wanted to know my favorite spots in Chicago, in anticipation of her visit this week for BlogHer 13! I’m happy to oblige! Here’s a complete list of some of my personal favorite spots in Chicago – the places I can recommend because I’ve been there time and time again. AKA, the places you’re most likely to run into me. If you do, say hi!
5 of My Favorite Restaurants
Girl and The Goat/Little Goat. Celebrity chef Stephanie Izard is a culinary genius and she knows how to create a fun, unique ambiance. Girl and The Goat is hipster glam with a bumping soundtrack and insanely delicious, hard to describe food that is always delicious. Little Goat is the informal diner version across the street, where you’re bound to discover a new flavor combination you never thought you’d love before. Everything there is amazing but it’s so incredibly difficult to get a seat. Find out when the off times are before you go, and be prepared for an incredible early dinner experience.
Three Aces. I love restaurants with an edge and ambiance that surprises you. Three Aces is a dark, rock and roll bar that serves up such amazing food. Every time I visit, I discover something unique and delicious. The menu changes frequently, so you always have an opportunity to experience a new favorite. Order the bolognese fries. Trust me.
Frontera Grill/Xoco. If you’re looking into fine dining in Chicago, you’ll come across the name Rick Bayless a lot – he’s our local celebrity chef, best known for his delectable and innovative Mexican cuisine. All of his flagship restaurants are at 445 N. Clark St. If you want super fancy high end, try to get a seat at Topolobampo (I haven’t yet managed to do this myself). Frontera is so cool – love the décor and ambiance. It’s also expensive and can be hard to get a table. For a cheaper, easier alternative try Xoco, the sandwich spot on the corner. Amazing tortas, caldos and agua fresca awaits you! It’s a unique ordering and dining experience, but no less yummy than its fancier counterparts.
The Gage. If you’re sightseeing around downtown Chicago, there’s no place better to eat than The Gage. It’s located right across from Millenium Park, and the menu is best described as upscale comfort food. Killer cocktails and cool ambiance. Check out the vintage hat posters on your way down to the bathroom – The Gage used to be a hat company back in the day!
Japonais. Looking for amazing Asian fusion food, sushi and maybe a celebrity sighting? My fave spot for all of the above is Japonais. Located in the River North neighborhood, you’ll probably need to take a cab for convenience (I know I do). The food is super yummy and authentic, the cocktails are Instagram-worthy, and you may spot a Chicago Bull or two.
Honorable mentions – Hub 51, 90 Miles, Feast, Piece, The Scout, and South Coast Sushi
5 Fancy Restaurants I Really Like
Maybe you’re visiting Chicago on business, and you’re looking for a high end dining experience to remember. Chicago is FULL of amazing restaurants, and for additional recommendations you should check out my friend Aurdashia’s blog, 312 Dining Diva. She’s been to them all! All I can suggest are the places I’ve been lucky enough to experience so far. Here are some places I’ve visited and loved.
NoMi Kitchen. Hidden upstairs in the gorgeous Park Hyatt hotel, NoMi Kitchen is a great spot for an executive type breakfast or lunch. It’s swanky and the food is incredible. I love breakfast with a view!
RL Restaurant. Right around the corner from the largest Polo store, you’ll find the plush and lovely RL Restaurant. There are only two Ralph Lauren restaurants in the world. One’s in Paris. The other is right by WaterTower in Chicago. The décor is dark, mysterious, glamorous, and classic. You might be dining amongst celebrities – RL is one of Oprah’s favorite Chicago restaurants (along with Japonais).
Acadia. Modern and slick and cool and elegant — Acadia is all of the above. Chef Ryan McCaskey’s restaurant was named Best Restaurant to Open Within The Last Year by New City for a valid reason. The cuisine is incredible and the ambiance is anniversary, birthday, celebratory-event level fancy.
Gibson’s Steakhouse. Chicago is known for pizza, hot dogs, and steakhouses (amongst other things). For an authentic Chicago steakhouse experience there are many you can choose from, but Gibson’s is the one people most frequently talk about. It’s got that vintage, classic steakhouse feel and service is incredible. Random fact – the last time I ate there, Jesse Jackson was holding court in the booth behind me.
Mercat a la Planxa. Delicious tapas, gorgeous view of Grant Park, and a unique dining experience. I always enjoy the experience at Iron Chef’s Jose Garces restaurant. Go for Sunday brunch, or dinner.
3 Favorite Downtown Rooftop Cocktail Spots
In the summertime, I love a rooftop bar or a drink with a view. Here are 4 of my favorite scenic spots.
The Signature Room at the 95th floor in the John Hancock Building. This is one of my must-visit places on the tour of Chicago that we inevitably give to first time Chicago visitors. Cocktails at the Signature Room on a clear day will give you unparalleled vistas of the city from above. And you absolutely must stop by the ladies room for a view that will take your breath away.
The Roof on the Wit. If you’re looking to find a hip local scene, this is definitely one worth checking out. The Roof on the Wit is a chic place to lounge, sip and enjoy the pleasures of summertime Chi.
The Rooftop at Rock Bottom Brewery. It’s right across from the Red Line’s Grand stop – super convenient for most tourists. It’s got a great rooftop scene, and decent appetizers. If you’re looking for a burger, a brew and some sunshine to soak up, this is a good spot within the Loop.
4 Things You Should Totally Do When You’re In Chicago
I’d like to think if you’re coming to Chicago, you’ve already planned a trip to the usual tourist spots like WaterTower Place and Navy Pier. Hopefully you’ve got enough time on your trip to go beyond Magnificent Mile. Here’s what I recommend for a first trip to downtown Chicago.
– Take a long walk. Start from Grant Park and head down through Museum Campus. There you’ll pass the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. Then stroll leisurely along the lakefront, to Buckingham Fountain. Walk past Cloud Gate (AKA The Bean), and through the Lurie Garden. (Note – this can be done and concluded with a lovely late lunch at The Gage). Chicago is wholesome and green and rejuvenating and beautiful. Especially in the summertime. Stop. Take photos. Breathe it all in.
– Check Out Chicago’s amazing neighborhoods. Take the el to Wicker Park/Bucktown or Lincoln Park for cool restaurants and quirky boutiques. Visit Old Town for unique shopping. Check out Bronzeville, for a taste of historic black Chicago – hit up Hyde Park for good food and Chicago culture.
– Make it a museum day. Chicago has no shortage of amazing cultural hotspots, and our museums are first and foremost. I already mentioned the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. There’s also the Museum of Science and Industry, the DuSable Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute. Something for everyone.
– Check out a concert or festival. Every weekend in the summertime there’s something fun happening. There are big music fests like Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, there are neighborhood fests like Do Division or the Wrigleyville Summerfest, and there are shopping fest-like experiences like my favorite – Modern Vintage Chicago. Guaranteed good times!
Where to get pizza – everyone will tell you to go to the iconic Gino’s East on Superior. And you’ll go to Gino’s East, and there’ll be a line, and you’ll be satisfied that you had Chicago style deep dish pizza but you won’t leave like, totally transported by the experience. My advice as a resident who’s tried ‘em all? Skip the line and go to Lou Malnati’s. Giordano’s is a viable alternative as well. For a unique spin on pizza that isn’t deep dish, I recommend Flo and Santos, a Polish pizza place and beer garden where you can order a pizza with sauerkraut on it (and it’s way more delicious than you may imagine).
Where to get a hot dog – If you can make it to Maxwell Street for a Polish sausage, it’s a fun and unique experience. The hot dog places out here have been open forever – Jim’s has been around for 70 years! It gets a bit raunchy and gritty out here at night, but if you’re down to roll up and eat a hot dog on the street like Chicago locals have been doing forever and a day, I recommend the experience at least once. For a more gourmet experience (and seating)! I recommend Westminster HD. All the hot dogs are made on site, from fresh and healthy ingredients. No random sausages here! Portillo’s is probably the most popular hot dog spot, and I’m gonna assume it’s where 90% of Chicago’s visiting tourists get their first Chicago hot dog. It’s always bustling and consistently good, so I totally get why.
I have yet to make the trip to Chicago’s gourmet hot dog mecca AKA Hot Doug’s. It’s on my must-do-and-soon list.
Where to go shopping downtown (if you’re a stylish plus size lady like myself) Honestly, most often when I go in-store shopping, I head out to State Street. Take the bus (or el) to State and Washington, and you’ll be right where you want to be. Nordstrom Rack, Ashley Stewart, TJ Maxx, Burlington Coat Factory, H&M, Forever 21, all with plus sized departments, all within walking distance of each other. On Wabash and Washington (?) there’s a big Lane Bryant and Cacique. Further south on State, there’s Avenue (which…I guess. Sometimes. I wish they’d do better). And then there’s Macy’s (both State St. and Water Tower locations have decent plus size selections). I hear amazing things about the Bloomingdales on the Magnificent Mile. And for plus size boutique shopping, you should head out to Vive La Femme in Bucktown – it’s Chicago’s most well known plus size boutique!
I think that should cover it for areas of interest, summer visitors! If you have questions or recommendations, please leave a comment below – this post is intended to be evergreen and helpful, and I know my Chicago bellas have favorite spots to recommend too!