Having only just moved back to Chicago in August of 2010 after more than six years away, I’m still getting a handle on the food and drink scene here. But here are a few places I would put on any visitor’s list…
The Billy Goat Tavern: Under Michigan Avenue. (Watch for the staircase by the Wrigley Building.) Old school red-and-white checked formica tables. A grill staff that will banter with you. Average but tasty double-cheeseburgers, but you’re not here for the food. Get an Old Style and sit for a while and talk to some of the old-timers at the bar. A bit dingy with age, but still infinitely lovable, IMHO. I especially like breakfast at The Billy Goat.
Podhalanka, Wicker Park: Cheap and delicious Polish food. Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw, which is why i suggest it. I love the soups, in particular. No alcohol, but ask for the juice. They make their own mystery juice. Like eating in your grandmother’s basement.
Lao Sze Chuan, Chinatown: The most delicious Chinese food. Really. Make sure you get the sweet potato cakes for dessert.
Lush, West Town: This is a wine shop and cafe. Truth be told, I’ve only had bar snacks here. But I love the wine shop and regularly bring a bottle from the shop over to the bar area to enjoy. Great, knowledgeable staff. Free tastings on Sundays from 2 to 5.
Hema’s Kitchen, Lincoln Park: A Chicago institution, Hema has been dishing up Indian food in Chicago since like when I first lived here in 1996. Her “new” Lincoln Park outpost is much more convenient than her old Devon location. I need to eat my way through the menu here.
Mana Food Bar, Wicker Park: I’m an equal-opportunity carnivore, but this vegetarian gem has me hooked. Firstly, I love their style. It’s a really small place that’s been thoughtfully kitted out. Secondly, I love their food. And thirdly, a visit here makes me feel just a wee bit virtuous. Go.
Mirai, Wicker Park. Best Japanese in Chicago, hands down.
Watershed, River North. I love this little bar, tucked underneath Pops for Champagne on State & Ohio. (Yes, go into Pops. Then pretend like you’re going to the bathroom downstairs, and you’ll find Watershed.) All Midwestern beers and wines. And banjos on Thursday. Awesome.