Deep dish pizza, award-winning desserts, and the best burger in America: five great places to eat in Chicago (besides Alinea).
Famous places to eat in Chicago
We all know Chicago’s biggest culinary claim to fame—Grant Achatz’s Alinea, Named #37 on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants with three Michelin stars to its name, Alinea should be on every foodie’s bucket list. For me, it’s a destination worthy of a trip in itself.
I was too late to snag a reservation at Alinea during my first trip to the city, but I managed to hit a few of the other great places to eat in Chicago.
America’s best burger at Au Cheval
The single burger at Au Cheval is, confusingly enough, actually a double. Two meat patties, bacon, cheese, house-made pickles, Dijonnaise, and a fried egg. It sounds like protein overload, but it actually works because the patties are thin and the ratios are so balanced. I haven’t tried every burger in the country, but I believe it when they tell me this one is the best burger in America. It’s definitely one of the best I’ve ever eaten.
Pan pizza at Pequod’s
When you say you’re going to the Windy City, the first thing people will mention is deep dish pizza. Not technically the Chicago deep dish that tourists expect, but a version that locals actually love, the pan pizza at Pequod’s is the only deep dish pizza experience you need while in Chicago. The pan pizza is deep and doughy, but so well covered that you’ll never get a bite of naked bread. They are generous with both sauce and toppings (just count those pepperonis!), and the crispy “burnt” edges add crunch to the doughy pizza. The textures are just as balanced as the topping:dough ratio, and while once slice will fill you up, it’s hard not to eat a second.
Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits
A biscuit purist, I always order both biscuits & gravy and a side of biscuit with butter and/or jam so I can try both and evaluate the biscuit on its merits. Plan to visit Bang Bang twice, or come very hungry, because you’ll want to (and should) order the biscuits and a slice of pie. While I don’t usually order an egg with my biscuits & gravy (purist, remember?), I loved the egg on top at Bang Bang. Soft with a runny yolk that added extra sauce and much-needed moisture to cover such a large biscuit. My only regret is that I didn’t save room for pie—I would’ve loved to try the key lime.
Mindy’s Hot Chocolate
I usually don’t like marshmallows in my hot chocolate—they’re gluey, they stick together without dissolving into the hot chocolate, and you’re eventually forced to eat a glob of the stuff if you want to get to your hot chocolate. The marshmallows at Mindy’s are different. Made in house, they’re soft, pillowy, and they dissolve perfectly in a cup of hot chocolate. Mindy’s hot chocolate will redefine what you think of hot chocolate—typically a mug of something hot that tastes vaguely like chocolate. This is different. This is like a solid chocolate bar melted into a cup and turned into its molten form. The very definition of decadent. Get a little side of booze with your hot chocolate and it’s even better.
The desserts at Mindy’s are not to be missed, either—after all, Mindy Segal has won a James Beard award for outstanding pastry chef. Come for dessert only or for dinner and dessert, a truly indulgent splurge that is completely worth it. Note that if you’re doing dessert only, there is a $15 minimum per person. Easy to achieve if you’re ordering hot chocolate and dessert, but hard to hit with just hot chocolate.
Chicago dog & chocolate cake shake at Portillo’s
A solid Chicago dog, loaded with extra pickles and sport peppers for an acidic kick. Condiments include mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, and celery salt—and of course, no ketchup. There is no place for ketchup here. All wrapped up in a soft poppy seed bun. I no longer want plain buns on any of my hot dogs.
The legendary cake shake includes an entire slice of chocolate cake blended into the drink. The result is somewhere between solid and liquid. It’s not blended smooth; you’ll get grains of chocolate cake in every slurp. Worth the splurge but also worth sharing because you can only have a few sips of this before it’s chocolate overload.
If short on time, I’m not sure I would make a special trip to Portillo’s just for the hot dog. The rest of the food we tried was similarly decent but not memorable (I’m making myself sick just by looking at that neon yellow cheese sauce). There is an abundance of hot dog options in any Chicago neighborhood. While Portillo’s is a Chicago staple and I’m glad I tried it during my first time in the city, it’s not one I would repeat. There’s more out there, like these 20 best hot dogs in Chicago.