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30 dishes to eat while visiting Chicago

Have friends or family visiting Chicago? Go beyond the usual tourist fare with our 30 picks

  • Clockwise from top left: Famous Kuma's Burger at Kuma's Corner, dry chili chicken from Lao Sze Chuan, ice cream from Original Rainbow Cone, Xoco's churros, steak at Chicago Cut Steakhouse and gourmet sausages at Hot Doug's. >>See more photos
Clockwise from top left: Famous Kuma's Burger at Kuma's Corner,…
April 11, 2013|By RedEye staff, @redeyeeatdrink | RedEye

You've already waited in line for popcorn at Garrett. You've endured verbal abuse at The Wieners Circle. And you've devoured the Chicago classic that is the Italian beef sandwich (Al's #1 and Johnnie's being the best, depending on who you ask).

So what should be next on your hit list when it comes to eating your way through Chicago? No doubt, you don't need another person pushing the tourist-trap Chicago-style pizzerias (Uno's, Giordano's, Lou Malnati's) or the legendary steakhouses (Gene & Georgetti, Chicago Chop House, Morton's, et al).

Instead, tackle our list of must-try dishes. Some are old-school classics in their own right and others deserve the distinction of new-school favorite. Most of all, they'll give you an excuse to explore the flavors of Chicago's different neighborhoods, from Chinatown to Little Italy to the increasingly tasty strip that is Randolph Street's Restaurant Row in the West Loop. Suit up (preferably in the stretchiest pair of pants you own) and go forth!

1. Crispy pig face at Girl & the Goat. Chicago's own "Top Chef" queen, Stephanie Izard, nearly blew the city's mind with her boldly named dish, which is just as indulgent as it sounds: wood oven-roasted pork face, topped with a fried egg for good measure ($16). Welcome to Chicago. --Kate Bernot

2. Churros at Xoco. Didn't plan ahead and make a reservation at celeb chef Rick Bayless' restaurants Frontera Grill or Topolobampo? Walk a few steps to the corner of Clark and Illinois streets and jump in line at his counter-service eatery focused on Mexican street food. The original cinnamon-sprinkled churros make a fine substitute for a morning doughnut; the versions glazed with pistachio or margarita-almond icing made a decadent dessert. ($1.60-$2.25 each) --Lisa Arnett

3. Cheese grits at Wishbone. You'd think Southern cuisine would be difficult to pull off in Chicago, but West Loop resto Wishbone has it perfected, especially the grits. No breakfast, brunch--or dinner, for that matter--is complete without a side dish ($2.50) of the cheese grits (the plain grits are good, too, but not as delicious as their cheesy brethren. They're creamy, they go with anything and they are not to be missed. --Brian Moore

4. Chocolate croissant at Medici. "Obama Eats Here," according to the T-shirts worn by bakers and servers at this Hyde Park cafe. Fortunately, capitalizing on the tourism the president has brought to this U of C-area bakery hasn't dragged down the quality of the food at all, and these croissants ($2.95) are a signature item. I go in the morning to get them while the chocolate is still warm and gooey; they're often all gone by midday. --Rachel Cromidas

5. Chocolate cake at Portillo's. Proof you don't need to pay $8 for some fancy dessert, Portillo's chocolate cake ($2.89 a slice) is the perfect chocolatey, decadent end to a meal, without any pretention. Don't even think about storing it in the fridge, either. Not that it will be around long enough for that to matter. --Chris Sosa

6. Bacon-wrapped dates at Avec. If you haven't been to this always-crowded West Loop wine bar, you might think that this dish (arguably its most-ordered) is just like the ubiquitous version you see at tapas restaurants or dinner parties. But trust me, it's just so much better. Massive medjool dates are stuffed full of spicy chorizo, wrapped in bacon and served in a pool of sauce made from tomatoes and piquillo peppers ($12). Trust your server to recommend the best wine or beer to quench the spice. --LA

7. Smoked fish at Calumet Fisheries. Take a mini-road trip to this iconic smoked fish stand, made famous in the "Blues Brothers" movie and by Anthony Bourdain. Order up some fishies--try the salmon for $15.29 a pound or shrimp for $20.99 a pound--and eat them the right way, on the hood of your car in the parking lot. --KB

8. Supreme Steak from Taurus Flavors. A rare treat that can only be found on Chicago's South Side (Taurus has several locations; I like to stick to the Stony Island location in Chatham.) the Supreme Steak (also referred to as a sweet steak) is a bit of an anomaly. Imagine a cheese steak, but instead of the usual onions/peppers/cheese combo, the steak and cheese are drenched in a sweet-and-spicy sauce, then topped with tomato slices and candied bell peppers ($6.59). It's a behemoth and a real mess to eat, but it's worth the struggle, trust me. --Ernest Wilkins

9. Deep-dish pizza at Pequod's. This Lincoln Park pizzeria takes Chicago-style deep dish to a new level. You still get that thick, saucy pie, but with a caramelized cheese crust as the grand finale. I recommend pepperoni and mushroom; prices start at $10.95 for a small cheese. Buon appetito! --Jessica Cantarelli

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