A.J. Liebling famously dubbed Chicago "the Second City." It may have lost that title to LA when it comes to population, influence, or production assistants, but you could make a case for it being the First City when it comes to food. It's definitely in the top three, anyway.
The definitive Chicago Italian hot beef sandwich is to be found at the appropriately named Mr. Beef, whose jus flows like wine, and whose bread is more than a match.
Nothing is better than Cantonese-style BBQ: the crisp skinned hanging ducks, the succulent-sweet roast pork, the ruby glazed ribs. And nobody in Chicago does it better than Sun Wah.
Avec and Publican have their fans, but for me Paul Kahan's best restaurant is still Blackbird, a quintessential modern Chicago restaurant that combines precision with big flavors and substantial food.
What can you say about a local legend. These might not be the best hot dogs in the world. They might not even be the best hotdogs in Chicago. But the complete Hot Doug's experience is the real star at this North Side sausage fest, which truly deserves the title "best of the wurst."
Schwa is a fascinating restaurant, a kind of workshop for a brilliant, manic young chef who, I think, is primarily cooking for other chefs. It's hard to get in and not everything is always good, let along great: but if you want to see modernist food in process, up-close, and with no frills, this is the place you need to come to.
Alinea is, without question, the greatest modernist restaurant in America, and one of the best in the world. But is it the best restaurant in America, period? It's wildly expensive and a tasting there is a major, multi-hour ordeal, and you may not love everything equally. But in terms of sheer genius, drama, and breathtaking originality, it has no equal.
Formerly known as Mindy's Hot Chocolate, this fabulous bakery and bistro proceeds all from a single woman's genius: the multiple James Beard Award-nominated chef whose expert, inventive food made this place a Chicago landmark.
Urban Belly specializes in beautifully conceived, brightly flavored, rib-sticking food loosely based on Asian orginals. Personally, I like them better, especially the monumental pork belly ramen, which might be the single greatest one-dish meal in the city.
Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard has a monster success on her hands with this fine Chicago meatery, whose menu extends way, way beyond its titular spirit animal.
I'm not a big one for modish, upscale burgers, but I will make an exception for Au Cheval, a stylish meatery in Chicago's West Side that makes, among other things, one of the best modern burgers in America (if not THE best.)
Chicago specializes in big, bold meateries, and this one is one of the most aggressive yet. If you are fond of edible animals, this is the place for you.
I guess there must be better doughnuts somewhere in the world, but for the life of me, I can't say what they are. I could eat myself to death here.
As a committed modern meat-eater, I'm naturally drawn to this ultra-cool bar, restaurant, and inn, whose fabulous meaty menu can't obscure what is one of the best boubon lists in the country.