The newfangled food cult culture (of which I am usually not a fan) has placed Chicago atop a pedestal in the way say New York or Tokyo is not. I think because if you say New York is a food mecca, you’re just old fashioned and lame. Chicago is treated as the cooler food destination to promote. But these grub tours of Chicago generally ignore two key themes:
1) When you recommend an impossible to get into, twelve star restaurant, that charges $132 a plate, it’s pretty much the same everywhere on the planet
2) For most people who don’t make a metric-ton of foodie money, such places are generally beyond our financial capabilities
For the rest of us who live in the real world, we have a somewhat more limited view of our options. Particularly when we’re short on time, and in most cases, extremely limited on budget.
So in going to Chicago, I really only had my heart set on Hot Doug’s, which of course closed forever only a few months before I got there. Other than that, and one crucial recommendation discussed below, I went into Chicago’s food scene cold and decided to discover by walking around. And chose my stops based upon what I bumped into and could afford.
Sadly, I struck out three times. Like a lot of cities, if you’re not careful you can accidently find yourself not someplace unique, but inside a place called Restaurant & Bar Americana #459.2b. Don’t get me wrong, I love these places. But it’s become overdone.
If you’ve got forty-seven beers on tap, respectable handmade burgers and fries, and you’ve got several other decent, quality food options? Well, good for you. But unless you have something different and/or unique? Then there’s very little diversity between these places in say Cleveland or Chicago or Miami or wherever.
Anyways, so here are the five locations which I consider success stories. Some are deliciously normal, one really hit close to home, but either way I guess you could call these simple food recommendations in a high-octane food city. I hope you find them useful (worthless).
Max’s Take Out
20 East Adams Street
Don’t let the website’s fake fancy frontpage image fool you. This place is a shoebox sized dive. When an epic experience like Hot Doug’s is out, I went the other direction, simple and basic, to get my first Chicago dog. Their standard Chicago dogs go for $2.80 and $3.61 for the jumbo. For those of you who will claim I didn’t get the full / best Chicago dog experience, I respond that I do not care.
Not all culinary creations are rocket science. These guys do unassuming, cheap, and tasty well. This was a good dog. After hours and hours walking around the Art Institute, it hit the spot. Plus, the place was filled with locals. Not tourist losers like me. So I stand by the choice. I ate well for just a couple of bucks. I’d go again.
355 East Ohio Street
Chicago has a shocking lack of open breakfast locations. You can walk quite a long way before you find anything besides fast food. Yolk happened by accident and was grand. I think I spent $12 here and ate so much that lunch became unnecessary. The place was packed, you had folks shoulder to shoulder throughout the entire restaurant. I’ve never seen a breakfast place this crowded. Go join them.
An interesting side note on the statue in the photo. I had the idea on-site, that this Streeter guy was some kind of happy-go-lucky weird rich dude with the heart of gold. Probably because he was holding a doggie. But in reality, look it up, he was kind of a creepy fraud jerk. I get the feeling he’d have made a great character in Deadwood. Otherwise, I can’t figure why anybody would have a statue of him. It’s just weird.
Lincoln Park Stadium
2423 North Clark Street
As sport’s bars go, this place could easily have fallen into the Americana #459.2b trap. They do not. Whoever’s making food back there gives a damn. Plus the atmosphere’s not your typical sawdust covered floor sport’s bar, despite what some of the website pictures unfortunately portray. I guess that helps get folks in the door? I guess? I myself stumbled into this place having just recently been about five inches from a sleeping lion, more on that later.
Couches, a well maintained place, and a football experience where even the incredibly drunk behave themselves is a lost commodity in a lot of places. I went during the Bears game because it had to be done (PS Bears suck). It was worth the experience for that alone. Plus now, I get a little spoiled and miss pork belly while drinking beer during the game. Again, nothing Food-Network-cult crazy going on here. Just a simple place for a decent price, solid. Go on Bears game day for the full ride.
Eleven City Diner
1112 South Wabash Avenue
This was my first meal in Chicago, right off the airplane, hungry, with it 25 degrees out, late-breakfast, awesome. This place conducts itself with class and it’s like a combination the best Chicago and New York delicatessens have to offer. Which I think means this restaurant contains all the powers of the universe.
Like the pork belly during the game, now I’m spoiled for this breakfast all the time. Now I want these guys every post-airplane ride. When you Google a picture of “lox and latke”, these dudes come up in the first line. There’s a reason for that.
228 West Chicago Avenue
Farmhouse was my exception, a destination, a target. A brother and a cousin had been here in previous years. They’d told me to go to Chicago. They’d told me to go to Farmhouse. This was probably the highlight of my journey because of the association with family. The only thing better, if we could have all experienced it together. Eh, someday friends, someday.
Farmhouse has a local food philosophy I support. But unlike a lot of people who spout this food philosophy, they’re not pretentious dicks about it. The place is warm and extraordinarily welcoming. Very crowded, but not overpowering. A local Chicago feeling, but also proudly Midwestern, with ingredients from multiple regional states.
I was instructed by family to have the fried cheese curds. Why? Because I’ll be a bleached skeleton one day. So why not? And probably the best chicken I’ve ever had (though not Grandma’s best, for that shall forever be number one).
An epic selection of local beers goes nicely with it all. I’m not the best with cocktails, but I know enough to know who does it right. Trust me, if you like your cocktails done properly (as in it takes three or four minutes for the barkeep to make just one) this is your place.
This was by far my most expensive meal in the city, so I probably broke my own rule, but I didn’t care. And in the end, Farmhouse is still very affordable. It’s not in the elite league of budget destroying monsters. It was worth every penny, and led to a hell of a series of texts with family during and afterwards.
The picture is during the daytime, not night, because when I left the night prior I was in a bliss daze and forgot to take the photo. I walked back there the morning afterwards because a personal photo was mandatory. In this moron’s opinion, if you eat at one place in Chicago, this is it.