The Windy City’s food scene is heating up
thanks to trailblazers like Alinea’s Grant Achatz. Here’s a trial by fire for weekenders.
Street Eats: XOCO (River North)
Little sister to Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, the beloved restaurants of Mexican cooking maestro Rick Bayless, Xoco specializes in Mexican street food, particularly tortas. The hearty sandwiches are heaped with meat (take your choice of chicken, carnitas, suckling pig, or short ribs) and cooked in a wood-burning oven or on the griddle. The best way to beat the crowd is to go for lunch. Order Intelligentsia coffee’s Frontera blend (only at Bayless’ restaurants) and specialties including chilaquiles with eggs and hot, crispy churros with a demitasse of velvety chocolate.
Food Fest: Chicago Gourmet (The Loop)
The Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano structures that overlook the famous Cloud Gate sculpture and its reflection of the Chicago skyline are reasons enough to hit Millennium Park. But in late September, around 150 leading chefs and sommeliers will further spice the place up at Chicago Gourmet, an annual food festival and Grand Cru presented by Bon Appétit. Some 10,000 foodies are expected to come to mingle with chefs, including Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat and Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig, at events such as the Hamburger Hop, a burger showdown between 15 top chefs. At the Grand Cru tastings, wine lovers can sample some of the world’s best pours.
It Restaurant: Pump Room (Gold Coast)
At Ian Schrager’s impeccably chic (and fabulously affordable) PUBLIC Chicago hotel, James Beard Award winner Jean-Georges Vongerichten is reimagining Pump Room, the storied restaurant of the former Ambassador East Hotel. Look for creative spins on classic dishes such as caramelized beef tenderloin with miso butter or wiener schnitzel. While a farm-to-table ethos rules, the recent design reboot is quintessentially urbane.
Artisan Goods: Dose Market (Streeterville)
Want to take a taste of Chicago home with you? Head to the Dose Market on a Sunday morning for a curated mix of artisanal food and fashion at the River East Art Center. An ever-changing cast of vendors sells almost exclusively locally made everything, from slow-cured salumi and white chocolate blueberry truffles to vintage housewares and bespoke lingerie. Sort of like Chicago’s version of our Ferry Building, Dose is the best spot to get a sense of the town’s small-batch artisanal and culinary scene.
How to Make Like Chi-Town Locals
ANDREW ZIMMERMAN, Executive Chef of Sepia Chicago
The Barrelhouse Flat
Don’t miss this vintage-style bar with signature cocktails, flowing punch bowls, snacks such as “pig face” poutine, and a jukebox. // Lincoln Park
A classic indie bookshop stocked with hard to find “unusual publications, aberrant periodicals, saucy comic booklets, and assorted fancies.” // Bucktown
A local, seasonal restaurant known for its roasted chicken—or it was until chef Jason Vincent was crowned Cochon 555’s Prince of Porc at the 2012 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. // Pilsen
JESSICA HERMAN, Co-founder of Dose Market
This is undoubtedly one of the sexiest, most romantic spots to clink glasses in the city. Dim lighting, dripping candle wax, and seafood towers. // West Loop
Shop reasonably priced local jewelry lines including Cities in Dust, Shades of Grey, and Laura Lombardi. // Wicker Park
Come to this French-inspired cafe for a delicious almond croissant or seasonal tart in the sun-soaked upstairs dining room. // Lincoln Park
BRIDGET ALBERT, Master Mixologist at Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois
The ornate interior of Henri is a glamorous backdrop for phenomenal cocktails and witty conversation. The Burnham Manhattan is a must. // The Loop
Art Institute of Chicago
The Renzo Piano-updated institute has something for all. Don’t miss Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.” // The Loop
Foster Avenue Beach
A beautiful stretch of sand with great access to swimming and parking. Pack a picnic. // Lincoln Park
This article was published in 7x7's September issue. Click here to subscribe.