chicago food scene

Fun Restaurants in Chicago

What is the Chicago food scene like? It’s true that there are plenty of good options for eating out in Chicago, but it’s not hard to get caught in a pattern once you’ve been around a while. Even when you’re passing through, it can be tough to find Chicago’s hidden gem restaurants.

The best unknown restaurants in Chicago might get you excited about trying new places. After trying these places, you might think, “I’ve never had this and can’t get this anywhere else.”

Thankfully, places to eat in Chicago are as abundant & unique as the people. A good meal is always close by, and a dinner worth remembering forever isn’t much further. These places are a taste of the standouts in the competitive culinary crowd of the city.

 

billy goat tavern chicago

Billy Goat Tavern

Tucked safely underground “near Tribune Tower & Wrigley Field,” this place takes the idea of a “hidden gem” almost literally. It might seem like a standard bar & burger joint once you finally find the place, but the backstory sets it apart.

It first started when Greek immigrant William Sianis purchased the first location, called the Lincoln Tavern, in 1934. One day, a goat got out of a truck & wandered into the bar.

Not only did Sianis decide to adopt the goat (which he named Murphy), he grew a goatee in its honor, received the nickname “Billy Goat,” and renamed the establishment Billy Goat Tavern.

He was a regular at the bar & became an icon. One fateful day, he became even more famous for an unfortunate reason.

During game four of the 1945 World Series, Billy Goat tried to get into Wrigley Field with Murphy and the latter was denied entry. Billy then made a proclamation.

He said that the Cubs would never win again, and never claim a World Series until the goat was allowed in. The Cubs, who were winning, ended up getting crushed in that game & the ones remaining. They hit rock bottom, and the curse lasted until 2016.

There’s no goat in there today, but there are some delicious burgers, I mean, cheezeborgers. At least, that’s what they’ve been calling them since the skit based on their restaurant that made SNL famous.

 

el ideas chicago

El Ideas

If there’s anywhere you’d be likely to find unique food, it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant. An ordinary Michelin spot, however, this is not. Relative to its peers, El Ideas is the laid-back cousin of the bunch, with comfortable attire outside of caps & flip flops being a-okay.

When you inevitably want to give your compliments to the chef, you can talk to him, along with the rest of the kitchen staff, directly. We don’t mean that you’d have the ability to do so but would look weird; they’re eager to talk with you about the meal & whatever else you want.

This is made possible by the lack of walls between you & them, along with your close proximity. Almost like you’re eating at a friends place! Well, until you get the bill.

We’re not saying drop your therapist & put that money here (they are making a top-tier meal, after all), but it’s nice to have an open line of communication with the people in the kitchen. The comforting atmosphere this provides is no accident, and it’s what makes this place special.

 

Hot _G_ Dog (Photo Credit to Amy Cavanaugh)

Hot “G” Dog

“Hmm, I like the idea of something fancy like fois gras, but I’ve been craving hot dogs.” Say no more! Hot “G” Dog, descendant of the late, great, world famous Hot Dougs, is here to provide.

Also coming ready with ingredients like elk (the special as of writing), capers, saffron aioli & more, along with more traditional options, this place is a mainstay in the Chicago landscape, and an institution that makes the city that much more special.

The place is cash-only, so make sure to hit the ATM before stopping by.

 

Smoked Fish from Calumet Fisheries (Photo Credit to Calumet FIsheries)

Calumet Fisheries

If it’s good enough for Anthony Bourdain (may he rest in peace), then it’s more than good enough for you.

He paid homage to this treasure of the South Side back in 2009 while filming for his show “No Reservations,” and it has absolutely earned the praise.

The Kotlick-Toll family’s been been serving up freshly smoked & fried fish for 65 years. No artificial methods, just natural wood onsite. They’ve got everything from catfish to eel, shrimp, trout, sturgeon & more, and you can enjoy it in the car or in the comfort of your own home!

Well, by “can”, we mean “have to.” You see, Calumet is a take-out business, which means they don’t have any seating. They’ve been like that since the beginning, and we think it’s been working out well for them so far.

 

chilam bilam

Chilam Balam

Grab & go food has some benefits, for sure, but sometimes the joy of eating comes from the relaxed connections that we make when we do it together.

Different cultures across the world, especially that of Mexico, are oriented towards family & community. Chilam Balam designs their dining experience with this in mind, serving quality that’s meant to be shared with those around you.

Along with communal values, they also have freshness woven into their being. They know exactly where they’re getting their ingredients, and they’re able to ensure that nothing artificial or dangerous touches what you’re served.

 

Alinea (Photo Credit to Zbigniew Bzdak)

Alinea

While this place is certainly no longer unknown, and not underrated by any means, it is undisputedly one of the most unique restaurants in the city, and possibly the world.

Unless you live under several rocks, you’ve probably caught the episode of the Netflix original series Chef’s Table that featured this oasis & the legendary Grant Achatz, who founded it with Nick Kokonas in 2005.

Hitting diners with anywhere between 18 and 22 breathtaking courses, they’ve paid their dues and made a big enough mark to earn the Michelin 3-Star rating, along with a slew of other awards & praises.

When we say breathtaking, there are cases where that’s quite literal. One of their most famous dishes is a sugar balloon, which graces the front page of their website. They also have dishes that look more like paintings, and a range of other offerings that boggle the senses.

Even when Grant, the mastermind behind it all, lost his sense of taste, they were able to push on & come back stronger than ever, with Grant even learning how to taste again with time.

If you want to experience this magic, you’re going to have to call in advance (that’s an understatement). You shouldn’t mind too much, since it’ll take you a good amount of time to save up for it anyway. When you finally arrive, though, there’s no better place to be.

 

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