This time of year, conversations at Chow Bella staff meetings tend to turn to who's eaten what and where. With the summer travel season in full swing, we bring you Food Tours, our writers' suggestions of what to eat and drink out of town.
There's no shortage of things to do, see, or eat in a city as big as Chicago but should you need a little guidance, we've got plenty of advice. Over a recent trip (or two...ok, it was three) to the Windy City, we did quite a bit of eating and drinking and to be honest, this list includes just a smattering of the highlights. We left off the usual suspects like deep dish pizza, a Portillo's hot dog, and Italian beef (which you really should also enjoy) to point out a few more original suggestions.
Cacio e Pepe at Eataly 43 E Ohio St, Chicago 312-521-8700 www.eataly.com/chicago
Going to eat at Eataly is as much about your dining experience as it is about wandering around the upscale market's aisles. If you've already been to the location in New York City, go ahead and skip it. But otherwise, you'll really going to want to make time. The best way to describe Eatly is if Whole Foods, an Italian market, and a food hall had a three-way -- and that produced a baby. The giant two-story store offers just about every Italian food product you can dream up, as well as 14 different restaurants and food counters serving everything from pasta to pizza and yes, there's a Nutella Bar. The La Pizza & La Pasta restaurant located in the back left corner of the second story is a good choice; you'll find wood fired pizzas and handmade pastas featuring high-quality ingredients you can also buy and bring home should you be so inspired. The Cacio e Pepe is a classic Roman dish that features handmade spaghetti dressed simply in olive oil, butter, pepper, and cheese.
In The Rocks at The Aviary 955 West Fulton Market, Chicago 312-226-0868 www.theaviary.com
If you're a cocktail nerd, chances are you already know about The Aviary. The upscale bar comes courtesy of Grant Achatz (Alinea) and Nick Kokonasa so it's really no surprise that it's one of the best bars in the country (in fact, it recently won big at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans). If you're going all-in, you'll want the three or five-course cocktail menus. But for a more affordable experience there's also a menu of "a la carte" cocktails -- though they'll still set you back anywhere from $20 to $25 a piece. The In The Rocks is a perfect demonstration of The Aviary's dramatic flair: your drink arrives encapsulated in a ball of ice, which you get the pleasure of cracking open with a sling shot. It's messy and fun and tastes great, thanks to a blend of absinthe, sherry, vermouth, and rye.
Breakfast Spaghetti at The Little Goat Diner 820 W. Randolph St., Chicago 312-888-3455 www.littlegoatchicago.com
Chef Stephanie Izard's James Beard Award-winning The Girl and The Goat restaurant in the West Loop definitely lives up to the hype. It's cozy and inventive and surprisingly affordable thanks to a menu of brilliant small plates. That said, I think I prefer the chef's more casual spot, The Little Goat. It's located just up the street and serves elevated diner fare including breakfast, lunch, and diner. Everything -- from the Reuben with smoked corned beef and kimchi to the tempura mashed potatoes -- is worthwhile but the dish I still can't forget is the breakfast spaghetti. It looks less than appealing, a messy mass of crispy pasta covered in eggs, oysters, guanciale, and boy choy. But once you have a first bite you realize how genius it is to blend the flavors together. I guarantee you've never had a breakfast like it.
Blueberry Wonut at Waffle Cafe 203 E. Ohio, Chicago 312-846-1242 www.wafflescafechicago.com
New York isn't the only metropolitan city with crazy doughnut hybrids. Earlier this summer Chicago's Waffles Cafe introduced a waffle-doughnut hybrid aptly dubbed the Wonut. The restaurant offers a rotating selection of wonuts and of those we sampled the Blueberry with lemon frosting took the cake -- er, doughnut? Or should it be waffle? The wonuts are made with extra thick waffle batter that's baked and then fried. The result is basically an extra hearty waffle that's covered or dipped in various glazes and toppings. Honestly, the best part is that you can get a half dozen without having to wait in a ridiculous Cronut line.
Pork Belly at Green Street Meats 112 N. Green St., Chicago 312-754-0431 www.greenstreetmeats.com
This Randolph Street (a.k.a. Restaurant Row) restaurant capitalizes on pretty much every trend in the dining scene right now: There's a cool, speakeasy-type entrance; an impressive selection of whiskeys; an underground ramen restaurant tucked inside; oh yeah, and some of the best bbq we've ever had. The only bad news is that if you want to experience all of that you'd better be prepared to wait. At about 9 p.m. on at Saturday night we were met with an hour and a half-long line, which thankfully died down to only 30 minutes or so when we returned at 11 p.m. The wait was worthwhile as soon as we bit into Green Street's pork belly. It offered a beautiful peppery crust that gave way to meat so fatty and tender it actually melts in your mouth. Wash it down with a glass of your favorite whiskey neat and you're pretty much in heaven.
The Violet Hour Old Fashioned at The Violet Hour 1520 N. Damen Ave., Chicago 773-252-1500 www.theviolethour.com
When it comes to modern speakeasys, The Violet Hour is probably the best I've visited. The entrance is marked by nothing more than a single, yellow light bulb. It's so understated we drove by, then walked by, without even noticing it was there. Once inside you'll find a cozy, but casual bar with an large menu of craft cocktails. The selections are broken down by base spirit making it easy to choose a drink based on what you usually like to drink. You can't go wrong with bar's take on a classic Old Fashioned, which is made with House Select Elijah Craig 12 yr, Demerara Syrup, Angostura Bitters.
Crab Cocktail at Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House 1024 N. Rush St., Chicago 312-640-0999 www.hugosfrogbar.com
Yes, Hugo's Frog Bar is an upscale seafood and steakhouse that's not going to appear on any trendy restaurant list you'll find. There's white-jacketed waitstaff and an extensive, sometimes expensive menu of food. But that doesn't mean it's not a fun spot to hit, particularly on Sunday night, Industry Night. That's when you'll find the restaurant packed at 11 p.m. with industry folks looking to cash in on the deal of the day: half off the entire menu if you can prove you work in the biz. You'll have a hard time getting a seat but if you do, you can't beat the restaurant's crab cocktail, a martini glass filled to the brim with fresh pieces of crab meat topped with spicy cocktail sauce. It will set you back less than $10. Talk about a deal.
Pour Over at Intelligentsia Coffee 1233 N. Wells, Chicago 312-548-3319 www.intelligentsiacoffee.com
Intelligentsia Coffee is one of the best-known coffee chains in the country with a cult following to rival the best. There are shops all over Chicago, including the company's original and flagship location at 3123 North Broadway. Whether you can honestly taste the difference between this roast and that, a trip to an Intelligentsia is like a pilgrimage to a holy coffee site where you can witness a barista making your cup of joe with the care and precision of a surgeon.
Old Fashioned Doughnut at The Doughnut Vault 401 N. Franklin Street, Chicago www.thedoughnutvault.tumblr.com
If you want to taste the best doughnuts in America you're going to have to get up early because once the doughnuts at The Doughnut Vault are gone for the day, they're gone. The Doughnut Vault is a tiny hole-in-the-wall that serves a small menu of excellent doughnuts. If you're lucky you'll get there in time to try both the Old Fashioned and the famous glazed, known for its incredibly light and fluffy texture. If you show up late, the glazed are likely to be gone. No matter, the Old Fashioned are still unforgettably delicious with a moist, cakey texture and a light layer of sugar glaze. Best of all it's only $2, which makes it taste even better with your $1 cup of coffee.
Whiskey at Untitled 111 W. Kinzie Street, Chicago 312-880-1511 www.untitledchicago.com
If you're a whiskey fan make sure to hit Untitled, another one of Chicago's speakeasy-style bars, which houses a dedicated whiskey bar they call the "Whiskey Library." It's equipped with what's supposedly the largest collection of American whiskeys in the world, all arranged on floor-to-ceiling shelves that bartenders access on actual library ladders that slide along the length of the display. Any whiskey you want they're likely to have -- in fact, any whiskey you want they're likely to have a better suggestion for, so be prepared to get educated. And once you've had your drink (or two) be sure to head out to the main dining room to catch the live entertainment. During our visit that meant a very sultry belly dancing show.