With March Madness at its pinnacle, everyone’s chowing down on bar snacks this week. While chicken wings and nachos are all well and good, it’s a welcome surprise when bars go the extra mile with beer-friendly vittles. Considering its love of bars and sports, Chicago isn’t lacking for over-the-top bar snacks. From gourmet beef jerky to cheeseburger milkshakes, these are the 11 craziest (and downright best) bar bites you need to try in Chicago right now.
Lobster tater tots at Ironside Bar & Galley
Tater tots are a bar menu favorite, but it’s not very often these nostalgic American treats come studded with lobster. At River North’s nautically inspired Ironside Bar & Galley, potato tots are mixed with Maine lobster, fried until golden and crispy and served with a rich, spicy lobster Sriracha sauce. Bonus: These fan favorites (they’re the best-selling item on the menu here) are half price during happy hour, which runs from 4–7 PM on weekdays.
546 N. Wells St.; 312-973-7792
Gonzo toast at Cafe Marie Jeanne
Sometimes you just can’t decide whether you want brisket, caviar toast or sea urchin. Classic conundrum. When such indecision presents itself at Cafe Marie Jeanne, where all those items are popular individually, the kitchen gets crafty. The resulting combo is caviar toast topped with brisket, which is then topped with sea urchin roe, and it’s the ultimate in surf 'n' turf finger food. Though it's not on the regular menu, anyone can get it if they ask.
1001 N. California Ave.; 773-904-7660
Disco fries at Pub Royale
If poutine and cheese fries had a baby in India, the result would be the disco fries at Pub Royale. Available on weekends, late-night and during happy hour, these habit-forming spuds have everything: butternut squash provides a little sweetness, maitake mushrooms add an earthy umami component, paneer cheese brings a bit of chew and buttered jus enriches the whole thing even further.
2049 W. Division St.; 773-661-6874
Bacon cheeseburger milkshake at Sugar Factory American Brasserie
Don’t worry, this isn’t actually a milkshake made with blended beef. Rather, it’s a sweet and savory behemoth that toes the line between bar bite and full-fledged dessert. Each enormous mug gets filled with strawberry ice cream, strawberry sauce and whipped cream, studded with crunchy morsels of pretzels and M&M's. The showstopper is the garnish: a mini cheeseburger with a candied strip of bacon. The exterior of the mug is dipped in chocolate and coated with more pretzel bits and candy too, in case you don’t already have enough to nosh on.
55 E. Grand Ave.; 312-946-2002
Shrimp-cargot at Oyster Bah
This being a Boston-accented establishment, the newest menu addition would be more accurately dubbed a “bah snack.” Made just like escargot, the shrimp-cargot consists of little shrimps baked in escargot pans with copious amounts of garlic butter and herbs. They’re served with grilled bread for dipping and soaking up all of that garlicky goodness.
1962 N. Halsted St.; 773-248-3000
Spiced jerky beef tips at Rockit Bar & Grill
One of downtown Chicago’s most perpetually popular bar/restaurant hybrids just got a serious culinary upgrade with the appointment of Mike Sheerin as chef. With a résumé boasting the likes of Blackbird, Trenchermen and Embeya, he’s well versed in a variety of cooking styles and techniques, which he brings to Rockit Bar & Grill with dishes both playful and seriously impressive. You'll rethink your notions of beef jerky, for example, with his spiced jerky beef tips. A far cry from the leathery snacks found at gas stations and convenience stores, Rockit’s jerky is chewy but succulent and juicy, flecked with pickled jackfruit, spicy peanuts and fresh cilantro.
22 W. Hubbard St.; 312-645-6000
Hungarian lángos at Bohemian House
Flavors of potatoes, sour cream and cheese are all iconic staples when it comes to snacking at the bar. But Bohemian House has given those classics a Hungarian accent with its comforting (and wholly original) interpretation of a loaded potato. Called “lángos,” it’s a decadent plate of fried potato bread heaped with chive sour cream, Gouda cheese and dill.
11 W. Illinois St.; 312-955-0439
Cauliflower & curds at Corridor Brewery & Provisions
Buffalo chicken and fried cheese. What more could you ask for in a bar snack? At Corridor Brewery & Provisions, they’re taking these popular bar snacks and giving them a contemporary twist, subbing cauliflower and cheese curds for chicken and drizzling it all with blue cheese dressing. The cool part is the pieces of Buffalo-fried cauliflower and cheese curd look similar, so each bite is a surprise. Rightfully, they’re one of the most popular items at the bar.
3446 N. Southport Ave.; 773-270-4272
Chicken pakora at MAD Social
In any iteration, fried chicken is always an essential pick for sports viewing and bar biting. MAD Social pushes the envelope a bit more with its version. The chicken pakora is a hefty plate of spiced chicken fritters, basically an exotic riff on popcorn chicken. It’s flecked with roasted lemon and crispy kale, and there's dill and caper ranch for dipping.
1140 W. Madison St.; 312-243-2097
Mega-burger at Headquarters Beercade
Burgers and bars go together like macaroni and cheese. At Headquarters Beercade, the combination gets a crazy upgrade in the form of its crowd-pleasing "mega-burger." This behemoth really lives up to its name too. Designed to feed eight to 10 people, the four-pound beef burger is cut tableside into more reasonable individual portions, served with a choice of toppings and sauces.
213 W. Institute Pl.; 312-291-8735
Black truffle foie gras hot dog at Eight Bar
The downstairs bar at Maple & Ash is not your typical bar by any stretch. This is evident in its glimmering decor, its glamorous cocktails and, most notably, its hot dog. Eight Bar's hot dog is a bacon-wrapped Vienna Beef sausage topped with caramelized onion, foie gras, black truffle and a housemade Cognac mustard sauce that gets drizzled overtop tableside. It's not often a hot dog comes with so much pomp and circumstance.
8 W. Maple St.; 312-944-8888