In a city with as many restaurants, cuisines and neighborhoods as Chicago, it’s a disservice to restrict your eating to three measly meals. Rather, if you're going to really get a taste of what makes Chicago such an international food city, you need to do it right. And that means loosening your belts and hoofing it around town for a perfect, food-filled day of eating. If you’ve only got 24 hours in the Windy City, here’s how to spend it.
Breakfast: Lula Cafe
There’s no better neighborhood to rise and shine in than Logan Square, thanks to its surplus of coffee shops and the ever-changing brunch menu at Lula Cafe. The restaurant has been a pioneer in the neighborhood, now one of the city’s hottest, and it’s as popular as ever. Show up early (before 10 AM) to feast on grain bowls and destination-worthy pancakes. The best part is that the brunch menu is also available daily, with seasonal specialties like zucchini bread French toast and sweet corn and grits with smoked pasilla oil and a slow-cooked egg.
2537 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-489-9554
Mid-morning snack: Ipsento 606
After breakfast, put some of that newfound energy to good use by strolling around Logan Square and along the 606 Trail, using it to meander into Bucktown and Wicker Park. Ipsento 606 is a convenient stopover for a mid-morning snack and coffee boost, especially if you order the namesake Ipsento latte, a spicy-sweet sipper infused with cayenne and honey. The cafe has a nice lineup of mini donuts made from sweet potatoes and fried in coconut oil.
1813 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 872-206-8697
Lunch: Revival Food Hall
To get a full-fledged taste of Chicago, head to the Loop’s quintessential food hall, Revival, outfitted with an array of beloved local restaurants from many city neighborhoods. Here you can get tacos from Antique Taco, ramen from Furious Spoon, poke from Aloha Poké Co., gelato from Black Dog Gelato and pulled pork sandwiches from Smoque, all top players in their food categories.
125 S. Clark St.; 773-999-9411
Afternoon snack: Al’s Italian Beef
You can’t visit Chicago without having at least one of the following: deep-dish pizza, hot dogs or Italian beef. For geographic convenience, Italian beef it'll be. Head to the sandwich shop’s original outpost on Taylor Street in Little Italy for a taste of old-school beefy charm. This will get you away from the Downtown fray for a bit and give you a quaint neighborhood to visit while you’re at it. Order one of the namesake sandwiches — thin slices of tender beef stuffed inside a fluffy roll with sweet peppers — and don’t be afraid to have it thoroughly dipped in jus for maximum Chicago flavor.
1079 W. Taylor St.; 312-226-4017
Happy hour: Cold Storage
It’s time to head to the West Loop to start reveling in one of the best foodie neighborhoods in the country. You can start with happy hour at Cold Storage, the sunny, industrial-looking seafood haunt in Fulton Market. It’s a comfy place to hole up for a minute and enjoy a few (or a dozen) $1 oysters and some bargain beers and wine from 3–6 PM.
1000 W. Fulton Market; 312-638-6280
Pre-dinner snack: City Mouse
Conveniently right across the street from Cold Storage, City Mouse is the massive ground-floor restaurant inside the new Ace Hotel. It’s got quite the pedigree too; it’s operated by the folks behind feverishly acclaimed Giant, with Pat Sheerin as chef. Sidle up to the bar, sip on a Color T.V. (bourbon, sherry, red currant, black tea) and nosh on snacks like cornbread with Parmesan butter and habit-forming fried artichokes with pork ragu and Italian breadcrumbs.
319 N. Morgan St.; 312-764-1908
Dinner: El Che Bar
Mosey elsewhere in the West Loop to find El Che Bar, an Argentine hideaway from chef John Manion, serving up some of the most exciting dishes in the restaurant-packed neighborhood. The focal point of the restaurant, as you can clearly see in the wide-open kitchen, is the blazing grill. Plumes of live fire illuminate the back of the dining room, churning out an invigorating spread of sweetbreads, chorizo, pork ribs, salsa-spiked steaks and other meaty fare. There’s plenty more to choose from too, like empanadas, beer cheese with fry bread, oysters and Japanese sweet potatoes with vinegar caramel, to name a few.
845 W. Washington Blvd.; 312-265-1130
Dessert: Nico Osteria
After you’ve sufficiently eaten your way through the West Loop, take a quick cab ride to the Gold Coast for a sweet finale at Nico Osteria. Courtesy of pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky, there are wonderful things going on in the dessert menu at this Italian seafood spot. Confections skew seasonal, like a Concord grape meringata, with cheesecake mousse, Negroni jam, crisp meringue and Concord grape sorbet. Or a perfectly autumnal apple crostada with cider zabaglione, rum-poached apples, caraway crunch and fennel gelato.
1015 N. Rush St.; 312-994-7100
After-dinner drinks: Devereaux
Finish your day with a showstopping sendoff at Devereaux, a sexy, photogenic rooftop bar from Boka Restaurant Group. Located a stone’s throw from Nico, the 18th-floor lounge offers incredible Gold Coast views and equally impressive cocktails by Lee Zaremba. The mixologist has a knack for transforming and elevating familiar fixtures, from Negronis and Manhattans to daiquiris and martinis. The namesake Devereaux daiquiri is a tartly quenching combo of Flor de Caña rum, a Colombian spirit called aguardiente, kiwi and black lime.
1112 N. State St., 18th floor; 312-586-2160