One of the non-academic things that I was most excited about moving to Chicago was all the amazing restaurants in the city. Over the past year, I made it my mission to try as many good restaurants as I could and here’s a list of my favorites in order:
Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap
I was initially interested in Jake Melnick’s because I saw it on a Food Network list of the best wings in each state. Hot wings are by far my favorite food of all time, so I had to go check this out for myself. Now I live in Nashville, so it’s hard to impress me when it comes to chicken, but I was thoroughly impressed by how good these wings are. I’ve never had wings that were so perfectly fried and tossed–they were smothered in sauce, but always maintained the crunch from being fried. The wings are huge too, a lot of the time when you go to places like Buffalo Wild Wings or Wing Stop, they’ll slip in a few wings that are more bone than anything else, not Jake Melnick’s. Each wing is the size of the biggest wing you’d get at most other restaurants. Jake’s doesn’t do just wings though, they also have amazing burgers and smoked barbeque that (almost) rivals what we have down south.
Billy Goat Tavern
Billy Goat Tavern is a famous Chicago restaurant for three reasons: 1) The amazing food they serve 2) A 1978 SNL skit poking fun at the restaurant, and 3) The goat that the owner used to walk around Chicago and bring to Cubs games. I actually didn’t know about Billy Goat until I got here and my friend kept telling us that we needed to go and how great it’s supposed to be. So, that weekend we went and it did not disappoint at all. They have by far the best burgers that I’ve had possibly anywhere. They’re grilled right in front of you and served on a kaiser roll, then you get to put your own toppings on it from a small toppings bar next to the grill (they have really good pickles here). I love Billy Goat because, like Jake Melnick’s, it’s a super low key place that doesn’t draw insane amounts of attention and you can relax and have a good time with your friends.
I actually went to Yolk the day after I toured UChicago and my family and I loved it so much we ended up going three more times before we went back home. They have an expansive coffee menu with something for every coffee lover–my favorite is the oat milk horchata cold brew. Yolk has a nice laidback diner atmosphere and a huge menu with every breakfast item imaginable. They have huge portions too, with five egg omelets and skillet breakfast scramblers, at any other restaurant you’d have leftovers to take home, but Yoke is so good you’re going to eat it all in one sitting. My favorite thing at Yolk is chicken and waffles. As I said before, I live in the south, so it’s pretty hard to impress me with chicken and waffles, but Yolk blows any other chicken and waffles I’ve ever had out of the water. This isn’t ordinary chicken and waffles though, it’s a bacon waffle and fried chicken breast topped with sausage gravy and a fried egg. They have a good blend of sweet and savory options, so it’s a great place to grab breakfast or brunch.
Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch
There are a bunch of Harry Caray’s throughout the city, but the 7th Inning Stretch on the Mag Mile is by far the best one. It’s combined with the Chicago Sports Museum, so everyone who eats at the 7th Inning Stretch gets free admission. Everything that I’ve tried on their menu is delicious, my favorite is the holy cow burger, which has this candied smoked bacon on it that’s amazing. The best part though is going to the museum after your meal. It’s been described as “Chicago’s playground for sport’s fans,” and it definitely lives up to its name. If you love sports, this might be the best place to go in Chicago outside of an actual sporting event. They have a wall with buzzers that show how high Michael Jordan could jump and you can jump up and try and see how high you can get, they have the hoop that Michael Jordan took “The Shot” on when he beat the Jazz in 1998 to win the last title for the Bulls, and they have tons of other interactive activities there that will keep you entertained for hours.
Osteria Via Stato
Designed to replicate the Tuscan countryside, Osteria Via Stato has one of the best atmospheres of any restaurant I have ever been to. It has a nice candle lit dining room that’s draped in greenery that makes you feel really at home. They serve authentic Italian dishes that are all presented very beautifully. They have a seasonal menu, so their specialties change with the season. When I went here I ordered a pork chop that was smoked and glazed, with mashed potatoes and orecchiette pasta. It was great, the pork chop had amazing flavor and was very tender. This is probably the fanciest restaurant I’ve been to in Chicago, so it’s a great place to go to for a special event.
I actually discovered Cruz Blanca by happy accident because the place my friends and I were going to go had too long of a wait time. It’s a trendy Tex-Mex restaurant in the West Loop that has a really big menu with lots of fun fusions of Mexican and American food. My favorite is the Cali burrito which has carne asada, Au Cheval french fries, avocado, crema, and Chihuahua cheese. If you’re old enough to drink, they have a really expansive menu of alcoholic beverages that I’m sure are very good, but if you don’t drink like me, their agua frescas are very good, my favorite is the habanero piña.
Eataly is a really cool place to get dinner in Chicago. They have a bunch of different restaurants inside it on the second level where you can get all kinds of different Italian food, but they all blend together to create one general seating area. There’s a wine bar, a pizzeria, a kitchen that serves pasta dishes, and many others. They have really good personal pizzas here and a nice bakery to get artisanal bread. Eataly is also really fun because the first level is an Italian market that also has a dessert bar with cakes and gelato. At the market, you can find cool Italian treats and drinks and explore all the other interesting Italian items that they have there. This is a really fun place to go with your friends because it’s right off Michigan Avenue, so after spending the day downtown, you can come here and get lunch or dinner.