Ways to Explore Chicago with Classmates Part 3: Restaurant Eatition

Ways to Explore Chicago with Classmates Part 3: Restaurant Eatition

Whether you live to eat, or eat to live, this post is a must read! Chicago has an absolutely incredible food scene, and I am the resident expert at Booth. As I mentioned in my neighborhood review, we certainly have our fair share of meat and potatoes, but Chicago also has 23 Michelin starred restaurants and everything in between; it truly has something to offer for whatever you are craving. My favorite aspect of the dining scene is that, unlike some of the other food capitals that I won’t mention (e.g. New York), if there’s a restaurant you want to go to in Chicago, you can find a way to get in!

Chicago Restaurant Week took place in April, a 17-day event where 329 eateries around the Chicagoland area offer special pre-fixe menus at approachable pricing. Multiple Michelin recognized establishments offered 4 course tastings for $55 or less! Looking into the future, I’ll be graduating in less than one month :’-(, so in honor of restaurant week and my tireless dedication to the exploration of Chicago eateries over the past two years, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of the city’s great restaurants that will satisfy any appetite.

I’m going to make my best attempt at listing a few favorites spanning the spectrum of some core cuisines. This is an extremely daunting task, and will be by no means exhaustive, but someone’s gotta do it for the greater good of humanity. That said, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, know that you can join Epicurean Club upon arriving at Booth.

Steakhouses

Gibsons

There’s no point in shying away from our steakhouses, so I’ll just dive right into it! Gibsons is a classic Chicago establishment with white table clothes and waiters in white jackets. Come here with family or friends for a really fun meal at an old school institution—sip a dirty martini, point to the cut of meat you want to devour on a tray brought to your table, and absolutely order one of the monstrous desserts for your table. Who’s that gabbing with Frank Sinatra in the corner booth? That is… not happening in this post!

Bavette’s

This is a one of the swankiest spots and hardest reservations in the city from the restaurant group, Hogsalt, which can do absolutely no wrong. The dark, lamplit environment will transport you to a different European era, the service is on point, and the food is always outstanding. Come here with anyone for any special occasion, if you can get in, and you will not be disappointed. I’ll continue to identify the Hogsalt restaurants throughout this post—you’ll see that they have really become a dominant force in the Chicago food scene.

Maple & Ash

Looking for a somewhat over-the-top Vegas-esque experience? Head to Maple & Ash to celebrate. Even if it isn’t your birthday, be sure to get the customized menu that says “HAPPY F*@KING BIRTHDAY,” cause why not. While you are at it, order the secret seafood tower with a pasta-back doused in the residual shellfish butter, along with one of everything else on the menu, cause you’re a baller!

Italian

Monteverde

Without a doubt, Monteverde is cranking out the best pasta, among other Italian dishes, in the city, and the country. This airy Italian restaurant is upscale without being stuffy but is just about the most difficult reservation in the city. However, a pro-tip for Monteverde (and many other restaurants on this list, including Bavette’s): the bar seating is first come, first served, so you can almost always walk in and sit down relatively quickly (alone or with a friend!). At Monteverde, a bar seat also earns you an inside look at the pasta-making magic.

Ciccio Mio

Hogsalt has done it yet again.. Incredibly swanky, dimly lit, new school but old school. Great food, great service, 6 tables, good luck!

La Scarola

La Scarola is an old school Italian joint cranking out delicious, massive plates of pasta with authentic Italian hospitality. Photos of guests cover the walls and white table clothes cover the tables, and if you can’t already picture it, they come around with one of those metal scraper things after your meal to remove the shrapnel off of the table before you bury your face in a glob of tiramisu. Come here with a group before a big night out that you’ll never end up making it to.

Pizza

Lou Malnatis

The OG Chicago deep dish pizza and the best I’ve had to date. Lou Malnati’s now dots the city and the country, so head here first to establish a benchmark for your Chicago deep dish pizza excursion. Yes, deep dish is heavy and debatably its own food group, but it is delicious once in a while.

Piece Pizza

Piece is a brewery and New Haven style pizzeria. It kind of always feels like a pizza party and pizza parties are fun!

Vito and Nick’s

Chicago has a different style of pizza you didn’t know about that’s actually gaining massive popularity around the country—tavern style! Tavern style traditionally has a thin, round, crunchy, cornmeal crust, but it is cut like a grid into squares. Vito and Nick’s is an old school, no frills pizza place on the South Side filled with friendly regulars all reminiscent of Mike Ditka!

Many locals don’t even know that Chicago actually invented a third style of pizza that may also stand alone as a siloed food group, a pizza pot pie! Dive into Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder to uncover the hidden beast.

Burgers

The Loyalist

Hot take—The Loyalist is far and away the best burger in Chicago! It’s located in the bar area beneath a two-star Michelin restaurant and it is amazing. The drinks are excellent, the appetizers are inventive takes on French dishes, and the burger is unmatched (soft bun packed with poppyseeds, three kinds of onions, pickles, aioli, great fries)—you should most certainly come here and consume all three. I promise you’ll have room. The burger and fries come with a side of vinegar and burnt garlic aioli—be a sicko like me and go crazy with the dipping. If you couldn’t tell, I love this place.

Au Cheval

While I display clear favoritism with my burger-children, Au Cheval’s burger is consistently Chicago’s favorite, and was ranked by Bon Appetit as the best in America. Surprise (or not), this is also a Hogsalt restaurant, and they don’t take reservations, so plan accordingly, put your name in 2-4 hours before you want to eat and spend some time bopping around the West Loop while you wait. While I’m at it, I’ll provide some more bold recommendations—the burger is quite delicious but incredibly heavy and everything else on the menu is equally delicious, so split the burger and as many other things as you can stomach!

Ramen

Wasabi

This spot is a bit off the beaten path but absolutely worth the trek. There is often a wait, but there is a fun brewery across the street to check out. Put your name in, drink a beer, slurp some ramen! An unbeaten formula with the potential of winning Booth yet another Nobel Prize.

High Five

Hogsalt. 12 seats. No Reservations. See Au Cheval logistics above.

BBQ

Green Street

Yet another Hogsalt winner, but this one is a big warehousy smokehouse with picnic tables, a great bar, string lights, and an unbeatable courtyard patio in the summer. Everything on the menu is fantastic—order a bit of everything and enjoy life.

Smoque

Smoque is a great BYOB smokehouse dishing out some of the best smoked meats in the city. If you like BBQ it’s a must-visit!

Mediterranean

Rose Mary

This is a Croatian hotspot from one of Chicago’s many Top Chef alumni. While there has been an insurgence of restaurants focusing equally on pastas, meats, and veggies, this one is the best of late. Book a reservation here at midnight three months out and remember that having something to look forward to for 90-days is part of the experience.

Galit

Want to feel like you’re at an Israeli dinner party? Thanks to Booth’s Israeli students, you might attend a few of these, but statistically, Galit serves the best food. Come here for dinner and let the dishes just fly chaotically onto your table. This is probably Chicago’s must affordable and casual Michelin starred restaurant, and the experience just doesn’t get old.

Aba

This is another popular place from a different Chicago restaurant group magnate, Lettuce Entertain You. The atmosphere here is second to none and the food is delish. Some Lettuce restaurants are better than others, but you can’t go wrong with any of them and Aba is a winner.

Asian

Duck Duck Goat

Transparently, this is not my area of expertise, and Duck Duck Goat is not the best Asian restaurant in the city, but it’s worth mentioning another Top Chef alum, Stephanie Izard, who runs a growing restaurant dynasty in Chicago. Duck Duck is high-end authentic Chinese street food done a bit differently—certainly worth checking out.

Chicago’s Asian scene is growing, so some other places worth seeking out include Sunda, Momataro, Haisous, Mott Street, and some of the sushi spots (or omakase) popping up.

Ok! I am exhausted and hungry. Narrowing down restaurant offerings to a couple of suggestions was tough, but this should provide a start. When in doubt, know that you can always consult Booth’s all-knowing Epicurean Club.

Some of my favorite experiences at Booth have stemmed from exploring new restaurants with new friends or trying regional cuisines with classmates from those areas. The city is big, neighborhoody, and might feel overwhelming for a newcomer, but making the leap to try somewhere different will rarely leave a bad taste in your mouth.

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