Local Chicagoans will tell you that Taste of Chicago is something you need to experience… once. It’s more so a tourist attraction nowadays and while still very good, most Chicagoans know there are hidden gems that don’t even participate. Having lived in Chicago for a brief stint, I decided to share with you some of my hidden gems that the locals know about and will definitely make a trip or just living there a lot better.
Would you believe the short glass above is 95% liquor? Well it is, lol trust me. Ceres is located in the Historic Trade Building downtown and opens as early 6:00 AM. You can even order a drink in the morning, as being a stock trader can be stressful. Ceres is only open M-F and although there is ample seating inside and outside, I would advise you get there around 4:30 on Friday if your group doesn’t want to wait in line for a table. Unless you know the owner and bartender staff lol. Unfortunately, Ceres closes at 8:00 PM, but they’ll let you sit around and finish up your drink. Be sure to take advantage of the lively crowd and conversations that go on here.
So Au Cheval has, in my opinion, the GREATEST cheeseburger I’ve ever had. A single is 2 patties and a double is 3. Lol, this will definitely show up on tourist places and rightfully so (It lives up to the hype). Don’t like cheeseburgers with 2 thick pieces of bacon and a fried egg, don’t worry they serve other items too, although the cheeseburger is why everybody is here. They make about 400 on weekdays & over 500 on the weekend. Unfortunately, you’re going to wait over an hour if you don’t plan this outing right. They open at 11 AM but close the kitchen down from 3 PM to 5 PM to give the staff a break. However, you can come in still and treat it like a happy hour to get a jump on the 5:00 rush. If you’re dining single I would suggest you take advantage of the 1st six bar seats that are open seating and 1st come 1st serve. You’ll probably still end up waiting but this is your best option to avoid waiting behind groups. If you time it right you’ll be fine (get there around 1:00 during the weekdays or 4:30). Don’t want the long wait, just visit Small Cheval where they have a much smaller menu hosting a smaller version of the cheeseburger minus the 2 thick pieces of bacon and fried egg 😦 and a few other items.
Imagine a Christmas bag filled with everything you ever wanted. Well, that’s sort of what The Angry Crab is like, only it’s seafood. You start off by picking your seafood and complimentary items to go in your foodie bag (corn, sausage, potato). You follow it up by adding some flavor: Lemon Pepper, Garlic Butter, Angry Cajun, Maniac (ALL). After which you choose your spice level if you desire one. The Level 2: Ragin Bull is plenty of spice, but I would start here to be safe. After which, you wait patiently (this can be torture if you’re dining in or getting it to go as the aromas will toy with your emotions). Like Au Cheval it will be very crowded here (which is why I usually got mine to go), but it’s worth it, I promise.
So Chicago is known for their pizza. I can confirm this. However, if you’re a tourist and ask around, you’ll more than likely get the tourist’s joints. They’re alright in my opinion, but craving authentic, made with love Chicago style pizza, which seems rare at the tourist spots I found this local area. ORD pizzeria is the only one in the city and while they aren’t the deep dish pizza parlor, they still serve a hell of thin crust pizza. They have a standard menu, however, I always took it up a notch and got a custom built pie. 12″ Pepperoni, Fresh Sausage, Smoke Bacon, Pickled Jalapenos, Roasted or Chopped Garlic and a side cup of their garlic butter to drizzle over my pizza and dip my crust in.
You know I couldn’t leave the deep dish off. Pequods was like a reward for me doing good I felt, because it was conveniently right across the street from a Barnes and Noble I would pick up books at (Barnes and Noble appears to be strategically placed lol). If you want deep dish pizza, this is where you come. They have seating both downstairs and upstairs to satisfy the many hungry appetites that walk through the door and unless you’re really hungry, you’ll end up taking some home. I don’t really prefer leftovers, but for these slices, I have made an exception. The flavor is packed as deep as the slices so don’t worry about biting down into the crust. Pequods has two locations.
Good ole Roost. So the owner is a native of North Carolina (North Carolina grad boooo) whom I got to meet, as I was a regular and stopped by frequently. He brought the south to the Midwest with him too and as of late 2016, he was able to open another location, close to my Pequod pizza parlor above (strategic thinking, I think yes). Roost serves not only these heavenly fried chicken biscuits with toppings of your choosings, but also bone-in fried chicken, tenders, and tacos. They also have a few side items to help fill you up (I would get mac and cheese and either the peach cobbler or bread pudding). I still haven’t told you the best news yet though. Roost also serves breakfast and although their seating is limited, you will not have to wait long to bite down into one of these chicken biscuits.
Velvet Taco… Velvet Taco… Velvet Taco… how did we ever go so long without each other? Velvet Taco is located close to Michigan Avenue, but a few blocks over… close to another Barnes and Noble. Lol, good follows those who do good. This isn’t your average taco joint though and you’ll probably have taco withdrawal unless you’re in Texas. Did I mention that’s where Velvet Taco originated and the only other 4 locations are there, with the Chicago location being the 1 outlier? Velvet Taco has roughly 20 different Tacos with the menus varying between location, but some honorable mentions and favorites of mine are the Cuban Pig, Shrimp and Grits, Spicy Tikka Chicken, and the Grilled Flank Steak. However, you shouldn’t get full off just the tacos. You see those tots with the fried egg on top? Well, there is herbed goat cheese, smoked cheddar, avocado cream, chili butter and bacon underneath!!! Yeah, they did that. Velvet Taco opens 11 AM weekdays and 9 AM weekends, but if you’re having a night out on the town you can always swing through at 3 AM in the morning where you’ll find a packed house.
I stumbled upon Crisp as I was nearing the end of my stay in Chicago, but they still didn’t disappoint. Located just North of Lincoln Park, this Korean Chicken wing place doesn’t disappoint. While I didn’t have time to fully divulge into the entire menu here, I did get to try the chicken. I will find some fried chicken lol. My recommendation here is to go with 10 wings and split the flavors (Seoul Sassy and Crisp BBQ for me). Unless you’re really hungry, you won’t be able to eat it all, which is why you should get a side bowl and split the wings amongst a friend.
So Chicago parking is TERRIBLE, to say the least, and I’ve already told you good follows those who do good. So what happens when you decide to walk 0.8 miles as exercise from your apartment? You get rewarded with Bongo Room lol. Being only a few blocks away, I easily spoiled myself going here. They have a bar that will serve you drinks early too for breakfast, but I never took advantage of that. What I did take advantage of though was this picture above, the deconstructed lobster roll benedict and also the croissant sandwich on other occasions. Bongo Room has more than 1 location, however, the South Loop location does not serve alcohol for those who prefer a drink too.
I wouldn’t really have lived in Chicago without indulging in some ballpark food, especially given how close I stayed to Wrigley Field. While I didn’t partake in the more traditional Ball Park Franks, I definitely purchased some Italian Sausages and Polish Sausages from this place when coming home and days I worked from home since they were close enough to drive to. Authentic Chicago is all I can say when it comes to this.
Other Honorable Mentions –
- Dimo’s Pizza – Late nights in Wrigleyville and your not so traditional pizza slices (2 locations)
- Pastoral – Sandwich shop that sells cheese, wine and bread with a few location throughout the city
- Yolk – Another breakfast/brunch area with a few locations all near downtown
- BIG and little’s – Seafood, tacos, sandwiches, po’boys (3 locations)
- Leghorn Cafe – similar to Roost Carolina except for different side items and a few other sauces to dress your chicken up in (2 locations)
- Lost Lake – Tiki Bar located north of downtown near the Lincoln Park area
- Three Dots and a Dash – Hidden (literally you enter from an alley) tiki bar located off Clark Street downtown with a wide array of drinks and the scenery to match. Just be careful and know what you’re ordering as some of their tiki drinks pack some spice.
- Harold’s Chicken – located in a few locations throughout the city
- Portillo’s – Chicago-born chain for hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches & more, plus beer & wine, in retro digs.
It’s a lot more, but I can’t remember every single place. With me being in D.C. now, I’ll probably post a Taste of D.C. sometime in the future so be on the lookout and if you’re in Chicago, be sure to stop by some of these places, you won’t regret it.
P.S. for the doubters of Ceres…