About a year ago, my fiancé, David, and I went to Chicago for a weekend getaway and had fun riding the train all over the city, eating at different notable restaurants and visiting museums and comedy clubs.
Last weekend, we decided to re-create the memorable trip and went to all new places (except for one all-time favorite from last year's trip).
Although I am no expert on the dining in Chicago, I will share where we stopped last weekend and whether we would return. And in case you're planning a trip to Chicago soon, feel free to use my recommendation as your guide to some of the most delicious food in the city.
Location: Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe (130 E. Randolph St.)
When scouring the internet for the best Chicago restaurants to visit, nearly every list included Wildberry. The restaurant is near the edge of Millennium Park, where the city's famous Cloud Gate (or beanlike) sculpture is. David and I got to Wildberry seemingly early but still had about a 25-minute wait for the two of us. But the wait was absolutely worth it.
The specialty for the restaurant is anything breakfast: a variety of egg dishes, Belgian waffles, crepes, French toast and, of course, pancakes.
I ordered the garden skillet (hash browns, about a dozen veggies, cheese and two eggs on top) and picked a cinnamon-roll pancake to go with it. David chose an egg platter, with scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, fruit and the gluten-free honey berry pancakes.
Would I return? Definitely. The food was very good, but the service was even better. For how crowded it was, we got our breakfast within 10 minutes of ordering and everything was absolutely picture-perfect. It was a very popular breakfast spot, but I completely understand the hype. The pancakes were good, and there is such an array of flavors that one could go back again and again to try different varieties.
Location: Chicago French Market (MetraMarket, 131 N. Clinton St.)
Specialty: Booths with every food cuisine under one roof
If you’re familiar with Columbus' North Market, this French Market is very similar. If you have a group of picky eaters, you would find something they'd enjoy. From barbecue to Japanese food to traditional French foods, you can travel around the world within one space. French music plays over speakers throughout the entire space, and there are Paris-inspired tables and chairs in one section of the market for you to snack on whatever you purchased.
As soon as I walked in, I fell in love. I think I might demand to go there whenever I'm in Chicago. David and I went there on a Saturday around 1 p.m., and surprisingly, the market was not packed full. After talking to one of the chefs, he said the market typically is more popular during the week with businesspeople stopping by for lunch. So to our good fortune, we essentially could roam as we pleased and had time to see all the booths (about 30 in total).
After walking down every aisle, I purchased a banana-and-Nutella crepe, and David opted for a barbecue chicken sandwich with steamed Brussels sprouts. We also bought boba tea, as well as a small marzipan hot dog from one of the French bakeries that specializes in truffles, macarons and other delectable treats.
Would I return? I’d better. If I worked near that market, I'd be there every day to try something different.
Location: The Chicago Diner (3411 N Halsted St.)
Specialty: Vegetarian and vegan dishes
This restaurant's slogan is "Meat free since '83!" As a longtime vegetarian, I was curious to try their meals.
Although I was happy with the variety of menu items that were made vegetarian or vegan, such as a meatloaf that used lentils instead of meat, I was disappointed in the menu in general. One thing I dislike as a vegetarian is when I spot people trying to re-create regular meaty meals. For example, you'll often see tofu "chick'n" fingers that are supposed to taste like regular chicken fingers. I became a vegetarian because I was happy without eating those types of dishes, so it isn't something I typically gravitate toward. But this menu was full of those dishes -- Thai chili wings, country fried steak, chicken shawarma plate and a Cuban sandwich, for example.
We split poutine, which was made with vegan cheese and meat-free gravy, as our appetizer. It was surprisingly very good. David picked the quinoa chili for his meal, and I chose the avocado tostadas. I would say David's dish was the winner of the night.
Would I return? I wouldn't say no, but if I were to go back, the only thing I would want to get as my meal would be the quinoa chili. It wasn't an awful experience, but it just isn't the food for me.
Location: Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits (2051 N. California Ave.)
Specialty: Pies and biscuits
We came to Bang Bang Pie after hearing good reviews last year, and it was amazing -- really good biscuits, very delicious coffee and great sides to boot.
I'm pretty sure David and I ordered about the same thing we did last year: one biscuit with (vegetarian) gravy and sausage on the side, an avocado biscuit with an egg on top, cheesy grits, coffee and a rich muffin rolled in cinnamon and sugar.
This meal was just as good as we had remembered. I don't think we ordered the muffin last year, but holy cow, that was my star for the meal. It was very delicious and probably 2,000 calories, but so good that it was worth it.
Would I return? We intend to. Funnily enough, even though pies are one of their big sellers, we haven't tried any variety yet. Clearly, we need to go back just for that reason alone.
Location: Big Star (1531 N. Damen Ave.)
Specialty: Tacos and other Mexican street food
On our way to Big Star, our Uber driver said, "You're going to Big Star? I have to recommend some things to you to try. This is where I take all of my out-of-town guests." So that was a ringing endorsement for me. The menu is a bit limited, with only about a dozen items, but everything I ate was delicious enough that I didn't miss having a large selection.
We split chips and salsa, and David ordered an al Pastor and a chorizo taco. I went with the Uber driver's recommendation of the "taco de zanahorias," which was a mole-spiced carrot taco with yogurt sauce. In addition, I ordered a walking taco. If you've never had one, the dish is a bag of Fritos with all the ingredients poured inside the bag. It’s very messy but completely worth it.
Would I return? The tacos were good but not knock-your-socks-off great. I still prefer Barrio in Cleveland as my favorite taco spot, but if you have a hankering for tacos in Chicago, you won't have a bad meal.
After this trip to Chicago, I felt as though I had gained 15 pounds from the food but walked more than 5 miles daily, so I feel accomplished either way. We came, we ate and we conquered.
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