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  • BSideBecca

5 Favorite Chicago Foods & Places (i'm guessing you haven't tried!)

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

If I could do it all over again, I would love to be a travel agent or tour guide, as I love to find little hidden places or unique spots to visit. I've never passed a road I didn't want to drive down! And having gone to college in downtown Chicago, visiting the city many, many times over the years, having a husband who works there...all these add up to me being quite familiar with the city and having developed my favorite spots to stop. I'll skip over the museums (go - they're great) and the traditional that everyone knows (Giordano's vs. Lou Malnati's vs Gino's East) and let me be your tour guide to 5 of Our Favorite Chicago Foods and Places (I'm guessing you may not have tried yet)!

-LondonHouse: part of the Hilton chain, this hotel is my favorite place to stay in Chicago- the rooms are modern and well decorated, except for the weird bathroom doors, which are those sliding etched glass types that just seem so... OBVIOUSLY I AM PEEING, but whatever, this is a small complaint overall. Here's the winning aspects of why I'm recommending it: The rooms look over the Chicago River and give a stunning view of the corn cob towers and the river. (You can also see the Trump Tower pretty well - I was going to skip mentioning that because #politics, but alas, it's a very clear view and hard to miss. Don't talk to me about politics, please.)

The views are great from the rooms on the front of the hotel, so make sure you clarify that your room is overlooking the river! The back of the hotel has bigger rooms, but they do not have good views at all. But wait! There's more! LondonHouse also has a rooftop - there is a bar/eating area upstairs, but you don't have to eat there to go up another small flight of steps out on the roof and those views become even more "classic Chicago." This past winter when we visited, they had igloos you could reserve - so check into that if that is of interest to you. (Not sure if this will be permanent...) It's a romantic, beautiful view that is hard to beat.

My tip is to go on off-times for a lower rate. While I know this is obvious, it matters here. During high season I've seen room rates upwards of $350ish, but go during down times and you can find it much more doable. For instance, one year we went on January 1st - skipping the New Year's Eve prices altogether - and paid $99 a night. It varies - so check different dates and times of the year.

pen try out table at Atlas
table set up at Atlas to try out the pens & various papers

-Atlas Stationers: My daughter and I love good notebooks and stationary and this store is AMAZING. Having opened in 1939, the family still runs it and keeps it well stocked with unique stationary brands and various fountain pen brands. While I am not familiar with fountain pens, I can tell the stock is well curated with affordable options all the way up to best-of. Notebooks are what I gravitate toward and I love being able to look at brands like Hobonichi, Leuchtturm 1917 (my favorite), Rhodia and Lett's (and others) that Atlas stocks. I bought a Lett's the last time we visited and am too afraid to start it and ruin it - ha! - but I think it will soon become my fall notebook. Why is it that I'm looking forward to that?? If you're a paper fanatic like we are, definitely stop by Atlas Stationers! They have a great online shop too, if you are not in the Chicago area.

-Xoco's Fully Dressed Guacamole: Yes, guacamole deserves a spot on my Chicago list even if I don't have a picture of it because we never pause long enough! Xoco is a small restaurant that is one of the various amazing Mexican food locations throughout Chicagoland developed by award-winning chef Rick Bayless and his wife, Deann. While Xoco's offerings are ALL delicious (we get the Baja Chicken Torta or Pozole), we always always allllways get the Fully Dressed Guacamole. I mean, we talk about this guac at home. We plan when we're going to visit and enjoy it. I think, as a couple, this is our favorite food ever. One time my husband grabbed it to go and brought it home for me and sheesh...if that wasn't the most romantic thing I've ever heard of! Another time husband had to grab dinner for himself and Dr Gary Chapman - you know, creator of the 5 love languages? - while they were working and I suggested they get Xoco because gifts are MY love language and giving this experience to anyone is truly a gift. (ha!)

Anything on the menu is great, but for sure try the guacamole and maybe add a pistachio glazed churro for dessert too! (Bayless' restaurant, Tortazo, in the bottom of the Sears Tower (I'm still protesting Willis, whatever) sells the guac as well.)

"holy cow" neon sign Gallagher's way Jeni's

-Wrigleyville's Gallagher Way: Just in case you haven't been to a Cubs game recently, they really have developed the surrounding area quite nicely. I'm sure by this point you've seen the Gallagher Way area (the green "lawn" and the Cubs' gift shops), but now it's grown up enough so that there are also restaurants around it that you need to know about. Places like Jeni's Ice Cream, Small Cheval (an off-shoot of Au Cheval, a Chicago restaurant with the best burger you'll ever eat), and Foxtrot (a small market) are all right on the same block. Across the street, under Hotel Zachary is Smoke Daddy BBQ .This is the spot we ate at when we went to a game earlier this season. The views are of Gallagher Way and Wrigley, and the food was good with good service.

We did make reservations since it was before a game, but I *think* we could have walked in and been seated fairly easily - mainly because it was earlier in the season, probably. I'd still do reservations, though, just to be safe.

Palmer House brownie

-Palmer House Brownie: Here's something I learned this past winter. Did you know the brownie was developed in Chicago? Who knew? Having read The Devil in the White City and that one kid's book about the building of the ferris wheel (anyone know the name of it??), I should have known this fact as well - that the brownie was developed "specifically at the direction of Bertha Palmer to be served at the Columbian Exposition World's Fair in 1893." There are various ways you can enjoy it: You can eat at the restaurant at the Palmer House, stay there and order room service OR just pop in and find the little shop off the lobby and buy an original Palmer House Brownie. Yes, you'll pay more for this brownie than you ever have, but you get to try the original brownie recipe. Surprise your significant other and impress them with your historical knowledge and earn some brownie points! (I had to.)

Century of Progress House Indiana

Bonus: Fun Fact: Chicago had another fair - the 1933 Chicago World's Fair - and five of the houses that were built for an exhibition matching the fair's theme of "Century of Progress." Those five houses were then brought by barge over to Northwest Indiana and are now part of the Indiana Dunes National Park. You can't tour them (other than once a year when they have a ticketed event), but can drive by, or park and read signs and look at them. They are leased to individuals who promise to upkeep them. It's a fun little stop if you're ever in the Indiana Dunes area.


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