Gùsto! How · What · Where Locals Eat (And Drink) In Chicago
With diverse immigrant communities and vibrant neighborhoods, Chicago invites visitors to take a trip around the world in just one city.
Perhaps most known for Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs, this “city of neighborhoods” hosts a variety of cuisines, fusion restaurants, and a blend of ultra-casual and fine-dining options.
From goat birria in Archer Heights and chicken adobo in East Ukrainian Village to cocktails above the city lights, Chicago’s diverse food scene does not disappoint. Follow along with our guide and venture outside of the downtown area to discover all that this city has to offer.
Start the day at Cafe Jumping Bean
WhenCafe Jumping Beanfirst opened its doors in 1994, owner Eleazar Delgado had no idea it would become the iconic spot it is today.
The coffee shop, which began as a quick en route stop for commuters on the city's “El” train, now also serves Thai iced coffee, as well as licuados — Mexican beverages made with milk and fruit, similar to a smoothie. Their breakfast menu also includes specialty sandwiches, soups and bagels.
Go brunching at Tweet
A favorite of former Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, as well as a frequent hangout spot for RuPaul’s Drag Racestar Shea Couleé, Tweet offers breakfast and lunch fare, from diner-style omelettes served with fresh fruit and hash browns, to pumpkin pancakes available any time of year.
The staple of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is also great for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diets, offering everything from vegetarian biscuits and gravy to a vegan and gluten-free Southwest tofu scramble.
Looking for a drink with that? Tweet is connected to (and serves drinks from) Big Chicks, a lesbian bar that has been open since 1986, and which made the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame list in 2016.
With seven Bloody Mary varieties, along with specialty cocktails and craft beers, visitors are spoiled for choice (as well as queer history) at this landmark spot.
Dine Fast-Casual At Portillo’s…
The menu of this local chain includes Chicago-style hot dogs (served with mustard, relish, pickles, tomatoes, onions and celery salt), Italian beef sandwiches and full racks of barbecued ribs. On the sweeter side, Portillo’s offers house-made chocolate cake, an entire slice of which goes into their chocolate cake shakes — a decadent local dessert covered by Insider News.
Portillo’s has several locations both within the city and in its surrounding suburbs, so you’re never far.
Take a fusion trip at Sunset Pho Caffe
Chicago is no stranger to fusion restaurants, combining cuisines from around the world. Sunset Pho Caffe, a fusion of traditional Vietnamese and Jugoslav cuisine, is one of its most colorful examples.
Created by husband and wife duo Ngoc Diep Stakic, originally from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Zel Stakic, from Rijeka, Croatia, the menu includes Vietnamese staples, such as pho and bánh mì with a special twist. Their bánh mì cevapcici blends the flavors of the Vietnamese sandwiches with cevapcici — a grilled minced meat dish, popular in the Balkans, which is considered the national dish of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
Covered by local PBS program Check, Please! and by the local Chicago Reader magazine, Sunset Pho Caffe is also known for its cozy, dark-wood environment, welcoming service, and sometimes free shots of slivovice, a plum spirit especially popular in Southern and Eastern Europe.
Enjoy Michelin Bib Gourmand Mexican cuisine at Birreria Zaragoza
Although Archer Heights has held onto its roots in Chicago’s old-school Polish community, in the past few decades, it has also become a center of the city’s Latino community.
Among the neighborhood's many Mexican locales, Birrieria Zaragoza stands out with its goat quesadillas, handmade corn tortillas and its titular birria: goat stew with onions, cilantro and salsa. For drinks, the spot includes sweet, pink agua fresca, horchata and Mexican sodas and beers.
Known for its quality and flavor, the spot has even been recognized with a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide for its “good quality, good value cooking”.
Splurge On Gourmet Filipino Cuisine At Kasama
By day, this restaurant is a first-come, first-serve casual counter-service locale serving a wide range of pastries, as well as Filipino breakfast with fried egg, garlic rice, sweet longganisa sausage and tocino — pork belly bacon. But in the evening, the Michelin-star restaurant offers a curated, 13-course, fine dining tasting menu inspired by traditional Filipino dishes.
The menu aims to play with diner’s perception of Filipino food, whether or not they grew up eating it themselves. It includes fine-dining variations of adobo, a traditional marinated and simmered dish they prepare with chanterelle mushrooms and a mussel emulsion, as well as kinilaw, a raw seafood dish reminiscent of ceviche, which Kasama’s chefs prepare with golden kaluga caviar and coconut. Another standout dish isnilaga, a beef stew upgraded with A5 Wagyu beef for a proper fine-dining experience.
The tasting menu also has a drinks accompaniment option, which includes a lavender-colored ube cocktail that takes inspiration from Filipino sweets.
“The idea is trying to get people to look at Filipino food in a different way," Tim Flores, one of the restaurant’s owners, told Eater Chicago.
Explore Senegalese dishes at Gorée Cuisine
When he came to Chicago, restaurant owner Adama Ba aimed to create a restaurant akin to one operated by his parents on the island of Gorée, in Senegal. Located in the Kenwood neighborhood on the city’s South Side, the restaurant offers a variety of traditional Senegalese dishes, which is influenced by Senegal’s many ethnic groups, as well as by North African, French and Portuguese cuisine.
Gorée Cuisine’s offerings include saka saka, a marinated lamb dish cooked with shrimp, crab meat, and cassava, and maffe, a sauce made with peanut butter and tomato with potatoes, carrots, yams and white rice. The latter can either be served with lamb, or made vegetarian. Their drinks menu offers bissap, a cold, sweet drink made from the Roselle plant, a variety of hibiscus.
Must-try activity: Have a drink overlooking the city at Cindy's Rooftop
Located on the 13th floor of the Chicago Athletic Association, overlooking Lake Michigan and Chicago's Millenium Park, this bar offers a bird’s eye views of some of Chicago's most iconic landmarks. Visitors can enjoy a drink while getting to know Chicago's blend of architectural styles, towering skyscrapers, and Eastern lakefront.
Cindy's serves signature cocktails which include "summer night walks", a cocktail made with mango and tequila, and the "very necessary", made with vodka, pineapple, amaro, and lime. They also serve brunch, Enjoy one yourself while looking at the city from above!
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