Expert recommendations for the best places to eat in four price ranges: budget ($), moderate ($$), expensive ($$$), and luxury ($$$$)
Doug’s puts haut in hot dogs with exotic meat selections as well as classics. Duck-fat fries on Fridays and Saturdays. Far North Side locale doesn’t deter fans. “Iconic hole-in-the-wall; crowds line up for hot dogs.”—Margaret Littman, author, The Little Black Book of Chicago. 3324 N. California Avenue; tel. +1 773 279 9550. www.hotdougs.com
Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli
Classic near South Side deli from 1942; serves a mean corned beef sandwich and sass on the side from cafeteria countermen. “Great gathering of people; the attorney general at one table, a cab driver at the next.”—David Manilow, TV producer, “Check, Please!” 1141 S. Jefferson Street; tel. +1 312 939 2855. www.mannysdeli.com
West Loop small plate hotspot from owner of more expensive Blackbird. Wine-friendly small plates; homemade charcuterie; sophisticated combinations like truffled focaccia and pizza with lamb sausage and dandelion greens. Value-oriented wine list. Communal tables; convivial atmosphere. 615 W. Randolph Street; tel. +1 312 377 2002. www.avecrestaurant.com
Lao Sze Chuan
Bustling Chinatown restaurant specializes in hot pot; no frills; friendly service. “Authentic”—David Manilow. “The menu’s as long as a Tolstoy novel. Look at what other people are eating and point.”—Penny Pollack, dining editor, Chicago magazine. 2172 S. Archer Avenue; tel. + 1 312 326 5040.
Pastry chef Mindy Segal serves savories as well as sweets in bustling Bucktown café. Save room for cake and shake dessert. “Fun energy; good late-night option.”—Margaret Littman. 1747 N. Damen Avenue; tel. +1 773 489 1747. www.hotchocolatechicago.com
Uno Chicago Grill
“Where deep dish started; one piece does you.”—Phil Vettel, dining critic, Chicago Tribune. Chicago classic popular with tourists; long waits for tables, pizza; easiest to get in at lunch. 29 E. Ohio Street; tel. +1 312 321 1000. www.unos.com
Original Little Italy hole-in-the-wall packs ’em in for chicken Vesuvio, fried calamari and red-sauce pastas; more commonly known as Vernon Park Tap. Good prices; chalkboard menus; long waits; no credit cards. Popular before United Center events. “A slice of Chicago”—Phil Vettel. 1073 W. Vernon Park Place; tel. + 1 312 733 3393.
Sleek, minimalist West Loop showcase for chef Paul Kahan’s sophisticated but earthy fare. Seasonal menu; great braised dishes; don’t miss the pork belly. “Pricey, crowded and elbow-to-elbow but you come away feeling special.”—Penny Pollack. 619 W. Randolph Street; tel. +1 312 715 0708. www.blackbirdrestaurant.com
Chef Rick Bayless introduced American diners to regional Mexican; fiesta atmosphere; potent margaritas; waits common. “Rick Bayless goes every year to Mexico and renews himself; he’s immersed in Mexican culinary culture.”—Penny Pollack. 445 N. Clark Street; tel. +1 312 661 1434. www.rickbayless.com
Veggies get the fine dining treatment at sleek, West Town storefront. Small, shareable plates; one or two fish options; refined treatment of seasonal produce. “A vegetarian place confirmed meat eaters can enjoy; not crunchy or preachy.”—Phil Vettel. 1460 W. Chicago Avenue; tel. +1 312 243 7100. www.greenzebrachicago.com
Trendy Japanese restaurant with staying power. Lots of visual flash backed by solid cooking, both from sushi bar and kitchen. “Go for the entrees; especially the duck.”—Penny Pollack. In fair weather a downstairs bar opens onto the Chicago River. 600 W. Chicago Avenue; tel. +1 312 822 9600. www.japonaischicago.com
Irish gastro-pub across the street from Millennium Park serves the gamut from fish ’n chips to saddle of elk. Lively bar as well as more elegant dining areas. “More than just upscale pub grub; cool turn-of-the-century vibe.”—Matt McGuire, editor, MetroMix.com. 24 S. Michigan Avenue; tel. +1 312 372 4243. www.thegagechicago.com
Chef Grant Achatz combines molecular gastronomy techniques with theatrical presentation. Degustation menu only; dishes come with custom-designed utensils (i.e., speared on spindles or perched on handheld pedestals) that outmode the fork. Gourmet called it the best restaurant in the country. “You need all night to eat there.”—Penny Pollack. 1723 N. Halsted Street; tel. +1 312 867 0110. www.alinea-restaurant.com
Upscale, modern Italian served at multi-tiered restaurant in a Michigan Avenue high-rise overlooking Oak Street Beach. “Really refined and sophisticated Italian; known for its Lucca bean soup.”—Penny Pollack. 980 N. Michigan Avenue; tel. +1 312 280 2750. www.levyrestaurants.com
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