How to Eat Well in Chicago, No Matter Your Budget

by  Connie Hum | Aug 13, 2018
Lincoln Park, Chicago
Lincoln Park, Chicago / Sean Pavone/iStock

The food scene in Chicago has been causing quite a stir among foodies, especially in the last decade or so, and for good reason. America’s third-largest city has been churning out a long roster of exciting dining options, becoming a major player in the culinary world. Whether you’ve budgeted a sizeable portion of your vacation funds towards tasting Chicago’s finest dishes, or you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck while in the Windy City, here are some spots you shouldn’t miss.


Not a fan of baseball? You can still get your hands on a traditional Chicago-style hot dog without having to attend a Cubs game. Portillo’s is the go-to spot for a true Chicago-style hot dog ($3.66) piled high with sliced tomatoes, a kosher pickle, chopped onions, relish, mustard, pickled sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt on a poppy seed bun. If you’re not counting calories, the Portillo’s famed chocolate cake shake ($3.05) raises the bar on how decadent and satisfying a milkshake can be.  

It’s hard to go wrong with any of the food stalls inside the Loop’s popular Revival Food Hall, but Antique Taco Chiquito ($9.50 for two tacos) serves some seriously flavorful tacos that blend the freshest Midwestern ingredients with traditional Mexican recipes.

If you’re not up for the long wait for the famous burgers at Au Cheval (named best in the country by Bon Appetit and the Food Network), head to the stripped-down outpost of Small Cheval. The cheeseburger here ($9.95, $2 extra for bacon) is smaller and simpler—it doesn’t come with a fried egg like at Au Cheval—but it certainly doesn’t skimp on taste.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with a delicious slice of homemade pie from Spinning J ($5 per slice) in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. The space and atmosphere is as warm and inviting as any of the mouthwatering pie options you’ll find on their rotating menu.


The Purple Pig has been churning out inventive, adventurous fare since it opened in 2009 on Michigan Avenue. Thankfully, the quality of food, excellent wine selection, and level of service hasn’t waned over the years. The salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and pistachio butter ($13), octopus a la plancha with salsa verde ($22), and half duck confit with Greek yogurt and smoked trout roe ($30) are true standouts on the menu.

Dining amid olive trees under the glass atrium of the 3 Arts Club Cafe is a true treat. The menu draws inspiration from Northern California and the Mediterranean, resulting in seasonal dishes packed with intense flavor. The vegetable platter with chickpea hummus, curried cauliflower, and whipped avocado dips ($18) is a colorful medley of freshness; the gem lettuce salad with buttermilk herb dressing ($18) delights the taste buds; and the fish of the day ($29) is prepared simply with lemon, extra virgin olive oil, and dill.

The first Michelin-starred brewpub was awarded to Chicago’s Band of Bohemia, the eclectic and laid-back establishment located in the Ravenswood neighborhood. There’s a five-course tasting menu for $75 (that’s a reasonable $15 per course) with an optional beer-pairing for an additional $20. If you prefer to order a la carte, the scallop crudo ($17) served with grilled strawberries, black garlic, and pine nut granola and the seared foie gras ($23) served with cherry and lemon-thyme cake are excellent choices, as is the grilled pork collar ($34) with smoked peaches, coconut farina foam, and topped with walnuts.

Girl and the Goat has been consistently packing its large dining room full of happy patrons with inventive small dishes. Those worth trying include the sweet corn pierogies ($16) with charred scallion sour cream and chimichurri; the sockeye salmon ($17) with avocado, strawberry, asparagus, and chili crunch; the wood-fired lamb ribs ($22) with a blueberry-tamarind glaze; and for the extra adventurous, the wood-oven-roasted pig face ($19) served with a sunny side egg, red wine-maple sauce, and potato sticks.


For a splurge-worthy meal, head to Smyth where you will be blown away by the welcoming atmosphere, the quality service, and the beautiful, imaginative dishes. Three incredible tasting menus are on offer: a five-course menu for $95, an eight-course meal for $155, or an indulgent 12-course menu ranging from $195-$225. Whichever menu you choose, you can be sure that this will be one meal you won’t soon forget.

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