PEOPLE'S 24 Hour Food Tour: Chicago

It may be known as the Second City, but Chicago is second to none when it comes to a memorable and diverse food scene. We pick the best places to eat in one delicious day



Writer Ari Bendersky has covered Chicago’s dining scene for nearly 20 years. From serving as founding editor of Eater Chicago to writing for many local and national publications (including WSJ magazine, New York Times, and Food & Wine) to launching his own Substack newsletter, Something Glorious, he continues to deliver the goods on where to eat, what wine and spirits to drink, and what’s happening in the lives of some of the world’s top chefs. 

Chicago is inarguably one of the top culinary destinations in the U.S. From its legendary humbler fare (Chicago-style pizza and the requisite Chicago hot dog "dragged through the garden") to on-the-rise young chefs cooking the food of their cultures to some of the most lauded high-end cuisine in the country (there’s a reason the annual James Beard Foundation Awards are held here each year), there's something for everyone within the city limits.

That, of course, makes it almost impossible to put together an itinerary for a visitor looking to try the best of the city's eats in just one day. In fact, narrowing down your options might be some of the toughest decisions you ever make, up there with "Do I go to a top college to study engineering or go straight to work in a hot tech company?" and "Is a ticket to see Taylor Swift more important than covering my rent this month?"

Like we said, these aren't easy decisions, but you have to make the choice and just go with it. From breakfast to dinner to a late-night indulgence, Chicago has more options than you have time, so choose wisely — ideally with some guidance from those of us who take this "research" seriously. Here are our picks for where to dine during one day in one of the country’s best food cities.

Breakfast: Tiztal Cafe

<p>Tiztal Cafe</p> Tiztal Cafe in Chicago

Tiztal Cafe

Tiztal Cafe in Chicago

No matter where you’re staying, grab a rideshare or hop on the “L” train and head to Uptown to this super cute Latin women-owned gem. Yes, you can get pancakes, scrambled eggs or an omelet, but Tiztal’s Mexican breakfast, especially the chilaquiles, is why you come here. Made with fresh crisp tortillas and green salsa, the dish gets topped with warm baked chihuahua cheese and cilantro (go extra and top it with steak and eggs, their specialty). Or opt for the huevos rancheros or chorizo scramble. But if you want simple eggs, be sure to ask for some pico de gallo and tortillas on the side. Pro tip: if it’s warm out, ask to sit on their recently renovated hidden backyard patio filled with Mexican art.

Lunch: Lula Cafe

<p>Kyle Kissel</p> Lula Cafe in Chicago

Kyle Kissel

Lula Cafe in Chicago

A mainstay in Chicago’s culinary world, Lula Cafe has been serving some of the best lunch (and let’s not forget dinner) for 25 years. The restaurant is led by chef/owner Jason Hammel, a multiple James Beard Award nominee and champion of the farm to table movement. Lula elevates brunch — you can order off the full brunch and lunch menu between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. — while remaining utterly cozy.

Keep it simple with buttermilk pancakes, or opt for a perfectly cooked French omelet filled with butternut squash, ricotta, and pear mostarda that’s served with a petit salad of local greens. Or go for baked French feta with marinated olives and a punchy jalapeño basil oil; the classic Lula ‘99 turkey sandwich layered with avocado, lettuce, and chili oil; or this writer’s favorite warming chickpea and fennel tagine with spiced green harissa and sweet golden raisins. Your table might be about to buckle after ordering everything that sounds delicious, but you should also treat yourself to one of their brunch cocktails — you’re on vacation, right?

Sweet Treat: Mindy’s Bakery

<p>Aliza J Sokolow</p> Mindy's Bakery in Chicago

Aliza J Sokolow

Mindy's Bakery in Chicago

After winning a James Beard Award for outstanding pastry chef, running a successful restaurant, and launching a massively successful edible cannabis brand, what’s left for Mindy Segal to do? Open her namesake bakery. Set in Wicker Park, Mindy’s Bakery sees people lining up early for an array of baked goods pulling from European and Middle Eastern traditions. Her housemade bagels and bialys are a huge draw, but if you're indulging an afternoon sweet tooth, you can’t pass up a twice-baked almond croissant, hot fudge glazed donuts, marbled sour cream coffee cake with cocoa nib streusel, and the smattering of hot-out-the-oven cookies, bars, brioche tarts, and cakes.

(Bonus pick: If you're here on a hot day and need to chill out, check out Pretty Cool Ice Cream, with locations in Logan Square and Lincoln Park, for inventive ice cream pops from award-winning pastry chef Dana Cree.)

Dinner: Shaw’s Crab House

<p>Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants</p> Shaw's Crab House & Oyster Bar in Chicago

Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants

Shaw's Crab House & Oyster Bar in Chicago

There are any number of newer hotspots we could send you to (some recent favorites include Maxwells Trading, Obelix, Brasero, or Daisies — and frankly, if you have more time, definitely go to any one of these). But for a true "classic Chicago" dinner out, the city's 40-year mainstay Shaw’s Crab House is a fun stop with something for everyone.

It's two restaurants in one – the more formal dining room that throws back to the Rat Pack era and a casual and boisterous oyster bar. You can get steak or chicken, but it is a "crab house," after all, so definitely indulge in some of its popular seafood. Start with a dozen oysters flown in fresh from around North America. Move on to jumbo lump crab cakes or a cup of creamy New England clam chowder. Then settle in for seared Alaskan halibut, a lobster roll, or chilled stone crab claws (when in season).

Late Night Snack: The Wiener's Circle

<p>Gabriella Zammuto</p> The Wiener's Circle in Chicago

Gabriella Zammuto

The Wiener's Circle in Chicago

When you want a side of sass with your Chicago dog, head to the infamous Wiener's Circle. With a counter team known for dishing out fiery insults to an often drunk late-night (and even daytime) crowd, Wiener’s Circle has all the classic Chicago hot dog stand staples: Chicago dogs, char cheddar burgers, char Polish, cheddar fries, and more.

You might also get a side of a celeb sighting with your ketchup-free dog: Ed Sheeran has served food from behind the counter; Eagles center Jason Kelce arrived to find the restaurant’s sign reading “Welcome Taylor's Boyfriends Brother” (and gave back as good as he got), and global DJ Marshmello recently performed from the rooftop. This spot is definitely a vibe.

Spot a Celeb At: RPM Steak

<p>Lindsay Eberly / Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants </p> RPM Steak in Chicago

Lindsay Eberly / Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants

RPM Steak in Chicago

This Chicago steakhouse, located in the heart of busy River North, has long been a beacon for the rich and famous. That should come as no surprise, since RPM Steak is owned in part by Bill and Giuliana Rancic.

Recent visitors include Chris Rock, Sophia Bush, Mariah Carey, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and they’re not just coming for its welcoming hospitality. It’s all about the food and drinks here.

The draw is the nearly 20 steak options like the 28-day dry-aged, 16-ounce New York Strip and four cuts of Japanese wagyu (priced per ounce) you can pair with decadent sauces and butters like black truffle bearnaise or king crab Oscar. But the giant seafood towers, warm Parker House rolls, spicy miso lobster, and whole roasted Dover sole add to the appeal. The extensive and impressive wine list? The cherry on top of it all.

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