The Chicago Food Bucket List: Signature Treats & Eats You Need to Try on Your Next Visit

couple dining at table chicago skyscraper
Image courtesy of Choose Chicago

You can’t take a trip to the Windy City without indulging in a Chicago-style hot dog or deep-dish pizza. From street food to edible helium balloons, this list compiles Chicago’s finest decadents. 

The Chicago-Style Hot Dog

Who: Gene & Jude’s


Why: C’mon do you even have to ask? A trip to the city without tasting Chicago’s finest, seems like a waste to me. The infamous dog is said to be “dragged through the garden,” due to the amount of toppings on its all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun. Now, here’s the twist: take all that goodness and throw a heap of fries on top. The iconic Gene & Jude’s offers the “Depression Dog,” a twist on the traditional version, earning the dog to be raved about from any Chicagoan you question. 

Deep Dish Pizza

Who: Labriola Ristorante & Cafe or Lou Malnati’s

Why: Deep dish pizza is another iconic staple in Chicago. And, let me give you a bit of a local’s advice: a fork and knife are required. Flakey, buttery dough large enough to form a bowl contained with yummy toppings, sauce, and gooey cheese can get any visitor and native alike drooling. Stop by Labriola’s off Michigan Ave., or Lou Malnati’s for a classic choice, sure not to disappoint. 

Helium Balloons

Who: Alinea

Why: Yep, you heard that right—balloons you can eat. If you have all the right connections, you may be able to steal a seat at this elite 3-star Michelin restaurant. Dubbed the “best restaurant in America,” Chef Grant Achatz redesigns what can be considered edible. Your food becomes a piece of art (almost) too pretty to dig into. 

Surprise Cuisine

Who: Oriole

Why: Another Michelin restaurant, Oriole takes the cake for the element of surprise. Locals suggest that visitors not look at the menu beforehand. Each meal is served as a complex, flavorful, and interesting dish. 

Hawaiian Rolls

Who: Bellamore

Why: Ever heard of the reputation of The Cheesecake Factory’s bread? Well, the Hawaiin rolls served at the beginning of the meal are sure to hook you, followed by Bellamore’s selection of artistic American food.

Salty & Sweet Dishes

Who: Blackbird

Why: Mixing contrasting flavors, Blackbird, delivers a surprise with each meal. For example, order the “Feta Yogurt,” listed as only cucumber and dill, and be wowed with a cool and refreshing dill sorbet. 

Crème Brûlée

Who: Aba

Why: Rich custard—topped with a decadent layer of caramelized sugar—in the form of a pie. Sorry apple, and pumpkin, you’ve got a run for your money. 

Champagne of Cocktails

Who: Good Measure

Why: The signature drink of choice at Chicago’s Good Measure, features a twist on the classic cocktail choices. The River North dive bar offers chilled Japanese whiskey and super carbonated soda (and with a few extra tricks) you’re served a cocktail to die for. 

Apple Martini

Who: Booth One

Why: Before you shake your head and reminisce on your younger days (which consisted of plenty of these), you have to try this martini out. An older, classier version, consisting of vodka, apple brandy, green-apple liqueur, lemon juice, and demerara syrup, is sure to satisfy your taste buds. 

Parsnip Cake

Who: Good Fortune

Why: An interesting blend of flavors, pastry chef Chelsea Tripp combines sweet and savory in this dessert featuring celery root. Enjoy a scoop of honey ice cream on the side. 

Number 12: Mexican Paella

Who: Bar Sotano

Why: Sure, Texas and Arizona have got Mexican food down to a science, however, chef Rishi Manoj Kumar’s paella pairs perfectly with a Tecaté or cocktail of your choice. Made with rice, chicken thighs, shrimp, chicharrones, avocado, tomatoes and peas.

Artisan Pasta

Who: Monteverde

Why: Former Top Chef contestant and chef Sarah Grueneberg and pasta makers at Chicago’s Monteverde, crafts beautiful pasta dishes exclusive to each night. Finish the meal off with their apple walnut sundae, featuring graham crackers, blondies, salted caramel, and toasted marshmallows. 

bombobar donuts chicago best food bucket list travel
Image courtesy of BomboBar

Doughnuts

Who: Stan’s Doughnuts or BomboBar

Why: Other than hotdogs and deep-dish, Chicago knows how to do another thing pretty darn well: doughnuts. Stan’s offers locations all across the city, stop in for any doughnuts imaginable. On the go? BomboBar, attached to another city favorite, Bar Siena, offers the Italian bomboloni, loaded with caramel, chocolate, or other delicious fillings. 

Sushi

Who: Sushi-san

Why: Order the Mr. Maguro if you’re a tuna fanatic. A plate contains 10-pieces of “sea-kissed, ruby-red cuts of tuna loin, Chutoro and Otoro, plus one roll.” As a dedicated sushi lover, I can confidently say this may be the best tuna rolls I have come by. 

table donkey and stick burger chicago
Table, Donkey and Stick. Credit: Megan Von Schonhoff

Burger

Who: Table, Donkey & Stick

Why: This burger is not in your classic American grill out form, and it’s definitely not for those who are not willing to be adventurous. Table, Donkey & Stick pushes the limits of what a burger can do. After ordering any off the menu, your taste buds will be pleasantly surprised with the burst of unusual and savory flavors. 

Western European Wines

Who: Income Tax

Why: A beautiful selection by the bottle or glass, Income Tax offers some of the most incredible wines. These are characterized by intense flavors that offer the most excellent finish. 

Pig Face

Who: Girl & the Goat

Why: I know this sounds scary, but trust me. A Chicagoan favorite, the Girl & the Goat, is an iconic restaurant that gets its traffic from locals and visitors alike. Chef Stephanie Izard, from Top Chef, hits the head on the nail with her masterful dishes. The wood oven-roasted pig face is an adventurous and tasty dish that will surprise you.

P.S., order two of the Pan Fried Shishito Pepper bowls, trust me, you’ll go through them faster than you think. 

pretzel and the berghoff restaurant chicago
The famous pretzel pictured inside Adams Street Brewery. Image courtesy of The Berghoff.

German Pretzels

Who: The Berghoff

Why: Order a pint and grab a seat at Chicago’s most famous German restaurant, The Berghoff. Indulge in the Bavarian pretzels (perfect addition to your cold beer), or the incredible spätzle. 

Seafood

Who: The Signature Room at the 95th

Why: The views from the 95th are some of the most beautiful in Chicago. Take a date here if you’re trying to impress. Order the twin lobster tails or a seafood tower for a perfect complement to their extensive cocktail list.