When people think of Chicago dining options, their minds go instantly to Chicago-style pizza, or hot dogs sprinkled with celery salt and sport peppers. And of course this is true. You will find unrivaled deep-dish pizza and Chicago dogs in the Windy City. But in the last few decades, restaurants ranging from Szechuan cuisine to world-class fine dining have sprung up, transforming Chicago into a foodie destination for even the most discerning diner.
It seems that the world is falling in love with “mala” or Szechuan peppercorns, an odd little spice that turns your mouth numb. It’s a curious culinary sensation, and one that is somewhat difficult to describe. One of the best places in Chicago to sample dishes flavored with them is at MCCB. Specialties include a charcoal-grilled whole Tilapia, drenched in chili oil, and a hot pot filled with chili oil and flakes, to which you can add meat or vegetables of your choosing. To be fair, this is probably not the best spot to try if you or anyone in your dining party is sensitive to spice. Some of these dishes might blow your head off.
The downside to Chicago’s thriving theater scene is that thousands of people flock into the city’s theaters, which are clustered around the Loop, and it can be tough to get a nearby table for dinner. Cavernous restaurants that serve hundreds of people typically aren’t anything to write home about in terms of quality, so chef Richard Sandoval had to get creative when planning his new restaurant in the Theater District.
Latinicity isn’t so much a restaurant as it is a food court, but don’t let that throw you off. Sandoval has stocked Latinicity with Latin street food vendors plying everything from ceviche to fish tacos to steak with chimichurri to fried plantains. And the bar at the end of the hall mixes a mean margarita. With ample seating and a variety of options for even the pickiest eaters, this is a great place to stop before a show. Keep in mind that they close pretty early – at 8 PM, so if you are looking to get a bite after a show, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
The Berghoff is a Chicago mainstay dating back to 1898, and its heavy, hearty German food is the perfect option for Chicago’s freezing winter nights. The cozy wooden interior tricks you into thinking you’re in Munich, while the menu features Bavarian staples such as spatzle, schnitzel, pretzels, bratwurst, and knockwurst. And of course, there is plenty of house-brewed beer. If you miss the Berghoff during your trip you can also stop by their O’hare Airport location; the sausages still hit the spot, but it’s not quite the same experience.
Alinea is the only restaurant in Chicago to receive three Michelin stars, so you should expect to pay quite a bit to dine here. There’s a nondescript exterior, so simple you might pass by it, but the experience is a lot more thrilling on the inside.
Featuring a 16- to 18-course tasting menu, you might sample anything from veal cheeks to lobster to trout roe to a course described as “Balloon, Helium, Green Apple” (yes, you read that correctly). All of these courses are carefully constructed (or sometimes deconstructed) and presented with a flourishes like liquid nitrogen, dry ice, and smoke. Needless to say, save this one for a special occasion.