City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Chicago is…

Warning: Long post

My apologies for skimping on a local story today but I’ve been traveling quite a bit this summer. But this is also a good time to continue what I talked about last week. J (my wife) and I flew out to Chicago this past weekend and spent three days in the bustling city. I created a custom Google map like I illustrated in last week’s post and culled a list of about 11 places from friend recommendations, Twitter responses and internet research. Although, we only made it to about half of them because our appetites aren’t what they used to be.

Day one

Top: Pizano's; Bottom: Gyu Kaku

Top: Pizano's; Bottom: Gyu Kaku

After landing, J and I made a beeline to Pizano’s off State Street for some deep dish pizza. Before I left for Chicago, blog Serious Eats covered this place and gave it high praise so I chose it for my second ever deep dish experience. We started with some fried ravioli which was good in a naughty sort of way. Then our Jack Brickhouse deep dish arrived topped with sliced mushrooms, chunky sausage, a thick layer of melted cheese and covered in tomato sauce. We enjoyed this but felt its heavy effects for the next several hours.

Later, J and I made our way to Old Town and caught a fantastic show at Second City. Fans of Saturday Night Live may know this comedy club/theatre because of its famous alumni such as Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Belushi and Tina Fey. If you plan on visiting Chicago, DEFINITELY catch a show here. It frames Chicago’s inhabitants, history and culture so well.

After the show J and I rushed over to Gyu Kaku, a yakiniku restaurant. Yakiniku (pictured above in the second row) is basically Korean barbecue served Japanese style and crosses over a lot of Japanese/Korean dishes and ingredients. Wifey and I split a bottle of sake and ordered a bunch of dishes such as harami hanger steak and horumon (intestine) marinated in miso that we grilled tableside. We also ordered a fantastic dolsot bibimbap (hot stone bowl rice dish) that is mixed tableside. The portions of meat are small but so are prices. The added bonus was that we got there after 10 p.m. so most everything (besides booze) was half off.

Day two

Clockwise from top left: Wow Bao, Nuevo Leon and Arami

Clockwise from top left: Wow Bao, Nuevo Leon and Arami

The second day in Chicago was a miserably humid day. My wife and I woke up starving and sweating so we popped into an air-conditioned fast food chain by our hotel called Wow Bao. Here they steam machine-made Chinese bao dumplings stuffed with your choice of fillings ranging from spicy Mongolian beef to barbecue pork. Wow Bao also makes rice bowls which I ordered with minced curry chicken. I’m not going to give up mom and pop’s for these anytime soon, but the flavors were pretty good.

That mess of Mexican on a plate (pictured top right) is huevos rancheros from a restaurant called Nuevo Leon in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Pilsen is predominantly a Mexican neighborhood and the heart of it runs east and west along 18th street. Judging from the long line of people waiting to be seated, Nuevo Leon appears to be popular with locals of Mexican and non-Mexican heritage. I loved my chicken enchiladas topped with red ancho chile sauce but the soulfully satisfying huevos rancheros served with warm tortillas were my favorite.

Later that evening, J and I had reservations to Arami, a casual Japanese restaurant helmed by a young Korean gentleman trained in sushi. It’s been receiving high praise from Chicago media outlets and rightly so. Our orders of nigiri sushi were pure in quality and presentation, but the noodles in the ramen pictured above were a bit past al dente for my tastes.

Day three

Top: Purple Pig; Bottom: The Publican

Top: Purple Pig; Bottom: The Publican

On the last day of our trip, my wife and I took an architectural boat tour of Chicago followed by a meal at Purple Pig. Someone on Twitter put this place on my radar before we left and it was a solid suggestion. As its name suggest, the rustic menu is very pig heavy with Spanish and Italian influences. Pictured here is the restaurant’s generous serving of bone marrow and a separate order of lingua agrodulce (sweet and sour beef tongue, literally melts in your mouth).

And lastly, J and I ended the night and trip with a meal at The Publican. It’s a gastro pub touting “farmhouse fare in a European beer hall setting.” It belongs to the acclaimed restaurant family that also runs Blackbird and avec.

The Publican is very communal. Its dining room contains long wrap-around tables suggesting something I imagine Trappist monks eat in while discussing religious theories and tripel brewing techniques. You are seated in close proximity to strangers, which ensures you will most likely socialize with them. As a matter of fact, I am now Facebook/Email buddies with a fantastic young couple from Chicago that were seated next to us.  (Taylor/Jenny, thanks again for the Austin tips and nightcap!)

Anyways, J and I ordered a lot that night but luckily were able to diffuse some of these dishes with our new friends. Pictured in the second row is a yellowtail crudo studded with chewy pistachios, herbs and fresh sprouts. Next to that is potted rillettes topped with fresh raspberries, which I generously smeared over bread and almost finished on my own.

That does it for my Chicago recap. If you want to see the full food-friendly slideshow, click here.

- by Gene Lee, Food and More blog

– Gene Lee writes about International Cuisine for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Eat, Drink, Man… A Food Journal.

39 comments Add your comment


July 6th, 2011
8:12 am

How could you go to Chicago and not get a Dog…… just sayin…..


July 6th, 2011
8:17 am

Love this post – and all the photos, too. That “mess of Mexican” is making my mouth water…

Atlanta Native

July 6th, 2011
8:57 am

Nice post! I’ll have to try Pizano’s next time. I love Wow Bao, especially the cups of herb broth.

Gene Lee

July 6th, 2011
9:06 am

@Jennifer – I know I know.. I’m disappointed in missing out on an Italian beef too :(


July 6th, 2011
9:06 am

Great article but have to agree NO CHICAGO DOG (or Italian Beef sandwich)? Next time try and hit Carson’s for ribs (and their au gratin potatoes) and my favorite deep dish pizza joint is Edwardo’s (sausage. spinach and mushrooms too!) Try to hit Greek Town too …Dianas OPAH!. YUM!


July 6th, 2011
9:18 am

I love the Chicago style stuffed pizza. Nancy’s is the only place I have seen it here in Atlanta since the Upper Crust closed two decades ago and DaVinci’s in Athens closed their doors. Wish more pizza joints offered it.


July 6th, 2011
9:31 am

If you aren’t going to Gino’s East, you’re a chump.

Super Mario

July 6th, 2011
9:35 am

It’s a shame Atlanta doesn’t have a fabulous pizza place. Yes, there are a few good ones, but none that make your mouth water that you can’t wait to go back to!


July 6th, 2011
9:36 am

No Hot Doug’s?


July 6th, 2011
9:37 am

As a veteran of many deep-dish battles, I can say, without hesitation, the best in Chicago is Lou Malnati’s. Pizano’s is good, Gino’s East is great, Pizzaria Uno has decidedly lost its mojo, but Lou’s is, the best of the best. For an all-natural alternative, I can recommend Eduardo’s.


July 6th, 2011
9:45 am

Super Mario,

Go to Antico Napoletana–started by Naples Italy natives. It’s the best pizza I’ve had outside of Italy and rivals the best pizza I had in Italy.


July 6th, 2011
10:14 am

Gene – if you ever make it back to Chicago you HAVE to try The Girl and the Goat. it’s impossible to get reservations, but if you show up on a weekday right when they open – 4:30pm – you’ll probably be able to get a spot.

fun, inventive menu…super fresh and one of the best meals i’ve ever had. and not that expensive at all!

Hot Doug’s was fun, too…not sure if it was worth the hour and a half wait in line, but a memorable experience, nonetheless.


July 6th, 2011
10:15 am

Super Mario – i second kevin’s Antico suggestion. they almost *define* mouthwatering.


July 6th, 2011
10:19 am

Having spent the 4th in Chicago (my first trip), I can say it was awesome. I have to say that Gino’s East had the best pizza that I tried but Giordonno’s was close. Ed Debevick’s was a blast too with the staff insulting everyone. The Chicago hotdogs were as good as promised.

Most importantly, I am happy to report to all Atlanta folks that Al’s Famous Italian Beef sandwiches are coming to new locations in Alpharetta and Athens!!! Talked with the manager at the location across from Gino’s and he said they are opening the new stores pretty soon. #WINNING!

Gene Lee

July 6th, 2011
10:27 am

@TheDoctorJones – We did stumble into The Girl and the Goat to try and grab a drink before our reservations at The Publican, but we couldn’t even find a place at the bar!

@Robert – That’s great news!


July 6th, 2011
10:48 am

Ugh. Infamous.

Atlanta Native

July 6th, 2011
11:49 am

@ Steven – Love Hot Dougs, esp. on weekends when they have the duck fries

Super Frank

July 6th, 2011
2:14 pm

If you’re looking for a hot dog, look no further than my old teammate Didier Drogba!


July 6th, 2011
2:50 pm

I am going to Chicago for a trade show in 10 days so I will try some of your suggestions. But deep dish pizza is not my idea of a good pizza. Too heavy with all the sauce and crust. Defintely an American invention. May be I am biased becasue I used to live in Italy years ago and I can still taste the mushroom and prosciutto pizza I had in Sienna with a runny egg inside. My favorit eplac ein Chicaco for a quick snack is L’apettito Imported Italian Foods that is on Michigan Ave across from W Hotel and it is sort of underground. It is a store and cafe with the best Italian paninis outside of Italy and they also serve beer and wine.


July 6th, 2011
4:12 pm

It’s been a while since we’ve been to the show in Chicago, but I love seeing Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind. Great fun, and they’ve come to Dad’s Garage a few times too (not lately, unless I’ve missed it, which is entirely possible).


July 6th, 2011
5:40 pm

Cubbie….You are sooooooright! Lou Malnati’s has the best deep dish or any other kind of Pizza in the USA. Geno’s East is a very close 2nd.


July 6th, 2011
5:42 pm

Mike, hamburgers are an American invention. What, you don’t like hamburgers either?


July 6th, 2011
7:56 pm

The Art of Pizza on Ashland is fantastic deep dish and stuffed crust and is great for takeout and a quick and cheap lunch or dinner. Doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s one of the best.

So much incredible food in Chicago, it’s so hard to decide what to go for!


July 6th, 2011
8:50 pm

Great post! Would have been nice if hot dogs, Italian beef and popcorn were included… Love Chicago! It’s a really great food town!


July 7th, 2011
9:14 am

Publican is the only one on that list that is worth mentioning. How does one go to a great culinary city with one of the best restaurants in the world and not eat at Alinea? Or TRU, Moto, Topolobampo. Not even a visit to Al’s or Portillo’s. You missed out.

Gene Lee

July 7th, 2011
9:24 am

@Victor – Couldn’t get reservations to some of the places you mentioned, not to mention budgetary and time concerns.

If you haven’t tried Arami, Purple Pig or some of the taquerias in Pilsen, then I wouldn’t dismiss my selections. Otherwise, I don’t think I missed out at all.


July 7th, 2011
12:03 pm

Lived in Chicago for 4 years and missed it. Going for a long weekend at the end of the month. Anyone who goes should explore the ethnic neighborhood and eats, Devon Avenue/Indian, Milwaukee Avenue/Polish and Lawrence Avenue/Middle Eastern. Loved the deep dish pizza but got tired of it after awhile.


July 7th, 2011
2:30 pm

I am from Chicago and will vouch that you can get authentic chicago dogs and beefs here in the metro area. The best in my opinion are:

* Chicago Delights (on 120 in marietta, east of the big chicken, next to the 75 overpass)
* Bobby G’s (two locations… one intown at Lindburgh Center, and one in Alpharetta on Hwy 9 and Webb Rd)
* Hot Dog Heaven in downtown Woodstock

* Mike’s on Roswell Rd in Sandy Springs, and the one at Roswell Rd & Northridge are passable.
* If anyone tells you Kevino’s is any good, slap them. Its crap.
* Da Chicago Dogs (on Piedmont, now closed) was slightly better.
* I haven’t been to Skip’s but have heard good things.

Wendy Siddy

July 7th, 2011
2:37 pm

I travel to Chicago frequently on business. The food is okay but I have noticed their boiled peanuts couls use a bit more salt.


July 7th, 2011
2:43 pm

I have to admit that Bobby G’s takes care of my Chicago dog fix (has a good italian beef too, and knows what “wet” (dipped). Antico has wonderful pizza, but when I need deep dish it’s Lou Malnati’s. I would also go to Taylor St. for italian, Salsa 17 (Arlington Hts) for mexican – 5 kinds of mole – delightful! And hit a polish deli for some bread and real smoked sausage. I only allow one or 2 per trip, or it’s more time in the gym to compensate!


July 7th, 2011
2:46 pm

Folks, Malnati’s pizza dough tasted like cardboard! Ugh. Walker Bros pancakes, on the other hand … mmmmm. Ooh, and get svickova (sveech=ko=va) at any bohemian place you can find.


July 7th, 2011
3:16 pm

Agree with dog about Chicago Delights…THE place to go for Italian Beef down here. The family is from the Chicago area, and know what they’re doing.

Brown Eyed Girl!

July 7th, 2011
4:15 pm

Next time you go, you have to stop by this little hole in the wall called Caro Mia! The food is fantastic and the inside of the restaurant is very rustic. My husband had lasagna that was on a platter that was about 20 inches long. I had chicken vesuvio and it was a whole chicken with what appeared to be a bushel of potatoes with a knife in sticking out the top of the chicken. The portions are huge and like many restaurants in the city, it was byob with no fee. We both had a great breakfast at Aurelio’s in the lobby of the hotel. We had Japanese, Greek and Italian food while we were there and it was some of the best food we’ve ever had!

tuggin my sleeve, chicago is

July 7th, 2011
4:19 pm

please have a weekly entry about the tremendous food and restaurants in Chitown. From the beef and giardiniera, dogs, and pie to TRU, Charlie Trotter’s, and Naha, – it’s too much to capture in one trip. Oh how I miss my kind of town…

What no Harold's or Leon's or Giordanno's

July 7th, 2011
4:50 pm

@GENE LEE -You have to try these places. Most are in bad bad neighborhoods, but to get your street cred, you have to eat there. Great fried chicken and bbq! The pizza at Giordannos if great! Harold and Leons has the best sauce I have ever tasted!


July 7th, 2011
5:17 pm

Where can I find Bao dumplings here in Atlanta?

Stop It...You're Making Me Hungry!

July 7th, 2011
5:41 pm

Giordanos has the best deep dish pizza and I am a huge fan of Portillos beef dips!

Carla Roqs

July 8th, 2011
9:33 am

i like giordano’s as well, and i had to do the candy store and the museums. sounds like you had fun, though. brown eyed girl’s cara mio sounds interesting. i would never eat a hot dog in chi-town, too many decent restaurants to waste time on something i can get anywhere.


July 10th, 2011
1:28 am

Tried Mama Mia’s Pizza on Old Milton Pkwy. today and they have the thickest pizza you’re gonna find in Atlanta. Unfortunate that there isn’t anywhere to get a real pie here anymore.