Chicago is one of the most fascinating cities in North America. Here’s your insider’s guide to exploring it.
A blend of laid-back Midwestern charm and humility with a touch of global craftsmanship, Chicago is arguably America’s friendliest big city. It is best known as a sports city with world-class blues and jazz, breathtaking architecture and a colorful patchwork of neighborhoods to explore.
Most travelers stay in River North or the Gold Coast, but to get a real taste of the culinary and cultural diversity, think beyond the big hotels on Michigan Avenue. The city is fairly compact, with areas easily accessible via CTA’s L trains, so Wicker Park, Logan Square, Lakeview, and Hyde Park are all a short drive away.
I have been covering the local restaurant and bar scene for over a decade and remember when we first got a Michelin guide in 2010. It was fun watching the city grow with me – we are definitely more. than deep – fried pizzas and Chicago-style hot dogs. Here are some of my favorite places to check out.
For pastries and coffee: Lost Larson (5318 North Clark St. and 2140 West Division St., Chicago)
Chef Bobby Schaffer returned from New York to Chicago to open a small bakery with his sister, inspired by their Swedish heritage. The grains for the limpa and sunflower rye breads are ground on site, and the pastries are divine too. Flaky cinnamon buns and chocolate croissants with a touch of cardamom sell out quickly, as does almond cranberry cake tebirkes – Danish pastries with poppy seeds filled with almond cream and made with the same laminating technique as that used for croissants.
For a new look at history: DuSable Museum of African American History (740 East 56th Pl., Chicago)
Did you know that the founder of Chicago was Black? The story of the museum’s namesake Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable shines here among many stories of black excellence, including those of Harold Washington, the first African-American mayor of Chicago, and the courageous women who served during World War I. Founded in 1961 during the civil rights movement, the DuSable is the oldest independent black history museum in the country, and the immersive exhibits demonstrate that black history is the history of the United States.
For creative craft beers: Brewing Pilot Project (2140 North Milwaukee Ave., Chicago)
Chicago has one of the most robust craft beer scenes in the United States, and the options are frankly overwhelming. Undecided and adventurous drinkers should visit Pilot Project, a brewery incubator and tasting room, to sample a flight of the city’s newest and most experimental beers under one roof. The rotating selection of limited edition draft beers is constantly evolving, but you might find Indian-inspired beers from Azadi Brewing, a mixed-grown earthy lager from Odious Cellars, and fruity, tough kombucha from ROVM.
For a clever dinner: Temporis (933 North Ashland Ave., Chicago)
The city may shine with Michelin stars, but many fine dining restaurants reserve months in advance. Temporis is arguably the best value in Chicago, with the most underrated Michelin-starred tasting menu. Artfully prepared dishes from executive chef Troy Jorge are almost too pretty to eat – imagine whimsical landscapes leaping off the plate, or in the case of a gazpacho terrarium, looking like a miniature fantasy world in a glass. With three different levels of wine pairing, you certainly won’t be thirsty either.
For a comfortable base: The Publishing House B&B (108 North May St., Chicago)
On a side street of Chicago’s trendy West Loop neighborhood, the publishing house combines the authentic charm of a traditional B&B with the chic flair of a boutique hotel. The 11 rooms are inspired by Chicago-based book authors: the Sinclair, for example, is stocked with copies of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”. Innkeeper Kimberly Lowery and her team make breakfast to order, readily accommodating dietary restrictions or special requests. The spacious common area includes a wood-burning fireplace, grand piano, and a pretty mishmash of mid-century modern furniture. The best part? Many of Chicago’s best bars and restaurants, such as Girl & the Goat and Monteverde, are within easy walking distance.
Travelers are reminded to check for public health restrictions that may affect their plans.