In the About section, I mentioned how I had looked out from rural Florida through the lens of the Treasury into a world of gastronomy and luxurious dining I didn’t quite believe existed. My wife, a class act from Old Irish Chicago and a killer attorney, has made visiting that world possible. Because of her, I’ve had a great culinary adventure over the last 25 years and am looking at 25 more at least (sorry, babe).
This is in no way a comprehensive list for Chicago (nor any of the cities we’ve visited). Chicago is one of the greatest gastronomic destinations on earth–you’re never going to finish this city. I could visit a different joint every day for the rest of my life and not make it through the exhausting list of amazing restaurants that are open right now. And new ones open every day (just go to Fooditor to try and keep up). This list isn’t even all of our favorites, and it will change as we go.
Also, as a newbie travel writer, I’m getting assignments all over the place so the list of cities and joints will grow and change and start arguments and exasperate experts. Stay tuned.
Here are some of our favorites.
Heritage — Yay. Our Friend BH took us to Heritage for brunch. You have to love a place that offers raw oysters and a caviar dish for breakfast. They also serve duck confit biscuits and gravy. All pastries are made in house and they are bombtastic. The ramen dish comes with a sous vide egg floating just under the surface and yes, sous vide instead of poached because this is Chicago, baby, and we don’t mess around.
Piccolo Sogno — Elegant and tasteful. One of the city’s better Italian restaurants. Great gnocchi, spaghetti neri, roast duck, and cod. Their zuppas are suppa. Awesome service. Go in the summer and dine al fresco in their tasteful garden space. If you’re a fa of Italian wines, you’ll be overjoyed at their carefully selected cellar of remarkable vino Italiano.
Bottlefork – Colleen loves this place and I finally went with her and now I know why. The food is bombtastic. The cocktails are among the best in a city known for some of the best cocktail bars in the world. The night I was there I had their cheeky whiskey choice, the Bill Brasky for a couple of reasons. One, I’m a whiskey man and the Brasky has some (see illo). Also, I am a sucker for stupid shit and tongue in cheek gimmickry and Bottlefork provided: the Brasky comes with a hotel bottle of Jameson’s inside a block of ice AND there’s a limit of one per. Really Bottlefork? Challenge accepted.
California Clipper – I’m not giving you a link and I’m not telling you where it is because I don’t want you to go. I want it all to myself. I want to be their only client. I want to sit at their serpentine bar in the crimson neon dark in a trenchcoat and a fedora and nurse my way through their unfuckingbelievably delicious Sazerac while I listen to deep b-side cuts from 1973. Post script: I often find myself thinking about the Clipper’s Sazerac at weird times during the day. Just day dreaming about a cocktail, ya’ll.
Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill – You got to love a sushi restaurant with a giant mural of Naruto on their back wall. And you have to love the names of their dishes. I shared a table with strangers and we had a great time with our BYOB wine and maki rolls like Sorry I am Drunk, Moffle Truffle, I dream of Tater Tots, and my personal favorite, Say My Name which is like a who’s on first routine with the waiter. Their plating is delightful–especially the way they play with sauces. An octopus roll came atop a gorgeous portrait of an octopus made from their various sauces. My roll was nestled into a multicolored fan of sauce, like an edible double rainbow.
Volume 39 – I love this bar so much I hesitate to put it here. I don’t belong at Volume 39. I’m an inveterate slob. I don’t match my socks. I’m rack, not custom. My wife belongs there. My friend LP belongs there. People who are ready for their close up belong there. It’s truly one of the few perfect bars in the city. Colleen and I were introduced to Volume 39 through our mixologist Lauren Parton, who is their Sommelier. The bar is on the second floor of the Kimpton Gray Hotel at 39 N. LaSalle. If you manage to get in, take your time. Savor that suave atmosphere. Ask about their story and try as hard as you can to get seated on the couch in the library because holy crap. This is upscale Chicago so bring your gold card and dress like a grown-up.
Entente – We were checking out a location next door and we were starving so we walked into Entente not knowing what it was. Wow. First of all, I had just read Michael Gebert’s excellent article on Schwa growing up. So walking into the new digs of Schwa alumni, Chef Brian Fisher, was timely. Secondly, holy Moses is this place good. The menu from the day we were there included a liver mousse with a kind of bourbon gelee and orange flowers that made me want to throw things. The duck was served with carbonated grapes which are exactly what they sound like and fucking incredible. Our wine was extraordinary and the Cool Kid’s Party cocktail I had two of was very fucking good. Their service is interesting: you pick several dishes and the chef sort of curates the order in which they’re served. We sat right up front in the window but there’s a cozy back room with a window into the kitchen where you can watch Fisher cook.
Bayona’s — Susan Spicer’s wonderful restaurant in a 200-year-old cottage. Colleen and I were there several years ago and did not want to leave (we went twice during a short stay). We ate half their menu–but what really knocked us out on the ticket on the day of their 18th birthday (with 18 cent martinis–bad idea!) were their “PB&J” sandwiches which were made out of this: smoked duck, peanut-cashew butter, pepper jelly, and marinated red onion all on whole-grain bread. It’s served with apple-celery salad. It was one of the best sandwiches in America in 2015 but we knew about it before then and have raved about it ever since.
Jaques Imo’s – Right next door to the Maple Leaf. Colleen and I heard about this place from some beverage workers we hung out with at Coop’s around 3 in the morning. Jaques Imos is the shit. You enter from what was clearly once a living room through the kitchen where you are likely to be stabbed by one of their manic cooks then out into the dining area and porch where you will be served garlic cornbread, stuffed mirliton with oyster sauce, Aunt Leslie’s fried chicken, carpet bagger steak, or fried rabbit tenderloin. When we were there the desert included the unlikely entry of alligator and crawfish cheesecake.
Uglesich’s – This was our last stop on one of our NOLA trips as we headed out onto highway 10 during a hurricane. We dropped by Uglisches to get road food and it was a stroke of genius. I’m just gonna go out on a limb here and proclaim Ueglisich’s remoulade the best on earth. It’s divine. I had fried shrimp on a remoulade sauce on a fried green tomato. To go.
Maple Leaf – This is a place to drink cheap beer and dance. Go fill up at Jaques Imo’s next door then spend the rest of the night in ecstatic glory on the dance floor as the Rebirth Brass Band (if you’re lucky) takes you through it. The night we were there, not only was Rebirth on stage, but Kermit Ruffins was out front grilling porch chops and chicken. It was a legendary night.
Coop’s – A good restaurant with excellent rabbit gumbo. What made Coop’s Place stand out for me and Colleen was its role as a place for bartenders and bev managers to come hang at after work. Drop in around 3 am and Coops is full of people who’ve just worked 12-hour shifts running a bar and they’re not having any of your shit. Good beer. Unpretentious as fuck.
Galatoire’s – Ah, ridonculously lush, over the top and snobbishly local. I love it so much. Just look at this menu. It’s like an invitation to gout. Galatoire Goute, Fois with what I am certain is a Sorghum gastrique, oysters Rockafeller. Turtle soup. Jesus. Eating at Galatoire’s is like culinary time travel.
Acme Oyster House – Go ahead and look down your long snobbish nose at me for promoting the most touristy of all NOLA cafes (after DuMonde). I don’t care, their fried oyster po’boy is life altering. The oysters? I can’t even go there. I’d have to stop typing and drop to my knees and pray.
Antoine’s – Another staple for the well-heeled tourist. Do it. Do it no matter what. Eat there late at night. Take the tour. Look, Vincent Price loved this place. And their wine cellar is a block long. An actual block. Don’t miss it.
Mothers — We fell into Mother’s one night because we were starving and we asked our taxi driver to take us someplace close to our hotel that was cheap and good. Holy crap, did he deliver. Mother’s is famous for a good reason: they’re the best. I don’t usually rave over white bean soup but I will here and now RAAAVE over theirs. Go.
Le Pavillon – This is our favorite hotel in the city. It’s not in the quarter but in the Central Business District. However, it is luxurious and replete with gilded furniture and I love it. Breakfast in their glamorous dining room is fantastic but what really gets our gravy going is their late night PB&J bar. Every night about 10 pm they put out a silver service setup with ice cold milk and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It is how one rallies, dammit. When you’re hitting your stride and you’ve been drinking since noon, you need a 7th inning stretch rally song and Le Pavillon provides. Get downstairs on time, though, because some of those old oil tycoon widows will knock your ass down to get their sammich.
Poche’s – I wrote about my adventure to Poche’s in The Full English. Let me just say driving a hundred miles out from New Orleans to get cracklin’s and boutin with an ice cold YooHoo is worth it. Every time.
Napa, Sonoma, and California Wine Country
Healdsburg is one of the loveliest towns in the northern wine country of Sonoma Valley. It’s also loaded to the eaves with killer restaurants, high-end shops, and cafes.
Brass Rabbit — Every time I visit California my oyster game improves. Last time it was at the Farmhouse where I learned that oysters and champagne belong together. This trip, Chef Shane McAnelly served Rock Island Oysters with a Watermelon and Champagne Granita that was absolute genius. Their deviled eggs with caviar were delicious and surprisingly inexpensive.
Bravas Tapas — Crispy Pig’s ears. Nuff said.
Chalkboard — We only sat at the bar and had their bar menu, but it was good. On the day we visited, they served hush puppies, shrimp and grits, little buttermilk biscuits with ham, and fried chicken sliders. The Chalkboard is adjoined to
Flying Goat Coffee
Healdsburg Bar & Grill
La Petit Canard — Imagine a restaurant dedicated to duck. That’s La Petit Canard. Colleen loves duck so when we went on emergency vacation in 2017, I sought the perfect canard cuisine in a city that knows duck. The Little Duck is it, man. There’s a drake in nearly every dish. From fois stuffed quail to Caesar salad with duck. Please, get the rillettes and get the Cassoulet. Their wine list is perfect and the owners are just two French women who are perfectly adorable. This is our favorite restaurant in Paris.
Dr. Lupin – Just up the street from La Petit Canard is this bar, known for . . . it’s got a lot of . . . I liked the . . . fuck. Just watch this video and go there. They don’t have a website. Because . . . see the thing is . . . I mean . . .
Biscuiterrie de Montmartre
Procope – You may have guessed by now I have a thing for ancient culinary landmarks. Procope is one of them and just happens to have a back door opening onto my favorite street in Paris, in the 6th arrondissement at 13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie. They claim to be the oldest restaurant in Paris, having opened in 1658. Of course, the Tour may argue . . .