Hope you enjoyed some of my favorite Detroit and Michigan restaurants I wrote about in my Michigan Food Tour post last week. Hope to bring you more Michigan favorites next summer! While in the midwest, I was able to sneak away to Chicago for a couple of days. So MANY great restaurants in Chicago! Since I was only there a couple of days and had lots of non-food things I needed to do (like Navy Pier in the picture above), I had to pick some quick choices. Can’t believe I covered so many places in only a couple of days! Again I had to use my iphone, so my apologies again for some of the dark blurry photos.
To cover a lot of ground in one day I decided to try a “food” tour. I’ve never gone on a “food” tour and debated whether or not to do an organized tour or just do something on my own. I opted for the organized tour because the prices didn’t seem too bad and I didn’t have a lot of time to do the research to come up with my own plan. I also didn’t have a lot time in the city and I wanted to cover as much as I could. I came across Chicago Food Planet Tours and thought I’d take a chance. The reviews all seemed positive and they had several choices of food tours around different areas of the city. I decided on the Bucktown/Wicker Park Tour since I wasn’t too familiar with that area.
The tours are about 3 hours long and about $45-60/adult and less for children. I did a quick search on the internet and was able to find some coupons for the tour so take a look around the internet for some deals. Not sure I would take small children on these tours, although one woman on our tour did bring a baby and he seemed to do fine. He was strapped in his stroller most of the time which probably helped. My kids stayed with Grandma and Grandpa which was a wise decision because I think they would have been bored and had a hard time with all the walking.
The Bucktown/Wicker Park Tour included 6 food stops (also listed on their website) and a lot of walking through the residential areas and other areas around town. It was a nice mix of food/restaurants as well as a cultural and architecture tour of the area. Lots of great background info on the area and lots of interesting houses and buildings to find out about. The walking also helped with all the food we received, and boy there was a lot of food! I was expecting “samples”, but at most stops there was a full serving of something. At each restaurant/food stop we were told background and interesting information which is more than you would get trying to do this tour on your “own”. I’ll leave all that background information for those who go on the tour and give you just a brief overview of each place we visited.
First stop on the tour was George’s Hot Dogs. I finally had my first Chicago hot dog! For as many times as I’ve been to Chicago, I’m not sure how I never had a Chicago hot dog. For those of you not familiar, a Chicago hot dog includes an all beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun (although I don’t think ours had poppy seeds?) with mustard, sport peppers, pickle spear, relish, tomatoes, onions, and celery salt. It was a lot better than I thought and I may just have to recreate them at home! George’s menu included all sorts of sandwiches including Italian Beef, Sausage, and even Gyros all at very reasonable prices.
Yummy Chicago hot dogs!!
Second stop was Hot Chocolate (now closed sadly), a restaurant and dessert bar. We had some homemade marshmallows and an incredible iced hot chocolate. Definitely not low-calorie but totally worth the extra trip to the gym! Thank goodness there was a lot of walking on this tour! The menu is a bit more gourmet and upscale, but sounded delicious. You can also walk in and get some goodies to-go such as hot chocolate mixes, homemade marshmallows, cookies and other desserts, etc.
Look at that giant homemade marshmallow!
Lots of cookies and goodies to choose from!
Next we went to Goddess & Grocer which was a small gourmet food shop. We sampled a vegetable salad which was quite refreshing and surprisingly good! There were all sorts of gourmet prepared foods and salads, as well as salads and sides, and packaged foods.
Doesn’t that rainbow cake look incredible?!
I never knew a vegetable salad could be so good!
I was a little skeptical of our fourth stop, Piece, a New Haven style pizzeria and brewery. Since I live in Connecticut and have been to New Haven, I wasn’t really looking forward to this stop. I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised! Although if you go to Chicago, you should probably go for CHICAGO pizza first, this thin crispy crusted pizza was better than anything I’ve had in Connecticut. Ironic, isn’t it? The cold beer sample from their brewery was also quite good!
The restaurant was quite empty when we were there but I’ve heard it gets VERY crowded at night.
Not a great shot of the pizza and beer but it tasted incredible!
There was lots of walking in between some of these stops, thank goodness, because at this point I was getting quite full and trying to leave room for the last two stops. Sultan’s Market was next on the list. They had all sorts of middle eastern foods. We had a falafel which was on a fresh warm pita with hummus and Jerusalem salad. The pita was the best I have ever had! It was warm and softer than anything you could ever find at most grocery stores. I’d love to go back next time and try one of their gyros!
Lots of cute hanging lights.
I wish you could tell how soft the pita was.
Our last stop was the one I was most looking forward to before the tour. ICream is not your ordinary ice cream shop. I was completely mesmerized by this place! You pick your base (ice cream, frozen yogurt, pudding, or sorbet), then your flavoring(s )(such as chocolate, burnt sugar, root beer, cream soda, etc.), then your mix-ins (candy, sauces, sprinkles, etc.) and they create your ice cream right there for you. I’m not talking they MIX-IN everything to an already made ice-cream like they do at many other ice cream shops these days. They actually mix together the liquids and mix-ins into a cup, pour the liquid into a mixer, then add liquid nitrogen to freeze everything right there while you wait. Only takes a few minutes. Cool, huh? They had all sorts of choices for flavors and mix-ins that I could have sat there all day trying everything and watching the cool liquid nitrogen. I was like a small child who could NOT stop staring at them mixing everything up and the POOF of liquid nitrogen. Yes, I’m a geek and molecular gastronomy totally fascinates me! The ice cream has a very smooth texture, almost like gelato, rather than traditional ice cream. Thankfully, this was our last stop so I could go right back and buy more and make up my own flavor. My flavor was an ice cream base with caramel and cake batter flavors and Heath mix-ins. Yum!
Mixing all the ingredients together…
POOF..added the liquid nitrogen…
I wish I had some of this ice cream right now!
I really enjoyed the tour and would definitely recommend and do it all over again! The tour also included coupons to each of the stops so you could go back and do a little shopping and more eating if you chose to do so. I was short on time and short on stomach space so will have to go back another time.
Besides the stops on the tour, I visited a few other places in Chicago…
The first night we got to town a little late and we were tired so while walking around town I noticed Wow Bao. I had remembered reading some good reviews about it so we thought we give it a quick try. It’s a fast casual Asian restaurant specializing in Asian steamed buns. They also have homemade ginger ale, potstickers, and salads. We had a homemade pomegranate ginger ale and a few different Bao (steamed buns). Everything was really good and prices were reasonable. The ginger ale had a very strong fresh ginger flavor which was a little strong for me but if you really like fresh ginger you probably won’t mind it.
The steamed buns were a lot bigger than they look.
I was really craving burgers one night and while walking around downtown, I stumbled across a Weber Grill Restaurant . How can you go wrong with a restaurant sponsored by Weber? It didn’t disappoint. The menu had a little bit of everything, but like I said, I was craving a burger so went for “The Farm” KettleBurger (ground beef & lamb, Applewood Smokehouse Bacon, Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, & Goat Cheese). Looked like they had a good Happy Hour menu but unfortunately, we were a little late for Happy Hour. That’s ok though, because the burgers were definitely great! While you wait for your food you also get pretzel rolls with butter and a cheese butter. Yum!
Sorry for the fuzzy picture. It was very dark in the restaurant, but the burger and homemade chips were yummy!
Since I missed Happy Hour the first day, the next day I decided to try Texas De Brazil, a Brazilian Steakhouse. I’m sure you’ve seen these Brazilian steakhouses all over the place with their endless supply of meat and all-you-can-eat salad and sides bar. Although I love the whole experience, there’s no way I could eat $50ish worth of food so Happy Hour was the perfect solution. They had several drink specials and half off appetizers. Among the specials they had freshly made Caipiranhas for $5 (recipe is actually on their website!) and for about $6.25 (after the half-off discount) we got 6 large pieces of meat and a basket of the Brazilian cheese bread. So we each got one of those and it was more than enough food! I love trying out Happy Hours for a quick and easy meal when traveling! Great way to try out a restaurant without spending a lot of time and money leaving time and money for other things!
One of the places I really wanted to try while visiting Chicago was Rick Bayless’ XOCO. Unfortunately, the first day we went by the restaurant we noticed a large sign that said they were closed for a few days for their annual staff trip to Mexico. Why they would pick the week of 4th of July to close the restaurant, is beyond me, but thankfully, they were open later in the week so that we could go back. I knew it was going to be crowded so tried to go at a somewhat off-time. The place isn’t that big and they appeared to have a lot of people working, however service seemed slow. Even on a weekday afternoon it was crowded and we probably had to wait about a half-hour just to order and get takeout. No waitstaff. Your choice is to either wait in line to order your food and “eat in” (which just means AFTER you order someone will try to find you a table, and they’ll bring you your food when it’s ready) or you can get takeout. There was no takeout line so I decided to go that route and find a bench near the river to eat.
Lots of yummy and unusual choices on the XOCO menu and I would have loved to have gone back a few more times to try more. Go with lots of people so you can share and try some other things! Thankfully, my husband was willing to share with me. We ordered a Choriqueso Torta (homemade chorizo sausage, roasted poblano peppers, artisan Jack cheese, and tomatillo salsa on a large crunchy roll), homemade tortilla chips and guacamole, and homemade churros with dulche de leche for dipping. And I almost forgot we got a fresh limeade which was very refreshing!
We got all the way to the River, found a great bench, then realized we got chocolate sauce instead of dulce de leche. WHAT???? I REALLY wanted the dulce de leche!! Bummer! UGH! Thankfully, the sandwich was really good and I would love to try others. The chips and guacamole were ok, but nothing exceptional I thought. The churros were incredible and even though I didn’t want the chocolate (can’t believe that just came out of my mouth!), I was licking the container! We did go back another time for another order of churros and dulce de leche and after waiting about 20 minutes for our order we were told they were out of dulce de leche! They are part of 2 larger restaurants next door so I can’t believe they were completely OUT, but I wasn’t going to argue and have to wait around. They gave us some homemade vanilla ice cream instead and I guess this will just give me a reason to go back AGAIN! Hopefully, the service will be a bit quicker and more organized next time. Don’t go if you’re in a hurry!
Can’t exactly see the crowd in the picture, but lots of people there!
Plenty of food to share!
When I was asking people for “quirky” places to try in Chicago, Bongo Room came up a few times. FYI…their full menu does not seem to be on their website. There was an additional menu when we went. They are apparently known for their unusual breakfast/brunch dishes. Some of them sounded more like decadent desserts than breakfast, but who wouldn’t want to start off their day with dessert?? They have all sorts of omelettes, French Toast, pancakes, breakfast burritos, etc.
Their lunch menu seemed to include interesting sandwiches and salads and also looked good. I heard this place was popular so we went at about 10:30 on a weekday. We didn’t have to wait for a table but it was still crowded and service was slow. One of the bits of advice I read which I will follow next time is to go with another person and split a savory eggs type dish and also a dessert starchy type dish. My husband and I split the Banana Heath Bar Pancakes (banana pancakes with heath bar chips and topped with a warm toffee-butter cream sauce and fresh slices of bananas). The pancakes were large and quite decadent. All I can say is YUM! Plan on taking a nap later in the day. For about $10, it was 3 large pancakes and more than enough to share, and thank goodness I was sharing! For a little protein we ordered bacon, and at $3.50 for 4 tiny little pieces of bacon, I think I’d skip that next time and spend the few extra dollars to get a full-size savory meal.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have these pancakes for breakfast every morning?
We also stumbled upon a Farmers Market while walking around downtown but unfortunately we had already eaten and there was no way we could have eaten any more at that point! Of course there was a lot of produce, but also baked goods, food trucks, etc. If you’re looking for the list of Farmers Market in town, try the Explore Chicago website.
I miss Chicago!!! My advice for visiting Chicago, is to bring lots of pants with elastic waistbands! I’m off to the gym…