What are the best food experiences in Chicago?

Answers from Our Experts (3)

Everyone knows that some of the country's best, most innovative restaurants call Chicago home — including Tru, Alinea and Everest. You'll never go hungry for award-winning and fine dining options here in the Windy City.

Not only did Alinea's internationally respected chef Grant Achatz win the 2008 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award, he's also got a hell of a story to tell. In 2007, Achatz was diagnosed with tongue cancer, and doctors said he might lose his sense of taste forever. An aggressive treatment looks to have beaten the cancer, and Achatz's sense of taste was saved. He's now back in the kitchen, creating some of the most wildly creative dishes in the country. Alinea, the Latin word for that funny little symbol indicating the need for a new paragraph — or a new train of thought — is at the forefront of the molecular gastronomy movement, which re-imagines familiar foods in stunningly innovative ways. Behind the restaurant's purposefully hidden entrance and up a floating glass-and-metal staircase, you'll be treated to breathtaking creations such as the black truffle explosion, featuring truffle-topped ravioli filled with truffle broth, which "explodes" in your mouth.

It takes a certain bravado to name a restaurant after the tallest mountain in the world-the damning reviews practically write themselves. Thankfully, chef Jean Joho's Everest has scaled the culinary heights and remains perched at the top of Chicago's fine-dining realm. Located on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange, Everest offers a seven-course degustation menu, unless you opt for the vegetarian or three or four-course prix fixe menus.

Any talk of Chicago's high-end Italian restaurants begins (and arguably ends) with the gorgeous Spiagga. How many restaurants have their own cheese cave? Exactly. The elegant setting matches the caliber of the food: The multi-tiered restaurant, appropriately perched at the outset of the city's famed Magnificent Mile, offers a view of Lake Michigan and the city's most famous street. James Beard Award-winning chef and partner Tony Mantuano offers an a la carte menu that includes hand rolled potato gnocchi with ricotta sauce and black truffles.

Last but not least is Tru, a truly stellar dining experience in a large, beautifully understated room with perfectly attuned service. The gorgeous surroundings include an original Andy Warhol, and the food is equally inspiring. Tru offers different ways to take advantage of executive chef Anthony Martin's work, including a seven- or 13-course "experience" tasting menu. Practically anything at Tru will delight, but we especially recommend the coral caviar service, which presents several different types of roe on a large (but delicate) piece of coral. Even the bathrooms here, with the sinks made up solely of large slanted glass panels, are a sight.

Chicago is a city beloved for its incredible restaurant scene. Thousands of restaurants across the city serve up exceptional dishes but there a few that take the experience beyond the plate and make the entire meal an experience. The most popular, well-known restaurant at the moment is Alinea. Exclusively serving an 18-course meal to patrons each night, guests will be delighted by the creative cuisine plated in front of them. While Alinea has made a splash on the Chicago dining scene, Charlie Trotter’s has been a Chicago staple for years. It offers three daily tasting menus: the Grand Menu, the Kitchen Menu, and the Vegetable Menu — all available with wine parings. But hurry — Trotter’s will close in August 2012. Bonsoirée is another venture into the exquisite. It offers either an eight-course tasting menu or, for the truly adventurous, the 13-course meal is a great option. Sourcing entirely from the Midwest, Bonsoirée is not to be missed.

For a more casual, but just as exciting, dining experience, guests should venture over to the Chicago French Market. Housed inside one of the city’s old train stations, it is a beautiful open-air market with dozens of individual stalls. Serving up produce, fresh fish and meats, artisan cheeses, and craft beer, it is a one-stop shop for your grocery list. Should you prefer to eat there, however, there are a handful of impeccable restaurants serving meals onsite. The market is an unusual but spectacular food experience.
If you just cannot choose one restaurant, indulge in a Chicago Flight Deck tour. These tours will guide you through the kitchens of some of the city’s most famous restaurants. Sit and enjoy samples from each chef as you partake in a question-and-answer session with them. The tours are offered throughout the week and go through various different restaurant districts in the city.

Lauren Viera

For a true food experience, the name in Chicago is Grant Achatz. But tickets to his restaurants, Next and Alinea, are hard to come by unless planned months in advance.

Alternatively, plan for a little adventure: some of the city's best food experiences are on the fringes. Southwest of downtown is Chinatown, where the best meal in the neighborhood can be found at La Sze Chuan. This is Chicago Chinese-food maestro Tony Hu’s flagship restaurant (he owns several, with several more on the way), and arguably his best. Everything on the menu is excellent.

Another popular food experience in Chicago is a trip to Devon Street in West Rogers Park, the city’s Indian hub. There are authentic cafes and markets lining the street for the better part of a mile, but my favorite sit-down restaurant in the ’hood is Udupi Palace, which is consistently great.

Chicago’s Vietnamese food scene is small but mighty. It’s centered in the Uptown neighborhood along Argyle Street east of Broadway, and the jewel in its crown is Tank Noodle, a delicious, cheap bare-bones noodle shop at the neighborhood’s crossroads—often with a line out the door.

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