Last week I ate Chicago. I traveled to the Windy City (which I discovered is, in fact, exceptionally gusty) to attend the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, aka KBIS. I fell in love with many a faucet and then took to the town to try the city’s many foods. Here’s what I found.
When I arrived on Thursday evening, I headed downtown and strolled along the Magnificent Mile, making my way to the John Hancock building. After riding an elevator up 96 stories, I reached the Signature Lounge, a swanky (read: quite nice but pricey) tourist-filled bar atop the tower. I fit in perfectly, with my rolling suitcase and camera in hang, and arrived just as the sun was setting, and was therefore treated to a beautiful view. After snapping a few photos (to be followed by many more), I enjoyed a raspberry royale (sparkling wine with raspberry liqueur).
Before heading up the John Hancock building, I actually had tried to go to Gino’s East for deep dish pizza, as recommended by a friend. The line was out the door and almost around the corner so I circled back after my trip up the tower. No line this time so I slipped onto a bar stool and ordered a small pizza with the “traditional sausage patty.” Forty-five minutes later (I was forewarned when I placed my order that it took that long to cook) and I had my first Chicago deep dish. the yellow crust was amazing and like all good food, it was most excellent the next day (cold, for breakfast) as well.
On Friday, I had a break between touring the booths at KBIS and attending several evening events and walked over to Chinatown, which was just west of my hotel and an area my dad urged me to go visit. Growing up, we lived in Milwaukee for three years and frequently traveled down to Chicago. I unfortunately don’t remember much of Chicago from those trips except for the skate shop and fabrics stores we went to (I used to be a competitive figure skater on the Canadian junior national team and when we lived in Wisconsin, we bought my skates and the fabric my mom used to make my dresses in Chicago) and eating dim sum. On my walk to Chinatown this time, my mom and sister (via phone) helped me track down the restaurant we used to go to, New Three Happiness, and I decided to go give it a try for old times’ sake.
It was late in the afternoon so I had to order off the dim sum menu instead of choosing dishes off the carts wheeled around by women shouting out their contents in Chinese. My picks: shrimp dumplings, chive shrimp cakes, and curry baby squid.
My mom and I decided that the restaurant must have changed ownership or management since we last went there because the food was quite greasy this time. (Upon further investigation when I returned back to San Francisco, I discovered there is a place called “Three Happiness” across the street that has far better reviews on Yelp. But I think we used to go to the location I went to. Perhaps the original one moved across the street? Lots can change in 15 years.)
The egg custard tarts, however, were heavenly. One order came with three small tarts (each about one and a half or two inches in diameter). I ate one and decided I’d just take the other two to go. Then I thought about it and realized I’d definitely eat the rest at some point during the day therefore what difference did it make if I ate them immediately or two hours later. So I gobbled them up, slowly savoring their creamy center and deliciously flaky crust of course.
Though I don’t have photo documentation of it, that night I enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Japonais and the next day, incredible sushi at all-you-can-eat Sushi Para with a good friend with whom I went to high school.
On Sunday, my last day in Chicago, finding good food was a bit more difficult. I had hoped to go to Potbelly Sandwich Shop after ascending 103 stories to stand on The Ledge at the Willis Tower but I forgot that the building is located in the financial district and that all the shops would be closed on the weekend. When I thought all was lost and I was making my way from the riverwalk to Intelligentsia coffee, I serendipitously stumbled upon a Chicago-style hot dog joint: Gold Coast Hot Dogs.
Though I usually eat my hot dogs with only mustard, this topped-off dog was most delicious. On its signature poppy seed bun, the tasty wiener was dressed with mustard, relish, onions, a dill pickle quarter, and hot peppers. I couldn’t have been happier–except that then I went to Intelligentsia coffee for a cappuccino.
Coming from San Francisco, a hipster city with an intense coffee culture, I was advised that stopping at Intelligentsia (which has locations in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, where it was founded) was a must. I ordered a cappuccino and enjoyed it at the bar (which had the most comfortable stools I’ve ever sat in–and I’ve written about really nice bar stools for Dwell before). The coffee was great (though I wouldn’t fly to Chicago just for this coffee) and the shop (filled with communal tables, glass carafes, and filters galore) was the perfect cozy antidote to my long, cold walk along the river, which was better in theory than in actuality.
And that was it! But it was all mighty tasty.