When you used to get hungry at the bar, you’d order a cheap burger or something fried to see you through the night. if you were super desperate: bar nuts. Now, you can snack on salt-cod samosas, pork tonkatsu or a calamari bocadillo while imbibing at cocktail bars and beer bars. Welcome to the golden age of bar food, when you’re just as likely to go to bars in Chicago for a great meal as you are a great drink.
Ryan McCaskey's fine dining spot earned its second Michelin star in 2015, though you're equally as likely to find food lovers at the bar. That's because it's the only place you can find uber-buttery lobster rolls, fried chicken and a yearly-changing, always-terrific burger, currently piled with bacon-onion jam, pickles, gruyere and taleggio mornay. Look for some of Chicago's best ramen on Sundays, as well.
The Wicker Park bar is constantly hopping, and it's not just for the daily whiskey deals or glorious patio. Tacos, like papas con rajas with crisp potatoes and fiery salsa, are solid, while the queso fundido packs housemade chorizo and rajas into gooey cheese. Scoop it all up with fresh tortillas and order another round of margaritas.
Simple but perfectly executed dishes are just what you want when Alex Bachman's terrific cocktails include complex ingredients like annatto seed bitters or toasted pine nuts. Pretty much anything in a jar is worth ordering, and the options regularly change, so you might find roasted tomatoes or pimiento cheese. Add in a cheese or charcuterie board with house-made pickles and if the menu lists banana pudding, order it immediately.
Chef Kevin Hickey knows his way around bar food, and his Bridgeport restaurant proves it. Super lightly fried cheese curds come with tangy aquavit-laced Bloody Mary ketchup, the hamburger sandwich is topped with a thick cap of grilled brun-uusto cheese and the duck-fat dog is a seriously good sausage.
The beer bar offers more than just an impressive selection of Belgian beers. Namely, moules frites bathing in witbier with shallots, celery and thyme, served with crispy frites and aioli. Don't overlook the sandwich menu, though, as the CB & J, cashew butter with fig jam and raclette cheese, and the duck reuben with house-made sauerkraut and emmenthaler, are brilliant combinations.
At Longman & Eagle, you can get a $2 PBR alongside a plate of beef tartare with foie gras and truffle sauce. The high-low aspects of Longman—a striking amount of affordably priced beer and whiskey, plus a Michelin star—are part of why we love going there so much. Bar manager Phil Olson and principal bartender Chad Hauge also serve excellent, whiskey-focused cocktails, so order a round while you decide between a tender octopus and boudin noir salad and duck in a jar, with layers of meat and vegetables. Tip: Just get both.
The dark basement bar below the lively upstairs restaurant is ideal for quiet nights with a glass of Japanese whiskey or sake. Sushi and grilled items from upstairs are available, but the izakaya-only menu is filled with gems; try the crab-salad-stuffed deviled eggs, über crispy fried chicken and tender planks of pork tonkatsu.
Before snagging a bar seat at Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar, stop into Pleasant House Bakery next door and order a kale and mushroom pie and a side of buttered peas with mint, a killer burger on Tuesdays or fish and chips on Fridays. The charming staff will deliver your food straight to your bar seat, which means you won't need to set aside your local beer or cocktail (get the spicy margarita) to make a food run.
British-Indian fare turns out to be a truly excellent drinking food, particularly when paired with an ever-changing list of draft beers and ciders. Chef Jason Vaughan zeroes in on the intersection between the two cuisines, with dishes like buttered paneer (cheese cubes in a spicy tomato sauce), samosas packed with salt cod and potatoes and lamb dumplings in chili oil.
The extensive selection of German beer and the comfortable beer garden are a draw, but so is the food, which includes classics like an onion- and sauerkraut-topped frankfurter, an off-menu soft pretzel with mustard and, for the adventurous, chili-cheese spaetzle, a spicy-sweet dish reminiscent of Cincinnati chili.