Garrett PopcornIt’s not a TSA line—it’s Garrett’s. The company, founded in 1949, is as much a local institution as hot dogs and Italian beef, so don’t be surprised to see both tourists and die-hard locals braving freezing temps or the beating sun for the “Chicago Mix,” a genius combination of hand-staining, buttery cheddar-cheese corn and sweet caramel corn. 625 N Michigan Ave. El: Red to Grand. Bus: 3, 10, 26, 33, 125, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 151. Average bag of popcorn: $6.
graham elliotCelebrity chef Graham Elliot sets the tone at his namesake restaurant by swapping in complimentary truffled popcorn for traditional bread service. Just how much you’ll love the food that comes next depends on your tolerance for those quirky twists. Want Whoppers with your peanut-butter brownie and Nilla wafers on peach cobbler? You’ll be happy here. 217 W Huron St (312-624-9975). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Chicago. Bus: 66, 156. Average main course: $35.
Lush West TownGoing on a date at a wine store sounds like a weird plan, but hear us out: Where else in this city are you going to have an enormous selection of interesting wines available with no markup? Pick out your bottle, then settle in at the bar for some of “snackmaster” Kelly Cosgrove’s wine-friendly bites, like truffle oil–fried chickpeas and duck fat popcorn. 1412 W Chicago Ave (312-666-6900). El: Blue to Chicago. Bus: 9, 56, 66. Average snack: $8.
Quencher’s SaloonThis 32-year-old beer bar sitting on the Bucktown/Logan Square border has one of the most diverse crowds in town. The well-heeled eye each other on weekends, local beer nerds meet to taste the 300 choices on weeknights, and drunk punks wander in whenever. Luckily, they peacefully coexist in two spacious rooms, all in the name of beer. Daytime crowds enjoy the laid-back vibe, thanks to the free popcorn and comfy surroundings. 2401 N Western Ave (773-276-9730). El: Blue to California. Bus: 49, 74. Average beer: $5.
RuxbinChef Edward Kim levies subtle tweaks on contemporary American fare at this always-happening BYOB. The menu changes seasonally, but every meal starts with a bowl of popcorn tossed with ground nori, foreshadowing the global influences that sneak into Kim’s dishes. 851 N Ashland Ave (312-624-8509). El: Blue to Division. Bus: 9, 56, 66. Average main course: $24.
Revolution Brewing CoYou could wait up to an hour to get into one of this microbrewery’s booths. Or you could simply hover around the bar and snap up a stool as soon as someone else calls it a night. Either way, remember that you’re here for the beer as much as the food, and what goes better with booze than bacon-fat popcorn topped with crispy sage and Parmesan? 2323 N Milwaukee Ave (773-227-2739). El: Blue to California. Bus: 52, 56, 74. Average main course: $10.