Chicago is arguably the best dining city in America, so if you’re a real food lover, 24 hours certainly isn’t enough. But if you’re limited to just a day to explore this culinary capital, we’ve crafted the perfect itinerary for you. Whether you prefer creative cocktail bars, no-frills taco joints or Michelin-star restaurants, here’s how to eat your way through Chicago in just one day.
RECOMMENDED: Find more ways to spend 24 hours in Chicago
24 hours in Chicago for the food lover
Get up early and visit Green City Market, the largest farmers market in Chicago. The flagship Lincoln Park market is held Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7am–1pm during the outdoor season and 8am–1pm on Saturdays during the winter. GCM's vendor lineup is a who's who of Midwest farmers, including produce from Wisconsin, Michigan and right here in Chicago. Snack on fresh fruit or pick up a scone at this biweekly happening.
Embrace the hip, Bohemian vibe at this Brendan Sodikoff-run Humboldt Park coffee shop. With rustic décor, wood paneled everything and a vintage vibe, C. C. Ferns is just begging to be Instagrammed—but that’s not why we’re recommending it. The darn good espresso drinks are one-upped by the boozy steamers (think: Scotch & Honey, Cuban Latté). Grab a Doughnut Vault treat and a coffee for a few minutes of morning bliss.
Dove’s may have the bright, laid-back feel of a diner, but you won’t be eating typical greasy spoon plates here. The Wicker Park restaurant serves up Southern-inspired Mexican cuisine, with dishes like chicken fried chicken, the Calabaza omlette (summer squash, chiles toreados, ricotta), pozole rojo (pork shoulder in a guajillo chile broth), each more complex and delicious than the next. We know it’s only 9am, but the Bloody Maria at Dove’s is a cocktail you won’t want to skip.
Pilsen is one of Chicago’s most vibrant artistic neighborhoods, but it's also a culonary destination. The South Side, Mexican-American ‘hood is brimming with hole-in-the-wall taco and tamale joints. Stroll down 18th Street and snack on tacos from El Mezquite, Casa Del Pueblo Taqueria and Carnitas Uruapan. Once you're full, take a look at the awesome street art all over Pilsen or pop into the National Museum of Mexican Art—it’s totally free.
1–4pm: Divvy break
You can rent a Divvy bike at any station around the city for a 30 minute ride, so spend the afternoon burning off some of the morning's indulgences and see some sights. Pop over to Bridgeport for a sausage and a beer at Maria's Packaged Goods, or just enjoy a break from eating—you've got a long night ahead—and take in awesome views on the Lakefront Trail.
You're not getting out of Chicago without trying some of the great local craft beers, and Hopleaf has one of the best selections around. Plus, its stock is changing constantly, so you never know what you'll find. A guava beer inspired by Mexican paletas? That's from 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. A Finnish Sahti-style? Thanks Off Color Brewing! There's also an extensive Belgian list, if the local flavor gets overwhelming.
This is not your typical cocktail bar—this is a Grant Achatz cocktail bar. If you can’t make it to Alinea in your 24-hour Chicago trip (and if you can, lucky you), get a taste of the mastermind chef’s work at his West Loop cocktail outpost. The menu is always changing, but expect cocktails with the same amount of care and innovation that characterizes the meals at Achatz’s four-star restaurants. At the Aviary, you’ll drink cocktails that are science experiments in liquid density, served in some unlikely vessels (including a complex ship in a bottle presentation). That is to say: expect the unexpected from Achatz.
Hop over to Roister, another Alinea Group establishment, with a less pretentious edge and more accessible dishes. Roister is a loud, boisterous restaurant where, “the restaurant is the kitchen, the kitchen is the restaurant.” Whether you choose the chef’s tasting dinner or order à la carte, you can’t go wrong at Roister. We recommend you don’t skip the beef broth— a small plate umami bomb with beef cheek and tongue and soft egg in al dente bucatini noodles—and the whole chicken and chamomile. Yes, it’s definitely worth the hype.
Make your way to Avondale for a stop at Lost Lake, a tiki bar from Paul McGee (formerly of Three Dots and a Dash). The space is decked out with tropical decor, and the drinks are equally quaint, with swizzle sticks, flowers and colorful straws. Order the Tic Tac Taxi, a coconut-passionfruit-rum slushie; Hula Hips of Heaven, with smoky mezcal and tequila under citrus fruits and spices; or Pool Rules, perfectly balanced between rum and bourbon, with vanilla and warm spices.
Best Intentions cheekily refers to itself as a “fancy cocktail bar,” and while the ambiance retains a dive bar charm, the drinks themselves are top-notch. Settle into a table out in the backyard, where servers will bring you Wondermint Malted shakes, shots of Angostura bitters (they're the only bar anywhere with the bitters on draft) or a well-made classic. The Horchata Margarita sounds gross, we know, but it’s beloved by Best Intentions regulars. This Logan Square spot is one of those rare bars with excellent cocktails where you won’t be judged for just sticking to Miller Genuine Draft if you so choose, so hey—do you.
Most of Chicago's 4am bars are dives, but Barrelhouse is a lovely exception. Open until 4am every night except Saturday (when it's open until 5am), Barrelhouse serves great drinks later than any other cocktails bar in the city. So order up well-made classics, like a Japanese or Toronto cocktail, or try whatever seasonal specials they have—you won't go wrong. Try to sit at the dark upstairs bar, where it's quieter and bartenders will chat with you.
Need somewhere to rest your head (and stomach) after a long day of eating and drinking? Hotel Lincoln is right across from Lincoln Park and Green City Market, the hotel restaurant is Perennial Virant (it seems laughable to call this a hotel restaurant), Elaine's Coffee Call serves La Colombe coffee and you can have drinks on the roof at the J. Parker.