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101 things to do in Chicago: restaurants and bars

Get your fill of top-rated cuisine, international flavors and local dishes at some of our favorite Chicago restaurants and bars

Chicago is a city for food and drink lovers, and we’ve got so much more than deep dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs (though we obviously have great versions of those, too). The restaurant and bar scene spans from refined 3-star Michelin restaurants to retro arcade bars, plus restaurants that highlight Pueblan, Sichuan and Macanese cuisines. Explore Chinatown, Little Italy, Devon Avenue, home to Indian and Pakistani food, and Argyle Street, which is filled with pan-Asian restaurants, then relax with a craft beer at one of many local breweries or a tropical tiki den. In a city packed with fantastic place to eat and drink, these are our favorite Chicago restaurants and bars.

RECOMMENDED: Take a look at all 101 things to do in Chicago

Chicago's best restaurants and bars

Eat a Mexican cemita at Cemitas Puebla

Excellent tacos are on the menu at both locations of the Pueblan restaurant, but split one with a friend because the star of the menu is the cemita, a Mexican sandwich served on a sesame-studded bun. The standout is the Atomica, layered with spit-roasted shaved marinated pork, ham, cheese, avocado and chipotle peppers.

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Get a taste of Chicago history at Calumet Fisheries

This tiny smoke shack is a reminder of the days when the steel industry was thriving and the area was populated by hungry day laborers. Set at the base of the famous Blues Brothers bridge, this little white box brings in customers from all around for smoked shrimp, trout and sable, which are always on offer. You’ll see folks sitting in their cars eating out of paper bags, a quintessential part of the experience.

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Eat the best burger in town at Au Cheval

It’s not hard to find a great burger in Chicago, but for a truly transcendent burger, head to Brendan Sodikoff’s West Loop diner. Toppings include American cheese and a smear of Dijon mayo, but it’s the slightly sweet meat and toasty buttered buns that elevate these burgers to the next level.

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Travel to the tropics with a tiki drink at Three Dots and a Dash & Lost Lake

Chicago has a long history of tiki bars, but as the old, kitschy ones have faded, new spots that pay homage to the tropical style—but serve fantastic drinks—have opened in recent years. The king of tiki is bartender Paul McGee, who opened Three Dots and a Dash in 2013, then left to open Lost Lake in 2015. At each, you’ll find impeccable tiki drinks, tropical snacks and a ton of beachy décor that give the sense that you’re not quite in Chicago anymore.

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Start your day with brunch at the Publican

Chicago has great brunches, but none are better than the Publican, which serves twists on classic dishes, like lamb sausage and eggs, a crab scramble with crème fraiche and smoked pork shoulder with grits. The house Bloody Mary, packed with pickles, comes with a choice of beer back, and the $5 Brunch Box, made with Montenegro, beer and grapefruit juice, is sized so you can have two.

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Learn about gin by drinking at Scofflaw

The Logan Square bar is a departure from Chicago’s whiskey-soaked cocktail dens—gin is the focus here, and there’s a huge gin list and regularly rotating list of cocktails. If gin’s not your thing, no worries—you’ll always find rum and whiskey drinks, plus a solid food menu.

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Eat Macanese fare at Fat Rice

What’s Macanese cuisine, you ask? It’s the fusion of Chinese and Portuguese food, a cuisine that Chicago didn’t know much about until Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo opened Fat Rice in 2012. The namesake dish, a kitchen-sink dish of shellfish, sausage rice and other goodies heaped into a clay pot, is a must-order.

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Try Rick Bayless’s food at Topolobampo

Topolobampo is the most sophisticated and upscale of Rick Bayless's restaurants, and as with all of his spots, the products used are local and seasonal. So whether you're eating the thoughtful seven-course tasting menu or ordering mole and barbacoa a la carte, you know you're eating the best the season has to offer.

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Explore birrieria at Birrieria Zaragoza

Mexican birria is a brothy goat stew seasoned with chiles, tomatoes and spices. There are numerous spots to find it around Chicago, includingBirrieria Zaragoza, where just a splash of consommé is used, and each juicy forkful is enhanced by just a trace of burnt-end–like crust imparted by the roasted mole.

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Head to Logan Square to eat at Lula Cafe and Longman & Eagle

Logan Square is one of Chicago’s top dining neighborhoods, in part due to restaurants like locally focused Lula Café and Michelin-starred Longman & Eagle. Both are open all day, and you’ll eat well at every meal, whether it’s sublime chicken and waffles at Longman for breakfast, an iconic turkey sandwich at Lula Café for lunch, or a wild boar sloppy joe at Longman or a six-course vegetarian tasting menu at Lula for dinner.

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Get overwhelmed (and overeat) at Eataly

With 22 restaurants in this Italian megastore—and each one of them packed—you’re going to have some time to peruse Eataly’s vast selection of pasta, olive oil, cheeses, produce, books and more while you wait for your table. Luckily, you can do your browsing while sipping a glass of wine, which always makes shopping more enjoyable, and more prone to impulse purchases.

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Sample spicy Chinese dishes at Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown

Tony Hu’s Lao Sze Chuan restaurants are located all over the city, but none draw the nightly crowd of heat-seekers that this spot does. Hu uses plenty of Sichuan pepper, dried chilies, garlic and ginger to accent dishes like Chengdu dumplings, crispy Chinese eggplant with ground pork, mapo tofu and dry chili chicken. It’s the perfect introduction to Chinatown’s rich culinary landscape.

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Take a tour of Half Acre Beer Company or Revolution Brewing

Chicago has been at the forefront of the microbrewery explosion over the past decade, with breweries like Half Acre and Revolution leading the charge. Get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the city’s best craft beers by taking a brewery tour. Half Acre hosts a tour every Saturday morning (be sure to arrive early, they only take the first 60 people in line). Revolution has tours from Wednesday through Sunday. Lagunitas, the largest brewery in the city, offers daily tours at the company’s Little Village facility.

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Try a Chicago-style hot dog at Superdawg

The Chicago-style hot dog, encased meat topped with tomatoes, pickles, onions, neon green relish, sport peppers, celery salt and mustard, is a culinary creation worth searching out. There’s no better place to start than at Superdawg, an old-fashioned drive-in (complete with cheesy mascots) that serves up its dishes in tiny, steaming cardboard boxes loaded with crinkle cut fries. Once you’ve had your first bite, you’ll be hooked.

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Explore pan-Asian cuisine on Argyle Street

From the minute you step off the El at the Argyle stop and inhale the intoxicating scent of roast duck, you know you’re about to eat some insane pan-Asian food. Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese restaurants, bakeries and markets line Argyle Street from Broadway to Sheridan Road, and bleed out onto Broadway as well. It’s a short stretch that could be tackled in an hour or so, but these restaurants demand several visits to explore the full menu.

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Dig into flavorful Indian and Pakistani dishes on Devon Avenue

Because of its far-flung location in West Rogers Park, not as many people explore the enchanting stretch of Devon Avenue from California to Damen Avenues as they should. Step into countless sari shops, gobble sweet treats like burfee at Sukhadia’s Sweets & Snacks, search for exotic spices at Patel Bros., window-shop for gorgeous gold jewelry and, of course, eat your face off. Our favorites: Uru-Swati, Udupi Palace and Hema’s Kitchen.

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Drink and set high scores at arcade bars

Chase the high score in Pacman or school your friend in a game of NBA Jam at an arcade bar like Emporium or Headquarters. Over the past few years, Chicago has become a mecca for retro video game–themed bars and you can relive childhood memories while sipping a local beer or well-made cocktail.

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