Cate Huguelet covers food and drink for Time Out Chicago.
The best boutique hotels in Chicago
While massive hotel chains aren't for everyone, Chicago boasts some of the best hotels, which you should totally check out. Thankfully, the Windy City has an impressive assortment of boutique properties that trade size for warm, personalized service and a huge helping of character. And these are things we certainly look for in our hotels here at Time Out. Whether it's your first time here or you're planning a cheeky staycation, these boutique hotels make a cozy backdrop when you're away from home. Our top picks range from a stylish stunner in Wicker Park to a British import crowned by one of the city’s best rooftop pools. With choices like these, you'll be packing your bags in no time. Happy vacations, people. Or maybe even a staycation? Because any excuse to stay in some of these... RECOMMENDED: Find more places to stay with our guide to the best downtown Chicago hotels in the Loop This article includes affiliate links. These links have no influence on our editorial content. For more information, click here.
The best day trips from Chicago
Making big travel plans can be difficult (and not to mention expensive). Luckily, you don’t need a plane ticket or even a hotel reservation to indulge in a fun change of scenery—a simple day trip from Chicago is cheap and easy. Whether you’re looking to spend the day basking in the sun at beaches along Lake Michigan, hiking near Chicago through a state park or tasting your way through the best beer and cheese Wisconsin has to offer, these quick jaunts from Chicago are just a few hours away by car or train. Make plans to explore everything the Midwest has to offer on the best day trips from Chicago. RECOMMENDED: The best weekend getaways from ChicagoRECOMMENDED: The best Airbnb cabin rentals near Chicago
8 ways to enjoy afternoon tea in Chicago
There's something intrinsically luxurious about afternoon tea, and Chicago's best restaurants and hotels go to great lengths to elevate the experience. If you're looking for something traditional, turn to the city's age-old tearooms and downtown hotels, where aromatic beverages are served alongside tiny sandwiches, colorful pastries and canapés. For those who crave a modern twist, places like LondonHouse and Bar Pendry are breathing new life into the tea-time ritual. A few of these spots are even trying bold, boozy tea-infused cocktails for guests who want something stronger. Whatever your preference, you'll find the perfect tea time at the best places to go for afternoon tea in Chicago. RECOMMENDED: The best tea in Chicago
The best Irish food shops in Chicago
It's the time of year when we salute the Irish part of our city's heritage with a series of meaningless gestures, mostly involving wooly sweaters and dying things green (beer, major waterways). But a number of food shops around town offer a more authentic taste of the Auld Sod. Historically, Irish cuisine hasn't exactly enjoyed a stellar reputation in the U.S., as we've dismissed it as over-boiled and bland. But many of the country's archetypal foods—wholemeal breads, cheeses, savory puddings, to name a few—epitomize characteristics that have lately become culinary watchwords here in the U.S.: They're humble, often small-batch and have embodied nose-to-tail cooking since long before that was a thing people talked about. Here are five Chicago-area shops to reshape your idea of Irish food this St. Patrick's Day—even if you insist on pairing it with green beer. RECOMMENDED: Guide to St. Patrick's Day in Chicago
12 great holiday party spots in Chicago
'Tis the season for Christmas lights and festive pop-up bars, which means that you might have a few holiday parties to attend—or plan—in the near future. Not sure to gather with your crew of holiday revelers? We've rounded up Chicago venues perfect for every type of holiday gathering, whether you're trying to keep it simple with a group of friends, show off your competitive side at an arcade or rent out an entire rooftop for a swanky company soiree. Plus, you'll find options for every budget on our list (including free, believe it or not). Make your holiday gathering merry and bright with our list of the best holiday party spots in Chicago. RECOMMENDED: How to celebrate Christmas in Chicago
The 16 most haunted places in Chicago
Strange things happen in Chicago every day, and according to paranormal researchers, we may have some restless spirits to blame. "Chicago is one of the most haunted cities in the world," says Ursula Bielski, parapsychologist, founder of the popular ghost tour outfit Chicago Hauntings and prolific recorder of the region’s haunted history. She's investigated Chicago parks that were formerly graveyards, hotels in Chicago that purportedly have some incorporeal guests and slew of other spooky locales. If you're craving a supernatural encounter or entertaining the idea of another plane of existence, we've consulted with experts to assemble a list of the most haunted spots in Chicago—just don't expect to immediately encounter an apparition. "Ghosts are supernatural creatures and won’t perform on command, no matter how much we’d like them to," paranormal researcher and Weird Chicago Tours mastermind Troy Taylor told us. Be patient, keep your eyes peeled and try not to get too scared while exploring these chilling destinations. RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Halloween in Chicago
The best bakeries in Chicago’s Chinatown
For many Chicagoans, the notion of dining in Chinatown conjures up burnished ducks and dim sum feasts. Far less likely to spring to mind are bakeries, yet this compact neighborhood boasts around a dozen of them, most which turn out a mixture of sweet and savory Chinese goodies and Western desserts adapted to the more mildly sweet-toothed Chinese palate. Chinatown's bakeries make a great option for a grab-and-go lunch or a coffee break treat that's cheap as chips; what's more, many of them ooze an old-school ambiance that's been scrubbed from some of the area's newer restaurants. Here are seven of our favorite Chinatown bakeries, along with suggestions for what to try at each. RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Chinatown
The 13 best Italian beefs in Chicago, ranked
In 1938, Al Ferreri—yes, that Al—started slinging beef sandwiches in Little Italy. Legions of competitors followed suit and the delicacy took off, or so one popular version of the origin story goes. Point is, somewhere along the way the humble Italian beef sandwich became one of the most iconic Chicago dishes. Now you’d be hard-pressed to throw a rock in our city without hitting a beef stand—but not all are worth the messy hands and the unmistakable eau de jus that seems to linger for hours. From the Loop to the ‘burbs, these are the best Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago. RECOMMENDED: Our guide to the best restaurants in Chicago
The best luxury hotels in Chicago
Want to experience the finer side of Chicago? The city's top luxury hotels deliver everything you could possibly want or need—from sumptuous furnishings and top-of-the-line linens to decadent spa treatments and Michelin-starred eateries. And that's not all: These hotels go above and beyond with unexpected amenities like private helicopter tours and in-room cocktail service. Whether you're visiting for the weekend or planning a lavish staycation, you'll be in good hands when you book a room at these hotels. Prepare to be spoiled beyond your wildest dreams when you check into Chicago's best luxury accomodations. RECOMMENDED: Explore our full guide to the best hotels in Chicago
The 16 best brewery tours in Chicago
With so many amazing Chicago breweries situated throughout the city, everything from extra-hoppy IPAs to dark, decadent stouts are being produced at a breakneck pace. As much as we love heading to the best bars in Chicago to sample the latest local creations, sometimes it’s nice to have sip a beer while learning about how it was made. Walk among the fermentation tanks, taste some raw grains and learn more about the beer-making process on a Chicago brewery tour, where experts will explain how your favorite beverages are crafted. Whether you prefer a Chicago brewery tour that's short and sweet or one that offers plenty of complimentary samples, you'll probably learn something along the way. Pro tip: Hit up one of the best restaurants in Chicago to pad your stomach before you embark on this journey. No need to research malts, hops and yeast—you'll get a crash course on some of the best Chicago brewery tours. RECOMMENDED: Find more to explore on the best Chicago tours
The 11 best dessert menus in Chicago
You don't have to go far to satisfy your sweet tooth in this city. Chicago's top bakeries, ice cream shops and candy stores whip up seriously sugary treats. But some of the most inventive desserts around are hidden in plain sight at the best restaurants in Chicago. Local pastry chefs are going above and beyond with decadent chocolate cake, over-the-top sundaes and fancy twists on childhood favorites. From casual downtown Chicago restaurants to fine-dining heavyweights, these kitchens offer the best desserts in town. Just be sure to save room after dinner! RECOMMENDED: Check out the best new restaurants in Chicago
Chicago’s best budget hotels
If you think budget travel means dodgy digs in out-of-the-way places, get excited: Here in Chicago, there’s no need to sacrifice style and location in the name of value. With nightly rates that start at $150 or less, these hotels will go easy on your wallet while delivering features like million-dollar views, awesome gyms and world-class cocktail bars. And hey, with all of the money that you save by booking these affordable rooms, check out one of Chicago's best fine dining restaurants.
Listings and reviews (9)
Up until now, all attempts to bring Nashville-style hot chicken to Chicago have been hampered by unfortunate missteps, from texturally weird breading to too-viscous, barbecue sauce-like cayenne paste to wimpy spicing. Enter the Budlong, a snug new Lakeview spot frying up hot chicken that hits all the right notes. That is to say, the chicken is briny, the breading is shatteringly crisp, and the cayenne paste that coats it gets you sweating and stains your fingers just the right shade of atomic red. (Four heat levels—“naked,” classic, medium, and extra hot—are available; we find the medium packs a reasonable burn.) In true Nashville fashion, it’s even crowned with a skewer of cooling pickles and served up on a slice of white bread that draws in crumbled crust and spicy drippings like a delicious sponge.
Fluorescent lighting and canary yellow formica are about as much as you’ll get in the way of ambience at this neighborhood favorite, tucked down a side street just off of Archer Avenue in Garfield Ridge. But that chicken, though. Fried to order (veterans know to call 30 minutes in advance), it arrives clad in a mellow gold coating (or “butter crust”) that’s sturdy and salty and satisfyingly crunchy—a beautiful complement to the juicy chicken beneath.
The Original Mr. Beef
For one of Chicagoland’s best Italian beef sandwiches, you’ll have to venture outside of city limits, to the far southwest suburb of Homer Glen. Here, Carl Bonavolanto III, son of the original owner of Mr. Beef on Orleans, serves up his ancestral sandwich from a strip mall storefront adorned with mob movie posters. (Bonavolanto’s father sold the Orleans location, sans family recipe, back in the ‘80s; it and his son’s Homer Glen shop are completely unconnected.) The genuine Bonavolanto article is well worth the trip; the beef is incredibly succulent, the jus perfectly garlicky and salty. It’s topped with giardiniera that might be the best we’ve ever encountered, a spicy, wonderfully fresh-tasting mix of diced green peppers, celery, and red pepper flakes.
To call the ambience at this Humboldt Park spot no-frills is something of an understatement—don’t expect much more than a few banged-up two tops and church hall-style chairs. Dig into the beef sandwich, though, and you’ll quickly forget about the cheerless digs. It’s tough to point to one single element that makes the sandwich here sing. Instead, all of its parts come together just right, making for a perfect balance of flavors: The oregano-laced jus fuses deliciously with the giardiniera oil as it seeps into the bread and the pepper heat cuts through the supremely savory beef, leaving your lips with a lingering tingle.
Roma's Italian Beef & Sausage
Even unadorned, the Italian beef at this bare bones Portage Park joint is quite serviceable indeed, built around jus-trapping shreds of subtly-spiced beef. But it’s the hearty house giardiniera that really elevates this sandwich; comprising substantial chunks of crinkle-cut carrot, green olive, celery, cauliflower, and pepper, it adds major crunch and a pop of acidity that balances out all that meatiness. If you want to up the ante, go for an Atomic Combo, which augments the standard beef sandwich with a fiery sausage created by none other than Hot Doug Sohn.
Pop's Italian Beef & Sausage
There are 14 Pop’s scattered around the Chicagoland area, but only the diminutive Mt. Greenwood location has the old-school stand vibe that somehow makes the food taste a little bit more special. The finely-shaved, slightly salty beef here savors of garlic, and dips are executed in a best-of-both worlds fashion that soaks only one side of the dense, spongy bread, allowing for a nice textural contrast. The liberally-applied giardiniera, a verdant mix of mandolined jalapeño and celery, is like a cousin to Chickie’s, except with a good bit more heat and a pronounced oiliness that spills over the dry side of the bread, giving it a shellacked quality.
It’s only been dishing out sandwiches since 2012, but this Hillside spot is actually a reincarnation of a stand that once ruled the Italian beef scene in Little Village. The beef sandwiches here could be described as matter-of-fact but satisfying: Shreds of lean beef are folded into fresh Gonnella rolls soft with a clear, mildly salty jus that doesn’t fuss around much with herbs and spices. The one point of intrigue is the unusual house giardiniera, a mix of razor-thin celery and jalapeño slices that contributes a briny, vegetal note (and surprisingly, only a hint of heat). If you need a little extra incentive to journey out to the ‘burbs, here’s a good one: Chickie’s also serves cannoli milkshakes.
J.P. Graziano Grocery
The old school vibe at this corner shop isn’t manufactured—the Graziano family has been doing its thing here since 1937. While it’s hard to go wrong with any of their sandwiches, the Mr. G ($9.25)—prosciutto, salami and sopressata, with biting aged provolone and marinated artichokes tucked into crackly-crisp bread anointed with hot oil and truffle mustard vinaigrette—claims house specialty status for a reason.
The Corned Beef Factory
Comprising just six items, the savory menu at this petite spot (the retail business for a wholesale meat operation) doesn’t take long to peruse. We’ll save you the trouble anyway: You’re having the reuben served with a pickle spear and housemade potato chips. The usual conventions—Swiss, Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, piquant grilled rye—are all here, but the centerpiece is a boatload of thin-sliced corned beef. It’s a two-hander that’ll leave you with leftovers for later.
7 new restaurant-reservation apps, and how they work
A barrage of new restaurant booking services are making it easier than ever to score a top table at Chicago restaurants—if you know how and when to deploy them, that is. Whether you’re willing to drop a few bucks for a prime-time reservation at a buzzy new restaurant, want to pick out your exact table at a fine dining restaurant or get a last-minute table at a discount, you can find an app for that. I Know the Chef This website and iOS app (an Android version is in the works) aims to deliver prime-time reservations with a side of VIP treatment. Before booking, users must purchase one of four membership plans (from $19.99 for a 10-day trial to $500 for a full year). Users then request reservations at spots like Table Fifty-Two and Osteria Langhe and simply await confirmation. Chicago partner restaurants currently number around 30, though members can also request bookings outside of this roster. In addition to high-demand tables, the service also affords various niceties—like access to private events—doled out in accordance with one’s membership level. The bottom line: A good choice for those who want peak-time tables and insider treatment—and are willing to pay for them. Reserve To use this sleek Android and iOS app, begin by selecting your desired dining date, time and party size. Then, choose one or more options from a list of over 20 restaurants (including spots like Lula Cafe, Brindille and Sepia) and await confirmation. When one request is confirmed, the rest are automati
Memphis institution Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken headed for Chicago
Remember that glorious stretch of 2013-14 when spots like Parson’s Chicken & Fish, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Leghorn and the Roost popped up almost at the same time, and how we all made gushing notes in our diaries about it being the annus mirabilis of the great Chicago fried chicken movement? Yeah, turns out all of that may have been just prologue, because this morning, west Tennessee icon Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken announced via Facebook that our fortunate city will soon (like, 2015 soon) know its delights. What’s the BFD, you ask? Just some of the most lauded fried chicken in the country. As served up at its 10 existing locations, Gus’s birds are super juicy, but the real magic’s in the batter. The recipe of said coating has been a secret closely kept by the family of founder Vernon “Gus” Bonner for decades, but in the fryer it takes on a beautiful burnished gold hue and a shatteringly crunchy texture. It’s spicy, but not in the sweaty-eyeballs kind of way that characterizes its peer to the east, Nashville’s Prince’s. Perhaps the ultimate mark of fried bird godliness is the ability, through some weird kind of alchemy involving drippings and stray crumbles of batter, to make the slice of Wonder Bread on which it sits seem not just edible, but delicious, a last treat to end your meal once you’ve picked the chicken clean. Here, Gus’s performs beautifully. Chicago is one of eight planned franchises that seem to represent the first wave of a nationwide expansion for G