Chicago’s reputation as a food mecca is deserved. Thanks to an impressive lineup of iconic dishes and numerous acclaimed restaurants, the Windy City draws in millions of visitors looking to eat at its most popular dining destinations. While many places are unabashed tourist traps, some actually manage to live up to the hype for both locals and out-of-towners alike. New additions to the list include Italian marketplace Eataly, Michigan Avenue gastropub the Gage, and venerable blues club Kingston Mines.Read More
15 Chicago Tourist Trap Restaurants That Are Actually Good
They’re worth braving the crowds
Chicago is synonymous with blues music and this Lincoln Park club is one of the oldest places to experience it. Established in 1968, Kingston Mines is home to two stages of live entertainment every night. Performers cover a range of different styles and play as late as 4 a.m. There’s a kitchen, too, that cranks out Southern specialties such as ribs, blackened catfish, and po’ boy sandwiches.
Deep dish pizza is always among the first things to come to mind when tourists think about Chicago cuisine and very few have been doing it for as long as Lou Malnati’s. The Malnati family claim to be one of the inventors of the style and today their famed pizzeria has dozens of locations around the city and suburbs. Regardless of where folks stand on the pizza spectrum, the appeal of the ‘Malnati Chicago Classic’ is undeniable. Grab a knife and fork and dig into layers of mozzarella cheese, vine-ripened tomato sauce, and housemade sausage on flaky, buttery crust. It’s a pie that defines Chicago.
Like a good nonna, this bustling River North eatery delivers consistently reliable Italian fare. Enlist some dining companions, order a bottle of wine, and nosh on housemade salumi, Neapolitan pizzas, and shareable small plates. Locals and tourists might not have much common ground, but they can all agree that Quartino’s veal meatballs and soft, pillowy gnocchi are delicious.
Everything from the décor to the service screams kitsch but Chicago’s beloved fast food chain deserves to be experienced by both tourists and locals. Diners will find first-rate versions of the city’s most iconic foods, such as the Chicago-style hot dog and Italian beef sandwich. Save some room for dessert and the rich, moist chocolate cake, which is also available in the form of a milkshake.
Garrett Popcorn Shops
Popcorn is the official state snack of Illinois so it’s no surprise that Chicagoans are in love with Garrett. The shop has been a city tradition since 1949 and its signature bags and tins can be spotted all over the downtown area and at the airport. The classic Garrett Mix is an addictive combination of CheeseCorn and buttery CaramelCrisp that compels folks to keep eating until it’s all gone.
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There are multiple outposts of the Italian emporium around the world but that hasn’t taken the shine off the Chicago location. The 60,000-square-foot marketplace features wines, meats, cheeses, and other high-end retail goods along with a variety of restaurants. Whether visitors are in the mood for Italian staples like pizzas and pastas or just want a scoop of gelato, they will find solid versions of it here. Eataly also offers cooking classes and special weekly events.
Original Rainbow Cone
There really aren’t too many reasons to visit Navy Pier but for those who find themselves at Chicago’s ultimate tourist trap, it’s not without its perks. The Original Rainbow Cone has an outpost on site and its signature treat is more than just a pretty picture. Make the Navy Pier experience more tolerable with a kaleidoscope of colorful ice creams in a cone. The classic combination of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla with walnuts and cherries), pistachio, and orange sherbet puts a smile on anyone’s face, young or old.
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The Purple Pig
The Mag Mile is full of chain restaurants and tourist traps so it’s easy to understand why the Purple Pig has been a favorite for a decade. James Beard Award winner Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s reimagining of Mediterranean fare has garnered numerous accolades and long lines out the door. Luckily, the restuarant moved into a bigger space this year and can now seat up to 120 guests. The new location boasts a revamped menu that’s heavy on wine and swine-y dishes — crispy pig’s ear, smoked pork tongue, milk-braised pork shoulder. Get there during off-peak hours or expect to wait; reservations are not accepted.
Mexican cooking in Chicago has never been more exciting than it is right now, with various eateries exploring new territories and techniques. Many chefs helped pave the way to this point but Rick Bayless has been arguably the most visible. His first restaurant, Frontera Grill, launched an empire and exposed diners to traditional Mexican dishes executed with refined touches. The dining room is always packed and for good reason. Even after three decades, the ceviches, guacs, and rich and complex moles are still some of the best around.
Few places capture the spirit of summertime Chi more than LH Rooftop. Perched on the 22nd floor of LondonHouse Chicago, the outdoor terrace is popular for its sweeping views of the Chicago River, Lake Michigan, and the city’s towering skyscrapers. The kitchen complements the experience with re-imagined American bites that focus on locally-sourced ingredients.
The wait is often several hours long but that doesn’t deter Chicagoans or out-of-towners from toughing it out for what some say is one of the best burgers in the country. Hogsalt Hospitality’s modern diner is renowned for its cheeseburger — an extraordinary specimen featuring griddled patties topped with American cheese, pickles, and Dijonnaise — as well as elevated takes on comfort foods, such as fried bologna sandwich and potato hash with duck heart gravy.
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Girl & the Goat
Stephanie Izard rocketed to fame by winning Top Chef and became a household name with her first restaurant. Almost a decade after opening, Girl & the Goat is still one of the toughest reservations to snag. Don’t be deceived by the throng of out-of-towners, though, because it’s much more than just a tourist trap. Izard’s signature dishes — sautéed green beans, goat empanadas, oven-roasted pig face — pack bold flavors and are well worth planning in advance for.
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The Chicago Athletic Association’s beautiful rooftop restaurant is the place to be. Sitting on the 13th floor of the Michigan Avenue hotel and offering unparalleled views of the skyline and Millennium Park, Cindy’s quickly became a must-visit destination upon its arrival in 2015. Battle the crowds for an opportunity to relax in an open-air beach house setting while enjoying dynamic cocktails and large-format seasonal plates. Yes, there will be lots of tourists but a glass of rosé or a boozy popsicle should help minimize the annoyance.
Thousands of visitors flock to Millennium Park each day but the nearby dining options leave a lot to be desired. This Michigan Avenue gastropub is an exception, catering to hungry executives and tourists who are in search of quality food and beverages. There’s an extensive selection of craft beers and whiskies to try and they’re accompanied by noteworthy renditions of pub fare, such as fish and chips, Scotch egg, and a venison burger. For entertainment, grab a seat on the patio and people-watch.
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While Chicago-style hot dogs and deep dish pizzas can be found all over the United States (to varying degrees of success), Italian beef is a specialty that doesn’t stray too far from home. That means tourists often go to birthplace of the sandwich: Al’s. Fortunately, the Taylor Street stand hasn’t lost a step. The beef is roasted in a secret blend of spices and at its best when “dipped” in jus. To avoid making a mess, it’s recommended that diners roll up their sleeves and assume the proper upright stance while eating.