Travel

Where to Eat Near Chicago's Biggest Tourist Sights

How not to fall prey to questionable hot dog stands and chain coffee shops
Best Restaurants in Chicago for Tourists
Photo: Sawyer Bengston/Unsplash

Chicago is known for its inspiring architecture and recognizable iconography, like the John Hancock building, the Navy Pier's famous twinkling Ferris wheel and the mirrored Cloud Gate. It's these sights, after all, that attract the more than 50 million visitors who flock to the city every year. Though, just like  NYC, Rome, Paris and beyond, it can often be impossible to find a good bite to famous attractions.  

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But this is Chicago—a place that was named America's best restaurant city, with a gastronomic reputation rivaling that of the world's best. So before you hit up that sketchy-looking hot dog station or fall prey to a chain coffee shop, try one of these recommendations, where you can be guaranteed a good meal (and some of that famed Midwestern hospitality), instead.

The Bean (Cloud Gate)

Make a beeline from the crowded bean and Millenium Park to the beautifully restored Chicago Athletic Association across the street. Once a gentleman's athletic club, the hotel pays homage to its past with themed decor, large rooms outfitted with vintage furniture and one of the city's best rooftop restaurants and bars, Cindy's. With a large deck boasting views of the skyline, a roof made of glass and views of glistening Lake Michigan, this spot is booming even in the freezing winter months. The food menu rotates with the seasons, while the drink menu has been recognized as one of Chicago's best TK. Opt for the burrata appetizer (a staple on the menu) and one of the famed elixirs, like the Grey Gardens, made with Tito's, crème de violette and jasmine pearl tea. 

 

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Michigan Avenue

For a hearty bite to fill you up after a day of shopping, pop into M Burger, a city chain from local restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You. With juicy burgers that best even your favorite hometown joint, it's a place you're bound to find locals grabbing a quick lunch or after-work snack. Plus, there's even the Impossible Burger, a plant-based patty that's entirely vegetarian. And If you're in the mood for a classic Chicago dog, visit Portillo's, a staple in the city that's been serving authentic franks since 1963. More elevated cuisine can be found at The Purple Pig, where—you guessed it—you're going to be able to satisfy every swine craving.


John Hancock Building

Showcasing the best views of the Chicago skyline (and home to a daring 360-degree, all-glass lookout), the John Hancock Building is probably the city's most recognized skyscraper. Albeit pricey, the food at the Signature Room on the 95th floor is worth the splurge. If you're not able to shell out the cost for a dinner, opt for a drink in the lounge to soak up the breathtaking vistas.


Chicago River

No visit to the city is complete without an architectural boat tour, which takes you along the entire length of Chicago's river. And thanks to a multimillion dollar renovation, the riverwalk is now home to great spots for a drink or a bite. The City Winery  offers relatively affordable drinks (from wine to speciality cocktails) that you can sip right on the riverbank. For a more elevated meal, head a block away to RPM Steak. You'll find homemade breads, top-notch beer and crave-worthy sides, like rosemary sea salt fries and a Millionaire's Potato baked with truffle and fontina. If you're around for brunch, head inside the five-star Langham hotel and nosh on the eggs Benedict with lobster and truffle or the risotto topped with a perfectly poached egg at Travelle. 


Navy Pier

For a truly local bite, opt for a snack or meal in Streeterville, the neighborhood that sits right next to the bustling pier. For brunch, lunch or an afternoon snack, visit Beatrix. From melt-in-your-mouth ricotta pancakes to crispy kale salads with shaved Parmesan and a slew of homemade juices, it's a favorite (with a few locations around the city). If you're doughnut fan (let's be honest, who isn't?), don't miss Do-Rite Donuts and Chicken, where you'll find candied maple bacon doughnuts alongside juicy fried chicken sandwiches. Goddess and the Baker is another favorite for satisfying a sweet tooth, with everything from giant sugar cookies to crispy homemade Rice Krispies Treats.

 

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Lincoln Park

Spanning more than 1,200 acres along Lake Michigan, Lincoln Park is to Chicago as Central Park is to New York City. Once you're done strolling the tree-lined pathways, visiting the zoo and Instagramming the incredible skyline views from the waterfront, make your way to the more residential side of LP and grab one—or 12—freshly shucked oysters at Oyster Bah. The menu is full of other New England faves like lobster and seafood rolls and sweet corn hush puppies. If seafood isn't your jam, go right next door and grab a pizza pie instead—Stella Barra, the brainchild of L.A.-born chef Jeff Mahin, has a slice for every person, from a classic cheese to the more inventive avocado pie.

 

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Claire is a seasoned writer and photographer with a passion for food and travel. Keep up with her adventures on Instagram at @wayfairingclaire. 

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