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Wanderlust: Chicago Restaurants

Laura Mittelstaedt | Tuesday, February 8, 2011

 Hello, fellow wanderers! This week is part two of my three-part series on Chicago. This week’s topic? My favorite part of any city: food.

Chicago has some truly great restaurants, and a trip is tragically incomplete without a fantastic meal or two (or several). Below are some of my favorite Windy City temptations.



Bistro Zinc.

This French-inspired bistro is located on North State Street in the Gold Coast, just a few blocks north of Bloomingdale’s. One of my favorite restaurants in the city (and definitely worth going to for lunch or dinner as well), Bistro Zinc has quintessential French fare at reasonable prices. Just thinking about their Brioche French Toast with berries ($9.95), Eggs Benedict ($10.95) and assortment of authentic crêpes is enough to tempt me to skip class for the day.


I discovered Nookies over Christmas break, and I can’t wait to go back! I went to the Lincoln Park location, though they are also located in Old Town and Edgewater. The menu is extensive, loaded with interesting items such as Apple Cranberry Crunch pancakes ($7.95), and they always have a seasonal breakfast menu as well. Breakfast is served until 3 p.m. daily, and the restaurant is open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

Ann Sather.

A typical Swedish (they say Swedish, I say American) breakfast diner, Ann Sather has four locations throughout Lakeview and Andersonville. Portions are always cheap, gigantic and homemade, and — the best part — come with a side of cinnamon rolls. 




Located just across the street from Nordstrom, Bandera is my go-to restaurant when I’m downtown during the day. Bandera has standard (but delicious) American fare, including burgers and cornbread, though I hardly ever pass up the Grilled Jumbo Artichoke ($11 for 3 artichokes halves — perfect as an appetizer with friends) and the Seared Sashimi Tuna Salad ($18).



Rick Bayless owns four restaurants in Chicago, but XOCO is a great bet for a quick, tasty and fresh lunch. XOCO features Mexican street food ($8-12), with warm sandwiches (made in a wood-burning oven), soups, Mexican hot chocolate and amazing chips and guacamole ($4.75). Though XOCO opened in September 2009, I still had to wait 45 minutes just to get in the door this past October — I would definitely recommend an early or late lunch to try to avoid the crowds. But even if you have to wait, it’s definitely worth it!



Molly’s Cupcakes.

Go to Molly’s, go to Molly’s, go to Molly’s. I’m not kidding. The cupcakes are amazing. Go. Cupcakes have become a bit of a ubiquitous feature in American cities over the last years, but I prefer Molly’s cupcakes ($2-3.75) to any of the others I’ve tried. The shop is built to look like an elementary school room (there are even swings at the coffee bar!) and they bake their cupcakes in small batches throughout the day, so they are always fresh. Their cupcake case always has specialty seasonal items, but you can also “build your own” cupcake by choosing the cake and frosting. So delicious.


Okay, I know coffee isn’t a snack per se, but when I’m eating delicious food and walking around all day, I need a bit of a pick-me-up. Intelligentsia is based in Chicago, has really tasty coffee, and is located right by the Millennium Station train stop. I recommend the lattes.





I am obsessed with sushi, and Rise is by far my favorite sushi restaurant in Chicago. Their fish is always extremely fresh, and I have never ordered anything I haven’t liked. Their signature rolls ($8-16) are all worth trying, but I would suggest the Tochigi Maki, Crazy Roll and Flaming Maki. Rise is located on Southport in Lakeview, near lots of boutiques, bars and other restaurants.

DMK Burger Bar.

I usually am not a huge burger fan, but these are outstanding. The restaurant boasts grass-fed beef, freshly baked buns and artisan cheeses. Best of all, every burger is only $8. The menu is overwhelmingly diverse, with burger toppings ranging from green chile to Asian slaw, and their delicious hand-cut fries ($2-4) can come topped with blue cheese and bacon, truffle cream or simply sea salt and ketchup. For those of you who are of-age, they also have an impressive beer menu, featuring many local breweries. Located on North Sheffield, north of DePaul. 

Finally, I recommend venturing to Uptown, Greektown or Chinatown if you are looking for authentic ethnic restaurants. North Broadway in Uptown especially has seen an influx of ethnic restaurants—Indian, Ethiopian, etc.—and I bet that most of them are worth a shot. Marigold is a great Indian restaurant in Uptown ($5.75-19.95 for various dinner items) if you’re looking for something different.

I couldn’t possibly list all of the fantastic restaurants in Chicago, but hopefully this (brief) overview has given you some ideas to work with. Each of these restaurants is interesting and unique with a great atmosphere, and most of all, delicious, fresh and inexpensive food. Watch out for my next installment of fun things to do in Chicago, coming out next week! Until then, fellow Domers, keep wandering.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Laura Mittelstaedt at