Chicago has long been known as a town famous for its meat and big portion sizes, but in recent years the city's cuisine has also become the toast of the world, sporting some of the nation's best and most unique restaurants.
Here is our eclectic list of ASCD staff recommendations—both for those on a budget and for those seeking a finer dining experience. Add your suggestions in the comments area below.
See additional information from Chicago's Convention and Tourism Bureau.
Billy Goat Tavern (American/Burger)
Near Tribune Towers and Wrigley Building
430 North Michigan Avenue at Lower Level
Now with several locations, the original on Michigan Avenue inspired the famed Saturday Night Live sketch of the short-order cook screaming, "Cheezborger! Cheezborger! No fries, cheeps! No Pepsi, Coke!" which didn't stray far from reality. If you do get to visit these days, you can try to order a chicken sandwich, but expect the staff to hurl a few verbal insults your way. (They've been known to even yell at 12-year-old girls.) So why not avoid the hassle and just stick with the script: a cheeseburger, chips, and a Coke.
Gino's East (Pizza)
162 East Superior Street
Opened in 1966 when two taxi drivers and a friend became frustrated with traffic, this pizzeria on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Superior Street sports the original, deep-dish Chicago-style pizza for which the city is famous.
Want to try the city's other famed pizzerias? Floating in someone's top four will likely be Pequod's, Lou Malnati's, or Giordano's.
Chicago Firehouse (American)
1401 South Michigan Avenue
Located on the corner of 14th Street and Michigan Avenue, the building, erected in 1905, was one of the locations used in the film Backdraft, starring Kurt Russell. Today, the firehouse stands much as it had near the turn of the century but now serves the neighborhood with its unique take on modern American cuisine. If the weather cooperates, you can sit outside on the patio deck or enjoy the ambiance of old-time Chicago within the limestone brick walls.
Buddy Guy's Legends
700 South Wabash
Normally we wouldn't recommend a blues restaurant/bar, but this is Chicago—one of birthplaces of the electric blues sound and home of blues legend Buddy Guy, whose nightclub is a rollickin' and rockin' good time. Certainly it's worth a stop on the cultural tour. And of course, you get to listen to some great music while you eat.
Want to try another blues club? How about the famed Kingston Mines on Halsted.
Lou Mitchell's (Breakfast)
565 West Jackson Boulevard
One of the city's great breakfast diners, Lou Mitchell's has played host to U.S. presidents, celebrities, athletes, and everyone who's anyone in Chicago. Create your own omelette or order the heaping stack of banana pancakes and soak in that little bit of small-town America (in the heart of downtown).
600 W. Chicago Avenue
"Where modern-day Japan meets European elegance" is the tagline for this trendy restaurant lounge. Enjoy the contrasts of chef Jun Ichikawa's modern take on classic Japanese cuisine with a high-energy setting that evokes both grandeur and tranquility.
Custom House Tavern (American)
500 South Dearborn
Unlike many of the more established (or sometimes even seedy) Chicago standbys, this trendy bistro offers a simple but delicious menu of local, fresh ingredients with a unique selection of wines from different parts of the world. Recently, Food & Wine magazine named its burger one of the best in the country.
Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse / Hugo's Frog Bar (Steakhouse/Seafood)
1028 or 1024 North Rush Street
Craving a good piece of meat? Try Gibsons, the Yuppie standby in the heart of the city's Gold Coast neighborhood. Want seafood? Go to its sister restaurant, Hugo's Frog Bar, next door. Either is good for big appetites. Save room for desserts such as the chocolate mousse pie, which can be easily shared by more than four people.
www.gibsonssteakhouse.com | http://hugosfrogbar.com
Yusho Chicago (Japanese/Asian)
2853 North Kedzie Avenue
Owner Matthias Merges spent the past 14 years as the executive chef at the famed Charlie Trotter's (which is sadly scheduled to close in August 2012). With Yusho, Merges has created a Japanese-fusion delight with grilled (Yakitori-style) dishes of seafood, chicken, and vegetables. Yusho was recently named one of the city's top new restaurants of 2012 by Chicago Magazine. http://yusho-chicago.com/
Great Lake (Pizza)
1477 West Balmoral Avenue
Often cited as having the best pizza in Chicago, the pizza is "unbelievable and totally worth it," say recent visitors. It's a small place though, so if you're willing to wait in line and pay a little more than normal for a hand-crafted pizza with ingredients like lamb's milk cheese and homemade chorizo, this is your place. If you can manage a place to sit (it's primarily a takeout joint), you can bring your own bottle, pay a small corkage fee, and settle in for an hour or so. Read Yelp reviews.
The Purple Pig (Mediterranean)
500 North Michigan Avenue
You can get an idea of what's on the menu from the restaurant's tagline: "Cheese, Swine and Wine." Started by several local celebrity chefs, the Purple Pig features a modern take on Mediterranean cuisine, with small plates of cheeses, meats and fish, along with an extensive wine list. Bon Appétit magazine recently called it "one of Chicago's most delicious—and easygoing—foodie destinations."
Frontera Grill (Mexican)
445 North Clark Street
Celebrity chef Rick Bayless's casual Mexican restaurant delivers the goods with his delicious interpretations of classic south-of-the-border dishes. Try the house-smoked salmon tostadas or the classic queso fundido. If you're in the mood for more upscale Mexican, go next-door to Bayless's other establishment, Topolobampo.
Heaven on Seven (Cajun/Creole)
600 North Michigan Avenue, 2nd Floor
Enjoy a little bit of New Orleans with this Cajun- and Creole-inspired joint. Founded by local celebrity chef and owner Jimmy Bannos, you can dive into a classic po' boys, jambalaya, or of course the must-have shrimp voodoo rice.
The Girl and the Goat (New American)
809 West Randolph Street
Located in the West Loop, this trendy establishment serves up "fun" food, craft beers, and specially selected wine from around the world. The menu is divided into three categories: vegetable, fish, and meat—and it changes frequently. Run by Top Chef season 4 winner Stephanie Izard, the Girl and the Goat was voted by Saveur Magazine as "America's Best New Restaurant" in 2011.
615 West Randolph
A wine bar that opened in 2003, Avec includes handcrafted cheeses and charcuterie, inspired by the wine-growing regions of Southern France, Italy, Portugal, and the coast of Spain. Try the fresh crudo salads, cheese or salumi selections, or go big with large plates of pasta or pork shoulder.
Pick Me Up Café (Vegetarian)
3408 North Clark Street (between Newport Avenue and Roscoe Street)
Chicago is known as a meat-lovers town, but that doesn't mean there aren't gems around town serving vegetarian fare. This North Clark Street establishment is one of those, serving up guilt-free, vegan treats, including their heralded vegan cheese fries. It's also open 24 hours.
These typically aren't for those on school budgets, but if you're into great dining, Chicago has many options.
Alinea (New American)
1723 North Halstead
Not a recommendation we make lightly, particularly if you're on a tighter budget, and certainly not one that you'd have your school or district pay for. But it's not often you visit a U.S. city that sports an establishment that, on some lists, is ranked as the best restaurant in the world. Alinea, the masterpiece of chef Grant Achatz, features delicate bite-sized dishes infused with the kind of technical prowess that a handful of chefs in the entire world might be able to execute. As you can imagine, reservations are competitive and typically taken months in advance.
980 North Michigan Avenue
There are those rare places that get honored with a visit from a sitting U.S. president. Then, there are places such as Spiaggia, that not only get multiple visits from the current commander-and-chief, but whose chef also holds the distinction of being Barack Obama's favorite. Tony Mantuano creates a four-star Italian dining experience that's been called "extraordinary" and "spectacular" with a "wowness" factor. Note: Jackets required for men.