Chicago: Where to Eat & Drink

Kevin J. Miyazaki
by Bill Daley - February/March 2013

Where to find the best of Chicago’s Southern side and more

More Chicago: 
>City Portrait: Chicago's Southern Soul
>What to See & Do
>Meet the Locals
>See Bonus Photos

Big Jones 
Historical Southern dishes get a respectful yet creative take from Chef Paul Fehribach, who plumbs vintage cookbooks and uses heirloom crops and practically every part of the pig to create the menu for his comfortable Andersonville restaurant. Dishes range from Lowcountry to “Floribbean” to Creole and cross eras, such as a prix fixe dinner celebrating Gullah home cooking circa 1970. 5347 N. Clark St.;

Big Star
This Wicker Park joint draws a young crowd hip to its honky-tonk vibe and respectful attitude toward brown liquor (the bar sources its own barrels straight from Kentucky). But don’t forget the chow—riffs on Mexican street food such as pork belly tacos and tostadas topped with golden beets. It’s quality you’d expect from Paul Kahan, the chef behind top Chicago restaurants Blackbird, avec, and the Publican. 1531 N. Damen Ave.;

Carriage House
Lowcountry food gets an invigorating reinterpretation from Chef Mark Steuer at his new Wicker Park restaurant. While the main ingredients might be familiar (green tomatoes, quail, grouper), it’s what Steuer does with them that makes the dishes memorably his. Watch flavor sparks fly when a sensually slow-cooked pork shoulder meets up with nubbly grits, crunchy celery bits, and tangy pickled peppers. 1700 W. Division St.;

Fred’s at Barneys New York
Given all the names bandied about the Gold Coast branch of the famous retail store, you’d think the bar here would be named for its popular mixologist, Clarence Mills. It should be. In addition to crafting superlative drinks, many of his own creation, Mills has that inner eye all great bartenders have and will leave you alone if you want. But strike up a conversation and he’s a beguiling raconteur. 15 E. Oak St.;

Honey 1 BBQ
Rib tips are those little pieces of cartilage, fat, and meat that often get trimmed off a rack of spare ribs. Chicagoans love ’em. At this urban barbecue outpost, owner and Arkansas native Robert Adams, Sr., serves some of the best tips in the city out of a wood-fired aquarium tank smoker. Order some crispy-skinned hot links on the side. 2241 N. Western Ave.;

A favorite of President Obama’s, this restaurant in the far western neighborhood of Austin is worth the trip for its Southern standards. Fried chicken, mac and cheese, greens, and barbecued turkey legs all deserve some love, but the real star is the meat loaf in tomato sauce. Simple and extraordinary. 5412 W. Madison St.;

The Purple Pig
Rustic South meets rustic Italian at this bustling pocket-size bistro on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile shopping corridor. Pork, charcuterie, and vino shine at this small-plates joint, which is headed up by Jimmy Bannos, Jr., whose dad operates the Cajun-accented Heaven on Seven nearby. 500 N. Michigan Ave.;

The Southern
“Kickass Bar + Comfort Food” is the slogan of Georgia-born chef Cary Taylor’s Bucktown restaurant. Drop in on a Sunday morning and you’ll find tables packed with diners eager for such brunch fare as Charleston Benedict (crab cakes topped with poached eggs), and crispy fried chicken posed in tasso-rosemary gravy. 1840 W. North Ave.;

Table Fifty-Two
Art Smith famously cooked for Oprah and the governor of Florida, his home state, yet you get not a whiff of his star wattage in the cozy intimacy of this charming Gold Coast carriage house restaurant. Comfort, not celebrity, seasons a well-executed menu of Southern faves. A must-do: Smith’s intense twelve-layer chocolate cake. 52 W. Elm St.;

Any visit to Chicago should include a stop at one of three side-by-side River North restaurants owned by Oklahoma-born Rick Bayless, who helped change the American view of Mexican food through his cookbooks and television shows. XOCO’s quick-service format makes it a snap to visit, and the menu of contemporary street foods, sandwiches, and meal-size soups is as delicious in its own way as the casual fare at Frontera Grill or the fine-dining Topolobampo. 449 N. Clark St.;