The first time I went to Chicago, it was a part of my mom’s cross-country trip across the States and I was 12. We would travel from California to the East Coast and visit colleges along the way. She hoped that it would inspire me to travel east for college (ironically, I ended up going to the college closest to my home, UC Berkeley). While it wasn’t the most successful venture, it did inspire me to revisit the Windy City when I was older. I did and I realized, Chicity was so much more than just deep-dish pizza and the University of Chicago (although those are important components).
What They Don’t Tell You About Chicago:
The food is some of the best you’ll ever taste.
As a burger junkie and an eggs addict, visiting Au Cheval was one of the most memorable moments of my Chicago trip. Featured below is one of their double cheeseburgers, with bacon and an egg sunny side up. This is by far one of the best gourmet burgers I’ve ever tried.
Also, they have a specific portion of their menu dedicated to eggs. The running joke in college was that you could go to my apartment and I might not have meat, veggies, or anything really but I would always have eggs. So this restaurant was perfect in satisfying my egg cravings. Below is the hash with duck heart gravy with a fried egg on top.
Just seeing the pictures again makes me drool. If you’re in Chicago, I highly, highly recommend giving this place a try. There is typically a wait, so get there early or try to go at an off-time. There are also bars closeby, so you can go for a pre-dinner drink and easily kill time until it’s your turn to feast!
Another place that friends recommended was the The Purple Pig. Their menu changes seasonally and they offer a variety of tapas which feature house-cured meats and also a robust wine list. Seen below is the pig’s ear dish with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers, and a fried egg.
This is the stuffed squid, which I highly recommend. The squid was very tender and the sauces were phenomenal. We also tried the roasted bone marrow with herb salad & Sicilian sea salt, which was amazing as well.
As you may have noticed, the dining scene here is aggressive. There’s a huge focus on meat, meat, and more meat and they’re a huge fan of heavy sauces. Not that I’m complaining, but after a couple of days of eating like this, I was ready for detox! This is why even though a friend and I had reservations to the extremely popular Girl and the Goat, we bailed and instead had a satisfying dinner of cereal. If you do decide to make reservations at Girl and the Goat, I’d recommend doing it at least two months in advance so you can secure a good date/time! As for deep dish pizza, I’m not a huge fan and my friends who live there confided that the only time they eat deep dish is when people are visiting from out of town. If you’re fiending for some deep dish though, the popular options seem to be Lou Malnati or Giordano’s.
There’s a huge focus on beauty and urban design.
The Chicago River flows through the city and urban planners thoughtfully created a walkway next to it, perfect for strolling during your lunch break or going on a run after work. The network of canals and bridges allows for a dizzying combination of routes and allows you to keep rediscovering your city from a different vantage point. At most points of the day, you can spy boats carrying tourists on the popular Architecture Boat Tour.
I went on this boat tour and as my friend napped (to be fair, it was his fourth time doing the tour), the guide explained the different architectural styles of the buildings we passed by. She told us how the Chicago River was originally so polluted that when buildings were being constructed, they chose to have the windows face away from the river and towards the parking lot. Now, apartments near the river range in the millions. Looks like a lot has changed huh? To go on one of the tours, you can easily visit one of the tour companies that dot the walkway near the river. My friend and I made reservations a couple hours in advance, walked around the river, and then made it back in time for boarding.
The famous Bean in Millenium Park is appealing and a huge draw for tourists. What I found really great about Millenium Park though, is its connected park that is designed for kids. I thought it was pretty neat that Chicago had devoted so much resources and space to building a park just for kids, giving them a place to play right in the middle of a bustling city. The park offers rock climbing, playground structures, and plenty of grass to run on.
Another cool spot in Chicago is the Navy Pier. It’s on the shoreline of Lake Michigan and there’s a cool Ferris wheel (which was unfortunately closed at the time of my visit) as well as restaurants, gardens, a museum, and IMAX movie theater. It’s nice that even though you’re in a landlocked city, there’s still this expansive body of water that you can visit and interact with.
Their museums make you never want to leave.
Lastly, Chicago’s museums are some of my favorites because of the content of their exhibits as well as the design. The Museum of Science and Industry is one of the coolest museums in the world. It has a variety of exhibits, a mix of permanent and rotating. Some of its permanent exhibits are the coal mine, the U-505 submarine, and the space exhibit which includes the real Apollo 8 module!
Their other exhibits reveal the secret(s) to living to 100, explain how a bicycle can be made out of cardboard, and discuss crazy-sounding ideas like the Space Elevator. The museum is very interactive and covers so many topics that it’s hard to experience it all, even if you have an entire day. I recommend coming early as many of the exhibits sell out early!
Chicago is such a fun, delicious, friendly, and immersive city, yet it remains unassuming and I hope this post shows you why I loved it and why it surprised me that I loved it. In addition to all the places mentioned in this post, there are so many other things to see, like the comedy shows on relatable topics like online dating and the Art Institute of Chicago and its mini recreations of homes from different eras. It is a city that quietly seduces you to explore it further than the couple of days you may have originally given it. Chicago, I will be back for you!
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