Illinois sits squarely in America’s heartland, the Midwest. Best put, it’s simple, hearty food with an emphasis on meat and potatoes. Naturally, in Chicago the culinary scene takes on a creative global direction, with an incredible variety of restaurants to go with its famous steak houses, deep dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs (no ketchup!). The Windy City is where nearly all of the state’s nightlife is centered, from its own take on the blues to slick lounges, wine bars, and laid-back neighborhood taverns.
Bars and Pubbing in Illinois
Nearly all noteworthy nightlife in Illinois resides in Chicago, a city that rivals New York, Boston and LA for diverse and lively evening entertainment. This is the home of the electrified Chicago blues, and music provides a large part of the night scene, especially in Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, and Lakeview. Chicago hotels are also reliable good spots for a drink, from established haunts like the iconic Pump Room (1301 N. State, Chicago) in the Ian Schrager Hotel to the red hot Roof (201 N. State Street, Chicago) in the Wit.
Check out Miller’s Pub (134 S. Wabash Ave, Chicago) for a chill downtown cocktail vibe which has been going strong since the 1930’s. Live music acts of all kinds play at the Park West (322 W. Armitage Ave, Chicago), the Riviera (4746 N. Racine Ave, Chicago), and the Vic Theater (3145 N. Sheffield Ave, Chicago). Buddy Guy’s Legends (700 S. Wabash Ave, Chicago) is a sure bet for live blues, while the Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway Ave, Chicago) has been dishing up hot jazz for decades, famous throughout Illinois.
Illinois’ capital, Springfield, has its share of city bars like Floyd’s Thirst Parlor (210 S. 5th Street, Springfield) and Marlys (9 Old State Capital Plaza, Springfield), but pales in comparison to Chicago’s bar scene. Evanston, the suburb where Northwestern University is located also has its share of college bars like Tommy Nevin’s Pub (1454 Sherman Ave. Evanston). Outside of downtown Chi-town, there is little more than quiet, small-town bars, the occasional craft brewpub, and perhaps a live music theater. Bars in Illinois usually have last call at around 2:00 a.m., but you can find a few 4 a.m. spots if you’re looking to keep the party going.
Dining and Cuisine in Illinois
The Midwest loves its comfort food, and this means meat, potatoes and vegetables. Though perhaps not particularly creative, Illinois food is certainly filling and usually quite tasty. To find any real diversity of dining you need to head to Chicago, one of the culinary capitals of the US, although the capital, Springfield, is home to the state’s famous horseshoe sandwich: two burgers on toast covered in fries and cheese sauce. The Feed Store (516 E. Adams Street, Springfield) is a good place to try this fattening creation. The chili here is also legendary, especially at Joe Roger’s Chili (820 S. 9th Street, Springfield).
Chicago has been a haven for incredible steak houses for nearly two centuries. Head to Gibson’s Bar and Steakhouse (1028 N. Rush Street, Chicago) or Chicago Cut Steakhouse (300 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago) to dig into some serious slabs of meat. Deep dish pizza is another Chicago staple, best enjoyed at Gino’s East (633 N. Wells Street, Chicago), a city institution. Then of course, there’s the famous Chicago-style hot dog made with celery salt sans ketchup that can be found at Portillo’s, a delicious chain around Illinois with equally indulgent cheese fries, chocolate cake and salads if you’re looking to eat healthier. Another must is the Italian Beef sandwich, readily available from Al’s Beef, located around the city.
The ethnic and American contemporary dining scene in Chicago is equally impressive, and can be dirt cheap or five-star. Alinea (1723 N. Halsted Street, Chicago) pioneered the concept of molecular gastronomy and is regularly listed as a top 10 restaurant in the world, requiring reservations months in advance. Owned by world-renowned chef Grant Achatz who lost his sense of taste to tongue cancer, the team opened their second restaurant Next (953 W. Fulton Market, Chicago), this year, which completely changes concepts and menus quarterly and requires purchasing advanced tickets to dine priced on a sliding scale based on the day and time much like a sporting event.
Another one of Illinois’ celebrity chefs is Rick Bayless, who owns several Mexican restaurants around town from the high-end Topolobampo (445 N. Clark) to the more relaxed torta spot XOCO (449 N. Clark). If you don’t feel like waiting in a line around the block, you can also get his food at the airport. And for sure don’t leave the city without trying Top Chef Winner, Stephanie Izard’s red-hot Girl and the Goat (809 W. Randoph) for diverse small plates.
Mind-blowing Thai can be found at Arun’s (4156 N. Kedzie Ave, Chicago), and rustic Italian at Spiaggia (980 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago). Greektown is loaded with tasty tavernas, while Chicago’s Little Italy is one of America’s best. The large Polish population dines at Red Apple (3121 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago), and Chinatown is always reliable for dim sum and Cantonese classics.