Food & Drink

A Taste of Chicago: Culinary Adventures in the Windy City

A visit to Chicago reveals great restaurants in a city known for its incredible food.


For Christmas this year my lovely wife, Faith, surprised me with a generous gift: a getaway to Chicago, which included tickets to Hamilton, a suite in a posh hotel, airline tickets, and reservations for meals at some great restaurants. Chicago is an incredible food city and I thought I’d share some highlights from our visit with Utah Bites readers. 

Fans of “The Bear” television series might know that the sandwich shop that much of the story centers upon is based on a beloved Chicago institution called Mr. Beef. Christopher Storer – the creator of “The Bear” – has been friends with Mr. Beef owner Chris Zucchero since kindergarten and most of the sandwich shop scenes in the TV series were filmed at Mr. Beef. So naturally – as lovers of “The Bear” – Faith and I had to make the pilgrimage to Orleans Street in Chicago to experience Mr. Beef for ourselves. Thankfully, we got there early before the lunchtime line forms out on the sidewalk. I say “thankfully” because, foolishly, we chose to visit The Windy City in January, when the temps were in the single digits and the wind howling off of Lake Michigan made it feel like Arctic weather.  

Mr Beef Italian Beef Sandwich

Like many of the world’s greatest food spots, folks don’t line up to get into Mr. Beef for the ambiance. It’s a cash-only, no frills sandwich joint where just about everybody orders the same thing. Sure, they have all sorts of sub sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers and such, but what made Mr. Beef famous is their Italian beef sandwich ($9.50), which is piles of shaved oh-so tender roasted beef that is bathed in heavenly au jus and served on French bread with a choice of peppers, cheese, “dry” (not dipped in au jus) or “Extra Wet” (double-dipped in au jus). The Italian beef sandwiches at Mr. Beef are not very Instagram worthy, and they are definitely a messy affair, but an absolute must-try if you visit Chicago. 

Monteverde Tagliatelle Bolognese

We first learned about Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio while watching the Chicago episode of “Somebody Feed Phil” on Netflix, where host Phil Rosenthal was treated to many incredible dishes by owner/chef Sarah Gruenberg. At the heart of the restaurant is the Pastificio, where the Monteverde kitchen team creates fresh, handmade pastas throughout the day. Indeed, when we visited there were ladies making pasta on an elevated platform in the kitchen for guests to see. The motto of the restaurant is “Flour is power at Monteverde.” My hand-cut tagliatelle with three-meat Bolognese sauce ($28) was outstanding.

Texas Redfish Alla Plancha 

My wife is gluten-free, and although Monteverde does offer gluten-free pasta dishes she opted for a not-so-Italian piattini of Texas Redfish Alla Plancha ($32). It was a delicious seared redfish fillet served with roasted beets, Brussels sprouts, and coated with Calabrian chile crunch on a bed of whipped tahini, and topped with baby kale – a very unique and tasty dish.

After a very satisfying dinner at Monteverde, we weren’t quite ready to call it a night and strolled over to a really fun place that was recommended to us by the concierge at the Chicago Athletic Association Hyatt Hotel where we stayed: The Redhead Piano Bar. We had a ball at the piano bar, where I was able to stump the piano player by requesting a Warren Zevon tune. She knew none. Really? Not even “Hasten Down the Wind” or “Werewolves of London”? Nope. 

At The Museum of Illusions

During one of our afternoons in Chicago we visited the very fun Museum of Illusions – an immersive, visual, sensory and educational experience with room after room of mind-bending and eye-popping illusions. Set aside an hour or so to visit the Museum of Illusions if you visit Chicago. 


After visiting the Museum of Illusions we strolled down to Eataly – a foodie fun zone with gourmet groceries, a wine & spirits store, restaurants, tastings, hands-on classes, butcher shop, fishmonger, desserts, pasta counter, bakery, and much more. 

Eataly Margherita Pizza

Well, when in Rome (or Chicago), how could I resist ordering a Margherita pizza ($19) from Eataly’s La Pizza & La Pasta restaurant, which features Napoli-style pizza and artisanal pasta. My pizza was outstanding, made with simple but highest-quality ingredients: ‘00’ flour, San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, and buffalo mozzarella. 

Jose Andrés’ Bar Mar

Next stop on our Chicago culinary adventure was Bar Mar, a José Andrés establishment known for its impeccable seafood. For those who might not be familiar with him, José Andrés is a highly acclaimed chef and humanitarian known for his innovative culinary creations and philanthropic efforts, who rose to international culinary prominence through his avant-garde approach to Spanish cuisine. Beyond his culinary achievements, Andrés is a passionate advocate for food-related causes and disaster relief efforts. In particular, his organization, World Central Kitchen, has played a crucial role in providing meals to those affected by natural disasters and humanitarian crises around the globe. He is THE MAN in my culinary universe. 

Bar Mar Ceviche Classico

Among the array of dazzling dishes we enjoyed at Bar Mar was Ceviche Classico ($20), raw fish bathed in scrumptious leche de tigre, with sweet potato cubes, red onion slices, corn nuts, cilantro, and “sweety drops” – Andres’ sweet piquillo pepper confit. 

Bar Mar

Bar Mar offers guests a complete gluten-free menu, which my wife very much appreciated. I ordered a tasting menu of (mostly) small bites called “Snack Like José,” which is a steal, priced at a mere $65 for seven different dishes. Normally, everyone at the table is required to order the same tasting menu. So, we were very impressed and grateful for Bar Mar Manager Carlos Ardon, who bent over backwards to accommodate us by designing a special gluten-free tasting menu for Faith, on the spot. He did that so that the timing of our dishes – from two different tasting menus – would be in sync. Kudos to Carlos and the Bar Mar staff for their flexibility and exceptional hospitality.  

Bar Mar Salmon Veracruz

One of the highlights of Faith’s custom gluten-free tasting menu at Bar Mar was Salmon Veracruz ($28), a generous portion of seared salmon with a traditional Veracruz-style melange of tomatoes, capers and olives. A culinary bucket list item of mine has long been to dine in a José Andrés restaurant, and Bar Mar sure didn’t disappoint. It was a highlight of our Chicago eating spree. 

Frontera Grill

Prior to seeing the musical Hamilton we enjoyed brunch at Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill. Bayless is another of my culinary heroes – a cookbook author, TV chef, and restaurateur that is deeply steeped in, and knowledgeable about, Mexican cooking, and especially the cuisine of Oaxaca. 

La Frontera Chilaquiles with Guajillo

There were lots of tempting dishes for brunch/lunch at Frontera Grill, including Oaxacan-Style Carne Asada, Huevos Motuleños, Puebla-Style Enchiladas, Tacos Áribes, Dorado Encacahuatado, and much more. I eventually settled on a classic Mexican comfort food dish: Chilaquiles with Guajillo ($14), a quick-simmered tortilla “casserole,” with rich red guajillo chile sauce, homemade crema, aged Mexican cheese, avocado, a sunny side up egg, Bayless garden greens, and little gem salad. Chilaquiles magníficos!

James M. Nederlander Theatre

Hamilton was every bit as amazing as I thought it would be. Adding to the enjoyment of the marvelous musical was Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre itself, a historic venue that opened in 1926. The Oriental décor is a virtual art museum including large mosaics of an exotic prince and princess, an inner foyer with elephant-throne lighting and multicolored glazed Buddhas, and an auditorium of “hasheesh-dream design.” Should you attend a performance at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, I strongly recommend spending a little extra for tickets to the private lounge/bar which is a great place to linger before the performance and during intermission, with an open bar, buffet, and coat closet.

Acanto Restaurant & Wine Bar

For our final Chicago meal, we decided to dine at Acanto Restaurant & Wine Bar, which was just a few steps from our hotel. It was a solid choice, especially taking into consideration the sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds outside. We didn’t want to do much walking.  

Acanto Rabbit Confit & Rabbit Loin

The mostly Italian menu at Acanto features dishes such as Lobster Fusilli, Gnocchi al Forno, Agnolotti, Risotto, Meatball Bucatini, Polenta, Chicken Piccata and such. I almost never see rabbit on American restaurant menus and I’m not aware of a single Utah restaurant currently serving rabbit. So at Acanto, I leaped at the opportunity to enjoy an entree of Blue Ridge Farms Rabbit Leg Confit, Prosciutto-Wrapped Rabbit Loin, and Piemontese Giardiniera. It was extraordinary. 


As I said, Chicago is an excellent food town. Sadly, we ran out of time and meals before I got to sink my teeth into a genuine Chicago dog, Polish sausage or deep dish pizza. But, that gives me something to look forward to next time we visit The Windy City, right?  

Photos by Ted Scheffler

Culinary quote of the week: “For some Chicago expats, food is the medicine that blunts the pain of separation.” Mary Schmich

Feature Image: Photo courtesy of Max Bender on Unsplash.

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