Eating out in neighbourhood Chicago

by Emma.Sturgess

Chicago’s neighbourhoods are part of its charm – and while you’re there, you might as well eat

Downtown Chicago’s shopping, architecture and museums are a huge draw, and some of the big-name restaurants are here too. Getting out of the Loop reaps its own rewards, however. A short hop on the bus or train and you could be eating haute cuisine, fried chicken or chips dipped in garlic mayo, and walking it off in the neighbourhood.
 
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: LINCOLN PARK
On the north side of the city, overlooking Lake Michigan, Lincoln Park is respectable but laidback.
The restaurant: Charlie Trotter’s
The crown prince of Chicago fine dining is universally acknowledged as a bit of a talent, and his eponymous restaurant has been on Restaurant magazine’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list since it began in 2002. Dinner in this elegant double-fronted restaurant is not to be rushed; it runs at around eight courses from a beautifully-balanced tasting menu. There aren’t any smoke and mirror gastro-tricks, but Chef Trotter’s fondness for the unusual means there’ll be at least one element – an underused grain or crazy Japanese mushroom, perhaps - you’ve never tried before. Trotter’s tops the budget, but it’s a classic fine dining experience and service is silky-smooth.
What else can we do?
Ten minutes’ walk from Trotter’s, Lincoln Park Zoo is extensive, popular and free. They’ve got the lot, from big cats to tiny monkeys, and research programmes based here include a world-class ape science centre. For kids who want to meet the animals, there’s a small, very sweet farm, and the park itself allows plenty of space for lakeside wanderings.
 
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: ANDERSONVILLE
Once a cherry orchard, this northern suburb retains the Swedish character brought with its first residents.
The restaurant: The Hopleaf
It doesn’t matter how old you look, the Hopleaf will ask for ID. This is first and foremost a ‘tavern’ and they take their beers seriously, though customers are encouraged to enjoy trying the extensive draught and bottle selection rather than analysing them to death. Goose Island is the Chicago brewhouse of choice, though since their ales are available elsewhere in the city, you might prefer to go for something obscure. Food is far from playing second fiddle. The mussels, steamed with alcoholic aromatics and served with crunchy fries and plenty of aioli, are an attraction in themselves.
What else can we do?
Enjoy the bizarre Swedishness of the place. Andersonville boasts that it feels like a ‘quaint village in the middle of a world-class city’, and it’s a fair self-assessment, especially during Midsommarfest, the street party that will be 44 this year. It’s an inclusive, offbeat neighbourhood, with gay, middle eastern and Hispanic communities having added to the mix, and there are plenty of alternative bookshops, Swedish cake-masters and knick-knack emporia to browse. The Swedish American Museum is here, too.
 
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: EAST GARFIELD PARK
Part of Chicago’s west side, Garfield Park is a tough working-class neighbourhood that houses a sparkling botanist’s dream
The restaurant: Edna’s
A few dollars buys one of the most satisfying food experiences in the city, courtesy of Edna Stewart’s fried chicken and buttered biscuits. The restaurant has been here for more than 30 years and the soul food is prepared, to order, with practised ease. You’ll wait around half an hour for fried white or dark chicken that knocks most pretenders into a cocked hat. Sides like collard greens, okra and coleslaw sound like a great idea at the time, but try to leave room for peach cobbler, or one of the layer cakes on the counter. Fans of retro Americana will enjoy the decor.
What else can we do?
Not far from Edna’s, Garfield Park Conservatory is a series of huge, steamy glasshouses, offering a diversion from the gritty surrounds. The exhibits cover 3.5 acres, and while summer brings extraordinarily colourful displays, the plain greenery is pretty impressive too. The fern room and palm house boast huge, sculptural planting, and the desert house focuses the mind on climate change with a fascinating array of spiky cacti. For the food-minded, though, the sweet house is the treat. Given the tempting array of cacao beans, sugar canes, figs, pineapples, coconuts, vanilla and cinnamon, it’s best to keep your hands in your pockets so you don’t pick something.
 

Recommendations

Where to stay
Chi-town's two W hotels have a trademark air of contemporary luxe. The city centre property is handy for must-do Sears Tower and the grand, extensive Art Institute, and the Lakeshore hotel has a pool with a view and an outpost of the famous Bliss spa. 
 
The James, slap-bang handy for the shopping district, is sleekly styled and proud of it. Downstairs, David Burke's Primehouse continues in the great Chicago tradition of steakhouse grills'n'thrills.
 

Emma.Sturgess

Give or take the odd stint in restaurant kitchens, I've been a food and travel writer all my working life. I love the thrill of taking off for Las Vegas or peering into the shiniest shop windows in Lyon, but for me there's no place like the UK, and in particular the North's grand cities. I write for The Guardian and Food and Travel Magazine and contribute to many guides and books. 

Covering Liverpool lifestyle, arts and ents stories for the commuter newspaper Metro's North West edition gave me a chance to reaquaint myself with the grown-up side of a city I knew from childhood visits. As a kid, the greatest thrill of a trip to Liverpool was the chance to see Fred the TV weatherman's huge map floating in the Albert Dock like a bizarre waterlily. Now I live close enough to go anytime and am tall enough to see the bigger picture, it's the scale of the place - the sweeping Mersey vista, towering Anglican cathedral and rewarding clamber to the Georgian terraces - that's the real draw. Add the possibility of acquiring a decent flat white - a fairly recent phenomenon - and it all falls wonderfully into place.

My Liverpool

Where I always grab a coffee: Bold Street Coffee strikes a pleasant balance between self-conscious cool (there’s vinyl and turntables behind the bar) and an inclusive vibe. They take their hot drinks seriously.

My favourite dining spot: For sheer mind-boggling, multisensory genius, Marc Wilkinson’s Michelin-starred restaurant Fraiche is a short cab ride over to Oxton, and worth every tick of the meter.

Best place for people watching: Take a seat on Church Street and watch the world and his wife pass by.

Where to be seen: Prop up the curvy blue-lit bar at San Carlo and you’re likely to be sandwiched between celebrities.

Most breathtaking view: The Panoramic restaurant, on the 34th floor of Beetham’s West Tower, has extraordinary views all the way to Wales. It’s glorious at night.

My favourite stroll: Liverpool’s waterfront never seems to be quite finished, but a walk around the Albert Dock, particularly the riverside path, offers historical perspective and cobweb-clearing in one.

The best spot for peace and quiet: St James’ Garden is a sunken green space in the quarry whose stone built much of the city centre. It used to be a cemetery – don’t trip over the gravestones.

Where I’d go on a date: To see something at the Everyman theatre. Shakespeare or a visiting comedian? Depends on the date.

The best shopping opportunities: The Liverpool ONE development keeps attracting interesting new tenants, but for shiny geegaws, don’t forget Chinatown. 

Don’t leave without: Humming a bit of The Beatles.