Check out these latest dining trends that keep Chicago abuzz while keeping the food scene fresh. Groups will love the experience of trying something new together – here are a few places to begin.
Chicago has never lacked great deep fried chicken, but this trend has really gained momentum over the last few months as folks embrace the crispy, battered goodness. Honey Butter Fried Chicken opened in 2013 and has been bustling with activity ever since. The chefs and owners use locally raised poultry and serve each chicken dinner with a pat of namesake honey butter.
Traditional Southern heirloom cuisine can be found at Big Jones. Here, you can dive into a fried chicken dinner that includes a generous serving of crispy chicken, a warm biscuit, cornbread, mashed potatoes and gravy, red beans and rice, and banana pudding, all served family style. Another great option is Heaven on Seven, which brings a bit of a cajun twist on fried chicken with its Southern Fried Chicken Po' Boy Sandwich and Cajun Fried Chicken Bites.
Shareable plates are all the rage nowadays, making it easy for groups to try small bites of everything. Many restaurants in Chicago offer small plates, and some of the best are centered around Spanish Tapas. Bib Gourmand winner Mercat a la Planxa, located in the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, gives you a culinary tour of Barcelona through plates such as empanada de verde (plantains, spinach, manchego cheese and piquillo artichoke escabeche) and gambas and chorizo flatbread (shrimp, chorizo, garbanzo bean puree, tomato excabeche and manchego cheese).
Shareable is the focus of Cicchetti, an Italian restaurant serving small plates that are a staple in Venetian restaurants. The tastes of Italy come together in plates such as aged hangar steak carpaccio with cauliflower and raisin caper aioli, and bruschetta assortite topped with duck liver, pork belly or tuna conserva.
A staple of Japanese cuisine, ramen noodles have been around forever, but only just started causing a buzz around the city in the last year.Urban Belly is known as one of the original purveyors of Chicago ramen, creating a higher-end version of the noodle for diners. You'll find it hard not to gobble up the Urbanbelly Ramen, made with braised pork belly, mushrooms and eggs.
The name says it all at Slurping Turtle, where diners gulp down bowls of delicious noodles. Order the Tonkotsu with homemade noodles, pork broth, pork chashu, bok choy, pickled mustard greens and braised woodear mushrooms. Or spice things up at Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar with the spicy pigtail ramen, with homemade ramen, pickled cucumber, pickled chili, fried onion, tofu, poached egg and nappa cabbage. In Wicker Park, the go-to spot is Oiistar, which boasts variations on its ramen, such as one with mussels and “pozolmen,” pork loin ramen with a spicy pico de gallo.
Fresh, local ingredients are featured prominently on many restaurant menus in Chicago. Farm-to-table is a popular food trend in the city, and visitors can find impressive, creative dishes all over town. Homestead offers diners a large rooftop that overlooks the outdoor farm and hanging garden, where ingredients are grown fresh and picked daily. The fresh trend rules at Siena Tavern, the Italian restaurant from "Top Chef" alum Fabio Viviani that serves up from-scratch delicacies with ingredients grown in the wall gardens.
Gourmet, artisinal donuts reign supreme among the sweet-food trends, and there are a number of places around Chicago where visitors can indulge. Glazed & Infused has a few locations around the city and serves up handcrafted, re-imagined versions of classic donuts. Bite into a Crunchy PB & J, a peanut butter glazed bismark, filled with mix berry jam; or enjoy the decadent Chocolate4, chocolate cake donut covered in chocolate ganache, white chocolate pearls and dark chocolate shavings.
If your group is exploring the Loop, make a stop at Do-Rite Donuts and grab a Candied Maple Bacon or Pistachio-Meye Lemon donut, just two of the varieties available daily. For Sunday brunch, Nightwood Restaurant offers a rotating selection of donuts based on the season. The bacon butterscotch has popped up on more than one occassion, and other flavors have included vanilla custard with a pinapple glaze and candided ginger.
Distilleries and cocktail bars are popping up all over Chicago, shaking things up with unique blends and colorful drinks. At The Violet Hour, a James Beard nominee, you can slow down, enjoy the ambiance and savor the impeccably crafted cocktails. Try the Grizzly Eve or The Tempest Wild and appreciate the intricacies that make this one of Chicago’s top cocktail bars.
Jimmy, inside The James Chicago, is modeled after the 1970s, with plush seats, walnut paneling and chrome details. Sip on cinema-inspired drinks like the Bondsman and Evening in Paris, while noshing on a bar menu of small bites. CH Distillery is both a distillery and a cocktail bar. The bar makes vodka, gin, rum, whiskey and bourbon onsite, and showcases these liquors in its distinctive cocktails. You can also take a tour of the distillery and see how it’s all done.
A STAPLE: CHICAGO DEEP-DISH PIZZA
There is a reason these famous Chicago classics are still around – they are delicious! Digging into a slice of gooey, hot, Chicago deep-dish pizza should be experienced around a big table with the entire group. Head to The Original Gino's East of Chicago for an amazing pizza, like the Chicago Fire pie topped with patty-style hot sausage. Or head to the family-owned Lou Malnati's Pizzeria for their hand-selected ingredients on legendary pies like the Malnati Chicago Classic comprised of sausage and extra cheese on their signature buttercrust. Read more about Chicago food staples like Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef.