There's more to experience in Chicago than any one weekend can allow, many people go for its architecture but I went for its food. And it'd take me many more weekends to get a true sense of what the city has to offer, alas, I only had two days so I scoured online and asked for recommendations, but I think the best way to experience the city is to crash with a friend and hijack their weekend. I was fortunate enough to stay with a friend (thanks Josh) who enjoys food as much as I do, and despite only having lived in Chicago for a year he was well versed in where to go and what to eat. So that's what we did.
I arrived late in on a Thursday with reservations at The Aviary, a theater of cocktails that go beyond a shaker and artisanal ingredients. It's not a cheap place to drink, with cocktails no less than $18 and upwards of $29, but it's also no place you'll often experience. I like to imagine that each cocktail took weeks of craftsmanship and thought, with mushrooms, caramelized onions and plastic bags on the ingredients list it's a little out there but extremely entertaining and sophisticated. That plastic bag, the Rum Manhattan with fenugreek, cacao, sherry served in a sealed plastic bag smoked, the server will cut open the bag at your table and the aroma will pour out. It's all part of the experience and justifies the $29, or so we like to think. I didn't take any photos at The Aviary, I'm not sure it has a no-photo policy but it wasn't the place to spend staring into a screen, it's a place to be enjoyed. There are plenty of pictures to give you a sense on their website. Reservations are required, pre-booked 30 days in advance.
Brunch took us to Dove's Luncheonette, an American diner with a Mexican themed menu and a mezcal bar, wrap your head around that one. Do, because you'll want to add this to your list of places to go and when you do you'll want to order the Chicken Fried Chicken, perfectly juicy and crisp, smothered in a chorizo verde gravy with peas and pearl onions. Yes, the chicken is the dish, but the star is the gravy, creamy with enough heat to balance and bring the whole dish together. As a diner the menu doesn't differ between dinner and brunch, so eggs are available all day - the Enchilada Con Pollo, smoked chicken wrapped in corn tortillas in a mole sauce with all the usual fixings of cilantro, peppers and lime. Served neatly on a cast iron pan.
The famed burger at Au Cheval took us to the West Loop for our next stop, but a 2-hour wait with no guarantee to be seated was not something my stomach could handle, a walk around the neighborhood and we stumbled upon Green Street Smoked Meats (a sister restaurant of Au Cheval.) A re-purposed warehouse full of string lights and Edison bulbs, GSSM's is a BBQ lovers dream, with pork both pulled and belly, brisket, short-rib, salmon, chicken... the list goes on, all smoked and roasted in-house. It's a weigh and pay system, and you can get easily carried away but it's well worth it. Go with a crowd, order between you and enjoy a PBR. The music was great too, Lionel Richie anyone!
More has been said about Fat Rice than I can possibly describe, this Macanese restaurant is a melting-pot of Southeast Asian and Portuguese inspired dishes. It's a tiny restaurant with limited space but it's got more charm and character than any place you could visit, my idea of the perfect mom-and-pop shop. It's menu is small but packs a punch, if you're a lover of Asian food then you're going to be very happy here. The Po Kok Gai (Portuguese chicken) is an excellent sharing dish, as is most on the menu, a coconut curry with chicken, potatoes and chorizo. I think the Tacho was our tables favorite, a bowl full of everything - of the meat side it has sausage, beef, duck and chicken and on the veggie side it has mushrooms, daikon, cabbage and sweet potato in a broth. No bite to the Tacho is the same as the one before, it has the ability to provide you with something new to the very end. Fat Rice is in a sort of no-mans land, if you can't get a reservation (which we didn't) you can hedge your bets and walk-in, there's no bar for you to wait at so in the winter months it's not ideal as you're having to walk a few blocks to the nearest bar.
Of course a trip to Chicago isn't complete without a slice of pie, we ordered in Giordanos and it was everything I needed to be, and thankful nothing comes close to it in DC. The highlight of the trip was visiting Lagunitas Brewing Company for a brewery tour, it's a massive place but has an awesome bar with as much beer as you can dare to drink.