City Guide: Beyond Pizza / an insider’s source list for IFT in Chicago

Our stomachs grumble loudly in anticipation of our upcoming visit to Chicago for IFT. With more than 7300 restaurants, Chicago has more than its fair share of fine dining, hot dog and burger joints, cocktail emporiums and ethnic restaurants.

So how does one choose among this plethora of gastronomy delights? You pick the brains of locals for places you definitely should add to your Evernote or GoogleMap for a visit to the Windy City. Here are our picks, guaranteed to feed your stomachs and souls. But, don’t bother looking for any traditional pizza advice…we figure you’ve had your fair share of Chicago style pies and well, we know you’re smart. Just start counting in Italian.



  • Chicago Waffle The timeless staples along with some innovative combos, Chicago Waffle makes us hungry just thinking about it. Try a Cheddar and Short Rib Waffle, a Waffle Sandwich or for something deliciously decadent, the Red Velvet Waffle topped with vanilla, cream cheese, fresh strawberries and chocolate sauce. These aren’t mom’s waffles.
  • Stax In Chicago’s Little Italy, not far from McCormick Place, is Stax. Italian inspired and American portions, the chocolate chip bacon pancakes are worth waking up for and the Parma Prosciutto Bennie puts an Italian spin on things with griddled polenta cakes subbing for the English muffin.

ON THE BUN / where we go for a burger

  • Hackney’s  “A classic since 1939,” order the Hackney Burger. Juicy top quality beef sandwiched between 2 slices of dark rye bread and cheddar. A Chicago classic with several locations and a tap menu to rival the coolest club.
  • Au Cheval   We can’t really talk burgers without talking about the award winning best burger in the country. Voted by Bon Appetit as the Best Burger in America/ 2012, Au Cheval’s single or double burgers rest on the menu humbly with no acclaim. You might even pass them over there is so little pomp, circumstance or nary a bold faced type. With waiting lines up to 3 hours long post award, we highly recommend a visit in the off hours. Serving late every night, with a “strong drink menu” that’ll put hair on your chest, Au Cheval is the place to go after walking for hours around the convention floor.
  • Grange Hall Burger Bar A burger joint that we are only guessing Millennials frequent with its Mason jar beverages and grass fed beef, Grange Hall has also had its share of burger awards. Recently recognized by Fodor’s and HuffPost as one of the 10 best burgers in America, Grange Hall is on the near west side and deserves a spot in your belly.

THE FAME OF IT ALL / chefs, sports legends, and celebrity owned spots

  • David Burke’s Primehouse  With USDA prime grade, hand selected beef aged in an Himalayan salt tiled aging room, you had us at beef. The first chef to own his own bull, New York celebrity chef David Burke has made an imprint on this beef crazed town.  The 40 Day Rib eye has been lauded the best steak in Chicago by Serious Eats and the 55 Day one is dubbed the Best Dry-Aged Steak by Chicago Magazine. It says so – right on the menu.
  • Girl and the Goat / Little Goat  First female winner of Top Chef, Stephanie Izzard is the essence of cool. Her flagship restaurant Girl and the Goat transforms goat to filet company, and its younger sibling, Little Goat, right across the street, takes diner to a whole new level. With hand crafted cocktails and amazing homemade breads so good at both locations, Izzard was compelled to open Little Goat Bread. Immerse yourself in the Masa Nachos at Little Goat – you will not be sorry. If you go anywhere, GO HERE (but make a reservation).
  • RPM Italian / RPM Steak  Chicago raised Bill Rancic and his wife, E! reporter, Guiliana Rancic’s two restaurants are testaments to their love of his city and her heritage. The original RPM Italian is famous for its meatballs and RPM Steak is as good as you will find in Chicago’s finest chop houses.
  • Ditka’s  Maybe it should be classified as a classic, there’s no denying that former Bears Super Bowl Winning coach, Mike Ditka, has capitalized on his sports fame. Whether tempted by the Da’ Pork Chop or The Fridge Burger, you will enjoy this clubby icon and even find a kale salad as well.
  • Harry Caray’s  Beloved Cubs announcer Harry Caray’s goldmine has many celebrity investors including 3 time Stanley Cup winner Patrick Kane. Come for the star attraction (you might see a Blackhawk!), stay for the Chicken Vesuvio – it’ll rock your taste buds.
  • Frontera Grill / Topolobampo  Maybe you knew who Rick Bayless was before appearing on Top Chef Masters but after he won in 2009, we’re sure you did. Known for creating one of America’s first fine-dining Mexican restaurants, Bayless’ Topolobampo is a must visit. Feeling indulgent? The Perfect 7 is a seven course masterpiece emotion inspired concert with courses like Desire, Exuberant and Comfort, just to name a few.

New Classics / no pizza here!

  • MFK  Named one Chicago’s top restaurants of 2015 by Chicago Magazine, MFK is what happens when two restaurateurs travel to the Mediterranean and come home hungry. You will be feeling like you are sitting in a seaside cafe in the Costa del Sol while you dip crusty bread into the juices of spicy chili shrimp.
  • The Aviary  Only cocktails but cocktails unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Part theater, part artistry, The Aviary is where “cocktails and service are given the same attention as a four-star restaurant.” Not surprising from Grant Aschatz of Alinea fame.
  • Mercat a la Planxa   If you’re staying at the Blackstone Renaissance, consider yourself beyond lucky. Tucked inside is this gorgeous tapas gem guaranteed to transport you to Barcelona.

Fresh Air / al fresco spots

  • ROOF on the Wit  Nosh on some artisan pizzas and cheeses while perched atop The Wit Hotel in the heart of the theater district. “Above it all.”
  • NoMi Garden  Head further north up the Mag Mile to the swanky Park Hyatt and take the elevator up to NoMi, one of Chicago’s best restaurants. But the real hero is the rooftop lounge for signature cocktails, sushi, meats and cheeses.


Whew…what a list! Just think there are only 7250 more or so to tackle! Regardless, you are going to be incredibly full, popular with your colleagues, and beyond happy. You’re an honorary insider of Chicago. Stop by and visit us at Booth #2850. And save some room for few of our umami truffles.