The Food Lover’s Guide to Chicago

Our best attempt to catalog the city’s finest food and where to get it—from great butchers to a tiny Mexican cremería in Pilsen. As lists go, this one is not nearly comprehensive enough, but you won’t find a better place to start.

Photo: Linda Rosewall

We started with a cornucopia of choices-a rich menu of purveyors offering fresh and wonderful food. After asking around, investigating, and eating (way too much), we whittled a huge list down to the destinations you’ll find here: truly top-notch butchers, sausage makers, fishmongers, cheese boutiques, produce specialists, ethnic grocers, and wine shops. Of course, there are other outstanding places. (We reluctantly left out some perennial favorites such as Bari Foods on Grand Avenue, and steered clear of Whole Foods in favor of lesser-known entities.) But we think this is a great place to start a culinary adventure.

MEAT
Loftominiums and art galleries have replaced the city’s stockyards, but it’s not hard to find a beautiful bone-in porterhouse, dry-aged rack of lamb, or a whole suckling pig for roasting on a spit over an open fire at your next luau-you just have to know where to look. Start with these grade-A butchers.

SEAFOOD
Far from the ocean but close to prime Great Lakes fishing grounds-and blessed with the world’s second-busiest airport-Chicago is home to a handful of dedicated fishmongers who are maniacal about freshness and diversity of product. Pork and beef may still be king here, but you’d never know it inside these shops.

CHEESE
We hankered for a hunk of cheese-the transcendent kind handcrafted from the unpasteurized nectar of cow, goat, and sheep. And we found it. The best cheesemongers don’t just peddle great cheese. They coddle their edible treasures and cut to order from the wheel or block-all in an effort to ensure the slice is right.

PRODUCE
When it comes to judging the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables, the trick is figuring out which store handpicks the stock, takes in frequent deliveries, regularly weeds out the stuff gone bad, and heeds the tastes of its shoppers. These destinations-including our favorite summertime farmers’ market-rate high.

ETHNIC GROCERS
Every Chicago neighborhood worth its salt (sea, kosher, pickling, or otherwise) is home to an ethnic market or two-from mom-and-pop Mexican mercados in Little Village and Polish delis on the Northwest Side to the all-encompassing new breed of ethnic superstore. We surveyed a slew; here, the best destinations.

BREAD
Nine loaves we love plus the best bagel in town and a darn good pretzel roll. Where to find them.

WINE
The dominance of Chicago’s established wine sellers-Sam’s, Binny’s, Knightsbridge-shouldn’t preclude a jaunt to one of the city’s specialty boutiques, which pride themselves on their eclectic collections, civilized themed tastings, and articulate, opinionated staffers. Here, five excellent new merchants to try

Reported and written by Kim Conte, Miriam Gottfried, Jennifer Tanaka, Shane Tritsch, Cassie Walker, Jennifer Wehunt, and Nathaniel Zimmer

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