With low-key cool hotels, excellent bars and a food scene that’ll have you reaching for a fork, the Windy City rivals the allure of New York and LA. These are some of the best places to eat and drink in Chicago.

Despite being home of the blues, house music, hot dogs and the Obamas (not listed in order of preference), Chicago has historically been overlooked by sister cities such as New York and LA. Yet the arrival of low-key cool hotel brands including the Hoxton and Shoreditch House has heralded a new era of fame and fortune for the Windy City and, much like its architecturally astounding skyscrapers, the only way is up. Overflowing with creativity and rife with a selection of excellent bars and restaurants, it leaves visitors with no option but to loosen that belt, grab a fork and dig in. ‘Tis the American way, after all.

Lou Malnati’s

Let’s start with a Chicagoan institution that may be a tricky concept to get your head round: deep dish pizza. Is it a pie? Is it a pizza? Is it a bird? In truth, it’s hard to tell, but everyone agrees that the only place to try it is Lou Malnati’s, which in testament to its legendary status is always filled wall-to-wall with a band of merry local punters. The pizza is buttery-crusted, caked in melted mozzarella and topped with homemade tomato sauce, and it’s vast – only the fittest and hungriest will polish off an entire portion.

Lula’s Café

Farm-to-table fare is big news in Chicago, forming the ethos of many of the city’s eateries. Lula’s Café is credited with spearheading the movement back in 1999, long before every well-to-do restaurateur cottoned on to the trend. Open all day but most famous for its brilliant brunch, dishes include complex but delicious combinations such as buckwheat crepes with turnip, spring onion, burrata and sunny eggs, and fregola and sunflower seed risotto with green peas, rapini, pecorino and poached egg. Pastries are homemade – and trust us, it’s well worth getting a plate to share.

Doughnut Vault

Not a day goes by in Chicago without hearing someone offer someone else a doughnut – a pertinent reminder of how a life well lived should be spent. One of the most popular spots is the teeny tiny Doughnut Vault in Downtown, which opens every day until it sells out – it pays to be hot off the mark here. With a crunchier crust than you’re probably accustomed to, the doughnuts come in flavours including buttermilk, pistachio, coconut cream, toasted almond, triple chocolate and lemon poppy seed, as well as specials served up on the day. Get down there early and revel in the glory of dessert for breakfast.

Lost Lake

Headed up by your guaranteed new girl-crush Shelby Allison and her partner, Paul McGee, Lost Lake is a tiki bar with unparalleled sass that took no time at all to become Logan Square’s most talked about kooky hangout. Rightly so, because the feel-good vibes here are matched only by the kitsch decor and the kaleidoscopic, plentiful cocktails pack enough punch to send you well on your way to wonky. For proof, try “This is the Way to Burn” – a concoction of scotch whisky, cognac and absinthe. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you. Also: best banana dolphins you’ll ever see.

Cabra

Located in the up-and-coming Fulton Market District and housed within The Hoxton, Cabra is a Peruvian-inspired cevicheria that quickly built a reputation as sizzling as its menu. Drawing on cuisine from Lima, Arequipa and Cusco, each plate is a lively embodiment of the flavours and verve of the city it was inspired by. Think anticuchos – marinated meats grilled over flames – and ceviche that spans from shrimp and salmon to snapper and even duck. Acclaimed chef Stephanie Izard is at the helm, so there should be no surprise that this place is the hottest ticket in town.

Green Mill

Once a favourite hangout of Al Capone and his cronies (legend has it that he reserved a booth near the bar so he could see who was entering both the front and back doors), the Green Mill is a speakeasy-style jazz club in Uptown. Open since the early 1900s, it has a palpable musical history, one which reverberates from the velvety walls. Diverse acts take to the stage every night, so turn up and immerse yourself in the soulful sound of the blues or the exhilarating lyricism of a poetry jam, all the while looking down the barrel of that strong, satisfying drink.

The Publican

Another hotspot in the heart of Fulton Market District, The Publican’s appeal swirls around its intriguing mix of seafood, pork and beer, which might sound like an improbable combination, but if you source the best possible produce in each category you’re onto a winner. More rustic than refined, this is the place to order hearty plates of food such as sockeye salmon, farm chicken and smoked pork shank alongside daily pickles, barbecued carrots and frites. There’s also an extensive list of beers that spans the globe (Boddingtons is a delicacy here, apparently) – so pick a country and do your worst. Also open for brunch at weekends.

Kingston Mines

With two stages for live music and a crowd which rides high on the low thrum of bass, Kingston Mines rightly deserves its crown as Chicago’s best blues club. Home to all kinds of blues greats over the years, it’s the sort of place you come to experience the true heart of this city’s extensive musical roots – following the beat rather than a well-established name. Head there on a Friday night and soak up the energy pulsing through the hordes of revellers – there’s nowhere with a buzz quite like it.

HaiSous

Located on the Lower West Side, HaiSous is a restaurant adored by both locals and foodies. Run by husband-and-wife team, Thai and Danielle Dang, this place is all about sensational Vietnamese flavours brought alive by generations of culinary prowess – Thai learned his trade first hand from his mother. Reserve a table for brunch at the weekend, then dive into the menu with gusto – the Cánh Gà Chiên (fried chicken wings with crispy garlic and steamed rice) and Bánh Xèo (crispy rice crepe, prawns, lettuce & herbs) are especially delicious. Don’t leave without trying the Vietnamese coffee, a creamy delight shot through with a zippy caffeine kick.

Boka

Open for over 15 years and still one of Chicago’s most talked-about restaurants, Boka is more than deserving of praise. A dimly-lit, leather-bound space situated in Lincoln Park, here seasonal American cuisine is presented with a Michelin-starred, modern twist. Beef tartare is dry aged and served chilled with cured egg yolk, and spring artichokes are marinated and served alongside burnt sunflower, endive and quince vinegar. Given the quality of food and experience it’s far less expensive than you’d expect, so save it till the last night and go out on a giddy high.

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