Adventuring Through Chicago’s Culinary Culture

Tom Malone/Adventure Tribune
Chicago is the United States’ central hub. Migrants from all parts of the country have flocked to the Windy City throughout its history during key periods of mass movement due to working opportunities in its railroads and shipyards at the base of Lake Michigan.

Since so many different cultures and peoples have migrated to Chicago, distinct neighborhood pockets like Little Italy have arisen. With the rise of culturally distinct neighborhoods comes something that everyone appreciates: awesome food.

On a recent adventure to Chicago, I found myself with an entire day to freely explore. I based my day mainly around where to stop for food. I research a few spots and set them as key stopping points during my day-long stroll of the city, but I also popped into a few restaurants and coffee shops on a whim. Every place I stopped had its own flavor, culture, and vibe. Here’s what I found:

Intelligentsia Coffee
Stroll into Old Town Chicago to this hipster coffee shop the echos Portland’s local cafe scene. Old Town has recently received a total renovation, and this coffee shop is the posterchild for new Old Town. Their cappuccino was excellent. I ordered it to go, but it didn't come with a lid because they encourage you to sit and enjoy your time at the cafe rather than motoring off with your coffee. They made this easy with their atmosphere; Chance the Rapper’s entire Coloring Book album played during my stop.

Orso’s Italian Restaurant
The last great remaining restaurant in Old Town, Orso’s has been family-owned and unchanged since the 1960s. Their angel hair pasta is incredible, their tap selection illuminates Chicago’s craft brew scene, and their house-made lemoncello will leave you loving Orso’s. Ask the bartender about what Orso’s remembers from Old Town’s shady past; apparently Wells Street was Chicago’s Red Light District in the 60s and 70s.

Halligan Bar
Formerly owned by the infamous gangster,Bugs Moran, this Irish bar sits at the apex of a triangular street corner. The modern bar has only been in operation since 2001, but the history of the building is worth the stop. Visit ti during the daytime if you want a casual bar stop, as it can get a little rody during the evening.

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder
Rumor has it that Al Capone’s guys waited at this location across the street from Moran’s headquarters to scout the scene before the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Nowadays, this restaurant serves this incredible concoction called a “Pizza Pot Pie” that’s just as filling and awesome as it sounds: cheese, sausage, mushrooms, and suace pilled into a deep, thin-crusted bowl. Be prepared: they only take cash. And, the wait will be ridiculously long, but entirely worth it.

Vanille Patisserie
Located near the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, this would be an ideal stop before February 14th. Pick up a delicious cupcake with a fudge center, or a personal cheesecake on your way home. Their coffees are awesome as well.

Argo Tea Cafe
The Chicago Tribune Tower is the quintessential symbol of old Chicago. Its 1920-esque neo-gothic towers and spires harken back to the glory of old newspapers. Enter into its lower level and grab a coffee or tea at this quaint, bright cafe. Their vast tea selection is vast, but the staff is helpful and relaxed, which surprised me, since its location is right in the heart of Chicago's hustle and bustle.

Illinois Bar and Grill
If you’re looking for some solid pub food, Illinois Bar and Grill is the spot. Order a one-pound burger with your standard toppings done the right way. A side basket of fries and a local Colorado brew will top off your order. The original wood paneling and old-world Chicago photos give the place an Old Chicago ambiance.

Next time you’re in Chicago, check out any of these food spots and enjoy the thriving Midwest cultural food scene. Let us know what other locations we need to visit on our next adventure to the Windy City.


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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