@FoodPorn’s 5 Most Droolworthy Chicago Restaurants
As you may know, I am the executive producer on FYI Network’s new show “Food Porn.” There are more than 50 million Instagram posts, using the hashtag “#foodporn,” and the phrase is tagged on Twitter about every two seconds. The show seeks out the most popular #FoodPorn dishes nationwide to bring you the best of the best on your TV screen every Thursday at 9/8c.
I love Chicago and honestly believe it is one of the best places to indulge in some Insta-worthy grub. I’m obsessed with Ted Constan’s @FoodPorn Twitter and asked him to give us his picks for best restaurants in the Windy City.
Take it away Ted…
“Welcome to My Chicago. As a renowned food mecca, Chicago is saturated with highly acclaimed restaurants, so it’s not difficult to find a great meal even with just a little bit of research. It is also not difficult to spend a lot of money doing so. This is where I come in. My Chicago does not include the obvious choices you will find on Fodor’s or lists of internationally recognized restaurants, because that would be not only be redundant, but unattainable to most (I’m looking at you, Alinea). This is the real person’s guide to the best of everything. Sort of a restaurant list for those that suffer the same affliction as me: Champagne taste with craft beer money.
If you’re looking for gastrofare, this is the place to go. The Gastro Pub concept was a trendy movement which resulted in several of these types of restaurants to pop up in Chicago, but none of them do it better than Longman & Eagle. Located in the unassuming neighborhood of Logan Square, it is one my favorite places to take a reasonably sized group of true food lovers who won’t shy from the unconventional. This allows us to look at the entire menu and simply say “yes!” (as in “Yes! I will take one of everything!”). Self proclaimed as “farm to table, nose to tail… represented lovingly by ever changing menus that are both adventurous and sublime”, every adaptation of their menu remains true to this description.
Some menu items change seasonally, and others remain all year. I have a few staples here: my night usually kicks off with scotch flights and a few small plates, such as the Bone Marrow with Bacon Shallot Jam, the Pig’s Head and the Braised Pork Cheek. Every entree that I have had has stood out, but since they change the menu so frequently, I will mention one item in particular that I always order, which, lucky for me (and for you), is always on the menu. The Wild Boar Sloppy Joe with Crispy Sage, Onion, Pickled Jalapeño, on a House made Sesame Seed Bun, with Beef Fat Fries is that staple. It’s delicious, and it’s the kind of dish that you could have gone out, killed yourself and dragged home to cook. It makes you feel like a real man. And in the event you haven’t caught on yet, I really do fancy the swine.
Chicago is home to some of the best Italian food this side of the pond. La Scarola is where the locals get their favorite Italian dishes. Decorated wall-to-wall with portraits of celebrities posing with the owners, Joey and Armando; you’re in the company of some of Hollywood’s greats.
This is not the trendy Italian place with a mixologist behind the bar or “raviolo” on the menu (if you don’t speak Italiano, that would be the singular of “ravioli”. One “raviolo,”… for the table?!?). This is the type of place that stimulates all of your senses upon walking in: you get hit by the smell of food cooking in the kitchen, you hear the clatter of plates and the staff talking loudly at each other. You are greeted with a warm smile and a cozy table. The wine is served in those short wine glasses that remind you of the old country. No frills, no BS. Just they way I like it!
Whether you’re looking for an amazing Veal Chop (that’s bigger than your face) or pasta dishes like the Penne alla Vodka that keep you eating well after you’re sated, La Scarola’s menu is stacked with authentic, rustic, homemade dishes. My experience is never complete unless I start my meal with a bowl of their famous Pasta E Fagiole, and have the server remind me “Don’t forget the parmesan!”
La Scarola is the kind of restaurant where all of the regulars know each other and everyone looks like they are sitting down for a family and friends dinner. You won’t be surrounded by people hypnotized by the glow of a smartphone, but caught up in friendly conversation over good wine and amazing food.
Chicago is a city with a breakfast diner or restaurant on nearly every other block. Finding the best breakfast joint can be an expensive and exhausting feat. Luckily for you, I’ve spent years researching this subject, because I love brunch more than just about anything. If you’re looking for champagne mimosas and bottomless Bloody Mary bars, then maybe this isn’t your place. There’s no pretentiousness here as you wait in line for a table and are served house made donut holes dusted with powdered sugar to get your palate ready for the coming feast.
Sitting elbow to elbow with fellow diners at communal tables, you’re left to drool over the entire menu ordered by your new friends to assist in your brunch decision making. I like to start off with a an order of Lou Mitchell’s Signature Fries, topped with Cheddar Cheese and Greek Feta. It’s the perfect starter to share with the table while you wait for your food. My go-to dish is the Greek Cheese Special, add pork sausage. I order it with side of cinnamon raisin toast, buttered of course. I’ve been eating this same dish at Lou’s for 12 years. It comes with a side of sass and midwestern hospitality that most breakfast joints just can’t match. Added bonus: everybody knows my name. And they’re always glad I came.
Lou Mitchell’s is the “most Chicago” of breakfast experiences rooted deep in the heart and stomachs of the true Chicagoans. Lou’s is a diner located just outside of the loop near Union Station, earning it the nickname, “the first stop on the Mother Road,” (Route 66). Every politician who visits Chicago stops by for a bite, including but not limited to Presidents Barrack Obama and George W. Bush! Even Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians agree on this one!
OLD WORLD – CHICAGO-STYLE PIZZA (Or, let’s face it, the best pizza.)
There’s an age old debate about the Chicago-Style Deep Dish vs. New York Style Thin Crust. Fortunately for Chicago, food lovers across America preferred our “casserole” to the east coast pie. Most people will tell you about the big four: Giordano’s, Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s East or the original Pizzeria Uno (and it’s sister establishment Due). But what most Chicagoans won’t tell you about is our hidden little gem which lies about a half of a block outside of the Chicago city limits in Elmwood Park. Elmwood park is Chicagoland’s most Italian suburb and is famous for being the Mafia Mecca where the leaders of the families meet with local politicians to chat over a nice meal and some cannolis.
A great secret to locating the best pizza isn’t to follow your nose, but to follow the cops! Anytime you visit Old World Pizza, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with Chicago’s finest over a mouth-watering, deep dish that will leave you in a food coma afterglow! I’d recommend sticking to the deep dish because as the saying goes, “when in Rome…”
A burger that I love so dearly, that it’s the feature on all of my websites and social media pages! A lot of people will tell you that Kuma’s Corner is their top choice for a Chicago burger. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t kick Kuma’s burgers off my plate, but Au Cheval isn’t looking to distract you by slapping a hot dog on top of your burger.
There is a reason people wait for hours in line to eat an Au Cheval burger. Every component of this burger has been carefully selected, but not over thought, to create the perfect burger. I’m a purist when it comes to burgers I don’t like to overpower the basic elements beef, bread and cheese with other ingredients. Au Cheval elevates the basic burger by the quality of the ingredients, subtly dressing it with their own dijonnaisse, and serving it on a strategically chosen bun that almost melts into the burger when you take a bite out of it. You can add a fried egg on it (which I always do), and thick-cut bacon (which I never do. I love bacon, but like I said, purist).
Some food snobs will try and undermine this burger by pointing out that they order their patties from an outside source. Frankly, forming your own patties is overrated. It’s not rocket science, so whether you order you high quality beef patties pre-formed or you formed them yourself, you haven’t really added that much value to the process. By this logic, you can’t take credit for a burger unless you actually farmed the animal. Besides, the genius of a good burger is in the assemblage; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Au Cheval boasts more than just burgers, including a fantastic brunch, great craft beer selection and cocktail menu.
Whether you live in Chicago, or are merely visiting, I promise you five meals that won’t disappoint. If by chance they do, you know where to find me.” – Ted Constan