Where to eat in Austin

I had the pleasure of spending a week in Austin for SXSW. Now, I don't normally love Texas. However, Austin is a major departure from the other ultra conservative cities it shares a state amongst. The city's moto is "keep Austin weird" which lends itself to expressing the city's eccentricity and diversity. The vibe is laid back, everyone you meet is nice, and there's booze & music everywhere. People come from all over the country to live there, it's a great melting pot. 

Of all the things I love in Austin, the food is center stage. There's tremendous diversity and so much of it is done well. Food trucks are everywhere you look. People have spent years perfecting their craft in those trucks and the epic lines prove it. Restaurants are comfortable with huge beer selections and tons of outdoor seating. Everyone you meet has an opinion and ready-made list of must-try places to send you to. My food adventure co-warrior Michelle (coffeeandchampange.com, check her out!) and I set out to try it all. We learned very early on that the lines for food are hell. No one seems to be in a rush to do anything. Coming from New York that made me a *little* crazy. That being said I’d go back and wait all over again. The city has so much more to offer than barbecue and tacos, but those are top notch too. Below you'll find a list of places we visited, complete with my glowing stamp of approval. Here we go y'all:

Torchy's Tacos - get the breakfast tacos at this establishment and anything else you can fit inside your stomach. They serve the best tacos I've had in Austin. Barack Obama was there 15 minutes before we got there. Glad he left me some 

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La Barbeque  - some of the best chopped beef and pulled pork I've ever had. The smoked turkey was increedibly juicy and flavorful. Get a sandwich piled high with 2 meats, jalapenos, pickled onions, and fritos. It's basically a heart attack but YOLO

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Chi'lantro - I dont care what else they serve besides kimchi fries and neither should you. They arrive topped (nay, drowning) with ribeye, caramelized kimchi, cheddar + monterey jack, onions, cilantro, magic sauce, sesame seeds, sriracha. It's like crack.

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Homeslice - people go crazy for this place so it deserves a spot on the list. However, it is no different than the NY $1 slices you get on every corner in Manhattan. Nothing wrong with that, not everyone can be as luck as us New Yorker's 

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Ramen Tatsu-ya - I didn't come across a lot of Asian food options in Austin so I'm glad I found this place. Locals say it's the best ramen around. I'm inclined to agree. The broth takes 3 days to make which makes it incredibly rich and flavorful. They use Sun Noodle for the noodles, like many of the best ramen places in the country. 

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Jacoby's - this place is so gorgeous and picturesque in nature I'd honestly let them serve me dirt. The gardens and a picnic area overlooking the Colorado River Wildlife Sanctuary. Lucky for me, they serve an amazing meal to go with a stunning outdoor space. Here you'll find southern comfort food with hyper-local meats and ingredients. 

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Veracruz All Natural - ask anyone in Austin where the best tacos are and they will point you to this place. Find homemade tortillas, fresh ingredients, and hands-down the best migas taco in Austin here. 

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Franklin Barbecue - No discussion about Austin is complete without mentioning Franklin Barbecue. Widely revered as the greatest BBQ in America, Franklin is a smoked meat mecca. People show up at 6am to wait in line for the food which is often sold out by 2pm for good reason. 

Photo: imgur.com

Photo: imgur.com

Hey! You Gonna Eat or What? - deep fried monte christo drowning in jam served out of a bright red food trailer and a side of sarcasm to go with your food

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Hopdoddy's Burgers - good value, well seasoned burgers, and tons of toppings. Didn't change my life, but people like it and it's a solid, affordable burger 

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Uchi - always mentioned among the greatest restaurants in Austin. Sushi plus creative hot & cold dishes from chef Tyson Cole in a stylish, sophisticated setting.

Photo: uchiaustin.com

Photo: uchiaustin.com

Foreign & Domestic  -  Inventive hot spot featuring both farm-to-table and nose-to-tail dining. The menu is constantly changing in this busy, funky restaurant 

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The Salt Lick - this is some of the greatest BBQ on the planet. The have a vineyard and brewery on site to accompany the greatest meat that will ever hit your lips. I still dream of the sausage 

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Gourdough's- if you're looking for some INSANE decadence look no further than this food truck. They freshly make their donuts and drown them in chocolate, brownies, peanut butter, fruit, marshmallows and any other combination you can come up with. 

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Voodoo Doughnuts - this is the only outpost of this establishment outside of Portland. They specialize in crazy toppings and insanely shaped doughnuts. It's a perfect sweet treat.

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DC Dining

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I dated a man in DC for a while which brought me to the city quite a few times. While the sex was unthinkably bad, the food in the city was exceptionally good.  I certainly wasn't going there for the orgasms, but the culinary landscape was worth the 4 hour trip. Our nation’s capital has had great food in its own right for years, and now ultra famous chefs like David Chang and Daniel Boulud are flocking there to cash in on this thriving scene. I appreciate that everyone’s “must eat” list varies by your taste, but below I’ve compiled some of my favorite spots from a humble hot dog joint to 4 star dining. You’ll find a list of DC spots that are 100% worth a visit and even a few northern Virginia locales that jutify the quick drive. In alphabetical order, I present to you my DC grub list:

& Pizza  

Why: This isn't just good pizza, it's a whole experience. You can choose from one of their pre-selected "hits" or design your own pie as you walk down the ingredient buffet. Think Chipotle, for good pizza. The pie is popped into an oven and by the time you pay its ready, right before your eyes. 

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Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken

Why: Because glazed doughnuts sliced open, stuffed with juicy fried chicken, and drown in Frank's Red Hot should be the national dish. Holy shit is this good!

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Ben's Chili Bowl

Why: Because this chili slinging joint is an institution. But mostly because it's late and you're drunk

Bad Saint

Why: Because Bon Appetite named this the #2 best new restaurant in the country. Need more reasons? Because Filipino food is under represented in this country and it is a show stopping combination of flavors and textures. 

Bub & Pops

Why: Because every town needs an old school family sandwich shop that still does things right. Also, because they have a sandwich called "The Jewish Hoagie" and it brings me joy to order "the big jew." It's stuffed with corned beef, brisket, roast turkey, kosher salami, swiss cheese, spicy mustard, thousand island, & cole slaw. Their Italian hoagie is also not to be missed. 

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Daikaya Izakaya

Why: Because it's dark, sexy, and full of Asian food. If that doesn't thrill you, I don't wanna know you . They serve a wide reange of Japanese comfort food served in a dimly lit, modern izayaka. Check out their other spots Daikaya Ramen (downstairs) and Bantam King for great ramen. 

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DGS Deli

Why: Beause I like Jewish stuff and so should you. They serve all the brined, cured, smoked, and pickled traditional fare in a modern setting. 

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District Donuts

Why: Because it's deep fried carbs covered in sugar why the hell not  

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Ethiopic Restaurant

Why: Because a trip to DC wouldn't be complete without some Ethiopian food. They have the largest population of Ethiopian people outside of the country itself 

Picture: seriouseats.com

Picture: seriouseats.com

Fiola Mare

Why: Because you need a little class in your life, and a sophisticated Italian seafood restaurant with a view is the way to do it.

Picture: vouxmagazine.com

Picture: vouxmagazine.com

Good Stuff Eatery

Why : Because who the hell wouldn't want to eat this monster?

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Greek Deli  

Why: Because there's something about food from a  tiny long-running Greek deli that just screams comfort. Also the spanakopita and avgolemono soup they make are FIRE 

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Hazel

Why: Because I rarely walk out of dinner and think "every single dish I just had was delicious." The menu is globally influenced with tons to share in a sexy, relaxed ambiance. Their parent company, Neighborhood Restaurant Group, owns several other concepts including Red Apron Butcher on this list 

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Kapnos

Why: Because former top chef contestant Mike Isabella will bring you modern Greek cuisine loaded with grilled meats, seafood, and dips in this vibrant neighborhood restaurant.

Picture: kapnosdc.com

Le Diplomat

Why: Because no one marries a hip bistro scene and killer french menu better than Mr. Stephen Starr. And because I could eat steak frites for 3 meals per day. 

Picture: seriouseats.com

Picture: seriouseats.com

Little Serow

Why: Because hoards of people have already succumbed to waiting in line for an hour to eat at this intimate Northern Thai restaurant and you'll understand why once you gain entrée

Picture: cnntraveler.com

Picture: cnntraveler.com

Old Ebbit Grill

Why: Because this is an American institution, having been open since 1856. And because you want a big fat steak and a bottle of California cab for dinner at their massive oak bar. 

Pupatella

Why: Because how the hell could anyone say no to this perfectly charred, expertly sauced, fresh mozzarella dotted, Neapolitan style pie?

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Ray's Hellburger

Why: Because Ray's has been repeatedly voted amongst the top burgers in the country, and Barack loves it. 

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Red Apron Butcher

Why: Because this artisan butcher shop is just one of the many spots Neighborhood Restaurant Group does well. They have a creative sandwich shop and gourmet market place if you're looking to pick up a few goodies on your way. The breakfast sandwiches are heavenly terrible for you. 

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Rose's Luxury

Why: Because once you stop being pissed you just waited 2 hours for a table, you see what all the fuss is about. Rose's is rated amongst the top restaurants in the country time & time again for their small tapas plates and fresh seasonal fare served in a rustic converted townhouse. 

Picture: bonappetite.com

Picture: bonappetite.com

Taco Bamba

Why: Because these tacos are too god damn amazing. The ingredients are top notch and there is massive selection. Look at that thing, it's a Mexican masterpiece  

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The Italian Store

Why: Because this old school Italian deli is as authentic as it gets. They have products lining the walls from Italy and all the regional specialties your heart could ever desire. Fresh mozzarella, hot stuffed peppers, and of course all the Italian meats fit for Tony Soprano.

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Thip Khao

Why: Because you've never had food from Lao and Southeast Asian food is a spice induced cuisine you have lived without long enough. You can seer your tastebuds off in this modern eatery. 

Picture: washingtonpost.com

Picture: washingtonpost.com

Toki Underground

Why: Because they have the best ramen in DC and they make it nearly impossible to find the entrance, which is extra cool obviously. Don't forget to order a few cans of their sake while slipping into a dumpling and noodle induced coma

Wiseguy NY Pizza

Why: Because everyone needs a New York buffalo slice in their life, even when in DC 

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Zaytinya  

Why: Because Jose Andres does tapas like no other. You could eat your way through this menu of dips, grilled seafood, and charred meats for days  in the opulent setting. 

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Union Market  

Why: Because this isn't a restaurant, it's a culinary experience. This is a bustling food hall where you can stop off at multiple vendors and dine on tacos, bbq, biscuits, and ice cream without ever leaving. Block off several hours, you'll need it. 

Picture: thisisdc.com

Picture: thisisdc.com

Must Try Restaurants Chicago

Photo: Loews Hotel

Photo: Loews Hotel

Chicago is a great city. If you haven't been, I highly recommend it. You will find one of the greatest culinary destinations that this country can offer. Writing this list was challenging. Picking the best restaurants in Chicago is like picking which professional soccer players I'd most like to sleep with tonight. There are just way too many to choose between. I tried to narrow this down to time tested restaurants with standout menus, that can offer a unique dining experience. This list is not exhaustive and will always be evolving, like fashion. Here are my top picks at the moment, if you find yourself in the Windy City: 

Au Cheval - they serve what is arguably the best burger in Chicago. The meat is ground fresh and topped with super thick slabs of bacon. They probably have other things on the menu but who really cares? Be prepared to wait up to 3 hours for a seat. There are endless bar options in the area. 

Photo: Bored Bug

Photo: Bored Bug

Avec - This is one of many phenomenal restaurants by Chicago based One Off Hospitality. They serve new American food in a chic and packed setting. The menu changes often and all the dishes are perfect for sharing. 

Photo : Trip Advisor

Photo : Trip Advisor

BellyQ - You'll find this place at the end of the W Randolph strip. The space is huge and urban. They specialize in takes on Korean BBQ. They have imaginative plated dishes as well as table top grills. 

Photo: Chicago Food Mag

Photo: Chicago Food Mag

BOKA - This is the flagship restaurant for Boka Hospitality. Their dining room is sleek and modern. The menu is full of inventive new American surprises. I can honestly say I had one of the best meals of my life here. The chef hails from Eleven Madison Park, a NY Times 4 star restaurant, so you know the man knows how to cook.

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Fat Rice - They serve comfort food from around the world in a cozy space with an open kitchen. Here you will find food from Macau which mingles ingredients and influences from Portugal, China, India, and Southeast Asia.

Photo: Bon Appetite

Photo: Bon Appetite

Frontera Grill- I didn't know I needed upscale Mexican food until Dining at Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill. They offer beautiful takes on typical Mexican street food. They also own Topolobompo & XOCO in the area 

Photo: Serious Eats

Photo: Serious Eats

Furious Spoon - A small ramen shop in the Wicker Park neighborhood. They serve amazing bowls of ramen. Check out the namesake noodles in tonkotsu broth with pork belly, white pepper chicken, marinated mushrooms, scallions, fury sauce, garlic relish, sesame seeds and a poached egg.

Photo: Zagat

Photo: Zagat

Gilt Bar- If you're looking for a restaurant that is dimly lit and sexy, this is your spot. They serve small & large plates of contemporary American food. The cocktails here are killer and they have the best steak tartar in the city.

Photo : Gilt

Photo : Gilt

Girl & The Goat - This is top chef winner Stephanie Izard's first Chicago restaurant and it remains a serious hot spot. You'll find innovative small plates of every variety here. The huge open kitchen is a great backdrop to the hip setting. Years after opening, you can still hardly get a table.

Photo : Chicago Bites

Photo : Chicago Bites

Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab - There is nothing more American to me than a steakhouse, and Joe's is the shining example of this. The dining room is old school and regal. You can empty your bank account here on a huge wine list, shellfish platters, and perfectly cooked steaks

Photo: 10 Best

Photo: 10 Best

Little Goat Diner - One of two Stephanie Izard restaurants on W Randolph. This is her more casual venture. They serve a huge menu of creative gourmet takes on American comfort food. The burger and nachos are both fantastic. 

Photo: Food Network

Photo: Food Network

Mott St - You'll find inventive tapas-style plates here that are great for sharing. The theme of the food is Asian-fusion and you'll get great cocktails too. The restaurant is small with a comfortable bar and funky salvaged furniture. 

Photo: Chicago Reader

Photo: Chicago Reader

Next - Can't afford their sister restaurant Alinea? Me either. This place doesn't run cheap,  but it won't break the bank as badly. They change the concept seasonally, hence the name. Everything is upscale and beautiful here. You'll need to buy tickets, yes tickets, if you want to dine. 

Photo: Chicago Tribune

Photo: Chicago Tribune

Prachute - This restaurant opened last year to rave reviews and wide spread acclaim. They specialize in beautiful dishes of Korean-American fusion 

Photo: Eater

Photo: Eater

RPM Italian - They aren't breaking the barriers of creativity here, but god damn it's delicious. The River North restaurant is uber chic inside. They do classic Italian food in a gorgeous setting. Their prosciutto, pastas, and meatballs are to die for. Ever time I go the staff has a MAJOR attitude problem. But I don't even care because the food is that good. 

Photo : RPM Italian

Photo : RPM Italian

Ruxbin - Come for food from around the globe here in a small rustic setting. The menu changes frequently and is full of interesting combos. The chef previously worked under Thomas Keller so he clearly knows what he's doing.

Photo: Ruxbin

Photo: Ruxbin

Sepia - Chef Andrew Zimmerman's owns this West Loop restaurant. You’ll get refined new American dishes here with a great wine list. The décor is sophisticated and charming. The menu changes seasonally but I am always a fan of the fish selection.

Photo: Travel Insider

Photo: Travel Insider

Smoque BBQ - This is a little outside of the city but worth the drive. They have the best BBQ in Chicago, in my opinion. They smoke amazing rib, sausage, and brisket. Expect to wait in a line, but it's worth it for all the porky goodness

Photo: Food Network

Photo: Food Network

The Publican - This is another one of the One Off Hospitality restaurants. Everything they do is stellar and this place is no different. They serve tons of pork and shellfish here, and everything you order is great. The setting is hip with large communal tables.

Photo: The Publican

Photo: The Publican

The Purple Pig - Since opening it's doors years ago, PP has garned huge wait times and great accliam. They specialize in Mediterranean small plates and charcuterie. I can honestly say I've never eaten anything here I was indifferent about; it's all good. They do not take reservations so be prepared for a wait. It's worth it

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Chicago's Essential Cheap Eats

Photo : Inside Tailgating

Photo : Inside Tailgating

My favorite thing to do when I travel is find the best cheap eats in any city. I love seeing restaurants pump out high quality food, packed with flavor, in a super casual setting. We are talking pizza, donuts, burgers, tacos, and fried delights. You know, the shit that'll kill ya. Chicago can offer you some of the best in the country. You can obviously find the best deep dish and hot dogs on earth here but The Windy City offers so much more. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but below are some of my all time favorite pics for under $25 in alphabetical order:

Al's Italian Beef - The Italian beef sandwich is famous in Chicago. The sandwiches were invented during the great depression out of necessity. This place is a classic and has been serving the iconic sandwiches since 1938. Today they shave the meat uber thin, pile it with peppers, and dip it in gravy. 

Photo: Al's Beef

Photo: Al's Beef

Ann Sather - This is a Swedish diner with a big menu of comfort food. Its a great place to go for breakfast food that'll put you in a coma. They serve 7 types of eggs benedict. The real star here would be the massive cinnamon rolls drenched in heavenly glaze. 

Photo : Lucky Taste Buds

Photo : Lucky Taste Buds

Antique Taco - I fell in love with this place and keep coming back. They serve tacos in a counter service style. The gourmet tacos are huge and insanely delicious. Try the tempura battered fish or the spicy chicken tacos. They also have a phenomenal list of sides and other dishes like enchiladas and quesadillas. 

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Big & littles - This place doesnt look like much from the outside, but they are making some of the best tacos, sandwiches, and burgers that you can get. Their seafood creations are the star here. Try the fresh ahi tuna tacos or the fried softshell crab po' boy

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Big Star - I fucking love this place. They are owned by Chicago restaurant power house One Off Hospitality. Big Star serves some of the best Mexican street food and margaritas you can find. They have an awesome patio for outdoor seating and a takeout window that soothes all my late night drunk desires.

Photo : Food Spotting

Photo : Food Spotting

BopNGrill - This fast-casual Korean place kills it with their burger creations. Try the kimchi burger (kimchi, fried egg, cheddar, bacon, kimchi mayo, cabbage) or the umami burger (truffled mushroom duxelle, sun-dried tomato confit, togarashi mayo, bacon-smoked gouda). They also have killer kimchi fries & bulgogi eggrolls

Photo : Pintrest

Photo : Pintrest

Bongo Room- This is good old fashioned American comfort food. They have a fantastic brunch with all the classics you love. Check out the breakfast burrito, croissant sandwich and the tomatillo salsa scramble. Go early on the weekend or expect to wait in line at any of their locations. 

Photo : Serious Eats

Photo : Serious Eats

Butcher & The Burger - This place is as American as apple pie. Their burgers are made with freshly ground beef in their own butcher shop and are uber juicy. You can also get turkey, salmon, shrimp, bison, pork, and veggie versions. After that the toppings, cheese, spices, and bun choices are nearly limitless. They keep their prices low but the quality is excellent. The fries are hand cut, as any self respecting french fry should be.

Photo : Strongfigure.com

Photo : Strongfigure.com

Calumet Fisheries- You'll be surprised to learn that this shack on the side of the road is James Beard honored. They smoke all the  fish in their own giant smoker. Offerings include smoked salmon, sable, trout, and white fish. They also have great fried shrimp and oysters. 

Photo : Munchies

Photo : Munchies

Crisp- Ever tried Korean style fried chicken? It might ruin all other versions for you. The chicken is fried twice to ensure maximum crispness. True to its name, Crisp pumps out some of the most crisp and juicy versions of this delight. They also have a menu of other fun Korean dishes such as burritos, veggie bowls, and kimchi. 

Photo : Serious Eats

Photo : Serious Eats

Firecakes Donuts- This tiny space in River North serves small batch artisan donuts from 7:30am until they sell out. The first time I went I might have ordered 8 for myself. Some of the best are butterscotch praline, coconut cream, and the chocolate hazelnut long john. 

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Honey Butter Fried Chicken- This is counter service style, southern fried chicken. It is served with soft whipped honey butter to slather all over the chicken. Their sides are inventive takes on southern classics. They have pimento mac 'n cheese, schmaltz smashed potatoes, and herb ranch pasta salad. 

Photo: Lion & Maven

Photo: Lion & Maven

Lao Sze Chuan - This Szechuan restaurant has been a Chicago favorite since opening in 1998. They make great versions of all the favroite dishes you'd expect. Many of the dishes are insanely spice. Try the dan-dan noodles, and make sure to bring your rolaids 

Photo: Chicago Now

Photo: Chicago Now

Pequods - Chicago is the land of deep dish pizza. Everyone has their favorite ranging from Pequods, to chains like Lou Malnati's and Giordano's. This happens to be my favorite. The caramelized crust is the best here, and it doesn't hurt that you're basically eating a carb bucket filled with cheese. 

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Piece Pizza - This is a departure from the traditional Chicago deep dish. At Piece you'll find New Haven style, thin crust pizza. The pies are as big as your body. They also have a great beer selection, kareoke, and live music. 

Photo: Thrillist

Photo: Thrillist

Portillo's Hot Dogs- I imagine that this is what childhood in Chicago tastes like. It's an institution in this city like Wrigley. They serve Italian beef, classic hot dogs, burgers, and salads. Not going here in Chicago would be like skipping soft pretzels in NYC. 

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Slurping Turtle - This is a casual Japanese spot in River North is serving comfort food of noodles, sashimi, and other grilled dishes. I am in love with their ramen. Try the spicy  Tan Tan Men Ramen with homemade  noodles, pork meatball, pork chashu, pork miso, bok choy, and bean sprouts. They have a massive list of toppings to customize your ramen bowl. 

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Stan's Donuts - Stan's has been perfecting donuts since 1963. The smell when you walk into the store should be bottled and sold. They serve a unique list of insanely delicious sweets. Check out the peanut butter banana pockets or the lemon pistachio old fashioned. 

Photo : Tasting Table

Photo : Tasting Table

Sultan's Market - This is a Wicker Park favorite, serving Middle Eastern food at dirt cheap prices. You can get all your favorites like hummus, baba ghanoush, stuffed grape leaves, falafel, as well as chicken and lamb shawarma. 

Photo : Pintrest

Photo : Pintrest

The Wiener Circle - it's not the best food by any stretch of the imagination, but The Wiener Circle is an experience everyone should have in Chicago. While you are ordering a hot dog don't be surprised if the staff literally swears at you and screams obscenities. All part of the experience! 

Photo : Food Network

Photo : Food Network

XOCO - Chef Rick Bayless has a mini Mexican food empire in Chicago. If you aren't in the mood for his full service Frontera Grill or Topolobompo, XOCO is a great option. Torts are the star of the show here. They have tons to choose from and many seasonal specials. Check out the Pepito (braised Creekstone short ribs, caramelized onion, artisan Jack cheese, black beans, pickled jalapeños) or the Cochinita Pibil ( wood-roasted Gunthorp suckling pig, achiote, black beans, pickled onion, habanero). The churros shouldn't be missed. 

Photo: Rick Bayless

Photo: Rick Bayless