Joke all you want about bratwurst and deep-dish pizza; Chicago is a genuine culinary hot spot. One of the city's most creative dining spots, Alinea, was even named the top restaurant in the United States by Gourmet magazine in 2007 (take that, New York and San Francisco!). What makes eating out in Chicago fun is the variety. We've got it all: stylish see-and-be-seen spots, an amazing array of steakhouses, chef-owned temples to fine dining, and every kind of ethnic cuisine you could possibly crave -- plus, yes, some not-to-be-missed deep-dish pizza places.
Fueled in part by expense-account-wielding business travelers, high-end dining is a growth industry here. What makes Chicago's top restaurants unique, however, is their inclusive, low-key attitude. This isn't the kind of city where snooty waiters show off their foodie expertise or stare in horror if you have no idea what wine to order. By and large, hospitality is more than just a buzzword here, and as long as you can afford the eye-popping bill, the city's top chefs will welcome you. If you want to splurge on a one-of-a-kind meal -- the kind you'll be describing to friends weeks later -- Chicago is the place to do it.
That said, ever-increasing restaurant prices are one of my pet peeves; eating out downtown has become more and more of a luxury. While finding bargains in the Loop or around the Magnificent Mile isn't easy, you can still fill up without going broke by stopping at one of the food courts inside the malls along Michigan Avenue (as many locals on their lunch break do). Ethnic restaurants also tend to be less expensive, whether you're sampling spanakopita in Greektown or a noodle dish at a Thai restaurant.
And about that pizza: Yes, Chicagoans hate to be stereotyped as cheese-and-sausage-devouring slobs, but we really do eat deep-dish pizza, which was created in the 1940s at the original Pizzeria Uno restaurant. If you've never had this decadent, cholesterol-raising delicacy, you should definitely try it while you're here (especially on a chilly day -- it's not as appealing during a summer heat wave).
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