[Travel advice] Chicago

Random Observation/Comment #351: Chicago has the chi-fecta of foods that make me extremely happy and fat.  These three must-tries are: Italian beef hero, Chicago hot dog, and deep dish (stuffed crust) pizza.  I love it when cities have a focus with their specialties.

see lemons in chicago

Things Chicago Does Well:

  • Architecture. After the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, architects had the opportunity to rebuild Chicago completely. They certainly used their ingenuity and space to create a beautiful and original city.
    • Buildings. The Chicago skyscrapers keep their structural support through the center of the building.  This places less burden on using the outside walls for support, therefore leading to huge glass/reflective structures.  The buildings look like belong in their locations – the contours match the curves in the river bank and everything flows with purpose.  Also, the skyscrapers are spaced apart in such a way that you never feel crowded by them.  They are highlighted by the smaller buildings and their presence seems more significant.
    • River. Through downtown is a long river leading from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi.  This split is so beautiful to me because the river is surrounded by skyscrapers.
    • Multi-level Streets.  Chicago has some double-decked and triple-decked streets that run north and south of the main areas near the Chicago River.  This creates a bi-level street with an upper-level boulevard more heavily focused on walking, and a lower-level roadway for commercial and through-traffic.
  • Chi-fecta of Foods. I completely made up this name and I’m not even sure if these three foods are the most famous – I’ve just found them the most delicious.
    • Deep Dish (Stuffed Crust) pizza. I had the Chicago pie from Giordano’s and it was fantastic. As a New Yorker, it was less of a slice of pizza, and more of a cheesy doughy sandwich with peppers, pepperoni, and onions.  It’s different and wonderful.
    • Chicago Dogs.  This is a salad in a hot dog without ketchup, which might not be most people’s preference.  The hotdog is in a poppy seed bun and topped with mustard, chopped onions, sweet pickle relish, tomato wedges, hot peppers, and a dill pickle spear on top.
    • Italian Beef. I am so in love with this. I had it at Portillo’s with the spicy peppers and dipped in the gravy.  The bread does not go soggy and the light spicy tingle from the peppers gives a lot of energy to the hero. I can eat this all day. Every day.
  • Lake Beaches. This was the first time I’ve been to a lake with a beautiful sandy beach.  All along the east coast of Chicago is a beautiful sandy beach with very small/non-existent waves.  It’s a really interesting dynamic.
  • Easy Transportation from Airport. $5 from O’Hare to downtown on the Blue line. It takes about an hour and it’s the fastest route I’ve ever taken to a major city airport.

Things Chicago Can Improve:

  • Restaurant Wait-times.  The only complaint that I could think of was the long wait times for recommended restaurants.  Granted that this happens in every city, but we walked around an area for 30 minutes at8PM and everywhere had an hour wait.  I think this means that the good restaurants are all packed within a single popular area of downtown and since most places don’t take reservations on Friday/weekends, you’ll just need to plan ahead.

Summary of Things to Do:

  • (Do this earlier in your trip) Take the one hour architecture boat tour. The tour was slightly expensive ($35), but the background about the architecture and the river was extremely enlightening. It will add more history and understanding when you explore the city in the days to come.
  • Museum campus walk up to Millennium Park. Take the train to Roosevelt Ave and check out the Planetarium or Shed aquarium.  From there, you can walk north along Grant Park towards the Great Lawn to listen to some music at Millennium Park.   While you’re at the Millennium park, you might as well go see that huge reflective bean everyone loves.
  • Navy Piers. Beautiful lake front view and perfect for taking a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk. The first Ferris Wheel is also there if you’re into that kind of stuff.
  • Take touristy pictures from Signature Room in the Hancock Building. This isn’t a must-go, but I thought it was a nice end to the trip. I’d arrive around 3PM and take some photos of the skyline on a nice day. Since there is a one-drink minimum, I would suggest getting the $8 strawberry smoothie. I think it’s better than a $5.50 soda.
  • Eat a lot. There are so many places to go and I wish they were also available in NYC. For starters, check out Giordano’s, Portillo’s, and The Purple Pig.

I love Chicago. Even though I was only there 3 days, I felt at home exploring the downtown area and wandering the parks.  It’s not as dense as NYC and I think it has a nice mix of class and culture.  The food alone could draw me in, but everything else was such a nice cherry on top.  I’ll be sure to visit again soon.

~See Lemons Love Chicago