Fork Chicago

An American gastropub that serves the northern Chicago neighborhoods around Lincoln Square, Fork Chicago specializes in farm to table cuisine. A combination bar, kitchen and tasting room the spot offers a seasonal menu of cheeses, small plates and charcuterie and is wonderful as a place to bring a friend or a small group for a pleasant evening out. I like this spot for its small plates and for its place in town, an experimental kitchen that has a few different modern interpretations on long-time favorites.

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Dunlays on the Square

Situated in north Chicago’s well-to-do Logan Square and surrounding neighborhood, Dunlays on the Square is an upscale bar and brunch place that’s’ hard to forget. The walls and bar are laden with nice wood trim finishes and each dish is plated with great meticulousness. That upscale feel brings a nice sense of refinement to the dishes, but a the end all of the food to be tried here is still approachable, and at price points which aren’t too bad. If you’re going with more than a few people, consider sitting in that pleasant patio in the good weather, but be sure to make a reservation.

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AMK Chicago

Setting up shop in the nice Bucktown neighborhood in northern Chicago, AMK is a nice, more modern bar with a focus on good American cuisine, cocktails and whiskeys. The memorable interior of the bar gives way to a solid menu of good sandwiches, small plates and pizza. Make a point to grab a cocktail before you get your meal, it’s a bit of a pricier place, but the experience is worth it. This kitchen is a perfect one to try on a date or out with a few friends.

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Chicago’s Pizza

The very simply named concept of Chicago’s Pizza makes its home at three locations in the city’s northern neighborhoods where it serves up pizza by the slice until 5 a.m. It’s a very simple operation — good pizza that’s easy to walk with — which caters to the walking-friendly neighborhood and the many local bars in the blocks around this part of town. The experience is pretty easy to like for its approachable nature.

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Harry Caray’s Tavern

Honoring the memory of the celebrated Chicago sportscaster, Harray Caray’s Tavern on the Navy Pier has all the air and class of its iconic namesake. The interior is decorated with crystal, baseballs and bats, monuments to a life dedicated to Chicago sports. The exterior is a fun with a large area for outdoor dining and a bar with plenty of TVs. This is the type of place I really loved to visit to watch the White Sox play.

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Taco Fresco

With seven shops around Chicago, Taco Fresco is a quick, cheap and convenient place to grab classic favorites in Tex-mex cuisine. It’s cheap and convenient, but there’s another twist to the food: It’s healthy. Where most places fry food, Taco Fresco boils and bakes. They prefer lean meats, plenty of vegetables, and can substitute low fat cheese and fat free black beans. With those kinds of benefits, this place is sure to have a dedicated following. All told, it’s great, but the food sacrifices something in terms of flavor.

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Ryba’s Fudge Shops

A delicious desert option originating from Mackinac Island, Ryba’s Fudge Shops specialize in the indulgent. The fudge shops can be found at a few different locations around Lake Michigan, but all have one thing in common: whatever your wildest chocolatey dream, they will fulfill it. The shop is one of a few creative businesses the island can be proud to call its own, attracting people on vacation and natives alike. You give this candy a try and you’ll definitely remember it.

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Rocco Ranalli’s Cafe & Pizzeria

A family business, Rocco Ranalli’s Cafe & Pizza in downtown Chicago’s central Loop neighborhood seems like sort of a jack-of-all-trades of a restaurant. It welcomes children but still plays up its bar. It’s got plenty of local beers, but it’s also got a heavy emphasis on Chicago sports. These sorts of things seem like they would attract opposite, and clashing, crowds, but it all seems to be managed well. The end result is an altogether pleasant place where you could enjoy yourself with just about any crowd. The food follows sort of the same formula.

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Magnolia Bakery

Magnolia Bakery may not ring a bell here in the Midwest, but odds are you’ve probably heard the name. The Manhattan bakery has been a point in conversation for many a girly movie, from Sex and the City to The Devil Wears Prada and plenty of TV shows in between. With so much media focused on New York, it’s actually pretty easy to catch a mention of this place. With that level of fame, I figured it would almost be “name enough” to be blown away by this place; they claim to have started the cupcake craze. Sadly, I was disappointed.

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Garrett Popcorn

With 10 shops around Chicago and another 17 around the world, Garrett Popcorn proudly markets itself as a tradition in the Windy City. The popcorn shops are typically walk-up shops only, selling nothing but gourmet popcorn in a few different varieties. An outsider would be baffled as to how a business making popcorn could grow to operate so many locations operating full time on prime real estate. That outsider is getting ready for a very pleasant surprise. This isn’t the popcorn you buy at a farmer’s market. It isn’t the popcorn from your kid’s bake sale. It deserves its superior reputation.

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