When I told people I was going to Chicago for the weekend and asked them where I should eat, they mostly said to eat junky things, like pizza, gyros, and Mexican food. So that’s exactly what we did. I had never been to Chicago, but I was always curious about it. Some good friends grew up there, and my parents really love it. Our Uruguayan friend, who is staying with us for a couple weeks, finally convinced us that we should travel there with her, so off we went on Friday afternoon.
My first impressions were good ones. A train from the airport to the city! Who would have guessed that? It was easy to find our cheap hotel, and the town is stunning from the get-go, with the El and all the skyscrapers. I love the long avenues and alleyways, and how walkable the Michigan Avenue part of the city is. We were enchanted by the view from the bridge as you cross over onto the Magnificent Mile. But we were also starving, because American Airlines doesn’t even give you peanuts anymore.
We wandered aimlessly, feeling hungrier with each step, and we considered some sad-looking places. All we really wanted was pizza and beer. Finally, an old woman stopped us on State Street (that great street) and asked if we needed help. I explained our desperate situation, and she sent us to Gino’s East.
Gino’s looked like the real deal. The hostess took the form of an old Chicago broad on a walkie-talkie standing on the sidewalk, who treated our arrival like an emergency. (“I’ve got three out here. CAN YOU TAKE THREE?”) She led us into a half-empty restaurant, the walls of which were covered in “so-and-so was here” graffiti (which is encouraged at Gino’s.) The waitress told us that a large deep-dish pizza would be too much for us, and that we should have a medium. When was the last time that’s happened to you? Forty-five minutes later, the pie arrived.
I still prefer the thinner, charred, chewy crust of a New York pizza, but this was beyond satisfying. You can see how weird the Chicago crust is, though. It’s deep yellow, with the structure of a biscuit. I asked what made it yellow, and she said it was a secret, and typical of Chicago pizza. My bread teacher (who’s from Chicago) said it’s probably just semolina.
Day two was spent walking for miles, from the Loop to the West Loop to Wicker Park and Bucktown. We were on a mission to a place that allegedly serves duck fat fries on Friday and Saturday, but no matter how far we walked, it was still too far away. Chicago is big. We finally came across George’s, a hot dog/gyro/hamburger place in Bucktown. The food here is cheap, delicious, and fresh, and George himself was there, correcting my lousy pronunciation of “gyro.” This place is worth a detour if you’re in Chicago and after greasy food. Nathan and I couldn’t finish this platter between the two of us; there must have been a pound of meat in there.
These were our two most memorable meals in the city. Maybe someday we’ll be fancy enough to eat at Charlie Trotter’s and Alinea, but when I’m on my feet all day, this is exactly the kind of local food I want.