Chicago Essentials

Discover the best places in Chicago for dining, shopping, meeting new people and more.

Rebar Restaurant and Lounge in Chicago Trump Tower

Rebar Restaurant and Lounge in Chicago Trump Tower

By: Sabrina Wu

Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...

BUY GROCERIES

Dominick’s
This local chain offers a large selection of organic produce, and larger stores have bakeries, delis, floral shops and even a Starbucks onsite.

Jewel
Founded in Chicago originally as the Jewel Tea Company in 1899, this large grocery chain is usually combined with an Osco drugstore to form a Jewel-Osco.

Wally’s Market, 1731 W. Golf Road in Mount Prospect; 6601 W. Irving Park Road in Chicago; 3256 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago
This very large and popular European grocery store has a large selection of meats and other products. Keep your eyes peeled for the store’s “two day crazy sale,” where shoppers can find huge bargains.

Costco, 2746 N. Clybourn in Lincoln Park
Save time and money by buying in bulk.

ENJOY CASUAL DINING

Quench, 5815 W. Madison in Austin; 616 E. 79th St.; 4653 S. Michigan; 2236 E. 71st St., 773-287-FOOD
Boasting the best turkey burgers in the Chicago area, the founder of this eatery opened its first location on the South Side to offer a healthier alternative to fast food. Serving no beef or pork (only turkey, chicken and fish), Quench is the foodie’s takeout place, serving an eclectic menu prepared by a classically trained chef. The Austin location is the local chain's first sitdown restaurant.

Kaufman’s Deli, 4905 Dempster St. in Skokie, 847-677-6190
Specializes in Eastern European breads and pastries made on the premises by an eighth generation master baker. Kaufman’s recently was named one of Chicago’s top three delis and its bagels were even flown to the grand opening of the Hilton in Hong Kong.

Victory’s Banner, 2100 W. Roscoe St.
A 100-percent vegetarian treasure run by students of Sri Chinmoy, whose philosophy includes a sincere inner life with an active outer life. Serves delicious foods, like soy bacon and soy sausage that even ardent meat lovers would adore.

TREAT YOURSELF TO FINE DINING

Bin 36, 339 N. Dearborn
Partners Dan Sachs and Brian Duncan created this restaurant to give diners a place to appreciate and learn about wine in an unpretentious atmosphere. The River North eatery has received numerous accolades for its contemporary American cuisine, created by John Caputo, the executive chef. Dining options include a cheese bar, cafe-style tavern and more formal dining room.

Tavern at the Park, 130 E. Randolph
Diners at this upscale tavern can feast on 2-inch thick pork chops and herbed chicken fondue in their jeans and sneakers. The classic American menu was created by the award-winning team behind the Chicago favorite, Keefer’s. The restaurant offers an elegant view of Millennium Park from its top floor. The crusted filet mignon is an editor favorite.

GRAB A BEER

Hop Leaf, 5148 N. Clark St.
This Andersonville tavern has plenty of street cred with beer fanatics and is popular among average beer drinkers as well. It offers 110 varieties of bottled beer and 18 on tap, including an extensive selection of beers from Belgium.

Map Room, 1949 N. Hoyne
This Bucktown/Wicker Park pub is for serious beer aficionados. With 200 brands and 36 brewing styles, customers come to this bar to experience the finer qualities of brew and sometimes for continuing beer education. Learn the nuances of beer appreciation through Map Room's monthly classes.

Goose Island, 3535 N. Clark St. or 1800 North Clybourn
Founded in Chicago in 1988, this local favorite offers 50 craft beers and makes all its beers fresh and in small batches. Watch distinctive and quality beer brewed in front of you.

GRAB A LATE-NIGHT BITE

Hollywood Grill, 1601 W. North Ave.
A 24-hour vintage diner, this is the perfect place for a late, late dinner or an early morning breakfast.

Golden Nugget Pancake House, 2406 W. Diversey Ave., 773-252-8903
Open 24 hours, Golden Nugget allows you to satisfy your craving for pancakes at any time of the day or night, or even indulge in a little spaghetti at 6 a.m.

Golden Apple Grill and Breakfast House, 2971 N. Lincoln Ave.
Enjoy more than 150 menu items 24 hours a day.

SIP A LATTE

3rd Coast Cafe and Wine Bar, 1260 N. Dearborn Parkway
This Gold Coast cafe offers great lattes and breakfast all day.

Bourgeois Pig, 738 W. Fullerton Parkway
Sip a cappuccino inside this cozy two-story coffee house that is literally a house. A draw for students and caffeine lovers, drop in early to stake your spot.

Saint’s Alp Teahouse, 2131 S. Archer Ave.
Delicious bubble teas, milk teas, flavored coffees and flavored au laits abound in this trendy Hong Kong cafe.

SATISFY YOUR SWEET TOOTH

Berry Chill, 635 N. State St., 132 N. LaSalle St., 500 W. Madison St.
Owned and operated by a Chicago native, Berry Chill is a frozen yogurt shop known for its collection of local toppings.

Margie’s Candies, 1960 N. Western Ave.
George Peter Poulos, the current owner of this old-fashioned candy and ice cream shop, proposed to a girl named Margie Michaels in a booth at the back of store in 1933. Since then, countless other couples have come to get engaged in the same spot.

Sarah’s Pastries and Candies, 70 E. Oak St. or the first floor of Macy’s, 111 N. State St.
Chicago native Sarah Levy started her company in March 2004 by making chocolate candies out of her mom’s kitchen. Beautifully crafted and prepared, Sarah’s offers custom-made chocolates and pastries.

PIE, 615 N. State St.
This store is all about the pie, with a menu that changes regularly to complement the seasons. PIE also offers brownies, homemade ice cream and Parisian macaroons.

Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, 7347 W. Madison St.
Family owned and operated, this homemade ice cream parlor boasts 28 flavors of ice cream, including local favorites such as chocolate-covered potato chip. Drop by on your birthday for a free scoop. 

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to...

HAVE FUN FOR FREE

Chicago Cultural Center
Performances and exhibits are free, many of which are held in the Center’s Tiffany-domed Preston Bradley Hall.

Free Museum/Attraction Days
Several Chicago museums and attractions offer free admission on certain days, even big-name hits like the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago Children’s Museum to name a few.

City of Chicago Free Events
The city of Chicago and Chicago Park District offer numerous free events during the year, including free outdoor concerts and classic films in Millennium Park.

Dearborn Observatory, Evanston campus of Northwestern University, 2131 Tech Dr.
Open to the public on Friday nights from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. The 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. hour is by reservation only. Dress for the elements, because the observatory has no heat or air conditioning. Call 847-491-7650 to make reservations.

Oriental Institute Museum, 1155 E. 58th St.
Always free, this museum offers a world-renowned showcase for the history, art and archaeology of the ancient Near East.

SHOP AT A FUNKY LOCAL BUSINESS

Two Fish Art Glass, 7401 W. Madison St. in Forest Park
Create your own glass artwork and fixtures, customize glass lamps, windows or gifts, and check out patterns and workshops. The shop is also a dropoff center for compact fluorescent light bulbs.

ElementBars.com
This Chicago company lets people design and customize their own energy bars online. Each bar is handmade, packaged and labeled with its nutritional information and a custom name.

ENTERTAIN THE KIDS

Navy Pier Park, 600 E. Grand Ave.
A lighted Ferris wheel, Viennese swings, 18-hole minigolf course, musical carousel and remote-control boats await inside the Navy Pier Park. Check out the Chicago Children’s Museum next door while you’re there.

Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 North Clark St.
Home to sea lions, polar bears, jaguars, red pandas and Burmese pythons, Lincoln Park is an animal kingdom all its own. Check out animals in their native habitats.

Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Road in Brookfield
Help care for the animals, go on a family sleepover safari or take a class in dolphin training.

Medieval Times, 2001 N. Roselle Road in Schaumburg
Enjoy period foods, like turkey legs and hearty soups, with the utensils God gave you, while cheering on your knight during his joust in the center ring.

MEET NEW PEOPLE

Chicago Sport and Social Club
With more than a dozen sport leagues, including volleyball, dance, rock climbing and kayaking, the Club is an easy way to meet people who share your interests.

Chicago Summerdance, 601 S. Michigan Ave., 312-742-4007
One-hour dance lessons by professional instructors, followed by two hours of live music and dancing on a 4,600 square foot open-air dance floor in Grant Park.

Chicago Cares or One Brick
Volunteer and make a difference while meeting new friends. Check out more than 100 different monthly programs.

Running Groups
A great way to meet fellow runners, whether you’re training for a triathlon or interested in taking a short jog followed by a round of cold beers. You can also join a tennis group or suggest a meetup group of your own.

TAKE A DATE

Geja’s Cafe, 340 W. Armitage Ave.
Built for romance with secluded alcoves, classical guitar music and dim lighting.

Spirit of Chicago
Take an evening dinner cruise and watch the fireworks over the lake onboard the Spirit of Chicago.

Gethsemane Garden Center, 5739 N. Clark St.
Pick out your own Christmas tree, find yourself a vibrant and unusual greenhouse plant, or peruse hand-crafted gifts.

Osaka Garden, Wooded Island (within the Paul H. Douglas Nature Sanctuary) in Jackson Park
Tranquil pools fed by waterfalls reflect circular bridges in this traditional Japanese garden.

GET A BEAUTY TREATMENT

Skincare Company, 7249 Madison St. in Forest Park
Chosen as a “best of” for the variety of services it offers under one roof. The spa not only offers a complete array of beauty treatments, but also reiki energy work at the Chi Balancing Center in the same building.

Guise/Chic, 2128 N. Halstead in Chicago
Located in a rehabbed police station, this unique Lincoln Park “style store” originally opened for men who love fashion but hate to shop. The business has since gone coed and offers salon and boutique services for men and women.

GO DANCING

Club 720, 720 N. Wells St., Chicago, 312-787-8720
Three floors of dance, offering a different type of music on each and free Latin dance lessons on Friday. Register for the VIP guest list online for free admission.

Crobar, 1546 N. Kingsbury
For hard-core dancers, Crobar offers extreme body-pounding techno, disco and anything with a strong beat on its spacious dancefloors. Call ahead to book the upstairs VIP room for a special event.

Martini Park, 151 W. Erie St.
Touting itself as the “new nightlife concept for grownups,” Martini Park offers a sophisticated menu in its lounge and live music for its dance floor. Can’t get your groove on to live music? No problem. DJs spin club music after the band wraps for the night.

Neo, 2350 N. Clark St.
Tailored to Chicago’s underground scene, Neo pounds out metal, elektro, industrial, retro and more for the ultimate in hard-core dance. Open every night of the week, Neo charges no cover on Sundays through Wednesdays.  

Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to...

ENJOY NATURE

Bike Chicago
This bicycle rentals and guided tours company will deliver a bike to your door if you don’t have your own.

Chicago Area Runners Association
Miles of sandy beaches along Lake Michigan make it easy to just keep on going. Check out the largest running organization in the Midwest for information on training programs and ways to meet other runners.

Ice Skating at McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, on Michigan Avenue between Washington and Madison streets
During the winter, Millennium Park opens up an ice skating rink that is free.

Kayak Chicago, 435 E. Illinois
Rent a kayak for $15/hour (single) or $25/hour (tandem) and enjoy the city from a whole new vantage point.

TAKE FIDO

Mercury Canine Cruises, departs at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive on the Chicago River, 312-332-1353
Enjoy a cruise with the one you love -- your dog. Every Sunday in the summer, pooches and their people can view Chicago’s landmarks from the water.

Challenger Park, 1101 W. Irving Park Road, 312-742-7802
Find the dog park on Seminary along the west side of the train tracks.

Grace Noethling Park (aka Wiggly Field), 2645 N. Sheffield Ave.
An entire park dedicated to dogs.

SEE GREAT VIEWS OF THE CITY

Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Take in views of the city or the universe.

Signature Room, 875 N. Michigan Ave.
In the heart of the Magnificent Mile, this restaurant offers a panoramic view of the city and Lake Michigan from atop the John Hancock Center. Save a little money and just drop by for a drink at the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor.   

Next Up

On TV

See Full Schedule

Top GAC Shows

See All Shows

Sweepstakes

Get Social With Us

Let's explore this country together.

More GAC Social