As the Midwest's unofficial capitol, Chicago welcomes millions of visitors each year. Thanks to the city's impressive culinary depth, there are countless options to satisfy hunger. It would take weeks of nonstop eating just to scratch the surface of what's available so for those with limited time, it can seem like an overwhelming task. To make things less daunting, the 24-hour itinerary below will help visitors get the most out of their time by highlighting some of the most essential spots in town.
8 a.m. – Doughnut Vault
Exploring the city on an empty stomach is a perilous adventure. Start the day off right with a sugar-fueled rush courtesy of Doughnut Vault. The acclaimed shop is just one of many projects from restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff and his group Hogsalt Hospitality. No, Chicago doesn’t run on Dunkin’. It runs on these perfect buttermilk old fashoneds, pillowy glazed doughnuts, and assortment of other classic flavors. They’re not only some of the finest in town, but the country. Not convinced? Check out the line that forms before opening. Get there early because once the offerings are gone, they’re gone. Seasoned fans know to follow Twitter for the day’s specials and availability. The original store, located at 401 N. Franklin St., opens at 8 a.m. on Mondays through Fridays and 9:30 a.m. on weekends. A second downtown location is at 111 N. Canal St.
10 a.m. – Ipsento Coffee
If Doughnut Vault’s sweet treats don’t provide the energy to wake up, then some good old caffeine will do the trick. Chicago is home to a number of outstanding coffee shops that continue to redefine what a quality cup of joe should taste like. Among the favorites is this Bucktown spot that roasts its own beans. For something different, try a Nutella mocha or the namesake Ipsento latte made with honey, cayenne, and coconut milk. Although it might seem tempting, those with limited time should resist hanging around the cozy space because a few hours can easily pass by in the blink of an eye. A chic, second outpost is located next to the 606 Trail, which makes it an ideal pit stop for anyone taking an elevated tour of the surrounding areas.
11 a.m. – Lula Cafe
As a forerunner of the farm-to-table movement, Jason Hammel has been championing the use of local and sustainable products since before the philosophy took hold. Now almost 18 years later, his celebrated eatery in the heart of Logan Square remains a shining standard for fresh and inventive fare. Stop in for breakfast or brunch during the day and savor a menu that changes seasonally to highlight the finest Midwestern ingredients. Guests can expect scrumptious house pastries and elevated versions of French toasts, scrambles, breakfast sandwiches, and more. Afterwards, burn off those calories by walking around one of Chicago’s hottest neighborhoods and taking in the mesmerizing sights and sounds.
2 p.m. – Big Star
Head southeast for two miles and arrive at the most popular summertime attraction: Big Star’s patio. One Off Hospitality Group’s lively taqueria is the quintessential outdoor spot to spend an afternoon. Tables are first-come, first-served and the restaurant is usually packed not long after opening. Patrons who aren’t fortunate enough to snag a seat right away can leave their phone numbers with the host and wander around Wicker Park while they wait. There’s certainly no shortage of activities to help kill the time as the bustling community is teeming with boutiques, restaurants, and bars. Cool off by visiting Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams for a unique variety of flavors or mosey on up to the nearby Robey hotel’s rooftop bar, Cabana Club, and enjoy a breathtaking 180-degree view of the skyline. When the long-awaited call finally comes, return to Big Star and lounge away over whiskey and pitchers of margarita. If a light snack is needed, the creative tacos will tide one over until dinner.
6 p.m. – The Publican
Chicago’s West Loop has undergone rapid growth in recent years, becoming a hotbed of notable restaurant openings. Today, the meat packing district turned dining mecca is home to some of the most talented chefs, including Paul Kahan. At this European-inspired beer hall, Kahan and his crew have developed close relationships with local purveyors in order to bring the best selection of veggies, seafood, and pork to the table. Get ready to rub elbows and make friends—a majority of the seating is at communal tables or pigsty-style booths. Freshly-shucked oysters, lavish seafood towers, and signature dishes such as Slagel Family Farm roast chicken with summer sausage and frites are stars. They’re paired with an extensive international beer list and pastry chef Dana Cree’s homemade ice creams and desserts.
8 p.m. – The Aviary
There are lots of watering holes in the West Loop but just a few blocks away from The Publican sits a stunning, award-winning cocktail temple. It’s the brainchild of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, a pair who have put Chicago on the map as a global dining destination with innovative restaurants like Alinea and Next. Beverage director Micah Melton dazzles guests with theatrics and liquid alchemy that pushes boundaries. Whether it’s served in a porthole infuser or encased in an ice sphere, each concoction is rooted in science and guaranteed to be a one-of-a-kind experience. The fun doesn’t end there, though. Hidden downstairs is The Office, an intimate speakeasy serving classic drinks and rare spirits. Together, the two bars offer a yin and yang approach to mixology. Reservations for both can be booked on Kokonas’ proprietary ticketing system Tock.
10 p.m. – Kingston Mines
Just like the thriving culinary scene, the blues are an integral part of Chicago’s identity. And while music venues are aplenty, this Lincoln Park landmark is the oldest continuously-operating blues club in town. Founded in 1968 and open seven days a week, Kingston Mines supplies a seemingly never-ending evening of live entertainment. Two bands play on two stages every night until as late as 4 a.m. so that the good times can roll into the early morning. The kitchen is likewise open late and keeps the party going with Southern comforts such as New Orleans-style ribs. From top to bottom, it’s a soulful experience that fully encapsulates the spirit of Chicago.