24-Hour Eatathon, Chicago
If there's one thing you must do in Chi-Town, it's EAT. Local Emily Fiffer takes us on a one day feeding frenzy across the city.
After living in Chicago for 30 years (and working as a food writer for ten of them), it’s safe to say I’ve done some damn fine eating in my day. I have copious Field Notes scrawled with bits about where I’ve been and what I’ve consumed – I even have a go-to document that I update with my favorite finds and give to visitors who are game for shamelessly stuffing themselves. And who wouldn’t be, really? Eating is part of being a Chicagoan.
Nine months ago, I moved to LA – but each time I go home, I cram in as much delicious food as I can without hating myself. (Spoiler: I never end up hating myself.) There’s a lot you can squeeze into 24 hours, both technically and physically; the secret is to strategize. And if you’ve got more time, even better. Below is your key to a day of eating in the city of big shoulders. Time to break out the fat pants.
8am: All proper eatathons require a heavy dose of caffeine. Start your day at Sawada Coffee, where Japanese world champ latte artist Hiroshi Sawada delivers the most ornate potables we’ve seen. Order the military latte, a heady combo of green tea, espresso, cocoa powder and vanilla syrup.
9am: There’s no way to explain the delicious simplicity of Lula Café; you’ll have to see for yourself. The all-day Logan Square spot is beloved for just about everything on their menu, but if you’re on a tight schedule, the breakfast burrito, stuffed with avocado, onion, green chile, tomato, potato, organic eggs and cheddar, paired with a fresh juice, never disappoints.
1pm: If you’re a fan of tacos (and who isn’t?), you’ve likely heard whispers of Big Star. It lives up to the hype: Packed to the gills no matter the hour (but especially when the weather’s nice), it serves tacos that are full on flavor yet pleasingly petite. Go for the Panza (pork belly) and Papas (spicy potato). There ain’t no shame in an order of guac, either. Wash it all down with a salty michelada.
4pm: About now you’re likely feeling a) full and b) tired of seeing hipsters at every turn. Drown your sorrows/regain your appetite with a short drive to Calumet Fisheries. Located on the Calumet River, the smoked fish haunt has been serving the city for more than 60 years. Grab as much as you can – the fried scallops, pepper- and garlic-smoked trout, smoked shrimp, and smoked sturgeon are keel-over-and-die delicious – and, if you’re lucky, snag one of the coveted spots at the sole picnic table. No dice? Eat on the sidewalk or on your car windshield like the rest of us. Pro tip: Bring some handiwipes, and don’t forget to order a sleeve of Saltines to cut the richness.
Maude’s Liquor Bar
6pm: You’ve jumped on the seafood train, so there’s no sense in jumping off. Keep the shellfish party going strong at Maude’s Liquor Bar, a cozy West Loop spot serving mile-high seafood towers. If you just can’t stomach anymore food, Maude’s has the best drinks in town (the Boire Amer cocktail is a must).
7:30pm: The reason Avec has been around since 2003? Consistently delicious food that still manages to surprise. Start with the shaved Brussels and an order of bacon-wrapped dates, move onto the taleggio focaccia, and share the whole-roasted fish. Order a bottle from the diverse wine list, but stave off dessert – that part comes later.
11pm: Before giving your sweet tooth a run for its money, drop by Au Cheval — it’s just a few blocks west of Avec — and put your name on the hours-long waitlist. Nothing will be more worth your wait than Au Cheval — the burger is legendary. Now’s the time to take a deep breath and embrace your gluttony. Pack in a double patty with cheese, a side of fries and your beverage of choice. After this, you’ll have nothing left to prove.
12am: A Chicago institution, Margie’s Candies is more than 100 years old. Their sundaes, served in canoe-like dishes, are heavy on the whipped cream, wafers and housemade hot fudge, and will wallop you like you’ve never been walloped before. (In a good way.) They’re open late and it’s the perfect treat before hitting the sheets.