Although it’s home to plenty of nitrogen-canister-wielding megachefs, Chicago also lays claim to one of the country’s greatest back-to-basics food communities. From Bucktown to Wicker Park, these neighborhood favorites are bringing the Old South (and a little bit of the Old World) to the heartland. Mayor Rahm: you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Bucktown: The Bristol
Stop by on a Monday night and the place will likely be sprinkled with the city’s off-duty chefs, all wondering what they’ll find on Chris Pandel’s wildly unpredictable rotating daily menu, charted out on a blackboard that dominates the wood-lined dining room. One thing’s for sure: Pandel doesn’t play coy with food. His approach is head-on and all about bold juxtapositions. Regulars can take comfort in the familiarity of his signature “Scotch olives”—sausage-stuffed, deep-fried, and paired with crème fraîche—or roasted marrow bones, split lengthwise for easy spreading on rendered-marrow-soaked toast and served with pickled ramp bulbs and red-wine shallot jam. But the rest of the menu is a seasonal free-for-all. When you see the brined, braised, and crisp-fried pig ear with Vietnamese noodles, coriander, and Illinois soybeans, floating in a meaty pho-style broth tinged with palm sugar, grab it. Pandel may never show it to you again. Dinner for two $70.