Going to school right outside Chicago is great for a foodie. It’s so much fun discovering new places to eat, and between the Eater Chicago emails my mom sends me and my access to Postmates, I have yet to run out of new restaurants to try.
Now, being a college student in a big city means budgeting. A lot. I barely have the cash to go to The Cheesecake Factory, much less some of the more upscale restaurants Chicago has to offer. But despite a spending limit, I’ve still found some amazing places to indulge in and around the Windy City.
Check out some of my favorite places to eat in Chicago below!
Located in Hyde Park, this sweet shop is to die for. I tried the salted caramel ice cream at their Lollapalooza kiosk (pictured), and it was seriously the creamiest, salted-caramel-iest ice cream I’ve had to date. They’re also renowned for their fudge, toffees and chocolates. My favorite is the peanut butter truffle – imagine a Reese’s peanut butter cup, now make it fancy and coat it with rainbow sprinkles.
MAD Social is one of the restaurants I discovered through my mom. She told me to check out their Chicken & Waffles (pictured) when I was at Lolla, which turned out to be the best decision ever. Let me rave for one second – the chicken & waffles is a churro batter waffle, topped with a chicken breast milanese, house hot sauce, crisp pork belly, maple syrup and powdered sugar. It was so good, I had to fight Nathan off when he came back for more bites of my meal.
Okay. Raving over. Back to the restaurant in general.
I really like MAD Social because it features a globally-inspired menu but everything feels very familiar at the same time. Also, almost everything on the menu costs $20 or less. Hello, budget-friendly. Check it out in the West Loop.
This lobster corndog was another treat I was told to try at Lollapalooza (this time by Nathan, who absolutely raved about it last year). The corn bread was creamy and flavorful, the lobster was decadent, and the tartar sauce drizzle was the perfect touch.
Sorry, I’m raving again.
This thing of beauty was created by Graham Elliot, a renowned chef/Masterchef host and judge/Food Network family member. He opened Graham Elliot Bistro in the West Loop neighborhood in 2012, the same year he was inducted into Chicago’s Chefs Hall of Fame and had September 19 declared “Graham Elliot Day” in Chicago. He’s kind of a big deal in the Windy City.
The bistro is a bit on the pricier side, so it’s definitely one to save for mom or dad. (Kidding! Sort of.) But it offers Elliot’s fun twists on classic dishes, like a deconstructed Caesar salad and a “Milk & Honey” dish of raw honeycomb and burrata cheese.
So donuts aren’t technically a meal, and a donut shop isn’t technically a restaurant. But Firecakes Donuts is my absolute favorite stop in Chicago. I go almost every time I head into the city, regardless of whether my travel companion wants to go, too.
With two locations – one in Lincoln Park and one in River North – Firecakes is an adorable little counter-serve store that offers crazy donut flavors in addition to traditional fare. My favorite is the Butterscotch Praline donut, but they also have Malted Milk Ball, Maple Glazed Pineapple & Bacon, Coconut Cream (pictured), and Peanut Butter & Jelly varieties.
I briefly mentioned going to Todoroki for my birthday a few months ago, but I didn’t really say a whole lot about the actual food. Although this spot isn’t in Chicago itself – it’s in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago – this is my favorite place to go for sushi, hands down. It’s great for ordering a bunch of rolls (like the ones pictured) and sharing with friends. My favorite is the Hawaiian Sunrise roll, which is spicy tuna topped with shrimp tempura and red tobiko.
My mom visited me at school last spring and had the foresight to make a reservation at Ralph Lauren’s eponymous restaurant, the RL Restaurant. I seriously felt like I was stepping into an old-school East Coast country club when I walked in the restaurant, which is located next to the world’s largest Polo store on Michigan Avenue. Needless to say, the menu is pricey, but well worth the money. My favorite dish is the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict, a seafood spin on the classic dish (pictured). The menu also features steaks, chops, salads and sandwiches.
Last but not least: Lou Malnati’s. You cannot go to Chicago without stopping by the famed pizzeria for a slice (or two, or three) of their deep dish pizza. Chicago is known for its deep dish pies, but Lou’s is considered the oldest family name in pizza in the Windy City, and definitely my favorite. If you’ve never had deep dish pizza before, the toppings are put on in reverse order from typical pizza: first the cheese, then the toppings and finally the sauce. You can find a location in most neighborhoods in Chicago.
Photo courtesy Lou Malnati’s