Earlier this year, we presented a set of insider recommendations for things to DO in Chicago. This shortlist of choice activities was curated by your very own Ranch staff as a token of our trademark Champagne Customer Service.
Whether you come from near or far, we want you to feel feeling at home — that is, so comfortable you let your creativity and innovation take flight.
Part of that comfort, no doubt, comes from being well fed! Meetings here can depend on delicious, inviting meals from Tri-Star Catering, plus nourishing snacks both in the morning and afternoon. And the roster of Preferred Caterers for our weddings and special events has satisfying cuisine covered.
But when our Meeting clients leave our confines at 5pm, or when out-of-town family have the whole weekend in Chicago outside of a wedding at the Ranch, there’s so much food in Chicago to choose from. Where do you start?
*Now we've made our faves easy to find on Google Maps! Click the map to see ALL our Recommendations.
To find the best eats in a new city, you should do as the locals do. In this case, the locals at the helm are the creative folks behind Catalyst Ranch, and you know we won’t steer you wrong.
So you’ve lounged at the Catcade and played pinball at Mission Control. Now let’s get you fed. You have our blessings to hit up our own favorite eateries. Go forth, and taste:
This Ravenswood corner shop is one of Ranch staffer Bryan’s favorites because on top of their great lattes, it’s their mission to cultivate entrepreneurship, creativity and collaboration. They invite local start-up business owners to showcase their wares alongside their community culture for special single-day events or even weeks-long residencies. It’s how you can always expect to see something different in-house, ranging from pastries to chef-made meals to floral arrangements, apparel, art and more. Bryan recommends you grab a chai, plus a turon danish by Del Sur Bakery, who’s currently in their pastry case, and enjoy on a stroll through Winnemac Park across the street.
You’ll recall from Part 1 that Ranch staffer Mike’s ideal Sunday includes a traditional diner breakfast. He and his husband Dennis have two favorites: Pancake Café in Wrigleyville close to the Northalsted gayborhood, and Cozy Corner near Loyola and closer to their home. They love both, but the Sunday morning decision is made easier on gamedays: Avoid the Cubs crowd at Pancake and stick to Cozy. “All the staff there knows us as regulars. I get what they call their ‘Hipster Benedict,’ so picture biscuits and gravy but with poached eggs.” Cozy’s Lemon Berry Capone pancakes are pictured above.
Stamper Cheese Various neighborhood farmers markets Instagram
Mike also previously recommended browsing the Glenwood Sunday Farmers Market. Sure, there’s lots of local produce to stock up on, but he insists you find the Stamper Cheese stall. His favorite is their smoked mozzarella string cheese, and it’s so good you’ll curse. And don’t worry: those talented $%@#ing cheesemongers aren’t just at Glenwood. You can find Stamper Cheese vending at plenty of other Farmers Markets in the city. Check each market’s listings, or head to Stamper’s Instagram for their planned appearances.
For Mexican cuisine, Ranch staffer Kira raves about El Sabor Poblano. “My husband and I have eaten at a lot of Mexican taquerias and more upscale, sit-down Mexican restaurants, but this place is seriously some of the best traditional, authentic Mexican food in the city. For starters, they make their own tortillas and they are amazing! Secondly, the food just taste more real and homemade.” The recipes here have origins in Puebla Mexico, and Kira’s go-to dishes are the asada tacos and the mole enchiladas. “Their mole recipe has such a depth of flavor, you can tell it’s a time consuming recipe made with love.” That heart and soul in the food will keep you coming back to this family-owned restaurant.
If Mike has to name his favorite Chicago food, it’s the Italian beef sandwich. It’s a renowned local specialty: thinly sliced, seasoned and simmered roast beef on an Italian-style roll. A true Chicagoan will have a preferred set of the traditional options: dipped or not dipped in au jus gravy, and maybe sweet or hot peppers on top. And while there are many joints serving up a good sandwich, Mike’s favorite is the famed Al’s Beef, which is one of the parties who purports to be THE originator of this 1930’s-born sandwich. The original Al’s is still dippin’ on Taylor Street in the Little Italy neighborhood.
There’s a time and place for Michelin stars, and same goes for dependable, greasy-spoon comfort food. A block up from Pancake Café is Windy City Gyros, which like its neighbor also benefits from the overlapping territory of Northalsted and Wrigleyville. While you might find yourself at Pancake for brunch, you’ll happily saunter to Windy City Gyros before, during or after a lively night out. Ranch staffer Lyndon will often hit it up after going to Queen! at SmartBar: “It’s just some yummy fast food that hits the spot for me, especially after a night of singing and dancing!” And hey, if you’re out long enough, you might just be back at Pancake Café for breakfast…
Listing A Taste of Heaven in the Sweets category does the business a bit of a disservice because they are a full-fledged restaurant serving a stacked menu all day. You should definitely hit this cute Andersonville restaurant for a casual-cozy meal, but what keeps Bryan up at night is their overflowing pastry case. “There are so many gorgeous cakes, cupcakes, cookies and bars, not to mention breakfast pastries, who even has time for savory things? There’s more sugar to try!” Bryan’s a fool for anything with whipped cream frosting, so his money’s on the coconut cream cake or “Jeannine’s Cake” bursting with berries.
Just outside of Chicago city proper (but still Cook County!) lies one of Kira’s favorite Chicagoland Small Business. They make churros, sweet bread and cookies, and their bespoke cakes are picture-perfect. “Every cake I’ve had from there is YUM, but thetres lechesis probably the best. It’s a small store but has a beautiful mural of Frida Kahlo in it.” Sounds like evocative atmosphere for their pan de muerto dipped in Mexican hot chocolate (pictured above) — they’ll have the traditional sweet roll in the usual weeks leading up to Día de los Muertos on November 1st. **And as a bonus, Bryan suggests after hot chocolate you do a round of mini golf at the nearby Novelty Golf & Games.
Filipino flavors have made their way into the mainstream in recent years, and it’s so popular that the Trader Joe’s Ube Waffle and Pancake Mix flies off the shelf. Spare yourself the work and get your fix at Jennivee’s Bakery. Their Purple Velvet cakes are rich with ube, the sweet purple yam flavor that’s iconic in Filipino desserts. Bryan was so happy when the cake shop opened in 2017 just a stone’s throw from his apartment. “It quickly became my go-to for desserts to bring to parties. I absolutely brought a box of cupcakes when I took my boyfriend home to meet my parents in the suburbs. The meeting went great, and sharing in the cupcakes was a smash!”
Everything related to Pretty Cool is gorgeous. The graphic design is eye popping, their store is Instagram-ready, and their ice cream and sorbet pops are things of beauty. Lucky for us, their flavors surpass the visuals. Bryan’s favorites are the pie-flavored pops, with pie crust crumbles and extra toppings adding extra texture and flavor in a single pop, but on any given day, you’ll also find seasonal flavors and local collaborations, such as the Churro Pop at Big Star, the popcorn-inspired Chicago Mix bar in the winter, and the jelly donut Pączki Day bar, pictured above.
Now go forth, hungry traveler, and eat well!
We’re proud to be your concierge to creativity while you’re in our space, and to more wonder and delight beyond.