As a travel and food writer for 17 years, I’ve spent many a day planning my itinerary around food. Road trips always include side trips to cafes, breweries, markets or gourmet shops, day trips are sometimes focused on proximity of attractions to favorite dinner spots and often a food fest or food-related attraction is the main destination and the rest of the day is planned around it.
Summer is the perfect time to plan a foodie field trip where you can stroll from one destination to another — and walk off a few calories in between the tasting.
Chicago is full of ethnic enclaves and melting-pot neighborhoods where you’ll find a plethora of delicious establishments to plan a day centered on food. One of those melting pot areas would be Lincoln Park, where little shops and eateries represent a variety of ethnic cuisine amongst trendy bars and upscale chains. On visits to Wrigley Field, I’ve often paired a Cubs game with a trip down Clark Street for a bite to eat and a treat to bring home.
“We’re just a neighborhood filled with lots of cafes, shops, restaurants and pubs and all different kinds of international cuisines — from Italian to Asian to American fusion,” said Bryan Biello, marketing and outreach manager with the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce. “There are so many different things you’ll find here and there are great places to shop while hopping around from restaurants.”
Biello also noted that the Green City Market, an outdoor farmers market located at the intersection of Clark and Lincoln across from the Hotel Lincoln, is a big draw throughout the spring, summer and fall with fresh produce available from dozens of local and Midwest farmers on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. There’s also an indoor market during the winter at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
And, of course, a day of eating in Lincoln Park matches up well with some time at Lincoln Park Zoo and Lincoln Park Conservatory, both free attractions.
Start off your day on Diversey Parkway at Yolk, a popular breakfast/brunch destination that originated in Chicago’s South Loop in 2006 and has grown to include several more Chicago locations and expanded to the Dallas, Fort Worth and Indianapolis areas. Choose from an extensive menu that includes skillets, omelets, eggs benedicts and French toast. Some of the popular dishes with customers are Chilaquiles Verde, the Croque Madame and West Coast Crepes (a savory veggie-filled version.)
What foodie can resist a stop at Trader Joe’s? Walk down the street and pop in for a few unique food items, like their Speculoos Cookie Butter, or fresh produce or breads.
Make your next stop KC Chocolatier, where you’ll be drawn in by the scent of confectionaries at Chicago’s premier Belgian chocolate shop. Try out a chocolate bar or get a gift box for a special someone. Then stop at its neighbor, TeaGschwendner, to browse through a large selection of quality loose-leaf teas and accessories and let a knowledgeable employee help you select a good blend of flavors to customize to your tastes.
Next enjoy a plate lunch at Aloha Eats Hawaiian Grill, where you can try barbecue, burgers, curries, musubi and more. A “plate lunch” starts with a couple scoops of rice and macaroni salad with your choice of meat — and SPAM is among them. The Sriracha Hot Sauce Lollipops are wildly popular.
For an afternoon treat, slip over to Cafe Vienna for some traditional Austrian apple strudel, black forest cake or a variety of other indulgent German pastries and desserts — a hazelnut torre, opera cake or napoleon are a few. There’s also an extensive menu of breakfast and lunch entrees of schnitzels, croissant sandwiches, Belgian waffles and more. Be sure to buy a loaf of freshly baked rye, wheat or Bavarian pretzel bread to take home.
As it nears dinner time, drop in to Toro Sushi. Whether you’re in the mood for a simple bowl of miso soup, some maki or some tempura veggies, you’ll find all of it perfectly prepared along many more options on the menu. The staff is uber friendly and attentive and a visit makes for a fun experience. Don’t let it keep you away if sushi isn’t your thing. There’s so much more than sushi on the menu.
If you’re too stuffed for a dessert, be sure to stop into Molly’s Cupcakes anyway. The treat will transport home well for a midnight snack or next-day indulgence. These cupcakes are legendary not just in Chicago, but in New York and Iowa City. They’ve been rated as having one of 10 top cupcakes in the country.
Looking to relax and end your foodie adventure with a leisurely drink (and maybe even some small bar bites) on a patio? Biello suggest stopping at Gaslight Bar & Grille. “They have a really nice covered patio for outdoor seating as well as a nice space inside,” he said. “The food is really good and a lot of folks go there for the late-night drinking crowd.”
D.O.C. Wine Bar is another Clark Street spot to visit to finish off the evening with a glass, bottle or flight from wineries around the globe. “It’s been renovated inside and is great for summer with outdoor seating, but also great in winter with a nice fireplace inside.”
If you are more interested in finishing off the night with a brew, stop in to HopCat, the regional chain that originated in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that offers 130 beers on tap and another 200 from around the world in bottles.
Or if you want to hone in on craft brews, head back to Diversey Parkway and hit Compass Bar, known for their list of 200 craft beers and their wood-fired pizzas.