Chicago Style Italian Beef

Today we’re examining Chicago Style Italian Beef including the history, the ingredients and most importantly where to get it. In the past we’ve broken down Chicago Deep Dish Pizza and it is probably more involved than you might think.

Chicago Style Italian Beef History

We’re not sure why we Chicagoans have such a hard time with history and getting stories straight. Who started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? Where did we get our Chicago Nicknames? Italian Beef also has some debatable origins. Here are a handful of the most recognized theories.

  1. 1925 a company by the name of Scala’s Original Beef and Sausage Company started in Chicago. (Spoiler alert: it still does operate and supplies many Chicago restaurants with their meat for beef sandwiches). According to them the Italian Beef was introduced at weddings and banquets. The roasted beef was sliced thing and served on bread to help “stretch” the food to feed the many guests. It was, needless to say, a very popular item and the rest is history.
  2. Then there is the story of an Italian immigrant working in the Chicago Stock Yards in the early 1900s. (The stock yards were Chicago’s meat-packing district, and Chicago led the world in meat packing back then). The worker would take home the less desirable cuts of meat that the company sold and according to the story made literally the same exact thing that is served today: roast the beef in Italian spices and broth, slice it, serve on Italian bread. This one seems a bit far-fetched, but we love it.
  3. And while perhaps not the inventory of Italian Beef sandwiches we do have to tip our caps to Al Ferreri and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli. Why? Because that trio is responsible for opening Al’s Beef in 1938. The restaurant is still open today and has expanded quite a bit. In fact there is one in Dubai now!

Regardless of who invented the Chicago Style Italian Beef when we know this much – it’s dang good. Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients used to make these sandwiches.

Chicago Style Italian Beef Ingredients

Al’s Beef Chicago Style Italian Sausage. Don’t you tell us this doesn’t make you hungry.

We like this part the best. So often we don’t know what were eating. A Chicago Style Italian Beef? Easy, it’s meat, bread, juice and maybe some peppers, right? Not so fast…

The meat used to make an Italian Beef sandwich is beef. Typically it’s one of three different cuts of meat: sirloin rear, bottom round or top round. Bottom Round is by far the most popular which if you look at the graphic below it would be a 32 lb. cut of beef just above the shank on the outside of the steer’s hind legs.

Study and remember these cuts the next time you are shopping for beef in the grocery store.                                                                                                                        Source: Yzmo at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

Most likely the cut used in Italian Beef is going to be from the Bottom Round because it’s lean and it’s the cheapest cut. However the meat isn’t as tender as some of the other cuts. To make the meat soft and delicious it’s roasted at a medium heat in a garlicky broth infused with Italian spices such as oregano. This style of roasting in a liquid is called a wet roast. Depending on the exact style of cut and how long the beef is roasted you could lose almost half of the weight during the cooking process. Yikes!

Once the beef is cooked it’s then sliced thin in a deli slicer and returned to it’s broth to cook some more before being served to you on an Italian roll with your choice of peppers – either sweet or hot.

You’re going to get your choice – sweet or hot peppers. Of course you could opt for neither, but if you take one or the other here is what you’re getting:

  • Sweet Peppers – the pepper is actually called the Friggitello, but you might here it in the streets called “Golden Greek”. We (Americans) will often times confuse this with a peperoncini – THIS IS NOT a peperoncini. Oh, and often times if you order sweet peppers on your Italian Beef you could get simply cooked green bell peppers, which is OK too.
  • Hot Peppers – Mmm. This is where it’s at! When you order hot peppers on your Chicago Style Italian Beef you aren’t simply going to get a couple of whole peppers thrown on there. You’re going to get a hot relish of pickled vegetables that INCLUDE peppers called Giardiniera. (Pronounced: JAR – DIH – NAIR – AH) This HOT style relish is a Chicago thing and we’ll often times add sport peppers to kick it up a notch. The remaining vegetables include carrots, celery, cauliflower, serrano peppers and gherkins. There can be an entire post on Giardiniera – which is a good idea…

Some places you can have them throw cheese on top, typically melted mozzarella. We’ve had it. It’s not bad – actually it’s quite good. However, there is just something that feels “right” about not getting cheese. No one is going to look at you crazy if you order a cheesy beef though.

And when you order you are definitely going to be asked “Wet or Dry?” This can throw a first-timer off. You might be wondering, “wait…what? it’s a sandwich..” Here is what you need to know to properly answer:

  • Wet: The beef gets pulled from the broth with tongs and is immediately put onto the Italian roll – most of the juices are soaked into the bread.
  • Dry: The beef gets pulled from the broth and the server gives the beef a chance to dry off. Most of the juices drip back into the pot and don’t make it to your bread.
  • Dipped: This is a thing. Beef sandwich is made and then with the tongs the ENTIRE sandwich is dipped into the broth. 100 out 100 in the flavor department, 100 out of 100 in the very soggy, kind of hard to eat department too.

Where to get Chicago Style Italian Beef

Johnnie’s Beef (Courtesy of TripAdvisor)

There are so many great places for Italian Beef in Chicago. We couldn’t possibly list them all. We’ll do our best to provide our favorites. If we forgot a place on this list add it to the comments section. In no particular order…

Al’s Beef – Many locations, one of the originals founded in 1938

Mr. Beef on Orleans – Another one of the originals – classic.

Johnnie’s Beef – One of our favorites – located just west of Chicago. Yum.

Portillo’s – A Chicagoland favorite – has a large menu of other foods too and many locations across the city.

Jay’s Beef – This place serves awesome beef sandwiches and is located in Wicker Park. So we like it. A lot.

Enjoy your Chicago Style Italian Beef sandwiches!

Chicago Neighborhood Guide: Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park really does have it all. Plenty of unique boutique shops, restaurants galore, a thriving nightlife, miles of park along Lake Michigan, North Ave Beach, Lincoln Park Zoo, a Nature Museum and more. It’s why we offer a Free 2 hour Guided Tour of Lincoln Park.

The easy part is deciding to visit Lincoln Park. The hard part is deciding on how long to stay and what exactly you should do. Let’s assume you have 1 full day to spend in Lincoln Park, here is what you should do.

Breakfast or Brunch?

breakfastLP

Orange Contemporary Brunch

First things first you’re going to need to get come food in your belly because you have a big day planned. If you’re visiting on a weekday we suggest stopping Orange Contemporary Brunch (2413 N Clark St) which is open everyday of the week at 8am. Make sure to try their orange peel coffee and a pancake flight. If you’re visiting on the weekends and want to try a special menu for brunch stop by Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (2024 N Halsted St) which serves a Spanish-inspired sweet and savory brunch menu starting at 9am on Saturday and Sunday. Our favorite is the Breakfast Paella which serves 2-3 people.

Get your shop on.

Regardless of where you fill up to start the day you’re next stop is going to be the Chicago Landmark Armitage-Halsted District. This is the center of the main shopping corridor in Lincoln Park. If you find yourself on Clark Street for breakfast make sure to stop in Aaron’s Apothecary (2338 N Clark St) and check out their fantastic selection of high-end candles & skin care. Estheticians are waiting to help you with any questions and make sure you leave with the right product.

Once you’re at the intersection of Armitage & Halsted you’re just a short walk to many of our favorite shops. Just west on Armitage is a great little stationary and gift shop – All She Wrote (825 W Armitage Ave). Just north on Halsted is a very unique place specializing in one-of-a-kind fragrances. Aroma Workshop (2050 N. Halstead Street) offers their guests an opportunity to create their very own fragrance with workshops and classes. Check their schedule and make an appointment or walk-in and see how it works. Continuing up Halsted you will not only be walking along one of Chicago’s most beautiful retail streets but you will come across a wide variety of shops as well. Groshek Art Gallery (2136 N Halsted St), Read It & Eat (2142 N Halsted St), & Calvin Tran (2154 N Halsted St) all line the west side of the street.

But don’t just take our word for it, explore the area on foot and pop into all the wonderful shops that line the streets. Soon you will have worked up a hunger and if you’re still in the Armitage-Halsted District then you’re going to have lots of options.

Lunch in Lincoln Park

Butcher & The Burger

Butcher & The Burger

Let’s assume that you’re still in the vicinity, here are the best walkable options.

Cheaper/Fast Eats

Affordable Sit Down

  • Pasta Palazzo – Handmade pastas and tasty sangria – need we say more?
  • Athenian Room – Greek sit down with a patio and BYOB policy.

Mid-Range

  • Summer House Santa Monica – This LEYE takes you to California ..in Lincoln Park.
  • Chez Moi – Serving French classics in a casual atmosphere with outdoor seating.

Mid Afternoon in Lincoln Park

Are you full? We hope so. Time work off some of those calories you ate and probably drank. And luckily there is just the activity to do that. Free Chicago Walking Tours has a Lincoln Park tour at 2pm that will start near the intersection of Armitage & Halsted. This is the perfect way to really see Lincoln Park.

Your guide will share with you the history of Chicago & Lincoln Park while winding your way way east through one of the most beautiful residential neighborhoods in Chicago and concluding the tour with a stroll through the Alfred Caldwell Lilly Pool and leaving you just steps from the Lincoln Park Conservatory & Lincoln Park Zoo – both free!

From there you will not want to miss grabbing a drink, and maybe an appetizer, at one of Chicago’s best rooftop bars – The J. Parker. Opening their doors at 5pm during the week and 11:30am on the weekends this place is a DO NOT MISS when the sky is clear. Enjoy amazing views of Lincoln Park and the Chicago skyline from the north – a perspective you do not get with rooftops in the Loop and River North.

After a couple of drinks it’s time to head back to your hotel and get ready for the night. There is still a lot of left to do.

Dinner

Pizza

  • Pequods – Our favorite deep dish pizza. If you haven’t had deep dish and you want to then go here. Please.
  • Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Co – Unique potpie-style pizzas served upside down. Always a wait so you know it’s good.

Lincoln Park Specialties

  • Twin Anchors – The best ribs in Chicago. No reservations, expect to wait.
  • The Barrelhouse Flat – Arguable the best bar in Lincoln Park with a small dinner menu. Make sure you visit their upstairs.
  • Social Table – Learn how to cook and meet others at this communal dining spot in Lincoln Park.

Our Favorites for Special Occassion

  • Riccardo Trattoria – delicious regional Italian cuisine in an intimate setting.
  • Intro – the hottest chef’s rotate every 3 months making sure your dinners are never the same.
  • North Pond – Michelin-starred with romantic setting overlooking the Chicago skyline.

And finally, after your dinner it’s time for dancing. And there is no single place we’d rather get our groove on than the world famous blues club Kingston Mines (2548 N Halsted St). This place opens at 7pm every single day (and has for 40+ year) and goes until 4am. Cover to get in is $12 during the week and $15 on the weekend – but is well worth the price. The music is unbelievable. The musicians are the most talented blues musicians in the city. We absolutely love this place.

 

Chicago Pizza

Pizza. Arguably America’s favorite food. There is a really funny quote about pizza that says when pizza is good, it’s great – but when its bad it’s still pretty darn good. In a 2015 survey by gluten-free crust purveyor Smart Flour Foods and the Center for Generational Kinetics, more than 6 million adults said they would give up sex for a year before they’d stop eating pizza. Hahah – wow.

Pizza History

Pizza gained popularity in the late 1940s after US troops stationed in Italy brought the concept back to the States. Over the last 70+ years pizza has taken on many different looks and feels courtesy of different regions of the USA creating their version of the pizza. Today the pizza industry in the United States is an estimated $37B – yes, that is a B, as in Billions.

Regardless of where you are eating your pizza there are some general differences between American pizza and traditional Italian pizza. The most notable difference is the ingredients use to make the dough. In the US we use fat in our dough – typically a vegetable oil or shortening (in some cases olive oil). The amount of oil or shortening will vary depending on the style of pizza. For instance a New York Style pizza will use a very little amount of oil while a thick-crust Chicago Deep Dish pizza will use quite a bit. Another difference is the actual flour that we use here. Often times the dough will have a high gluten level – think of a dough that would be used to make a bagel. The high gluten percentage allows the pizza dough to be stretched to the max creating an uber thin crust.

Chicago Style Pizza

Giordano's

Giordano’s

Believe it or not Chicago has 3 distinct styles of pizza. Chicago Deep Dish is by far the most popular. You’ve probably had the other two and may not have known you were even eating a Chicago-style pizza. The other two styles are Chicago Stuffed and Chicago Thin Crust.

Chicago Deep Dish has a bit of a controversial beginning in that no one really knows for certain who or where the pizza came from – for certain. The most common theory is that Pizzeria Uno in 1943 invented the pizza. Whether or not that is in fact the truth is not important – the stuff is good regardless.

Kind of exactly how the name sounds the biggest difference with the Chicago Deep Dish pizza is the depth of the crust. The pizza is baked in a high-wall steel pan, similar to how you would bake a cake. The crust itself isn’t very thick but there is a “wall” of crust along the outer edge. The pan is almost always lined with an oil that gives the bottom and side crusts a “fried” effect making it crispy. It’s common to order your pizza “well done” or “extra crispy” when getting deep dish.

The layering of the remaining ingredients is a bit unique as well. Often times the first layer to be put onto of the bottom crust is the cheese – most common is mozzarella. The next set of ingredients are the toppings that you have ordered and finally the sauce is poured over as the last layer.

For those ordering to-go or delivery you might end up with an uncut pie. Don’t worry though, this was intentional. The pizza is specifically left uncut to prevent the juices from seeping into the crust and creating a soggy pizza. You don’t want that.

Chicago Stuffed Pizza is the deep dish pizza’s stunt double. It’s very easy to mistake the stuffed pizza for the deep dish pizza.

These pizzas were invented in the 1970’s by a couple of pizza chains that began tweaking their recipes and styles of the deep dish pizza. Inspired by a traditional Italian Easter pie the pizza chefs created the Chicago Stuffed pizza.

The easiest way to think about the difference is this:

  1. The ingredient layer is more dense than traditional deep dish pizza
  2. On top of the tomato sauce (which is the last layer of deep dish pizza) is another layer of dough that is pressed (or connected to) the side crust. Creating a sort of pie. And just like pies the cooks will poke holes in the top layer of dough to allow the pizza to steam and prevent an unfortunately explosion in the kitchen!

You would think that would be really easy to identify, right? The stuffed pizza has a top layer of dough, the deep dish pizza has a top layer of sauce. Not so fast. More times than not pizza sauce is ladled over the top layer of crust and making it nearly impossible for the amateur to tell the difference.

Chicago Thin Crust doesn’t get the attention of the deep dish or stuffed pizza, but please – do not overlook this version. As the name implies the crust on this pizza is quite thin but is strong. And by strong we mean that it can hold quite the amount of topping without “bending” and there is a crunch when you bite into the pizza. This is much different than the popular New York style pizza which has flimsy dough and it curled in your hand and eaten like a taco. The cut of the pizza – in squares – is a also a giveaway you’re eating Chicago Thin Crust and not a version of New York which is served in large triangles.

Where to eat Chicago Pizza?

This is the hardest part, trying to help someone figure out where to eat their pizza. Fortunately you really can’t go wrong no matter where you go. If you can eat at all the places then by all means do so!

Lou Malnati’s (deep dish)

Pequod’s Pizzeria (deep dish)

Gino’s East (deep dish)

Pizzeria Uno (deep dish)

Giordano’s (stuffed)

Rosati’s (thin crust)

Pizano’s Pizza (thin crust)

The Art of Pizza (deep dish)

What places did we miss that should be included on this list?

20 Free Things to do in Chicago

Keeping with the spirit of our business and our desire to help everyone enjoy Chicago on the tightest of budgets we’ve compiled a list of the 20 best free things to do in Chicago.

#1 goes to … Visit Navy Pier – tough to beat the action at Navy Pier during the summer. It’s a real special treat if you’re there for the 4th of July too, great fireworks show.

2. Take a walking tour – Yup, a shameless plug. But really – they’re awesome. Check out our calendar and reserve your spot today.

3. Chicago Cultural Center – One of the first cultural centers in the nation is home to the largest Tiffany glass dome and rotating art exhibits – all free of charge.

4. Millennium Park – your visit to Chicago is not complete unless you visit The Bean and Crown Fountain – both located within a hop, skip and a jump of each other in Millennium Park.

5. Buckingham Fountain – Where are our Married with Children fans? No? Ok… Well, still – definitely worth a visit during the summer when the fountains are on. (April – October, 8am – 11pm daily)

6. Chicago Botanic Gardens – the gardens are located just outside the city. Entrance is free, but parking is not. We’re not entirely sure if this should even be on our list. It is stunningly beautiful though.

7. Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art – This is another tricky one. Technically this is a pay-what-your-want museum. The suggested admission fee is $12 for an adult but they will not turn anyone away.

8. Arcade – Yes, you have read that right. There are a handful of bars popping up across the city that allow you to play your favorite games, like NBA Jam, for free. Headquarters Beercade in Lakeview is one of them.

9. Visit a Chicago brewery. Both Lagunitas and Revolution offer free tours.

10. Take advantage of Chicago’s 18 miles of lake front trail. Ride a bike, walk, jog, people watch, segway (probably not free) or rollerblade. Just take advantage of the trail!

11. Lincoln Park Conservatory – Love love love this place. Their rotating show room is awesome as is their fern garden. Don’t forget that the Lincoln Park Conservatory is only the 2nd largest in Chicago behind the Garfield Park Conservatory which is also free.

12. Harold Washington Library – it’s gigantic, has wi-fi and is a great spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the city while your still in the city.

13. Movies in Millennium Park – Every Tuesday beginning June 21 you can catch a flick in Millennium Park. Here is the full line up of what’s playing.

14. National Museum of Mexican Art – The museum has over 9,000 pieces making it on of the largest collections of Mexican art in the country.

15. Maggie Daley Park – Visit Chicago’s version of Alice in Wonderland and unleash your inner child.

16. The Rookery Building – The lobby of this building has the only Frank Lloyd Wright design in the Loop. Do not miss this if that’s your type of thing.

17. Lincoln Park Zoo – the largest urban zoo in America. Home to more than 200 different species and over 1,000 animals.

18. Jane Adams Hull-House Museum – Dedicated to the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.

19. The Underground Pedway – sure, it’s not really a match for Minneapolis’ covered walkways, but the Chicago version is kind of cool if you have a chance to dip below the surface.

20. John Hancock Observation Deck – save yourself the $20 or so to go to the deck and instead head to the Signature Lounge located on the 96th floor. It’s free and you can enjoy a cocktail up there!

What did we miss? Let us know your favorite free thing to do in Chicago.

The Best Chicago Museums

There are no shortages of museums in Chicago. According to Trip Advisor there are 98 of them in fact. Locals who have spent their entire lives in Chicago will probably never make it to even half of them. So how the heck can you narrow the best museums? Our museum experts have picked the best museum from a handful of categories.

Chicago Art Museums

We’ll start with the easiest category. Hands down, the best art museum in the Windy City is the Art Institute of Chicago. To be honest, it is one of the best in the world. Trip Advisor has repeatedly lavished awards on it, such as Best Museum, and a Top Ten Traveler’s Choice Award. It is clear to see why. The museum features permanent collections that include the world’s masters, such as Monet, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Manet, and Rembrandt, just to name a few. “American Gothic” makes its home here, and from ancient to contemporary, practically every school is represented. The Thorne Rooms are one unique feature of the Institute that entice both young and old. Perfectly to scale, these miniature rooms each reflect a different time period. Together, the Rooms constitute a dollhouse that is like no other. An interesting note, Illinois author Marianne Malone has written best-selling children’s fiction based on the Thorne Rooms. If you have little ones, have them read the book before their visit.

Runner up: And if for some reason you can’t get to the Art Institute, try the Museum of Contemporary Art. It too, is fantastic, and free tours are given daily. And we like free.

Websitehttp://www.artic.edu

Hours: Open daily 10:30am–5:00pm, Thursdays until 8:00pm

Cost: $25 adults, $19 students or seniors, FREE for Children under 14 and Illinois residents on Thursdays

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Science Museums

Source: Shedd Aquarium

Source: Shedd Aquarium

If you’re a science lover, Chicago has much to offer in the way of museums. A place that really wows is the Shedd Aquarium. One of the largest inland aquariums in the world, the Shedd has over 30,000 animals—fresh water, marine, and even terrestrial. That means that in addition to getting an up-close view of sharks, sea lions, and octopi, you’ll also see some animals that dwell on the ground, like monkeys, frogs, and iguanas. The Aquarium offers all kinds of tours, from basic admission to small group “behind the scene” tours that are phenomenal. You’ll see where expert veterinarians and trainers care for our aquatic friends. And what care it is—the freshest of seafood from all over the world comes to Chicago to be served in the finest restaurants… and at the Shedd. But you can’t get it at the cafeteria. It’s for the aquarium’s permanent residents! You can however, enjoy some of Chicago’s finest Jazz here. Every Wednesday (begins June 22) in the summer “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” features popular Jazz artists, dinner, and cocktails on their spacious veranda, plus a great view of the fireworks that start at dusk. Before it gets dark though, take in the awesome architectural show that is the outside of the Shedd Aquarium.

Runner up: Another great science museum is in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, so if you are more for physics and trains than dolphins and coral, visit the Museum of Science & Industry instead – or heck, visit both!

Websitehttp://www.sheddaquarium.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, Weekends open until 6:00pm

Cost: There are so many ticketing options (group size, what do you want to see, buy in advance). The cheapest option starts at $37.95 for adults and $28.95 for children by purchasing tickets online.

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago History Museums

Sharing a campus with the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium is the Field Museum of Natural History. It is another Windy City Gem. You’ll marvel at colossal “Sue”, prominently displayed on its main floor. She is the most well-preserved and complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered. The children’s area, where the little ones can excavate finds of their own is a big draw. Through the museum’s partnership with University of Chicago Paleontologist Paul Sereno (once voted one of the world’s most beautiful people by People Magazine) the dinosaur exhibits are as fun as they are educational. The Museum frequently hosts temporary exhibits (a recent one on Haitian Voodoo was a real crowd-pleaser) that are as interesting as their permanent offerings. The Museum building itself is extraordinary—it is often rented for large affairs due to its beauty. Come in the warm months and you can have a lovely picnic on the adjoining lawn, fly a kite, or watch as children roll down the small hills at the front of the building.

Runner up: If you’re interested in cultural as opposed to natural history, you may want to visit the Chicago History Museum. Though it is quite a bit smaller, it’s chockfull of interesting facts on America’s Second City.

Websitehttps://www.fieldmuseum.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, except Christmas day. Last admission is 4pm.

Cost:  Adults $38, students & seniors $32, Children (3-11) $26

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Children’s Museums

Source: Chicago Children's Museum

Source: Chicago Children’s Museum

As if Navy Pier weren’t enough of a playground, with its huge ferris wheel, funhouse, and stage, the Chicago Children’s Museum is housed on its second through fourth floors. While you might wish to take the stairs, tykes usually prefer to climb up through the burlap-netted maze. A family with young one’s could easily spend the whole day at this museum, which is completely hands-on. It features an extensive water exhibit (be sure to don one of the raincoats provided) as well as a miniature grocery store entirely manned by its short-in-stature visitors. In one room, glass boxes adorn the walls with games and toys of yesteryear that will have parents waxing nostalgic. There are also plenty of child-friendly dining and shopping options on the first floor of the Pier, from sit-down restaurants to McDonalds, and a great ice cream shop. Don’t miss the Build-a-Bear Workshop either.

Runner up: For those who like a less crowded, lower-key experience, The Kohl Children’s Museum in nearby Glenview is equally splendid.

Websitehttp://www.chicagochildrensmuseum.org

Hours: Open daily 9:00am–5:00pm, Thursdays open until 8:00pm

Cost:  Children & Adults $14, Seniors $13, Children under 1yr old FREE. There are a variety of discounts and specials available. Make sure to visit their Plan your Visit page for details.

Free Chicago Museums

No way we can do this post without mentioning the best free museums in the city.

Chicago is a city whose large and thriving Mexican population is manifested in its food and art. The Pilsen neighborhood is the epicenter of this community. In it lies one of the largest collections of Mexican art in the country, at the National Museum of Mexican Art. With over 9,000 pieces housed in a spacious and modern facility, it’s a shock that this museum is free to the public. Yet since its inception in 1987, the Museum has remained true to its mission of bringing Mexican art and culture to the masses “sin fronteras” (without borders). In addition to the fine art that is part of the collection, you can also see a host of cultural and entertainment events here, from dance performances to speeches. Some say that the gift shop offers such unique and authentic wares that it is an exhibit itself. When you’re finished at the museum, be sure to stay in the neighborhood and enjoy delicious, reasonably priced Mexican food, along with some tequila or a margarita that will having you screaming for “uno mas”!

Runner up: If you can’t make it to the NMMA, the University of Chicago’s Oriental Museum is another outstanding free cultural venue that has the additional benefit of featuring an entombed body!

Websitehttp://www.nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00am – 5:00pm. Closed Mondays and on major holidays.

Cost:  Free!

Chicago Planetary & Observatory Museums

Source: Adler Planetarium

Source: Adler Planetarium

Ok, maybe we lied earlier – this is probably the easiest category to pick our favorite in because there is really only one!

If you want to stare into space from Chicago, head straight for the Adler Planetarium, where the “star” is the Doane Observatory. Here, the telescope allows viewers to see planets that are trillions of miles away. Visitor’s come to experience this as well as the phenomenal IMAX theater at the planetarium, which also presents some thrilling footage of the universe. Another draw of the Adler Planetarium is its extensive collection. From scientific instruments of historical significance, to paintings, photographs, and books, even the most advanced researchers will not be disappointed. For those who can’t get to the Adler, neighboring Evanston has a formidable competitor. Northwestern University’s Dearborn Observatory has an 18.5 inch refracting telescope that is open to the public.

Websitehttp://www.adlerplanetarium.org

Hours: Open daily 9:30am–4:00pm, weekends open until 4:30pm

Cost:  General admission for adults start at $12 and $8 for children. (Note: these prices do not include any shows which are pretty cool)

Real Good News: The Art Institute of Chicago is included in the Chicago CityPass which saves you up to 53% off regular priced admission.

Chicago Specialty Museums

The Pullman Museum and Historic District is a designated National Historic Site that is as much a neighborhood as it is a museum. The district on the south side of Chicago features buildings such as the Arcade, the Clock Tower, the Market, and row homes. It is a tribute to Pullman’s influence on American industry, showing how manufacturing generated large and thriving communities. The row homes are actual former residences of people that were employed at the Pullman textile mill and other facilities. Period furniture and architecture is expertly preserved. The library features books on the history of the area and blueprints that were integral to its construction. Visiting this extensive historic site will take all day or more. If you can’t make it down to the south side to experience it, you might want to visit the Museum of Contemporay Photography instead. This is a top-notch specialty museum located right in the loop. Best of all, it’s free!

So there you have it – our curated museum list to help plan your next visit. If you think that we should have included different museums let our guests know by leaving a comment below!

 

 

 

 

Chicago Neighborhood Guide: Andersonville

Getting to Andersonville

Andersonville is one of Chicago’s great neighborhoods.  Located on Chicago’s far north side, it is easily accessible by public transportation.  Using the city’s “L” train, take the Red Line to the Berwyn stop or the Bryn Mawr stop.  From either stop, it’s just a 10-minute walk west to downtown Andersonville.   You can also catch the #22 city bus, disembarking at any of the stops along Clark Street, between Foster Avenue, which borders Andersonville on its south end, and Edgewater Avenue, which borders Andersonville to the north.

If the weather cooperates, you can get around by bicycle.  Consider taking advantage of Divvy, Chicago’s bike share system.  There’s a station conveniently located at the intersection of Clark St. and Bryn Mawr Ave.  But don’t worry—When the weather isn’t bike-friendly, cabs are always plentiful.

Andersonville History

Andersonville dates back to the 1850s, when it was settled by Swedish immigrants.  There are still plenty of signs of Andersonville’s Swedish heritage.  Andersonville celebrates its Swedish roots with Midsommarfest, an annual summer street festival.  The south end of Andersonville is anchored by The Swedish American Museum and features several businesses with Swedish roots, like Svea Restaurant and The Swedish Bakery.  The Swedish Bakery makes some of the best pastries in the city, including an assortment of Swedish pastries.  Be warned that The Swedish Bakery is closed on Sundays!

Andersonville is home to one of the largest LGBT populations in Chicago.  It boasts several gay bars, including @mosphere, The Call, and Mary’s Attic.

Andersonville in 1 Day

If you only have one day to spend in Andersonville, consider these suggestions, all of which are located along Clark Street, Andersonville’s main drag.

Start your day on the north end of Andersonville, with breakfast at m. henry (5707 N. Clark St.).  This breakfast, lunch, and brunch spot is insanely popular.  If you want to enjoy a classic weekend brunch, arrive very early or face a 90-minute wait.

After breakfast, enjoy Andersonville’s shopping scene, which is refreshingly void of any big chain stores.  Just north of m. henry, you’ll find Gethsemane Garden Center (5739 N. Clark St.). Even if you’re not into gardening, you’ll enjoy its Wild Pansy Gift Shop.

andersonvilleshopping

Moving southwards on Clark Street, you’ll find a dizzying array of independently-owned home furnishings and antique shops, like Roost (5634 N. Clark St.) and Room Service (5438 N. Clark St.).  You’ll also find fabulous gourmet food and wine shops, like City Olive (5644 N. Clark St.) and In Fine Spirits (5418 N. Clark St.).  Fans of Italian food will enjoy Piatto Pronto (5624 N. Clark St), a grocery and deli carrying Italian imports and the biggest, most delicious, and best-priced deli sandwiches in the city.

If you’re in the mood for a sit-down lunch, stop by Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St.) for U.S. coastal southern cuisine. Start with a Pickle Tasting (a sampling of homemade pickles and home-baked Sally Lunn bread) and an order of fried green tomatoes.  For your main course, enjoy Big Jones’ award-winning fried chicken or an order of shrimp and grits.  Lunch is available Monday-Friday only.  If you come on a weekend, enjoy a Big Jones brunch from 9.am. – 3 p.m.

After lunch, enjoy a mani/pedi at 2×10 Nails (5414 N. Clark St.).  If that’s not your thing, while away the afternoon browsing more of Andersonville’s locally-owned shops.  Vinyl lovers will appreciate Borderline Music (5351 N. Clark St.).  Book lovers will enjoy Women & Children First, an independently-owned bookshop (5233 N. Clark St.) specializing in feminist and children’s books.  This shop is a gem if you’re looking for a gift, but aren’t sure what to buy.  Their sales staff makes excellent suggestions and complimentary gift-wrapping is offered.

No trip to Andersonville would be complete without a trip to Andersonville Galleria (5247 N. Clark St.), a retail building that houses 90+ tenants.  Its tenants are local artists and entrepreneurs, selling everything from jewelry, gourmet treats, unique homemade gifts, and more!

Care for a cocktail before dinner? Stop by Marty’s Martini Bar (1511 W. Balmoral Ave., just one block west of Clark St.) for an expertly-made cocktail.  Warning: Marty’s is small and extremely popular, so arrive early!

Andersonville has an enticing array of restaurant options.  For an upscale dinner that isn’t at all stuffy, choose Anteprima (5316 N. Clark St.).  Anteprima services seasonal Italian cuisine, complemented by a full bar.  The dinner menu features standouts like Arneis Braised Rabbit and Grilled Lamb Leg.  Anteprima emphasizes fresh, seasonal ingredients, so the menu changes often.

Free Chicago Walking Tours Andersonville Food

For a more casual dinner option, choose Jerry’s Sandwiches (5419 N. Clark St.)  Jerry’s Sandwiches features 100+ sandwich options and offers even more craft beer choices, many of which are made right in Chicago.

After dinner, head over to Mary’s Attic (5400 N. Clark St.), which is the 2nd floor of Hamburger Mary’s Restaurant. Mary’s Attic is a bar featuring an ever-changing menu of entertainment options, like live bands and MaryOke (karaoke).  Straight people are welcome at this establishment/gay bar.  Or if you’re in the mood for comedy, check out The pH Comedy Theater (1515 W. Berwyn, one block west of Clark St.).  This comedy theater offers a wide variety of comedy shows…improv, standup, sketch, and musical.  Its shows come “For the Family,” “PG13,” or “Adults Only.”  Check out their website www.whatisph.com for a schedule.

Andersonville…a fabulous neighborhood with something for everyone!

12 sites to help you plan an unforgettable visit to Chicago

Chicago is a massive city – covering over 237 square miles. There are roughly 2.7 million permanent residents and more than 48 million visitors to the city each year. There are almost 5,000 restaurants to choose from. You could visit a different museum every weekend and still have leftovers, because we have 60 of them – including the #1 Museum in the World. (spoiler: Art Institute of Chicago). There are over 200 theaters & over 225 music venues in Chicago. Getting around in the city can be a breeze or you could feel like it requires an advanced physics degree. Chicago has 28 bus routes & 8 train routes that connect 146 stations. Over 3,000 bikes spread amongst 300 stations are available to rent by the hour to help you tackle one of the countries most bike-friendly cities. And while Chicago ranks #3 by population in America we’re still home to 8,1000 acres of green space, 580 parks and 26 beaches.

Source: City of Chicago

So how the heck are you supposed to figure all of this out on your short weekend trip or heck, even week-long trip to Chicago? Free Chicago Walking Tours is going to help. We present to you the top 12 resources to “hack” your way to an unforgettable Chicago vacation. These websites are a special selection that will make you you make the most of your Chicago trip by having fun, learning & meeting people.

START HERE WITH THESE GENERAL TRAVEL & CHICAGO SITES

TripAdvisor Chicago – Hear us out first. Free Chicago Walking Tours recommends using TripAdvisor Chicago as a way to start the brainstorming process and see what other visitors did in the city.  There is so much information in one place. From things to do, to restaurants, hotels and short-term rentals. Free Chicago Walking Tours even challenges Chicago-area locals to take a look for themselves and find out what is hot in Chicago.

Wikitravel Chicago – Online since 2003, Wikitravel bills itself as the original crowd-sourced travel guide with over 300,000 destinations, including Chicago. There is so much information here. Free Chicago Walking Tours loves this information because it really doesn’t come with an agenda. It’s simply there – use it as you please. It coves topics you really won’t find on other travel sites. Topics such as staying safe within the city and includes a listing of all of foreign consulates located within the city as well as their address and phone numbers. But there really is so much more than this. if you have an hour or so to spare and have never been to or read about Chicago you must visit this page.

Choose Chicago – Yes, we know. Not really a hidden gem or a secret, but this is a catch-all site that is dedicated to Chicago and it didn’t feel right leaving it off. Choose Chicago has a little (OK, a lot) of just about everything. It can be a bit overwhelming because there is so much information, but used correctly and it can be a real asset. Their Chicago Trip Planner is an excellent place to start for those visiting for the first time or the fifth time.

OVER 30% OF VISITORS TO CHICAGO SAY “CULINARY EXPERIENCES” ARE THEIR PRIMARY REASON FOR THE VISIT. THESE SITES WILL MAKE SURE THOSE EXPERIENCES ARE UNIQUE AND MEMORABLE.

Eater Chicago – If you’re looking for the scoop on Chicago dining, drinking, food and nightlife check this site out. If you’re local and haven’t heard of it then you’re going to have some fun for a few hours. If you’re visiting and want to get down to the nitty gritty here are the best features for you:

  • Eater Chicago Essential 38 Restaurants (the answer to: “Can you recommend a restaurant?”
  • Eater Chicago Heat map (hottest Chicago restaurants)
  • We can’t link to this one, because it changes every weekend. But Eater Chicago has a feature every Friday & Saturday they present the best restaurants in Chicago with last minute reservations available from Open Table. Check it out when you’re in need of a place to eat but completely forgot to reserve your spot.

LTH Forum – This is a legit foodie website. It’s not flashy. It’s not sexy. It gets right down to business. The site is the work of Chicago locals who left another “more restrictive” food blog to start their own. Whether you want to meet up with locals to break bread together or you’re interested in getting the scoop on some neighborhood haunts – check this site out.

WEATHER AND TRANSPORTATION ARE TWO VERY UNPREDICTABLE ASPECTS OF CHICAGO LIFE. USE THESE SITES AND APP TO HELP YOU PLAN AND PREPARE FOR ANYTHING.

Spot Hero – For anyone that is going to be driving and parking in Chicago. This is the app for you. It’s almost too good to be true. You plug in where you need to park (an address, landmark, whatever) and the date range. Next thing you know it’s telling you all the spots – both public and private – that you can park at, their location and their price. That is it. Search for the spot, find the spot and pay for it.

RideScout – The all-in-one-whatever-mode-you-want-to-travel transit app has arrived to Chicago. Yay! This app will help you get from point A to point B. Whether you want to take a taxi, a bus, walk, bike, car share, park your care or whatever. All in one simple screen. This is great for those that want to take advantage of every single type of transportation possible in a city (you know who you are) and for those looking to take the most efficient route because they’re running late. Or for those that just want to see how close their friends can guess as to the time difference between taking a bike vs a ride share. Have fun.

Chicago Pedway – Wait, what’s a pedway? It’s a noun -a footway built for pedestrians in an urban area. In Chicago’s case it’s an underground pedway. But why you may ask? To help give you cover for our awful Chicago winters. Many locals don’t even know about it. Now you’re in-the-know. It’s sort of a tangled mess of underground walkways, but we have to admit it’s quite unique and if you have time (or for some reason you’re visiting in the winter) make sure you take a visit.

Dark Sky – Chicago is the Windy City. You have probably heard all of the silly one-liners. “If you don’t like the weather in Chicago, wait 15 minutes.” Chicago has four distinct seasons and then some. Cheers to Dark Sky and the technology behind it that can alert you down to the minute (not kidding) when it will rain or snow in Chicago.

CHICAGO ENTERTAINMENT. ENOUGH SAID.

Free Museum Passes from the Library – Sorry out-of-towners, this one is strictly for locals with a valid ID and Chicago address only. We just couldn’t leave it off our list though, it’s too good. This might even be the last drop in the bucket to motivate you to pack up and move to Chicago.

Just like the link says, if you have a Chicago Public Library card you can “check out” passes to the museum good for up to two adults. The catch? You MUST be accompanied by a child under the age of 18. And yes, the #1 Museum in the World is on the list.

ChicagoPlays – Remember those 200+ theaters that were mentioned in the opening paragraph? ChicagoPlays will make it much easier for you to navigate all that is happening in Chicago. Find a theatre. Find a play. Look by date. Look by what is hot. Buy Tickets. Have fun.

Did we miss a great site that needs to be added on this list? Let us know by adding your comment below.