—by Andrew Brawley
I love Chicago. No joke. If I had to live anywhere east of the Rockies, it would rank in my top 3. However, my extreme hatred for heat and humidity prevent me from ever living anywhere east of the Rockies.
Every time I find myself in Chicago, I always make time to meet up with some college buddies, who never fail to take me somewhere new, fun, interesting, and delicious. So I figured I'd allow one of those college buddies to supply this year's Away Game Travel Guide to Chicago. His name is Eric Jacobson, and he's one of the funniest guys I know. He is a vegetarian, so don't hold that against him. But he also told me he could never become a vegan because he loves cheese way too much, so he's not all that bad.
One small Editor's Note for Eric's diatribe below: Kuma's Corner is a heavy metal burger bar, which puts it in the running for the 'Best Thing Ever' award. And I don't mean heavy metal like Slipknot and Disturbed. I mean heavy metal like Testament and Exodus! When I was there, I ordered the Brujeria. If you go and it's still on the menu, don't blow it by ordering anything else.
Alright, here's where Eric takes over. Enjoy!
Chicago! The Windy City! The home of the Chicago Fire…unless you actually look at a map and realize Toyota Park is in Bridgeview, Illinois!
Let’s get to your questions.
How can I get around Chicago?
Chicago is blessed with an abundance of public transportation and cab prices are surprisingly reasonable. If you visit this city and don’t leave the loop, you have no one but yourself to blame. Be adventurous! If you use Google Maps to look up directions in Chicago, just click the little bus at the top of the browser and you’ll be given a route using public transit. It couldn’t be simpler. And don’t be scared about the safety of the trains. As long as you don’t go watch the Premier League at 6:30 a.m. and get so drunk that you accidentally fall asleep on the train and end up riding it back and forth, from one end of the line to the other for four straight hours, you should have nothing to worry about. By the way, if you happen to see a guy sleeping on the train with his head in his hands at 10:00 a.m., please don’t steal my wallet.
Where the hell is Toyota Park?
Toyota Park is in the middle of nowhere. And not in a nice, tucked in a quiet corner of the city kind of way. It’s in a completely annoying, 20 miles away from the city kind of way. If you were hoping to get to the stadium early and walk around for a bit, I’d recommend against it, unless you’re a big fan of dirt parking lots. Due to the remoteness of the facility, Fire fans do tend to tailgate, so you will see a few people standing around drinking beer while playing cornhole. Please note that, despite the name, cornhole isn’t something worth getting to Bridgeview extra early for.
Where can I get Chicago-style deep dish pizza?
If you ask five Chicagoans what their favorite deep dish pizza place is, you’re going to get five different answers and numerous reasons why everyone else is complete wrong. I’m partial to Nancy’s (2930 N. Broadway), which of course is the best and everyone else can go to hell with their stupid, wrong opinions. If forced to choose a silver medal winner, I’d go with Lou Malnati’s, which is also delicious (be sure to get the butter crust). However, if you don’t mind your pizza being thin, you should definitely consider going to Great Lake (1477 W Balmoral). GQ magazine called it the best pizza in the country. Unfortunately, it’s now near impossible to get served if you don’t show up a few minutes before it opens, thanks to the fact that no more than 10 people can fit in the restaurant at a time. Pretty damn good pizza, though.
What are some good restaurants that don’t serve pizza?
You mean for the day you don’t go to Kuma’s Corner (2900 W Belmont)? If you want to be able to tell people you went to Chicago and stood in a massively long line for an amazing hot dog, go to Hot Doug’s (3324 N California). Don’t let the stigma of the hot dog fool you; as you can probably tell by the fact that they serve duck fat fries on Fridays and Saturdays, this place is amazing. You won’t find a better encased meat. Speaking of best things ever, I cannot recommend the dessert at the Longman & Eagle (2657 N Kedzie) enough. It’s a nice little bar with good food and good whiskey drinks, but whatever you do, save room for the fancy cheese donuts. “Eric,” you ask, “Did you just tell me to go eat cheese donuts?” You’re damn right I did. Speaking of things that sound too good to be true, in Chicago, there is an abundance of BYOB restaurants. Yep, I’m serious. The first time you do it you’re bound to feel like you’re doing something wrong, but don’t be scared. If you were planning to go take a look at Wrigley Field while you’re in town, afterwards, walk down the street to Cozy Noodles (3456 N Sheffield). It is delicious Thai food and the bathroom walls are covered in Pez dispensers. But before you get there, be sure to stop at the 7-11 next door and buy a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine. At Cozy there is no corking fee and they will even bring you a bucket of ice to keep your beer cold. After a weekend of Kuma’s, Hot Doug’s, cheesy donuts and BYOB Thai, you’ll never want to leave this city.
Where’s the best food truck?
Sorry to say it’s probably back in Portland. In Chicago, it is illegal to prep and cook in a truck, so all the best chefs in the city are staying away for now. However, they are opening sandwich restaurants instead. If you wanted to visit Rick Bayless’s restaurant, but forgot to make a reservation two months ago, no worries. Go to XOCO (449 N Clark) for some Rick Bayless Mexican street food instead. If Wagyu Beef sandwiches are more your style, visit Graham Elliot’s Grahamwich (615 N State). And if all this fancy crap is making you nervous, you’re in luck, because Chick-fil-A (30 E Chicago) opened its first downtown location in June. And don’t laugh, because people are acting like Chick-fil-A showing up is the biggest thing to happen to Chicago since some Transformers invaded and blew up all our cars.
Where can I go for a drink?
Craft beers are quickly becoming the hot new thing in this city, to which I’m sure you’re thinking, “Congrats, Chicago, you’re only 15 years behind Portland.” And while this is true, what it means is you’re going to be able to find a good beer from Illinois, Michigan or Indiana no matter where you go. If you want a place with delicious beer, head to the Hopleaf (5148 N Clark), which has a great selection of domestic beers and more than 15 Belgians on tap. But if you’d be just as happy somewhere with an interesting atmosphere and crappy beer, go to the L&L Tavern (3207 N Clark). They have a free jukebox and, depending on the time of day, a clientele that includes every sort of person you could imagine. It’s a dive, to be sure. They don’t even have beer on tap, but they do have beer in bottles and they do have whiskey. And, if dive bars are your thing, I urge you to be adventurous and visit Cal’s Liquors (400 S Wells). I’ve never been asked my opinion on which bar has the most disgusting bathroom ever, but when the question is finally asked of me, I know my answer: Cal’s. Yuck. Also, they have beer.
Anything else I should do?
Go to the lakeshore! There’s a bunch of boring history type stuff explaining why Chicago has such an amazing abundance of waterfront parks along Lake Michigan, but rather than dropping actual knowledge on you, I’ll make something up: The ground near Lake Michigan is incredibly porous, meaning any building taller than three stories would be too heavy and would sink deep into the ground. So please, go visit the lakefront, because it is absolutely gorgeous, but don’t build any heavy buildings there. And if that story scared you away from the lakeshore, go visit Millennium Park instead. You can see the lake from there and it even has a big metal bean!
Where the hell are all the Chicago hipsters?
If you’re confused as to why there aren’t more people walking around with mustaches and neon colored sunglasses during the weekend of July 16, that’s because they are all in Chicago’s Union Park at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Relatedly, if you see a group of guys walking around downtown with long hair and no shoes on, please say hello to the Fleet Foxes for me.