Chicago - the Windy City - has a strong position within the context of American culture, both historically and currently. Many factors in various categories contribute to this, but cuisine is without a doubt one of the most prominent. That being said, the culinary pedigree of Illinois' most populous city has risen so high that a lot of the best, most iconic restaurants and eateries are frequent magnets for tourists and residents alike. Popularity leads, almost invariably, to long lines and equivalently lengthy waits for meals.
Cuisine is a major aspect of Chicago's culture.
If you'll be taking a cheap flight to Chicago this summer for business or pleasure and are completely disappointed by that fact, don't be. There are quite a few places in this city that are well-known and much-loved but aren't quite the tourist traps that, say, Lou Malnati's locations can be (sorry, deep dish lovers!). Check out some of them:
1. Mexican cuisine at Don Rafa
About a half century or so ago, Chicago wasn't exactly a flashpoint for Mexican cuisine. Approximately 40 years later, though, that has changed thanks to Don Rafa, the first Windy City restaurant to make carnitas a prominent part of its menu. Expect to enjoy traditional Mexican dishes ranging from tortas and burritos to cactus salad, and as its Yelp reviews note, it's somewhat underrated so there won't be a huge crowd.
2. Girl and the Goat
The term "New American cuisine" is maddeningly vague sometimes, but it's appropriate for this elegant but not exorbitant restaurant on West Randolph Street. Brainchild of Stephanie Izard, a former winner of "Top Chef," Girl and the Goat features American staple dishes with intriguing twists, such as seared scallops in tabbouleh and braised pork shank in buttermilk dressing with kimchi. (In case you're wondering, there are goat dishes on the menu - quite a few of them, in fact - and vegetarian options.)
3. The iconic Billy Goat Tavern
Not only is an (actual) goat the source of the "curse" that kept the Chicago Cubs from winning the World Series until 2016, but the Billy Goat Tavern, now a Chicago franchise, is also, arguably, the best-known hamburger joint in the city's history - though it has strong competition from Portillo's and a few other spots. But there's simply no substitute for the Billy Goat's "cheezborgers:" burgers on Kaiser rolls with pickles and American cheese, but no lettuce or tomatoes - because the goat ate them all.
4. David Burke's Primehouse
According to Thrillist, the 28- and 40-day rib eyes, named for how long they're aged, are the best steaks in Chicago. David Burke's ages its own meat, and has a fairly wide-ranging menu beyond its beef, including Arctic char and lamb chops. It's not cheap, but if you can afford to splurge, you might be wise to do so here.