I was lucky enough to get sent to Chicago for a work trip and in true Emma style of packing as much activity in at all times as possible, flew in on the Friday before in order to get in some quality weekend time in the Windy City. Read on for my top ten Chicago activities/food stops and my customary Taco Bell review (THIS ONE SERVED MARGS AND IT WAS MAGICAL).
This 110-ton stainless steel bean-shaped sculpture is a symbol of Chicago and cannot be missed. You can walk around the outside of the Bean and walk underneath the arch of the bean to see yourself in fun house mirror fashion. You get bonus points if you can manage to take photos that are even more touristy than the ones my friends and I took! Millennium Park is also home to other intriguing art installations and architecture.
Located close to Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago is home to an extensive array of art spanning numerous eras, countries and mediums. Included in the displayed artwork are Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” and “Equestrienne (At the Circue Fernando) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, both featured in the film masterpiece Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
While in Chicago, you MUST go on an architecture boat tour. There is so much amazing architectural history behind the iconic skyline and buildings bordering the Chicago River. I took the Chicago’s First Lady Cruises architecture tour for $44 and I learned an incredible amount about the most influential events for Chicago buildings like the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and the inspirations behind the diverse architectural styles. I also learned why the entire downtown area is occasionally inundated with the smell of chocolate. It’s because when Blommer Chocolate Co. is roasting cacao beans, the smells spreads via wind!
4. Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a pleasant walk down Chicago’s Lake Front Trail from Millennium Park. The boardwalk is stocked with restaurants and carnival rides, including the Centennial Ferris Wheel, swing ride and a carousel. The Centennial Ferris Wheel offers epic views of the Chicago skyline. We happened to be in Chicago during the annual Chicago Air & Water Show, so we were able to see planes whizzing right past us over the water.
When visiting Chicago, a trip to the Skydeck level of Willis Tower is a must. Take an elevator up to the 103rd floor, where windows surround the room in all directions. Again, absolutely breathtaking views of Chicago architecture and the lake shore. If you’re daring, venture out onto the Ledge, a clear glass box that extends 4.3 feet out from the wall. I consider myself a pretty adventurous person, but this one actually got to me. I had to crawl along the bottom of the ledge while looking down the whole 1,353 feet to the ground.
**Protip: Purchase the $45 combo Art Institute/Skydeck admission ticket in order to save a few bucks and get expedited admission to both the museum and Willis Tower. I can personally attest to the lines for the Skydeck getting pretty gnarly on the weekend.
When I posted on Facebook that I was making a trip to Chicago, a pretty heated debate over the best deep dish pizza joint ensued. The consensus was Lou’s and we were not disappointed. We ordered our pizza and then headed across the street to Bottled Blonde [http://bottledblondechi.com/beer-garden-menu/] for a bottle of 312 Urban Wheat local craft beer. This is definitely the move, as Lou’s was pretty crowded. We attempted to feign an air of health consciousness by ordering a Malnati Salad and followed that up with the Malnati Chicago Classic pizza. Overall, everything was greasy (including the salad), cheesy, heavy and most delicious.
Pop into a Garrett’s (sorry, I had to) and snag yourself some gourmet popcorn. They have more flavors of popcorn than I could have ever dreamed up. You can taste any and all of them until you find your favorites. If you know my affinity for popcorn, then you can probably imagine how giddy I was over this. We bought a bag of the Garrett Mix with CaramelCrisp and CheeseCorn and enjoyed it while relaxing in Millenium Park.
8. Big Star
Located in Wicker Park, this restaurant advertises itself as a “bourbon and beer-focused, taco-slinging, late-night honky-tonk” housed in an old 1940’s gas station. The menu boasts authentic Mexican street food and all the various liquor/beer/cocktails. I personally had the Tacos De Pescado (fish tacos), chips and guac, and a margarita. Everything was delicious and the scene there on Saturday night was super fun. A very chill and hip atmosphere.
Can you tell that I appreciate a good food scene yet? Portillo’s is the go-to place to get the well-known Italian beef and hot dog with everything. It’s super cheap and is definitely fast food style. Try the chocolate cake shake while you’re there; it’s quite possibly the sweetest thing I’ve ever eaten, filled with chunks of real cake.
Am I putting this restaurant on my list because I had the most delicious cookie I’ve ever had in my entire life here? Yes. Yes, I am. And I’m not Ashamed.. the cookie was that good. Pop on over to Summer House Santa Monica for a delicious chopped salad, chicken taco platter and wine, while enjoying the beachside ambiance. Then make sure to indulge in a cookie from their dessert counter. Might I suggest the decadent Rice Krispies/chocolate chunk cookie?
This review is for the Taco Bell located at 1439 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. I guess I should say Taco Bell Cantina, because that’s apparently what they call Taco Bells that SERVE BOOZE. Yes, that’s right. Not only can you scarf down deliciously fattening tacos and burritos, you can wash them down with the likes of a Mountain Dew Baha Blast, Cantina Punch or Cantina Margarita flavored Twisted Freeze. I ordered a beef Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito and a Cantina Margarita Twisted Freeze. The burrito was fantastic, like the Beefy Fritos Burrito times one hundred. The margarita had a decent amount of tequila in it and tasted like the gas station slurpies/slushies of my childhood. The ambiance of this Taco Bell was a lot nicer than most. It felt more like an actual restaurant. My final rating is as follows:
Ambiance: 10/10 (Seriously, this blew the Taco Bells rest of the Taco Bells I’ve seen out of the water)
Food: 10/10 (Burrito and booze on point!)