Locals Share What Gives Chicago Its Distinct Flavor

Rooftop dining at Cindy's. Photo: Lakeshorelady.com

Rooftop dining at Cindy’s. Photo: Lakeshorelady.com

Big cities mean tons of options, which unfortunately can be overwhelming when you’re hard pressed to find the best. To share what gives Chicago its distinct flavor, we’ve assembled an A-team of insiders: some of our favorite Krrb members and resident influencers with knowledge on where to go and what to pick up. Get ready to meet the team!

Ali Stone

Ali Stone is a photographer and blogger behind Those White Walls, a great source for expert fashion and lifestyle advice. Be sure to also check out Ali on Instagram and Facebook! (AS)

Erick and Kayla

Erick and Kayla work hard to make SharkGravy the top source for highly sought-after Mid-century modern furniture in Chicago. Keep an eye on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for additional design envy. (SG)

Bridget and Casey are the best friends and brains of The DIY Playbook, an expert source of home design tutorials and tips. Follow their adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. (BC)

Timothy Burkhart is the force behind Dial M For Modern, a meticulously-curated Chicago vintage shop with an eye for Mid-century modern design. See more on the website, and follow the shop on Facebook and Instagram. (TB)

A slice of Chicago deep dish. Photo: Seriouseats.com

A slice of Chicago deep dish. Photo: Seriouseats.com

Describe the vibe of Chicago in one sentence to an outsider.
AS: Chicago is a lively, clean diverse city filled with different neighborhoods to explore.
SG: One thing is Chicago is just so huge, it has many different neighborhoods with many different vibes. Honestly, from one neighborhood to the next you get a lot of diversity, which makes Chicago really unique. Each train stop is a new hub.
BC: Chicago is a clean, diverse and active city where the people are friendly, the food is delicious, and there’s always something fun to do!
TB: Chicago is a amalgamation of different people, cultures, styles and backgrounds all rolled together, giving the city a strong, hard-working, fun loving authentic personality.

Dig a little deeper into Chicago. Shop local.

We know certain foods are synonymous with different cities. What foods or recipes would you say best represent Chicago?
AS: Deep dish pizza is a Chicago classic and as far as food goes definitely represents the city.
SG: FOOOOD!!! We stick to certain pockets; mostly Logan Square, Lincoln Square, Ravenswood, Irving Park and Albany Park. There’s always new places to try in our general area so it’s hard to branch out. We likes what we likes.
BC: Deep dish pizza! People from Chicago love debating who has the best pizza in town. Uno’s, Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s East… there are so many delicious spots to choose from. Also, there are Chicago-style hot dogs with no ketchup!
TB: Wow, that’s such a hard question! I think the thing for me that stands out is this city is Latin American fare. I live in Humboldt Park and there are some amazing Puerto Rican and Mexican spots.

Vietnamese food from Tank Noodle. Photo: Tank-noodle.com

Vietnamese food from Tank Noodle. Photo: Tank-noodle.com

And what about local restaurants?
AS: I’m a big foodie. Some of my favorite restaurants in Chicago are Le Colonial for amazing Vietnamese and French fusion, Green Street Meats for BBQ, Tank Noodle for pho, Cindy’s is amazing for drinks or food with a view and Big Star for a good time and great tacos.
SG: I know Chicago is known for pizza and beef sandwiches but guess what—there’s more! We eat hot wings during Bears season! It’s cold and we have to keep more weight on in the winter. Our favorite spot for wings is The Wild Goose in Lincoln Square. Other notables: Masada (Indian food with a gorgeous upper terrace in Logan), Shokran (amaaazing Moroccan right off the Irving park Blue line), Fountain Head (beers and good food in Lincoln Square) Chicken Works (for their awesome salad selection and nicest staff). There is so much good Thai, Mediterranean, Indian, Korean, and Filipino food in our hood of Albany Park/Irving Park. Chicagoans also like their beer. And in the last five years the craft movement has really taken over. The magic happens at Revolution Brewery and their sister restaurant Revolution Bar & Grill also known for their great food. We are too proud of this brewery. It’s like we work there, or grow the hops in our backyard, or own stock in the company. But we don’t, it’s just that good. At this point Rev Brew has a tap at almost every single bar in Chicago. It’s our hometown hero.
BC: Each neighborhood is known for a different cuisine. You’ll find great Mexican in Pilsen, trendy spots in River North, and amazing pasta in Little Italy.
TB: Some of my favorite spots would have to be Papa’s Cache Sabroso in Humboldt Park for some of the most amazing roasted chicken and jibaritos. Oiistar in Wicker Park is my favorite place for ramen. Traspasada in East Village is my favorite taco eatery, their fish and steak tacos are on point!

Mouth-watering breakfast at Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club. Photo: Chicagotribune.com

Mouth-watering breakfast at Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club. Photo: Chicagotribune.com

Just like how jazz is such a central part of life in New Orleans, which music style would you say best represents your city?
SG: Music is huge in Chicago. You can see a band play almost any night of the week. Chicago is known for the blues. And we got it bad baby, but I’m sure there’s more informed people than us to ask. Buddy Guy’s always attracts a crowd. Green Mill is a legendary spot with nightly jazz shows if you want to get all dolled up and take a trip back in time. The staple rock venues: Empty Bottle, Double Door (although we hear they’re trying to close it down), Schuba’s, Aragon Ballroom, Bottom Lounge, The Metro, Beat Kitchen, The Riviera, and Fireside Bowl.
BC: The blues will always be a big part of Chicago’s past, and the present is filled with all types of music. From electronic dance music to rock and roll…this city has it all!
TB: I will always say that house music is in the roots of Chicago, where it was originated. I’m always down for some good electronic music. There is a strong indie and garage rock scene too, at least I remember there being one before I started getting up in the early hours to hunt down vintage furniture and art. Ha ha.

Are you fans of any local bands or musicians?
SG: (We grew up in the 1990’s so yeah. I saw The Smashing Pumpkins at The Metro when I was 16, Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the Fireside Bowl when I didn’t know who they were, and just stumbled into seeing Sonic Youth play a set at Empty Bottle a few months ago.) Our good friend is in a great band called, Roach Beach! Check ’em out!
BC: Unfortunately we’re the wrong people to ask when it comes to all things music, we’re a bit clueless and very far out of the loop!
TB: This is going to be horrible of me, but at the moment I don’t. I’ve been so wrapped up in work…maybe that is an indication I need to work a little less. The last show I saw by a local band would be Vamos, who are a garage rock band. They didn’t disappoint, so check them out!

Humboldt House is a cool shopping destination. Photo: Humboldthouseco.com

Humboldt House is a cool shopping destination. Photo: Humboldthouseco.com

If you had to describe one design style or local designer as best representing Chicago, what or who would it be?
AS: CHC Collection is an amazing line of bags designed, sourced and made in Chicago. I actually just featured their new line on my blog.
SG: Well, if it’s cold then Chicago’s overall style is puffy, if I had to narrow it down to one word. If it’s warm, you see all sorts of styles. We’re pretty casual. We like vintage and vintage-inspired clothes. We think we’re cool and that’s all that matters, right? The closer you get to the downtown, folks start dressing more business-like. Suits, ties and trenchcoats, like everyone is in the background of a Batman movie. When you get out into the neighborhoods you can let your freak flag fly.
BC: Hmmmm…that’s a tough one! In terms of design style, Chicago is known for its gorgeous architecture and was home to the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright.
TB: I don’t have a specific designer in mind; for a style I hate to say this word, but eclectic. Since there are so many different styles coming together in this city from the diverse backgrounds of the locals, it’s difficult for that to not spill over into design. I kind of fall into this as well. My shop has kind of changed little by little with my own personal taste and style to embody everything that I’ve been into for the last five to six years. I love Scandinavian design, but super minimal doesn’t fit me as much as I want it to. I like to mix in some rustic modern and industrial along with some more luxe glamorous pieces with cleaner design aesthetics, and I’m not afraid of some color. It all blends together. I have no idea what this style would be, but I guess it would be some kind of eclectic modern. I think that most of the customers that I meet have a similar aesthetic to mine. There is a huge upswing of Scandinavian minimalist spaces and design aesthetic popping up all over the city.

Which stores or shopping destinations would you say summarize the fashion/style of Chicago locals?
AS: Michigan Avenue is iconic for Chicago and the place where you will find all the beautiful brand name stores. There’s also amazing boutiques, thrifting and vintage in Wicker Park, Logan Square and Pilsen.
BC: The “Mag Mile” on Michigan Avenue is a staple for Chicago shopping. This strip of stores has almost any designer or brand you could imagine and is always oozing with the latest fashion trends. It brings a lot of tourists to the city but is also a go-to shopping place for locals. State Street and the iconic Macy’s building (formerly Marshall Field’s) is also a shopping hot spot for both tourists and locals. For antique shopping, we love heading up to Broadway Street to find one-of-a-kind pieces for our homes.
TB: I would say some of the destinations for shopping would have to be Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park. There’s a plethora of shops there. Some of the stores that are impressive would be Humboldt House in Humboldt Park for some awesome local designer pieces and decor and rugs, it’s a shopping destination for most people. Belmont Army in Wicker Park is one of my favorite spots to peruse shoes and clothes. I just recently got to check out Rider For Life in West Loop and was super pumped about their shop; it’s good mixture of vintage furniture and newer clothing, art and accessories. West Loop is definitely changing as well. Lots of food and drink options right now, but it looks like some boutique shops are coming.

Check out Sportsman's Club for a good time with friends. Photo: Archpaper.com

Check out Sportsman’s Club for a good time with friends. Photo: Archpaper.com

And lastly, where do locals gather to hangout and enjoy the best of Chicago?
SG: Fun tourist crap is in Downtown Chicago. We love it! The Bean, how this shiny bean thing creates so much enjoyment is mind-boggling. But it does! There is also the weird smiling faces that drip water and kids can run and splash around in the summer in Grant Park. That’s fun stuff. Plus, in the winter it turns into a skating rink. Museums: Art Institute, Museum of Contemporary Art, basically all of the museums. They’ve all been updated so get a day pass and attempt to do the impossible by visiting all of them! Also within walking distance: Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Field Museum (which holds the world’s biggest dinosaur, her name is Sue. Yes, we’re bragging a bit now. Do all that fun tourist junk because it’s great and we have huge buildings where you can go inside them and look down on all the tiny things below. Like John Hancock where it’s free to go to the bar lounge on top and look around, but the drinks are ridiculously expensive because apparently it’s hard to import alcohol up that high up. If it’s nice out, do an Architectural Boat Tour. And when you’re done with all the photos and the building gawking then get on a train (either the red line or blue line) and go hang out in a neighborhood. Get an Airbnb in one of these neighborhoods and go out for drinks, sit on rooftops, eat good food, chill the heck out; you went to like three museums in one day. Nobody that lives here has ever done that! Oh yeah, and comedy. Go to Second City, Improv Olympic, or smaller comedy clubs all around the city – a real good one is Bar Deville. If you’re here in the summer then go see a Cubs game. Wrigley Field is a national landmark, one of the oldest fields in the country. Even if sports or baseball isn’t your thing, it’s worth the price of admission. Grab a beer or two and relax for a couple hours. Pretend you’re the biggest Cubs fan ever! Say you grew up in Des Plaines. Nobody will know. Go Cubs!
BC: In the summer, Chicagoans love to be outside enjoying the gorgeous Chicago weather (especially after our long and brutal winters!). Usually this means exercising along the lakefront, enjoying the many gorgeous parks throughout the city, or enjoying drinks on the rooftops of local bars and restaurants.
TB: Some of the popular hangouts spots are usually bars. I think my favorite neighborhood hangout bar would be Sportsman’s in Ukrainian Village. They have the best backyard for just sitting with friends, drinking and conversing. It’s even better in the fall when they have the outdoor fire going. Everything is pretty centered around shopping in the city so any neighborhood has it’s own little nook of local gems. There’s always some new stuff to scope out. If you visit when there is summery weather, head down to Hyde Park and stop by Promontory Point. There are amazing large concrete slabs and rocks to hang out on. It is just perfect for swimming and spending lazy days by the lake—a nice change from the crowded beaches.

You’ve only scratched the surface on Chicago. See the best local makers in the Midwest capital, our favorite AirBnb options along Lake Michigan and where to go locally to get your DIY on. Don’t stop there, shop from neighbors in Chicago—the most Chicago-iest thing you can do!