As UK fans make the trip to Chicago this week for the Champions Classic and a blue-blood matchup with Kansas, members of the Big Blue Nation will experience an amazing city that literally comes to life with bright lights, majestic views of Lake Michigan and some of the world’s best restaurants.
In addition to cheering on the Cats in the 23,500 seat United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls, fans will also be in culinary heaven as Chicago is known for everything from award-winning steak to deep dish pizza. Here are just a few of my favorite food options as a lifelong Illinoisan and frequent visitor to the Windy City.
In Chicago, we’re proud of our sports history so you might want to visit popular spots like Harry Caray’s, Ditka’s and Michael Jordan’s Restaurant. But don’t be fooled by the name as Harry Caray’s and Ditka’s have both been selected as two of the city’s premiere restaurants. If you’re a Bears fan, a trip to Ditka’s is a great way to celebrate the history of Iron Mike Ditka’s career as a player and former coach who led the Bears to the 1985 Super Bowl. An added bonus is that Ditka, known as "Da Coach," is often in the restaurant and is known to pose for pictures and sign autographs. If you’re a Cubs fan, there’s enough sports memorabilia at Harry Caray’s to keep you busy for a while. The Water Tower Place location is actually next to the Chicago Sports Museum.
The World-Famous Billy Goat Tavern
Another popular spot is the legendary Billy Goat Tavern, made famous after the 1970s Saturday Night Live skit with Chicago native John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. There are several locations, but I prefer to order my “cheezborger” at the original Billy Goat at 430 N. Michigan Avenue at Lower Level. The original owner, William “Billy Goat” Sianis, is responsible for the “Curse of the Billy Goat” throughout Chicago Cubs history as he was denied entry into a Cubs game in 1945 because he brought his pet goat. The “Curse” casted a dark shadow over Wrigley Field for many years before the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016.
Chicago Style Pizza
The City of Chicago is mostly known for its deep dish pizza so be sure to check out places like Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s and Pizano’s. My personal favorite is The Malnati Chicago Classic made with Lou’s lean sausage, extra cheese and an incredible tomato sauce that all sits on top of a butter crust. Remember that deep dish pizza is a knife-and-fork experience that is the complete opposite of thin crust pizza. In Chicago, we don’t just order pizza, we order a “pie” and the hearty taste might just get you through those cold days in the Windy City.
If you’re looking for a great restaurant with the chance to see the celebrity crowd, give RPM Italian and RPM Steak a go. Both are co-owned by TV personalities Giuliana Rancic and her husband Bill Rancic, former winner of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. Giuliana is best known as the host of Red Carpet Events on E! News and her mother, “Mamma DePandi” helped create many of the authentic Italian menu options. In fact, Mamma DePandi’s Bucatini is one of the best things you’ll ever eat. The price may be a little high for some, but the food and atmosphere make RPM Italian and RPM Steak a perfect spot for any special occasion.
Garrett Popcorn has been a Chicago staple since 1949 and is always a popular stop throughout the city with multiple locations. In terms of gourmet popcorn, you just can't beat Garrett’s carmel corn as it always has great flavor and melts in your mouth. If you have a sweet tooth, you can’t go wrong with a stop at Sprinkles Cupcakes in the historic Gold Coast shopping district near Water Tower Place. They even have the world’s first Cupcake ATM.
As for the game itself, get to the United Center early and take plenty of pictures with the Michael Jordan statue and share stories about his legendary NBA career. One thing to avoid is the over priced hot dogs and drinks inside the stadium. Instead, hit up some of the spots above and enjoy the real Chicago food experience.
Now let's eat up those Jayhawks!