Even though I’ve lived in the South since I was four, I was born in Chicago, which is objectively the best city in the country. I feel justified in stating this opinion as fact because Anthony Bourdain shares my sentiments.
Okay, so maybe he never said it was the best city, but he loves it so much that he featured it on three of his shows: Layover, No Reservations, and Parts Unknown. By watching clips from the shows, looking for which places he went to the most, and reading interviews, I was able to narrow down which Chicago restaurants Bourdain seems to love the most.
Although these Chicago eateries may be relatively cheap in price, Bourdain only had high praise for their quality food. So next time you make it to the Windy City, be sure to try these Bourdain- (and wallet) approved Chicago restaurants.
While he loves Chicago, Bourdain very openly despises one of the city’s most famous foods: deep dish pizza. This explains why he absolutely loves how thin Piece makes its thin crust pizza. To get some "very good, wood-fired, non-deep-dish pizza” in Chicago, be sure to stop by Piece.
Although primarily a pizza place, Ricobene’s gained fame for their steak sandwich. Bourdain highly recommends you try this mashup of crispy meat, melty cheese, and fresh bread. He likes the sandwich so much he described it as "something that everyone should be proud to have on their flag."
Again, I cannot emphasize enough how much Bourdain hates deep dish. Simply put in his words, it is the “Midwestern mutation of a pizza.” So you know that Burt’s Place must serve some pretty good deep-dish pizza if Bourdain is willing to give it his stamp of approval.
Unfortunately, the pizzeria’s chef Burt Katz closed the restaurant last year and later passed away. However, Jerry Petrow, who shadowed Katz for six months, plans to reopen the restaurant. When the restaurant reopens, it will still be worth a try, but don’t blame Bourdain if the new pizza doesn’t live up to the hype.
Chicago has a pretty hefty Italian population, but if you want the absolute best Italian beef in the city, you have to go to Johnnie’s Beef. Be like Bourdain and don’t leave the city without getting one of Johnnie's gravy-smothered beef and pepper sandwiches.
Speaking of Italy, why not get an Italian-style tamale made by a Greek? Bourdain devoured their signature Mother-in-Law (a tamale in a hot dog bun covered in chili) but he couldn’t handle the Mighty Dog (a hot dog and tamale in one bun). Bourdain also warned that their greasy, cheesy tamales “held him hostage on the toilet for 20 minutes.”
If it wasn’t clear already, Chicago is quite the hodgepodge of cultures. So it should be no surprise that one of Bourdain’s favorite restaurant is in Chinatown. He describes their Mapo Tofu as “one of my favorite dishes in the world.”
While you’re in Chinatown, be sure to visit Bourdain’s favorite pho-avorite Vietnamese restaurant in the city. Bourdain praised their spicy pho, but with over 230 dishes on their menu, Tank Noodle has something for everyone (even those that hate the heat).
If you’re further north in the city, be sure to stop by this coastal eatery. They may not have one table to sit down at, but they do have their own smokehouse that they use to smoke their own fish.
Bourdain marveled at the massive amounts of freshly-smoked fish you could get for such a low price. And he loved everything he tried, stating it was better than the smoked fish he had in Iceland.
If you’re more the steak and potatoes type, Bourdain has got the perfect Chicago restaurant for you. Their no-frills counter service offers breakfast classics in the morning, hot and cold sandwiches for lunch, and a variety of meats and sides for dinner. To do it Bourdain-style, keep it simple and get the meatloaf with mac 'n cheese.
Top off your visit to Chicago with a “two fisted symphony of pork, cheese, fat, and starch.” The Silver Palm’s Three Little Pigs has smoked ham, bacon, eggs, and breaded pork cutlet, dredged in cheese on a brioche bun. It might give you a heart attack, but at least you’ll die knowing you’ve lived like Anthony Bourdain.