Chicago is a food town that has an almost allergic reaction to pretension. Restaurants that make it here can't rely solely on brand name decorators, media hype or reality-TV chefs. They have to be the real deal, serving great food, or they don't stay in business. Here are 10 of Chicago's best restaurant right now (in no particular order):
1) It's hard to score a table at Telegraph Wine Bar, but if you either plan ahead or get very lucky, you'll be treated to seasonally driven small plates paired with knock-out-by-the-glass Old World wines in a rustic-chic space.
2) Yusho delivers straightforward yakitori. From plump steam rolls to grilled shrimp ramen to a strong sake list, the kitchen demonstrates its flair for authenticity. On Sundays a special menu offers threee noodle courses for 20 bucks.
3) Hipster fav Au Cheval lives up to its buzzy rep. Locals pile in for feel good foods that are given an ironic treatment, like sandwiches made from deep-fried homemade bologna. Note: The restaurant doesn't take reservations, so be prepared to wait.
4) In a city bombarded by tapas, Vera is a welcome relief. The kitchen delivers classically executed tapas, like garlic shrimp with lemon and papas bravas enlivened by the unexpected, like trout escabeche served with romesco sauce.
5) If you're not in the mood to socialize stay clear of The Publican, arguably the most sociable gastropub in the city with long communal tables that beg for conviviality. Perhaps that has something to do with the beer menu that's nearly 100 varieties strong. Zero in on what the kitchen does best: pork. (Fried rinds, pork belly and country ribs, all sourced from Illinois farms.)
6) Demera's is the gold standard for Ethiopian cuisine: homemade, flavorful and authentic. All of this can be experience in the very first bite of the tangy sourdough pancakes, which serve as stand-ins for utensils. Order a messob platter to customize a combo and try a bit of everything,
7) Date night doesn't getter more perfect than at Grace's. The lofty space is a perfect backdrop for a creative fine dining menu that taps unusual garden fresh herbs and vegetables (from African blue basil to mashua leaf) and one of the most sophisticated wine lists in the city.
8) Tasty starters like fried pickles and goat cheese wontons make a fun starting point for a meal at the Girl and the Goat. The menu sweeps from the adventurous -- wood-fired pig face -- to the familiar -roasted duck -- and, as is implied by the name, the menu is heavy on goat. Yes, you can choose from goat empanadas, goat confit and goat liver mousse.
9) Urban Belly helmed by Chef Bill Kim, who was born in South Korea and educated in the best kitchens in America, lives up to the sizzle. Try the soba noodles topped with fat scallops or the pho-based ramen that's fortified with pork belly and shitakes. Michael Jordan is a partner in the Kim enterprise, so don't be surprised to see him vying for a coveted seat at this buzzy self-serve.
10) You can't talk about Chicago restaurants without mentioning hot dogs.
For the uninitiated, here are the basics of what makes Chicago hotdogs so unique:
Beef hot dog
Kosher dill pickle spear
These dogs are legendary, and the fights surrounding which joint serves the best are legendary. I don't presume to have the answer, but married to a Chicagoan, I can offer three local favorites.
Hot Doug's: This award-winning joint offers $2 dogs served in classic Chicago style. Spin-offs include a spicy Brigitte Bardot and a veggie dog called the Joe Strummer.
Jimmy's Red Hots: This neighborhood joint which has been around for half a century has been faulted for its brash service, but it has its die-hards, who swear by perfect the five-item menu, which features dogs, polish and French fries.
Portillo's: What started as a hot dog stand in 1963 blossomed into 48 restaurants. Despite the success, the basic formula for a hot dog lives on it in its original form. The restaurant is known for shipping dogs on dry ice around the country for former Chicagoans who are jonzing for a taste of home.