Chicago is an interesting place. Everyone complains about the weather, but it’s not so much the weather as the people. I mean, if you go to Minneapolis, people go out and enjoy the snow and the cold. If you hit up Madison, you’re likely to be overrun by some obnoxious cross country skiers. That being said, the winter for most Chicagoans means hibernation. The only time most of my friends leave their apartments with the exception of work is to eat out. Then, from some combination of wanting to be warm and not wanting to bring their monster coats to the bar, everyone just heads home after dinner. So, here’s my list of places to hit up for the winter. Most of them have some kind of warm food, warm environment, or they’ll just make you so full that you’d never want to do anything other than go home and sleep after anyways.
Note: I’ve lived on the North side since I’ve been in Chicago. In the winter, by no means do I want to travel far. That being said, this list is mostly on the North side. Feel free to comment on your South side favorites.
In addition to the expansive salad bar and hearty selection of American favorites, RJ Grunts offers up a Temperature Soup wintertime deal. Simply put, the cost of a bowl of soup is equivalent to the temperature. The colder it is, the less you’ll spend. I don’t think they pay you if it’s negative or anything, but I’m sure it’s worth the frigid debate.
This tiny little Thai restaurant packs more spice than most can handle. It’s BYOB, and there is an excellent selection of authentic soups. The duck curry is one of my favorites, but you’ve got to start the meal with Nong Thong Chicken Wings.
One of my winter favorites is the Chicken Kalamata at the Athenian Room. The restaurant is very cozy with a family-run feel. It’s warm enough to fog up the windows a bit and is easily one of the top neighborhood spots for the Lincoln Park natives.
This Southern menu is just the thing to brave the Chicago winter with. The gumbo and the grits should keep anyone full and happy. Free beignets are a nice perk, too. The family-style fried chicken dinner is the way to go if you’ve got a crew and an empty belly.
In the theme of creative soups, Slurping Turtle easily makes this list as well. You can’t get away with wearing a pair of sweatpants to this rather trendy River North spot, but the low prices and creative menu make up for it. Split a bowl of ramen and finish it off with a cream puff and some sea salt ice cream.
Winter means hockey season, and Pequod’s is one of the best places to watch a Blackhawks game in Chicago. The burnt crust and large slices make it hard to get up from your seat, even if you wanted to brave the weather. My favorite topping is the ground beef. There’s a decent selection of local craft brews as well.
If you haven’t gotten a Hot Pot before, then now is the time. For those of you that don’t know about hot pot, it’s basically the Chinese version of fondue. If it’s your first time, avoid the tripe. That being said, save room for noodles and the remnants of the soup. Between the spice and the boiling broth, you’ll either warm your bones or burn the roof of your mouth. Either way, it’s a win.
With a crazy variety of noodle soups, Urban Belly is sure to keep you warm and toasty. The Korean and Puerto Rican fusion options are intriguing and spicy. My favorite is the Kimchi Stew, and you should try the Phat Rice, too. The restaurant recently moved to the West Loop, making it more easily accessible for those without cars.
This is probably my favorite winter brunch spot. There’s a great lounge setup upstairs with a fireplace. The coffee service is well done, and there’s no shortage of pastry options. Plus, there’s not usually a big line, so you don’t feel bad for hanging out at your table all day.
With plenty of good beers and a fireplace, Old Oak Tap makes it easy to cozy up in a chair for the long haul. I’m a big fan of the burgers and creative bar menu, too. The fat boy pie and the pot pie will warm your belly like no other. It’ll be easy to pack on a few pounds for the depths of winter.
Jeff Pearl has lived in the Chicagoland area his whole life, and is currently a medical student at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Food has always been one of his passions. In his free time, Jeff enjoys cooking with his friends, going out to a new restaurant, or training for his next triathlon. In February 2010 he started writing about his dining experiences in his blog, Jeff Eats Chicago.