What To Eat With 24 Hours In Chicago

Chicago is lively, with countless things to see and do. And there is no denying the fact that The Windy City attracts visitors from all over the world. In fact, this city's food scene is renowned. With 26 Michelin-star restaurants, international dining spots, and food festivals like Chicago Restaurant Week to Chi-style eats, rave-worthy comfort grub, and incredible gastropubs, hungry travelers have a wealth of options available.


Known as one of the best food cities in the U.S., Chicago will not disappoint even the pickiest of connoisseurs. Of course, Chi-town visitors do not have to go all out when it comes to the local fare, especially when there are only so many hours in a day. Since everyone has to eat, regardless of what time they get up, knowing where to grab a bite is important. As a Chicagoan, a curious foodie, and a frequent diner in The Second City, I can point you in the right direction by highlighting some of my favorite spots to indulge in Chicago. So if you only have 24 hours in this city, here are some places that are worth your time.

Coffee shops for a quick pick-me-up

Start your citywide adventure by enjoying a caffeinated beverage or two any time of the day, as the Windy City has you covered. With plenty of coffee shops and roasteries in town, a quick pick-me-up is available no matter where you are. Popular spots like Dark Matter Coffee, Sawada Café, and Café Deko offer some of the best coffees in the Chicago area. With a variety of locations in The Second City, Dark Matter Coffee is a fun and fresh joint that has a variety of drips and draft coffees, espresso, teas, and tasty baked goods.


Likewise, Sawada Café is another local favorite in the West Loop neighborhood, where you can find some unique caffeinated drinks like the Military Latte and Black Camo Latte. Sawada also has pour-overs, iced coffees, espresso, teas, and decadent chocolate doughnuts. Café Deko, on the other hand, is quite the city gem between Lincoln Park and Lake View that dazzles with European vibes, art-deco decor, staple coffee fare, specialty drinks, pastries, and delightful sandwiches. Other aesthetically pleasing coffee joints that offer a light breakfast or bite, such as the Nomad Chicago, Kibbitznest, and Hero Coffee Bar are worth checking out as well.

Breakfast go-to's that hit the spot

Lovers of all things breakfast and brunch are in for a real treat in Chicago. There are countless restaurants and cafes serving up fresh, hot, and downright delicious items that will fill you up and have you ready to take on the day. Several go-to spots in this city include Smack Dab Chicago, Blue Door Farm Stand, Luella's Southern Kitchen, and The Allis at Soho House — just to name a few.


Smack Dab Chicago, on North Clark Street, is known for its glorious breakfast sandwiches and burritos for those looking to grab something life-changing on the go. Similarly, the Blue Door Farm Stand on North Halsted offers patrons an uncomplicated, healthy breakfast that will keep you coming back for more. Visitors looking for a heartier breakfast, however, should absolutely make their way on over to Luella's Southern Kitchen on North Lincoln Avenue for some of the most fantastic chicken and waffles. Other best Chicagoan brunch spots and breakfast places like Wildberry Pancakes & Café and the Loaf Lounge also offer a filling morning meal. And for breakfast or brunch, including afternoon tea, any day of the week, The Allis at Soho House in the West Loop is ready and waiting.


Lunch on the go

Being such a melting pot of cultures, The Windy City offers a variety of cuisines, most within walking distance. Depending on the area, there are remarkable neighborhood joints, city favorites, and out-of-the-way gems that are worth the extra travel time. Foodie meccas like Pilsen, Bronzeville, Lincoln Park, the West Loop, Logan Square, Chinatown, and River North all promise exceptional eats.


That said, if you're short on time, you can always take advantage of the various pop-up establishments and food trucks. Much-loved meals-on-wheels like Sausage Fest, Chicago Lunchbox, Doris's Taco Truck, and The Fat Shallot (a vegan-friendly food truck) will hit the spot if you are in a hurry. Alternatively, chow venues like Time Out Market are also convenient. Considered one of the city's premier food halls, Time Out Market has quality cuisines, chef-crafted culinary feats, and creative cocktails all under one roof. Revival Food Hall, From Here On, Eataly, and the Chicago French Market are also gourmand havens that showcase what this highly esteemed food scene has to offer.

The perfect luncheon

However, if you prefer to lunch at your leisure, then the world, or rather this city, is your oyster. From rooftops, cozy restaurants, diners, and patios to pizzerias, culinary institutions, brasseries and more, Chicago is the perfect place for a choice luncheon. Cindy's Rooftop, for instance, is a popular destination for anyone who likes their lunch with a side of stunning lake views. Situated above Millennium Park, Cindy's serves one-of-a-kind American fare, seasonal seafood (including oyster on the half shell), and lovely libations.


But that's not all you will find in The Chi — several must-try luncheon locations include A Tavola, Pequod's Pizza, Green Street Smoked Meats, Doma Café, Avec, Miru Restaurant, and Mi Tocaya Antojería. Whether you are in the mood for a slice of the world-famous Chicago deep-dish pizza, mouthwatering barbecue, divine Mediterranean eats, flavorsome Mexican food, or incredible sushi, there is something tasty to try around every corner. It's also worth noting that Chicago has quite a revered vegan and vegetarian scene. Establishments like Bloom Plant Base Kitchen, Urban Vegan, Arya Bhavan, and Soul Veg City all dish up fresh, health-conscious, and comfort-approved eats in this city.

Mid-day snacking

If you are looking for something a little lighter just to tie you over until drinks and dinner, The Second City is brimming with tasty morsels. Of course, one cannot mention mid-day snacking in Chicago without a stop at Garrett Popcorn. Any type of popcorn you can think of, Garrett makes it. For slightly more substantial eats, pierogies are very much a thing here. With dozens of Polish eateries in the city, including Pierogi Kitchen in Wicker Park, pierogi enthusiasts can snack the afternoon away if they choose. 


Nonetheless, if you are not a lover of popcorn or pierogies, spots like Kale My Name, Left Coast Food + Juice, and Protein Bar & Kitchen are fast, healthy, and casual options. Smoothies, wraps, fruit cups, avocado toast, salads, and more can help tide you over until your next meal or outing. Though slightly less healthy, Chicago-style hot dogs are another popular mid-day snack option, and you can easily get your hands on at the various hot dog stands scattered throughout the downtown area. Chicago visitors with a sweet tooth can grab a rainbow cone at the Original Rainbow Cone, which they can find at Navy Pier or in the Village in the City (the Beverly neighborhood).

Happy Hour

Regardless of whether you are in town for business or pleasure, a weekday happy hour in The Second City is a must. Usually, starting at 4 p.m. and going to either 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. during the week, happy hours are a welcomed reprieve with signature cocktails, robust wines, and craft beers available for under $10 throughout the city. For example, must-visit venues like Marshall's Landing, Porter Kitchen & Deck, and The Black Barrel Lounge know how to combine affordability and ambiance almost effortlessly. Plus, joints such as Yours Truly, Oyster Bar in River North offer a happy hour for martinis and oysters.


Similarly, Uvae Kitchen and Wine Bar's happy hour is all about bubbly, oysters, and other tasty apps. If you're not a fan of seafood, El Solazo is a great Mexican restaurant in Gage Park neighborhood that offers tacos and tequila. Visitors can also find earlier, often daily, or event happy hours along the River Walk at Porter Kitchen & Deck and The Northman Beer & Cider Garden. What's more, happy hour is not synonymous with alcoholic beverages in The Chi. The Eli Tea Bar on North Clark Street has a designated happy hour for its tantalizing teas and treats. Overall, there are so many phenomenal places in this city that offer an inviting place to decompress with reasonably priced afternoon beverages and pre-dinner bites.


Dining on a budget

Speaking of wallet-friendly food and drinks, dining out in The Windy City does not mean you'll end up spending a small fortune. In fact, there are plenty of restaurants in the area that are both delicious and inexpensive. The Chicago Diner, for instance, is a lovely vegetarian eatery in Logan Square that is not too pricey. Jalapeño corn fritters, quinoa chili, and truffle mushroom lentil loaf are just a few wonderful menu items at the Chicago Diner that will make your night.


Seville, which is conveniently located in The Loop, is an affordable choice that you will not regret, especially if you're a fan of tapas and Mediterranean cuisine. Here, patrons can enjoy paella-style risotto and wagyu bolognese and sample award-winning shareables such as eggs diavolo, cast iron manchego bread, and bone marrow. But if you prefer to stick to this city's well-known comfort foods, head to Luke's of Chicago and try their signature Italian beef sandwich — which has been winning hearts since 1963.

Special occasion eats

With such a robust culinary scene, finding a restaurant for a special occasion is not hard to do. Though you will likely need to make reservations well in advance, there are several dining establishments in Chicago that are always a good choice. El Che Steakhouse & Bar, for example, is a fabulous Argentinian-inspired restaurant where prime ribeye, wagyu flap steak, 48 oz. porterhouses, and other quality cuts of steak are the stars of this show.


La Serre is also a newly-opened restaurant that brings French-Mediterranean cuisine to the forefront. Entrees like the duck chinoise, gnocchi Parisienne, and the truffle tater tot are only a few reasons to run to book a table here. Yet another French gem is none other than La Grande Boucherie Chicago, celebrated for its upscale fare and classy vibes — making it just one more first-rate restaurant to try when in the Chicago area. And if you love decadence and gourmet-style Italian food, then you should definitely snag a table at Tre Dita located in The St. Regis Chicago.

Sweet endings

Most eateries in Chicago have well-thought-out dessert sections on their menus and sampling the goods while dining in is easy enough to do. But if you are daydreaming of pastries, cakes, ice cream, and sugary goodness, then why not venture out? Sprinkled throughout the city, you'll find some of the best bakeries in Chicago, pastry kitchens, and confectioneries — which is really only the tip of the iceberg here.


First and foremost, visitors should head on over to Logan Square and check out Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits. A truly first-rate bakery, Bang Bang's passionfruit cheesecake and sweet smothered biscuits are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you're a cupcake fan, then a trip to Sweet Mandy B's is also in order. With Lincoln Park and Streeterville locations, Sweet Mandy B's is pure buttercream heaven with cupcakes like the creamsicle, Cookie Monster, and the carrot cupcake. Other sweet endings that will have your tastebuds singing include JoJo's Shake Bar for over-the-top shakes, Kilwins for one-of-a-kind ice cream, Goddess and the Baker for delicious cakes and tarts, and Cloud Cookie for gourmet cookies.


After dinner drinks

For aperitifs, good old-fashioned drinks, speakeasy-like libations, wine flights, and a vast selection of beers, The Second City is teaming with options. However, beloved bars such as Nobody's Darling, Best Intentions, and. Vol. 39 should definitely be on your 24-hour to-do list. Just off West Balmoral Avenue, Nobody's Darling offers patrons quite the cocktail experience, all while invoking the essence of Nina Simone. This unique lounge is styled after the famed singer, and the Nina Simone cocktail is a must-try.


Best Intentions, located on West Armitage Avenue, is another cocktail bar and lounge offering an extensive boozy goodness catalog. Here, you can craft your cocktail with top-shelf liquors or simply enjoy your drink minus the frills. On the other hand, the Kimpton Gray Hotel's Vol. 39 is the place to be for vintage vibes, cleverly named drinks, and a front-row seat to the art of the perfect cocktail. Nevertheless, there is no shame in going to Tony's Rooftop Bar atop Time Out Market for fantastic city views, straightforward drinks, draft beers, and that traditional tavern feel.

Late night cravings

Late-night dinners are more than possible in The Windy City. So if you spend most of the day sightseeing, shopping, or thoroughly exploring The Chi, you don't have to worry about going to bed hungry. With ample restaurants offering late-night reservations, night-time happy hours, and kitchens staying open until 10 p.m. or later, you can absolutely have your cake and eat it too.


In particular, fan favorites like Chef's Special Cocktail Bar, Cariño, and Scofflaw welcome hungry folks from far and wide. At Chef's Special in Logan Square, you can make reservations until 10:30 p.m. for the main dining area or snag a seat at the bar for mains like Mongolian beef, lo mein, kung pao, and a long list of appetizers. Uptown, Wednesday through Saturday, Cariño has a taco nightly tasting menu, available from 10 p.m. on that includes lamb, fish, and wagyu. And Scofflaw, also in Logan Square, has a wonderful late-night happy hour from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. — the double burger or mushroom and braised kale melt are highly recommended here.

After the club eats

If you came to live it up in The Second City and plan to spend most of your time going to bars, clubs, or late-night events, you can expect to work up an appetite. And even though you may have missed the last call for dinner, there are still a few notable food joints serving up eats after the party is over, like The Wieners Circle. Located in Lincoln Park, The Wieners Circle stays open to 4 a.m. Friday through Saturday and 2 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday. So if you did not grab one of those Chicago-style dogs earlier in the day, here's your chance.


Out-of-towners searching for nourishment well past 2 a.m. can also stop by Ghareeb Nawaz Restaurant's West Devon Avenue location for Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Additionally, Warlord in Avondale is one more option to consider in the wee hours. Warlord has only been open for a year but is one of the city's best and busiest restaurants. Open Friday through Monday, from 6 p.m. till 1 a.m., Warlord serves up hearty, high-caliber dishes, including ora king salmon, foie gras, and steaks late into the night.

The Chi's 24-hour spots

Finally, if you're not able to make it to any of the late-night eateries mentioned above, all hope is not lost. Chicago also has a handful of 24-hour diners, such as the White Palace Grill, the Diner Grill, Stony Subs, and Kevin's Hamburger Heaven. That said, the White Palace Grill on South Canal Street should be at the top of your foodie bucket list.


A historical landmark that has been open since 1939, this spot is literally always dishing out great breakfast options any time of the day. So if you are in the neighborhood, at any given time, stop on in. Overall, if you are planning a trip to The Windy City, you definitely have your work cut out for you food-wise with so many available choices. But, one thing is for sure, even with limited time on your hands, your meal possibilities in Chicago are undoubtedly endless.