Classic Style

Chicago Chick: My Favorite Places in the City.

By: Jen Shoop

I’ve received dozens of emails from you lovely Magpies asking for my favorite spots in Chicago — everything from the best restaurants to my favorite salons.  I’m so sorry it’s taken me years and years to get around to this, but here goes.  If you’re not visiting soon, there’s still something at the bottom of this post for you: my favorite cold weather gear…

Les Best Chicago Beauty Spots.

+Nails: Zazazoo Nail Salon.  There are two locations and both are excellent.  I have literally never had a bad manicure from any of the technicians, and both locations are squeaky-clean, offer free La Croix, and play chick flicks on the big screen TVs.  You can also bring bubbly in if you want to treat yourself and a gal pal to a nice little boozy pedicure.

+Eyebrows: Le Remede.  The owner does a great job.  I’ll also occasionally drop in at one of the Benefit Beauty Bars — I find their estheticians typically do a great job.

+Bikini Waxing: Inna at Salon 1800.  She’s a meticulous, slightly cantankerous Eastern European lady who greets her clients with hugs but is not afraid to scold you for overplucking or letting things grow out too long or what have you.

+Hair: Salon Trianon.  I get my hair cut by Abby and colored by Pam, and they do a phenomenal job.  I’ve never had more compliments on my hair!  I genuinely look forward to my appointments with these ladies, who are great conversationalists but also comfortable with just letting you sit and glaze over while staring at glossies.  (Sometimes you just need a little peace and quiet.)  The salon is super clean and chic, too!

+Teeth: West End Dental.  This sort of straddles between health and beauty, but I consider good dental hygiene a pre-req for the well-kept lady.  This dental studio is top-notch — they are super organized with friendly staff and thoughtful amenities, i.e., TVs and headsets in every room so you can tune out the yucky sounds of dental work, a cooler with refreshments in the waiting area, and lots of freebies (floss, brushes, etc.)

+Spa: Waldorf Astoria Chicago.  I cannot get over the luxury of a massage at this spot.  It feels like you’re a million miles away from everything, and, even if you’re only going in for a rub-down, you’ll have access to their jacuzzis and saunas and the little cafe and can spend an entire day completely unplugged in a fluffy robe.  Mr. Magpie gave me a voucher for a day here for my birthday, but I’ve not yet redeemed it.  I’m saving it for a cold afternoon this fall, after I’ve weaned mini and no longer need to worry about pumping/breastfeeding.  I’ll bring a fully loaded Kindle and enjoy a glass of wine with lunch and life will be gorgeous.

+Lashes: Brian at Robert Jeffrey Salon in Lakeview.  A magician.  I typically get a half set and it tenderly walks the line between natural and dramatic.

+A few of you have asked for facial and botox spots, but I don’t do either!  I’ve always been scared of facials after a friend had a horrible reaction that melted her face off (hahaha, not really, but it wasn’t a good look) and Mr. Magpie basically made me take a blood oath that I would never do Botox when he caught wind of a plan my sisters and I had hatched to get Botox together in our early 30s.  He’s typically pretty go-with-the-flow when it comes to me trying new hairstyles, new makeup, new outlandish fashion statements–so when he put his foot down on this one, I promised to adhere.

Les Best Chicago Restaurants.

OMG.  I could write a lot about this, because Mr. Magpie is a true foodie and he’s very up to date on the latest and greatest.  I’ll try to limit myself…

Dinner with Friends

+Fat Rice: cuisine from Macau.  Ridiculous.  You MUST have their “arroz gordo” (“fat rice”), a sort of Asian-fusion version of paella with the most outrageously delicious shellfish, sausage, and other goodies tucked into mounds of rice.  We take all of our friends from out of town here because it’s one of the most unique cuisines we’ve ever tasted — and we’d never heard of it before moving to Chicago!

+Publican: great, pork-centric, rustic-style fare served family-style.  Their chicken is insane — my mouth waters just thinking about it — and it’s served over a bed of thick fries.  It’s located in the hyper-trendy Fulton Market area, which is sort of a scene, but it’s worth it for Publican alone.

+Bavette: the best steakhouse in town.  Super cozy on a wintry night.

+Balena: the perfect spot for dinner with girlfriends.  Italian small plates, great wine list, and a cocktail menu organized by level of bitterness.

+Giant: Mr. Magpie took me to this funky spot for my birthday and it was INCREDIBLE.  They have a funny, mixed-bag menu (apparently, the owner just wanted to cook what he loved) — everything from onion rings to curries, but the pastas are the star of the show.  Oh my God, the pastas.  The pastas!

+Avec: Yummy, Mediterranean-esque small plates in a narrow little venue with hiphop blasting.  Close to Fulton Market but not in it (thank God).   It feels very New York to me.

+Osteria Langhe — Mr. Magpie and I are OBSESSED with this candle-lit restaurant with super refined Italian cooking and a phenomenal wine program.  Sidle up to the bar for one of their happy hour specials.

+Owen + Engine — incredible gastropub in the middle of nowhere.  Go on a Tuesday for their burger and pint special.

Day Drinking

+Parson’s Chicken + Fish — frozen negronis and fried chicken with picnic tables and yard games.  A hipster’s paradise.

+Big Star — taco joint with margaritas and a huge patio.

+Small Cheval — the little sister restaurant of the famous Au Cheval with great burgers and fries, boozy shakes, and pitchers of cocktails.

For a Special Occasion

+Alinea — consistently ranked one of the best restaurants in America; run by the celebrity chef Grant Achatz.  UNBELIEVABLE.  Be prepared to drop a lot of coin here.

+El Ideas — unique dining experience with two seatings each night, and you just eat what the cooks feel like making.  You’re sort of sitting in the kitchen and are welcome to wander through it and chat with the staff.  It’s also (unusally!) BYOB, so you can bring your own bottle of fine champagne or special wine for the occasion.

+Tru — the consummate fine dining experience, with fine art on the walls and a trolly of cheese wheeled out at the end of dinner.  There’s about 34 staff people to every one diner.  Total luxury.

+Aviary — very hard to get into, but SO fun and over the top for a special occasion.  This is a high-end cocktail bar where you basically order cocktail tasting menus.  Do not go on an empty stomach.

Just Drinks

+3 Dots and a Dash — tiki bar!  Fun (dangerously boozy) cocktails served in classic tiki mugs.

+Gilt Bar — it’s basically pitch black in this wood-and-mercury-glass-styled bar in River North, but we love their straight-forward, well-executed cocktail menu.  (And the fries are really good.)

+Sportsman Club — kind of divey spot with excellent cocktails and a cozy ambiance.

+Polo Bar — sounds like a tourist trap, but it’s fabulous and insanely well-decorated.  Mr. Magpie have spent many-an-afternoon thawing out from the cold after a museum visit holed up at the bar here.

+Pops for Champagne — any sparkling wine lover’s dream.

+Pub Royale — Mr. Magpie and I walk up here with mini and our dog in tow for happy hour once every other week or so.  It’s an Indian-fusion British pub with salty samosas and heaps of fried cauliflower alongside a fun cocktail menu (lots of variations on Pimms Cups).

Casual Fare

+Spacca Napoli — the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life, full-stop.  Neapolitan style pizza in an unassuming northside neighborhood.  Best in the summer, when you can sit outside on their patio.

+Tank Noodle — the best pho in town.  Exceptional Vietnamese in a no-frills setting — I always order the vermicelli bowl with grilled pork and a mango bubble tea.  I had insane cravings for both throughout my entire pregnancy; I think we made the trek north for it once a week!

+Wasabi — we get ramen here close to every Saturday morning.

+Pequod’s — THE BEST deep dish. Don’t even mess with Lou Malnati’s; this is where all the locals go.

+Habana Libre — delicious Cuban food.  We pick up their Cuban sandwiches to go probably once every other week.

+Di Candela — Peruvian-style roast chicken served with plantains and what we lovingly call “magic rice” (white rice infused with garlic and crack cocaine or something).  Very modest setting; worth the trip.

+Fatso’s Last Stand — classic Chicago dogs.

+Reno — a crowd-pleaser with everything from delicious salads to pizzas and my favorite bloody mary in the Windy City.

+Bari — great carry-out Italian subs with a highly stressful ordering situation (people are always cutting in line, trampling over one another, etc.  Come mentally prepared.)

Something Sweet

+Bang Bang Pie — insane pies and scones.

+Black Dog Gelato — great neighborhood gelato purveyor with unusual flavors, like one of my favorites: blueberry french toast.

+Margie’s Candies — old school ice cream spot.  Mr. Magpie took me here for Valentine’s day for an old-fashioned banana split.  Yum yum yum.

+Sweet Mandy B.’s — my favorite cupcake/cookie spot.  We go crazy over their molasses cookie, smeared with buttercream.  Holy.hell.

+Floriole — hands down, the best bread in the Windy City.  Great baguettes and pastries.  The croissants are nuts!  (Also a great spot for lunch with a girlfriend or coffee with a colleague.)

Pure Insanity

+Au Cheval — world famous for its insanely ridiculous hamburger…and four-hour waits.

Les Best Chicago Shopping Spots.

+Bucktown: I am an online shopping fiend (you may have noticed), but on the rare occasion that I feel like wandering around and seeing what tickles my fancy, I love a strip of shopping along Damen Ave in Bucktown, just north of North Avenue.  There’s an Intermix, Diptyque, Benefit Cosmetics, and Steven Alan, amongst other interesting spots.  It’s also home to my favorite coffee shop, Buzz, and my go-to tea source, David’s Tea.

+Oak Street: For serious high-end window-shopping, Oak Street is where it’s at–everything from Hermes to St. Laurent, and cool labels like Maje, too.  People also go nuts over the Sprinkles Cupcakes “ATM” — you can literally order a coffee from a little dispensery in the wall!

Les Best Chicago Activities.

+Architectural Boat Tour — a great way to see the city, and learn a little of its storied history, too.  I’ve been on this tour about six times, and all my guests have raved about it.  (It also has a little bar aboard in case you want to enjoy a bloody mary or beer while cruising.)

+Museum of Contemporary Art — an approachably-sized contemporary art museum sure to ruffle feathers and confuse you, but fun nonetheless, and in a spot convenient to the Magnificent Mile.

+Chicago Botanic Gardens — beautiful way to pass a morning, especially while wandering around the restful Japanese Garden island with its bonzais and zen gardens.  They have a little beer garden we’ve frequented in the past.

+Ravinia — outdoor music venue.  Pack a picnic and enjoy live music!

+Lincoln Park Zoo, North Pond, and the Nature Museum — Lincoln Park is charming, and it’s delightful to wander through the zoo while you’re in that neck of the woods.  I used to run through the zoo all the time when I lived in the Lincoln Park area, and then loop up to the North Pond, a pretty pond next to a nature conservancy that houses hundreds of butterflies.

+Lake Michigan — Mr. Magpie and I love to venture over to the Green City Market in Lincoln Park on Saturday mornings in the summer to pick up vegetables for the weekend’s meals and then meander on over to the lakefront for a walk along the lake.  If you head further north, there’s a dog beach!  A beach just for dogs and their owners!  So cute.

+Hancock Building — we took a lot of out-of-towners up to the Hancock for incredible views of the city.  Word to the wise: get off a floor below the observation deck and enjoy a cocktail with your view.  (If you go all the way up to the observation deck, you need to pay to see the sights; a floor below, you get the same view and a cocktail instead of a fee!)  I prefer the Hancock to the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) since it’s a little more convenient to everything else, but both are great.

+Franklin Lloyd Wright Houses — a bit of a schlep outside the downtown area, but you can take either a guided or an unguided tour of a neighborhood full of homes designed by this famed architect.

+Other tourist attractions:The Art Institute is incredible if a little overwhelming.  I was a little underwhelmed by Shedd Aquarium (it’s in bad need of an update), but still fun with kiddos.

Miscellaneous Chicago Bests.

+Cobbler: Village Cobbler on Armitage.  A bit of a hole in the wall but they repair lots of high end shoes for the well-heeled ladies of Lincoln Park.

+Tailor: Ms. Kim at Manoa Dry Cleaner.  Pricey, but she does an incredible job.

+Spices: The Spice House on Wells.

+Knife Sharpener: Northwestern Cutlery.

+OB/GYN: Dr. Lukens at Northwestern Obstetrics.  I cannot say enough good things about this Godsend of a woman.  She has four children of her own and is empathetic but will tell it to you straight.

+Pediatrician: Dr. Bensko at Northwestern Children’s Practice.  Patient, kind doctor with a great bedside manner.

+Cleaning Service: VMaids.  Well-priced, meticulous, trustworthy.

+Kennel: Rockstar Pets.  Tilly loves to “go away to camp” here.

+Groomer: The Groomer’s Corner on Milwaukee.

Chicago Must-Haves.

Finally, a few items you must consider buying if you are moving here or planning to visit…note: the winter routinely lasts eight months of the year.  Eight months, people.  And I’m being generous.

+A very heavy winter coat.  I resisted the whole sleeping-bag-as-a-jacket thing for two seasons before caving in and picking up a Canada Goose coat (in the red).  It’s been a game-changer.  Let’s just put it this way: we had out-of-town guests–three large men–and they were shivering and whining like babies while I was serenely walking down the street in my coat without complaint.  Have also heard good things about this brand’s winter coats, and Nordstrom Rack has one on serious sale.

+Most people buy these when braving Da Bears games in sub-freezing temperatures at Soldier Field.  I use them routinely, for everyday wear.

+These mittens (on sale for $30!) are the absolute coziest things in the world.  I lived in them last winter.

+I own a pair of Sorel snow boots and they are heavy duty–the shaft rises to mid-calf, which is kinda critical when multiple feet of snow is not unusual.  I love the look of these, though, for lighter snow days…

+The only socks you need in Chicago.  They ain’t pretty, but you need them.  Although, I will say that I treated myself to a pair of these super-soft, super-cozy socks for the hospital when I was delivering minimagpie this past winter, and they’re kind of heavenly, too.

+I love slim-fit cotton layers in the winter — and this henley in the oatmeal hue has my name written all over it.  Perfect for layering beneath a new statement sweater.

+My mom always scolds me when I’m seen without a hat — “most of your body’s heat escapes through your head!” I own a number, but I’ve been coveting a Eugenia Kim knit hat for the last year.  This one is on sale and would go with everything, but this funky one or this retro-esque one are at the top of my list.

+For transitional coats during those…one or two weeks…of fall weather, these are my top picks.

+For protecting and soothing chapped lips and hands, I’ve worn this for years.  And my mom has worn it for longer.  Talk about a Magpie Must.

Let me know if you guys have any other questions/inquiries!

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13 thoughts on “Chicago Chick: My Favorite Places in the City.

  1. The first time I ever went to Chicago was in February 2010! It was FREEZING, but I still had a fantastic time. I think you’re right about the weather … this Mid-Atlantic gal is slowly turning into a hardy New Englander and I feel like I could handle it in the later fall or early spring!

    Definitely going to jump on the Canada Goose (or Mackage) train this winter! xx

  2. Such great tips! My boyfriend & I were just talking about how we need to go back to Chicago … it grew out of a discussion about how he has been to Alinea AND Aviary and I’ve been to neither! Gotta go soon.

    Also, your cold-weather roundup is incredibly useful for me as a resident of Boston as well! I haven’t invested in a heavy-duty down coat yet — I have a holdover from J.Crew from a few years back — and this might be the year I take the plunge. I also finally bought a proper pair of (Sorel) snow boots this summer that I found on Net-A-Porter for 60% off … woohoo!

    1. Ahhh — so many good spots here for you to explore when you make it out this way. I *would* advise you to plan a trip between the months of June and September, but, as a resident of Boston, the cold probably isn’t an issue for you. (You guys got way more snow than we did last year!) I think, MK, it’s time to pull the trigger on a Mackage or Canada Goose coat. They’re ubiquitous, yes, and therefore semi-un-special, but they are serious workhorses. xo

  3. This is amazing! I’ve embarrassingly never been to Chicago but it is high on my travel bucket list and I even started planning a fantasy itinerary in case the opportunity presents itself. I’m glad to see some overlap with your suggestions!

    Have you been to the Driehaus Museum? My job involves working with a lot of museums and cultural sites and it seems like they do some great exhibits, I’m definitely excited to finally get there in person.

    1. Yes! The Driehaus Museum was interesting — probably especially well-suited to someone with an appreciation for architecture from a certain period — and I am personally enamored of tourist attractions that can be taken in within the span of an hour or so 🙂

  4. I think you totally hit the nail on the head with all of these!! So much to do, see and EAT! Makes me miss Chicago so much (and realized I need to plan my next trip!).
    P.S. Next time you’re at Gilt Bar for a cocktail, try the Truffle Pasta. maybe my favorite dish in Chicago! You won’t be disappointed!

  5. This is amazing, I’m pinning this for the future! I have only been fortunate enough to visit Chicago once, but I absolutely adored it, and I cannot wait to return and try out some of your recommendations!

  6. This is amazing timing, thank you! I’m visiting Chicago next week for a little getaway. I was going write you and ask for recs. You beat me to it! We may need to extend our stay to fit all of this wonderous in. I also heard great things about the Purple Pig, but to expect a wait list. Can’t wait to eat and drink my way through the city.

    1. Yay!! Glad to hear this! We have been to Purple Pig and thought it was delicious! (It is, though, as you note — a long wait right in the middle of the Mag Mile, which can be a bit overwhelming.) Let me know what you end up trying and liking! xo

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