A Food-Lover's Guide to Chicago

Markets, farms, artisans, and best shops for cooks

City: Chicago
Population: 2.8 million (9.5 million in the metropolitan area)
Local specialties: Deep-dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, steak, beer, local produce, various ethnic dishes

Perhaps best known for its deep-dish pizza and eponymous hot dog, Chicago is truly a city of neighborhoods, and home cooking here reflects that. Midwestern comfort food holds a special place in Chicagoans' hearts, although many cooks here now prefer a lighter, more seasonal approach, most of the time anyway.

Cooks have access to a wide range of ethnic ingredients, as well as a bounty of vegetables, fruit, dairy and meat products from the surrounding rural communities in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. And the city's emergence as a cutting edge culinary mecca has inspired many enthusiastic home cooks to take their meals to the next level. Oh, and did we mention the city smells like chocolate?

Foods You Must Try

Deep-dish pizza - A restaurant food, but we can't leave it out. Our favorites are The Art of Pizza and Pequod's (more of a pan style with a caramelized crust).
• Chicago-style hot dogs - Another restaurant food, we know, but unless you're going to make one at home, you must pay a visit to Hot Doug's, The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium. The long line is worth it.
• Berries, stone fruit and apples - Fresh from Michigan, get them while they last.
• Steak - Sure, there are plenty of old-school steakhouses in Chicago, but why not make your own with a cut from Bill Kurtis-owned Tallgrass Beef.
• Beer - Try a locally brewed cold one from Goose Island, Half Acre, Three Floyds or Metropolitan Brewing Company.

Farmers' Markets

• The Green City Market got its start in an alley behind the Chicago Theater and now takes up a sizable spot in Lincoln Park on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Called "the best sustainable market in the country" by Alice Waters, the market works with 60 farmers and producers, and welcomed more than 80,000 visitors in 2008.
• The City of Chicago runs nearly 20 markets, featuring more than 70 vendors. Locations include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Streeterville, the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park, and other neighborhood locations throughout the city.
• Several independently run markets are held in neighborhoods such as Logan Square, Pilsen, Andersonville and Portage Park.
• On the border of the affluent Gold Coast and the now mostly demolished housing project Cabrini-Green is the City Farm. The soil is fertilized with scraps from some of the city's best restaurants, and much of the produce goes right back into those kitchens. But on weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings from early August through the end of October, the public is invited to shop at the City Farm Heirloom Tomato Stand.
Downtown Farmstand
• Many neighborhoods on Chicago's South and West Sides are often called "food deserts," with little or no farmers' markets, or even grocery stores, available to their residents. The Chicago Tribune recently reported that area churches are launching weekly farmers' markets in their parking lots and planting community gardens. It's a great step toward bringing healthy food options to many Chicago residents.

Food Halls

If Chicago has any food halls, we haven't found them, but the Green City Market is now year-round and held inside the Peggy Norbert Nature Museum during the winter. The Downtown Farmstand is also now open through the winter.

Best Grocery Stores

Fox & Obel
Treasure Island
HarvesTime Foods
Andy's Fruit Ranch
Newleaf Natural Grocery - Organic market and delivery service
Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks - Local organic delivery
Mitsuwa Arlington Heights - Large Japanese marketplace in Arlington Heights (Check out photos at RachelleB's blog.)
H-Mart - Asian grocery in Niles
Al Khayyam - Middle Eastern grocery and bakery
Kukulu Market - Ethiopian ingredients and prepared food
• National and local chain locations throughout the city and suburbs include Jewel, Dominick's, Strack & Van Til, Ultra Foods, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

Specialty Shops of Note (Food)

Pastoral - Artisan cheese, bread and wine
Provenance Food and Wine
The Goddess and Grocer
Southport Grocery
The Spice House
Old Town Oil
Paulina Meat Market
Gepperth's Market - meat
Terry's Toffee
Margie's Candies
Vosges Chocolate

Wine and Spirits
Lush Wine & Spirits
Kafka Wine Co.
Printers Row Wine Shop
Randolph Wine Cellars
The House of Glunz
Fine Wine Brokers
Sam's Wines and Spirits

Bakeries
Sweet Mandy B's - Cupcakes and other desserts
Dinkel's Bakery - Old-fashioned breads and sweets
Bittersweet Pastry Shop and Cafe - Try the cookies!
Café Selmarie - We're hooked on their Sunday sticky buns
Red Hen Bread
Bleeding Heart Bakery - "Local, sustainable, punk rock pastry"

Specialty Shops of Note (Cookware & Tools)

The Chopping Block
Northwestern Cutlery
Wooden Spoon
Freehling Pot and Pan Company

Independent Food Artisans

Pasta Puttana - Available at the Green City Market and Downtown Farmstand
Das Caramelini - Fluer de Sal caramels
Tomato Mountain - Preserves, sauces and Bloody Mary mix
Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin - Makers of Brun-uusto
Capriole (Indiana) - Goat cheese
Burton's Maplewood Farm (Indiana) - Maple syrup
Chicago Honey Co-op
River Valley Ranch (Wisconsin) - Mushrooms, pasta sauces, spreads and salsas
Milk and Honey Granola

About The Kitchn's Food-Lover's Guides

We focus mainly on home cooking here at The Kitchn, and we know that one huge source of inspiration is travel. We want to give you ideas for things to eat and places to visit even when you're away from your home kitchen. We want to inspire your inner chef and introduce you to the best spots for food-lovers in a dozen or so major cities.

These guides don't deal with restaurants; there are plenty of other resources for that. These are the spots for food-lovers and cooks: the markets, specialty cookshops, and best small-batch artisans. If you're traveling in one of these cities this summer, we hope these guides help you find something inspiring. And if you live here, maybe you'll find a new resource to inspire your daily cooking!

We need your help, too, with these guides. Each city's thread will have at least some recommendations, but of course they will be incomplete. So we need your insider help. Tell us where the best markets, food shops, jam-makers, brewers, butchers, independent groceries, bakery supply stores, and quirky, strange, out-of-the-way food experts are. What are your favorite places to shop, as a cook?

(Images: Flickr users James Jordan, stubaker and David Paul Ohmer, licensed under Creative Commons, Joanna Miller)