My Chicago Food Bucket List

February 2017 · Chef John Reed, CEC, CCA

Over the years, I have written and talked about how great a food city we have in Chicago. So, I started contemplating my own Chicago food experiences and realized that I have not yet completed my bucket list. In anticipation of the ACF conference coming to town, I thought I would list out some of the iconic food experiences that I have enjoyed-and those I have yet to accomplish-for those of my readers who may visit the Windy City this year.

What makes a place or menu item Iconic? There are those things that are only associated with a certain city, like fish tacos in San Diego, Media Noche in Miami, or Sky Line Chili in Cincinnati. Chicago has its deep dish pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef, but it’s not just about eating it at any old restaurant or street-side stand. Cities say you should eat at certain places because they have been around for years, but they are not necessarily good food experiences. It’s about the atmosphere, time of day, and location all thrown together that makes something worthy of a bucket list. These places are also very personal and have meaning, as they may represent a moment in your life that intuitively lives in your psyche.

I have lived in Chicago for a total of nearly 20 years, but for me, the hot dog that I call special is not a Vienna beef with the poppyseed roll and the “yada yada” toppings. No disrespect, as I do love those, especially at 3 AM at the Wiener Circle on Clark. My pick is an old-school New England dog that resonates the most in my heart. It was a simple steamed natural casing hot dog with mustard, onion and relish on a warm side-cut hot roll from Casey’s in Natick Mass . It was a place my brother took me for lunch one day when I was young. They were steamed in an old copper tub, and the guy behind the counter served the dog with a three-pronged fork. We New Englanders are a tough and cheap bunch-why not convert a table fork instead? Casey’s was a converted caboose and had only 12 stools and a rail to lean on. Otherwise, you stood in the elements while you waited for a hot dog, and it was all part of the allure of the place. The amazing part was that the hot dog server rolled out those dawgs faster than you could say Pawtucket.

Here are some of my Chicago bucket list items that may or may not have occurred. I will keep you guessing for a while:

There are plenty more food experiences (check out ZAGAT’s 30 Essential Chicago Dishes), some simple, some more involved, but any experience you have should be worthwhile. Don’t just eat a meal, have a dining experience. This is the same conversation I had with my family. We are no longer just eating at the table, we are dining with each other. Make it memorable and worthy of your bucket list.

Enjoy our great city!


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John Reed
Chef John Reed, CEC, CCA
John Reed is a professional chef with over 30 years experience. John has extensive knowledge of culinary techniques, ethnic cuisines, food history and more!

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