This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2012 NRA Show. The show is held in Chicago, May 5-8. Follow all coverage on NRN’s NRA Show page, check out NRN blogs, Reporter’s Notebook, and Tweet with us using #NRNatNRA.
The Nation’s Restaurant News editorial team has been covering the NRA Show for years. When our editors aren't covering happenings on the show floor they're likely exploring the culinary delights of the Windy City. Here are some of the staff's top Chicago dining picks.
Robin Lee Allen, executive editor:
In 2010, I met Susan Roman of the Signature Room at the 95th while moderating an NRA Show panel of HR executives. Sadly, Susan passed away in March after a long battle with ovarian cancer. I’ll stop by the Signature Room to take in its glorious view of Chicago and honor Susan and her efforts to promote ovarian cancer awareness.
The Signature Room, 875 N. Michigan Ave.
Mark Brandau, Midwest bureau chief:
When I feel like stretching my dollar just a little for good food and cocktails in a lively, beautiful restaurant, I head to Sunda in River North. It’s hard to pull off South Asian and sushi under one roof, but they’re excellent at both.
Sunda, 110 W. Illinois St.
Paul Frumkin, managing editor:
OK, let’s be frank — it’s not about the food at Buddy Guy’s Legends, although this South Wabash landmark does offer a full menu of “Cajun soul food” with respectable takes on such classics as jambalaya, catfish, gumbo and Po’Boys. Nope, it’s all about that good, old “one-four-five progression” and some of the tastiest electric urban blues you can hope to hear anywhere, anytime. And, if you’re truly lucky, you may get to hear the master himself break it all down for you.
Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave.
Lisa Jennings, West Coast bureau chief:
I’m not much of a red meat eater, so when I do partake of the cow, I want it to be good. That’s why I hope to hit the original Al’s Beef, home to what is often proclaimed as the city’s best Italian beef sandwich.
I’ve been craving one of these sandwiches ever since seeing it on a TV food show some years back. The combination of slow-roasted, tender sliced beef with spicy giardiniera on a soft roll dripping with beefy juice sounds utterly magnificent.
I have even studied the appropriate stance: This sandwich should be eaten standing up, with elbows on the counter and feet planted a good two-and-a-half feet away from the edge of the counter, to avoid a meat juice-on-shoes incident — critical for those of us from California who only own sandals.
Al’s Beef, 1079 West Taylor St.
Olivia LaBarre, online managing editor:
A Chicago native told me that a hot dog from Gene and Jude's is worth the trip to the suburb of River Grove, near O'Hare airport. The old-school stand serves its crisp-skinned Vienna beef dogs with mustard, relish, onions and sport peppers (don’t even think about asking for ketchup). To top it all off, Gene and Jude's smothers each dog in fresh-cut fries. I'll take that over a traditional Chicago dog any day.
Gene and Jude's, 2720 River Road, River Grove
Sarah Lockyer, online executive editor:
Whenever I get back to my hometown, I have to get my fix of one of Chicago's best culinary creations — the deep-dish pizza. The rivalries between Chicago's deep-dish restaurants can be just as intense as the rivalry between the Cubs and White Sox, and I'm a Gino's East loyalist. The golden, deep, crunchy crust makes the perfect bed for mounds of cheese, tomatoes and, of course, a layer of sausage. Writing on the walls — joining decades of customers, famous or not — is part of the fun. The brand has grown to 12 locations now, but the original on Superior St. is the where the action is.
Gino’s East, 162 E. Superior St.
Christi Ravneberg, managing editor, production:
When asked to write 100 words on my favorite Chicago restaurants, I seriously considered just writing “Lou Malnati’s” 50 times. (Don’t let Ms. Lockyer steer you wrong. This is the place for Chicago deep-dish pizza.) But in the unlikely event that I should tire of pizza, look for me at Frances’, a 50-plus-year-old deli/diner in Lincoln Park. My go-to brunch place when I lived in the neighborhood after college, Frances’ has a huge menu with all the usual suspects — pastrami on rye,clubs, burgers and eggs — plus a few playful twists like fried matzo, ice cream floats and chocolate chip pancakes.
Frances’, 2552 N. Clark St.
Ron Ruggless, Southwest bureau chief:
My visit to Chicago last year for the NRA Show was flummoxed by a stomach virus, so I remember Chicago’s “Culinary Delights of 2011” mostly for the refreshing lemon-lime Gatorade from the 7-Eleven near my hotel.
This year, I’m Purell-ing myself hourly and avoiding contact with humans until I step off the plane at O’Hare, and I’m looking forward to a to-go torta lunch at Frontera Grill founder Rick Bayless’ Xoco.
Xoco, 449 N. Clark St.
Bret Thorn, senior food editor:
The Bristol is the kind of place where chefs like to go for dinner.Chris Pandel’s doing the nose-to-tail thing there in unusually good style; I once shared a delicious pig's head with a bunch of people there during a “pork crawl” that will live in infamy. He also does duck fat fries, smoked hearts and pasta carbonara with veal bacon. Vegetable lovers will enjoy his Brussels sprouts. They’re fried, but hey, they’re green.
The Bristol, 2152 N. Damen Ave.
For daily reports of news and trends from our editors on the scene at the NRA Show, visit our At The Show page.