As far as I'm concerned Open House Chicago, held this weekend, is one of the great events of the year for inveterate snoops and spies like myself. You get to go inside dozens of buildings all over the city whose insides you don't normally get to see, and see how all kinds of other halves live, work, or lived and worked a century ago. The list of sites expands every year and ranges from grand old office buildings in the Loop to art deco apartment buildings with cool basement swimming pools in Rogers Park to factory buildings in Pullman. It's a great way to explore the city from the inside out.
And if you're seeing the city, you must, at some point, eat. It's a great opportunity to sample the foods of neighborhoods you rarely visit too. I've updated last year's list of places to nosh near the neighborhoods featured, minus downtown and some other neighborhoods that already get lots of foodie attention (Lincoln Park, West Town, etc) in favor of focusing on the less touristed parts of town. Print the list, take it with you, and enjoy.
Bridgeport/Back of the Yards
With little remaining of the old stockyards, the lineup is mostly modern reuses of the area, including the Zhou B Art Center and the food business incubator the Plant—but maybe my favorite site of all last year was the headquarters of Decorators Supply Corporation, century-old makers of ornate plaster moldings for old houses (and Hollywood). Have a royal pie at Pleasant House Bakery, classic Chicago joint food at Johnny O's, or upscale brunch at Nana.
The sites are mostly old African-American churches (including the surprising streamline moderne First Church of Deliverance), but there are also some IIT buildings to see and Meyers Ace Hardware, which still shows signs of when it was a nightclub where Louis Armstrong used to play. Have breakfast at Ms. Biscuit (guess what's really good there), exotic hot dogs at H-Dogs, or pick up some barbecue from Uncle J's, descended from the much-loved Uncle John's BBQ.
New on the list this year, Edgewater's offerings include the pink Edgewater Beach Apartments, a building that has the Anna Held flower shop and soda fountain on its first floor. There are also a couple of mansions and a restored vintage firehouse to tour. Hit DAK for Korean chicken wings or Cookies & Carnitas for farm-to-table comfort food.
Garfield Park/North Lawndale
The old Sears plant (including the original Tower and the power plant that's now a high school) are the main attractions, but also see Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, a massive Italianate church which used to draw thousands every Friday night for a saying of the rosary—which was broadcast on the radio. There's not a lot of food in the immediate area, but Ruby's Soul Food (the former Edna's) isn't far away, or there's Mary's Bar-B-Que for rib tips to go.
Goose Island has just four sites, each reflective of the wildly different uses to which this industrial area has been put, ranging from a concrete factory and a theatrical scenery company to Groupon's HQ. For me the one to see is Saint John Cantius, a stunning Polish-baroque church. The most fitting dining choice on the city's only true island is Goose Island Shrimp House, since the brewpub of that name is actually a little north of it; Burger Bar is also a pretty good place nearby.
While others line up for the Robie House, you can see the KAM Isaiah Israel synagogue and the fire-damaged, partially restored Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. The new Hyde Park Yusho will be open for Sunday noodles. Visit Cedars for Middle Eastern or grab a sandwich at the grocery/deli Zaleski & Horvath on 47th.
Pilsen has just four stops, two of them churches, though the recently restored Thalia Hall/Dusek's is on the list. On the other hand, Pilsen has more dining choices than almost anywhere, mostly Mexican, of course (I like La Cebollita and Carnitas Uruapan), but also places like Beurrage for coffee and pastries and Take Me Out for chicken wings.
This neighborhood has old mansions, needless to say, plus the Gothic revival Second Presbyterian Church; for food there's good south-side pizza and pierogi at Flo & Santos, or a Nepalese-Indian buffet at Nepal House. Chinatown, though not on the list this year, is close by.
Pullman opens up its Hotel Florence, the Greenstone Church (rare green limestone), and more. It has few food options, though, so make it a twofer with South Shore (a rare chance to see inside the Regal Theater) and then you can have soul food at Soul Vegetarian East and St. Rest #2 Country Kitchen, or barbecue at Lem's.
Rogers Park/West Ridge
See a fine Frank Lloyd Wright residence (the Emil Bach House; there will be lines), some Loyola buildings, and two apartment-building swimming pools that will make you want to get on the waiting list immediately. All of Devon's Indian food is nearby, from grilled meats at Khan BBQ to vegetarian at Udupi Palace, or enjoy terrific coffee, good panini, and homey Ethiopian food at Royal Coffee.
New on the list this year, with a chance to go inside Ukrainian Village's dazzlingly ornate churches Saint Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, Saint Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, and Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The last real Ukrainian restaurant in the neighborhood is Old Lviv; grab breakfast at Sunrise Cafe or a burger at Fatso's Last Stand (formerly Phil's).
Many of the best Uptown sites aren't on this year's list, but you can see some fine old lakeshore apartment buildings, and kids will love the Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club. Get banh mi sandwiches at Ba Le, barbecued pork and duck at Sun Wah, and bright Vietnamese soups and noodle dishes at Nha Hang, all on or near Argyle.