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The Food Issue: Where Chicago Eats

We followed locals to their longtime haunts, asked them to share their fiercest culinary obsessions, and gathered their most impressionistic food memories to piece together what it really means to eat in this city.

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Of the 50-plus Chicagoans whose eating habits, dining preferences, and culinary rituals we examine in this issue, there is a single outlier who holds the strange opinion that a person eats to live, and not vice versa.

We'll forgive him that heresy for his willingness to sit down with us for a perfectly delicious breakfast.

The rest who show up in these pages take eating far more seriously. Some are consumed by food for thought: the philosophy professor who applies Aristotelian logic to the act of eating a doughnut, the rapper who wonders if Chicago pizza could become a conduit for peace. Others look to food for inspiration: the restaurant group researcher in pursuit of the perfect ramen (the place he sampled with us wasn't too far a cry from Tokyo and Kyoto), the two chefs who pay homage to the place that paved the way for Logan Square's rock-star restaurant scene, the food photographer who dared to crash a private dinner at Schwa.

A few Chicagoans go so far as to claim that the most rewarding meal is cooked at home, whether it's a 12-course Brazilian-themed feast or a birthday dinner nearly identical to the one your spouse prepared 15 years ago, on your first date.

There are instances where food is viewed as a vehicle for self-preservation—taxi drivers looking for a lunch that won't pack on the pounds, a carb counter who's tallying for a more pressing cause—and as a means of crisis prevention: the Joravsky family's near-disastrous road trip that led to the discovery of their favorite Mexican restaurant.

Some eaters suffer from a straight-up food obsession: be it for hot dogs or espresso, oysters or handmade noodles, tamales or a slice of pie.

And for most of them, food is a powerful tool for remembrance. A retiree revisits his childhood after stumbling upon the hot dog shop of his youth. A former baker (and current Reader deputy editor) recalls a dough recipe for different chapters of his life. Another Reader staffer looks back on the trip she took as a young girl to Al's Italian Beef—with her mink-clad grandmother. And the daughter of a Mississippi transplant to the west side laments the long-lost recipe for her late mother's tea cakes.

And the guy who merely eats to live? Turns out he's got a backstory of his own—but for a second there we were worried we might not get it. The outspoken former alderman and current radio talk show host found himself at a rare loss for words when his regular waitress wasn't on hand to fill his breakfast order.

He might not live to eat, at least not anymore. But, like the rest of us, he'd be nothing if it weren't for food. Mara Shalhoup

[photograph of Jeff Pikus, ramen]
  • Jeffrey Marini
  • Chef/researcher Jeff Pikus at Karaoke House Nina

Eating out with . . .

Twelve Chicagoans show us a dozen perspectives on Chicago's food scene.

Ramen quest

The chef developing the recipes for Brendan Sodikoff's new ramen bar sizes up some suburban tonkotsu.

By Mike Sula

Observations on the feeling of the beautiful and sublime doughnut

A University of Chicago student puts her doughnut-loving professor to the Dat Donut test.

By Hannah Gold

Breakfast with Cliff Kelley is serious business

Former alderman and WVON talk show host prefers his politics gutsy and his toast dry.

By Mick Dumke

Eating like a cab driver

I asked three cabbies to take me to their favorite lunch spots. And they actually did.

By Gwynedd Stuart

The rediscovery of Dave's Red Hots

A retiree returns to the hot dog shop of his youth.

By Mike Sula

Two Logan Square chefs pay homage to Lula

Matthias Merges of Billy Sunday and Yusho and Jeff Mauro of Jam meet for lunch.

By Sarah Nardi

Raising the potluck bar

A supper club of ambitious amateur chefs takes themed dinners to the next level.

By Julia Thiel

Two comedians out late, eating poorly

The hosts of I Shit You Not on the art of after-hours dining

By Drew Hunt

[Illustration by Celine Loup of cooking pierogis]
  • Celine Loup

Food for thought

Ten Chicagoans recall their fondest food memories.

Putting on the Ritz—at Al's Italian Beef

Recalling my grandmother's era of mink-clad glamour

By Aimee Levitt

Dances with pierogi

A kitchen implosion reveals deeper truths.

By Annette Radziszewski

Sneaking into Schwa

How I managed to nab a VIP spot at one of the most exclusive dining rooms in town

By Anjali Pinto

The accidental discovery of our favorite Mexican restaurant

A near-disastrous Joravsky family road trip leads to a local treasure.

By Ben Joravsky

A Chicago rapper on the peace of pizza

Never mind divisive arguments about the best pie—pizza should unite us.

By ShowYouSuck

The restorative powers of pita

Deta's Pita offered shelter from the cold—and from the dread of war.

By Kate Schmidt

Dough (and some batters, too): A listicle

Notes on being a baker

By Sam Worley

I could always sniff out my mother's tea cakes

I've tried for years to replicate my mother's recipe.

By Rose Doyle (aka Puddin)

A diet based on sacrifice

Counting carbs, but not for the reason you think

By Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez

A marriage forged on pasta and cream sauce

Celebrating my husband's cooking, 15 years—and a pair of twins—later

By Miranda Swanson

Where to fulfill your most intense food obsessions

Pie. Handmade noodles. Tacos. Italian subs. Bagels. Mac 'n' cheese. Tamales. Hot dogs. Pizza. Espresso. Oysters. And vegan everything.

We asked, you showed us #wherechieats

The food porn you leaked on Instagram, now on our Tumblr.

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