Our Favorite City: Chicago

We at Ballroom Dance Chicago are dancers through-and-through, but we’re also people with varying interests and loves and we’d like to share some of those with you. While we usually choose dancing as our primary love, this great city of Chicago, IL, settled in the 1780s and burned down ninety years later only to be rebuild in greater glory, is a quick second. I mean, it’s a city named after a garlic plant (not an onion, like most people think). What’s not to love? Anyway, all jokes aside, Chicago is great for many reasons, but we’d like to share with you our favorite things (food, alcohol and dancing) and our favorite places to enjoy those things in Chicago. Think of this blog post as being a map of Ballroom Dance Chicago’s favorite places in the city.

 

Food In Chicago

While this list is not exhaustive of our favorite places, it’s a list of our go-tos – the places you’re likely to see us regularly that don’t totally break the bank. So, unfortunately, places like Alinea, Grace, Next, North Pond, and Goosefoot will have to take the backseat.

Sushi

Yuzu Chicago is our favorite for rolls.

We first dined when we tried to get a table at Ruxbin and the wait was 4 hours. We asked about other places in the neighborhood and they recommended Yuzu. We tried it and fell in love. BYO, sushi and a robata grill for those of us who liked to add something cooked to the mix! We just can’t get enough and can’t find any better place for rolls in Chicago.

1751 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

(312) 666-4100

 

Arami on Chicago Ave is our favorite for sashimi.

And we really like the servers – they’re all know everything about everything on the menu. Whether you’re trying to order a bottle of Sake or wondering what tomago kampyo is, they’ve got your back. We usually start with some cool concoction off of the starters, get some topped sushi and then have a chef’s tasting of sashimi. Just a word of warning: this is definitely the priciest restaurant on our list, but it’s so worth it.

1829 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

Pizza

Spacca Napoli is the best pizza in Chicago.

And we’re just so happy that they’re down the street from our location on Ravenswood. Neopolitan style pizza cooked in an oven imported from Italy, supported by a thoughtful and inexpensive wine list and a great patio on the north side of the building – that’s all you need to know. We go here so often that they wonder if we’ve slept in the back. Order the funghi and salsiccia or the diavola, our to favorites. And make sure to save room for a cannolli on the way out. One word of warning: the place fills up with families and strollers, so you’re better off going on an off hour, like in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday. Also, they don’t do call-ahead carry outs. If you want a pizza to go, you have to show up and order it. Keep in mind it only takes about five minutes for them to fire the pizza. Yes, Chicago, this is your best pizza place.

1769 W Sunnyside Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

 

Roots Pizza on Chicago is just plain old delicious

A totally different style compared to Spacca Napoli, but still one of Chicago’s best. They use a dark roasted malt in the crust, which adds to a richer more complex flavor. We really like the way that this lends to a crunchy exterior and a soft interior. They also have an amazing selection of fresh, locally sourced ingredients and, if you’re dining in, an amazing selection of local, craft brews. Some of us at Ballroom Dance Chicago have been known to drive a half hour out of our way, after work, to get a slice.

1924 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

 

BYO – One of the top ten things that makes Chicago great!

Chicago is the BYO mecca. Even some of our fanciest, most expensive restaurants (like Goosefoot and Schwa) are BYO. BYO in Chicago used to mean that you could bring as much of any type of alcohol that you want, but a lot of places now put limitations on the amount and type they allow. Just make sure to call ahead or check out their websites for more details. We love BYO options because they help keep the cost of dining out down.

 

Home Bistro in Chicago’s Boystown Neighborhood

We’ve been regulars at this cozy American bistro for years. The food is hearty and the staff is uber friendly and the champagne pours endlessly, if you’ve brought enough, so we keep coming back. We really like their many variations of sweetbreads, the bacon-wrapped stuffed dates, and duck breast when it’s on the menu. Plan to stay for awhile because the staff isn’t in a hurry, which we love. The atmosphere is festive and a bit loud, but you’ll get over it. Sit back, relax, eat some sweetbreads and sip some champagne, Chicago, everything will be fine.

3404 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60657

 

 

Ruxbin near Chicago Ave and Ashland

This is one of those fancy BYO places, although it makes the list because they don’t have a tasting menu, so you can get by on a tight budget. The interior of this place really stands out – steam-punk design by Salvage One. It’s hard to categorize the food, but we’ll call it globally inspired bistro fare. They, for the longest time, didn’t take reservations but now they have a ticketing system where you buy a spot beforehand. We’ve gone here a couple of times a year since they opened for things like Ballroom Dance Chicago’s staff holiday party or when friends are in from out-of-town who love food and are adventurous eaters.

 

851 N Ashland Ace, Chicago, IL 60622

Asian Fusion in Chicago

Urban Belly/Belly Q

Bill Kim, we love you, almost as much as we love Chicago. Since you were at Le Lan we’ve worshiped at the doors of your kitchen. And we think Urban Belly is your best effort yet. The food is hearty asian fusion and the interior is a no bull-shit idustrial space that has reclaimed wood tables and a living wall. BYO on Sundays and so reasonably priced you couldn’t cook this food for the same cost (yet the food still has much of the freshness and refinement of Le Lan). Order everything on the menu, over-eat, and then take leftovers home. You’ll thank us. We’ve only been to Belly Q once, and we really enjoyed it, and it’s totally delicious, but it’s a bit pricier so we usually end up at Urban Belly to protect our pocketbooks.

1400 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607

 

 

Thai in Chicago

Herb

Patty is a killer chef (and definitely the best Thai chef in Chicago). Her dishes are so well balanced and perfectly constructed that you’ll worry about the bill; “is this gonna be one of those $500 meals?” you’ll wonder. But then the bill comes and it’s $70 for two and it’s BYO so you don’t have to pay the mark-up on the bottle of Alsatian Gewurztraminer you’re diggin’. That’s when you realize that life is actually not as terrible as you thought it was. Do the tasting menu and just trust that she’s got your best interests in mind. The one downside to this place is the service. It’s just terrible. Some of the worst service in Chicago (they run around in confusion, trying to avoid eye contact with the ravenous hordes). So you’ve got to be patient and in no hurry to really get the best of this place. With that said, it’s still by far the best thai in the Chicago, and we’ve paid for a ridiculously over-priced meal at Arun’s before.    

5424 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60640

Chinese in Chicago

Lao Szechuan

While they’re known for their spicy Szechuan food, you can still get some mild temperature things and be in heaven. It’s not the healthiest food in Chicago, but we like to indulge every now-and-again. Our favorite dishes: Tony’s Chicken with Three Chili (think sweet and spicy fried chicken; Sole Fish Fillet Black Bean Sauce; and Peapod Leaves. We always recommend bringing large groups so that you can get a sampling of many dishes without eating too much of one. Aim for eight (since that’s a lucky number for wealth in China), sit at a round table with a lazy Susan in the middle and try not to get dizzy watching the colorful dishes spin around.

We wish they were BYO, but, alas, they’re not. They have a minimal selection of beer and wine. Skip the wine, especially the Chinese wine (it’s disgusting), and stick with a lager.

There are multiple locations in Chicago. The original is in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, but they’re all pretty good. We’ve been to the one on N Broadway a number of times, since it’s near the Lakeview studio, and we thinks it’s just as good as the Chinatown location.

4832 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640

 

 

Breweries/Distilleries in Chicago

Yes, just like everyone else in Chicago, we enjoy drinking alcohol. If you’re not aware, Chicago was voted the Greatest Drinking City by GQ (not just because of the amount we consume, but also because of the amazing bars, breweries and distilleries). We knew it was coming, and now we’re here to share our favorite spots. We pour Begyle beers at our Ravenswood studio (we have a commercial kegerator just for this purpose), so they’re no. 1 on our list and Dovetail and Koval are our neighbor, so they’re no. 2 and no. 3. What we’re getting at is that there are so many great places in Chicago, but we’ve narrowed it down by proximity to our studios. Cheers!

 

Breweries in Chicago

Begyle Brewing

They just opened a taproom that’s BYOF (bring your own food). We’ve been drinking Begyle beer for just over a year now after one of our students made us aware of them. They’re right across the Metra tracks from us on the other side of Ravenswood. They started out as a community supported brewing company, but they’re now distributed all over Chicago. Whole Foods recently picked them up and Begyle is brewing specials beers for each of Whole Foods locations in Chicago. We are big fans of Crash Landed (American Pale Wheat Ale), Hophazardly (American IPA), and Euchard (American IPA).

1800 W Cuyler Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

 

Dovetail Brewery

Dovetail isn’t open yet, but we’ve tasted a sampling of their beer and we’re impressed. So much so that once they open we’re going to put their stuff on tap. Hagen Dost and Bill Wesselink are the owners and brewers and they’re planning on brewing old world styles (think German, Czech, and Belgian) including sours that’ll be brewed from the natural yeast in the air. MMM, Chicago yeast. We’re a touch skeptical, but we’ll definitely give it a try. We’re not sure of the exact location yet, but they’ll be near in proximity to our studio on Ravenswood.

All we have for the address so far: Chicago, IL 60613

 

Distilleries in Chicago

Koval

We’re not really the hard liquor types, but when we do hit the bottle, we like to keep in local. Koval is about as close as it can get. They’re so local that you can walk to their distillery from our Ravenswood studio. We like their whiskeys quite a bit. Next time you’re in, and Matthew’s in a good mood, ask if you can have a touch from the collection in his office. He’ll be happy to oblige (fingers crossed). We’ve had their four grain, bourbon and rye and we like all of them equally. We’ve also tried a handful of their liqueurs and have actually used them for mixing cocktails at our quarterly parties. We’ve tried and enjoyed the orange blossom, rose hip and carraway liqueurs. If you’re not sure how to use the liqueurs in mixtures, their website has a great list of cocktail recipes.

5121 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

 

CH Distillery

Near to our Randolph location, we’ve chosen CH distillery because they have great vodka. Yes, we know it’s just vodka, but we like good vodka shaken and served up once wedding season concludes. It sets just the right mood.

564 West Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60661

 

Places to Dance in Chicago

We love social dancing, and that means that it doesn’t necessarily have to be traditional partner dancing (think ballroom, swing, salsa). We love having a drink and hitting a dance floor to shake off the week. Our two favorite places in Chicago offer casual, no fuss atmosphere and fabulous dance music.

 

Danny’s Chicago

Danny’s is a bar in an old house. Basically, the first floor of the house, with it’s collection of rooms, is the bar/lounge/dance floor area. We’ve spent many a night dancing at Danny’s and love that they spin vinyl. Djs are there nightly so call ahead or check out their website to see what genre they’re playing. We particularly love the funk/soul dance nights. Come early or you’ll be waiting in a line.

1951 W Dickens Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

 

Neo Chicago

Unfortunately, this Chicago Goth/Industrial staple recently closed because they lost their lease, but they say they’re on the lookout for new digs. For the time being, they’re hosting a couple of nights a week at Debonair Social Club (1575 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL  60622). What we loved about Neo is that it was a no-frills dance club that had a 4 o’clock license. It was such a popular venue that bands like VNV Nation and the Cure, among many others, would visit the club after their concerts in town. Please, Neo ownership, get your act together and find a new place ASAP!

Now closed location: 2350 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

 

If you’re interested in some of our other favorite Chicago places, check out these other blogs: The DrakeThe Green MillOld Town School of Folk Music.