In this week’s Seek Like a Local, Tanya Taylor shares travel tips for locals and tourists visiting Chicago, where you can find the best pizza in Chicago (down to the exact location), and where to shop if you are frugal and fashionable in Chicago.
Explore Chicago Like Tanya Taylor
Tanya is a Chicago area native whose love of travel started as a management consultant. She is passionate about sharing experiences in the “Windy City” and beyond.
Tanya tells all of her travel secrets on her platform, Travels & Treasures. Keep up with the latest adventures of this Top 20 Chicago blogger by visiting her website today.
What’s an iconic Chicago restaurant and food that everyone must try?
There are so many great restaurants that it’s hard to choose just one, even for a single ethnic cuisine. Chicago is known for its deep-dish pizza, so if I had to say which pizza place that I frequent the most it would be Lou Malnati’s. I remember when I first discovered it. My cousin and I would meet for happy hour after work and he said “Let’s go to Lou Malnati’s!” I had never heard of them but I was game. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in their restaurant on Wells St. and wondering where I’d been all this time.
The flavors were so well-pronounced. I could taste the gooey cheese, the Italian seasonings, and hot, spiced sausage in every bite—all well stuffed into a deep dish of flaky crust. Since then, my diet has changed (pescatarian), but I’m still and fan and it’s my first choice on pizza night. There are many locations and they have since opened locations in other states.
What are some cool things to do in Chicago as a local or a tourist?
Chicago is a great city and has something for everyone. If you are a first-time visitor I would take you to the well-known tourist spots. After all, if you didn’t take a selfie at a famous landmark in the Windy City, were you even here? Selfie stops would start at the John Hancock Building and travel south to the Water Tower, the Starbucks Reserve (the world’s largest) is in the middle of the street on Michigan Ave, the Wrigley Building, the Chicago River, Cloud Gate (the Bean at Millennium Park), Buckingham Fountain, the gardens at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Route 66 sign. The selfie tour would close with a side jaunt to the Lakefront and the Navy Pier Ferris wheel.
If you’ve been to Chicago and want to savor some lesser-known parts of the city, then I’d take you off-the-beaten-path for cultural experiences. This would include stops like Uncle John’s BBQ on the South Side, shopping in the Hyde Park neighborhood, and catching a performance at the Black Ensemble Theatre. They have some fun, interactive shows. I highly recommend “The Other Cinderella” which is performed annually, it’s hilarious and engaging. For nightcrawlers, I’d take you to the Smart Bar (temporarily closed), Tao, or the Underground. These venues have been around for decades (albeit, some names have changed) but they are still great stops for great music and socializing.
What are some of the top art Museums in Chicago?
I love art in almost every form—paintings, sculptures, murals, etc. The Art Institute of Chicago has some of the best collections in the country and offers free admissions with some restrictions. It’s certainly worth the visit. There is also a gallery that is dedicated to contemporary work, the Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago. Chicago has over 160 cultural museums and institutions that visitors can explore.
The DuSable Museum of African American History is an affiliate of the Smithsonian and does a great service in revealing the history of Chicago from a cultural context. Supporters can donate to the organization online.
Where should I SHOP IN chICAGO IF i AM ON A BUDGET?
I have fancy taste and a frugal mind so I tend to shop thrift or consignment stores for everyday fashions. There is a store in Oak Park called Trends that has good quality clothing at reasonable prices. The prices are set when they are put on the rack, but then steadily decrease over the weeks. If you’re willing to wait and take a chance, you can get some great clothing for a few dollars. Several of the stores that I frequented have closed since the pandemic, so I being intentional in my quest to find and shop small, black-owned stores for quality apparel.
For home goods, I love to stop at Home Goods (Marshalls and TJ Maxx are in the same family) or the Burlington Coat Factory. They have nice throw pillows, cookware, and linens at discount prices. I enjoy shopping for their selection of gourmet food items. Chicago has some great pop-up stores in the West Loop (Randolph east of Halsted St), and at The Local Edition Market—that’s where I stop for something a bit fancier.
Another one of my favorites places to shop in Chicago is the Merchandise Mart. They host the One of A Kind Show twice a year. The venue is massive and you can spend hours pursuing apparel, home decor, artwork, jewelry from vendors around the globe. Everything is custom-made, so finding another one like it anywhere else is slim to none. I’ve purchased dresses and handbags from the show and they look timeless.
Seek Like A Local, and discover things to do, places to dine, and more of what the city of Chicago has to offer this week. Check out previous guides from influential Chicago locals here.