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NRN editors pick must-visit Chicago restaurants

This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2013 NRA Show, being held in Chicago, May 18-21. For the latest coverage from the show visit NRN’s NRA Show page and NRN's editor blogs, plus follow @NRNonline on Twitter. Also find the most compelling digital buzz from the show in one place at NRN's new social media hub.

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 to try during the the 2013 event.

Robin Lee Allen, executive editor

Here’s a recommendation for early in the show when you’re feeling energetic: Tavernita, featuring cuisine by chef Ryan Poli, was on Chicago Magazine’s list of best new restaurants for 2012, where it was described as “a Spanish-themed sorority mixer.” Well, any place that can take me overseas and back to college simultaneously seemed worth visiting. I did — along with my colleagues — and it was.

And for those later days toward the show’s end when you just want to sit and recover: Tea in the Drake Hotel’s Palm Court.

Tavernita [3], 151 W. Erie River North, (312) 274-1111

Drake Hotel Palm Court [4], 140 E. Walton Place, (312) 787-2200

Tavernita features Spanish cuisine by chef Ryan Poli.

Mark Brandau, senior editor

Siena Tavern opened earlier this year in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, and while much of the buzz is driven by the popularity of chef-partner Fabio Viviani, the restaurant’s rustic Italian food and vibrant pizza bar scene back it up. The 10,000-square-foot space has three different bars and a private-dining room, as well as housemade pastas, pizzas and crudo, to accommodate most occasions.

Siena Tavern [5], 51 W. Kinzie St., 312-595-1322‎

Erin Dostal, Southeast bureau chief

A huge beer selection, crispy French fries and gourmet sausage on the menu. What more could a Midwestern girl (or really anybody) ask for? The Hopleaf bar in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood is a perfect laid-back place that’s hip — but not too hip. The service is friendly, the bartenders knowledgeable and the clientele is an unpretentious, beer-drinking, charcuterie-munching good time.
Besides, it gets you out of the Gold Coast and the Loop. Come see how the rest of Chicago lives. Trust me: It’s way more fun.

The Hopleaf [6], 5148 N. Clark St., (773) 334-9851

Picks for pizza, barbecue

Continued from page 1 [7]

Lisa Jennings, West Coast bureau chief

If you want to check out what the next generation of Melmans is up to, try Bub City, a country music and barbecue joint operated by R.J. Melman, Jerrod Melman and Molly Melman, three children of the iconic Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You fame. The new Bub City, which opened in December, is actually a revival of one of their father’s concepts that first opened in the 1990s. The 2.0 version offers Southern cooking, as interpreted by chef Doug Psaltis, and one of the largest whiskey programs in the Whisky, er, Windy City.

Bub City [8], 435 N. Clark, (312) 610-4200

Olivia LaBarre, online managing editor

As a pizza lover who has been to Chicago I am ashamed to say that I've never tried traditional deep-dish pizza. So to make up for lost time, I plan to eat my way through the city one pizza joint at a time. I'll need to weigh in on the great deep-dish debate, of course, so I'll start with a taste test between Lou Malnati's and Gino's East. But the pizza I'm really hoping to try, at Burt's Place in Morton Grove, is not of the classic deep-dish variety. Known for crust "carmelized" with cheese, all of the pies there are made by one cranky old man in a no-frills location — a true sign of first-rate pizza.

Lou Malnati’s [9], Several locations

Gino’s East [10], Several locations

Burt’s Place [11], 8541 Ferris Ave, Morton Grove, (847) 965-7997

Sarah Lockyer, editor-in-chief

Each year I discuss the great deep-dish debate. At the risk of being repetitive, I’m doing it again. The two heavyweights of Gino's East and Lou Malnati's hold the first-place and runner-up spots, respectively, in my book. And my book is not wrong.
Last year, I loved to hear your feedback on my hometown's best culinary contribution — and I even inspired a taste test undertaken by a senior executive at Buffalo Wild Wings who shall remain nameless, mostly because she was mistaken in her choosing of Lou's. I will say her detailed breakdown of crust, sauce and crumbled versus patty sausage was impressive.
Outside of enjoying the best pizza in the world, I do look forward to a few hot spots: The Boarding House will be a new stop for me; Cru Kitchen & Bar is a favorite; !Ay Chiwowa! looks too good to pass up; and the NRN team will close its time in Chicago at our favorite spot, Kingston Mines.

The Boarding House [12], 720 N. Wells, (312) 280-0720

Cru Kitchen & Bar [13], 25 E. Delaware Place, (312) 337-4001

!Ay Chiwowa! [14], 311 W. Chicago Ave., (312) 643-3200

Kingston Mines [15], 2548 N. Halsted, (773) 477-4647

Burgers, Asian buns on the menu

Continued from page 2 [16]

Christi Ravneberg, managing editor

If there’s one thing that Chicago — land of deep-dish pizza, hot dogs and Italian beef —  does well, it’s the basics. So it’s fitting that my Windy City craving is another comfort food standby: a great juicy burger. I’ve always wanted to try the offerings at Kuma’s Corner, where the half-pound beef burgers have heavy metal-inspired names like Iron Maiden, Mastodon and Lair of the Minotaur, and such toppings as fried egg, chiles, onion strings, jalapenos and even poached pear. Kuma’s has been open for eight years, but is apparently still wildly popular, with fans known to wait in line for hours. I’ll let you know if it’s worth the wait.

Kuma’s Corner [17], 2900 W. Belmont Ave., (773) 604-8769

Ron Ruggless, Southwest bureau chief

My 2012 NRA Show schedule was so crammed-packed that it allowed only one restaurant visit and a drive-by noshing. The visit was a deep-dish pizza pilgrimage to Gino’s East next to our staff hotel. The drive-by was to check out Wow Bao, the “hot Asian buns” spot, just inside the entrance to Water Tower Place.

Wow Bao now has four brick-and-mortar locations in Chicago and two at ballparks — one at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago for the White Sox and the other at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Md., for the Orioles. My to-go order was for one spicy kung pao and one Thai curry chicken bao, each at $1.69, which were delicious and expense-account friendly picks. The savory buns were washed down with a $2.49 house-made ginger ale that was worth the stop by itself.

Wow Bao has also gone mobile with a food truck (follow the hashtag #BunsOnTheRun [18] for location info). It’s one of the most savvy social-media restaurant brands for its size.

Wow Bao [19], Water Tower Place,
 835 N. Michigan Ave.

Bret Thorn, senior food editor

Anyone in the industry should check out the Chicago restaurants featured in our Trending Tables section [20].

I’m particularly interested in trying bellyQ, because Urban Belly and Belly Shack are such great places for delicious, pork-based food.

I’m also a fan of Avec if you’re looking for Paul Kahan’s food in a wine bar kind of setting. You might see me there alone, shoveling food in my mouth and not talking to anyone.

If you’re trying to be more sociable, Tavernita’s a great place for large groups to drink delicious cocktails and snack on things like pork belly sliders, Brussels sprouts with lardo and hanger steak. I hear they have salad, too.

Or you might consider Big Star for no-nonsense tacos and beer.

BellyQ [21], 1400 W. Randolph St., (312) 563-1010

Avec [22], 615 W. Randolph St., (312) 377-2002‎

Tavernita [3], 151 W. Erie River North, (312) 274-1111

Big Star [23], 1531 N. Damen Ave., (773) 235-4039