We've been to the NRA Show for as long as we can remember and we're sharing our expertise on the best eats in town. Hear from the Penton Restaurant Group -- Food Management, Nation's Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality -- on the hottest spots and old favorites in Chicago.
Be sure to stay up-to-date by visiting our At The Show page, for daily reports of news and trends from our editors on the scene at the NRA Show.
Robin Lee Allen, executive editor, Nation’s Restaurant News:
For me May in Chicago not only means time at McCormick, but finding time for some tea or wine at the Drake Hotel’s Palm Court. I love the ambience, the harp, the seating — it’s actually the perfect place to chill and enjoy quiet conversation after a long day of walking the show floor.
The Drake Hotel’s Palm Court (140 East Walton Place)
Shaw’s Crab House is a perennial favorite with a central location, good food, good drink and lots of good memories!
Shaw’s Crab House (21 East Hubbard Street)
And this year I aspire to visit — or at least walk by — Grant Achatz’s new Next Restaurant. My curiosity is piqued!
Next Restaurant (953 W. Fulton Market)
Dan Bagan, senior vice president, Penton Media:
Keefer’s has excellent service and is great for a business dinner. The bar is also ideal for eating alone if you’re in town for just one night and looking for a quick, no-fuss dinner. Their awesome salads are big enough for dinner. They also do a great roast chicken with creamed spinach. And although I don’t eat them often, the steaks are among the best in a very steak-oriented city. Plus, the wine list is terrific and not insanely priced. Bonus points: it’s very close to our Chicago office.
Keefer’s (20 West Kinzie)
Randall Friedman, publisher, Nation’s Restaurant News:
At Al’s Beef, order the "jr beef hot and sweet dipped." You'll sound like a local and you'll get the tastiest item there. If you're really hungry get a hot dog on the side with everything. And wear clothes that you don't mind if you get stains on them. It's messy!
The Original Al's Italian Beef (1079 W. Taylor Street)
For a killer burger, try Kuma’s Corner. But be warned: Their burgers are not delicate and the various topping options are far from normal.
Kuma's Corner (2900 W Belmont Ave)
Chris Keating, associate publisher, Nation’s Restaurant News:
I only recommend “joints,” so if you get tired of haute cuisine, for real Chicago go to the original Billy Goat Tavern on 430 N. Michigan (lower level). It’s the source of the Cubs’ curse and the original SNL “Cheeborger” skit.
Billy Goat Tavern (430 N. Michigan)
And of course, I'll be at Kingston Mines on Monday night drinking bottled beer and listening to the blues.
Kingston Mines (2548 N. Halsted)
John Krueger, Midwest director, Nation's Restaurant News:
Jake Melnick’s is a great local watering hole/sports bar near many Show Hotels (at Superior and Wabash). They have the best wings in Chicago, great bar food and enough Hi-Def screens to catch any game you’re into.
Jake Melnick’s (41 East Superior Street)
Star of Siam has the best Pad Thai in the city. Nothing fancy, but the food is outstanding and the prices will keep your expenses in check. It’s at State and Illinois, near everything.
Star of Siam (11 E. Illinois St.)
Have a drink in one of the few buildings that actually survived the Great Chicago Fire at Green Door Tavern. It has decent bar food and a cozy atmosphere in an out-of-the-way place.
Green Door Tavern (678 N. Orleans)
Finally, for a real Chicago tavern experience, try Four Farthings Tavern & Grill in tony Lincoln Park. Great upscale food in the restaurant and terrific local flavor in the bar area. You’ll feel like a local as soon as you walk in.
Four Farthings Tavern & Grill (2060 N. Cleveland)
Sarah Lockyer, executive editor, NRN.com:
You just can’t go to Chicago without indulging in some original deep-dish pizza. I’m a Gino’s East fan, mainly because that crust can’t be beat. Some others may encourage you to try Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s. Frankly, they are wrong.
Gino’s East (633 N. Wells, 2801 N. Lincoln, 162 E. Superior)
It is popular and quite a scene, but Sunda New Asian is still a favorite of mine. Good for groups, people watching and sakitinis. It’s where the beautiful people go and is a guaranteed fun night out. Is there better food out there? Sure. But when you have a drink in hand, loud music behind you and are seated in a gorgeous restaurant by an award-winning designer, you won’t mind. Sunda (110 W. Illinois)
Kevin McKay, director of digital sales development, Penton Media:
Michael Kornick’s food isn’t too overwhelming for the amateur foodie and the desserts are fantastic. The service never disappoints and unlike most restaurants today, it’s not too loud to have a nice conversation with friends.
MK (868 N. Franklin)
Monique Monaco, director of events, Penton Media:
The best place in town to dine on Saturday night of the NRA Show is at the Drake Hotel, where the 2011 MenuMasters Award winners will be serving up their winning menu items that have had a significant impact on the chain restaurant dining experience. However, this is a hot ticket and by invitation only.
Drake Hotel (140 East Walton Place)
I love anything that Chef Bob Okura creates!
The Cheesecake Factory (875 North Michigan Avenue)
Mike Sanson, editor-in-chief, Restaurant Hospitality:
I rarely go back to a restaurant on the road, but there are two in Chicago that I return to. I love Big Star, Paul Kahan's take on a taco dive bar. He is the genius behind Black Bird, Avec and Publican. Big Star is located in an old service station, complete with a garage door and cheap tables and chairs on the front lawn. It's hipster heaven, with tacos, whiskey and honkytonk hillbilly music. What's not to like?
Big Star (1531 N. Damen)
I'm also a big fan of Mercat a la Planxa in the South Loop.
It's Catalan-inspired cuisine from Iron Chef Jose Garces and the small plate menu is full of spice and lust.
Mercat a la Planxa (638 Michigan Ave.)
Bret Thorn, senior food editor, Nation’s Restaurant News:
The pork rinds taste like Cheetos made by angels.
The Publican (837 W. Fulton Market)