Wondering what to do after the show floor closes each day? We tapped two local experts to choose some places you won’t want to miss: PW’s Midwest correspondent Claire Kirch rounds up Chicagoland bookselling highlights, including iconic indies and where Obama shops. And of course you’ll need to eat, so we asked Fodor’s Chicago editor to pick some unique dining destinations. Whether you’re on the hunt for great books or a blowout meal, we’ve got you covered.
You can also view a condensed version of this list as a map to download and print.
Literary Chicago Highlights
Picked by PW's midwest correspondent, Claire Kirch.
57th Street Books
1301 East 57th St.
President Obama is one of 13,000 members of this beloved literary cooperative that’s in the same neighborhood as the home he still owns there; the entire Obama family has been sighted browsing among the huge selection of fiction and nonfiction titles for both adults and children in a labryinth-like space.
Barbara's Books at Macy's
111 N. State St.
This is the most central outlet of this longtime mini-chain of small bookstores operating inside large buildings. Barbara’s Books is located on the lower level of a landmark building in the Loop that previously was a Marshall Fields store and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St.
The Chicago Cultural Center boasts the largest Tiffany stained glass dome in the world as well as the Chicago Publishers Gallery and Cafe, which features a permanent exhibit of 2,300 books and periodicals produced by approximately 175 local book and periodical publishers, as well as works by the city’s most notable authors.
60 W. Walton St.
The quirky little bookstore/gift shop inside is in itself worth a visit to this humanities research library close to the ABA’s Bookseller Hotel. Fun factoid: the Newberry Library was Henry’s place of employment in the film, The Time Traveler’s Wife, based on Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel.
651 W. Lake, West Loop, and 905 W. 19th St.
Even though BEA attendees are surrounded by galleys and ARCs at McCormick, try to pop into one of these two used bookstores and buy a book or two. All of Open Books’ profits go towards funding literacy programs. Chicago Reader called Open Books the “best hidden bookstore” in 2015.
61 W. Superior St.
It's one of three spaces the U.S. dedicated solely to the art of poetry. Besides being the Poetry Foundation headquarters and housing Poetry magazine’s offices, this temple to language and literature has a performance space, an exhibition gallery, and a 30,000-volume poetry library.
1854 W. North Avenue, Wicke
More than just an offbeat comics bookstore in Chicago's hip Wicker Park neighborhood, Quimby’s sells “unusual publications, aberrant periodicals, saucy comic booklets, and assorted fancies" according to its website.
Read It and Eat
2142 N. Halsted, Lincoln Park
A bookstore for foodies with a test kitchen that opened in 2015, Read it and Eat is a 15-minute walk northwest of the Lincoln Park Zoo. Besides food and cuisine-related books, this indie stocks travel, essays, biographies, and history books.
714 S. Dearborn
This literary icon with its creaking hardwood floors has been owned by the same family since 1982 and is located in the historic Printers Row area, where the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest has taken place on the first weekend in June since 1985.
5751 S. Woodlawn
If you visit 57th Street Books, you might as well walk around the corner and check out the offerings from university and literary presses at 57th Street’s more erudite sister store. Founded 55 years ago, Seminary Co-Op is popular with the students and faculty at nearby University of Chicago.
3251 N. Broadway
This 36-year-old indie within walking distance of Wrigley Field was selected in 2015 by Chicago Magazine as the city’s best bookstore and is renowned for its stellar selection of GLQTB books.
1474 Milwaukee Ave.
This just-opened shop has several nooks for reading and curling up with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. “We want people to feel welcome to come and stay all day if they want,” says owner Rebecca George.
Where To Eat and Drink
Picked by Fodor's Chicago editor.
The area around McCormick Place has plenty of low-key eateries, but if you’d rather find a place that locals love and newcomers consider well worth a short taxi ride, head to these Fodor’s Travel-recommended spots in the nearby areas.
Plan ahead if you're determined to snag a sought-after reservation. Some renowned restaurants are booked weeks or months in advance. If you're a large group, always call ahead, as even restaurants that don't take reservations often will make exceptions for groups of six or larger.
But you can get lucky at the last minute if you're flexible—and friendly. Most restaurants keep a few tables open for walk-ins and VIPs.
For more expert recommendations check out the Chicago destination page on Fodors.com.
1639 S Wabash Ave.
A brisk walk from McCormick Place, Acadia is one of the most interesting places to dine in the South Loop. Through frosted-glass windows facing the street you can catch a glimpse of the minimalist dining room that makes Acadia so appealing. The walls are gleaming white, all the better to set off chef Ryan McCaskey’s Instagram-ready creations. Start off with butternut squash soup made with silky almond milk or celery root risotto flavored with pears, then move on to Indiana duck ham with compressed plums or wild salmon with cauliflower, pickled beets, and buttery golden raisin purée. The wine list is well chosen, and several by-the-glass options are $10 or less.
Eleven City Diner
1112 S. Wabash Ave.
For all its great food, Chicago is not a big deli town, which endears Eleven City Diner, an old-school deli and family restaurant in the South Loop, to the locals. You can get breakfast all day (latkes and lox are popular, as is the "hoppel poppel," which mixes scrambled eggs with salami, potatoes, onions, and peppers) but deli staples like matzo-ball soup and pastrami and corned-beef sandwiches shouldn't be missed. There are also classic diner options including burgers, and soda-fountain floats and malts from the staff soda jerk. Breaking from the deli tradition, Eleven City also sells beer, wine, and cocktails. In keeping with its theme, there's an old-fashioned candy counter on your way out.
1312 S. Wabash Ave.
The name means "game" in Italian, and the restaurant fulfills the promise not with venison, but in the spirit of having fun. The decor is distressed-urban, with brick walls and well-worn hardwood floors—the space is said to have been used by the Chicago gangsters of early 1900s as a gambling house—but the menu is comfort-Italian, with rustic fare like homemade linguine with Manila clams, grilled lamb chops, and roasted sea bass with puttanesca sauce. It's a cozy, neighborhoody spot that keeps the regulars coming back.
1355 S. Michigan Ave.
Come during the day and sunlight will be streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows at cozy Kurah, a neighborhood favorite in the South Loop. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes share space on an imaginative menu. These are plates meant to be shared: choose a selection of unique small plates (tabouli with pomegranate vinaigrette or bacon-wrapped dates, anyone?), or a platter of with roasted chicken and braised lamb paired with plenty of basmati rice. The globetrotting wine list includes a few bottles from Lebanon that are well worth trying.
Mercat a la Planxa
638 S. Michigan Ave.
Inside the Blackstone Hotel, this Catalan-inspired restaurant offers a stylish respite from Michigan Avenue. Philadelphia-based chef Jose Garces returned to his native Chicago for Mercat, where he created a menu of small and midsize plates of Catalan sopas (soup), cured meats, fideos (Spanish pasta), and a variety of vegetable sides, all of which are great for sharing. Be sure to try the cocas, flat breads topped with a range of ingredients, from bean purée, shrimp, and chorizo to short ribs and horseradish. Don't let the small, cramped bar at the entrance fool you; once you walk up the stairs, you'll encounter an airy dining room with a view of Grant Park.
Lao Sze Chuan
2172 S. Archer Ave.
If you're looking for spicy, filling food and great prices in Chinatown, check out this Szechuan kitchen from Tony Huy, the neighborhood's most prolific restaurateur. Chilies, garlic, and ginger seem to go into every dish, whether it's chicken, green beans, eggplant, or dumplings. The digs are nothing to write home about, but you'll feel smug for choosing it once the feast is finished and you're sipping your tea with a happy tummy.
1227 W 18th St.
Pilsen is primarily known for its Mexican food, but more recently the neighborhood has been attracting high-end names, including this next-level concept from the folks at Longman & Eagle. Chef Jared Wentworth's brand of innovative cuisine breaks all the rules with dishes like General Tso’s sweetbreads with charred shishito peppers, a Moroccan spiced vegetable tagine, and octopus confit with black-olive risotto. Craft beer fans will feel right at home with the 24 drafts pouring specialty suds from all over the world. Make an evening of it by heading upstairs to the music venue at Thalia Hall or downstairs to the basement cocktail bar, Punch House.
800 W Randolph St.
A menu packed with burgers, fries, and chopped liver might sound like your classic dive, but Au Cheval is no greasy spoon. Exposed brick, dim lighting, and antique-inspired fixtures give off a sultry feel, and rich takes on classic American diner dishes like crispy fries with Mornay sauce, garlic aioli, and fried farm egg, and griddled bratwurst with smashed potatoes and roasted-garlic gravy satisfy your cravings. Don't be fooled by the $11 price tag on the single cheeseburger—it's gigantic, and totally delicious. Like a good diner, the restaurant is open late, but with the added bonus of a solid craft beer and cocktail list to carry you through the night.
615 W Randolph St.
Go to this Euro-style wine bar when you're feeling gregarious; the rather stark space has seating for only 48 people, and it's a tight fit. The results are loud and lively, though happily the shareable fare—a mix of small and large Mediterranean plates, such as chorizo-stuffed dates and whole roasted fish from a wood-burning oven—is reasonably priced. Avec is as popular as its next-door neighbor Blackbird (and run by the same people), and only early birds are guaranteed tables. The doors open at 3:30 pm.
619 W Randolph St.
Being cramped next to your neighbor has never been as fun as it is at this hot spot run by award winning chef Paul Kahan. Celebs pepper the sleek see-and-be-seen crowd that comes for the creative dishes and exceptional cocktail list. While the menu changes constantly, you'll always find choices that highlight seasonal ingredients, such as rack of lamb with leeks and spigarello (wild broccoli) in spring, or aged duck breast with buttermilk spaetzle in winter. It all plays out against a minimalist backdrop of white walls, blue-gray banquettes, and aluminum chairs. Reservations aren't required, but they might as well be; the dining room is typically booked solid on Saturday night.
Girl & the Goat
809 W Randolph St.
Bravo's Top Chef Season 4 champion Stephanie Izard's highly anticipated restaurant lives up to the hype, serving her personal brand of sharable, eclectic plates with seasonal flair. The antithesis of fussy, Girl & the Goat's rustic decor features communal butcher tables, dark antique fixtures, and an open kitchen. Dishes are grouped into straightforward categories—vegetable, fish, and meat—and range from pan-roasted skate cheeks with pecans and romesco sauce to roasted pig's face with tamarind and cilantro sauces. Not surprisingly, goat-centric plates take prominence, including a goat-liver mousse with apple butter, pickled mushroom relish, and crumpets. Desserts are also inventive, like the indulgent bittersweet chocolate cake served à la mode with shiitake-caramel gelato and drizzled toffee crème frâiche.
820 W Randolph St.
Following the wild success of her flagship restaurant, the Girl & the Goat, Top Chefalum Stephanie Izard switches gears with this all-day counterpart. The diner/bakery/bar is open from early morning until late night, serving up comfort foods like fresh pastries, soups and sandwiches, burgers, and classic supper club entrées. Expect a rotating seasonal menu heavy on Americana nostalgia with a splash of Izard's eclectic touches, such as pork belly-topped scallion pancakes, and a sloppy joe made from goat with rosemary slaw on a squish squash roll. One of the bonuses of having an in-house bakery is a killer dessert menu, so save room for sweets.
Lou Mitchell's Restaurant
565 W Jackson Blvd.
Shelve your calorie and cholesterol concerns, because Lou Mitchell's heeds no modern health warnings. The diner, a destination close to Union Station since 1923, specializes in high-fat breakfasts and comfort-food lunches. You can start the day with eggs and homemade hash browns by the skillet; later in the day this is the place to take a break for meat loaf and mashed potatoes. Though you'll almost certainly have to have deal with out-the-door waits, staffers dole out doughnut holes and Milk Duds to pacify hunger pangs.
Maude's Liquor Bar
840 W Randolph St.
A classic French menu of dishes like chicken liver mousse and French onion fondue is the only thing traditional about this sexy Randolph Street hot spot. Dim lighting, reclaimed vintage touches, and an indie soundtrack set the mood for sipping on cocktails like the Smokey Violet Smash and snacking on small plates like warm marinated mushrooms with swiss chard. If your table is feeling particularly indulgent, spoil yourselves with the towering Maude's Plateaux seafood platter for $175, filled with a ridiculous sampling of lobster, crab, mussels, oysters, shrimp, and ceviche large enough to share among a party of four.
837 W Fulton Market
Don't call this beer-focused hot spot a gastropub—Chef Paul Kahan (of Blackbird fame) prefers "beer hall" (though wine is available, too). Certainly the long communal tables, at which beer connoisseurs sample from a selection hovering around 100 brews, give the bustling space the air of an Oktoberfest celebration. The seafood- and pork-focused menu does give an elevated nod to pub fare, though, and diners share shucked oysters and just-fried pork rinds before tucking into grilled, smoky country ribs, fried perch, and beef-heart tartare. Brunch is just as popular as dinner here, so arrive early or call for a reservation—seating fills up fast.
You can also view a condensed version of this list as a map to download and print.
Correction: An earlier version of this story called the Poetry Foundation's building the Poetry Center. It is the Poetry Foundation. (The Poetry Center is housed inside the Chicago Cultural Center and is also worth a visit.)