We toured Chicago to find the best, most nutritious restaurants the city has to offer. Here's a unique guide to good eating and great exercise for hungry travelers.
How we did the math: This series is meant as a fun guide to experiencing a city through the Cooking Light lens. All calculations are rough estimates and should be seen as a starting point for your own adventure.
Calorie burns were estimated using this calculator. The approximations are based on how vigorous the activity level is for a 150-pound woman—for example, a stroll around a farmers’ market was calculated at a lower burn than when we tell you to pick up the pace.
We estimated steps at an average of 2,000 steps per mile walked.
All calorie calculations for the meal selections we recommend were rough estimates based on inputting similar dishes and ingredients into this calculator.
Chef Paul Kahan has never done Chicago wrong, and NICO, his newest spot, delivers something that his other restaurants don’t: breakfast. Use your time in this window-lined room people-watching (sidewalks are more like catwalks in this swanky part of town) and enjoying Italian-style soft-scrambled eggs with focaccia and prosciutto di Parma. Get some caffeine in your veins, too—it’ll put a spring in your step for the next 2 miles as you wander down Oak Street (bypassing Barneys, if you can) and turn south on the lakefront trail, where you’ll follow the shoreline until it hits the Chicago River.
The folks at Urban Kayaks offer a few options, including guided tours for beginners and one-way and round-trip rentals for the more experienced; if you can, take a one-way ticket south (this route is for more experience paddlers). Your trip will take you down the Chicago River, past one of the most fascinating and diverse architectural cityscapes in the country, and will end up in Chicago’s vibrant Chinatown, which feels worlds away from the suit-and-tie neighborhood you pushed off from (but in actuality is only about 4 miles away). Dock and start exploring: The heart of this neighborhood is the outdoor mall full of eateries such as Minghin, one of the sleeker establishments in this ‘hood. It’s known for its barbecue, dim sum, and noodles—go with the latter: thin Singapore noodles curled around plump, sweet shrimp.
Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Black Dog Gelato/Chelsea Avery
Time for another one-way trip. But this time, you’ll be getting on a bike—specifically, a bike from Chicago’s bike share program, Divvy. Pick a pair of wheels, swipe a credit card, and head west on 18th Street, which will lead you straight into Museum Campus, a collection of cultural institutions including the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, and gorgeous park grounds in between. From there, make a left and bear down—you’re embarking on a scenic 10-mile ride up the lakeshore path, which ends near Black Dog Gelato. First-time visitors usually fret over which flavor to try (and there are many creative ones, such as malted vanilla and rosemary Irish cream). We’ll make it easy for you: The goat cheese-cashew-caramel is a sweet, funky flavor you’ll never get anywhere else.
Your motivation to keep on pedaling: biscuits. It’s only a short, 4-mile ride west until you reach Chicago’s newest hotbed of restaurants, Logan Square, where you’ll drop your bike at a Divvy station. One of Logan’s newest joints, Analogue, was opened by veterans of a revered cocktail bar called the Violet Hour. But—don’t tell the bartender this—you’re here for chef Alfredo Nogueira’s New Orleans fare: flaky buttermilk biscuits and the best gumbo for 800 miles. This place takes on a nightlife vibe after dinner, so you might hear the bar calling after your meal. Give in. You’ll need refreshment after all that biking, so order the questionably named vodka-grapefruit-hibiscus cocktail Psychotic Reactionz. Heck, order two—after all, the only mode of transportation in your future is a cab.
Burn: 170 calories Eat: 1,030 calories
TOTAL BURNED: 957 TOTAL EATEN: 2,642 TOTAL STEPS: 19,990 [NET CALORIES: 1,685]