By Jackie Walsh
From deep-dish pizza to Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago is a food lover’s dream.
Approximately 280 of the 7,300 restaurants in the city closed in the last three months of 2021 alone, according to data from the food and beverage analytics firm Datassential.
COVID-19 and restaurant restrictions took a serious toll on the restaurant scene in Chicago over the past two years.
Chicagoans are looking for new favorites, and one of their favorite sources for tips is social media.
According to data from Cision PR Newswire, 36% of TikTok users visited a restaurant after seeing it on their feed.
Chicago restaurant-related content on social media is often generated by food and drink influencers, people who visit restaurants and then take their impressions to social media to shed light on local businesses.
From doughnut lovers to happy hour goers, the Chicago food and drink scene of influencers is expansive. Follow the Story Map to look at the top spots from Chicago creators in their areas of expertise.
Coffee shop: Elevate Coffee, Lakeview East
Hannah Kopach runs @cuppachicago, a coffee account on Instagram dedicated to visiting coffee shops around the city.
Kopach discovered Elevate Coffee in Lakeview early on in her coffee content journey in 2019 and said it has been one of her favorites ever since.
“They were one of the first shops I went to on my page,” Kopach said. “They know every single person that comes in and out of that shop. They are super friendly, and the coffee is delicious.”
Kopach recommends the Freddo Cappuccino, which is a double shot of espresso with turbinado cane sugar and cold-frothed milk served on ice.
Doughnut shop: Firecakes, Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park resident Katie Reilly documents her adventures trying doughnuts from shops across Chicago on her TikTok account @kteilly.
Reilly said her pursuit to find the best doughnut in the city helped her gain traction on TikTok.
“I posted saying that I was on a quest to find the best doughnut in Chicago,” Reilly said. “People wanted to stick around for that.”
Reilly said the pistachio old-fashioned from Firecakes is her personal favorite.
Lunch: Daisies, Logan Square
Cailynn Mischke started @cai.eats.chi to house the food content she was naturally gathering as a a foodie. After nearly three years, she said the account keeps her trying new places.
“It started for fun for myself and my friends,” Mischke said. “It has allowed me to expand outside of my comfort zone of places I would normally go to.”
Mischke recently discovered her new favorite lunch spot in Chicago, Daisies, after doing a collaboration with the restaurant. Mischke created a TikTok of her visit, documenting her behind the scenes access to the kitchen.
The chicken parm sandwich and the sweet potato burrata sandwich were Mischke’s top picks. She said she has been craving the sandwiches since her last visit to Daisies.
Happy hour: The Diver, River North
Sophie Wolber started @chicagobutonabudget as a hobby that incorporates her love for food and creating content.
“It is fun to go out, take pictures and help promote local businesses around Chicago,” Wolber said. “I have not been to a single place that was not good, and I have been to a lot of places.”
Keeping in theme with her mission to find budget-friendly spots in Chicago, Wolber said The Diver was her favorite happy hour spot.
“They have awesome happy hour deals Tuesday-Friday from 4-6 p.m.,” Wolber said. “The margarita was so strong, and the taco was really delicious.”
Dinner: Cindy’s Rooftop, The Loop
Erica Noblecilla, known as @ericaeatseverything, said she has always loved food, but started creating food-based content after she lost her job due to COVID-19.
Cindy’s Rooftop is Noblecilla’s favorite restaurant for dinner in Chicago.
“All of the food has so much flavor, and there is definitely a creative presentation of cocktails,” Noblecilla said. “It doesn’t get more Chicago than being on a rooftop overlooking the Bean, the city and Lake Michigan!”
Noblecilla said the rigatoni bolognese is her favorite entrée, and that Cindy’s Rooftop is a classic no matter what the season.
“For a cozy night in the winter, ask for a table by the fireplace,” Noblecilla said. “For the summer, definitely grab a seat outside on the deck.”
Jackie Walsh is a sports media graduate student at Medill.