Food has the power to connect us, to help us tell the narratives of our lives, to recall memories long-buried but still connected to powerful emotions. Food also has the power to help generate new memories, made ever more sensory than a basic visual experience. In almost every new city I visit, I schedule a food tour. It is one of the best ways to orient yourself in a new place- you get both a tour of a particular neighborhood as well as a narrative about the city’s history and hot spots. Companies pre-arrange samples of the city’s most delicious delicacies, and you led by a local guide. Chicago Food Planet, the #1 food tour company in Chicago, offers an array of food tours that delight all of the senses. This makes a food tour the perfect day date!
What to Expect on a Food Tour
A food tour generally lasts 2-3 hours with an average of five stops for food/beverages. Some packages include drink pairings with your bites, others are strictly focused on the food. Come hungry- I have never left a food tour with room in my belly. I am generally stuffed to the max!
Most food portions are smaller than a full-size meal or dish, but some locations serve up a huge helping. For example, at a donut place, I had a regular-sized donut with a small coffee. At an Italian restaurant, I dined on a massive meatball, but no additional pasta.
You walk anywhere from a half-mile to almost a mile and a half on the Chicago Food Planet tours. Check out the comparison here to determine what distance your group is able to walk. Make sure to dress for the weather because it is rain or shine!
Your guide is a valuable tool- use them! Many food tour guides are either native or have lived in the city for at least a few years. It is their job to know what’s hot and what is just hype. After the tour, make sure to ask them for suggestions of other venues to hit up while you are in town. They also make excellent photographers 🙂
Types of Food Tours
What I love about Chicago Food Planet is that they have a variety of tours that appeal to different tastes and styles. They also occasionally add a limited-time option in, like the Wrigleyville Brunch Crawl (yep, I already signed up for that one next!). They do update the locations that the tour visits depending upon attendee feedback and new restaurant openings.
Their main rotation includes-
Best in Chow– iconic Chicago-style dishes
Navy Pier Signature– cultural anecdotes and 50 acres of restaurants & bars; suitable for kids
Gateway to the West Loop– hip eateries with top chefs
Second City Classic– classic Chicago tastes from more traditional Mom & Pop shops
Chinatown Adventure– culinary and ethnic immersion at sit down restaurants
Sample Food Tour Itinerary- Gateway to the West Loop
We met our guide, Terry, at the appointed spot and made introductions. He gave us a brief rundown of what we could expect and led us inside to the first tasting.
Nonna’s/Formento’s– Nonna’s is more of a grab and go sandwich/pizza/salad joint that is quite popular. The meatball sub and chicken parm sandwich on the menu definitely had me drooling. There is a small counter to eat indoors, or outdoor seating if you prefer. Formento’s, the sister restaurant attached to Nonna’s, is where we had our tasting. A massive meatball was presented to us with a perfect wine pairing. This is comfort food in a familial atmosphere- food that you want to settle in and pass around for a long, lazy Sunday dinner with family and friends.
Kuma’s Corner– We headed to Fulton Market, which has completely changed since I lived in the West Loop. No longer a smelly corridor with meat carcasses for sure- this is now a gourmet haven for foodies. It is across from Stephanie Izard’s newer Chinese restaurant- Duck Duck Goat.
Kuma’s Corner is unlike most restaurants because they strongly stick to the theme- Heavy Metal. Metal music was blaring as we entered the cavernous bar/restaurant, and Family Guy was playing on the multiple TVs that lined the place. Craft tappers gleamed from behind the bar, no Miller Lite in sight. We sampled the Led Zeppelin- Applewood Smoked Bacon, BBQ Pulled Pork, Cheddar, Pickles, and it was an absolute slice of heaven. They paired this sample with a craft beer that was fairly light.
The manager came out to chat with us and share some of the culture. Every month, they donate a portion of the sales to a different charity. They also reach out to touring metal bands and ask them to come to play a set for the customers. Kuma’s tries to involve their staff as much as possible- some have even created artwork for their beer!
Bonci- Yes, Chicago is well-known for its own style of pizza but THIS takes the cake…or er…pie. This is a Roman-style pizza called Pizza al Taglio, or pizza by the cut. The pizza is baked in sheets, then cut and charged by weight. There is an almost overwhelming offer of different flavor combinations (12–15) ranging from basic Margharita to Pumpkin Sausage (which I had…craving it now even).
After you select your flavor, they pop it in the specially imported Roman oven to finish it off. There is limited seating, so take it to go if you truly want to sit and savor.
The owner is Gabriele Bonci who trained as a chef in Rome at some of the finest restaurants. He is now known as the Michaelangelo of pizza with 1,500 creations under his belt. The dough is handmade with heirloom wheat flour and takes 72 hours to create. The end result is crispy, crunchy crust while somehow also slightly chewy.
Kinton Ramen– I am a major ramen FANatic, having nourished my poor college self on the cheap stuff long ago. I now have grown to appreciate a truly well-crafted bowl of this noodle soup and understand the labor of love it takes to create. Kinton Ramen in a new addition to the West Loop food tour- they are a restaurant that has locations in Korea, Japan, Canada and now the US.
In order to make their broth, they have to simmer pork and chicken bones for more than 20 hours. Noodles are hand-made with high-quality ingredients using a unique method that creates the ideal texture. Honestly, I ate my whole bowl then started in on my husband’s. It was THAT GOOD.
They also served up a pot sticker and some hot sake, which meant that they had to roll me out of there.
Do-Rite Donuts– sweet, cake-like donut perfection plus crispy fried chicken = sweet and savory heaven. Do-Rite does three things right- donuts made fresh multiple times per day, brined and marinated fresh fried chicken, and Dark Matter coffee with a hint of chocolate.
You can even order a sandwich with a donut instead of a bun- pure indulgence. Bonus- they have gluten-free and vegan options every day.
Check out a video review of my food tour!
Booking Your Tour
Chicago Food Planet makes booking a food tour pretty easy. Head to their website, figure out which tour sounds good to you, and find it on the calendar. This would also make an ideal double date- there is something for everyone.
If you arrive early or want to stay after the tour, I recommend giving the scooters that litter the sidewalk of the West Loop a little try just for fun. I also recommend using a helmet, which I didn’t have. The Uber scooters were incredibly easy to use because you pay as you go through the Uber app.
Cheers to enjoying fantastic food samples from some of the most iconic and up and coming restaurants in Chicago while learning about the history and culture of our unique city!
Disclosure: I received complimentary passes to a Chicago Food Planet food tour for review purposes. All opinions are honest and my own as always.