Day Date: Food Tour with Chicago Food Planet

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!

Chicago Food Planet Food Tour


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!

Guide on a Chicago Food Planet Tour

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 🙂

Food Tour Attendees

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.

Meatball and Wine Pairing at Formento's Chicago

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.

Kuma's Corner Burger and Beer Pairing

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.

Bonci Roman Pizza

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.

Kinton Ramen Chicago

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.

Do-Rite Donut and Coffee

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.

Uber Scooter

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.

Dog Date: Big Star & The T-Shirt Deli

Since adding Ginger (an adorable teddy-bear-ish Australian Labradoodle) to our family in October of 2018, I never thought about having a date with my dog. I was focused on training, and scooping poop, and crying over the loss of a few good pairs of sandals (RIP my limited edition Ipanema solemates). I didn’t think taking this cuddly yet crazy creature out in public was ever going to happen. With the typical puppy behavior of:

  • Jumping up on friends, family and strangers alike
  • Straining at the leash like she was giving Usain Bolt a run for his money
  • Employing her puppy play tactics of nipping our kids

…a dog date was not in the cards.

DOG DATE: Big Star & T-Shirt Deli

Eventually, I spoke with a few friends that had rectified similar situations and shipped sweet and scattered Ginger to doggy boarding school. She was able to interact with other dogs, learn some basic commands, and settle down while walking on a leash.

Planning a Dog Date

A month after her return, I knew we were ready to have a day out with friends- a puppy play date with cocktails (for me, ice water for her), and a little shopping spree. The thing was, I had NO clue what establishments were puppy-friendly. What do I do if she decides to take a downward derriere move at a restaurant? Lift a leg inside a store? Could we have an outing that consisted of something other than bootie-sniffing (her, not me) and ball throwing (me, not her)?

My answer came in the form of an email from the T-Shirt Deli. I used to live in Bucktown and as a person who simply adores apparel and creativity, I would peer into the window and marvel at the marketing genius that created this concept. The T-Shirt Deli is a storefront (and online shop) that creates custom t-shirts in a deli setting. The T-Shirt Deli now has two locations- Andersonville (1482 W. Berwyn) and Bucktown (1739 N. Damen). They asked if I would like to come in with a friend and make a shirt on them to test out their set up. There was even a mention that I could bring a four-legged friend (!). I was thrilled. Now to set up my dog date.

First stop, Wicker Park

On a hot summer day, Ginger’s tongue is usually lolling outside of her mouth as she grins happily, prancing along, excited to go on adventure. Our first stop was Wicker Park, where they have a dog-friendly area that includes off-leash allowance and a doggie drinking fountain. I wanted to tire Ginger out so she would crash at lunch, not crash my lunch and allow her to use the *ahem* facilities prior to dining.

Tip: Windy City Paws, a Chicago Dog Walking company, has a great blog for dog owners that offers a ton of info about your pooch and the city. They also have a Dog-Friendly Event Calendar to plan your next dog date! If you go to a park without a doggie water fountain, make sure to bring a water bottle and bowl for your pup, or a nifty product like this. The Lesotc Pet Water Bottle is ideal because it has a cap that transforms into a stand-alone bowl. Grab it on Amazon for around $15 here.

Second stop, Big Star

A favorite restaurant of mine (and all fellow taco-obsessed Chicagoans) is Big Star. Side note- why are restaurants housed in former gas stations always so charming? Anyways, I recalled walking by Big Star previously and seeing puppies chilling on the patio. As I walked my weary puppy up to the hostess stand, she immedately seated us at an outdoor table in the shade in a corner, out of the way of other patrons (leashes can totally be tripping hazards as can wandering dogs). After we were situated, she returned with a water dish just for Ginger, which my waitstaff kept filled to the brim with icewater. Honestly, I don’t even get this treatment at many restaurants! We met our friends Roxy (a rescue Chihuaha) and Aneesha & Tina (both human) for an afternoon of Palomas, tacos, and dog treats for our dog date.

Tip: Bring a friend with you just in case you have to go to the bathroom. Most restaurants allow dogs on the patio, but not inside the restaurant, so you better hold it if you gotta go. Don’t tie your dog to the table- this could be a disaster if your dog bolts. Hold the leash or clip to your belt. I also bring treats and quiet toys to entertain, as well a plenty of poop bags and a sanitizing spray + paper towel just in case there are emergencies.

Third Stop, T-Shirt Deli

After wrapping up our lovely lunch, we walked a few short blocks north to The T-Shirt Deli. Immediately upon entering we were greeted with grins from the staff- they seem to truly love dogs and friendly faces. The concept of the T-Shirt Deli is this: plan your t-shirt like you would plan your sandwich. Pick your color and style, font and saying, customize it to your taste and your humor. They have books upon books of inspiration as well as a wall of colors, prints, cuts and weights of short-sleeved t-shirts, long-sleeves, tanks, sweatshirts, baby apparel and, of course, dog attire.

T-Shirt Deli Dog Tshirt

I knew what saying I wanted before I set foot in the store- a little mom/dog humor that stole a few lines from a cult classic film of the aughts, Mean Girls.

I tossed out my idea to the gals behind the counter and they were on it. They figured out how many lines it would take, how to center it, then asked me to pick a color and font. I selected a charcoal sweatshirt for myself (because um…in the Midwest we wear sweatshirts over every other piece of apparel about 5 to 1) and a light grey t-shirt for Ginger. I loved the “Lunchbox” font- a little retro, not too bubbly, and chose a gorgeous metallic for my saying. Ginger, being the little lady, received magenta letters.

Tip: You can spend hours persusing the books, searching for the perfect design. Ask the super helpful staff for their input- they are graphic artists and know what look best!

Mean Girls Quote Dog Tshirt

As we waited, I chatted with friends and checked out the decor of the deli. If deli chic was a thing, the T-Shirt Deli definitely would embody every aspect. The walls were decorated with faux sausages and hanging baskets chock full of deli-style wrapped goodies. Font, color and layout samples were on display under glass in a massive deli counter and books were available to peruse at a table complete with leather-topped swivel stools. A small bistro table with slatted chairs invited customers to visit while their orders came to life.

T-Shirt Deli Sample Shirts T-Shirt Deli Stock T-shirt Deli T-shirts, Sweatshirts

Retail Therapy with Your Dog

I waited for around 30-40 minutes while my two designs were freshly prepared by their t-shirt artists. Wait times vary depending upon their traffic, and you are welcome to lounge or head to nearby shops for a little retail therapy. Lush, the cult cosmetics and beauty store famous for their bath bombs, is located a few doors down and allows dogs to shop along. Plus, Lush is majorly active in the fight against animal testing- yay for Fido!

A little video to sum up our dog date in Chicago:

Here is our complete look from The T-Shirt Deli- doesn’t Ginger look totally Fetch? What an adorable souvenir of our dog date!

Custom Dog T-shirt from T-Shirt Deli

She even sported her new custom T-shirt at a Chicago Dogs Bark at the Ballpark game and received many compliments.

Dog T-shirt from The T-Shirt Deli

Overall, we had an absolutely fantastic dog date and fondly recall our outing every time we wear our matching T-Shirt Deli attire. Ok, maybe I fondly recall it and Ginger tolerates me stuffing her into a skinny T, but it was a memorable day date for both of us!

Cheers to spending having a date with a four-legged friend who is the epitome of unconditional love! And if you want a human date night idea, check out this show before it wraps!

Disclosure: I was provided with products from The T-Shirt Deli for review purposes. All opinions are honest and my own, as always.