The biggest music festivals in town are taking shape this month and next, with Pitchfork and Lollapalooza coming down the pipeline in Union Park and Grant Park, respectively. With hundreds of thousands of attendees flocking into the city from around the country, the hordes will need restaurants and bars to visit as well, and even though these fests are well stocked with food vendors, the crowds can be a bit daunting, to say the least. In order to avoid the fray, here’s where to eat and drink before or after Pitchfork and Lollapalooza in Chicago this summer.
BellyQ: No better way to pre-game for a music festival than with a spree of barbecued meats. At BellyQ, the feast can be yours, and it’s all conveniently located right across the street from Union Park. Perfect for dining with groups of fellow festival-goers, the restaurant specializes in contemporary Asian BBQ, like Korean short ribs with perilla chimichurri, pork shoulder with crispy plantains and sizzling Thai basil beef with long beans and carrots. Other dishes include kimchi fried rice, scallion pancakes, spicy lamb noodles, Korean fried chicken and smoked hamachi dip. The soft-serve ice cream is a surefire way to beat the heat, too, available in flavors like PB&J and Vietnamese coffee.
Kaiser Tiger: Also just across the street from the festival is this meaty Mecca, where comfort food reigns supreme and beer is in abundance. The spacious, multi-level restaurant and bar has plenty of room to accommodate crowds, too, with equally crowd-pleasing fare like a “bacon board” with four different cuts of bacon and house mustards. There’s also bacon-wrapped dates, bacon “grenades” of beef and pork meatballs wrapped in bacon and poutine slathered in Southern white sausage gravy. This isn’t “light” dining, by any means, but you’ll need the carbs and protein to fuel up for a day at the festival, so it’s well worth it.
Rhine Hall: If you’re looking for a pre- or post-festival cocktail, look no further than Rhine Hall. Since the distillery and cocktail bar is west of the park, in the opposite direction of the over-saturated West Loop, you’ll have a much easier time finagling a bar stool. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the brandy-based cocktails are top-notch. Drinks change seasonally, each one incorporating one of the distillery’s own brandy spirits, which come in flavors like traditional apple as well as more exotic offerings like mango, cherry and even banana. The current crop includes the “Campfire Counsel” with oak-aged apple brandy, birch water, nettle, honey, lemon, egg white and smoke, “The Dark Side” with mango brandy, black sesame, urfa biber chili syrup and lemon; and “Social Stigma” with plum brandy, saffron syrup, lemon and ginger beer.
Macello: When pre-gaming, it’s wise to hit up a place that won’t be too crowded and is loaded with hearty, shareable fare. Macello meets both requirements handily. The old-school Italian gem is a standby in the West Loop neighborhood, a few blocks east of Union Park. People come from near and far for wood-fired pizzas and appetizers like stuffed mussels, calamari, grilled octopus and stuffed artichokes. For those looking to really indulge, opt for the larger plates like lamb chop casserole, pancetta-rolled beef sirloin or pork chop topped with red wine reduction. The wine list is full-fledged as well, and quite affordable too.
Twisted Spoke: Before moseying down Ogden Avenue to Pitchfork, you’d be wise to stopover at this West Town staple for a Bloody Mary or two and a heaping brunch. Otherwise known as the “Hangover Hospital,” the menu offers everything from breakfast tacos and banana fritters to fried egg sandwiches, biscuits and “heart attack” gravy and corned beef hash.
Miss Ricky’s: Carbs and sweets are frequent go-to’s when it comes to priming for a Lollapalooza outing, and Miss Ricky’s checks off both categories. The contemporary diner at the Virgin Hotel Chicago features a casual all-day menu that spans the spectrum of reinvented Americana, from Texas toast with Nutella and lemony pancakes with blueberry syrup to chorizo nachos, spaghetti and meatballs and fried chicken with biscuits and mashed potatoes. A meal here isn’t complete though without a whopping slice of one of the diner’s cakes.
Eleven City Diner: Because we all known breakfast is the most important meal of the day (even if you’re eating breakfast for dinner after a day of boozing), this South Loop diner should be a hot ticket for Lollapalooza attendees at nearby Grant Park. It’s one of the increasingly rare gems that serves morning dishes all day long, from omelets and scrambles to enormous platters of pancakes and French toast. For savory dishes that skew more lunch-focused, the Reuben sandwiches and patty melts can’t be beat.
The Gage: Open all day long for weekend brunch, lunch and dinner, and with a drink list that offers everything from beer and wine to meticulous cocktails, The Gage is a real crowd-pleaser for the discerning downtown diner. Located right across the street from Grant Park, it’s also the most convenient place to stop off for a meal before or after the festival. Venison burgers, Scotch eggs, poutine and fish & chips are signature favorites, accompanied by rotating menu standouts like salmon BLTs and pork chops with sweet corn and grilled peaches. To drink, the beer list is especially impressive, with a long draft list of both domestic and international offerings.
Brown Bag Seafood: If you're looking for a casual bite beforehand, and one that leans more wholesome and nutritious, then be sure and check out Brown Bag Seafood. Located at the northern tip of Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park, the sunny, nautically inspired eatery features customizable seafood dishes focusing on sustainable fish. Options include fish tacos, salads, sandwiches and protein-packed power bowls, adjoined by sides like cole slaw and gourmet tater tots.
AceBounce: Ping pong is a fun way to use up some of that energy you’ve surely amassed during the day at Lollapalooza, and it sure doesn’t hurt that the gaming tables are accompanied by an impressively full-fledged food and drink program. This downstairs Loop bar, restaurant and ping pong club boasts a variety of ping pong tables for duos and groups, adjoined by one of the best cocktail menus in the Loop. For snacks, there’s plenty to choose from as well, each dish offering a unique spin on classic flavors. Try the duck nuggets with yuzu kosho BBQ sauce or the banh mi shrimp toast.
Good Stuff Eatery: Tucked away beneath the “L” tracks in the Loop, a couple blocks west of Grant Park, you’ll find one of the city’s most underrated burger joints. A quick-service venture from D.C.-based chef Spike Mendelsohn, the casual, colorful restaurant serves a menu of crafty burgers, decadent shakes and french fries. The burgers are solid and well-prepared, but Good Stuff really shines with their original inventions, like “Spike’s Sunnyside,” which features cheese, a fried egg, bacon and aioli-like “Good Stuff sauce” on brioche. Pair it with one of Good Stuff’s over-the-top milkshakes, like the summery toasted marshmallow.