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Pack your bags: Chicago restaurants

At the end of June, my boyfriend and I went to Chicago for his brother's wedding. He grew up in Crystal Lake, IL (just north of the city) and lived in Chicago for a summer, so of course, whenever we go, we stuff ourselves with hometown grub. In just a few days, we found room in our bellies for an all-you-can-eat buffet, authentic Chicago hot dogs, deep-dish pizza, and more. Here are the awesome Chicago restaurants we visited: Red Apple Buffet (Czerwone Jabluszko) With Chicago's rich Polish history and the biggest Polish population outside of Poland, we took advantage of the authentic cooking and treated ourselves to some comfort food. This included all-you-can-eat pierogi, schnitzels, sausages, blintzes, stuffed cabbage, carved meat, and homemade salads after a long day of touring the city. Perfect if you're on a budget or just have a big group.

Paladar Cuban Restaurant Their full menu's online! This restaurant and rum bar has over 30 rums to pick from and quite the cocktail list - had I visited any other time (not the day after a wedding, if you know what I mean), I would have tried at least a couple! I had the stuffed poplano peppers with Paladar's congri and sweet plantains. I've had my fair share of overly-cheesy and extra-greasy stuffed poplano peppers in the past, but not here...it was really well-balanced, and I highly recommend it (especially if you're not feeling particularly carnivorous). For dessert? I was convinced to try a guava and cream cheese empanada even though I was TOTALLY stuffed. Surprisingly delicious. I also loved the Cuban roots - the dining room was modeled after an inviting Cuban living room and inspired by the Gonzalez family history.

Big Star Their full menu's online! Save Flash Taco for when you've had a late night and need something quick. Around the corner there's Big Star, a little taste of Texas and a cornerstone of the super-fun neighborhood, Bucktown. Easy to get to right off of the Damen "L" stop, Big Star has outdoor seating, a huge indoor bar, and even a to-go window for quick visits. We went for brunch and I ditched the boring mimosa for a Paloma, a grapefruit and tequila cocktail. I only ate the simple but fresh and satisfying frijoles charros with some tortillas, but next time I go, I might dare to attack the massive Sonoran hotdog, wrapped in bacon and topped with pinto beans, lime mayo, mustard, onions and hot sauce. Chicago and their hotdogs, right?

Speaking of hot dogs...

Chicago style hot dog

Hot Doug's So we didn't GO to Hot Doug's, but we had the famous dogs at Brendan and Kati's wedding. The menu is impressive enough, but make sure you check out the specials. I'm looking right now - at quick glance, I saw "Kangaroo," "Coca-cola BBQ sauce," and "Apricot mayonnaise" on this page. It'll probably be different by the time you get there, let alone to the restaurant. If you're in the area, be sure to follow them on Twitter for the daily special!

Giordano's Yes, this is a chain, but it was the closest place to where we were at the time - and for a chain, the classic Chicago-style deep-dish, sauce-on-top pizza is still pretty incredible (you can't really go wrong). Note that whenever you order deep-dish, your order could take you up to 45 minutes to cook. Pizza? A time-consuming food? Unheard of here on the East Coast! Keep this top-ten list of Chicago-style pizza restaurants for next time you visit the Windy City.

New Wave Coffee Despite the mixed reviews you'll find online, we visit New Wave Coffee for breakfast sandwiches at least once a trip. Right on the corner of Milwaukee and Logan, it's a cool place with free wi-fi and plenty of room and couches to chill on during a hot summer morning before hitting the Logan Square farmers market. There's even old-school Nintendo hooked up for you to enjoy. My favorite sandwich by far is the 9-5 - cream cheese and tomato on a toasted pretzel roll (mmm), and my boyfriend always, without fail, orders a simple grilled cheese. The herbed ciabatta sets it apart. My tree nut allergy prevents me from trying the baked goods, but I've heard their pies are excellent. Definitely a great way to start your day!

From Chicago or visit often? Where should I go next time I visit? I'd love some more recommendations!

The 4-1-1 on Liz Mee

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