Chicago brunching is more akin to a sport than simply a meal – just as beloved as the Cubs and as multifaceted as a pan of deep-dish pizza. After all, the city’s finest establishments specialize in the brunch arena, slinging everything from Portuguese-Asian fusion food to hearty mugs of hot chocolate and Mexican street food to hungry (and thirsty) diners.
Jam has a modern-meets-classic interior, blending playful, colorful details with minimalist geometric repetition. Here in Logan Square, diners cozy up in the warm space in the winter, and in the warmer months spill out onto the sidewalk café in front. Specialties include the smoked salmon benedict, propped up on potato-leek cakes and doused in golden bearnaise, but there are a handful of other favorites too – like thick slabs of malted custard French toast, seasonal quiche, and stone-ground oatmeal made with chocolate milk stout.
There’s room for everyone at The Publican, a cavernous space reminiscent of 16th-century European banquet halls (the whole place is outfitted with walnut communal tables). Here, you’ll sit with friends and strangers, tossing back mimosas swirled with Belgian witbier instead of the usual sparkling wine, and slicing into crispy pork schnitzel crowned with a fistful of shaved celery and parsley. You’ll want to spend some time eyeing the pastry section, rife with cream cheese cinnamon buns, rhubarb-almond hand pies, and lemon poppy-seed doughnuts.
Stationed in arty Bucktown, The Bristol favors casual, communal eating. The tight space is split into two sections: long communal tables on one side, and a banquette on the other. Brunch manages to travel the world: from French croque madames to southern biscuits and gravy and Chinese fried rice. The menu is rounded out with a handful of American classics (breakfast sandwiches, French toast, and eggs benedict), plus a couple of pastries – such as cinnamon rolls and coffee cake – which land atop every table.
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At this Logan Square hotspot, the kitchen celebrates Portuguese and Asian cuisine. You’ll want to start off with the eponymous arroz gordo (AKA fat rice), teeming with curried chicken, char siu pork, sausage, wood-roasted beef and chili prawns, before moving on to house-made salt cod spread, fried silken tofu, and cereal spaghetti squash tossed with coconut, mustard seeds, salted duck yolk and curry leaves. After you’ve scraped all the plates clean, stop at the bakery to take away plenty of Portuguese egg tarts: flaky puff pastry piped with blistered custard.
The food at Proxi is inspired by the street food in Asia, India and Mexico. For brunch, slice into tempura elotes – deep-fried corn kernels bound by panko and cheese – and scoop up piles of kimchi fried rice. Spoon poached eggs bobbing in chickpea curry and chip away at coconut and pandan leaf French toast drizzled with dulce de leche – all without leaving your seat. But the meal is hardly complete until you’ve nursed a glass of the Proxi Michelada: sotol and negra modelo are mixed with clamato, gochujang, worcestershire and lime for a sweet and spicy concoction.
This all-day café highlights a bit of Midwestern pleasure. Heavy, diner-style plates come loaded with the likes of creamed eggs over toast flush with pork fat collards, roast beef sandwiches swiped with spring onion cream cheese, and build-your-own meat and cheese boards. Most of the ingredients arrive from a handful of Upper Midwest farms, and the smoked and cured meats are shipped in from Underground Meats, a Wisconsin-based provider.
It’s all about southern comfort food at this Hyde Park establishment, thanks to southern-born chef Erick Williams. Here, diners often start with an order of coffee cake, billowing with brown sugar streusel, before moving onto savory fare: chicken and waffles, fried green tomatoes and shrimp, and biscuits and smoked salmon. Cocktails are your run-of-the-mill sippers, but the alcohol-free drinks prove far more interesting; the Duke of Earl, for instance, is a base of Earl Gray tea stirred with nutmeg, lemon and egg white.
The unsung heroes at Pacific Standard Time are the kitchen’s wood-burning hearths. Soft, pull-apart milk rolls peppered with every bagel spice are yanked out of the fire, golden brown and prepped to be slathered with whipped cream cheese. The breakfast pizza and wood-fired pita, too, are blistered and charred in the oven, delicately crispy and hot. The rest of the menu leans into west coast cooking: bright, citrus salad, okonomiyaki (a Japanese pancake) with kimchi and scallions, and dreamy seven-spice beer bacon.
Hot Chocolate is the kind of neighborhood spot you wish was on your corner – especially for brunch. That’s because the slew of house-made pastries are not to be missed (we’re talking brioche doughnuts rolled with cinnamon and sugar). The menu often changes, but diners can expect dishes like babka French toast, miso and mushroom scramble, and wedges of quiche. But a trip to Hot Chocolate is incomplete without a cup of the namesake drink – crafted in seven varieties, like 72% dark chocolate or Mexican, showered with cayenne and cinnamon. Each mug is filled with the chocolate concoction and crowned with a home-made marshmallow.
Breakfast is served all day, every day at this West Loop favorite. Snag a seat at one of the linoleum stools or padded booths, and let your over-the-top diner dreams come true. Slice into fat Elvis waffles, jammed with bananas and peanut butter-infused butter or the best-selling gooey cinnamon buns, which often run out by afternoon. The rest of the large menu features a host of sandwiches, salads, burgers, shareable snacks, milkshakes and sundaes.
It should come as no surprise that Lula Cafe has remained one of Chicago’s lasting brunch favorites. Helmed by a tribe of self-taught chefs, the cozy café takes seasonal, local produce and transforms it into dishes that rotate with the seasons. There may be a buckwheat crepe folded with duck confit, turnips, burrata and sunny eggs, or the ever-rotating Royale (a piece of the breakfast sandwich series), which recently came jammed with mortadella, provolone, giardiniera, caper aioli and a fried egg. Even with the seasonal changes, there are always a handful of house-made pastries: think blueberry buckwheat miso muffins, sweet corn brioche and pear and gruyere turnovers.
The menu at Cellar Door Provisions is just as tiny as the space itself (room for about 20 people, maximum), but the experience is worth the tight quarters. You’re here for some warm pastries, anyway, and a couple of the seasonally changing dishes. There might be a torta pasqualina with nettles and hard-boiled eggs squeezed inside, warm udon soup swimming with soft-boiled eggs, or golden beets sprinkled with wheatberries.
At Nana, Mexican, Latin and Spanish cuisine collide to create an extensive brunch menu. Try the Nanadict, a riff on eggs benedict; English muffins are swapped for house-made sopes, crowned with poached eggs, chorizo and poblano cream. All of the breakfast meats are made in-house, like chicken sausage and house-smoked bacon, which can be found in the breakfast sandwich and accompanying eggs. Most of the menu leans on the savory side, but for those who need a kick of something sweet, the dulce de leche pancakes, finished off with a smattering of caramelized plantains, toasted walnuts and whipped cream, will do the trick.
Perched on the third floor of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing, Terzo Piano offers a Sunday-only brunch menu. In the sleek, light-filled space, chef Carolina Diaz works with local and sustainable ingredients, crafting crab fries doused with hollandaise, steak and eggs painted with salsa verde, and a towering black angus double patty burger, piled with a fried egg, avocado, white cheddar, lettuce, tomato and pickles. You’ll want to wash everything down with a cocktail: the citrusy Renzo Piano will do the trick, swirled with basil-infused vodka, Meyer lemon limoncello, lemon-mint syrup and soda.
This charming daytime café specializes in American comfort food. It’s the kind of place where you’ll struggle to decide what to order: mango-blueberry hotcakes or breakfast bread pudding? Make things easier and order a couple of things for the table, like stuffed poblano peppers and bacon-wrapped baked eggs. Pro tip: there’s a separate menu for vegans and vegetarians, so everyone can find something to eat.