Chicago

Where to Eat and Drink at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport

Wheels up, Chicago.

Romano's Macaroni Grill
Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Romano’s Macaroni Grill

As the country opens up and travel regains momentum, we are once again returning to a place many of us just love to hate: the airport. But if your closest departure zone happens to be Chicago’s O’Hare, things could be way worse. The country’s one-time business flight hub is stocked with a plethora of restaurants dishing up some of the city’s most beloved foods for locals and travelers alike. Home to dozens of dining venues across four main terminals, this travel metropolis boasts some spots so good, we may not even mind those pesky flight delays (hello, pandemic patience!). 

From iconic Chi-style pizza to world-famous popcorn, here are O’Hare’s best eats now.

The Berghoff Restaurant
The Berghoff Restaurant
The Berghoff Restaurant

Terminal 1

Berghoff Café

This restaurant first opened doors in Chicago’s Loop in 1898 and has been frequented ever since for its authentic German fare and classic pub feel. And when the team launched its ORD outpost 20 years ago, they modeled it after the original location in both menu and décor (right down to the celebrated stained-glass Tiffany windows), featuring specialty salads, omelets, and hand-carved sandwiches served on bread baked fresh daily at the main restaurant. Don’t miss the beer (or root beer)-it arrives fresh off the spout from the team’s Adams Street Brewery.

Beaudevin Wine Bar

You’ll feel instantly international upon entering this sleek wine bar, which also operates locations in Brussels, Paris, and Miami. Four different pour options (from a three-ounce taste to the whole bottle) make it easy to assemble a pre-flight “flight” that travels the globe with vintages from Spain, Italy, South Africa, and beyond. When hunger strikes, pair up those sips with any of the small plates, including a medley of specialty salads and sandwiches.

Tortas Frontera

After winning Chicagoans over for his take on authentic Mexican cuisine at several venues throughout the city, chef Rick Bayless brought those flavors to ORD with three locations, the first being Terminal 1’s Tortas Frontera. Right now, travelers can taste through tortas, soups, salads, and, of course, the restaurant’s famous chips and guac.  

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Terminal 2

Summer House Santa Monica

Just like its perennially packed Lincoln Park location, this Lettuce Entertain You venture focuses on fresh, California-style cooking, offering travelers a lighter, healthier alternative to standard on-the-go grub. Case in point? Bright and sunny options like avocado toast, shaved vegetable salad, Baja fish tacos, and a hearty kale and spinach omelette.

Wicker Park Seafood

Gone are the days of needing to reach your final destination to dive into impressive plates of nigiri and sashimi-that’s thanks to this sushi staple, which showcases a fleet of Asian-inspired favorites. Order from more than 20 different kinds of maki, including a dozen specialty rolls with heightened add-ons (think:beef tenderloin or chicken teriyaki). And then there’s the sake menu, an entire page of pairing options for dinner and dessert (e.g. green tea tiramisu).

Uno’s Pizza Express

Those who came to Chicago and (somehow) missed their chance to try the city’s world-famous deep-dish pizza can get their fill at this pie haven’s airport offshoot. Ever since 1943, Uno’s has been delighting pizza-fiends with their take, comprised of a towering butter crust, signature spice blend, and loads of mozzarella (that pulls apart for days).

Romano's Macaroni Grill
Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Romano’s Macaroni Grill

Macaroni Grill

Pasta is the go-to at this sit-down Italian chain, which has locations across 15 states nationwide. Opt for favorites like stuffed mushrooms, chicken parmesan, or lasagna Bolognese, and don’t miss their signature-the penne macaroni, complete with five kinds of cheese, truffle oil, and herbed breadcrumbs. 

Goose Island Beer Company

Chicago is now home to a bevy of breweries, but Goose Island continues to soar as one of the best known. Saddle up at the bar to quaff through a few of the local musts (AKA 312 Urban Wheat Ale or Matilda Belgian ale), and try the food, too, which spans paninis, salads, and wraps. 

Bubbles Wine Bar

There’s plenty to celebrate at this festive wine bar, where all things sparkling take center stage. Choose from seven different fizzy selections (or from a handful of less-effervescent red or white options), then spring for any of the small plates, including the smoked salmon tartine, shrimp cocktail, or charcuterie. From there, sit back and relax to the sounds of the player piano-a feature bound to beckon even the weariest of travelers with its upbeat siren song.

Hub 51
Hub 51
Hub 51

Hub 51

While the River North OG spot is beloved for its late-night eats, tunes, and bottle service, Hub 51’s airport spinoff reads a bit more AM. Their morning menu, an array of egg sandwiches, omelettes, and breakfast nachos, segue seamlessly into mid-day faves like tacos and French dips. Do try the pulled chicken nachos-with its mound of guac, jalapenos, and two kinds of cheese, it’s the menu’s bestseller.

R.J. Grunts

Nationally acclaimed restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You just celebrated its 50th anniversary-and travelers can now get a taste of the Lincoln Park original that started it all. The best part? Between crowd-pleasers like burgers, Chicago-style dogs, and chicken strips, the menu is bound to have something for everyone in your in-flight entourage.

Garrett Popcorn

A visit to Chicago isn’t complete without a stop at Garrett, the popcorn emporium that’s been responsible for out-the-door lines at any of its downtown locations for nearly 75 years. While the cheese or caramel flavors do just fine on their own, there’s no topping the Garrett Mix-a combination of the two mixed in perfect proportions by the popcorn masters themselves.

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Nicole Schnitzler is a contributor for Thrillist.

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

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