This post originally appeared in the May 27, 2023, edition of Eater Travel, a biweekly dispatch from Eater’s staff about navigating places where food is the main attraction. Subscribe now.
There are many reasons why we travel — to visit friends; to help a loved one in need; to conquer a fear; to have an Eat, Pray, Love moment; to expand our palettes and our minds; or to simply scratch an itch, get out of our homes, and experience something new. Me? I traveled recently to Illinois for just 36 hours to attend and report on the annual Chicago International Miniatures Show, considered to be the world’s largest convention for dollhouse miniatures and its obsessive collecting fans.
Since I was flying there on business (which always sounds mysterious, like I’m some sort of Mad Men-era character!), I knew that I wasn’t going to have much free time, particularly because the convention — and the nearby hotel where I was staying — was held by the airport but discouragingly far from nearly everything on my to-eat list. But like most of us who work at Eater, I consider parameters like these to be an assignment, and I was determined to pack as much eating into the few hours I had in Chicago.
My boyfriend and I decided after doing the calculations that it would actually be more economical to rent a car than to try and take Ubers as we bopped between neighborhoods. (I recommend this approach if the math adds up for you and you’re trying to get a little taste of everything in a few hours).
While I don’t think by any means we could’ve seen the “real Chicago” in that short of a time (we didn’t have deep-dish or tavern-style pizza, or Italian beef sandwiches; I’m so sorry), sometimes you can’t think too deeply about it, and have to prioritize having a blast either way.
During my work day, we left our airport-area Marriott and stopped by Superdawg, a drive-in that has been in Chicago since 1948. We ordered Polish-style sausages in buns with a side order of cheese fries that we ate in our rental car in the parking lot, in between posing with the cartoon hot dog statues that garnish the restaurant like a wedding cake topper. My boyfriend was the designated driver, and we later headed to wine bar Outside Voices (not to be confused with the athleisure company). There’s a sort of Urban Outfitters feel to it, but I appreciate that it’s a wine bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously (there’s a disco ball), ideal for a pre-dinner drink and, in our case, giggling while playing the Guess Who? board game. It was a short drive from Superkhana International, a modern Indian restaurant that came recommended to me by the Eater 38 Chicago list; based on the paneer pizza we ordered, I was glad it was the only reservation I made for the trip.
The next day we woke up with our evening flight looming ahead; we knew we needed to use the morning wisely. We managed to hopscotch on over to Doma Cafe, a newish coffee shop with Croatian cevapi breakfast platters that we’d heard great things about from a bartender friend and a friend who sells her tea there. Once we got our caffeine fuel, we headed out to do some thrifting. By afternoon, we ended up at Dove’s Luncheonette about an hour before it closed, which means that we actually got a seat. Dove’s serves “Mex-Tex”-style diner plates, which made it the perfect late lunch/early dinner before our flight. Our last stop before heading to the airport was a pilgrimage to one of Chicago’s legendary dives, Inner Town Pub. God, beer is cheaper in Chicago than New York!!! I love being a little tipsy on a night flight.
I left Chicago with some miniatures but it was hard to pick from the thousands of tiny items at the convention for sale, many of which were food-related — think mini bowls of ramen, nacho machines, matzo ball soup, cut vegetables, and martini bar set-ups, not to mention diner-style kitchen tables and midcentury Tupperware at a small scale. They’re souvenirs nearly everyone in your life will love, children and adults alike. Plus, they make for very carry-on-friendly purchases.