At Grant Achatz's restaurant, Alinea, innovation is on parade (lobster parfait?). To stay inspired, Achatz looks for—and finds—creativity in Chicago's many classics.
Why my town
"Chicago is so far from just meat and potatoes. There are chefs with empires. There's a younger crowd like myself. We've got great ethnic food, and we've got farm-to-table and progressive cuisines that are leading the country."
"One of my favorite recent openings is The Bristol. You have to order the pappardelle with bacon and chicken liver and a side of 'monkey bread pull apart' (freshly baked bread with dill and sea salt)." 2152 N. Damen Ave., thebristolchicago.com, entrées from $15.
A serious hot dog...
"Definitely get to Hot Doug's for the duck-fat fries and the Chicago-style dog. Hot Doug's closes at 4 p.m. No exceptions. You could be banging on the door at 4:01, but Doug is not opening it." 3324 N. California Ave., hotdougs.com, hot dogs from $1.75.
...A really serious burger
"At Kuma's Corner I get the classic most of the time, but they serve these esoteric burgers, too. I'm a Metallica fan, and they happen to have a Metallica burger—it's got bacon, buffalo sauce, and blue cheese." 2900 W. Belmont Ave., kumascorner.com, burgers from $10.
Best Sunday grazing
"The New Maxwell Street Market has incredible Mexican and Latin American food. There are dozens of vendors selling tacos, tamales, horchata, everything. Buy a little plate, take a few bites, and move on to the next one. Go as early as you can, though—serious eaters get there at 7 a.m." S. Desplaines St. and W. Roosevelt Rd.
"It takes some determination to score a seat at Great Lake, but the pizza—with a crackly, blistered crust—is excellent." 1477 W. Balmoral Ave., 773/334-9270, pizzas from $21.
At my place
"The hot potato cold potato (potato puree like you've never had before), along with the black truffle explosion, has become a signature at Alinea. P.S. Reservations are not that hard to get. That's a bad rumor." 1723 N. Halsted St., alinearestaurant.com, tasting menu $150.