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Chicago - United States

Chicago is a marvelous mix of awe-inspiring architecture and stunning lake views, blues houses and jazz clubs, celebrity (Michael Jordan) and infamy (Al Capone). It is home to the Sears Tower, architectural gems by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, and "da Bears." With this kind of diversity, it's not surprising that the city's culinary offerings are world class.

There is something to suit everyone's appetite, from the classic Chicago-style pizza at Pizzeria Uno to mouthwatering hot dogs to pound-heavy T-bones. Fine dining establishments are top-of-the-line and plentiful. Many excellent ethnic eateries also flourish here, whether you're in the mood for generous Italian, hands-only Ethiopian, Indian curries or spicy Thai.

Get to know the many charming (and tasty) areas of Chicago:

The Loop

This is the heart of downtown, with its elevated commuter tracks, State Street shopping and architectural landmarks. For a taste of classic German food in a classic Chicago setting, you can't go wrong with the Berghoff. The exquisite Everest is a perfect place for big (and big bucks) occasions. And Cajun/Creole-lovers can try The Original Heaven on Seven for the Chicago version of heaven.

While many night-crawlers will want to venture outside the Loop to truly paint the town red, Kitty O'Shea's, a hotel bar in the Chicago Hilton Plaza and Towers, provides a good setting for an after-dinner drink. Another favourite is the legendary Miller's Pub.

Magnificent Mile

After shopping for hours in Michigan Avenue's chic shops, you're sure to feel those taste buds kick in. If you're dressed in the designer duds you just bought, dine at the luxurious Spiaggia (its sister Café is just as popular and a bit less expensive.) The seafood and chowder at the Cape Cod Room in the Drake Hotel really hits the spot after a day of window shopping, especially on a blustrey Chicago winter day. The Signature Room on the 95th Floor in the John Hancock Tower offers a meal with a breathtaking view.

Stepping just off the strip will lead you to a range of memorable dining options. Allen's Cafe features seasonal menus in an elegant setting. Popular speciality foods just off the Magnificent Mile include Pane Caldo for Italian fare and Big Bowl for Pan-Asian food.

But what the Magnificent Mile has in high-class shopping and fashionable restaurants, it lacks in nightlife. For a true bar-hopping experience, head to the nearby Rush Street bars in the Gold Coast. One Mag Mile bar to try is the Chicago classic, the Billy Goat Tavern. This subterranean institution features a full bar that will lift your spirits even if you are not in the mood for its signature "cheezeborgers." River North/Gold Coast

The areas surrounding the Magnificent Mile are home to many innovative restaurants. The River North area, a few blocks west of Michigan Avenue, features several trendy and popular restaurants. An eclectic menu tempts diners at mk, and Frontera Grill puts a new twist on Mexican fare. Coco Pazzo offers Tuscan delights, and Tsunami showcases sushi in a sleek setting. The area is also home to many of the city's theme restaurants like The Original Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's and Harry Caray's.

The more affluent residents of the Gold Coast, a posh area north of Michigan Avenue, would probably frown at the theme restaurants. They prefer high class, as evidenced by their eateries. Steak lovers should visit Chicago Chop House or the celebrity-favourite, Gibson's. The Pump Room at the Omni Ambassador East Hotel offers a taste of glamor and Chicago tradition. Le Colonial on Rush Street features Vietnamese food with a French influence.

You will also find a popular area for nightlife in the Gold Coast. Head toward Rush and Division Streets and pop into Jilly's Piano Bar for a classy, swingin' Sinatra-esque atmosphere. Young guns on the prowl can go to meat/meet market bars like Butch McGuire's, Mother's or Bar Chicago.

Lincoln Park, Lakeview/Wrigleyville

This is a fun, vibrant community, famous for its boutiques, restaurants and bars. With so many great options, it is impossible to list them all. For starters, you might try sushi at Sai Café, a taste of Spain at Emilio's Tapas or anything on the menu at Charlie Trotter's. Theatre-goers frequently start their evenings with the Italian fare at Vinci.

North of Diversey Avenue, you will find yourself in the Lakeview neighbourhood with its plentiful restaurants. Enjoy fork-free Ethiopian eats at Mama Desta's Red Sea Restaurant or cosy sushi dining at Shiroi Hana. On Belmont Avenue, the Swedish Ann Sather's is a popular weekend brunch destination. Near Wrigley Field, The Outpost offers global cuisine, and the original Mia Francesca draws crowds with their classic Italian fare.

If you are in the mood to see live music after dinner, see who's playing at the Elbo Room, which features a mix of jazz, rock and spoken word concerts. Another area institution is The Metro, where several local bands like the Smashing Pumpkins started their careers before making it big.

Bars line the streets in these areas. Popular destinations include the Cubby Bear and Murphy's Bleachers in Wrigleyville. In Lincoln Park, Kincade's, Durkin's and Glascott's are among the many favourites. Many in the gay and lesbian community head to places like Roscoe's Tavern for their nights on the town.

Hyde Park

This community is known for its diversity, the University of Chicago campus and the renowned Museum of Science and Industry. The culinary offerings are limited, but it offers some gems. Mellow Yellow is a charming local spot with award-winning chili and rotisserie-chicken. The Calypso Cafe offers Caribbean cuisine under a corrugated tin ceiling. And, as one of Chicago's most popular Southern roadhouse-style joints, the Dixie Kitchen is a can't-miss with catfish, corn fritters and country-fried steak.

Chinatown

It may not be one of the largest Chinatowns you'll visit, but its restaurants hold their own with many authentic offerings. One perennial favourite is Evergreen. For weekend dim sum, Phoenix is your best bet. If you want more than just Chinese, Penang's extensive menu boasts an array of Southeast Asian treats.

Wicker Park/Bucktown

Café Absinthe serves up creative French bistro fare, as do the intimate Le Bouchon and Cafe Matou. Located just outside the Wicker Park area, Mirai, serves sushi in a trendy metal-and-glass club setting. The Meritage Cafe and Wine Bar combines Pacific Northwest and Asian influences with an emphasis on seafood. The funky Violet Hour serves up high-end versions of American classics. For a supper club feel and killer martinis, try Club Lucky.

It will not take you long to realize that Wicker Park is no slouch in the nightlife department. Holiday Club and The Note are just a few of the neighbourhood favourites.
 
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