Updated March 26, 2018
In the not-too-distant past, Wrigley Field wasn’t what one would call a culinary oasis. Sure, you could find a solid Chicago-style dog, a bag of peanuts, a cold beer, and some lemon ice, but there wasn’t much else to write home about, and much of the food just outside the park was more of the same. But things change. Not only did the Chicago Cubs quench their World Series drought in 2016, but the food at Wrigley Field — and in the surrounding neighborhood — is also now calorie-worthy, and that’s the real miracle. Options have expanded dramatically, and you can eat well whether you’re a vegetarian, an epicurean, or an encased meats enthusiast. There’s something to please every Cubs fan at a multitude of price points, from the cheap seats in the bleachers to the season ticket holders behind home plate.
Outside the Park: It’s a Whole New Ballgame
The Park at Wrigley
This homage to renowned Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse will be filled with Cubs memorabilia and open year round. The outdoor terraces are expansive and there are four big bars so that everyone can grab a craft beer or a Bud (of course) to enjoy with what the website refers to as “refined sports-bar food.”
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (opens April 5)
Owner/ice cream visionary Jeni Britton Bauer is a lifelong Cubs fan. According to her, “Opening a scoop shop in Wrigleyville is almost as good as watching the Cubs win the World Series in 2016.” Jeni’s newest flavor, “Popcorn! Peanuts!,” is a loving homage to America’s pastime, and its signature snack, caramel corn, with lots of toffee-coated peanuts and salted caramel in a popcorn-infused ice cream. At the Wrigley location, expect custom bleacher seating and other clever nods to their newest habitat. Play ball!
Lucky Dorr Patio and Tap (reopens April 2)
Legendary Wrigley Field groundskeeper Bobby Dorr is honored here at the Lucky Dorr. This is the spot for craft beer fanatics, with 20 rotating taps with custom collaborative brews from local stars Dovetail, Revolution, Lake Effect, Old Irving Brewing, and more. The cocktail masters at Billy Sunday provide four classic kegged cocktails. Menu items are minimal but tasty: giant soft pretzels with spicy honey mustard and beer cheese, BBQ pork rinds, ranch-dusted popcorn, and the like.
Rare, small-lot coffees are the name of the game here, along with an interactive coffee bar where the Starbucks baristas will be on display as they utilize all of the newest (and coffee geekiest) brewing methods, including pour over, nitro brew taps, French press, Clover, and siphon. Open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.
Hotel Zachary (opens March 30)
Named for Zachary Taylor Davis, the original architect of Wrigley Field, this 173-room boutique hotel is located a stone’s throw from the Friendly Confines, and like the Cubs, is owned by the Ricketts family and their development company. They will be pairing with favorite Chicago restaurant groups (One Off Hospitality, Boka, and The Fifty/50 among them) to provide buzz-worthy bars and restaurants for hotel patrons and Cubs fans.
Alma Room (opens March 30)
Named for architect Zachary Davis’ beloved wife, this will be a warm and inviting venue just perfect for private parties, and breakfast will be served here for hotel guests and public alike.
Big Star Wrigleyville (opens April 9)
If you love tacos, bourbon, and beer — and who doesn’t? — then you’ll be thrilled to know that James Beard Award winners Paul Kahan and Donnie Madia of One Off Hospitality will be opening an enormous (9,000 square feet!) second location of their beloved Big Star. Chef de Cuisine Julie Warpinski and her team will be slinging authentic Mexican street foods, handmade tortillas, and margaritas made with fresh lime juice to what is sure to be an avid crowd of Cubs fans. Can’t score a ticket? During prime-time games, eight retractable TV screens will be on view. Fueled by big hearts and tacos, how can we lose?
Dutch & Doc’s (opens summer 2018)
The prolific Boka Restaurant Group will open this “American Brasserie” sometime in early summer.
Mordecai (opens April 2)
Named for Cubs pitcher Mordecai Brown, this bi-level boîte will feature serious cocktails, both classic and contemporary, paired with grilled mains and updated bar food.
Smoke Daddy (opens April 9)
The second location of this Chicago BBQ favorite will be serving up the same delectable smoked meats and tangy sauces as the Wicker Park original. The new joint, just a long fly ball from Wrigley Field, will seat 300 in the modern, two-level space. Pimento Cheese Hush Puppies, Burnt Brisket Ends, and an Iron Skillet Cookie are just the ticket to get you ready for what’s sure to be a winning season for our beloved Cubbies!
West Town Bakery + Tap (opens April 4)
The Fifty/50 Group brings the signature style of their West Town Bakery to Wrigleyville, meaning elaborate treats and classic diner foods (think cake balls, doughnuts, stacked breakfast sandwiches, soft-serve ice cream, and more), along with adult beverages (that’s the “Tap” part) to get the party started. There will be icing. There will be sprinkles. It will be glorious.
Wheelhouse Hotel (opens spring 2018)
This five-story luxury boutique hotel will open at 3475 N. Clark St., just one block south of Wrigley Field, later this spring.
Union Full Board/Tinker to Evers
Evanston’s favorite pizzerias — Union Pizzeria and Union Squared — join forces to open Union Full Board, where you’ll be able to order chef/partner Vince DiBattista’s Italian-influenced small plates, salads, and Detroit-style square pizzas to eat in or carry out. Downstairs, Tinker to Evers is a cocktail lounge with a speakeasy feel, named for the old-timey Cubs greats.
Inside the Park
No trip to the ballpark is complete without at least one hot dog, and friends, the Main Concourse is littered with ‘em. Along with the Chicago classic (Vienna Beef dog topped with yellow mustard, chopped onions, neon green sweet pickle relish, tomato slices, sport peppers, a dill pickle and celery salt, all on a steamed poppy seed bun), you’ll find Polish and Italian sausages and brats, Gilbert’s Craft Sausages (try the Caprese, a chicken sausage topped with tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella and balsamic glaze), Kosher dogs, and even bison sausages at the High Plains Bison stand. The Sheffield Counter (at the far right end of the Main Concourse) offers dogs with global flavors, like the Pilsen (topped with lime-cilantro aioli and roasted corn) or the Bao Wao (sriracha aioli, fresh cilantro and mint, pickled carrot and daikon).
Chicken Sandwiches, Chicken Tacos, and Even Vegan Chicken
Looking for something a little different? Hang out at above-mentioned Sheffield Counter to find dishes like Al Pastor Chicken Tacos, served on soft corn tortillas and topped with pickled red onions, queso fresco, sliced radishes and chopped cilantro. Also worth a second look: the Aloha Chicken Sandwich features a juicy grilled chicken breast topped with sweet chili sauce, grilled pineapple and Asian slaw, all on a toasted Hawaiian roll. And vegans, rejoice, for you’ve not been forsaken. Vegan Chik’n Shawarma is here to pull you up from the depths of your dairy-free despair, loaded into a warm toasted pita with hummus, lettuce, tomato and red onion.
Best Bleacher Eats: Dogs, Sausage, Meatballs, BLTs, and More
Some of the most exciting food collabs at Wrigley Field are happening up in the bleachers, and you can only take advantage of them if you’re a bleacher bum — sorry, lower deck ticket holders, but you’re out of luck! The Cubs have joined forces with Chicago’s favorite sausage savant Doug Sohn, of the late lamented Hot Doug’s, to offer a rotating selection of dogs inspired by Cubs greats. Get your own triple play started with the Joe Tinker (veal saltimbocca sausage with Swiss cheese, crispy onions and sage mustard), then move on to nearby Pork & Mindy’s sandwich emporium, developed by Food Network star Jeff Mauro. There, you’ll order the Pig Candy BLT, an umami bomb of a sandwich that combines brown sugar-coated bacon, lettuce, tomato, balsamic onions and mayo on a buttery brioche bun. The third (!) stop is the Buona Beef stand, where your Buona Meatball Sandwich — topped with marinara sauce and grated Parmesan, naturally — is waiting for you. Thirsty? Grab a premium craft beer to wash it down.
The Fancy Seats: Carving Station, Fresh Fruit and Salads, and Desserts to Die For
For those fortunate enough to have Cubs season tickets, there is the members-and-guests-only Audi Club, located in the southeast corner of Wrigley Field. Within, an eye-popping buffet awaits, a groaning board of delights including a carving station, bountiful salad selection, cheese and fruit bar, and a dessert display to die for (still dreaming of the multi-tiered carrot cake). The a la carte menu includes freshly baked soft Bavarian Pretzels with Beer-Cheese Fondue and a fine Italian Chopped Salad. All food is prepared by Levy Restaurants and is available pre- and post-game.
Market Fresh: Fresh Produce, Baked Goods, Meats and Cheeses
This year, Chicago’s Green City Market will open their successful satellite location at the Park at Wrigley on May 31 with a Chef Demo by Christopher Sullivan of Ikram Café. The outdoor market will operate from 4-8 p.m. most Thursday evenings this season, offering fresh produce, baked goods, meats, cheeses, and more. Expect other chef demos, Club Sprouts kids’ activities, and more.
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Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.