So who wins?
Who has the better food, the better climate, the better service? What place is more fun and better for food? What feels more polished, at least from the small amount that I’ve experienced?
There is a lot here, and It’s important to take the time to dissect and evaluate correctly. These cities are incredibly complex and I am going to fuck this up. There is so much between these two juggernauts. There are thousands of restaurants, Beautiful spaces, different ideologies, and cuisines. There is so much to explore and learn and do.
The feeling between these two cities is incredibly different. Chicago has a much more laid-back, Midwestern vibe. New York is fast paced and precise. It’s a lot easier to go to a restaurant and just hang out in Chicago, There are a ton of coffee shops with big couches and comfy chairs, and even though New York is a lot bigger, there is more space in Chicago, every restaurant feels bigger and more spacious because, well, it is.
Chicago may have bigger restaurants, but New York has more. There is somewhere to eat on every corner in the city and the different styles are way more abundant. you can really feel the melting pot in action. Depending on where you go there is no limit on what type of food you can find. There is everything. If you’re in the mood for soup dumplings, NYC’s got you. If you want Dope ramen from someone who lived in Japan, NYC’s got you. If you want a duck a la presse from a Frenchman, NYC’s got you.
Not to say that Chicago doesn’t have those things, it has some of them, but New York has more, and, because of the amount of people there they tend to be better. NYC has a history of accepting different cultures so you can get a more authentic food and chefs are not afraid to serve what they love to eat, and they are rewarded for doing so.
What Chicago lacks in sheer volume and diversity, it makes up for with its unique style. New York is incredibly good at having restaurants that hold true to their origins. This is an aftershock of the eighties when you went to restaurants to learn about other places in the world. you would have Italian restaurants that focus on Naples or French restaurants that take you through Lyon. Everything from the food, to the wine and service, would be a reflection of that region and that was the thing.
New York’s history resonates through its restaurants. It’s incredibly easy to go to an Italian restaurant or a French restaurant. Chicago has something different, where NYC has an incredible amount of different styles, Chicago has an overarching style. it almost doesn’t matter what restaurant you walk into, you can feel the Midwest. There is less focus on regionality. You will have your French restaurant or your Italian restaurant, but it’s more the style, not the cuisine. It’s Midwest cuisine with an Italian flare.
It’s common in Chicago to have a range of items on a menu. One menu will have taco’s, pizza, pasta, and gazpacho. There are no rules. In NYC you can almost guess what’s going to be on the menu based on the type of restaurant. I think this is a great example of old school vs. new school.
New York has the history, old three Michelin starred restaurants that dominate the city. Places that have stood for twenty plus years litter the streets, and they are still just as good as they were back in the day. Chicago doesn’t have the history, there were no culinary giants until the late eighties. New York has decades of cutthroat restaurants. Even NYC’s steakhouses out date Chicago’s by almost 100 years!
To top it off, there are not a lot of people who own and run restaurants in NYC that are from NYC. Which gives it its beautiful diversity. In Chicago, Most people are from the Midwest. Which helped to develop this strange overarching style across the city.
The FOH is different as well. Some people think that NYC has a cold inhospitable culture. I don’t think this is true at all. The service is incredibly different from Chicago. It is incredibly precise, almost robotic, but I never felt rushed or undeserving. The Staff at most restaurants I visited were incredibly knowledgeable and in tune with their tables and professionally polite. I really enjoyed this style of service, It was almost a nod to, we know you’re busy, and we are going to give you exactly what you want, as quickly as possible.
Chicago service is different. I know I keep saying this, but it is incredibly more Midwest. people are a little friendlier, service has a tendency to be a touch unrefined, and sometimes you’ll get a server that has no idea what they braise the pork collar in. It’s not a bad style of service, it’s just that everyone has more time, and are a little more comfortable when they go out. You have a much better chance of going out for a beer with your server in Chicago or running into them at a bar.
After probably too much consideration, and sleepless nights littered with memories from meals and stages I’ve made my choice. I’m sorry Chicago, but NYC just has more stuff. I love how refined restaurants have to be, how crisp the service is and how immaculate and structured the menus and concepts are.
It feels like almost nothing happens by chance in NYC. Everyone has a plan and the execute like they’ll go out of business tomorrow if they fuck it up. Honestly, That’s how the city is. You can be hot today and gone tomorrow. NYC is brutal but under all of that pressure, they make so many diamonds. Chicago is catching up, with its unique style and hospitality, but in order for it to conquer the beast that is NYC’s food scene, it needs some refinement.
End of the day, both cities are nothing but a treat to travel to and eat in. Hand to God.