If variety is what you're looking for in a food store, Chicago is your kind of town. The Windy City offers everything from tiny specialty markets and established regional chains to mega food depots. Take time away from FMI to check out some of the listings below. All directions are from McCormick Place.
Directions: Take Lakeshore Drive north to North Avenue. Go left to LaSalle Avenue. Go right to Chicago Avenue. Go right to Larrabee Street. Store is immediately on the left.
Highlights: Bockwinkel's in the 600 W. Chicago Complex is one of Chicago's newest supermarkets -- so new, in fact, sections of the store are still under construction. Located on the lower level of the former Montgomery Ward Catalogue Warehouse, Bockwinkel's has quickly become the West Loop's busy professionals' answer to the sprawl of Chicago's more traditional supermarkets. The ingenious use of space and floor-to-ceiling windows make the small store seem much larger than it actually is. The shelves are stocked with name brands as well as more obscure imports. An in-store dining area provides great views of the Chicago River. Free one-hour parking is available with validation in the parking garage on Larrabee and Chicago Avenue. Bockwinkel's provides the ultimate in convenience without sacrificing variety or style.
Directions: Take I-290 west to Exit 12 (West Lake Street/U.S. 20 West). Head west for about four miles to corner of Lake Street and Mill Road. (About 30 minutes from McCormick Place.)
If you've never seen a produce item called cime cicoria (the base of a dandelion), now is your chance. Caputo's Fresh Markets' new 55,000-square-foot unit in Addison, Ill., always has plenty of it in stock. Plus, the produce department boasts 400 other types of fruits andvegetables to meet the needs of the increasing number of Italian, Hispanic, Polish, Swedish, Irish, Middle Eastern and other demographic groups shopping the store. While at the store, don't forget to check out the dry grocery department's Hispanic, Polish and other ethnic aisles, and the vast array of imported goods marketed under the La Bella Romana private label.
Highlights: When looking for one-stop shopping on a budget, Cub Foods is the answer. The enormous 64,555-square-foot store was remodeled last year, giving it a bright, airy atmosphere that never feels claustrophobic. Even on holiday weekends when any other supermarket in the city is a nightmare, Cub is a peaceful haven for procrastinating shoppers. Cub offers huge variety and is always well-stocked. Where else in the city can you find four different brands of frozen corn dogs in the same store that has a Hispanic foods section that spans an entire aisle? A deli, prepared-foods area and floral department round out the store.
Directions: Take Lakeshore Drive north to North Avenue. Go left to LaSalle Street. Go right to Division Street.
Highlights: This elite Dominick's was built as the anchor business in the development of the old Cabrini Green complex. Even before the new pricey townhouses and condos broke ground, Dominick's had opened its doors to the public. The store is immense with all the style and services of a posh, downtown supermarket. The entryway opens on what resembles an atrium-ceiling covering an old-fashioned farmer's market. Fresh produce is smartly displayed along with gourmet cheeses and other products that might be found in an open-air market. The bakery and deli line the left side of this farmer's market. Fine meats and freshly baked breads as well as salads made from gourmet recipes are amply available. Few if any supermarkets of this size and quality are available amid the high-priced real estate of downtown Chicago.
Directions: Take Lakeshore Drive north to Grand Avenue. Go left to McClurg Court. Go left one block to Illinois Street.
Highlights: When Fox & Obel came to town three years ago, Chicago culinary artists breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, here was a market that could deliver the goods -- all the goods in fact. In addition to baked items, wine and produce, this 22,000-square-foot renovated brick warehouse has more than 400 different cheeses, 100 vinegars, 70 olive oils and 20 varieties of smoked fish. But that's not even the tip of the iceberg. Fox & Obel offers catering services, gift baskets, personal shopping services, and even has a cafe. The prices aren't cheap, but the quality is impeccable. This is truly Chicago's premier supermarket. Consider lunch in the cafe followed by a trip to Navy Pier. It's only a few minutes' walk away.
Directions: Take Lakeshore Drive north to North Avenue. Go left to LaSalle Street. Go right to Division.
Highlights: Most Chicagoans do not even know about these two mega supermarkets in one. Why? Logically, it would never occur to the average Windy City resident to shop at a wholesale distribution center. But shop they can. The restaurant side sells bulk and industrial sizes, while the food market side has items in retail-size packaging. The product selection is colossal and prices are rock bottom. Remember, however, this is an industrial setting; produce is in crates, and the shelving is stark steel 40-foot-tall grids ready to be stocked from forklifts.
Directions: Take Lakeshore Drive north to North Avenue exit. Go left to Clark. Store is at intersection of Clark and Division.
Highlights: Located at the end of Chicago's most famous strip of bars, this Jewel is an easy destination if you've succumbed to the call of touristy Division Street. Though it offers all the amenities of a traditional supermarket, it is the wine and spirits section that truly makes the supermarket unique. The department is set apart from the rest of the store -- think wine attic rather than cellar -- and is a marvel to behold. Below, the hustle and bustle of grocery shoppers can be heard, and yet patrons of the wine and spirit section weave quietly in and out of a labyrinth of cubbyholed bottles. Wines range from ridiculously cheap to exorbitantly expensive, as do the liquors. The crowning touch: chocolate shot cups made on the premises. This is certainly not your typical Jewel.
Highlights: Potash Bros. Supermarts have been in and around the near north side of Chicago since 1950. The company only operates two stores, but they serve thousands of clients in high-rise apartments and condos in the upscale residential areas close to downtown. The Clark & Sandburg Terrace market provides an expansive array of products and services in a compact urban-style setting. The smaller layout has allowed their markets to fit where a supermarket would not -- making them a unique hybrid of convenience, variety and quality. They can still stock over 20,000 products on their shelves, make their own breads and bagels daily, display full produce, meat and seafood sections as well as serve "roasted on premise" ham, turkey and beef at the deli. It's worth seeing how they pack such a wallop into a compressed space.
Directions: Take Lakeshore Drive north to North Avenue. Go left to North Clybourn Avenue. Store is at corner of Wisconsin Street and North Clybourn.
Highlights: It's no secret that Trader Joe's well-stocked frozen-food section is the young yuppie professional's answer to home-cooked meals. So why did it take so long for a Trader Joe's to pop up in Chicago's trendy Lincoln Park? Nestled amidst stores like Banana Republic, The Gap and Crate & Barrel, the new Trader Joe's was the icing on the cake for this quickly developing area. The store itself follows the company prototype judiciously, offering wine, sauces, frozen foods and snacks, but few national brands. Prices are low and the Trader Joe's "Crew Members" are helpful and pleasant, but the true genius lies in the convenience factor -- believe it or not, they actually have their own parking garage! In an area where people put out lawn chairs to save their spots when they leave, parking is a lavish luxury.
Directions: Take Lakeshore Drive north to North Avenue. Go left to Sheffield Street. Go left to Marcey Street.
Highlights: Residents in Chicago know this superstore for wine and spirits as simply Sam's. It doesn't matter whether you want a rare 1968 Lafite Rothschild Bordeaux or a less expensive wine from Slovenia, Sam's is the only place that will have both. The narrow aisles are stacked with cases of wines, and the perimeter walls store thousands of cases of inventory -- from the floor to the top of the 30-foot ceilings. Rare and expensive single-malt scotches are plentiful. Select and singular oils, vinegars, nuts, crackers, barbecue sauces, cheeses and dips round out Sam's exceptional offerings. Beer lovers can find brews from Europe, China, Japan, Australia and the United States -- especially many small microbreweries. Sam's is the well-loved champion among Chicago specialty markets.
Directions: Take Lakeshore Drive north to North Avenue. Go left to Clark Street. Store at the corner of Clark and Elm streets.
Highlights: Treasure Island was certainly aptly named. The store is so packed with products, maneuvering through an aisle can be difficult, but the expedition certainly pays off. Next to an end cap of toilet paper you're likely to find spices from Istanbul or pasta from Italy. Treasure Island was Chicago's first specialty store with five locations in the city, and it still has an extremely loyal customer base. The Elm Street location is one of the best, bustling with downtown residents who wouldn't dream of shopping anywhere else. Luckily, the store's extensive bakery, deli, liquor, wine and floral sections ensure they need not.
Directions: Take Lakeshore Drive north to North Avenue. Go left on North Avenue past Halsted Street. Whole Foods is on the right.
Highlights: Tired of the old adage that Midwesterners are overweight, Chicagoans are changing their habits. The city once known for deep dish pizza and hot dogs is rapidly becoming a health-conscious capital. It is no surprise then to find that Whole Foods has become one of Chicago's most beloved specialty chains. Devotees of the store do not consider it a mere market, but a way of life. Whole Foods changed the landscape of specialty markets by creating a focus on natural and organic foods. The store is a treasure trove of information about how farmers grow organic foods through sustainable agricultural and environmentally friendly practices. The recent renovation at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods Market replaced the smoothie section with an expanded bakery. The shopping experience and foods will delight, but it does come with a premium price tag.