Foodie’s Guide to the NIC Conference: Where to Dine in Chicago


Photo via The Dawson

Headed to Chicago for the 24th annual NIC National conference October 1 – 3? Want to check out the food scene while you’re there?


NIC will be held at Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, in the heart of downtown—a dining destination in its own right for some of the country’s top chefs and restaurateurs.

SHN also happens to be based in Chicago, so our editors have been taste testing all year to help provide our take as to the most desirable reservations in town. With about four weeks to plan your dining agenda, here are our editors’ picks for where to eat while you attend NIC this year.

RPM Steak. Chicago offers some of the finest steak houses in the country, from big names like Ruth’s Chris and the Capital Grille to independents Keefer’s and Ditka’s (yes, that Ditka). But taking the town by storm this year is the latest, as of August, from the RPM group—spearheaded by celebrity duo Juliana and Bill Rancic. / RPM Steak / 66 West Kinzie St. / 312.284.4990


Insider Tip: RPM Steak joins the team’s RPM Italian and RPM Champagne—that is, if steak isn’t your thing. 

Frontera Grill. To call it Mexican almost doesn’t seem to do it justice. This longtime Chicago favorite from celebrity chef Rick Bayless does serve up its share of guacamole, tamales and margaritas. But look beyond the traditional street food items and find a host of moles, Oaxacan-Style Carne Asada and more elaborate regional offerings from Mexico. / Frontera Grill / 445 N. Clark Street / 312.661.1434

Insider tip: If you miss Bayless at Fontera, he operates a quick-serve Mexican street food outpost at O’Hare Airport under the Xoco name. 

Au Cheval. A relative newcomer to Chicago’s West Loop, just a quick cab ride west of downtown, lays claim to a big, or bigger, burger. Add-ons to the single and double cheeseburger options include bread and butter pickles, thick cut bacon or a fried egg—or all three. / Au Cheval / 800 W. Randolph / 312.929.4580

Insider tip: Au Cheval doesn’t take reservations. Book a small meeting here on the early side to avoid a wait. 

The Publican. It’s not fancy, but it will incite the adventure in any eater with lots and lots of fish, meat and vegetable choices. But it’s also not for the vegetarian at heart—choices here range from exotic (spicy pork rinds, duck hearts) to the tried and true (farm chicken, country rib, pork belly) with a large emphasis on food sourced from the farm and sea. This West Fulton Market mainstay is one of the Paul Kahan empire in chicago; his other restaurants included equally acclaimed Avec and Blackbird. / The Publican / 837 W Fulton Market / 312.733.9555

Insider tip: make a reservation and check out the seating in advance. Train car-like booths are perfect for four, but a larger party will require one of Publican’s shared tables.   

Nico Osteria. Another of the Kahan restaurant group, Nico Osteria is a newcomer-turned-mainstay. The Italian menu ranges from more than a dozen crudos (uncooked seafood) to hand crafted pastas, whole roasted fish, traditional entrees and house made gelato. Adjoining Chicago’s Thompson Hotel, a reservation is required as Nico has made a strong splash in Chicago dining this year. / Nico Osteria / 1015 N. Rush Street / 312.994.7100

Insider tip: The extensive wine list is one thing, but Nico also makes a mean craft cocktail.  

Green Street Smoked Meats. Go here and even Chicagoans will think you’re an insider. Green Street Smoked meats speaks for itself, serving some of the most delicious—and casual—BBQ-inspired creations found in Chicago. / Green Street Smoked Meats / 112 N. Green Street / 312.754.0431

Insider tip: Venture here and gain bragging rights over having waited through the line that circles the restaurant, but beverages are readily available as you wait. 

The Dawson. A SHN favorite, the Dawson came to Chicago in 2013 and hasn’t looked back. It’s an inventive take on standard cuisine and a pretty place to take in a cocktail around sunset. / The Dawson / 730 W. Grand Ave. / 312.243.8955

Insider tip: Pony up to either the downstairs bar or upstairs one; The Dawson reserves room upstairs for larger parties and accommodates groups upon request. 

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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