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Where Did We Eat And Drink The Most In 2016?

By Anthony Todd in Food on Dec 13, 2016 4:50PM

The burger at Gather, which accounts for at least 20% of my 2016 weight gain. Photo by Anthony Todd.

As part of my job as the Food Editor at Chicagoist, I spend a lot of time (and money) going to new and exciting restaurants. I'm lucky enough to get to do restaurant reviews for a living, and that means i'm eating new things all the time; some good, some awful. But that stream of new restaurants doesn't represent where I actually eat in real life.

I am constantly asked "where should we go for dinner?" by friends, relations and colleagues. Usually, this takes the form of some variation of the question "What new places have you been to lately?" Pro tip: That's not actually a very good way to get recommendations from a food writer, because it'll limit you to places that are likely expensive, crowded, still in the headlines and, potentially, inconsistent.

Recently, a friend instead asked me: "Where do you spend your own money on food?" Now that, I thought, is the way to get a recommendation that actually means something.

So I decided to do the math. When I'm not doing a review, researching a story or a list, using my dining budget or being hosted by a restaurant or a publicist, where do I actually spend my own money? I ripped apart my budget spreadsheets for 2016 and tracked every dime I spent at a restaurant or bar, and the results are, if not particularly surprising, a definite indication of the way I eat. This isn't a list of the best restaurants in Chicago, and it certainly isn't a list of the best new restaurants of 2016 (that'll come later, trust me); it's simply the places where I go when I don't have a professional reason to be eating.

A few limitations, just as a disclaimer. I sometimes pay cash at bars, and that's not in here, so bars are likely underrepresented. My fiancé or other friends sometimes treat me, and even if I suggested the restaurant we went to, that's not in here either. I sometimes dine out for my other job, and that ends up on a different credit card, so once again, even if I suggested the place, not here. Also not included: Jimmy Johns, Potbelly, the random lunch spots in my office building that aren't very good, or Tortas Frontera (because otherwise that would end up topping the list).

Ok, enough disclaimers. What did I find?

Like most normal people, I tend to go to the same few places over and over again, especially when I'm off duty. People may think that food writers are at Alinea or Grace with their glamorous friends every night, but honestly, we're more likely to be hanging out at our local brunch or burger place. That local brunch or burger place is probably pretty great (since our standards are, naturally, high) but it's not necessarily in the headlines.

Unsurprisingly, my top choices are places that are near my house and really, really good. I go to the Sixth a ton (it's across the street from me), I eat at Gather and River Valley Farmer's Table constantly (they're not expensive and within walking distance) and I tend to have date nights at Bistro Campagne (close by and cozy).

Where else do I eat? Well, if you've ever listened to me on a podcast, you probably can guess. This year, I ate a lot (an embarrassing amount, honestly) at Cherry Circle Room in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. I went to Vera a bunch, because it's amazing and usually not crowded. I am often found at Big Jones, at Intro, at La Sirena Clandestina, and at Yusho, because they are reliable, interesting and friendly. I love having drinks at Barrelhouse Flat, at Milk Room (much to the detriment of my wallet) and at The Northman. Osteria Langhe rocks, and it happens to be across the street from my wedding planner. Funny how that works out.

The whole list is below, but my conclusion? I'm lazy and probably need to get out more. No, seriously; I kind of feel like a failure as a food expert since I clearly want to eat the same fried chicken and the same steak frites over and over again every day until I die.

But, as far as you, the consumer is concerned, if I went to a place more than once on my own dime, it's probably worth your time. And, honestly, even if I only went somewhere once, it might be great and I just haven't made it back on my own dime or, even better, I reviewed it and went back on my own later. I don't tend to go anywhere on my own that hasn't been thoroughly vetted by people I trust.

Here's the whole list. What should be added for 2017?