Great American Cities: Chicago
by Alan Solomon

Published May 21, 2006

The essential experience: A baseball game in Wrigley Field. The place has been poked, prodded and illuminated over the yearsthe bleachers were expanded last winter in the latest bit of surgerybut Wrigley is still Wrigley, the vines are still that fluffy green, and there's nothing quite as uniquely Chicago. Too bad about the home team.

But don't miss: The Art Institute. Even the most casual art fans among us delight in being eye-to-eye with Grant Wood's "American Gothic" or close enough to see all the little dabs of light in Georges Seurat's "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte." And as long as you're right there: Ease over to Millennium Park and marvel at "The Bean." (You'll know it when you see it.)

Local delicacy: Forget the pizza. That's marketing. The true favorite is the Chicago hot dog, kosher-style, boiled, the skin popping to the bite, topped with yellow mustard, bright pickle relish, chopped onions, little sport peppers and a slice of tomato on a steamed poppyseed bun. No ketchup, no chili, and char-dogs are an abomination.

Best big-bucks restaurant: The Big Two: Charlie Trotter's and Tru, with longtime favorites Everest and Spiaggia battling relative newcomer Alinea for a spot in the show-pool. Trotter's and Alinea are strictly for serious foodies who adore esoterica; the others (Tru is high-concept comfort food, Everest nods to French, Spiaggia is Italian) are merely wonderful.

Iconic neighborhood favorite: Twin Anchors. Chicago has no definitive barbecue style, but the cut of choice is baby back ribs, and this place, essentially a bar with food in the city's Old Town neighborhood, serves 'em up with energy and Sinatra, who is said to have been a fan.

The perfect Chicago walk: Start at Oak Street Beach, at the north end of Michigan Avenue's shopping strip, and enjoy the scenery along Lake Michigan north a couple of miles to Fullerton Beach. Inland, right there, is Lincoln Park Zoo. Stroll the grounds (don't miss the Great Apes), exit anywhere, then walk back through the park to the ballfields, where, hopefully, you can watch Chicago-style softball (16-inch, no gloves). Cross Lake Shore Drive on the pedestrian bridge and return along the lake. You can't get lost: The lake is always east.