The Best Places to Eat Near Shedd Aquarium

Chicago is a fabulous place to explore. Breathtaking architecture. Gorgeous views of Lake Michigan. Storied history. Some of the best sports teams in America. And excellent museums and educational institutions.

Here at Giordano’s, one of our favorite places to explore is Shedd Aquarium. Fun for the whole family, you can spend hours wandering and learning without ever hearing a kid complaining that they’re bored. And we’re not the only ones who love this cultural attraction. According to their annual report, in 2013, the aquarium topped 2 million guests who flocked there to see over 32,000 animals.

2 Million Guests

So we wanted to help you explore this Chicago treasure. We’ll begin with an overview of the history of Shedd Aquarium. As food lovers, we also know that when you’re done exploring, you will have worked up quite an appetite, so we’ll give you a run down on the best restaurants near Shedd Aquarium.

Shedd Aquarium History

Shedd Aquarium would not have been possible without the philanthropy of John G. Shedd. Despite starting as a stock boy, Shedd rose to become the president of Marshall Field and Company. He felt a debt of gratitude to the city where he had found success.

He planted the seeds for a world-class aquarium in 1924. Unfortunately, Shedd passed away in 1926, one year before architects broke ground. The aquarium, named after its generous benefactor, opened to enthusiastic crowds on May 30, 1930.

In keeping with Shedd’s initial vision, the aquarium was designed to not only showcase aquatic life, but to be an architectural wonder worthy of the city of Chicago. Gorgeous marble and terra cotta punctuate a breathtaking glass dome. Scattered throughout are fossils and artistic nautical allusions.

Since opening, the aquarium has also undergone significant expansion. In order to preserve the architectural vision, additions were constructed using the same marble as the original structure. In all, the square footage of the aquarium has doubled since the 1930s.

Constructing a state of the art aquarium so far from the ocean was no small feat. Providing the necessary saltwater habitats in order to provide a fitting showcase for marine life required significant logistical planning. In fact, when it was first built, the aquarium utilized twenty railroad cars specifically designed to ship ocean water from Key West, a million gallons in all.

1 Million Gallons

The result is an aquarium that boasts some of the widest varieties of marine life in the heart of the Midwest. Sharks, rays, beluga wales, dolphins, otters, sea lions and countless fish species populate this remarkable testament to the generosity and vision of the Shedd family.

Must See Exhibits at Shedd Aquarium

While every exhibit is worthwhile at Shedd Aquarium, we wanted to highlight a few of our favorites in order to give you a sense of the aquatic wonders that await you during your visit.

Amazon Rising

This exhibit is designed to simulate the yearly flood cycles that define the aquatic life of the Amazon Rainforest. During a visit, you will have to opportunity to see piranhas, sting rays, and even monkeys and anacondas. For those of us who’ll never have a chance to make it down to South America, this is the best way to experience the feeling of exploring the wilds of the Amazon.

Caribbean Reef

Tropical waters host some of the most vibrant marine life on earth. This beautiful circular exhibit lets you gaze into the heart of a Caribbean reef, complete with a sea turtle, sharks, and rays that glide effortlessly through 90,000 gallons of saltwater. You might even catch a diver feeding the animals. This is one of the original centerpieces of the aquarium and boasts the remarkable architecture of the original design.

Waters of the World

While many exhibits are dedicated to one particular habitat or climate, Waters of the World unites many different and otherwise unconnected habitats into one thematic exhibit. Exploring the many different river ecosystems throughout the world, this exhibit brings together wildlife from South America, Asia and Africa.

Wild Reef

Considering the amount of biodiversity found in coral reefs, it’s no wonder the Shedd houses two separate reef exhibits. The Wild Reef exhibit replicates a reef found in the Philippines. It is home to a number of striking examples of coral life, including sharks and stingrays, along with a number of living coral displays.

Abbott Oceanarium

If you are most interested in ocean mammals, such as beluga whales, sea lions and otters along with Pacific white-sided dolphins, then this is where you want to go. The seascapes are designed to replicate the Pacific Northwest. This is also where the very popular aquatic shows take place, so make sure to check the schedule and catch some of these remarkable creatures in action.

Polar Play Zone

Finally, if you have little ones traveling with you, you will definitely want to check out the area designed just for them. The Polar Play Zone gives kids the opportunity to explore aquatic life through interactive exhibits. Underwater viewing galleries give kids an unprecedented opportunity to get up close to some remarkable sea life, while kid designed activities, like penguin dress up and a replica kid size underwater exploration submarine, are perfect for the active learner.

The Best Places to Eat around Shedd Aquarium

Once you have finished exploring this Chicago cultural wonder, you are sure to be hungry. So don’t forget to plan a meal into your trip. To make the search a little easier, we’ve prepared this guide to the best food around Shedd Aquarium, organized by cuisine. So pick your favorite type of food and head out for some good eats.

Best Ramen — Strings Ramen

Ramen may historically be thought of as dorm food, but there is as much distance between cheap instant ramen and the ramen served at Strings as there is between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The house-prepared noodles are served in a wide variety of broths along with various proteins. We guarantee that once you try this ramen, you will be constitutionally incapable of even thinking about eating instant ramen again. Which, considering the ingredient list found in the instant variety, is probably a good thing.
The Shoyu Ramen, which features a light broth and bonito fish, is perfect for those who want a more delicate meal. Tonkotsu Ramen, which comes with either pork or duck, is a heartier yet equally delicious option. Finally, the Shio Ramen features a combination turkey and chicken broth, and pairs well with some hot sauce.

Best Deli — Eleven City Diner

This restaurant has held onto tradition, which makes it the perfect pairing with the historical architecture of the aquarium. The lunch counter harkens back to the kinds of roadside eateries that America grew up on. Combine this with a deep respect for the Jewish delicatessen tradition and you definitely have a recipe for success.

As with any excellent deli, the standout is the corned beef, piled a mile high. However, the pastrami and the smoked brisket are also excellent options. Those who prefer a cold sandwich will also love the chicken and tuna salad.

However, those who want to move off the deli menu will also be happy to know that the diner serves breakfast all day. Eggs, whether over easy or in a signature omelette, never disappoint. Of course, you can always opt for the fluffy buttermilk pancakes or Belgian style waffles.

For a family full of hungry mouths looking to recharge after a day spent exploring, this is an excellent option.

Best Dim Sum — MingHin Cuisine

Dim Sum is a unique experience. Beautiful bite size dishes are carted around, allowing customers to select their preferred items to be eaten on the spot.

MingHin takes dim sum seriously, so you come with a healthy appetite and be prepared to try a wide variety of Cantonese delicacies.

While you should feel confident ordering anything that piques your interest, we do want to point out a few of our favorites. The baby cuttlefish with curry sauce is wonderful, as is the short rib with honey sauce. The country style dumplings are a fabulous representation of classic Chinese cuisine as are the spring rolls.

Best Breakfast — Yolk

Yolk is taking breakfast to the next level. With an emphasis on fresh ingredients and innovative preparations, they are out to change the way you think about breakfast forever.

While you will find all of the breakfast classics on their menu, there are a couple of items that are worth noting. They offer a number of separate takes on benedicts. Also check out their famous 5 egg omelettes, decadent in all the right ways. They also have a number of exciting approaches to French toast and pancakes.

Best Breakfast

But they also extend their menu beyond breakfast. They have a number of excellent burgers and filling salads for those who want to have a more traditional lunch or dinner.

Best Soul Food — Buddy Guy’s Legends

Does anything go together better than soul food and the blues? Buddy Guy’s Legends is the place to experience the finest of both. Many of the best blues acts are features on Buddy Guy’s stage, but their menu is worth the trip on its own.

Their menu’s highlights include Louisiana Gumbo and Catfish Tenders. Both are authentic representations of Cajun cuisine. However, the best items are their entrée combos. The Soul Combo comes with both half a slab of ribs and a quarter BBQ chicken. The Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya comes with authentic cornbread. Finally, the Jumbo Gumbo features a heaping helping of shrimp, oysters, crab and crawfish tails.

Best Sushi — Coast Sushi Bar

Sushi is a fresh Japanese classic and Coast Sushi Bar has mastered this Asian cuisine. The menu respects the heritage of years of sushi masters while being unafraid to be innovative. Combined with great traditional Japanese appetizers and salads, a dinner at Coast is a great way to experience sushi, whether you are new to the cuisine of a raw fish veteran.

There are countless sushi rolls available, but our favorites are the Una rolls, which are freshwater eel and yellowtail tuna rolls.

They even offer desserts. We especially recommend the mochi, which are delicate ice cream dumplings wrapped in sweet rice flour that come in a variety of flavors.

Best Indian — Chicago Curry House

This combination Indian and Nepali restaurant offers the neighborhood’s best curries and flavorful dishes from the Subcontinent. The decor is comfortable yet elegant and the service is excellent and attentive. Nevertheless, their success is based on simple authentic dishes prepared with the freshest ingredients.

Like any Indian restaurant, this is a great option for parties featuring one or more vegetarians. Indian cuisine has a long tradition of full-flavored vegetarian dishes. Our favorites here include the Sag Chana, a dish prepared with spinach and chickpeas, Aloo Gobhi, which features well-spiced cauliflower and potatoes served in a gingery sauce.

Meat lovers won’t be disappointed either. The Chicken Tikka Masala is fabulous while the Lamb Vindaloo is a spicy option for those who like their food with a healthy dose of heat. If you’ve had a little more heat than you intended, cool off with a Mango Lassi, a delightful yogurt drink designed to cut through the spicy dishes Indian cuisine is known for.

Best Mexican — Frontera Fresco

Chicago has lately earned a well-deserved reputation for fabulous Mexican cuisine. Frontera Fresco is a top-notch example of this trend. The brainchild of Chef Rich Bayless, Frontera emphasizes the standards of Mexican cuisine prepared perfectly.

The best place to start is the tacos. Featuring fabulous proteins like short rib, Baja shrimp, carne asada or chorizo, these are the best examples of Mexican street food found on the coast of Lake Michigan.

However, if you want to go a bit further, Frontera Fresco also offers excellent quesadillas and tortas, a grilled Mexican sandwich. They also offer superb tamales, including a sweet corn and green chile tamale that features both ricotta and goat cheese, queso fresco, and green tomatillo salsa.

Best Burgers — Hackney’s

Sometimes you just want a classic burger, perfectly prepared. If that’s the case, look no further than Hackney’s. They have been serving burgers here for over 75 years. It all starts with their famous Hackneyburger, always ground fresh. But they also offer some more adventurous burgers, such as the Bleu Cheeseburger, their BBQ Mac & Cheeseburger, and their especially decadent Kobe burger, prepared with domestically-raised Kobe beef and topped with bacon. If you’d prefer something other than red meat, they also offer excellent turkey burgers.

Best Deep Dish — Giordano’s

Although Chicago has such an amazing variety of excellent eateries, in the end, Chicago cuisine begins and ends with deep-dish pizza. Here at Giordano’s, we are the consensus pick for best deep dish in the city.

Our buttery crust holds up a thick pile of toppings, fresh tomato sauce, and Wisconsin mozzarella cheese. With every loaded and gooey slice, you will be taking a taste of the quintessential Chicago cuisine.

Best Deep Dish

Plus, we offer a number of Italian and Chicago classics, including Chicago’s other famed food item, the Italian Beef sandwich.

If you are from out of town and you are hooked on that deep-dish taste, you can even ship a pizza. It’s also a great way to make your friends back home jealous.

Finally, with a number of locations across the city, you can find a Giordano’s regardless of where your Chicago explorations take you.

We take pride in presenting Mama Giordano’s authentic Easter Pie recipe to our favorite city in the world. So whether you are here to visit the famed Shedd Aquarium or any of our many other landmarks and cultural institutions, we would love to have you join us for a slice of authentic Chicago Deep Dish. No visit to the city is complete without one.