Chicagoans may have already erased the Bears’ season from their minds, but the playoffs are just beginning for 12 teams that either played well for the last 17 weeks or were lucky enough to play the Texans at some point. Still, since it is winter and since there is football on television, you have to pick a team to support to the Super Bowl. Once you have a team, here are some suggestions for how you can eat and cheer without leaving Chicago.
Although The Irish Oak's (3511 N. Clark St.) undying support for Notre Dame sports makes perfect sense, it also happens to be a home base for devoted Denver football fans. Chicago Bronco Nation—a fan group currently boasting more than 200 members—began its search for the perfect Chicago-based Broncos bar in 2004 and ended up claiming the cozy wooden confines of The Irish Oak.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Star recently published an article praising Smoque BBQ (3800 N. Pulaski Rd.), claiming that it “does barbecue that rivals Kansas City’s best.” Just FYI.
New England Patriots
When the Boston Globe calls your Chicago bar “a sports sanctuary of sorts for transplanted Bostonians and New Englanders in search of a bit of the Hub in the Windy City,” you’re probably doing something right. This is definitely the case for the Massachusetts natives who founded Tripoli Tap (1147 W. Armitage Ave.). Groupon Getaways writer and Patriots devotee Lexi Costello praises the bar’s gritty spirit. “It’s a no-frills, die-hard fan’s joint,” she says. “There’s a bartender who opens beer bottles with the inside of her elbow. ... I’m always thoroughly impressed.”
Visit Zebra’s Gourmet Hot Dogs (744 W. 35th St.), which loads Cincinnati-style chili, cheddar cheese, and raw onions onto one of its hot dogs. It doesn’t look like the hot dog includes a serving of cold, gluey spaghetti, but that’s probably for the best.
Located within staring distance of Wrigley Field, it makes sense that Sluggers World Class Sports Bar (3540 N. Clark St.) managed to earn the No. 3 spot on ESPN’s 2007 list of Baseball’s Top 10 Bars and Grills. However, the tavern also claims to be home for “Colts fans throughout the Chicagoland area,” setting aside its back bar for the blue and white–clad crowds on game days.
San Diego Chargers
The average January high in San Diego is 65 degrees. Even Chicago saunas are lucky if they hit 65 in January. Finding a place that feels like home may be difficult, though you can warm up in the steam rooms at Red Square (1914 W. Division St.) in Wicker Park.
Hawks Nest Chicago takes its fandom for the Seahawks seriously, arranging road trips for its members to travel together and see games throughout the Midwest. When travel is out of the question, the group gathers at Newport Bar & Grill (1344 W. Newport Ave.) and cheers on the team from afar.
San Francisco 49ers
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, milk was the state’s No. 1 commodity in 2012. Fittingly, the grilled-cheese paradise of Cheesie’s Pub & Grub (958 W. Belmont Ave.) just happens to be a haven for Chicago-based 49ers fans. It’s almost too perfect.
James Gottwald and Jennifer Monti—the husband-and-wife team behind Monti’s (4757 N. Talman Ave.)—bring a small piece of their Philadelphia home to Chicago by serving hearty cheesesteaks featuring shaved Black Angus rib eye, Amoroso’s rolls imported from Philly, and a choice of three cheese sauces. To round out the menu’s mid-Atlantic flavors, the eatery also serves orders of soft pretzel nuggets as well as Tastykakes for dessert.
The last time the Panthers made the playoffs was in 2008. Iron Man was released in 2008 and Iron Man 3 was released in 2013. If this doesn’t count as a sign that you need to watch the Iron Man movies before every Panthers kickoff, then I don’t know what would. Obviously, Iron Man 2 doesn’t count. Still, if you need to eat, there’s slow-smoked, Carolina barbecue at Lillie’s Q (1856 W. North Ave.).
New Orleans Saints
Despite the eatery’s name, the most lauded menu item at Jimmy’s Pizza Cafe (5159 N. Lincoln Ave.) is a New Orleans delicacy: the beignet. “[Owner Jimmy Kang’s] beignets, under a cloud of powdered sugar, are light and wonderful—every bit as good as Café du Monde’s in New Orleans,” said Chicago magazine’s Jeff Ruby.
Green Bay Packers
Why don’t you just go to Wisconsin? It’s right there.
Photo credit: Nathalie Lagerfeld, Groupon