Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: Via Google Images & Instagram
The Bear is of the restaurant industry, by the restaurant industry, and for the restaurant industry, while still being accessible. You can feel the insider knowledge popping from the page via the exceptional acting. If Chicago is a character then the Chicago restaurant industry is the love child of The Bear.
Every episode pays homage to Chicago herself and the hospitality industry within. The show is brimming with cameos from chefs and restauranteurs.
What’s great about all these references is that they show that the OG mom-and-pop joints can and do serve as inspo for haute cuisine. In fact that is often how it works. Nostalgia is the seasoning in the Michelin kitchen.
So we went through the series and excavated all the references so you don’t have to.
Mr. Beef is the primary inspiration for The Beef on The Bear. Mr. Beef’s founder Joe Zucchero set up the restaurant in 1979. Unfortunately, he passed away earlier this year, but his son Chris has taken over. He has also made a few cameos on the show.
The Bear creator Christopher Storer worked at the iconic location and shot some scenes on location at the River North restaurant. Though most of them are in a studio. The Beef may have transformed into a fine-dining establishment but Mr. Beef, is still slinging its iconic sandwiches.
Superdawg can be spotted in the montage that opens S1E7. It is probably the most iconic place to get a Chicago dog. When I say it’s Iconic, I mean it has been around, unchanged since 1948. It has had a significant cultural impact on generations of Chicago Dog eaters. The spot retains its retro style and rooftop mascots who have been named Flaurie and Maurie since its opening. The restaurant and its hot dogs and fries are also seen in their signature boxes at the party Clare Bear brings Carmy to in S2E5.
This is referenced in a more roundabout way in season one. This is where the inspo for the decadent chocolate cake The Beef pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce) makes. Baker and Loaf Lounge proprietor Sarah Mispagel served as a consultant for The Bear. She technically made the Miss Trunchbull style Chocolate Cake which you can order by the slice or whole hog at Loaf Lounge. It’s also a cafe that serves sandwiches, rotating loaves of bread and other little treats.
Marcus gets inspiration for his Season 1 doughnut experiments by visiting Roeser’s, Chicago’s oldest family-owned bakery, which has been open at the same place in Humboldt Park since 1911. While it’s best known for its custom cakes, Roeser’s offers a wide selection of seasonal treats and is a particularly popular place to pick up paczki on Fat Tuesday.
Another legendary institution featured in The Bear’s Episode 7 montage is Gene & Jude’s! At Gene & Jude’s, it’s all about the Depression Dogs. Since 1946, this culinary gem has been slinging their iconic ‘red hots’, adorned with a medley of sport peppers, mustard, relish, and onions. In 1950, they made the move from Chicago to River Grove, solidifying their status as a beloved suburban hotspot.
This small, no-frills spot is the definition of a ‘joint’ that has stood the test of time. It still attracts generations of devoted customers who don’t even care that it’s standing-room-only. Yup, there are literally no seats and if you ask for ketchup they’ll mock you like your Da’ used to when you asked for avocado. If you’re making the pilgrimage prepare for a culinary cultural exchange and a half!
This spot neighbours The (fictitious) Beef and is seen loitering in the background throughout seasons one and two. Notably, Richie mentions it by name during Season 1 saying that it’s closing is indicative of the changing nature of the neighborhood. But the bar, which dates back to 1921, is alive and well. It’s a classic pub that slings American pub grub but also houses The Drifter, a speakeasy which is intentionally obscured in the basement.
While Mr. Beef is the primary inspiration for The Beef on The Bear, the show nods homage to Jonnie’s Beef too as part of the Episode 7 montage. Jonnie’s Beef is another iconic Italian beef joint. Open since 1961, this more suburban spot also slings Italian beef ceaprí. Here they pile them with their signature giardiniera. Unlike The Beef, they also dish out hot dogs, charcoal-grilled Italian sausages, and lemon Italian ice.
In S1E6 there’s a flashback where Carmy’s brother, Mikey, axes lyrical about Ceres Cafe when he retells a cannon event-level story of a wild night at the bar. Ceres Cafe is actually a bar in the Board of Trade building which has been open since 1967. It’s hard to contextualise for an Irish setting because there isn’t the same kind of afterword happy hour with the banker’s culture here. According to reports Ceres Cafe is known for its ‘faceless art deco statue of the namesake goddess’. It’s apparently the free pours and strong cocktails that have built it a formidable reputation.
Apart from Chicago Dogs, there is one other food that even in Ireland we know Chicago is famous for – deep-dish pizza. This spot is such an OG that it features in Episode 7 of both Season 1 and Season 2. This is the spot to hit up if you want to recreate the ‘where’s the cheeses it’s under the sauce’ TikTok sound. The full pie is notorious for its caramelized crust which is produced by burning mozzarella on the edges of a cast-iron pan. This spot was born in the year of our lord 1992 and the Morton Grove original dates back to 1970.
What’s a Chicago food montage without pizza? Sydney grabs a slice of pepperoni from Pizza Lobo (3000 W. Fullerton Ave.) in Logan Square during her research montage in S2E3 showing that Chicago isn’t just deep-dish. She also tries to poach some workers catching a break in the alley that leads to Lobo’s kitchen before being chased away. Which is gas, because this actually happens everywhere and is massively ground upon by the industry due to staffing shortages. So stealing staff from a pizza spot for a Michelin-chasing restaurant could actually happen.
So this just features in one of the ‘Chicago as a character’ scenes in n Season 2, Episode 7. You see the neon sign for Beck’s when Richie passes. Beck’s is a sports bar that plays home to Kansas City expats. It’s known as a spot where you can find some of Chicago’s best wings. Beck’s is owned by a bug Chicago team that also own another city icon known as Toon’s. Eater describes Toon’s as “a venerable Lakeview bar”. Which means it’s a proper post-swim spot for Chicago-ers.
S2E3 is named “Sundae” for the eponymous dessert Sydney treats herself to at Margie’s Candies. This is another post-WW1 OG and has been owned by the same family since 1933. A quintessential Chicago childhood experience is supposedly one of Margie’s banana splits on a sun-splitting summer’s day.
The scene in S2E3 where Sydney goes to get some advice from an old colleague is set in the fictional Verdana French Bistro. It was however filmed at a real location – Giant on Chicago’s Logan Square. According to the interwebs, you can see Gian’s ‘actual chefs can be seen working in the background’. The real Giant is known for its ‘tempura trout roe bites, beautiful plates of pasta, and spritz’s’.
Kasama is America’s only Michelin-starred Filipino restaurant. This place kicks off Sydney’s Chicago food tour in S2E3. Here she sinker her teeth into high-end mushroom adobo, a longanisa sausage sandwich with hashbrowns and a mango tart. Like what The Bear is aiming for Kasama has a morning and evening vibe shift. In the mornings you’ll find baked goods. The place transitions to a tasting menu at night. According to Eater ‘Chefs Tim Flores and Genie Kwon won the James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Great Lakes award this year’.
So this one is more for the eagle-eyed viewer. A receipt from Potash Markets can be spotted in Carmy’s apartment. While not overtly disclosed it’s also where he is shopping there when he runs into Claire Bear. Potash gives Fallon and Byrne. The spot has been specializing in locally sourced meat, produce, wine and beer in the Gold Coast since 1950. So if you want to recreate the best tv meet-cute since Nora Ephron you know where to hit up.
Lao peng you translates to “old friend.” In Sundae, S2E3, Sydney stops here for hand-rolled dumplings served in broth. This is an icon dish made famous by brothers Daniel and Eric Wat. The duo also serves a variety of sandwiches, noodle soups, and made-to-order lamb-cumin bread. The spot doesn’t take reservations and the queue is often ‘I’m-too-hungry-to-queue-in-that’ length. But if you have the patience of a saint the BYOB spot is apparently a vibe worth the wait.
In the world of The Bear, Ed Debevic’s is an inspirational place. By way of origin story in the show’s lore, Carmy’s dad decided to open The Beef after visiting it. The real-life, Ed Debevic’s has been open since 1984. In a similar vein to our own beloved Eddie Rockets, Ed Debevic’s is a ‘50s-themed diner known for its sass. Taking it a level further the servers here are dressed in costume and sometimes dance on the countertop. Think pancakes, coke floats and everything in between and you’ll get the gist of what they serve here.
Listen, how could they not? You literally can’t think of Chicago without thinking Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. Or at least you can’t if you are part of the Space Jam generation. So it wasn’t shoehorning it in when Marcus name dropped it. In S2E4 he cites his love for the double-smoked maple-glazed bacon burger. There’s also a little ‘90s Bulls story in the episode with Luca in Copenhagen.
His Nike Air-ness’s Magnificent Mile restaurant is a place to splurge in Chi-Town. It slings only the best flights of filet mignon and New York strip. Other luxuries on the menu include the required lobster tail and a 23-layer chocolate cake. According to Eater, there’s a ‘$75 cocktail made with Jordan’s favourite rye and tequila’ if you’re looking to drop some serious cash to taste what it’s like to be a famous baseball player.
Ever is the centrepiece of S2E7. This is the episode, guest starring Oscar Winner Olivia Colman, where Richie does a stage at a fictional version of the three Michelin stars holding restaurant. A stage is like work experience but particularly tailored to the restaurant industry and comes from the French tradition of the same name.
The actual head chef of Ever is Curtis Duffy and while he is camera averse those are his hand plating some of the restaurant’s 8 to 10 course tasting menu. This episode also featured many of Ever’s front-of-house staff, so the more perspicacious diners might recognize their server.
While no one actually mentions this spot outright in the series After Lounge’s kitchen is the unnamed Copenhagen restaurant where Marcus apprentices pastry chef Luca (Will Poulter) in S2E4. In reality, After Lounger is located right next door to Ever in downtown Chicago. The lounge is somewhat attached to Ever and functions as a place for diners to hit up before or after their meal with a dramatic cocktail. It’s like the way Glove Box was to Allta. It offers a small plate style way for more budget-conscious taste seekers to check out chef Curtis Duffy’s food.
While not a conventional restaurant this butcher actually does offer charcuterie boards made of its house-cured, smoked, and dried meats with or on slices of their sister bakery Publican Quality Bread. For context, this is where Sydney drops by in S2E3 to get some advice from head butcher Rob Levitt. According to the internet, the butcher used his own personal experience for his dialogue.
This is the spot Sydney hits up when she needs to test the pasta dish she has been composing in her head all day during S2E3. In the show, she is welcomed by real-life executive chef David Posey. David co-owns Elske with pastry chef Anna Posey, who also happens to be his wife. As you can probably tell from the fare Else is another Michelin-starred spot. The spot is great for curious diners because according to its website, it offers both a Scandinavian-inspired tasting menu and houses a full a la carte. As is the way they’re all seasonal and local ingredient-focused dishes.
Avec is one of the standouts in S2E3 with owner Donnie Madia taking centre stage, offering invaluable advice on hospitality to Sydney. This is the restaurant where Sydney eats the short rib and hummus while the staff, played by real staffers of Avec, get ready for service facing her.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Avec, meaning they opened in 2003. The place is well known for its high-end Mediterranean food. But these days it’s probably as well known for hosting the writers of The Bear multiple times to aid their research and exploration of the realm of fine dining.
This is where Nina trains all through season 2 while The Bear is falling apart/under construction. The highly regarded culinary arts and hospitality management program helps its students hone their skills by creating a professional environment at Kendall College Dining Room. And you can actually eat here. They offer some of the most affordable tasting menus in Chicago. If you keep an eye on their socials you’ll see they also occasionally host star ticket meals from big wig alumni.
Elsewhere on CHAR: How to Cook Every Dish on The Bear