Hot off the minds of Midwest travel writers: a fresh look at where to eat, drink, play and stay around the region.
tortazo food spread chicago
Credit: Courtesy of Tortazo

Eat and Drink

Torta Time, Chicago

Say adios to boring sandwiches. Renowned chef Rick Bayless' fast-casual spot, Tortazo, specializes in tortas. The Mexican-style sandwiches are slathered with black bean spread, stuffed with tasty toppings and griddled. Located in Chicago's iconic Willis Tower (with a second location to come in River North), the cafe tempts morning commuters with egg-filled tortas and draws the lunch crowd with items like the Crispy Chicken Milanesa (napa cabbage, pickled jalapeños, cotija cheese, avocado-tomatillo salsa, cilantro crema). Salads, soups and quesadillas round out the menu.

Travel tip: Even if you're only flying through Chicago, you can still sample one of Rick Bayless' Mexican-style tortas. Swing by Tortas Frontera on your next layover at O'Hare.

Do Good Seafood, Saugatuck, Michigan

Executive chef Rick Bower first encountered the principles of sustainable fine dining at the age of 15, through a high school program. His passion for acting locally to protect delicate ecosystems globally is directly reflected in his menu at Coast 236 Restaurant and Bar in the Lake Michigan town of Saugatuck. Last year, the James Beard Foundation recognized him with a Smart Catch Leader designation. This chef-driven educational program promotes the practice of sourcing and serving seafood in ways that minimize harm to delicate ecosystems. That means the menu may not include more than two "red list" items—seafood that is overfished, caught or farmed in unsustainable ways. With dishes like crispy Norwegian fjord trout and scallops paired with foie gras, Bower makes it easily delicious for guests to directly support his efforts to protect our oceans.

cbd-infused sweetly baked treats
Credit: Courtesy of Sweetly Baked

Feel the Buzz, Milwaukee

Eat, drink and be merry (or super chill) at these new Milwaukee spots.

Sweetly Baked

Amanda Buhrman couldn't find low-potency edibles apart from gummies in Milwaukee, so she opened Sweetly Baked, the city's only commercial CBD-infusion bakery. Confections like macarons and shortbread deliver that tiny bit of relaxation.

Daq Shack

Choose from 10 daiquiri varieties (a mystery flavor changes monthly), Jell-O shots or gummy bears soaked in alcohol. It's not as college party-esque as it sounds; you'll also find food like flatbreads and Sriracha Honey Salmon at this spot.

Nomad Coffee Bar

Coffee comes with a kick at Nomad Coffee Bar. But we're not talking about just a caffeine rush (although you'll get that too). The soccer-themed establishment specializes in boozy coffee drinks and offers suggestions to "Bend it" (like Beckham) by adding a shot to standard coffee offerings.

Hot Off the Grill, Detroit

Neon red lights. Upbeat music. Bold flavors. A sleek and sexy atmosphere. Welcome to Barda, Detroit's first Argentinian restaurant. "Everything here is touched by a blazing flame before it's plated by one of our chefs," says Samantha Mera, Barda's general manager. "The lingering smells of wood fire, chimichurri and charred onions are unforgettable." Headed up by Buenos Aires-born chef Javier Bardauil (whose nickname supplied the restaurant's moniker), the restaurant has a menu that hearkens to Latin roots. Try a strip loin steak with "chimibutter," saffron rice with seafood or Peruvian potatoes with cured egg yolk.

Pass the Schmear, Indianapolis

There was a time when you might have envied those in Josh Greeson's inner circle. Greeson, who worked in real estate, regularly brought his homemade sourdough bagels to holidays and family gatherings. Fortunately for the rest of us, Greeson turned his hobby into a delivery service in 2019 and recently opened a brick-and-mortar shop with his wife, Emily. "Downtown Indianapolis was a bagel desert when I first introduced our bagels," Greeson says. Now, Sidedoor Bagel is the go-to spot for sourdough-based, boiled-and-baked bagels in fan-favorite flavors like pretzel, spicy everything and rosemary sea salt, as well as a rotating selection of schmears.

concert under lights at summerfest milwaukee
Credit: Courtesy of Summerfest


Summer Song, Milwaukee

Get ready to boogie. Summerfest, billed as the world's largest music festival, returns to downtown Milwaukee in June and July. This year, the festival's eclectic, multigenre acts include Jason Aldean, Avril Lavigne, Backstreet Boys, Justin Bieber, Halsey, Lil Wayne, Wu-Tang Clan and Rod Stewart. Bop from one stage to another—there are 12 in all—and snap a selfie against the backdrop of Lake Michigan. By no means an adults-only affair, Summerfest lures families with extensive food stalls and a newly revamped rainbow-hued park, where rockers-to-be can jam out on interactive musical play sets.

Wine on the Greens, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Whether you prefer to pair your wine with fine dining, charcuterie, handcrafted pizza or barbecue (yes, we said barbecue), the Destination Geneva National Food and Wine Festival can make it happen. Held July 7–9 this year, the festival invites visitors to unwind against a backdrop of verdant green—the golf courses of the Geneva National Resort and Club. Festivalgoers can also pack their clubs for the weekend, but don't despair if that's not you. The Dance Floor—a new putting course with firepits, a taco bar and cantina, bocce ball, and surround sound—offers another way to enjoy summer's finest days and nights.

virtual reality experience holocaust museum
Credit: Scott Edwards

Never Forget, Skokie, Illinois

A sobering new exhibit at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center allows visitors to virtually walk alongside a Holocaust survivor as they share their story and revisit their past. Museumgoers don a VR headset to watch one of two powerful films led by survivors George Brent and the late Fritzie Fritzshall. The 360-degree visual and audio experience transports visitors to both present-day and historic Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Ebensee concentration camps. "Seventy years later, you go through this again and see places you haven't seen in 70 years," says 90-year-old Brent. "The places I have seen in VR are completely different from how I remember them when I was in the concentration camp. When I saw my hometown and my father's pharmacy, that really hit me emotionally." The Journey Back is situated beneath the train tracks that lead to the museum's German-period railcar, similar to the ones that transported many Jews to camps throughout occupied Europe.

Say Ahh, Minneapolis

Soak, sweat or shiatsu your worries away at the new Watershed Spa and Baths. "A watershed moment is a turning point, a time when important change happens," says founder Nell Rueckl, a leader in the spa industry. "We are at a moment in history when we need deep healing for ourselves, our communities and our planet." Occupying 11,000 square feet of the historic Switch House building in the St. Anthony Main neighborhood, the space emphasizes communal bathing with its soaking pool, cold plunge, steam room and sauna. The spa offers holistic treatments like bodywork, acupuncture and vibrational sound therapy. Let the healing begin.

Bask in the Afterglow, Chicago

A warm flicker illuminates the faces of a jazz quartet as they launch into "Can't Buy Me Love." The lighting, instruments and venue (in this case, a Lutheran church) are unexpected for a tribute to The Beatles—and that's exactly the point. Candlelight Concerts pop up at diverse locations throughout Chicago. Attendees might hear a string quartet playing The Four Seasons (or Taylor Swift songs), a choir trilling gospel classics or a jazz ensemble featuring Latin hits. No matter the genre, the juxtapositions and mood lighting are sure to delight.

tiny urban escapes hotel indianapolis
Credit: Courtesy of Siren Betty Design


Think Small, Indianapolis

Small can be mighty—just ask Robin Staten. Growing up in her grandmother's modest ranch house, Staten felt the power of place: "There was an overwhelming sensation of warmth and welcome. It was a small home with an immense ability to make one feel whole and well." Now, Staten invites guests to experience those same emotions at Tiny Urban Escapes, a micro hotel with an anticipated August launch. Located in the vibrant Haughville neighborhood, the hotel's four suites are constructed from upcycled shipping containers and emphasize wellness. "Guests should not expect a fast-paced lively vibe," Staten says, "but rather a retreat from the outside world."

All Seasons Luxury, Minneapolis

They had us at Chocolate Room. Yes, there's a temperature-controlled room in the kitchen of The Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis reserved solely for staff to craft artisan chocolates. That's just one of the many delights of this sumptuous new hotel, whose on-site restaurant and cafe are helmed by award-winning chef Gavin Kaysen. At Mara, Kaysen delivers tastes of the Mediterranean; Socca Cafe offers grab-and-go meals and gourmet pastries. Other reasons to book a stay? The pool plaza, a health and wellness floor, and unobstructed views of the Mississippi River or the city from every room. "Plus culture; sports; craft breweries; and trails for walking, running and biking—it's all here," says General Manager Florian Riedel.