Midway “neighborhood” is actually the second largest airport in Chicago (and Illinois), which provides Chicagoans easy access to the rest of the world, as well as a number of restaurants and shops to help make your travel experience the best possible. Midway is a welcome alternative to the hectic terminals at O'Hare International Airport. Many times it can be cheaper to fly out of Midway as opposed to O'Hare. And, depending on where you are coming from, getting to Midway via public transportation or expressway can be a lot faster, too.
Then and Now
The entirety of what is known as Midway neighborhood is taken up by Illinois’s second-largest airfield, Midway International Airport. It is only eclipsed by Chicago’s own O’Hare International Airport. Of course, Midway wasn’t always such a bustling transportation station. Like all things, its beginnings were much humbler.
In 1923, the Chicago Air Park (the Midway name would come later) was built on 320 acres of land. It featured only a single cinder runway and primarily served airmail services. In 1927, the airport was dedicated as Chicago’s Municipal Airport (a rather uninspired name that nonetheless stuck, though pilots of the time referred to it as 'Munie') and underwent construction to bring the number of runways up to four, which were lit for night flights. Landings were handled by flagmen, who stood at the end of the runways and manually waved the planes to safe touchdowns. By 1931 Chicago’s Municipal Airport had gained the distinction of being the 'world’s busiest airport.'
In 1941, the airport—due to its long runways and inland position—joined the World War II efforts. Because of the increased war traffic, the federal government paid for construction of further improvements to the airfield, including more landing strips. That year, the Munie handled one fourth of the country’s air passengers. On July 8, 1949, the airport was renamed Midway International Airport after the World War II Battle of Midway. During the 1950s, Midway continued to experience increasing traffic, but it also began to suffer under the crunch. It was unable to handle larger airplanes with higher passenger loads, and the opening of the larger and more up-to-date O’Hare International Airport in 1955 led to the loss of over 60 percent of Midway’s former business. Many major carriers (such as United Airlines) pulled their planes from Midway, and things looked grim for the airport that was once the 'world’s busiest.'
In 1968, the city of Chicago invested ten million dollars into the renovation of Midway Airport, including the construction of the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), which would provide a major route for passengers to get to the airport. The improvements (along with the creation of major commercial planes that could take off and land on Midway’s shorter runways) helped usher passengers back to Midway. Additionally, Midway’s lower costs and proximity to Chicago’s downtown Loop helped make it the perfect home for a number of discount carriers, such as Southwest Airlines.
Today Midway Airport is an important part of Chicago’s livelihood—a secondary airport for one of the busiest travel cities in the world. With its eye perpetually turned toward the future, Midway is always looking to enhance the travel experience for its travelers. Recent additions have included an expanded baggage claim area and an increased number of ticket counters, as well as a new terminal-to-concourse bridge. Future developments are sure to further enrich travel through Chicago’s oldest airport.
What’s on the Menu?
These days airlines want you to arrive hours early, so flying always involves plenty of downtime in the airport. We know there’s nothing worse than going hungry in the terminal, but luckily Midway has you covered with a generous selection of pre- and post-flight dining options.
Let’s say you’ve got an early flight, which leaves you sitting around the airport for hours hankering for a coffee. Midway has a number of cafes just for such an occasion. Dunkin Donuts most clearly represents that morning need for a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee, as well as offering their extensive selection of donuts. Personally, we’re fans of the pink frosted ones, but then again, it’s hard to turn down a ring of chocolate. For something a bit healthier than a combo of caffeine and sugar, you might want to check out Juice It Up, a little stand that squeezes up fruit juices to order. The menu also offers a light selection of sandwiches and snacks, but the fresh squeezed orange juice is the real reason to stop by. For something substantial to go with your coffee or juice, we heartily recommend Manny’s Coffee Shop and Deli, a Chicago staple since 1942 (the original location is on Jefferson Street; the Midway location came a few years later), that boasts 'the best corned beef sandwich in the city,' a claim that’s hard to dispute. In addition to these mountains of corned beef piled between slices of bread, Manny’s offers a number of other delicious breakfast and lunch items ranging from pancakes and eggs to lox on bagels and moist turkey breast. Don’t forget to order a side of their famous crisp potato pancakes. You won’t be disappointed.
Now before your flight to Bali, you might be looking for something a bit lighter (and faster) than a mountain of corned beef, so Midway conveniently offers two of Chicago’s finest purveyors of hot dogs. Gold Coast Hot Dogs serves up both steamed and charred dogs, so you can get yours just the way you want it. The hot dogs are served up Chicago-style, which means with mustard, relish, onions, tomato, pickles, sport peppers, and celery salt, and NO ketchup! For those not in a hot dog mood, they also offer other menu items, such as Italian beef and gyros. Superdawg also has the classic Chicago-style hot dog—prepared to perfection. And an added bonus: Superdawg features ice cream delights and juicy grilled burgers, all served with the most expedient of speed because chances are you’ve got a plane to catch.
Since you’re probably at Midway to travel across the globe, wouldn’t it make sense for them to also offer foods from around the world? It makes sense to us at least. Midway has a fine selection of restaurants representing a wide range of countries. King Wah Express represents China and offers a moderate menu of well-known Chinese dishes. The crab rangoon is exceptionally light and crispy, yet flavorful, and the egg rolls make a fine in-between-flights snack. Lalo’s Mexican Restaurant offers an extensive assortment of traditional Mexican dishes. Enjoy flautas and chimichangas, tacos and burritos at the chain’s airport location, which makes the dining experience extra pleasant by offering its own dining area separate from the bustle of the concourse. Pegasus Restaurant & Taverna also has its own non-food court dining room. The Midway branch of the renowned Chicago Greek restaurant, serves the tastiest of Greek specialties, on the fly. With moussaka (a layered eggplant dish with ground beef and lamb, zucchini and cheese) and dolmathes (seasoned ground beef and lamb wrapped in grape leaves) on the menu, you know you’re going to eat better than you’d expect to at the airport. We recommend starting with a bowl of avgolemono (a delicious soup of chicken broth, egg, rice, and lemon) and saving room for some decadent baklava.
Best Shopping Stops
After you’re done eating, you’ll probably still have some time to kill before your flight so why not spend some time shopping? Midway has a number of different places where you can spend your last bit of unconverted American currency before departing. Or maybe you just landed and remembered you need a gift for someone perhaps? No matter the reason, shopping is something else Midway offers in spades.
Chicago’s Treasures provides the most obvious souvenir shopping. The store’s numerous shelves are packed with key chains, postcards, stickers, shirts, shot glasses, and other knickknacks featuring images of Chicago landmarks. If you’re looking for a gift to prove you spent time in the city of Chicago, this is the place to get it. Items range from classy (some of the Chicago architecture photo books are quite nice and would be a proud addition to anyone’s coffee table) to tacky (the Hancock Building and Sears Tower salt and pepper shakers come to mind), but there’s something here for every price range, so you can grab something for pretty much anyone on your 'people to get gifts for' list.
For something to read on the plane, stop by Hudson News, a store specializing in newspapers, periodicals, and books. The square footage of the store isn’t terribly impressive, but their selection still manages to be awfully inclusive. Magazines range from Seventeen to Time to Cat Fancy, and the newspapers offer news from all over the world (as well as all the major Chicago publications of course). Now, the book selection isn’t massive (it’s no Borders), but they do offer a nice mix of fiction, non-fiction, and genre works. The point is that if you forgot to pack something for your trip, Hudson News is a fine place to pick up something to read during the few-hour plane ride ahead of you.
Then there are the other stores, each specializing in specific wares. George’s Music Room sells CDs and music DVDs for people who just can’t wait to have some new music. For golf fans the US Open Golf House showcases a bit of golf equipment, but mostly golf-related paraphernalia, such as the ever popular 'I’d rather be golfing' mug. If the victim of pickpocket crime while abroad, wander into Wilson’s Leather, where an enormous selection of wallets and purses will help you forget all about those stolen credit cards and cash. And if you’ve got sentiments to express, but you just can’t find the words, let the fine employees of Viva’s Hallmark help you out. Viva’s has a fantastic collection of cards to convey every possible feeling for every possible occasion. Happy about a birthday? Viva’s has you covered. Sorry you missed your parents’ golden anniversary? Viva’s got just the thing. Feel bad about leaving your kids at home with the grandparents while you jet off to an exotic paradise? You guessed it—Viva’s.
Night on the Town
Travel can be stressful, enough so to make you wish for a nice, tall drink. Well, why not enjoy one? Midway boasts a number of fine bars, though sadly—as you might expect from an airport—no swinging nightclubs. We’ll let you in on a couple of our favorite little preflight hangouts.
Miller’s Pub is a cozy place to enjoy a great cocktail or a beer (they offer standard fare such as Budweiser, as well as more interesting brews like Woodpecker Cider and Killian’s Red). In addition to fine drinks, Miller’s Pub also offers some decent pub grub. They boast award-winning ribs, which drip with delicious sauce—a perfect sendoff for your next trip. Ribs aside, they offer Greek salads and terrifyingly thick double burgers (don’t ask us how you are supposed to get your mouth around that sucker!). Halsted St. Tap likewise offers a nice place to enjoy an adult beverage. Beer’s the primary item on the menu (it’s located adjacent to Manny’s Coffee Shop and Deli, so good food is right next door), but the pleasant atmosphere makes it a fine place to enjoy that frosty brew. Halsted St. Tap harkens back to the 1940s in decor, and features photos and memorabilia from the era, further completing the little time warp you go through upon entry.
Traveling to and from Midway is easy—a large reason why the airport remained relevant despite a larger, newer counterpart (O’Hare) being built up north. And, of course, we aren’t just talking about travel by plane. Thanks to Chicago’s public transportation system (the CTA), getting to Midway Airport is a breeze.
The simplest way to get to Midway, or back home after your return flight has landed, is through one of Chicago’s elevated train system (widely known as the 'El'). The Orange Line El begins at Midway airport and then runs through the city into the downtown Chicago Loop, and then heads back to the airport. This provides a quick, easy, and cheap way to get from the airport to downtown and vice-versa. Even if you don’t live near one of the Orange Line stops, most every El train runs through the Loop, which offers a point where you can transfer to the Midway-bound train. The CTA also operates a number of buses that run between Midway and other key points in the city.
Of course, after being cooped-up on a plane for several hours (or before being cooped up on a plane for several hours), you might be more apt to travel to and from the airport on your own. In this case, Midway allows for very easy transportation by car. The Stevenson Expressway (I-55) runs from Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive and through the city to the southwest. It not only runs past Midway, it was constructed for the expressed purpose of providing a simple and direct route to and from the airport. If you choose to drive yourself to the airport (as opposed to convincing your parents, fiancee, or grandmother to drop you off), you can park in the Midway Airport Parking Garage, a covered multi-tiered parking facility that allows you to park your car (for a fee) while you’re off in Aruba.
The following are just a taste of the shopping and dining Midway has to offer. Discover the rest as you explore the airport while waiting for your flight to board.
King Wah Express
Dot Com Cafe
Juice It Up
Manny’s Coffee Shop and Deli
Oak Street Beach Cafe
Potbelly Sandwich Works
Taylor Street Market
Gold Coast Dogs
Pegasus Restaurant & Taverna
Ben & Jerry’s
Lalo’s Mexican Restaurant
Home Run Inn Pizza
Luigi Stefani Pizzeria
Halsted St. Tap
Illinois Bar & Grill