While Chicago is widely known for its dining spots, where do you go if you're a cook looking to throw together a quick meal or serve a whole party?

The Spice House

1512 N. Wells Street, Chicago, Illinois 60610 USA; Phone: 312-274-0378, Fax: 312-274-0143
Hours: M-Saturday 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.; Sunday 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

If you're at all into cooking and you're in Chicago, you absolutely owe it to yourself to visit the Spice House. Tucked away in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood, The Spice House offers a wide variety of bulk herbs and spices, most ground fresh that week (for example, according to the website, they grind a hundred pounds of their Cassia cinnamon per week in order to keep up with the demand.) When you visit the Spice House, there are many small shakers next to the products, allowing you to take a smell of their spices and blends. It's a feast for the senses as the magnificent smells of their products really show what an amazing thing *fresh* spices are.

Additionally, while the Spice House carries a wide variety of herbs and spices, they've also got a series of  "blends" (some of them named after Chicago neighborhoods) of herbs and spices that are meant to go well with various dishes. The Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Spice Blend ( Hand mixed from: Parmesan cheese, garlic, Italian herbs, sweet paprika, salt, onion powder, black pepper, and crushed red peppers.) and Sunny Paris (freeze-dried shallots, ground Mysore green peppercorns, dill weed, freeze-dried scallions, French basil, French tarragon, French chervil, finely minced parsley flakes, and ground Muntok white pepper.) are a couple of the many fine examples. The cozy store also sells basic spice accessories (grinders, jars, etc.) and themed box sets, which are great gifts. All of their products can can be ordered on the website, as well. The website also has recipes and a message board. Best of all, given the fact that the store doesn't use fancy packaging (the Spice House uses glass jars or sturdy resealable bags), the price is almost always noticably lower than in the supermarket - and here, you're getting much fresher product.

Fox and Obel

401 E. Illinois, Chicago IL, 60611; Phone: 312 410 7301
Hours: 7 days, 6am to midnight 

Similar to Dean and Deluca, Fox and Obel's upscale grocery store is located just a few blocks East of Navy Pier, at the corner of Illinois and McClurg.  Foodies will thrill at the mid-sized store's selection of beautiful breads (the garlic focaccia is wonderful), produce, cheeses, sweets and more. The store also has a cafe, as well as a wide selection of wines. Although the Spice House is the prime place for herbs and spices, Fox and Obel also has a very nice section of herbs and spices in tins. Additionally, book signings, tastings, classes and other events also occur at the store - the complete listing of upcoming events can be found at the store's website.

Whole Foods

30 West Huron, Chicago, IL 60610; Telephone: 312.932.9600, Fax: 312.932.9700
Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Although there are additional locations North of the downtown area on North and also on Ashland, Whole Foods can be found downtown at 30 E. Huron. The chain has been expanding greatly in recent years and this particular location sees an exceptional amount of foot traffic. The best time to go is when the store first opens until around lunchtime and into the afternoon, when the aisles can become as congested as a Chicago expressway. As with the rest of the chain, this location offers an excellent selection of produce, seafood, baked treats, meat, wine and cheese. A hot food bar is extremely popular with the lunch crowd. There's also a wide variety of breakfast food, chocolates, snacks and bath/body products. Be sure to check the website (wholefoods.com) for a list of the current sales. Additionally, the store does deliver, as well: they deliver from 11AM to 6PM. No Sunday or holiday deliveries. Call Customer Service at 312-932-9600 for more details.

Bed, Bath and Beyond

530 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60610; Telephone: (312) 755-9890
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9am - 9:30pm, Sunday 10am - 7pm

Yep, there's Bed, Bath and Beyond anywhere, but the store does offer the occasional deal on silverware, kitchen tools, glasses and other odds and ends in the clearance bins scattered throughout the different sections of the store. The store often sends out 20% off one item coupons.

Sur La Table

52-54 East Walton Street, Chicago, IL 60611; Telephone: (312) 337-0600, Fax: (312) 337-7454;
Hours: Monday-Friday 10am - 7pm, Saturday 10am - 6pm, Sunday 11am - 5pm

 A great choice for a wider variety of cookware and other kitchen essentials (small appliances, linens, molds,  is Sur La Table, an upscale store just off Michigan Ave. The store is on the pricey side, but sales are fairly frequent. Additionally, the store holds a series of culinary classes throughout the month that can be registered for on the website.

Farmer's Markets:

Chicago has several terrific farmer's markets in or near downtown and all of them are wonderful options for picking up fresh produce, baked items, cheese, flowers, spices or other odds and ends. Of particular note is the Green City Market, a farmer's market in Lincoln Park that is all organic. More information can be found at http://www.chicagogreencitymarket.org/

Daley Plaza, Washington and Dearborn. 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 25, and Sept. 8, 22 and 29. (No market July 28.)

Federal Plaza, Adams and Dearborn. 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Oct. 25.

Lakeview. Nettlehorst School, Broadway and Melrose. 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 29. For information, call (630) 784-0862.

Lincoln Park. Parking lot of Lincoln Park High School, Armitage and Orchard. Saturdays through Oct. 29.

Lincoln Park. 1750 N. Clark (south end of Lincoln Park, just north of the parking lot). 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays through Oct. 29. (Chicago's Green City Market operates this location. Call 847-835-2240.)

Near North Side. On Division between State and Clark. Saturdays, June 18-Oct. 22.

Printers Row, Dearborn and Polk. Saturdays, June 18-Oct. 22.

Prudential Building Plaza. Lake and Beaubien. 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, June 14-Oct. 18. .

Sears Tower, Jackson and Wacker (on the park between the 311 S. Wacker building and Sears Tower). 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays, June 16-Oct. 20.

Streeterville. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago (on the plaza). 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, June 14-Oct. 18.