It’s common sport among food nerds to debate the best cities to eat in America. New York generally gets the nod for the most awe-inspiring restaurant scene, due to its ability to attract hyper-talented chefs from around the country and world. West Coast culinary capitals like San Francisco and Seattle are celebrated for reverential treatment of top-notch produce and seafood. But when it comes to crowning the best food town, period, Chicago takes some beating.

Beyond its convenient location between the coasts, Chicago stands out for capturing an all-encompassing energy that goes beyond star-power, ingredients, or ideology. Neighborhoods with strong ethnic roots ground the city’s obsession with good food. Vernacular eats like deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs are world-famous for a reason. And among the ranks of boldfaced chefs, the town has a tradition of trailblazing—Rick Bayless for contemporary Mexican, Charlie Trotter for fine dining, and Grant Achatz for modernist cuisine.

If all this culinary culture didn’t already qualify Chicago as the center of the American food world, it certainly will be this weekend when an all-star squad of chefs (Paul Liebrandt, Erik Anderson), restaurateurs (Will Guidara), and food writers (Francis Lam) swing into town for “Imbibe & Inspire: The Roots of American Foodways.” The one-day symposium, hosted by Imbibe & Inspire‘s Stephen Torres, will explore the foundations and future of American cooking through presentations, demos, and a blowout eight-course feast.

So what do all these culinary heavyweights get up to when they’re in town? From Matthew Lightner’s favorite burger to Ed Lee’s pick for late-night munchies, find out where food-world pros eat and drink when they’re in Chicago, and what makes the city such an inspiring place for chefs.

“Imbibe and Inspire: The Roots of American Foodways” takes place at the Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront this Sunday, September 29, from 10am-9pm. Tickets are $225 and can be purchased here.