BEST OF CHICAGO: Restaurants

Bored of Evanston food? Want to get out there and see what Chicago has to offer? 10 restaurants that are changing the game.

[originally published on Cat the Critic]

11324506_120618954959754_1941293489_n(1)

Au Cheval – West Loop

Au Cheval’s burger is touted as one of Chicago’s best, and for a good reason. It’s served classically with a sunny-side up egg and super thick bacon. Order it with a side of fries, and you’re set.

I haven’t been back since the beginning of sophomore year, but I really do need to make the trip back soon. This small restaurant is typically very busy during peak meal times, but if you happen to find yourself in the West Loop on a Tuesday afternoon or something, be sure to stop by. There’s so much more to this restaurant than just the burger, apparently. The menu’s got some dank-sounding items, like roasted marrow bones and crispy potato hash. DROOL.

TL;DR: Au Cheval is one of those bucket-type list of restaurants that you’ve gotta try at least once when you’re living near Chicago. 

12070744_255534858131655_688084314_nQuartino – Downtown

The first time I ate at Quartino, it was with my friend Colin during the summer before senior year. The next time I ate there, almost two years later, it was with my friend Edwin as part of Chicago Restaurant Week. It took me a while to make the connection that this was the same restaurant I had eaten at previously, but the second experience reaffirmed my appreciation for this restaurant.

Quartino serves fancy-ish Italian food for a price that doesn’t decimate your wallet, in an ornate restaurant setting, complete with excellent service. If you’re looking to wow someone, take them downtown, as this place is just a short walk from the Red Line Grand stop. The open-air upstairs balcony, as well as the cushy and casual outdoor seating will make for the perfect summer dinner date spot.

Dishes/plates that I’d recommend:

  • Beef carpaccio with shaved celery and Parmigiano Reggiano, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil
  • Roasted baby octopus with braised escarole

12750068_954485971272610_983362714_nVapiano’s – The Loop

Vapiano’s is all about simple, fresh Italian food, so much so that when you order your meal, the cook rips fresh herbs from plants sitting up on the counter where you order and throws it straight into the pan. This, combined with the huge wall of inspirational quotes about hard work and good food, gave me high expectations for the meal. The pasta is homemade, the sauce is prepared in-house and they give you complete autonomy over your meal. You can customize it however you’d like, but they also recommend some killer combinations.

The food is wholesome but straightforward, and above all, utterly delicious. It’s not pricey at all, and you could easily bring home a large portion of leftovers. Kenton brought me to Vapiano’s after a great day of exploring downtown Chicago. I ordered Arrabbiata with spinach and mushrooms, which was a tomato sauce loaded with onion, chili and garlic. The pasta was perfectly cooked and had a substantial bite, and balanced perfectly with the sauce and vegetables.

Aside from pasta, they also have a pretty extensive pizza menu that I’m curious to explore. 12628006_1553114791647273_1375964631_n

DMK – Navy Pier

DMK @ Navy Pier is the next best thing ever since the location on Noyes Street closed down. I already ranted about how much I love these gourmet burgers last year, and even though I can’t walk down the street and pick up a #4, I can at least take the Intercampus shuttle to Navy Pier on weekdays for free. It’s just a little more than a half-hour ride from campus.

DMK is located in Navy Pier’s food court, and Natalie and I ate here before an ~unforgettable~ Kygo concert. If you have a penchant for gourmet burgers, look no further than DMK. That, and they also have dope fries, milkshakes and fish entrees.12071243_170954783242453_743809165_n

Pequod’s Pizza – Lincoln Park

Noah Isackson, my journalism instructor from fall quarter of sophomore year, recommended this restaurant to our class, which met in downtown Chicago to cover some new event every week. A group of students, myself included, took him up on his offer and actually went to the restaurant after our first class. From then on, the Pequod Squad was established and visited a multitude of unique Chicago restaurants after class downtown wrapped up. During fall quarter, we indulged in ramen, pho, food truck grub and a lot more.

I consider this the best deep-dish in Chicago, but ironically the menu says that they serve “pan pizza.” From what I can tell, the main difference is that the crust is slightly less thick/tall, but Pequod’s makes up for it with an unprecedented crispy and flavorful crust, which is rewarding given that so many deep-dish crusts are just soggy barriers for the delicious fillings. This place just barely beats Lou Malnati’s for best Chicago deep-dish.

Del Seoul – Lincoln Park

13402530_874231089373212_218178827_n

Del Seoul, a Korean street food fusion restaurant recommended by Natalie, is absolutely worth the trip out to Lincoln Park. I’ve come here many times, first with the Pequod Squad, then with a group of friends before a Louis the Child concert. I highly recommend splitting the Kalbi poutine with friends. Fries with short rib, crema and cheese and pickled red onions made in house?? Yes please. Order a few tacos each, and you’ll be set.

The spicy BBQ pork taco is particularly rewarding, but I’ve also heard great things about the shrimp and fish tacos as well. The K-town chicken wings are intricately prepared – ‘lollipopped‘ and cooked in a soy sauce, chili and garlic glaze – but a bit pricey. The kimchi fries sound great in theory – fries topped with kimchi, pork belly, melted cheese and sour cream – but something was off about the overall balance of flavors, and we found ourselves not enjoying it as much as we thought we would.

Most of the tacos come with an ample amount of ‘secret slaw’, cilantro and onion relish and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. The next time I go back – there WILL be a next time – I’m excited to try a banh mi sandwich, to see how Del Seoul does Korean-Vietnamese fusion.

Sunwah BBQ – Argyle

13694647_1569165153388536_1816137360_n(1)

This family-style Chinese BBQ restaurant is just a two-minute walk from the Argyle Red Line stop. Roast duck and other cooked meats are prominently displayed in the window, hinting at the delicious and authentic food within. After rallying a group of 4+, make a reservation and be sure to ask about the Peking duck, which is what Sunwah is known for.

The whole roast duck rolls up to your table on a cart and gets sliced up table-side, much like how some restaurants prepare guacamole next to your table, with everyone oohingand ahhing as the guy mashes the avocados. You get to stuff warm steamed buns with the thin slices of duck and top it with julienned vegetables and that sweet and salty Peking duck sauce.

Each platter of duck feeds 3-4 and comes with a variety of dishes, including fried rice and duck soup. We ordered much more food than we needed and ended up paying $22 each, but it was absolutely worth it.

Kuma’s Corner – Avondale

FullSizeRender

Back in January when I interviewed local Chicago band Even Thieves, one of the band members recommended Kuma’s Corner when I asked everyone what their favorite Chicago restaurants were. A few Northwestern alumni have also mentioned Kuma’s as having amazing burgers, so naturally, I had to make the trip to see what all of the fuss was about.

Getting to Kuma’s Corner isn’t that difficult, it’s just a bit time-intensive. Christina and I took the Red Line to Belmont, transferred to a bus and rode it for 20 minutes until it dropped us off right in front of the restaurant.

Kuma’s makes up for its quaint quarters with loud, heavy rock music, a full bar and an extensive drinks menu. My Kuma Burger ($14) came with bacon, cheddar and a fried egg, as well as a handful of rustic fries with the skin on. The food was messy but extremely satisfying, but I wish the pretzel bun were toasted.

I do want to go back, as the menu lists a bunch of burgers with creative and innovative topping combinations, like the Led Zeppelin, which has bacon, pork shoulder, BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese and pickles!.

Belly Shack – Logan Square

IMG_3964

I went to Belly Shack with a group of friends before a Mr. Carmack concert. It’s half an hour away from campus by car, but if you’re taking public transit, it will take you an hour and a half. Take the Red Line to Jackson and then transfer to the Blue Line for 15 minutes. Belly Shack is worth the trip if you find yourself around the area. I’ll probably hit this place up the next time I attend a concert at Concord Music Hall.

My Belly Dog ($9) came topped with egg noodles, pickled green papaya and a sprinkle of some chopped herb, maybe cilantro. The soft chewiness of the bun balanced the fresh, bright crunch of the pickled papaya. The dog came with a spiced curry mayo and togarashi fries to dip, which are fries seasoned with Japanese pepper spice. The combo was a creative, Asian-inspired take on a classic American meal.

Next time, I’m excited to try the hoisin pork steamed buns or the lemongrass chicken gyro. The soy balsamic broccoli also has me curious. A vegetable side dish that incorporates both bacon and soy sauce? Interesting.

If you’re hungry for more belly, fear not. Belly Shack is the less expensive sister ofUrbanbelly, an innovative Korean restaurant in West Loop. You can also visit bellyQ, an Asian-inspired BBQ restaurant armed with locally farmed ingredients.

Piece Brewery & Pizzeria – Wicker Park

IMG_3898Christina introduced me to Piece when she boasted about the restaurant’s great Yelp reviews. We went on a Saturday night, took a number (the wait time was an hour), and then walked two minutes to the Double Door for a concert. We jammed out to Even Thieves for an hour or so, and then headed back.

Piece does not serve deep dish; if you’re fiending for some, see #5 on Part 1. Piece serves ‘New Haven style pizza,’ for which the crust is known for having a crispy exterior and a chewy interior, and has about the same thickness as the average Domino’s pizza. However, Piece’s food product is outstanding due to a flawless execution, and the pizza tastes more rustic. How something can taste rustic, I’m not really sure, but *shrug*.

Chris and I ordered a large buffalo chicken pizza, which was a special that they had going on the weekend that we were there. It was delicious, with large chunks of pizza scattered across the crust, generous drizzles of hot sauce and a gloriously crunchy but chewy crust. We finished three large slices each and felt ~super good~ about ourselves for the rest of the night.

Piece is THE PLACE to go for a late dinner during a night out in Wicker Park (so like, most nights of the week) if you’re willing to wait a bit. It’s open late on weekends, there’s live band karaoke on Saturday nights, and as the name suggests, they serve hella beer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.