|Despite the Valentine’s Day closing of one of the top restaurants in America, the famed Moto, Chicago remains a foodie’s dream stop. The Chicago restaurant scene is something fantastic, boasting some of the top restaurants in the country. I won’t be able to do the entire scene justice, but if you want to treat your taste buds to elegance, this is a good start.
A stop in the Windy City is not complete without a visit to one of my all-time favs, Girl and The Goat. Chef Stephanie Izard, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef, opened nearly six years ago and continues to pack in crowds with her eclectic and creative dishes of fish, fowl, pork and veges. Duck tongues, pork shanks, escargot dumplings and chickpea fritters to name just a few. But the unique thing about this restaurant is the selection of exotic goat-inspired dishes. Goat mousse. Goat empanadas. Goat Loin. Before you turn your head in disgust, keep in mind that goat is the meat of choice in Africa and parts of the Middle East. In other words, it is not as weird as you think. The menu changes from time to time but if you get a chance to order the once in a while offered goat belly, you will be dazzled.
Of course food in Chicago cannot be discussed without including Alinea in the conversation. Modern cuisine turning food into art. That group’s newest creation, however, is even more mind blowing. Next. Rated the Best New Restaurant of the Year. This modern fare takes themes every few months and creates a tasting menu that few have ever seen. One theme was Childhood, where expert chefs created modern takes on food kids grew up on. Another theme was The Hunt, offering various modern versions of game dishes. Modern Chinese and Modern Chicago Steak were other themes. By far one of the best restaurants ever, so long as you’re a foodie. Dinner is on the pricey side, at least $350 for two people if you have a couple drinks, so you had better like your date. And I mean like in a biblical kind of way. On the similar pricey but equally delicious side is the Michelin-starred restaurant Elizabeth, also with a unique dining experience like no other. You buy tickets in advance at Elizabeth, like going to a show, and indeed a food show it is.
Avec has been around the Chicago seen for many years but remains a Chicago staple and go-to. The food consistently is delicious, boasting such amazing dishes as sprouted lentil tabbouleh, wood oven paella and cocoa companelle pasta with duck leg sugo. Avec does not take reservations, either, so it is a good spot to visit when you forgot to plan in advance.
Chicago’s 2015 Restaurant of the Year was The Duck Inn. Located on South Eleanor in Chicago, it offers retro-inspired duck dishes, along with other creative twists on old classics. Lamb Chop Gyros, Bone-In Short Ribs and Pomegranate Striped Bass are just a few of the inviting options.
If you like Cajun-style seafood, The Angry Crab is for you. It went from an obscure restaurant to lines of people out the door without warning. The shellfish addict will love the mouth-watering sauce mixes and side dishes. A messy experience to say the least, but well worth the experience. Not a good first date place, unless your goal is a potential change of clothes later. Bib selfies are fun!
For lunch, you won’t want to miss Ralph Lauren’s restaurant just off Michigan Ave. It is a must visit every time I am in Chicago. Delicious bisques and chowders, and a turkey burger that is second to none. Reservations are suggested or you will be sitting at the bar, which is usually where I end up.
Other specialty gems include Mindy’s Hot Chocolate for, you guessed it, insanely delicious hot chocolate, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Band of Bohemia (from two Alinea alumni who continue to dazzle with modern-influenced food), Bunny the Micro-Brewery for creative baked goods and many, many more.
Move over Pad Thai. If you want to experience a more ethnic fare in a funky way, Arun is Thai food on modern hip steroids. With various multi-course tasting menus, you’ve never tasted Thai like this. Out of this world. It is a bit outside of downtown, but well worth the uber ride. This is not your grandfather’s Thai.
Of course tourists typically are directed to many old time favorites, like Gibson’s for steaks, or Mike Ditka’s to get a glimpse of the football legend in person, and even the decades old The Rosebud for Italian, but if you want to really experience food in a new way, I recommend trying one of the other unique gems in this article.
There is, however, one semi-oldie but goodie that is worth trying. Vermillion. Serving a fusion of Latin and Indian food. No, that was not a typo. The Mango Mojitos are dangerously good. The artichokes with a curry mango sauce are mouthwatering. Ever had naan bread and plantain chips in the same meal? If the Latin-Indian fare was not weird enough, I got a big laugh when a mixed Indian-Mexican couple sat down at the table next to me. I hope their kids turn out as good as the fused food. Tijuana meets New Delhi. Now that is cultural diversity!
Thank you Chicago for entertaining and delighting us with your food.