And, so, about 4 months into my Chicago adventure, I’m still hungry to find the Chicago restaurants that catch my eye and make a memory for my tastebuds. I’ve been lucky to try several Chicago pizza joints and a number of different restaurants from bruncheries to dinner menus, though few so far have struck my fancy and inspired a return visit (or a blog post). I thought I’d give a highlight of those that have made a lasting impression on me so far:
En Hakkore (Wicker Park/Bucktown)
I kinda think they don’t have a website, which might give a new literal meaning to ‘hidden gem’. But, I woke up to an email about it from Thrillist with mouthwatering photos, and luckily, I just joined the team at a foodie-filled digital marketing agency in Wicker Park – mere steps away from our office and it was chosen as our team lunch location the same day. Coinkidink, I would say! The Super White Tuna Ceviche roll was my lunch choice, and a stellar one. The tuna was fresh and spicy with an elevated level of heat, the rice was soft, yet of substance, the veggies inside were crunchy. Likely what would seem like a typical spicy tuna roll. But what really added new dimensions to the dish were the bright and fresh splashes of cilantro and the rustic cracked pepper that just awoke my senses when combined with the jalapeno round and chili sauce dot that rested atop each piece of the roll. It was just the right combination of flavors and colors and textures – so well done! And, it was only $8! The other star of the table was the bibimbap, what seemed to be bottomless bowls of fresh and vibrant vegetables sitting atop brown or long grain rice, which most of the team ate with chopsticks and dressed with a variety of sauces offered. The prices and flavors are something I will definitely go back for – likely ordering to-go for a fresh mid-day lunch. I also loved the simple, yet delicate decor with wooden tables, and ceramic pieces gracing the white and pastel painted walls. Bub City (River North)
I walked into Bub City for a girls dinner (yes, love it, ladies & bbq!), and I felt like I was home. With a whiskey bar to the right upon entering, a wall-sized flag made of red, white, and blue beer cans, and a menu packed with smoked meats, hearty sides, and 3 bbq sauce flavors (including North Carolina-style) in the table centerpiece rounded it out. I went with the BBQ 1/2 Chicken with deliciously fresh and flavorful marinated cucumber and tomato salad as a side. We also shared an order of the spoonbread, which was basically a rich and decadent cornbread with roasted cheese on top. About one spoonful was all I needed since it was so satisfying. The modern country music playing as we dined was the icing on the bbq cake for me – made me want to slip on my cowgirl boots and go two-stepping! There is a stage for live music, though no dance floor, but hey, we can make it work. I’ll be back soon for a cold one and some homey bbq. (I heard through the grapevine that Bub City used to be a legendary neighborhood hotspot in the Chicago suburbs and was recently moved to the hoppin’ nightlife center in River North on Clark and Hubbard.
Big Star (Wicker Park/Bucktown)
Since I set foot in Chicago, I’ve been on a hunt for legit tacos. Until I arrived here, I didn’t realize how much of a staple tacos were in my diet back in Austin. Here, pizza seems to rule all, but there’s something about the flavorful ingredients packed between a flexible tortilla topped with a kickin’ salsa that is just a necessity for this Texas girl, and you definitely have to seek out Mexican food in The Windy City. Luckily, two of my coworkers accompanied me on my first experience at the locally infamous Big Star. Supposedly, it’s a summer staple and the place to be, sitting on the outdoor patio with a margarita and some tacos. In the winter, we take it inside. I like the menu since it’s simple, yet creative. I ordered the Tostada de Betabel, which is supposed to be served on a fried tortilla, but I asked for it to come with a fresh tortilla instead (for the health factor). It was topped with bright golden beets, crunchy jicama, orange segments, arugula, spicy goat cheese (this was tear-inducing spicy and amazing!), and pumpkin seeds. It was just fantastic! I also ordered the Taco de Pollo, which had rich savory flavor, black bean crema, crumbly cotija cheese, and crispy fried onions. Loved this one too, but I think I would continue to order the Betabel over and over. We also shared chips and salsa – the salsa was deep in color, and had a thicker puree-like texture, and had a roasted spicy flavor that kept me going back for more.
Sable Kitchen (River North)
When my friend Jen and I planned to catch up over dinner one Thursday night, I jumped at the opportunity to visit Sable Kitchen & Bar, part of the Hotel Palomar Chicago. I’d walked by it and browsed the menu and loved the all day menu and small bites concept. I had my eye on the Lamb Sliders and so we shared an order. I only wish there were two more on the plate! The buns were soft and a little toasty on the flat sides closing in on the lamb, and the pickled sweet cucumber with salty feta combination just made them comforting little bite-sized tastes. We shared a few other items including the kale chips and elegant and earthy cheese board accompanied by fruit, honeycomb, and other goodies. The all day menu makes this great for a late afternoon weekend nosh and glass of wine, post-work stop, or dinner. Great go-to that I will repeat visit very soon.