In a new weekly series, Summer in Chicago, Eater is highlighting places to eat and drink—sometimes lesser-known spots—in different neighborhoods for when your out-of-town friends come to visit. This week: University Village & Taylor Street.
Chez Joel [Photo: chezjoelbistro.com]
Summer in Chicago – the season that makes all those awful winters worth it. Also the season that out-of-towners pounce on our metropolis, eager for all the deep dish and hot dogs they can stomach. But not this time, tourists. Every week, Eater will provide a list of the different places throughout each neighborhood and break it down into categories—the famous, the hidden gems and more—to guide your summer culinary journeys and arm you against the typical tourist traps.
Famous: Davanti Enoteca
Address: 1359 W. Taylor
The low-down: A wine bar and restaurant, Davanti perfectly combines rustic Italian with the small-plate trend. Begin with the ricotta and honeycomb vasi (mini mason jar with tuscan toast) or the truffle egg toast with fontina and asparagus before moving on to the riccio di mare e granchio (linguine with sea urchin and crab) and pizza D.O.C. (with tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil). No matter what you try, you can’t go wrong – just don’t forget a glass, quartino or bottle of wine.
Under the Radar: Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap
Address: 1073 W. Vernon Park
The low-down: In an area rife with classic Italian spots, it’s easy to go unnoticed. Tufano’s has done just that, despite its spot-on calamari, steamed clams, eggplant parmigiana and pasta specials.
Brunch: Sweet Maple Cafe
Address: 1339 W. Taylor
The low-down: From the signature sweet-milk biscuits to the Sweet Maple-Opolis (an omelet with feta, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, sautéed red bell peppers, spinach and onions), this is a brunch lover’s paradise. Share an order of the heavenly homefries with the table.
Lunch: Fontano Foods
Address: 1058 W. Polk
The low-down: A staple in the area, it’s become known citywide for its subs – favorites include meatball, Italian and turkey. The market also carries a mix of Italian pastas and fresh antipasti, in case you want to grab something for later.
On the Go: Mario’s Italian Lemonade
Address: 1068 W. Taylor
The low-down: Italian ice in flavors like peach, watermelon, strawberry and pina colada. It’s the perfect cheap treat on a hot day (even if you have to wait in line).
Pub and Grub: Three Aces
Address: 1321 W. Taylor
The low-down: A neighborhood joint with an eclectic menu, Three Aces takes pub food up a notch (or five). The Bolognese fries are a must have; try them with the pork belly pizzetta (with pickled spring onions, sun-dried tomato pesto, ricotta salata, calabrian chiles and honey), the Ace burger (with aged cheddar, trimmings, bacon jam and aioli) and a hand-mixed signature cocktail.
Pizza: Dough Boys
Address: 626 S. Racine
The low-down: Buttery, crispy, thin-crust pizza, by the slice from two masters: Scott Harris (Davanti Enoteca, Mia Francesca) and Jimmy Bannos, Sr. (Heaven on Seven, The Purple Pig). Pizza from two dough boys? What more can you ask for? Maybe a slice of sausage, the neighborhood favorite.
Wine Bar: Urban Union
Address: 1421 W. Taylor
The low-down: The wine list is specifically designed to pair with food – and Urban Union hits the mark. Try wine by the glass (from a variety kept on tap) along with the grilled Spanish octopus (with chickpeas, mint, virgin oil and lemon), herb goat cheese stuffed squash blossoms (with cherry tomatoes, marcona almonds and parsley pesto) and papardelle (with mushrooms, English peas, summer squash and pancetta) for a tapas-style taste of the Mediterranean.
French: Chez Joel
Address: 1119 W. Taylor
The low-down: A slice of France in the middle of (little) Italy. All of the French classics – escargot (French snails with garlic butter, pernod and herbed crumbs), steak frites, coquilles Saint Jacques (pan-seared sea scallops with leeks, dill and lemon beurre blanc) and coq au vin (half-roasted chicken with lardons, pearl onions, mushrooms and mashed potatoes) – are c’est magnifique! Oh yeah: the desserts rock, too.
Mexican: De Pasada
Address: 1517 W. Taylor
The low-down: This unassuming Mexican joint serves up massive burritos and endless chips and salsa (made fresh daily), but it’s the tacos that keep locals coming back. The chicken and steak are always tender, served up by the uber-friendly family owners.
Thai: Golden Thai
Address: 1509 W. Taylor
The low-down: If you’ve had your fill of pasta, give these noodles a shot. Bring your own bottle and try the pad thai, pad see ewe, lard nar noodles or spicy pad ped at this cozy (and cheap!) authentic Thai spot.
Address: 1500 W. Taylor
The low-down: Reserve a table ahead at this classic Taylor Street joint. Bring a big group to try the baked clams, Napoleon eggplant salad, veal parmesan, baked manicotti and rigatoni alla vodka that keeps the crowds coming.
Sweets: Flirty Cupcakes
Address: 1030 W. Taylor
The low-down: Forget chocolate and vanilla. Every cupcake here is moist and loaded with frosting but comes in unconventional flavors like paradise island (pineapple rum cupcake with coconut cream cheese frosting), Curious George (banana chocolate cupcake with salted caramel Italian buttercream frosting) or the McDreamy (chocolate cupcake with a cream cheese and chocolate filling). If you can’t make it by the 8 p.m. closing time, follow Flirty’s cupcake van on Twitter to track them down.
Late Night: Jim’s Original Hot Dog
Address: 1250 S. Union
The low-down: The original Polish sausage stand is still serving up the area’s best late-night grub. Try the original (smoked Polish sausage with yellow mustard, Spanish onions and hot peppers) or the pork chop sandwich. Jim’s is open 24/7, so don’t worry about missing this classic.