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: The West Loop.
Girl & The Goat [Photo: Barry Brecheisen]
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: Girl & the Goat
Address: 809 W. Randolph
The low-down: Stephanie Izard’s restaurant needs little introduction and if you’re looking to get a taste, get in line. Even though it’s been two summers since its opening, the buzz has yet to quiet down and you’ll still need to make reservations weeks ahead or be stuck waiting hours. But once you take a bite out of your first dish, all will be forgotten. From the signature green beans to the eye-raising pig face, it’s worthy of the hype.
Under the Radar: La Sardine
Address: 111 N. Carpenter
The low-down: Even though it's been in around for years, La Sardine, a cozy French neighborhood spot, still flies under the radar. Pop in for bistro classics like the standout bouillabaisse in lobster-saffron broth, steak frites and escargots. Finish it all off with the chocolate souffle. It won't disappoint. Stop in Tuesday nights for the $27.50 prix fixe dinner.
Address: 1235 W. Randolph
The low-down: They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you can’t go wrong at Ina’s. Try the frittata, vanilla bean waffle, omelets and variety of sausages. Most items are gluten-free as well for those with dietary restrictions. Just don’t forget to keep your cell phone tucked away or you’ll get a nice reminder.
Address: 161 N. Jefferson
The low-down: A selection of soups, salads and sandwiches alongside small and large plates comprise the lunch menu. The dessert options will make sure you leave smiling with choices of blueberry crisp, raspberry tartlet, chocolate five ways, tres leches parfait and more.
Dinner: The Publican
Address: 837 W. Fulton Market
The low-down: Pork and seafood are the stars of the show here. The place is always packed and you’ll be bumping elbows with your neighbor at the communal tables or corral booths but it won’t matter after you try some charcuterie and spicy pork rinds to start. Follow it up with some pork belly and porchetta (notice a trend?) or the grand seafood collection—a three-tiered tower of fresh seafood for the table. If you fancy brunch, stop in on the weekend for one of the city’s best as well.
Date Night: Blackbird
Address: 619 W. Randolph
The low-down: The first restaurant from One Off Hospitality, Blackbird helped move Chicago's dining scene to where it is today. Chef Paul Kahan has consistently been recognized locally and nationally as one of the best and his team here exemplifies that. The stark white dining room opens up the desire to drink incredible wine and eat chef de cuisine David Posey's gorgeous seasonal preparations that continue to push the boundaries.
Coffee: La Colombe
Address: 955 W. Randolph
The low-down: If you need your coffee fixin’, forget Starbucks and stop into La Colombe for a new experience. For those that really need a jumpstart, try a bottle of Pure Black Iced Coffee or one of their specialty drinks with sweetened condensed milk.
Doughnuts: Glazed & Infused
Address: 813 W. Fulton
The low-down: Go nuts for doughnuts and see why this new food trend has been sweeping the nation. Try everything from apple fritter and Maple Bacon Long John to red velvet and PB&J doughnuts to satisfy that sweet tooth.
On-the-go: Philly’s Best
Address: 769 W. Jackson
The low-down: Chicagoans like their beef the Italian way, but one bite into a cheesesteak might change your mind. No, it’s not Pat’s or Geno’s but with ingredients flown in from the east coast, it’s as close as you’re going to get around here. Oh, and do yourself a favor and try it with Cheese Whiz.
Diner: Au Cheval
Address: 800 W. Randolph
The low-down: This isn’t your typical greasy late-night hangout. With creative interpretations on classic dishes like the cheeseburger and fried chicken to originals such as crispy potato hash with duck heart gravy and a fried bologna sandwich, Au Cheval redefines everything you thought you knew about diner fare.
Mexican: De Cero
Address: 814 W. Randolph
The low-down: A modern day taqueria specializing in California-style Mexican food serves more than 15 different gourmet tacos. Everything from battered shrimp and braised lamb to duck confit and chicken mole is available, not to mention plenty of margarita options. Don’t forget the guac and salsa either. For a cheaper, more authentic taqueria experience, pop across the street to Perez (853 W. Randolph).
Address: 833 W. Randolph
The low-down: Many argue the West Loop dining scene would never have been had it not been for Vivo arriving 20 years ago. Still kicking two decades later, Vivo entices with carpaccio tricolore (maybe the best in the city), gnocchi with black truffle essence, rigatoni alla buttera with rich goat cheese, vitello alla Milanese or the scallope di mare. If you're lucky, you may even get sat in the coveted elevator shaft.
Vietnamese: Saigon Sisters
Address: 567 W. Lake
The low-down: If you’re looking to mix things up, try a classic bánh mì or shrimp roll for lunch. Dinner offers a more varied selection including tasty Saigon chicken wings, com suon nuong and lamb luc lac. And on a cold day, nothing goes better with the weather better than a bowl of Ph?.
The somewhat French: Avec
Address: 615 W. Randolph
The low-down: The wait is long and the communal tables are cramped but you’ll gladly suffer it for chorizo-stuffed medjool dates. Other highlights include wood-fired flatbread with roasted mushrooms, spinach, bacon and goat cheese, and oven-roasted pork shoulder with braised collard greens, wild rice and green tomato chow chow.
Dining by Design: Sepia
Address: 123 N. Jefferson
The low-down: It's not only the food that gets attention at Sepia, but the room as well. Built on site of an 1890s print shop, Sepia blends vintage and modern touches throughout with black and white scenes of the city, Art Nouveau tile, hand-crafted millwork, sparkling chandeliers and little knick knacks all around. And that mix of classic and contemporary crosses over into Michelin-starred chef Andrew Zimmerman's menu and the cocktails crafted by Josh Pearson. You feel fancy just walking in.
Cocktails: The Aviary
Address: 955 W. Fulton Market
The low-down: If you’re going to order a vodka cranberry then you’re at the wrong place. The team at The Aviary takes cocktails to the next level with concoctions like you’ve never seen fusing science with mixology. Walk-ins are accepted but reservations should be made if you’re dead-set on getting in.
Pub and Grub: Haymarket Pub & Brewery
Address: 737 W. Randolph
The low-down: You’ll never go thirsty inside this brewery with its numerous house and guest drafts, as well as a wide selection of bottles. Food includes your usual items such as sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, soups and salads. But the standout has to be the sweet potato tots, need we say more?
Wine bar: Vera
Address: 1023 W. Lake
The low-down: Mark and Elizabeth Mendez left the party at Carnivale to open their rustic, intimate Spanish wine bar that couldn’t be a bigger contrast if it tried. The menu is simple and full of small plates of meat, vegetables and seafood as well as pinchos and cheeses. That is, if you can get yourself to put down the bread and butter (which costs $6 but is well worth it). A large selection of rotating wines from Spain, Europe and the Americas will make sure the good times never stop flowing.
Late Night: Nellcôte
Address: 833 W. Randolph
The low-down: The music is loud and you’ll never get tired of people-watching into the wee hours of the morning. As for the actual food, small plates make up a large portion of the menu but the most popular items are the pizzas with their airy, puffy and crispy dough made in-house. Critics and diners alike agree: it’s one of the best Neapolitan-style pizzas in town.
Market: Publican Quality Meats
Address: 825 W. Fulton
The low-down: In an area full of butcher shops and markets, Publican Quality Meats manages to stand out above the rest with its cuts of meat. Whether it’s sausage, lamb, fowl, charcuterie or even the Publican’s famed pub bacon, you won’t find it much better anywhere else. And if you’re looking for a quick meal, sit down and try the selection of soups, salads and sandwiches like the meatball, muffaletta and pork belly gyro.
Better have your ticket: Next
Address: 953 W. Fulton Market
The low-down: Okay so you won’t be able to walk in and grab a table but Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’ restaurant still bears mentioning. A year and a half and multiple menus have passed since its opening but diners are still crazed about this concept spot, which changes its theme and menu every few months. You’ll need to purchase your tickets ahead of time before sitting back and counting down the days until you experience the cuisines of the world as crafted by Dave Beran.