When I moved from New York City to Chicago, one of the things I missed most was great Asian food. I especially missed the righteous Chinese fare found in NYC. I struggled for years to understand why Chinese restaurants in Chicago were filling their wontons with chicken. Say what?! Why weren’t they using pork? It was just one of many frustrations I endured. After 11 years of raising chopsticks in The Windy City, I have cultivated Chicago’s best Asian restaurants. Finally! My list is actually quite long, so I am bringing it to you in two parts. Here is part one, according to CTA line:
*Click on the restaurant names for directions and more information.
CTA Blue Line:
Furious Spoon – Chef Shin Thompson is serious about the ramen noodles he’s serving at his Wicker Park place. He is cranking them out on a mega heavy machine shipped over from Osaka, Japan. I love his signature Furious Spoon ramen but
the entire menu rocks at this cool Wicker Park spot.
Oiistar: This spot is another favorite find in the hip, Wicker Park neighborhood. The dumplings are all on point. However, I am addicted to the fabulous ramen. Most of the noodles here are made on site.
Joong Boo Market: This Korean market in the Avondale neighborhood is one of the very best kept secrets in Chicago. It is not only a mecca for Korean groceries. This spot has a super delicious, dirt cheap lunch counter in the back. The meals you can enjoy here are impressive and piping hot. In a hurry? Grab an over-sized dumpling from the truck located in the parking lot. They are only a couple of dollars.
CTA Red Line:
Ramen-san – Get your groove on with some old school Hip Hop while slurping down some great ramen and more at this River North spot. Their Express Lunch is a great deal.
Yusho Hyde Park: If you are heading to the south side, looking for Chicago’s best Asian food, stop in at Yusho. You will not be disappointed at this stellar gem. It is very close to the University of Chicago campus. It’s bright, sunny and serving up some of the very best Japanese fare in Chicago. The ramen is great but check out some of the other dishes. I love the spicy eggplant.
Strings Ramen – While Chicago’s Chinatown may not be as impressive as those in NYC or San Francisco, there are a few spots worth checking out. Strings Ramen sits high atop that list. The good folks here are making their own noodles and more. If you like your Asian food spicy, then you won’t want to miss the “Hell Challenge” at Strings. Choose your level of heat and enter one of their “rings of Hell.” Good luck! I chose to stay at the second level of their challenge with some pork tonkatsu ramen : ) It was awesome and I lived to tell the tale. I plan on working my way through the next couple of rings of Hell very soon. Stay tuned! Your prayers are welcome. Thank you 🙂
Minghin – To date, this is my favorite Chinese restaurant in town. It’s also one of Chicago’s best Asian spots. It’s located in Chinatown and it’s a rather large and busy spot. Minghin is always filled with local Asians, as well as other ethic groups. I remember being really impressed by that fact on my first visit here. There are many large tables, so bring a crowd to taste as many dishes as possible. I can never resist the spicy eggplant here. By now, you know I love spicy eggplant 😉
Ahjoomah’s Apron – This is another fun spot for Korean food in Chicago. I prefer it to places that only offer Korean barbecue. I don’t like cooking my own meals when i go out to eat. I think that is just ridiculous. Also, I don’t like smelling like coal and smoke when I leave a restaurant. If you are like me, then head over to Ahjoomah’s Apron in Chinatown. “Ahjoomah” means “grandmother” in Korean. This family-run spot has some great meat, fish and veggie options. However, I love the Dolsot bibimbop with bulgogi (marinated beef). It comes in a screaming hot-pot which makes the rice extra crispy. You will not need to eat another thing the rest of the day :). Trust me.
Sunda: If you’re looking to impress family, friends, a date or co-workers, take them to this swanky spot in the River North neighborhood. Since it opened a few years ago, Sunda is not just regarded as one of Chicago’s best Asian restaurants. It’s considered one of the best restaurants in town. You can add “sexy” to that list of accolades. You cannot go wrong. Be sure to make a reservation, as this place is always crowded. Many celebrities have been spotted here, too. I have stopped by Sunda several times for lunch and dinner. Both are great. There is something for everyone. The sushi menu is impressive. More affordable options are available during lunch hours.
Tanta: Technically, Tanta is a Peruvian restaurant. I am including this River North restaurant on my list of Chicago’s best Asian because Peru has been heavily influenced by Asian cuisine. I have made it here for dinner twice but Tanta is also open for lunch and brunch on weekends. I’ve loved every dish I’ve had, especially the seafood items. The drinks are delicious and potent. The house made plantains are the best I have had in the city.
Imperial Lamian: This corner spot is also located in the bustling River North neighborhood. It is an Indonesian import and a recent addition to Chicago’s best Asian food scene. They are offering patrons a delicious array of modern, Chinese dishes in a chic setting. I stopped by for lunch earlier this month and I was pleasantly surprised. I will definitely be back again. The lunch special here is a great introduction to Imperial Lamian, especially if you are dining solo.
Ba Le: The Uptown neighborhood in Chicago has a section called “Asia on Argyle.” On that strip, you can find some of Chicago’s best Asian fare, including options for Vietnamese food. Are you jonesing for a classic banh mi sandwich? I’ve got you covered! Head over to Ba Le for some of the best bahn mi in town. This place even supplies their amazing bread to other Asian restaurants in Chicago.
Immm Rice & Beyond: I love this bright and colorful restaurant in Uptown for its take on traditional Thai street food. I was turned onto this place by another fellow foodie. We stopped in for lunch last October and I had my first taste of the lovely offerings on their menu. There are several menu items for the adventurous at heart. I’ll need to work my way up to those, after a couple of cocktails 🙂 Which ever main entrees you choose, I highly recommend finishing your meal with the delightful, mango, sticky rice. So good!
Rickshaw Republic: Chicago only has two Indonesian restaurants. This is one of them. It’s freaking adorable! You will be transported to Indonesia, as soon as you walk through the door of this colorful Lakeview spot. The owners went to great lengths to decorate it with typical things found in Indonesian street stalls. Masks, umbrellas, puppets, etc. Rickshaw Republic is a very different experience in this city. It should not be missed. Bring a crowd and try the traditional “Rice Table,” so you can sample several items at once.
CTA Green LIne / CTA Pink Line:
Duck Duck Goat: If you are not familiar with Top Chef winner, Stephanie Izard, pay attention! Chef Stephanie rocks! She is a culinary star and one of the BEST chefs in the country. She is humble, super nice and creating some of the most beautiful and tasty dishes in Chicago. Duck Duck Goat is her latest addition to her “goat empire.” You can find some of the best Chinese food in Chicago right here. The grilled shrimp with black bean sauce, bacon, garlic and bok choy was absolute perfection. Even the side of sautéed garlic spinach made me smile. This place has a carefully curated beer and cocktail list which complements the dishes on the menu. I loved the potent Pisco and lime cocktail I had. I cannot wait to get back here. Heads up! There is a long wait for reservations but they take walk-ins. I suggest getting here during the early or late service times.
Saigon Sisters: The wonderful women behind this family run spot are bringing you their best Vietnamese dishes. Whether you are looking for some great bowls of pho, banh mi sandwiches or more, they have the dishes that will soothe your soul. The original location is inside the French Market in the Fulton River District. It’s quite busy during the week. The more formal restaurant is across the street and around the corner. Check them out.
CTA Orange Line (#8 Halsted and #62 Archer buses):
Kimski: This new place is the latest baby from the owners of the Maria’s Packaged Goods in Bridgeport. The latter is the super, cool liquor store/bar on Morgan St. They had been serving some bar food for a bit, including Korean-style hot dogs. Those bar snacks were so popular that Maria and her team expanded the kitchen and the bar to this awesome space next door. The most popular Korean/Polish dog with kimchi can be found here and you definitely should try it! Juicy. Crispy. Tasty. 🙂 The spicy rice cakes with scallions are amazing, too. Grab a beer and head out to the new outdoor patio. This place screams summer!
Homestyle Taste: Another great stalwart in Bridgeport for Chinese food is this spot. I love that they make deliveries within a certain radius. I order in now and then but it’s easily accessible via the CTA Orange Line and #8 Halsted bus. Get the cold, spicy noodles, Szechuan eggplant and some iron pot dishes. They also offer traditional dishes like jellyfish and cabbage, if you are feeling adventurous.
CTA Brown Line:
Andy’s Thai Kitchen: This Lakeview spot is, by far, the very best Thai food in Chicago. It’s located directly underneath the CTA Brown Line at the Wellington ‘L’ stop. You cannot get more convenient than this, folks! There are many great choices here but I am a sucker for soup and noodles. This is exactly the bowl of duck goodness you need 🙂
CRISP: Feeling like some exceptional, Korean, fried chicken? Crisp, in the Lakeview ‘hood, is one of those “under the radar” spots in Chicago. The folks here are serving up the best fried chicken you’re not eating! Wear your big girl/boy pants and run to this small store front with a few communal tables and window seats. The fried chicken is a “must-do”. There are a few different sauces but I recommend that you get their “Seoul Sassy” sauce. If fried chicken is not your thing (or on your diet), there are sandwiches, bibimbop and more available.
There you have them, folks! Part 1 of my picks for Chicago’s best Asian food. Hungry? What are you waiting for?
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA trains and buses to Chicago’s best Asian food. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!
Do you have some favorite Asian restaurants you’d like to share with me? I would love to hear all about it! Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.