Today, I am kicking off a new series on the blog called “Chicago’s Hidden Eats.” Periodically, I will be shining a light on the cool, off-the-beaten-path food and drink treasures that many of you might be missing in The Windy City. Whether you are a long-time Chicago resident, a recent transplant or a visitor to this city, I am excited to be sharing the delicious spots that are hiding in plain sight!
And, the bonus?!
All of these food finds are easily accessible via mass transit! So, you can be environmentally responsible and socially conscious while finding your way to these great spots. Leave your car at home, avoid traffic, parking and road rage!
Climb aboard and keep your eyes peeled during this first installment of Chicago’s Hidden Eats series.
Asado Coffee on Pickwick Lane
If you are hurrying through The Loop in Chicago, you are likely to walk right past this darling coffee spot which is located at the end of an historic alley. It’s only been open about one year but the building dates back to the 19th century, circa the Great Chicago Fire, when it was a horse stable. The building is thought to be the smallest in Chicago. No more that 2 or 3 customers can fit in the space a time (HA!), so prepare to take your coffee to-go or sit at one of the cafe tables in the cute, cobblestone alley which is strung with lights. Asado Coffee on Pickwick Lane has a charming European feel 🙂 – 22 E. Jackson Blvd. (1 block south and 1/2 block west of the Adam/Wabash ‘L’ stop)
The Snack Bar at Joong Boo Market
Joong Boo Market is a Korean grocery story with the most glorious “snack bar” hidden in the back. So, while you might be darting around looking for the kimchi and beef short ribs on your shopping list, you could easily miss one of the most delicious and dirt cheap eats in Chicago. The soups and lunch platters are glorious and they come out steaming hot! There is no fancy aesthetic here, just awesome, comforting food. Pro tip: There is a fabulous dumpling truck in the parking lot where you can buy mammoth-sized steamed dumplings for a $1 or $2 dollars. Joong Boo Market made my list of Chicago’s Best Asian Restaurants (Part 1) and my list of Chicago’s Best Cheap and Healthy Eats.– 3333 N. Kimball Blvd. (5 blocks north of the Belmont ‘L’ stop on the Blue Line)
Rubi’s at Maxwell St. Market
I love long-running traditions. Maxwell Street Market takes place every Sunday (rain or shine) from 7am – 3pm. Vendors here run the gamut the likes of which you might not have ever seen. Are you looking for a massage table or some drill bits? Perhaps, you are looking to fill in a bit of your wardrobe? Whatever brings you to to this eclectic market, you will not want to miss eating tacos at Rubi’s.
The taco situation here is serious and that’s why Rubi’s made it onto my list of Chicago’s 11 Best Tacos. Can you say “THE BEST AL PASTOR TACOS IN CHICAGO?” I just know you can! I also love the hand-made corn tortillas, the squash blossom tacos and the fresh grilled peppers and onions. This place runs like a well-oiled machine. There are other good food stations at this market but Rubi’s will always have the longest line. – 800 S. Desplaines (Take the #12 Roosevelt bus to Desplaines. You can grab it at the Roosevelt ‘L’ stop along the Red, Green, Orange and Red Lines).
By far, one of the best of Chicago’s Hidden Eats is located deep in the back of a jewelry store in The Loop. I know! Crazy, right? I was living in Chicago more than 6 years, before I was turned onto this Mediterranean food counter which is popular with the “in-the-know” Chicago work crowd.
Oasis Cafe is serving really crispy, fresh falafel platters and wraps, as well as soups and salads. This place is one of the best cheap and healthy eats you can find in Chicago which does not include tacos or ramen. – 21 N. Wabash, along Jewelers Row (1 1/2 blocks south of the Randolph/Wabash ‘L’ stop, along the Orange, Green, Brown and Purple Lines).
What’s that you’re thinking? You already know about Doughnut Vault, so it’s not such a secret? Well, that might be true of the Doughnut Vault food truck and the brick and mortar locations on Chicago’s north side. However, many people roaming around the West Loop near Ogilvie Station have no idea that there is a charming outpost in the lobby of a boring office building.
Between the pretty chandeliers, table lamps and cafe tables, the doughnuts here taste even better 😉 They have the best olde-fashioned doughnuts in town!
111 N. Canal St. (1 1/2 blocks south and 1 block east of the Clinton ‘L’ stop, along the Green and Pink Lines).
The newly restored Chicago Athletic Association Hotel on Michigan Avenue, across from Millennium Park, has been enjoying great accolades and visitors. While many people flock to Cindy’s Rooftop for dinner, drinks and the best view in Chicago or the historic Cherry Circle Room, they probably walk right by the super cool, Milk Room.
Milk Room is hidden behind a door on the second floor, just before you reach the fun Game Room. It’s an exclusive, 8-seat bar, where reservations and tickets are required ($50 deposit). This is not an inexpensive place, folks!. The concept sounds a bit pretentious but I don’t think there is another bar like this anywhere else in Chicago. You arrive at your designated reservation time and the bartender delights you with an historical liquor lesson in the form of pricey, hand-crafted cocktails. There are spirits here that are seriously old and which cannot be found anywhere else. This is a one-of-a-kind experience. – 12 S. Michigan Avenue (1 12 blocks north and 1 block east of the Adams/Wabash ‘L’ stop, along the Orange, Green, Brown and Purple Lines. Most Michigan Avenue buses will stop here.)
Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafter
This is Chicago’s only Belgian bakery and it is set back a bit on a block just off of Michigan Avenue in the Gold Coast. As you make a bee line for the north entrance of Bloomingdale’s, you could easily miss this hidden treasure on the opposite side of the street. All of the breads, pastries and macaroons are tempting but don’t miss the buttery, flaky chocolate croissant. Grab some coffee and a seat in this tiny spot and hide away from all of the annoyances of your day. Don’t forget to stop by the open kitchen and say ‘hello’ to Chef Hendrickx.
100 E. Walton (4 blocks north and 2 blocks east of the Chicago ‘L’ stop, along the Red Line. #3 King Drive bus stops close by on Michigan Avenue.)
Little Branch Cafe
Honestly, I almost kept this hidden gem all to myself. However, I am feeling particularly generous today 🙂 This place is one of two great spots in the South Loop neighborhood where you can enjoy a delicious cup of coffee or quiet breakfast or lunch. (Overflow Coffeebar on State Street is the other one). Also, Little Branch is the perfect place to get some work or reading done, while listening to a steady dose of great tunes. Seriously, the good people here have curated a rotation of both popular tunes and soul-stirring blues and jazz. Impressive!
Little Branch is tucked inside the main floor of an condo building, just east of Michigan Avenue near Museum Campus. Most people headed to Museum Campus, Soldier Field or Grant Park don’t head this way and, therefore, they have no idea this neighborhood cafe exists. Adorable townhouses surround it and there is no other place I would rather spend an early morning on an autumn or winter day. You’re welcome!
That’s a wrap, folks! You are now armed with my first installment of Chicago’s Hidden Eats. Stay tuned here for more off-the-beaten path spots in Chitown!
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 Hidden Eats. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!