If you have been here before, welcome back! It’s nice to see you again. If you are a first time visitor, stay a while and take a look around. Feeding Off The Rails is here to take the guess-work out of how to eat in Chicago and save the planet. Get ready to hit the rails!
Chicago has been my adopted home for the last 11 years. I’ve been lucky enough to watch this town explode with an exciting array of food finds from high-end restaurants to cheap and healthy eats. The sheer number of Top Chef contestants and James Beard Foundation winners who have establishments here is very impressive and well-deserved.
Do you want to know what’s even better?
Chicago’s luscious food scene is easily accessible using the local trains and buses. Whether you are a resident or you are visiting this city for business or pleasure, there are many advantages to ditching your car and become a “mass transit foodie.”
O.K. Maybe, you don’t know for sure what is causing the rapid and devastating effects of global warming. However, each one of us can do our small part to contribute to cleaner air and safety on our roads. Right?
Over the last few weeks, I’ve traversed the Windy City from the south side to the north side, from the lakefront to the west side, just to bring you the finest eats for the price of a train or bus ride.
Here’s how it all went down:
West Town – Chicago
Flo – I don’t know about you but I love an affordable breakfast. Let’s face it, brunch is KING but whatever happened to breakfast? You know, without cocktails and loud music?
Often times, I get really annoyed paying $20+ dollars for eggs and such on regular basis at a typical weekend brunch. Usually, that price doesn’t include cocktails!
You feel me, right?
Flo is just the right neighborhood spot with a very respectable price point for breakfast, during the week. Check them out! It’s located at 1434 W. Chicago Avenue, just a 5-minute walk west of the Chicago ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Blue Line. The #66 Chicago bus will also take you here.
This is a cool joint specializing in Southwestern cuisine. It’s a fun bar with hearty food. I stopped in here for breakfast one morning and I chose the Flo Style dish for only $7. It’s a generous portion of scrambled eggs (3), roasted poblano pepper sauce, pico de gallo, spicy sweet potatoes, beans, and tortilla. Now, that’s a deal!
Once my tummy was full, I happily took the short walk back to the train and headed home.
South Loop – Chicago
I have long lamented the lack of great restaurants in my South Loop neighborhood. 11 years later and not much has changed. There are a few good spots but there should be more many more awesome dining experiences near all of the mass transit options and attractions in this part of Chicago.
Aside from the growing number of residents in this neighborhood, the South Loop sees more tourists than any other part of town. They come to visit Millennium Park, Grant Park, Museum Campus (The Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum Adler Planetarium, Soldier Field and Northerly Island). I’m not sure what political shenanigans are amiss here but it boggles my mind that there are not more good dining options
Sorry, I digress. Back to my story…
In recent weeks, during the annual Printer’s Row Lit Fest, I stopped at Sociale for a late brunch. This cute Mediterranean spot is a great new addition to the South Loop. Part wine bar, part restaurant. It’s located at 800 S. Clark, just 1 block south and 3 blocks west of the Harrison ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Red Line.
Sociale is easy to overlook, as it is located in the shadows west of busy State St. and Michigan Avenue. The space is bright and open and there is sidewalk patio seating.
On my first visit here, I tried the earthy, lamb Benedict. I really enjoyed it. It was an interesting twist on this classic egg dish. I need to remember to stop in here more often.
A few week ago, Pork & Mindy’s (cute name, right?), a north side barbecue joint, set up an outpost right on Chicago’s lakefront. They are slinging pork, beef, lamb and chicken sandwiches and selling their full line of organic barbecue sauces right near The Shedd Aquarium. Love it! They are there every day. Just take the CTA Red, Orange or Green Line to the Roosevelt ‘L’ stop and walk 4 blocks east to Museum Campus, until you hit the lakefront. The #12, #3 and #4 buses stop nearby.
I tried their Bao to the Pork sandwich with Asian plum sauce. It was the perfect lunch, while I sat on a bench at watched the sailboats and water taxis float by 🙂
One of the very best things to happen to the South Loop and Chicago, in general, was the restoration and re-opening of the historic Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Once an exclusive club for men and Chicago’s movers and shakers long ago, this place was restored to a fully operational hotel and playground.
The crowning jewel here is Cindy’s Rooftop Bar and Restaurant. It overlooks Millennium Park and the lakefront. It’s a fabulous place to grab a drink on the outdoor terrace or settle in for lunch, dinner or weekend brunch. I love that this place is within walking distance from my apartment. However, you can take the CTA Red Line to the Monroe ‘L’ stop and walk 2 blocks east to the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. You can also, take the CTA Orange, Green, Brown, Purple or Pink Lines to the Adams/Wabash ‘L’ stop and walk 1 block north and 1 block east.
I stopped in again on a recent Sunday night for dinner with friends. While individual dishes are available for lunch, dinner is all about the shared platters of seafood, meat, and vegetarian options.
On this visit, my friends and I shared a beautiful and refreshing English pea salad, the elegant and zesty pork chops and the spicy shrimp a la plancha. All three of this dishes were great options. I also recommend the juicy grilled salmon steak.
Cindy’s Rooftop is located at 12 S. Michigan Avenue.
West Loop – Chicago
Remember when I mentioned that Chicago boasts some talented Top Chef contestants? Well, Chef Stephanie Izard won season 4 of Top Chef on Bravo. She also received the James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes award. Since 2008, she has built her “goat empire” of restaurants here in the West Loop neighborhood, Girl & the Goat and Little Goat Diner.
Chef Izard’s latest addition to her goat empire is Duck Duck Goat. She traveled through China to get inspiration for her tasty and creative Chinese menu at this vibe-y new spot. Reservations can be difficult to get, but the restaurant takes walk-ins. It is fairly easy to score a seat at the bar at the early or late side of dinner service, without reserving a table.
I stopped in on a Friday evening, just after the doors opened. I bellied up to the bar and ordered a potent cocktail, some garlicky greens and a dish of grilled shrimp with black bean sauce and bok choy. Damn! Everything Chef Izard cooks is stellar. Trust me.
Duck Duck Goat is located at 857 W. Fulton Market, just 1 block north and 2 blocks east of the Morgan ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Green and Pink Lines.
Pro tip; Duck Duck Goat has a new walk-up, take-out window.
Another great West Loop spot is Momotaro. It is a beautiful, tri-level restaurant, specializing in Japanese cuisine and it is just 2 blocks east of the Morgan ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Green and Pink Lines.
Whether you choose the sexy, subterranean izakaya grill, the elegant main room or the quieter upstairs with big windows, you will love this creative and delicious spot.
I stopped in for an early solo dinner on a recent Saturday night. I sat upstairs and ordered the gome ae (sesame broccoli), the spicy salmon belly and a beef and quail egg hot pot. I was really impressed with all three dishes and I am planning my next visit with friends, so I can try many more menu items.
Momotaro is located at 820 W. Lake St.
One of my go-to restaurants in the West Loop is Sepia which has earned a Michelin star. It’s an elegant space helmed by Chef Andrew Zimmerman who won the James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes award.
My friend, Denyse, was visiting from New York last week, so we stopped in for dinner. We started with a fabulous cheese plate which featured tastings from local farms.
Our entrees included the local walleye and sliced duck breast. Both dishes were super flavorful and well seasoned.
Sepia also offers seasonal tasting menus which they recommend for the entire table.
Sepia is located at 123 N. Jefferson, just 1 block south and 1 block west of the Clinton ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Green and Pink Lines.
River North – Chicago
It’s true that River North is getting a bit overcrowded with restaurants. It’s also true that this part of town has some great ones.
Over the last few weeks, I revisited some of my favorites.
My friend, Barb, and I stopped into Farmhouse on a Saturday evening for dinner. If you love hearty, farm-to-table, Midwestern eats, you will love Farmhouse. It’s a bi-level space decorated with re-purposed odds and ends.
Barb and I sat at the communal table in the front of the house overlooking Chicago Avenue. We split a lovely mixed salad with fresh and crunchy rhubarb.
I chose the righteous walleye with black rice, English peas, and asparagus.
Barb enjoyed this awesome, crispy and juicy fried chicken. It had the most delicious rhubarb glaze and it was adorned with a generous amount of local veggies.
It is not surprising that I never have room for dessert when I dine here.
Farmhouse is located at 228 W. Chicago Ave., directly across the street from the Chicago ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Brown Line. So, go ahead and have that extra drink, since you won’t be driving.
There are so many great options for dining in Chicago. However, if you are looking for a place with an iconic view of downtown and the Chicago skyline and bridges, head to River Roast. It’s located on the Chicago Riverwalk.
Award-winning Chef/Owner, Chef Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, Terzo Piano, Bar Toma) and Chef John Hogan “hit the ball out of the park” with this sprawling restaurant/bar/event space.
River Roast offers a spin on British fare with a focus on meat, poultry and fish roasts that are carved and served table-side.
Denyse and I stopped in last Sunday for River Roast’s “Blues & Brews Brunch” with a live blues band. Just lovely!
I started things off with a potent and spicy Bloody Mary. If you love horseradish, River Roast has you covered!
Then, we shared River Roast’s famous roast whole chicken. It was perfectly seasoned with crispy skin and a special preparation that sealed in the juices. Once carved the juices ran down over the bed of potatoes upon which the chicken sat. Trust me. You want this 🙂
We also shared the special omelet made with River Roast’s sliced roast beef, swiss chard, goat cheese, and sofrito. Honestly, this omelet raised the bar for every other place in town. I hope I see it on the menu here again.
River Roast is located at 315 N. LaSalle St. Take the CTA Green, Brown, Purple, Pink or Orange Line to the Clark/Lake stop and walk 2 blocks north and 1 block west.
Dear readers, I never get tired of eating at The Purple Pig. This place is one of the crowning jewels of the Chicago dining scene and an absolute “must-do” if you have limited time in town.
Chef Jimmy Bannos, Jr. won James Beard’s Best Chef Under 30 a couple of years ago. He absolutely deserved it!
The Purple Pig is a creative, Mediterranean wine bar with totally kick-ass food.
Pro-tip: The Purple Pig does NOT take reservations. Show up at the late end of lunchtime (around 2:30pm) or late night (11pm), if you want to snag a table or a seat at the bar.
Last week, I stopped into The Purple Pig for my favorite dish, calamari, fregola, radishes, and mint. It’s so refreshing and it never disappoints. I pray Chef Bannos, Jr. never takes it off the menu.
I also tried the fried deviled egg with zesty, pickled greens and cornichons. It was so satisfying and not the least bit greasy. Honestly, I don’t know how I missed this dish all these years.
The Purple Pig is located at 500 N. Michigan Avenue, just 2 blocks east and 1 block south of the Grand ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Red Line. The #3 King Drive and #4 Cottage Grove buses will take you right there.
Bridgeport – Chicago
Bridgeport is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Chicago. It’s got some serious history and it is home to our former Mayor Daley and many hard-working families who have longstanding roots here.
Recently, the great folks at the cool and quirky Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar expanded their space into Kimski. In this new annex, Kimski is serving up Polish/Korean fare in the form of brats with kimchi, spicy sesame rice cakes and more in light and airy outdoor bar setting.
If you are looking for casual, tasty and inexpensive ethnic fare with great beer, this is the spot for you!
I could not get enough of the Kimski dog 🙂
KImski is located at 960 W. 31st St. Take the CTA Orange Line to the Halsted ‘L’ stop. Then, walk 7 blocks south and 3 blocks west. Alternatively, switch to the #8 Halsted bus to 31st St. and walk the 3 blocks west to Kimski.
So, the next time you decide to eat in Chicago, consider how you can help the environment and keep yourself safe while filling your belly with great food. There’s no time like the present to make a difference and help save the planet 🙂
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 the best food and drink in Chicago. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!