It has been 3 weeks since I returned home from my delicious culinary romp through Barcelona. While a part of me wishes I never left, I am grateful that I live in such a fabulous food town like Chicago. I got right back into the swing of things by riding the rails to some of the best dishes my city has to offer. Here is my newest Chicago restaurants rundown. Enjoy!:
If I had my way, cars would be prohibited within city limits, with the exception of commercial vehicles and those with special licenses (e.g. people with disabilities). We should all be held accountable for
doing the environmentally responsible and socially conscious thing. Who’s with me? Really, it’s a small price to pay for better city living and quality of life.
My feeding frenzy over the last three weeks has been quite varied by cuisine and neighborhood. I have never been one to just hang out within the few square blocks in which I live. Great Chicago restaurants are spread out all over town, so there is no reason to be lazy. Here’s how the last three weeks went down:
My first weekend home after Barcelona was gorgeous. I got up early on Sunday morning and headed over to The Duck Inn for brunch. It’s one of the very best new Chicago restaurants. It also has the greatest split-level, backyard patio. Chef Kevin Hickey and his lovely staff will make you feel right at home and feed you well. On this visit, I chose the cured wild salmon, duck egg, goat cheese and bagel option that day. It was wonderfully fresh, filling and satisfying. While I did not have a breakfast cocktail, I was so happy I ordered their kick-ass Dark Matter coffee blend. It was some of the best coffee I’ve had recently in Chicago.
The Duck Inn is located at 2701 S. Eleanor St. Take the CTA Orange Line to Halsted and/or #62 Archer bus to Loomis and walk 2 blocks over there.
Gather is an intimate little spot on Chicago’s north side. I have never been disappointed here. Last weekend, I met up with my friend, Barb, for brunch outside on their patio.
We each chose from the savory side of Gather’s menu. I had the shrimp ‘n grits with garlic shrimp and andouille sausage. Barb had the ramp scramble made with pickled ramps and fontina cheese. Ramps are only in season for a bit longer, so I recommend you eat as many as possible around town.
We each enjoyed a Bellini cocktail at our brunch here.
Gather is located at 4539 N. Lincoln Ave. Take the CTA Brown Line to the Western ‘L’ stop and walk 2 blocks south and 1 block east.
I finally checked out the new Chinese spot, Imperial Lamian. It has been getting a lot of great buzz since it opened. I stopped in at the beginning of lunch service last week and chose a comfy table by the sunny window along Hubbard St.
The menu is focused on hand-pulled noodles, dim sum, and wok-fried entrees. I chose Imperial Lamian’s “lunch set” which is a great bang for your buck. The salad was colorful and lightly dressed so as not to overshadow the vegetables.
Next up, I had the fried shrimp noodles. These noodles had excellent texture and the shrimp were nice and sweet.
My lunch set also came with some shrimp and pork shumaiwhich were nicely steamed.
Imperial Lamian is located 6 W. Hubbard St., just 2 blocks south of the Grand ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Red Line.
Since I was missing the fantastic coffee I had in Barcelona, I decided to head over to Caffe Umbria which pours some of the very best coffee in Chicago. They are using a blend of beans from Brazil, Africa and elsewhere. It’s a small space with a very European feel. There are just a few seats but the coffee and staff are well worth a visit that will transport you.
Caffe Umbria is located at 346 N. Clark St., just 2 blocks north of the Clark/Lake stop, on the CTA Orange, Brown, Blue, Green Purple and Pink Lines. The Grand ‘L’ stop, on the CTA Red Line, is just 3 blocks north and 2 blocks east.
Prime & Provisions, a sexy and elegant steakhouse is the latest venture from the Dine|Amic restaurant group (Siena Tavern, Bar Siena, Bombobar, Bull & Bear, Public House). I have been here one other time for dinner. In the last couple of weeks, I stopped in for lunch. I went with their decadent lobster club which I believe is in line with the swanky atmosphere. Delicious! It was nice to see this space in the daylight.
Prime & Provisions is located at 222 N. LaSalle. Take the CTA Brown or Purple line to the Merchandise Mart ‘L’ stop and walk 1 block east and 2 blocks south.
I said it before and I’ll say it again. Tapas Valencia, a Spanish restaurant, is THE BEST food destination in the Chicago’s South Loop. Period. I wish there were many more spots like this one in this neighborhood. It is not only a delicious, family-run establishment but it has been turning out consistently great food since it opened over 6 years ago. I stopped by recently to have dinner and a cocktail one Friday night.
I had the grilled pork tenderloin with caramelized onions and lemon marjoram sauce over crostini. Fantastic!
I also had a side of their addictive, garlic potato salad because I wanted to say I had a well-balanced meal 😉 Fine choice!
I washed it all done with one of their lovely cocktails.
Pro tip: Tapas Valencia has live Flamenco dancing and music on Saturday nights.
Tapas Valencia is located at 1530 S. State St., just 3 1/2 blocks south of the Roosevelt ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Red, Orange and Green Lines.
Mercat a la Planxa is another Spanish restaurant in the South Loop. It’s located inside the historic Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue. I had not been here in a while so I grabbed a leisurely lunch early last week. Here’s a look at the beautifully created Serrano ham and fig salad I had.
Mercat a la Planxa is located at 638 S. Michigan Ave., just 1 block south and 2 blocks east of the Harrison ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Red Line.
Meli Cafe is one of the better Chicago restaurants in the South Loop. This outpost is located inside the Hotel Blake. They are serving up really fresh food from Greek favorites to all-American dishes. Earlier last week I checked in here to have an early lunch in the form of this falafel plate with hummus. It is listed on the appetizer portion of the menu but it was plenty filling to qualify as a substantial lunch.
Meli Cafe is located at 500 S. Dearborn. It’s 1 block south and 1 block west of the Harold Washington Library stop, along the CTA Brown, Orange, Pink and Purple lines. The Jackson and Harrison ‘L’ stops, along the CTA Red line are just a couple of blocks away as well.
Printer’s Row is an historic section of the South Loop. It’s home to a few book shops, Kasey’s Tavern, the old Dearborn train station and the adorable Sofi restaurant. I have been meaning to visit Sofi for quite some time and I finally made it happen last Thursday night.
I stopped in for dinner around 7pm. Since it was such a pretty evening I decided to sit outside on the sidewalk patio. Sofi’s owner, Maurizio, is from Italy. He owned restaurants in NYC, prior to relocating to Chicago several years ago.
I cannot resist trying minestrone when I see it on a menu. My nonna (grandmother) really did make the very best minestrone soup I’ve ever tasted. So, I always try to manage my expectations when I eat it out in restaurants. Sofi created a really nice version of this Italian classic. All of the beans and veggies were super fresh and the soup hit my table nice and hot. An extra sprinkle of grated parmesan topped off my bowl.
My main entree was a light and lovely sea bass special with artichokes and cherry tomatoes. It was dressed with some olive oil, lemon and herbs.
Sofi is located at 616 S. Dearbon, just 1 block west 1 block south of the Harrison ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Red Line.
On Friday, I met up with my friend, Cindi, for lunch at Terzo Piano which is a stylish restaurant inside the Art Institute of Chicago. Award-winning chef, Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, Cafe Spiaggia, Bar Toma, River Roast) is running the show here. The space is very cool because it overlooks Millennium Park.
I had a really delicious salmon burger with pickled cucumbers and a side of roasted asparagus. Cindi had a margherita flatbread made with burrata cheese. Is there anyone who is not smitten with burrata?
Terzo Piano is located at 159 E. Monroe St. Take the CTA Orange, Green, Brown and Purple lines to the Adams/Wabash ‘L’ stop and walk 1 block east to the Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue. Most Michigan Avenue CTA buses stop here. Entrance is on Monroe St.
BomboBar is the walk-up window attached to Bar Siena. Both spots belong to Fabio Viviani and the Dine|Amic restaurant group. BomboBar is serving up bomboloni (Italian doughnuts), hand-pulled gelato, coffee drinks and breakfast sandwiches. I love this cute spot with red picnic tables on the sidewalk. It screams “summer” but it is open all year.
Pastry Chef, Amy Arnold is such a rock star at these Chicago restaurants. What makes her doughnuts the best in Chicago is that they are light as air with phenomenal texture. Unlike most other doughnut spots, BomboBar makes theirs to order. They are served warm and they are filled to your liking with many delicious flavors from which to choose. The latest seasonal bombo flavor is “cookies and cream” and it is fantatstic!
BomboBar is located at 832 W. Randolph St. The window is located on Green St. Take the CTA Green or Pink Line to the Morgan ‘L’ stop and walk 1 block south and 3 blocks east to get your bomboloni and gelato 🙂
The last stop in this latest culinary rundown of mine ended at Publican Quality Meats. Legendary local chef, Paul Kahan (The Publican, Avec, Blackbird, Big Star) is part of the team behind this butcher shop, cafe and bakery in the meatpacking district. I like it here because it is less crowed and more cozy than the more spacious The Publican, located on the opposite side of the street.
I dug deep into PQM’s stellar steak ‘n eggs with asparagus during a quiet brunch yesterday morning. This place has great soup and sandwiches as well.
Publican Quality Meats is located at 825 W. Fulton Market., just 1 block north and 3 blocks east of the Morgan ‘L’ stop, along the CTA Green and Pink lines.
I hope you enjoyed this installment of my Chicago restaurants rundown. Ditch the car and ride the rails to these great spots. I would love to hear your take on them! Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
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 these tasty Chicago restaurants. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!