I was having dinner earlier this week with my cousin, a 20-something from Minneapolis who just moved into the city a few months ago. I took her and her new boyfriend to one of my go-to Thai joints – Aroy – up on Damen. They were totally into it, and kept peppering me with questions about my favorite sushi, Mexican, bakery, etc. It was then that I got the idea for this week’s Top 5: why not give newcomers to our city a quick rundown of the five must-visit, Chicago classics?
I realize I’m leaving out steak here (probably would recommend Benny’s Chop House or Chicago Cut – but only outside on the patio in the summertime for the latter, since trying to talk or hear inside that dining room is like trying to call my mom on an iPhone while standing beneath a jet engine). I also need an Italian entry (Piccolo Sogno) and a Thai one (hmmm… TAC Quick or Amarind’s) and for pizza, well, if you’re a regular reader here, you know it’s going to be Great Lake.
I think these five are definitely required eating, if you want to call yourself an experienced Chicago eater.
445 N. Clark St., 312-661-1434
Whether you wait in line for Frontera, or make a reservation at Topolo (also open for lunch, by the way), you can’t call yourself a Chicago food lover without having first dipped yourself in the mole-scented dining rooms of Rick Bayless.
2651 W. Peterson Ave., 773-784-3383
The man himself still works the front sushi counter and pops back into the kitchen every now and then to whip up a mushroom-scented broth or a bean curd-wrapped piece of fish. His nigiri and sashimi – often decorated with ornate acoutrements – are generous and supremely fresh.
7500 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park, 708-452-6000
Best beef in the region, and I don’t give a rat’s ass what “Food Wars” on the Travel Channel says. From the always perfectly-cooked, thinly-sliced beef, to the best “sweet” (that’s finely-chopped peppers and onions with oregano) and “hot” giardiniera…this is the beef all others aspire to.
Dim Sum in Chinatown
2100 S. Archer Ave, Suite 2F, 312-326-6888
Total newcomer, but totally worth it. The chefs are from Hong Kong, and the room matches the upscale approach to offering world-class dim sum. Granted, it’s on carts during busy weekends, but you can order from the menu card and get the goods fresh and hot during the week (dim sum served until 4 p.m.)
1114 W. Belmont Ave., 773-929-1100
As much as I love Floriole, with its delicious take on French baked goods, it is the speedy young Marcus Kruger to the more seasoned, high-scoring Marian Hossa that is Bittersweet. Judy Contino was for years the head of pastry at the late Ambria, and has been creating magical cakes and pastries at this Lakeview bakery for the past 20 years. Her lunch service is also a pleasant little surprise you wouldn’t expect to find here. Be sure to get a macaron and the city’s best rustic apple tart.