Chicago is a food Mecca serving the good stuff

Chicago is a food Mecca serving the good stuff
Duck heads in an Asian market.

Chicago has been a food Mecca since the 1850's. This never changed. Whether it is restaurants or groceries, Chicago is a food pilgrim's paradise.

If you cannot find it in Chicago, it is not made, grown, or cooked.

Unfortunately the good stuff is rarely reported on. The media promotes fine dining establishments in the trendy or tourist parts of town. They celebrate openings of mung and dreck factories like Olive Garden and Chipolte along with the expanding higher end grocery chains.

Make no mistake. I love fine dining and have my favorite places. Places where the food, service, ambiance, and experience are exceptional. People do not eat like that every day. Maybe tourists do. Tourists are missing out on Chicago's great food. The good stuff.

Left out are the great family run ethnic restaurants and grocery stores. Places where you can get authentic ethnic meals or foodstuffs.

They lack the ambiance or dining experience of the touted places, yet the food and products are genuine and in some cases superior to what you find in upscale establishments. There are no compromises in these establishments.

A delicious plate at Falafel Island.

A delicious plate at Falafel Island.

Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food are popular. Rarely do you see reviews of Falafel and Grill in Wicker Park or Falafel Island in the Loop. Both serve outstanding food at very affordable prices. You can find other like places in Chicago.

Al-Khyam Bakery and Grocery is one of the best places to find Middle Eastern ingredients, Halal meats, and some Indian or Pakistani products. Their breads and pastries are to die for.

The grocery stores in Chinatown and the Asian Market area on Argyle street are some of the best  in the nation. The stores are no frills and packed with everything A to Z. The restaurants serve the best food outside of Asia.

Devon Avenue is a treasure trove of Indian and Pakistani restaurants and stores. Rarely do you hear about them.

Manny's, on the Near West Side, gets raves for its Jewish food though it is a tad expensive. There is also the Bagel in Lakeview and France's Deli in Lincoln Park. They serve some of the best Jewish food in the city.


Octolan style goat stew in Pilsen.

Pilsen has some of the best Mexican restaurants in Chicago.

When Mexicans emigrated to Pilsen, no one told them they could not be Mexican. They brought their local styles of cooking and imported products to create a separate space for themselves.

If you want authentic Mexican, skip the fake Chipolte effluent or Taco Bell compost. Head to Pilsen. Shop in the markets for authentic products. Try cooking real Mexican food at home.

There are other great Mexican, Central American, and South American, and Cuban restaurants in Chicago. They are in the neighborhoods, off the beaten tourist trap paths.

For Thai food you cannot beat Opart, Aroy, or Arun's. There are many others, tucked away in the neighborhoods. You need to get out and explore.

Greeks run some of the best restaurants in Chicago. The Parthenon, Roditys, Pegasus, and Greek Islands in Greek Town are great. Mythos and Barba Yianni Taverna in the Lincoln Square neighborhood are other terrific options.

Rubi's at Mawell Street Market from Second City Shooters on Vimeo.

For authentic Mexican street food head to the Maxwell Street Market on Sundays. Now on Clinton street, it has the best and only street food in Chicago. Everything is made fresh on site, even the tortillas and tamales. You can also buy fruits, vegetables, fresh herbs, and spices to bring home.

Two of the best Italian restaurants in Chicago are off the beaten path. Bruna's and Bacchanalia are in the Heart of Chicago neighborhood on the 2400 block of south Oakley. Rarely are they written about by so-called food writers. Food writers love Olive Garden's swill for some strange reason. Maybe it is the free all you can eat so-called bread sticks that attracts them.


Falafel and Grill in Wicker Park.

There are myriad ethnic restaurants and groceries in Chicago. Korean, Peruvian, Polish, Spanish, Romanian, Bulgarian, German and other Eastern European establishments, Filipino, Chinese from all the provinces, and Nepalese to name a few.

The world is shrinking. The culinary world is shrinking with it. Food and products that were once exotic and rare are becoming common and available.

You have to do some searching. Go out into the neighborhoods. Find the hole in the wall family operated places. They serve better and more authentic food than the chain and franchise operations. You could eat Chili's, TGIF Friday, and Outback at home. Why come to a food Mecca to eat common everyday food?

It is unfortunate that so many great restaurants and grocery stores are ignored. If you love to eat or cook, you can find anything you need, want, or desire in Chicago. You may have to look, but it is here. You need to leave the trendy parts of the city and head out into the neighborhoods. It is in the neighborhoods where real cooks exhibit passion and hard work to please the palates of their customers.

In the neighborhoods you do not have to dress well for breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner. You do not need affectations or attitude. You just have to show up. Order, enjoy, and pay. The money you save can be spent later on artisan cocktails, craft beers, or single barrel whiskies.

Chicago is a food mecca. Search every nook and cranny for the good stuff.

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