Ethnic food in Chicago: Top 5 global food courts and marketplaces

I think it's safe to say Chicagoans are hooked on global food courts and marketplaces. In the last year alone, we saw the record-breaking opening of Eataly, the new Italian gourmet food marketplace; the opening and expansion of The Nosh, a series of pop-up markets that bring some of the best Chicago food-preneurs together in one place; and the continued growth of the Chicago French Market, which recently welcomed Little Goat Bread, Da Lobsta and Lafayette, among others. And, at the end of January, restauranteur Richard Sandoval announced plans to open a "Latin version of Eataly" at Block 37 in Chicago's Loop. These days, there is no shortage of food marketplaces with plenty of options for us to try culinary delights from around the world.

Below are 5 global food courts you need to put on your gastronomic bucket list. With a trip to each one, you'll be well on your way to eating your way around the world - right here in Chicago.

Down one of the Chicago French Market's aisles

At the end of one Chicago French Market aisle

1. Chicago French Market
131 N. Clinton St. (West Loop)

It always sounds a little strange to admit that one of our family's favorite places to eat is at a commuter train station. But it's true. We love to head to the Chicago French Market, located in the MetraMarket (adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center), to dine on Vietnamese pho soup, Belgian frites, Chicago hot dogs, and Montreal smoked meats, and indulge in French macarons, Polish paczki, Italian coffee and French crepes.

A true "French" market offers a variety of foods and other items and that is definitely the case at the Chicago French Market where you can sample foods popular in France - and many other countries around the world. The market boasts more than 30 restaurants, bakeries and cafes with a global focus, including Buen Apetito (Mexican), Delightful Pastries (European), EJ Sushi (Japanese), FliPCrêpes (French and more), Frietkoten (Belgian), LaFayette (Creole, Cajun), Le Cafe du Marche (French), Siagon Sisters (Vietnamese), Vanille Patisserie (French) and many more.

Looking down at the first floor

Looking down at the first floor from up above at Eataly

2. Eataly
43 E. Ohio St., Chicago (River North)

The doors of the 63,000-square-foot Italian gourmet food emporium opened in Chicago in December 2013. Since that time, locals and visitors have descended upon Eataly in record numbers to dine on Italian food, sip wine and beer, buy gourmet groceries, and indulge in sweet treats.

When you enter Eataly, you'll be politely directed to the concierge to take a map - and you'll definitely need one! The first floor includes the eateries Il Panino di Eataly (panini sandwiches), Il Gran Bar Lavazza (coffee), Nutella (yes, all of its items feature Nutella!), Il Gelato di Eataly (gelato), and La Pasticceria di Lucca Montersino (pastries). And, the eating continues one flight up. On the second floor, you can eat at La Birreria (brew pub), La Rosticceria (roasted meats), La Piazza (restaurant with standing enoteca tables), La Carne (meat), La Pizza and La Pasta (no explanation needed), and Il Pesce (fish), among others. You also can reserve a coveted spot at Mario Batali's Baffo Ristorante e Enoteca, a fine dining restaurant with its own street-level entrance off of Grand Ave.

Packed tables at Mitsuwa's food court

3. Mitsuwa
100 E. Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights (Northwest suburbs)

Out in northwest suburban Arlington Heights lies the largest Japanese supermarket in the midwest. Within its walls, you can find a host of retail stores selling books, housewares, cosmetics and more. At the rear of the building is an amazing food court with restaurants serving up Chinese, Japanese and Korean foods. On the weekends, the tables are usually packed with people enjoying steaming bowls of Ramen, plates of sushi, and large cups of fruit smoothies.

We always bee-line to Santouka, a storefront with its name written only in Japanese. It offers a selection of some of the best Japanese ramen noodle soup we've ever had in Chicago. Mama House offers Korean "soul food" - and doesn't disappoint at all. We always order the bi bim bap, which includes warm white rice topped with sautéed vegetables, beef and an easy-side-up fried egg. Our sons always order the "kiddie meal" from Jockey Express, which includes fried rice, a pot sticker and shrimp roll.  They happily top off their meals with a mango black pearl smoothie. Other food options at Mitsuwa include Daikichi Sushi, Gabutto Burger (Japanese-style hamburgers), and re Leaf (Japanese-style ice cream).

Credit: The Nosh via Facebook

Hungry people lining up to get food at The Nosh at Block 37 / Credit: The Nosh via Facebook

4. The Nosh
Block 37, 108 N. State St. (Loop)
Logan Square Farmers Market,  2755 N. Milwaukee Ave. (Logan Square)

The Nosh first came onto the Chicago foodie scene with the opening of a weekend market at A.N. Pritzker School in Wicker Park. These days, it offers pop-up markets at Block 37 in the Loop and the Logan Square Farmers Market. Each market aims to showcase "Chicago's finest and most unique chefs, restaurants, caterers, bakers, butchers and food entrepreneurs."

The Block 37 Lunch Market currently takes place on Thursdays and Fridays from 11 am to 2 pm. It offers freshly prepared dishes from more than 12 vendors. On Sundays, from 10 am - 3 pm, you can head to the indoor Logan Square Farmers Market to select food items from dozens of local farmers and food "artisans." The Nosh pop-up market vendors may include Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits, Dia de los Tamales, Mixteco Grill, and Bento Box, among others.

Super HMart1

A Sunday afternoon at the Super H-Mart food court

5. Super H-Mart
801 Civic Center Dr., Niles (Northern suburbs)

Super H-Mart is a food and retail marketplace, with a mall in the front and a huge Korean grocery store at its center. At the back of the grocery store, is a fantastic food court with stations serving up Chinese, Korean and Japanese foods. The self-service stations offer everything from Japanese bento boxes to Korean dumplings.

Whenever we go to Super H-Mart, we get bi bim bap in steaming stone bowls from Durebak Korean Restaurant and Korean dumplings from What a Dumpling. For dessert, you can choose from a huge selection of Korean pastries from Bini Bakery, located just at the end of the food court.

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