Dining Adventures in Chi: My Unofficial Awards

Oh, Chicago. We are definitely known for our food, which, some of is, uh, a bit on the unhealthy side. (Funny, we somehow miss that “top list of healthy cities to live in” list every year, but whatever. I’ll eat a carrot and show my solidarity with Portland or wherever. I’m kidding. Before I get chastised for advocating unhealthy eating, I am not. Lighten up.)  We do have some great healthy options also, and I think we unfairly get looked over for that.

Yet, the point of this, is not to discuss healthy versus unhealthy eating. As is with all of my writing (I’m kinda selfish like that) the point of this is to express my opinion on where some of the good, the unique, and just “oh hell no” places to go are in the city and metro area. So, I’ve given places their own little “award”. Without further ado:

Best Mexican for the price of a gallon of gas: Nuevo Leon. The little gem in Pilsen is awesome. Literally, you can have a meal of about 12 tacos for about $4. And it's casual, fast, and a good place for a chill dinner with friends.

Most “multi-purpose” restaurant: The White Eagle in Niles. I can’t name another  place that I have celebrated baptisms, weddings, funerals, anniversaries, just being Polish in general, etc.  I have never been to the same  place within one week to commemorate that someone has born and that someone has passed along to a better place. Literally happened. It is a banquet hall and restaurant; I personally, being as above mentioned Polish, love the food. However,  the general crowd at the restaurant, is, a bit, mature. Sort of like this: (They probably are just coming from Jerry's Fruit Market up Milwaukee Avenue like any good old Polish person does.)
The Lunch Crowd
Most likely to wait a good hour and a half before even THINKING about sitting down: Tempo Café in the Gold Coast. I have literally been here at about every conceivable hour and there is always a massive line. Even at 3am. Who doesn’t want an omelette and pancakes after you’ve traipsed your way around Hubbard for 6 hours? This makes for feeling really great the next morning. Honorable mention for waiting an eternity also goes to Twin Anchors in Old Town.

Place I feel like I am most certainly going to get food poisoning: The Subway on Clark and Division. The air conditioning is hardly ever on in there and I’m sure that’s realllllly good for exposed meat and cheese.  Other Subways get an honorable mention for this. TURN ON YOUR AIR. IT’S HOTTER THAN YOUR BODY TEMPERATURE OUTSIDE.

Place where you are most likely to be considered underdressed if you forget your Christian Louboutins and your finest Gucci bag: Sunda. I love the place. The food is awesome. But definitely make yourself pretty before going. And, since as I’ve been called a “snobby gold coast yuppie” by some lovely readers, I enjoy getting gussied up and going here. But, I feel like I’d combust into flames if I walked in in say, “real sweatpants” and a t-shirt that said “Illini homecoming 2003”. However, this does keep up their upscale image and keeps them busier than almost any place I’ve seen in Chicago, so it works. Honorable mention: Anywhere on Rush. I scurry by the outdoor patio at Tavern in the summer when I’m wearing jorts and a crappy t-shirt to not be seen. Sometimes I even cross the street if I am feeling especially schlubby.

Best and most underrated pizza in the city: Armand’s. Don’t get me wrong, all of our pizza is pretty fantastic here. But Armand’s is a little less well known. I did a dance of joy ala Balki Bartokomous and cousin Larry Appleton when I found out they were coming to the city and I could order from them. (If you are missing the Perfect Strangers reference, shame, shame on you.)
Dance of Joy

Best laid-back sushi joint: Café Sushi in Old Town. You can get a nice standard salmon and avocado roll instead of having to order the “We threw a bunch of stuff in here and are charging you $20 for it” roll. Some sushi places are very high end and swank; Café Sushi is non descript and it’s also BYOB so you’re not paying $14 for a glass of Pinot Grigio you know came out of a bottle of Yellowtail. Also, they win a gold star from 2005 when they let us hold a sake bombing party there and didn’t blink an eye. No judgment! Give me a break, we were recent college grads.

Place I will laugh profusely at you if you suggest going there: Olive Garden. Ok, ok, I know, the breadsticks and salad, yes. It’s a good deal. Fine. But, with all of the other amazing Italian places in the city, hell to the no. My best friend’s Italian grandmother has some even more choice words about the Garden. (Sidenote: Have been called a hypocrite for this because I do love Chili’s. Seriously. No sarcasm. Maybe one girl’s Olive Garden is another girl’s Chili’s.)

As you can see, these are not all glamorous choices. I mean, we already read enough reviews about the hip and happening places, so I wanted to throw some lesser known ones into the mix. That’s what’s great about Chicago- we’ve got a little bit of everything. Class it up, tone it down, you’ll find something that suits you. I think that sums up our city fairly well also.

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