Whenever I’m in the West Loop, I feel like reenacting the scene in Oliver. You know, the one where the orphaned kids are dancing around their bowls of gruel singing “Food, Glorious Food”, right? Well, actually no. Mostly I’m thinking of the scene where the rulers of the house are tucked away in the back hosting a feast for themselves, stuffing their bourgeoisie faces!
This is Chicago, and glorious food it is home to indeed. Renowned for being the culinary capital of the US, West Loop is booming with great new living spaces and culinary gems. I’m not talking deep dish, Italian beef, or the Chicago hot dog (by the way it’s illegal to put ketchup on a hot dog in city limits).
I’m talking about diamond in the rough establishments. Restaurants that serve dishes so delicious you can’t stop dreaming about them, waking up wondering how, out of all the places in Chicago you could live, you chose to live in the West Loop- Food Dreamland!
These restaurants are constantly referenced on the culinary wire, incessantly praised, and always leave diners “fat and happy.” Admittedly, a dining experience at any of the following 5 restaurants will leave you in a state of gastronomic induced nirvana (there goes that “Food, Glorious Food” song in my head again).
1. Au Cheval
Our favorite (burger) in the Country.
— Bon Appetit
Honestly, how many times have you heard that expression, “Best This in America”, “Best That in The World”? It is usually in some dive diner with a neon sign blaring “Best Omelette in the State” or other self-appointed accolade. But when a national food critic magazine makes this magnanimous claim, you better listen, and listen I did.
I first went to Au Cheval on a lunch hour; not prime lunch hour, it was after 2 p.m. and there was still an hour wait. And as someone who personally hates waiting, especially while hungry, I can tell you it was totally worth it. The menu has several sandwich options, but you know what you’re here for- the burger. The burger that is the epitome of all that you’ve searched for, that place where fantasy and reality collide and divinity is found. Order the single cheeseburger, which is actually two patties! Customize it with additional toppings like thick cut bacon that’s tender rather than crispy, a fried egg that oozes like butter when you take a bite, or crispy foie gras if you need additional richness. Overall, this is the white whale of burgers. Go get it Ahab!
2. The Girl and The Goat
“Girl & the Goat is awesome. I love her and I love her food. For me that’s the very picture of a tough, determined Chicagoan. That’s a very hard-working chef.”
— Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain is a straight shooting, no trend chasing, no B.S. chef. He is highly respected in the restaurant world and famous for his inability to sugarcoat. As a straight shooter myself, and a little bit of a foodie, I like following Mr. Bourdain’s recommendations. Sometimes it makes me feel smart, but usually it just means I am going to have an awesome meal. And for me, that’s good enough!
The Girl and the Goat’s menu is comprised of thoughtful dishes with farm fresh ingredients. The must try selections are naturally the Goat ones, but the menu also offers great seafood, beef, chicken and pork. One favorite, the “Wood Roasted Pig Face” may have a name that doesn’t shine, but if you brave it, you won’t regret it. This restaurant is the pinnacle of great variety without compromise or pretense.
3. The Publican
“Pork is elevated to gourmet status” at Paul Kahan’s West Loop New American, where an “imaginative” small-plates menu (“sharing is the name of the game”) celebrates “all things pig”, but also includes a “fine selection” of seafood and other “thoughtful” dishes for “non-swine lovers” too.
Eating at the Publican is a transcendent experience- especially if you’re a pig lover! You’ll find tons of varieties of the pig, from crispy pork rinds to the suckling pig itself, all in celebration of this “magical animal” (thank you Homer Simpson for coining this brilliant and accurate moniker). Overall, the restaurant is a celebration of hearty fare with a European beer hall feel, all nicely tucked into the meat-packing district of the West Loop. Order the Pub Bacon, but don’t shy away from the other meats or seafood such as the skate wing, striped bass or oysters. Chef Paul creates imaginative and delicious dishes regardless of the protein. Fun Fact: Publican, a mostly British term means “a manager or owner of a beer hall” or a “tax collector for the ancient Roman times”. Be happy you’ll be dining with the right Publican!
Expect simple, seasonal, shareable small plates that let their ingredients shine.
— Chicago Mag
Ahhh yes, the KISS method of dining…”Keep It Simple Silly”. When you’re looking for that fresh, easy to please meal, can’t decide what you’re in the mood for, or just heading out with a large group, point yourself in the direction of Avec.
A neighborhood icon that has been around since 2003, these portion conscious plates are great for large groups to get a taste of everything or for small parties who want to enjoy samplings and leftovers. If you love midwest dining that draws from seasonally inspired ingredients, and a constantly changing menu, you’ll love the fact that there are always new items to enjoy. Well, that is except for the Chorizo Stuffed Dates: an item so good, and so popular, a revolution was inspired when they removed them from the menu back in 2011 (okay, that never happened, but I’m pretty sure it would if they ever did).
So, head on in and order those dates, plan to try something new, and discover why Avec is the perfect example of what makes “Great Food” and the “West Loop” interchangeable!
This large restaurant has a fun, festive vibe to it, and the food is top quality.
— Jamie Bartosch
You can’t miss Carnivale! No seriously, you really can’t miss it. The colorful, festive sign that dominates the side of the restaurant just invites fun, whetting your appetite…even while you’re staring at it in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 94 interstate!
Open late and pumping with live Salsa on Wednesdays, this vibrant restaurant is great for large groups or just diners who like an upbeat, “aye yai yai” feel while dining. Peruvian, Puerto Rican, Spanish and similar influences can be found on the menu in tapas (small plate) form, with guacamole, ceviche, and coconut shrimp as some of my “must try” favorites. Oh, and don’t forget to save room for dessert. Carnivale keeps it fun and playful with Cotton Candy, just like at the fair! Next time you have friends in town, or just want to pump up the fun, stop in and partake in some of the best Latin fusion fare you’ll find. It’s a great way to show off just how cool dining in this neighborhood really is.
Chicago’s West Loop is truly a foodie’s dream. If you’re looking for a great place close to these restaurants and dozens of other delicious haunts you can walk to, check out these West Loop Apartments that will put you right in the heart of it all. Until then, bon appetit!