great chicago restaurants

I have a confession to make. Lately, we’ve been eating out – a lot – and after each time I plan to share with you what we found. But I haven’t. Not once. So, the result is this jumbled review of all of them in just one post. I apologize in advance.

We kicked off with Pollo Express in Pilsen. B, myself & two other friends ventured out on a Sunday, when traffic is lightest. We saw a lot of great street art, including some nice work by Jasso (check out the light saber piece below). As the name implies, Pollo Express is all about the chicken. Served only two ways (natural or adobado) you don’t have a lot of options, but it doesn’t matter. It was so moist and flavorful I even liked it — and I am not a big meat/chicken fan. The freshly made guacamole and house salsas also made the visit more than worth it. Gluttons that we are, we swung by Black Dog Gelato on the way home. If you haven’t tried it yet, you are basically abusing yourself. Get on it.

Feeling guilty for all our indulgence the next place we hit was a fully vegan joint, Native Foods Cafe, in Wicker Park. They have an expansive menu and some of the friendliest servers I’ve had in awhile. They also have a killer watermelon fresca – with free refills! You can check out their full menu here. They have enough variety and mock-meat dishes to satisfy most meat eaters. And everything on the entire menu is made fresh, from scratch, every morning.

Last week, while working in the loop, I grabbed lunch at the newly opened Tortas Frontera in the Chase building. It was quietly opened by Rick Bayless but it didn’t take more than a day for the crowds to come. I had to wait 20-25 minutes just to order. My food was ready (and delicious) quickly. Although, I had their Taqueria Salad, which played a role in the speedy aspect. The lady behind me ordered a tortas, and was warned it would be another 10-12 minute wait. Although if you have the time, it’s definitely worth the wait. They also serve breakfast. But if you come for lunch, be warned, they close at 2. I showed up at 2:05 the first time and learned the hard way.

Another recently opened place we tried was Publican Quality Meats. Part sandwich shop, part small grocer, part butcher – and it nails all three. We both loved our sandwiches. I had the “Better Than a Gyro” and B had the “Train to Tuscany” (horrible sandwich naming was the only fault we found). The products I scanned while waiting for our food made me want to return immediately. They carry farm fresh eggs, house made stocks, artesian oils and other hard to find items – all with an emphasis on local. I can’t wait to go back.

Lastly – finally – we went out for dinner and drinks at Big Star last Friday. We’ve been many times before but I never get sick of it. The crowds are another story. They have great salsa, fresh tortilla chips, delicious tacos and a serious drink list (if you like bourbon, this is the place to go in Chicago). Definitely worth a try if you’re in the city for more than a day or two. If you want to make a night of it, go across the street for drinks at Violet Hour afterwards. You’ll feel like you were plopped in the middle of The Great Gatsby.

(photos via flickrgapers block; racked & rock n roll ghost)


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