Lots of people have heard of Restaurant Row and celebrity chefs like Stephanie Izard and Rick Bayless. Renowned chefs like them help make Chicago the world-class food city it is today. But just as important as the television mainstays are the longstanding restaurants situated in neighborhoods throughout the city that showcase Chicago's diversity and communities.
Along with new restaurants and downtown hot spots, Chicago Restaurant Week this year proudly features numerous neighborhood gems, and this is prime time to visit.
Ukrainian Village: a tavola (2148 W. Chicago Ave.)
One of Chicago's coziest and most unassuming Italian mainstays has been cooking traditional regional fare years ahead (over 20!) of the current day Italian craze. I'm talking about a tavola, a quaint Ukrainian Village jewel situated in a nondescript building that lends the feel of a residential brownstone. Chicago Restaurant Week (CRW) is an apt time to pay a return visit, or an overdue inaugural one, to this local keystone.
Their prix fixe CRW dinner menu includes antipasti options of grilled, marinated, and roasted vegetables, or fresh arugula and toasted walnuts with grape tomatoes, shaved Parmesan, and citrus vinaigrette. First course selections include vegetable minestrone soup and gnocchi with browned sage butter and Parmesan. Braised chicken with garlic spinach is a second course option, along with tagliatelle bolognese, followed by dessert selections like caramelized baked apples on a pastry crust, and a lemon cream torta.
Lincoln Square: Bistro Campagne (4518 N. Lincoln Ave.)
For years, Bistro Campagne has been one of Chicago's go-to French restaurants, and a neighborhood fixture in Lincoln Square, revered for its transportive patio and its buttery, soulful food. Make your way to this French icon during Restaurant Week for a taste of French onion soup, steak tartare, roast chicken, steak frites, creme brulee, and more on their dinner menu.
Irving Park: Bread & Wine (3734 W. Irving Park Rd.)
The type of contemporary American cooking found at Bread & Wine is typically associated with the buzziest downtown restaurants. Located along a busy stretch of Irving Park Rd. in the neighborhood of the same name, Bread & Wine has proven to consistently be one of the greatest surprises in dining, perfectly exhibiting the wide talent pool of chefs and restaurants in Chicago. The restaurant is participating in CRW for dinner, featuring a menu filled with chicken liver pate, pork rillettes, lambs' head fritters, stuffed chicken, cabbage rolls, and other offbeat delicacies.
Uptown: Demera (4801 N. Broadway St.)
Another prime example of Chicago's eclectic, expansive dining scene is Demera, an Ethiopian restaurant in the heart of the Uptown neighborhood. Get a taste for the exotic at this immersive restaurant during lunch or dinner for CRW. Ethiopian delicacies such as sambussa dumplings, lentils in lime vinaigrette, and shareable messob platters with chewy injera bread for eating with your hands. Altogether, a meal at Demera is a group-friendly affair designed to get guests up close and personal with a kind of cuisine not wildly familiar in Chicago.
Lincoln Park: Gemini Bistro (2075 N. Lincoln Ave.)
For a classic American experience in a classic setting, Gemini Bistro is hard to beat. A beloved staple in Lincoln Park, this family-friendly restaurant has become quintessential for good reason. The food is unfussy and just damn good in its wholesome simplicity and quality. Gemini's CRW dinner menu is the perfect example of that, outfitted with dishes like New England clam chowder, seared scallops with butternut squash puree, free-range chicken with crispy thigh meat and chicken sausage, braised short ribs with potato torte, and German chocolate cake with coconut gelato.
Pilsen: May St. Cafe (1146 W. Cermak Rd.)
Sometimes you gotta go off the beaten path a little bit to discover delicious greatness. May St. Cafe is that restaurant, a timeworn Latin stalwart on the outer fringes of Pilsen. The familial, humble eatery continues to impress years after opening, and it's time to check it out for yourself.
First course options on the $33 dinner menu are butternut squash soup with cranberries and chipotle cream, or a winter greens salad with pears, grape tomatoes, fresh herbs, spiced nuts, berries, and herb-pineapple-Champagne balsamic dressing. Up next, guests get a choice between grilled pineapple in Spanish fried rice with shrimp, scallops, and coconut sauce; or baby organic sauteed dandelion with spinach and Swiss chard served with portobello mushroom, Latin root vegetables, goat cheese, and a tomatillo-mango dressing. For dessert, there's white chocolate flan.
Bridgeport: Nana (3267 S. Halsted St.)
As the name suggests, you'll feel right at home at Nana. This venerable Bridgeport spot is a family affair, owned and operated by the Solis family, and named for the matriarch. The comfy space feels like you're dining in someone's home, which sets the perfect backdrop for Latin-tinged, organically minded cookery like avocado fries, beet latkes, braised short rib burritos, chicken tinga flautas, and coconut creme brulee, all of which is available on the lunch or dinner menus Nana is serving as part of CRW.
Old Town: Salpicon (1252 N. Wells St.)
Another longstanding Latin haunt is Salpicon, a Mexican spot that's been heating up Old Town for years and years. If the restaurant's CRW dinner menu is any indication, it's most definitely worthy of a revisit. Appetizers include tamales in both spicy guajillo sauce and serrano-tomatillo sauce; tostaditas heaped with pork and chorizo in a smoky tomato-chipotle sauce; mahi mahi ceviche; charcoal-grilled fish with salsa fresca; grilled tiger shrimp with avocado in a sweet garlic and olive oil sauce; stuffed poblano chilies with fresh corn and zucchini in roasted poblano cream sauce; and orange-scented tres leches cake with raspberry sauce.
Roscoe Village: Volo (2008 W. Roscoe St.)
One of the OG wine bars in Chicago, Volo has been a tentpole in Roscoe Village for a long time. And like the fine wine it serves, it only gets better with age. Pay a visit to Volo for dinner during CRW to feast on a 4-course dinner of oysters, pork belly, green bean salad, steak tartare, steamed mussels with French butter, pan-seared ahi tuna, duck confit, sesame-crusted tofu, and other eclectic, imaginative options.
Lakeview: Yoshi's Cafe (3257 N. Halsted St.)
For decades, Yoshi's Cafe has been cooking up a novel take on fusion cuisine in the heart of Lakeview. The restaurant is a regular fixture for locals in the area, but it's still worth seeking out from visitors, as the quality and technique are second-to-none. For the $33 dinner during CRW, try the tuna carpaccio with grapefruit ponzo sauce, saffron-scented clam chowder, duck confit salad, panko-breaded beef cutlet with guajillo tonkatsu sauce, oven-roasted Japanese kabocha pumpkin, and more.
Header photo: Bistro Campagne
Photos: a tavola, Bistro Campagne, Bread & Wine, Demera, Gemini Bistro, May St. Cafe, Nana, Volo