Before there was Latinicity, before there was Eataly, there was the Chicago French Market. Years before food halls became a national craze, the sprawling market in the West Loop's Ogilvie Transportation Center broke new ground in a brand new arena, bringing together a slew of food vendors under one enormous roof.
Since opening in 2009, the French Market has come a long way, steadily becoming a more fully realized destination for Chicagoans and visitors well beyond the bounds of West Loop office lunchers.
What Eataly is for Italian culture and Latinicity is for Latin American ones, the Chicago French Market is more of an ode to the Midwest. While vendors run the gamut from sushi slingers to chocolatiers, all are local artisans and companies converged together.
It's representative of Chicago's cross-section of cultures and cuisines, all operating in flavorful harmony. There has been a lot of flux over the past several years, but now in 2016, the market is running stronger than ever. Not only does it look and feel more cohesive, like a bustling Parisian marketplace humming with activity and abundant with mingling aromas, but the lineup of purveyors, restaurants, bakeries, shops, and even bars has really set a new bar.
One of the newer entries, Aloha Poke Co., routinely draws lunchtime lines that weave through the market. The tiny counter peddles Hawaiian poke, a raw fish preparation that has swept coastal cities and become quite a trend in and of itself. While poke dishes can be found on restaurant menus in Chicago, this marks the first dedicated poke eatery, and apparently people were hungry for it. Think of the customizable bowls, centered around rice and raw tuna or salmon, as sort of deconstructed sushi, emphasizing pristinely fresh fish and accompaniments like edamame, tobiko, Maui onions, and yuzu ranch.
Another hot spot is a full-fledged beer bar courtesy of Frietkoten. The Belgian vendor specializes in fries served in paper cones with various dipping sauces, along with seasonal beers on tap. There's an actual bar area to sit at, which is a nice addition to the market, and Frietkoten also recently rounded out their menu with cheeseburgers.
Follow the tantalizing aroma of fried dough to Beaver's Coffee + Donuts, a stand that originated as a food truck before putting down additional roots in the French Market. They specialize in small fritters with assorted toppings and flavors like s'mores.
With summer upon us, it's the perfect time to hit up another recent addition, Black Dog Gelato (pictured at top). The artisanal scoop shop has headquarters in Ukrainian Village and Roscoe Village, with this being their third location. It's the perfect spot to swing by on a warm afternoon for a scoop or two of goat cheese-cashew-caramel or blueberry-French toast.
For a more sit-down experience, EJ Sushi fits the bill. It's a spin-off of West Town's Kai Sushi, and chef/owner John Tsendsuren boasts some of the freshest fish around. There's a small sushi counter area to sit at and enjoy maki, sashimi, and nigiri.
Then there's the old guard of loyal standbys that have helped popularize the market from the beginning. These include the venerable:
- Pastoral Artisan Cheese
- Bread & Wine
- Delightful Pastries
- Vanille Patisserie
- Fumare Meats
- Saigon Sisters (pictured above)
From desserts and bottles of wine to deli meats, raw vegan goods, Vietnamese sandwiches, and sushi, the Chicago French Market truly has it all.
Chicago French Market
131 N Clinton St, Chicago, IL
- Mon - Fri: 7:00AM - 7:30PM
- Sat: 8:30AM - 5:30PM
- Sun: closed