2020 | chicago foodie girl


Chicago Eats: Epic Kitchens

One of the most interesting and enterprising trends in the dining scene to come out of this trying time is the explosion of ghost kitchens. While the concept isn't completely new, ghost kitchens have really found their place in Chicago over the last six months as stay-at-home orders and heavy dining restrictions pushed restaurants to get creative with how they handle delivery and takeout orders. In essence, ghost kitchens allow restaurants to operate in a shared space without direct customer interaction – there's no dining room, waitstaff, or cashiers. Rather, there's a contactless customer model in which restaurants focus on delivery and takeout only, typically through apps such as DoorDash and UberEats. Restaurants can save money by operating in a limited capacity, and customers benefit from the model as they can access food from a variety of restaurants in one order. 

In Chicago, we've seen various ghost kitchens enter the scene, including the super-popular Epic Kitchens (one of my personal favorites!). Epic Kitchens hosts several restaurants that are new to the Chicago scene, along with a few that had previously closed their standalone locations and left the city, but came back into the market with the opening of the ghost kitchen. As of now, Epic Kitchens is home to eight unique restaurants, including FreshBeets, Pokeworks, Butterfry Kitchen, and 800 Degrees.



Chicago Eats: Herb

In the sea of Thai restaurants on the Far North Side of Chicago, there's a small BYOB spot in Edgewater that has been making a massive splash in the culinary scene since 2014. Under the leadership of Chef/owner Patty Neumson, Herb offers diners an opportunity to dive into the nutritious side of Thai cuisine through seasonally-driven dishes and preparations not commonly found at other Thai restaurants. Growing up in Southern Thailand, Chef Patty developed a love for quality ingredients through cooking side-by-side with her mother and grandmother from a young age. Her love for food and her passion for nutrition eventually led her to open Herb, where she focuses on healthy Thai food that doesn't sacrifice flavor.

Along with its focus on fresh, nutritious offerings, Herb also stands apart from other Thai restaurants in the area thanks to its prix fixe menu. Typically, the restaurant offers the option of a three or five-course meal, and diners choose from a shortlist of three starters, two soups, and five entrées (there's also an option for additional dishes à la carte). Everything is light, delicious, and thoughtfully prepared and plated. While Herb is currently closed for dining in, a select number of offerings are still available via takeout and delivery.


Chicago Eats: JJ Thai Street Food

Located along a bustling stretch of Chicago Ave. in West Town (one of my favorite foodie areas in the city!), JJ Thai Street Food is a small BYOB restaurant specializing in food found in Thailand’s streets and markets. Unlike numerous other Thai restaurants in Chicago that serve a hybrid of Thai and Chinese cuisines in order to appeal to a wider American audience, JJ's focuses on offering traditional and authentic Thai recipes under the leadership of Chef and owner Jiranya Thosatheppitak.

Back when I was on my mission to find my go-to neighborhood Thai spot, I turned to my IG peeps to gather all the recommendations. Hands down, JJ Thai Street Food came back as the number place to try. While it's not in my neighborhood, so many people raved about it (with so much passion!) that I made a point to add it to my must-try list. Thank goodness I did because one trip was all it took to keep me traveling halfway across the city for their fantastic food again, and again!


Chicago Eats: Immm Rice & Beyond

Located right off the bustling Broadway and Argyle intersection (a neighborhood known for some of the best Southeast Asian restaurants in Chicago), Immm Rice & Beyond is a casual BYOB spot specializing in Thai street food. Most known for their khao rad gang (which roughly translates to "rice lunch plate"), the restaurant boasts an extensive menu of fare most commonly found at Thai food stalls and street carts. Along with their popular lunch plates, they also offer several noodle soups and a rotating selection of kreung jim, relishes/dips typically eaten with vegetables and rice.

The moment you walk through the front door of Immm, you're enveloped in the tempting rich and pungent aromas of the stews and curries simmering on the steam table. The offerings include various favorites like Sliced Coconut in Panang Curry, Tamarind-Red Curry with Pork Belly, and a  5-Spice Stew with Braised Pork Belly, Egg, and Puff Tofu, as well as specials such as Mackerel and Veggies in a Southern Fermented Fish Entrails Stew. If you've never been to a place like Immm, the smells can be overwhelming (as you'll want to order *everything*!), but part of the fun is diving in and sampling their recommended favorites, as well as the ever-changing daily specials!


Thai Select #ThaiFood4Heroes

Tum Thai Salad from Immm Rice & Beyond

While most of this year has been complicated, confusing, and difficult for so many, numerous restaurants across the country have banded together to do what they do best: take care of their communities. Independent, mom-and-pop Thai restaurants under Thai Select USA (a Thai government certified program that provides a seal of approval for authentic Thai restaurants) have made it their mission to feed and thank our frontline workers and healthcare heroes as part of the #ThaiFood4Heroes campaign.

The movement initially kicked off in New York, New Jersey, and California, with a total of 74 top Thai eateries joining in and cooking up nearly 5,000 meals that were served to frontline workers. As healthcare workers on the front lines are still working long, hard hours amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the program continues to expand to other states, Florida being the most recent to join the cause.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be featuring several of the fantastic Thai Select USA restaurants in Chicago that are continuing to give selflessly to keep the frontline workers fed (starting with my favorite neighborhood spot, Immm Rice & Beyond!).


Recent Foodie Finds: Delivery Edition

Tap, tap, tap... is this thing on? *Ahem.* How do I even start this post? Suffice to say that I didn't intend to disappear for five months, but well... this year has sucked. I mean, I know you all already know it, but is there really any other way to put it? 2020 is trash. Between the pandemic, social unrest, job stress, the painful hit on Chicago's restaurant community, the loss of my social life, the terrifying presence of anti-science and anti-logic masses, the President's dangerous tomfoolery, sickness/death, and the possibility of what's yet to come when I return to campus next week, 2020 has been one of the most emotional, complicated, and strangest years of my life. Again, I know this isn't unique to me, but I felt weird jumping back in this space without some sort of acknowledgment/update. </rant>

As with many of you, I have been working from home since mid-March, which has given me ample opportunity to make my way through numerous delivery/pickup options (side note: I am so grateful to live in a city/neighborhood with plentiful options, as I burned out on the daily cooking routine about a month into the stay-at-home order! 😂). In an effort to *not* have to think about meal planning and as a way to support the restaurant community, I dove head-on into delivery/pickup and turned our apartment into our own private virtual restaurant. While I haven't yet returned to dining in, I'm still heavily ordering in (and I've even ventured out for a few super socially distant outdoor photoshoots), so I have plenty of delicious content to share with you!

Here are a few of my recent foodie finds (follow me on Instagram for even more)...

The Dirty Burg from The Loyalist (via Tock). Named one of the best burgers in the country, I've been itching to get my hands on this beauty. Made of short rib, chuck and ground bacon, and topped with housemade pickles, American cheese, onions, and onion-infused mayo on a sesame seed bun, this burger is messy, indulgent, and so freaking delicious! And YES, it's absolutely one of the best burgers I've ever had!


Chicago Eats: Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods

As soon as I stopped by Ina Mae Tavern for the first time shortly after it opened in 2018, I knew it was going to become one of my favorite neighborhood spots. There was something about the combination of the fantastic food and homey atmosphere that really spoke to me. I had visited New Orleans for the first time only a few months before and had one of the best food experiences of my life - the moment I walked into Ina Mae, I felt like I had been transported back to the magic. Fast forward to a year and a half later, I've been back numerous times for brunch, dinner, live music, game nights, and most recently, for one of the best Mardi Gras celebrations you'll find in Chicago!

Named for Chef Brian Jupiter's (of Frontier) great-grandmother, Ina Mae is a tribute to New Orleans soul food with a blend of French, Caribbean, Spanish, and African flavors. The menu is inspired by the dishes of Jupiter's childhood and the strong southern women who ran his big family. You'll even see some of their own recipes dotted throughout the menu, like the gumbo and the fried chicken. Along with his family favorites, the menu also boasts New Orleans staples such as po'-boys, chargrilled oysters, jambalaya, seafood by the pound, and the always popular frozen Sno-Balls.


Chicago Eats: Oda Mediterranean Cuisine

If you follow me on Instagram, you may recall me mentioning earlier this month that one of my goals for this year is to feature more spots in my 'hood. Typically, when I go out to eat in the Andersonville/Edgewater area, I try to disconnect from food blogger mode (aka not take a million photos and actually eat hot food!). As much as I enjoy those non-blogger meals, it means that I often never end up sharing the fab eats in my neighborhood. That definitely needs to change, as there are so many fantastic places on the far north side everyone needs to check out, starting with one of my newest favorites Oda Mediterranean Cuisine!

Tucked into the quiet northern end of Andersonville, Oda offers diners a cozy atmosphere, an interesting selection of Georgian wines, and some of the best Turkish comfort food you'll find in Chicago. Owners Marina Cardak and her daughter Tamta Meladze are well known in the neighborhood as the former owners of the much-loved Turkish Cuisine restaurant that left Andersonville several years ago. Thankfully, they're back in the 'hood and better than ever! Their newest venture, Oda, not only gives diners an authentic taste of Turkey but also features the flavors of neighboring Mediterranean nations including France, the Middle East, Italy, and Cardak's home country of Georgia.



Recent Foodie Finds

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday season and start to 2020. As per usual, I spent the first few weeks of my winter break in perpetual eating mode with nonstop restaurant visits and various holiday fêtes, followed by a week of Netflix and chill (and that would be actual chill, not the other kind). Now that I've worked my way through You, Fuller House, Watchmen, and The Crown, the time has come for me to stop acting like I'm a professional lady of leisure and finish my spring semester planning (classes start in just over a week! 😱).

While I'm not one to get caught up in the New Year's resolutions hype, I do focus on meeting specific goals throughout the year. As I definitely lost my writing grove during this last round of grad school, one of my major goals of this year is to be more consistent in this space and double the number of posts from last year (which shouldn't be all that difficult considering last year was a record low for me). This is all to say that I will be around more this year - I have plans for a monthly round-up of Chicago restaurant visits, as well as a look at some of my most recent travels. Stayed tuned for some exciting content!

Here are a few of my recent foodie finds (follow me on Instagram for even more!)...

Amatriciana Pizza with tomato, pecorino, and guanciale at Bar Cargo. While Chicago may be known as the city of deep-dish pizza, anyone who lives here will tell you that the real standouts are the places that focus on light and crispy crust with deeply flavorful toppings. The Roman-style pizzas at Bar Cargo are fired in a stone oven imported from Rome and have a perfectly done crispy-tender crust that holds up well to toppings.

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