The Chicago hotlist, July 2021

It was an absolute pleasure researching and picking out restaurants for our recent trip to Chicago, the first in at least a couple of years.

The food scene in Chicago is no joke, as I’m sure many of you already know. During our last few trips, we focused mostly on dining in the West Loop neighborhood, with a few spots thrown in from Logan Square and other neighborhoods.

This trip, we stayed downtown at London House, and somewhat unwittingly, I picked out a lineup of restaurants that were almost all in downtown Chicago. It was fun to rediscover downtown, which can feel a lot more touristy than Chicago’s neighborhoods, and try some new spots — we took a risk on one that had just opened, which paid off.

In no particular order, here is the lineup of where we ate. What fun to be able to travel again, and to beef up this part of my blog, where I have not posted since early 2020.

En Passant, 3010 W. Diversey Ave

I relied heavily on this list, from one of my most trusted food websites, Eater, to pick out the majority of the restaurants we checked out.

When I saw En Passant was a project from Chef Sam Engelhardt, who opened Au Cheval, which serves one of my favorite burgers ever, I knew we had to check it out. We tried a couple of the suggested dishes from the Eater list, including the black honey-drizzled crudo and, of course, the smash burger with balsamic onion jam and Marie Rose sauce.

I’d have liked to try even more — and would return to do that on our next visit.

Kasama, 1001 N. Winchester Ave.

Kasma was a last-minute find from Matthew, who Googled around to check out several breakfast and coffee spots before we headed to a baseball game later that day. When we visited, Kasama was not seating diners indoors, but has since begun dining room seating. Nevertheless, their patio is lovely, and worth checking out if you’re more comfortable eating outside.

I ordered the ham and cheese pastry, I’ll admit, mostly just for Instagram. But then it turned out to be absolutely delicious: flaky, savory, buttery pastry filled with soft cheese and topped with glossy, cured meat. Hard to resist.

The breakfast sandwich doesn’t look super impressive in my photo, but the house longanisa, a Filipino sweet sausage, is a knockout. Kicky chorizo is the perfect foil for the fried eggs and rice we also ordered.

The Exchange, 224 S. Michigan Ave.

I was most excited to check out the just-opened Exchange, a “Japanese listening bar” with a cocktail program and restaurant. Japanese listening bar turns out to just mean a restaurant where all the music comes through a very nice sound system and most of it is complete albums that the staff curated throughout the evening, playing vinyl on a record player.

Yeah, it’s a little kitschy. But the food, in particular, the heirloom tomato and buratta, a delicious chopped salad (I’ve been into salads lately) and an Indian-spiced plate of chicken thighs and fregola, a round pasta similar to cous cous, were especially memorable.

Wrigleyville: Diver at the Park, 3475 N. Clark St.; and Wrigley Field

Tease me if you will (its ok, I can take it) but one of my favorite rituals at Wrigley Field is getting a glass of #RoseatWrigley. Trust me, you should get on board, too.

Matthew and I also checked out Diver at the Park, in between Kasama and the game, and it turned out we’d been there before, when it was more of a hotel bar and less of a margarita bar. The patio is fun, though, and the drinks are fine. We picked it mostly because I’d seen it on Eater and also, it wasn’t as packed to the gills as some of the other spots in the neighborhood get right before the baseball begins.

The Purple Pig, 444 Michigan Ave.

The Purple Pig was the only restaurant on the trip we revisited, and it was mostly because we spent an afternoon walking the shops on Michigan Avenue, and it’s right there.

I’ve always enjoyed its focus on cheese, pork and wine (three of my favorite things!) and we had a nice lunch, the highlight definitely being the squid ink pasta with scallops, shrimp and tomato sauce paired with a glass of chilled red wine.

Tzuco, 720 N. State St.

I loved the interior look of Tzuco, a newer French-Mexican mashup, and the food and margaritas turned out to be just fantastic, too.

Highlights: cochinita pibil, one of my favorite Mexican pork dishes, here served with black bean purée, pickled red onion and a kicky habanero salsa. I also loved their version of another favorite, the chile relleno, a poblano pepper stuffed with wild mushroom and tomato fondue, all topped with a wedge of panela cheese.

Tzuco also served one of the most visually striking desserts I’ve had in a long time, which looked just like a fuzzy peach. Inside, the dessert had an outer layer of homemade marshmallow and an interior of sliced peaches suspended inside an icy sorbet.


Love Chicago and learning of new places to try – thanks Sarah and Matt!
Suggestion: while the food pics are helpful, it’d be great to have at least one pic of the ambience, inside or out. The atmosphere can be half the fun! Thanks.
PS: Add Charleston SC to your must-sample-foodie-town. We’re here now and it’s amazing.

We spent 5 days in Chicago in August, stying for the first time in the West Loop, which is an absolutely wonderful neighborhood for noshing! We also visited the London House for Happy Hour. Our Chicago friend told us about it, or we might never have known it existed. Such gorgeous views to enjoy on a warm summer evening.

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