In the last 15 years, Chicago has shaken off its midwest, meat-and-potatoes history and blazed forth in the world of creative – and delicious! – culinary exploration. Now boasting 24 Michelin starred restaurants and a variety of experimental chefs noted amongst the best in the world, the City of Big Shoulders is also the City of Great Taste!
Chicago has been host to the James Beard Awards – an extraordinary honor bestowed upon chefs, restaurants and others in the food industry. Ever since its inception, the James Beard Awards have been hosted in New York City; moving the events to Chicago in 2015 created an exciting buzz of pop-ups, special chef tastings, and a multi-cultural culinary exploration as chefs and diners come in from all over the world. It was the perfect time to visit Chicago to experience a wide array of phenomenal chefs offering pop-ups and special menus.
However, dining with kids can be challenging. An elaborate tasting menus may not be the food – or the price – your little ones will appreciate. Not to fear – Chicago offers hundreds of completely accessible, creative dining options for those of us toting tots but not willing to sacrifice taste! Here’s a short list of kid-friendly*, culinarily delicious dining options.
Antique Taco: A small storefront in Wicker Park, the menu changes seasonally but always offers a riff on the basics: delicious fish tacos with smoked cabbage and scallions, juicy ribeye topped with cheese and pineapple, and mushroom tacos topped with escabeche and cilantro. Additional options include cheese curds, empanadas and soups, and they also offer up a kids quesadilla.
The horchata milkshake is a fantastic treat for everyone at the table – and the fresh margaritas and beer options give the parents a nice treat as well. Do be careful with tiny tastebuds and ask about spiciness before ordering. Open Tuesday through Sunday, antiquetaco.com.
Arami Sushi: We discovered that our daughter loves sushi – and Arami’s is some of the best in town (and a bib gourmand notes that Michelin agrees!) A casual neighborhood joint with a spacious dining room featuring a sushi bar and skylights gives kids a lot to look at.
The menu gives parents lots to choose from too. Ramen is a sure hit for the kiddos – watch them slurp their noodles with pleasure! The sushi is fresh and creative. Be sure to ask your server for their recommendations – the chef likes to experiment, and sometimes the best items haven’t made it to the menu yet! aramichicago.com
Berrista Coffee: Award-winning Chef Homaro Cantu has been experimenting with sugar-free cooking for years – fixating specifically on the Miracle Berry, an unusual little fruit that confuses the tastebuds and can make sour food, like lemons and vinegar, taste like candy. Berrista is a bakery and restaurant that explores the bounds of the Miracle Berry, asking – what if you could eat all your favorite foods (donuts, waffles, cakes), without any of the “bad stuff” (refined sugars and artificial sweeteners)?
They also feature a fully rounded out menu of savory sandwiches, paninis and soups, in addition to a full range of coffee, tea, sugar-free sodas and other beverages. This is a real treat for older kids that will LOVE discovering a lemon tastes like candy! Also worthy to note – they offer curbside delivery. Call your order in, and they will bring it to your car so you don’t have to wake a sleeping bean! Tuesday through Sunday, berrista.com.
Cellar Door Provisions: Located on the north edge of Logan Square, this friendly bakery-cafe has a focused, farm-to-table menu that changes weekly. They feature a cornerstone of delicious baked goods that come out of the oven on rotation in the mornings: croissants and kougin amann, a delicious, cinnamony morning bun, scones and tea cakes tempt from their pretty arrangements.
Heartier breakfast includes quiche, and the Staff Meal: soft egg, fresh greens, and their unbelievable bread, slathered with fresh butter. Lunch options usually include a soup, a salad, and delicious, thick cut open face sandwiches piled high with the freshest ingredients. You can while away a quiet morning sharing pastries with your little ones, or pop in on a bustling weekend when you might catch a folk band playing a tune! Wednesday through Sunday, 8am-3pm, cellardoorprovisions.com.
Longman and Eagle: Named after the statue in nearby Logan Square, this Michelin-starred restaurant offers incredible meals and even better beverages, taking care of you for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night. The wide range of options, including slightly spicy wild boar sloppy joe, fried chicken and waffles with sweet potato and pork belly hash, to arctic char and roasted cauliflower, there’s truly something for everyone. Even the pickiest kid will love the meatballs and the fries – letting the parent enjoy some fine dining without worrying about the noise or the scene.
All ages welcome before about 8PM – they card after that. This is THE place in Logan Square – wait times at peak hours can be upwards of 2 hours, so come for weekday lunch or early dinner. Bonus: Changing table in the bathroom! longmanandeagle.com.
Osteria Langhe: At the edge of Logan Square and Bucktown, this tiny, northern Italian osteria has been open just over a year – and is an absolute mainstay for the neighborhood. The vitello tonnato is sumptuous and creamy; handmade pasta is toothsome and rich; and the wide range of secondi include risotto, tortelloni, NY strip, rabbit, and more.
The outdoor seating is small but fabulous on a summer evening: perhaps a glass of rose for a mom while the little ones nibble grissini breadsticks and wait for their pastas! The Sunday Night Special can’t be beat: $19 all-you-can-eat ragu is a crowd pleaser; and they also offer a $30 3-course prix fixe on Tuesdays, and have brunch on weekends. Osterialanghe.com.
Reno: located in Logan Square, directly across from the Square itself, Reno is open morning, noon and night. Featuring a wood-fired pizza oven handmade by Neapolitan artisans, their crispy thin pizzas are fabulous.
My favorites are the Popeye, melting delicious, rich gouda and mozzarella cheeses with spinach and artichokes, and the Combo: sausage, mushrooms, smoked onion….. sometimes it’s hard to choose which one to order, which makes Tuesday evenings the best time to come in, because they offer 2 pizzas for $20! The menu is well rounded and there’s a lovely wine and beer list for the adults too! Cash only, changing table in the ladies room! renochicago.com.
Smalls: A Phillipino-inspired smoke shack, the aptly named smalls only has a handful of counter seats, but the garlic rice and fried beets make this a must-try option for dine-in or take-away. The Pulled Pork platter comes with a heaping portion of garlic rice and texas toast as well as unbelievably flavorful 5-spice fries. The bibimbap is a savory and satisfying rice and veggie dish, topped with your meat or tofu of choice.
Fried chicken takes 20 minutes to prepare, as it’s fried to order, but it is SO worth the wait! The ever-changing Market Vegetables might include charred zucchini or long beans, corn elotes, or kabocha squash. There are always other inventive specials making the rounds. Tiny tots LOVE the rice and veg. Be sure to mind for spice if your little ones are sensitive. Tuesday through Saturday, Smallschicago.com.
*Kid friendly is sometimes relative – for dinner options, you may feel most comfortable going early, around 5-7pm
PIN IT FOR LATER!
Featured image courtesy of Cellar Door Provisions, Chicago skyline via Shutterstock.com