Chicago's West Loop-- Randolph Street, specifically-- is the culinary hub of the city, where trendy restaurants with noteworthy chefs (like Stephanie Izard's Girl & the Goat and Graham Elliot's G.E.B.) seem to be popping up all the time. As a food lover, I couldn't be happier to live in this neighborhood and in walking distance of all of these fabulous places. In fact, since it has warmed up (and WAY up, recently) we have been dining out and about more frequently in the neighborhood. Here are a few of my recent restaurant finds in the West Loop...
RM Champagne Salon
Food and drink aside, I'm simply in love with the atmosphere of this place. It's like the Secret Garden for people that love cool cocktails. I met up with Kit from The Kittchen here for drinks and snacks after work one night and it was the perfect place for a little girls catch up session. They have an adorable (and spacious) patio and a fancy, yet cozy little French-style restaurant all hidden behind the popular Nellcote restaurant on busy Randolph Street. I had a truly fabulous cocktail: a combo of vodka and prosecco with lemon juice and thyme syrup, garnished with a fresh thyme sprig. It was fresh and summery and the lemon/thyme combination was amazing. I wish I were talented enough to recreate this one! We were originally going to meet for drinks only, but the food around us looked and smelled so good that we decided to order a snack. I'm a sucker for good french fries and the pommes frites here are light and crispy and served with a saffron aioli. I'll be ordering them again next time-- along with a croque madame. Yum!
de cero is an upscale taqueria on trendy Randolph Street. We first had dinner here a few years ago and just went back recently and it was great. I love a restaurant with tasting and a la carte options and de cero has lots. They have 6 different salsas to choose from, but we decided on the pickled jalepeno: it was essentially Mexican giardinera, sour and spicy at the same time. And they have tons of different taco options-- from meat heavy to vegetarian and everything in between. Personally, I'm a big fan of the bacon chorizo & potato taco and also the panko-crusted tilapia. A few other remarks on this place: They have a great selection of margarita flavors-- I ordered a mango con chile and it was sweet and a little smoky. Randomly, the pinto beans and rice side is really good. Typically, I wouldn't order them but one of my dinner companions did and I couldn't stop sneaking bites of it. Skip the guacamole-- it is pricey, small, and wasn't very memorable. For value and taste, I do think that Taco Joint edges de cero out slightly, but the atmosphere here is different and definitely worth a visit if you're on Randolph Street and have a craving for Mexican food.
For as great as almost every restaurant on Randolph is (and I'm telling you about a few of them in this post), I was surprised at how underwhelming our dinner was. We went on a Friday night and the place was not even half full-- that's usually a sign, right? They serve Mediterranean-style tapas and while the food wasn't bad, it was forgettable. And expensive. Even with a Groupon, the bill was high and neither of us loved anything we ate. Also, we went ahead and ordered a carafe of sangria and this turned out to be a mistake-- it tasted bottled, not freshly made. If you're in the mood for tapas and sangria, head north to Cafe Ba Ba Reeba instead where the food is consistently good.
Little Goat Diner
Let's end this post on a truly tasty note: dinner at Little Goat Diner. This is the casual sister restaurant to Stephanie Izard's critically acclaimed Girl & the Goat across the street. It's comforting old fashioned diner food with a gourmet twist. Basically, it's just delicious. Having already been to (and loved) Girl & the Goat I had been anxious to try Little Goat, but the wait is usually pretty long. When my restaurant-loving brother-in-law was in town though, he really wanted to dine at one of Stephanie's restaurants. So, we went headed over on a Sunday around 4:30 and only waited 20 minutes for a table!
Everything on the menu looked so good that our eyes ended up being much bigger than our stomachs... we ordered a LOT of food! We started by sharing an order of fried pickles and onion rings. The onions tasted a little pickled, which was surprising but gave them a taste similar to the fried pickles (which I love). And the breading was super crispy (and not soggy) and they were served with ranch dressing and a mustard dipping sauce. We also ordered some tempura fried mashed potatoes. They were totally weird and tasty all at the same time.
For entrees, Alex knew what he wanted almost immediately: beef ravioli with a side of dinner rolls. Random, right? I just love him.
Patrick and I had a bit more difficulty deciding. I ended up ordering one of the day's specials: a BLT made with avocado, heirloom tomatoes, arugula, and a smoky gouda cheese spread. Patrick went for breakfast (they serve it all day long like a good diner should) and ordered their infamous Bullseye French Toast. Are you ready for this? It's thick French toast slices with a fried egg in the center topped with strawberries, fried chicken, and maple syrup. Holy heart attack. Oh, and we shared a side of their creamy mac and cheese because, why not?
I was super impressed by our meal here. For a buzzy restaurant like this, the prices were reasonable and the atmosphere was super laidback-- loud, casual, kid-friendly even. Just a fun experience. And the food is exactly what you'd expect-- rich and decadent, but interesting and well done. And all around, delicious. I can't wait to come back!