A Squared: Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Laidback Dinner Date Nights 2

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Laidback Dinner Date Nights 2

On Tuesday I told you about two great options for low key date nights in Chicago. These restaurants are the perfect place for a Valentine's Day that's not over the top and corny or just for a random Tuesday night when you're meeting up with your someone special. And today I have two more suggestions for you! Both of these restaurants happen to be in the West Loop-- and they are both casual atmospheres serving up fun twists on barbecue. Read on to learn more...

West Loop

This was the first time we had visited Chef Bill Kim's bellyQ and I can assure you it won't be the last. Located on the far west fringe of the Randolph Street "restaurant row," bellyQ is a spacious restaurant with a very cool industrial chic atmosphere. The decor is modern, simple, with a few interesting details throughout. The menu is Chef Kim's modern interpretation of Asian barbecue and the flavors did not disappoint. Did I also mention that Chicago royalty Michael Jordan is one of the partners in the restaurant?

Right off the bat I was intrigued by the cocktail menu at bellyQ. Torn between two drinks, I asked the waiter for his take and he strongly suggested the Randolph Sour. Named after their location on Randolph Street, this cocktail was a delicious combination of bourbon and lemon juice topped with a Malbec float. Lemon and bourbon is such a great combo, but that splash of dry red wine really made this cocktail something special.

After hearing great things about them from other friends that have dined at bellyQ, we decided to share an order of the brisket buns to start. A generous portion of braised beef brisket with sauteed peppers and onions was served in a deliciously savory Asian barbecue sauce. Alongside the beef, a few of bellyQ's buns. They weren't your typical steamed Asian buns, but were lightly browned on top and soft and warm in the middle. This is a must order if you're looking for something to share!

For entrees, Alex ordered the baby back pork ribs. The portion was surprisingly generous and Alex had plenty left over for lunch the next day. The ribs were nicely grilled and served in a sticky sweet and savory housemade hoisin sauce. On the side, they served a little Asian slaw that I managed to sample more than once throughout the meal. It was crunchy and tangy dressed in a light vinaigrette packed with Asian flavors.

I opted for the slow roasted pork butt as my entree. The pork was fork tender and served with these delicious red bliss potatoes that were both soft and crispy-- exactly how I want to eat them! It was all topped with a red Thai curry sauce. The sauce was thick and the flavors complex-- a little spicy, a little sweet, and the rich texture was perfect over that pork.

We also shared a side of the wrinkle beans and crispy noodles, which was a totally addictive side dish. There was a little bit of sausage and it was all tossed in a wonderfully flavorful peanut pesto.

And while I wasn't expecting to find an amazing dessert here, I was really blown away by the one that we shared. bellyQ is known for its soft serve, which is featured in many of their desserts. We ordered the chocolate pot de creme which was a combination of bellyQ's vanilla soft serve and a rich chocolate-coconut custard, all topped with a few warm bites of cinnamon and sugar-coated Vietnamese donuts. I am a sucker for soft serve ice cream and something about it being paired with the rich and not super sweet chocolate and a few fluffy donut bites made this dessert irresistible.
BellyQ on Urbanspoon

Green Street Smoked Meats
West Loop

Green Street is a really unique date night spot: it's a trendy newer restaurant that is so no frills it is almost dive-y. And this restaurant is serving up really great barbecue cafeteria-style just off of Randolph Street, a stretch of the city dedicated to some of the best dining experiences in Chicago. I, for one, loved the atmosphere at Green Street. The space is huge and expansive-- like a barn or abandoned warehouse-- with a huge central bar and long tables with benches for a seat yourself communal dining experience. Like its neighbor RM Champagne Salon, the restaurant is tucked away and almost totally hidden from the naked eye. You have to go looking to find it, but once you do, you'll fall in love with the string lights, outdoor patio, and charming interior. We showed up early on a Friday night and waited in a short line to order our food. By the time we had gotten our food and claimed a space at one of the long tables, the line was wrapped all the way around the restaurant. The word was out that this menu was worth standing in line for.

Here's how it works: Everything on the Green Street menu is served a la carte. After you've waited in line, you place your order with the meat guys: sandwiches, frito pies, sausages, and meats by the half pound are all available here. Then you move down the line to order from their menu of side dishes. They have a great selection of salads, pickled veggies, and other traditional barbecue sides that they'll load up on a huge tray for you. Head to the sauce station to load up on a few of their barbecue sauce options, take your tray back to find a table, grab a drink from the bar (or canned beer from one of the tubs), and sit back and enjoy.

I was totally charmed by the unique dining experience at Green Street, but it was definitely the food that won me over. Pulled pork is my go to order at most barbecue joints and Green Street's version was delicious. Tender slow smoked pork was piled high on a brioche bun and topped off with a bit of Green Street's crunchy coleslaw. It was super messy, so it's a good thing they serve it on a paper-lined tray! Of their three sauces, my favorite was definitely the Brown Thunder-- a bold and savory sweet coffee-infused barbecue sauce.

And while you can count on me to order a pulled pork sandwich, I can almost guarantee you that my husband will order either ribs or the brisket sandwich. He went with the sandwich this time, which was a fabulous choice. I stole a bit of the brisket and it was really nicely smoked, which gave it a great texture and flavor. He likes his sandwich sans coleslaw and instead, slathered his in the spicy Texa$$ Squeeze sauce.

At $4 a pop, we didn't feel too bad about ordering a handful of sides to share with one another. Green Street offers housemade pickles in both sweet and spicy varieties. Since Alex loves spicy, we opted for those and they didn't disappoint on packing some serious heat. Thinly sliced cucumber, onion, and spicy peppers were pickled together and still slightly crunchy in a brine that was tangy and hot. I reached my limit with these pickles pretty quickly, but snagged a few of the sweet ones that our dining companions Mark and Annette ordered, which were much more my speed. Alex didn't have an issue polishing off the spicy ones though! The coleslaw was simple, but refreshing-- the cabbage still crunchy and dressed in a slightly sweet vinegar-based dressing (not drowned in mayo) with a touch of cilantro is exactly how I like it.

We also ordered the baked beans, which were served in a thick tomato-y barbecue sauce with large chunks of brisket, which added some great flavor to them. And lastly, we tried the potato salad. I'm a potato salad purist and-- like my coleslaw-- usually prefer it in a light vinegar-based dressing the way the Germans do it. This more traditional American preparation was not that, but pretty tasty still. The potatoes were cut into big hearty chunks and tossed in a creamy mustard dressing that had a touch of sweetness and some fresh dill flavor.

The experience at Green Street Smoked Meats is the epitome of low key, but there's something sort of fun and different about that that still makes this a really great date spot too.
Green St Smoked Meats on Urbanspoon


  1. We love Green Street Smoked Meats!! And I have been wanting to try Belly Q - looks great!

    1. Definitely give BellyQ a try! We loved it and now I want to have lunch at BellyShack!

  2. We attended an event here this past Sunday & had an awesome experience from beginning to end. They served great food and the salad I had for dinner was delicious. The service at events in NYC also was impeccable.


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