The Casual Gourmet


Food And Dining

Flo & Santos

{1310 South Wabash Avenue; 312.566.9817}

Fact: Chicagoland boasts one of the largest ethnic Polish populations outside of Warsaw. Who knew? Apparently Chicago couple Flo and Santos did. Flo, a native Pole, and Santo, hailing from Italy, once entertained at their dining room table with a wildly unique blend of Italian and Polish comfort foods—whence comes the concept of Flo & Santos. The fare here is sure to satisfy foodies across cultures. Think bubbly thin-crust pizza and pierogis (filled with your choice of sauerkraut and potatoes, meat, cheese, or mushrooms). Chef Mark Rimkus, also of Italian-Polish decent, has mastered the art of gourmet comforts, crafting sinfully delicious Potato Pancakes, homemade applesauce, and sauerkraut you go to bed dreaming about. The Kielbasa, meanwhile, is made by the iconic Paulina Meat Market especially for Flo & Santos. Wondering how Polish and Italian cuisines taste together? Then dig into the Polish Pizza—blanketed with sweet barbecue sauce and (you guessed it) kielbasa and kraut. Savor the meal with one of many craft brews available, a selection from the Italian-centric wine list, or be a bit adventurous and try the flight of Polish vodkas. You can't go wrong with the right libation, the perfect comfort food, and a setting to bring it all together. Their Polish biergarden is the perfect place for a pre- and post-Bears game hangout spot, minutes away from the Roosevelt Red Line. Or you can watch the game on one of Flo & Santos dozen flatscreen HDTVs.

 

Rickshaw Republic

{2312 North Lincoln Avenue; 773.697.4750}

Rickshaw Republic is a curious mix between a family-run neighborhood joint and a far more casual eat-and-go stop that specializes in street food. But not just any old grub slung from a stand—this is the same traditional fare that's served from Indonesian street carts. The food is home-cooked, genuine, and all about simple comforts, like the pan-fried beef-stuffed pancakes (Martabak) and a favorite of loyalists, the egg noodle dish stir-fried with chicken, beef ball, egg, and vegetables (Mie Goreng). In case you miss the boat on the street food theme at the start, Rickshaw has set the scene: a hodgepodge of tchotchkes and knickknacks dangle from the ceiling, while chairs are purposefully mismatched and occasional showcases of art reveal a little bit of traditional Indonesian culture. And while that's a unique experience in itself, it's definitely worth noting that Rickshaw is the only Indonesian restaurant in Chicago, complete with family recipes passed down over the last 50 years. In the words of the Setiawan family—whose love of their homeland gave rise to Rickshaw—there's nothing better than authentic, unpretentious, delicious street food—Indonesian style.

 

25 Degrees

{736 North Clark Street; 312.943.9700}

If you were so inclined, you could trace the hamburger’s lineage back to the patties of raw meat Genghis Khan’s men slipped under their saddles to gnaw during prolonged journeys. At the other end of the spectrum is 25 Degrees, a revelatory burger concept that already has been wildly successful in River North. The atmosphere is dramatic and chic (picture black crystal chandeliers and French toile wallpaper), but the real story is the beef. The House Specialty burgers are numbered One through Four (The Number Three burger, for example, features Mezzo Secco Jack, Hatch chiles, chipotle, and avocado). Guests are welcome to craft their own work of art from a list of high-grade toppings like lemon-dill sauce, Hooks Four-Year Cheddar, caramelized onions, jalapeño bacon, and fried egg. There’s also a shortlist of sandwiches (grilled cheese, hot dog, more fried egg) along with soups and salads to satisfy divergent cravings. Classic American street food treated like royalty—what’s not to love?

 

Covo

{1482 North Milwaukee Avenue; 312.626.2660}

Bringing fresh tastes from Greece all the way to Chicago, Owner Ted Maglaris uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, housemade pita, and housemade Greek yogurt in his new restaurant concept in Wicker Park. In a market-like atmosphere surrounded by exposed brick, reclaimed wood, and graffiti—reminiscent of the meatpacking district—Covo features hand-packed gyros and Mediterranean-style salads with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options available. Drop by and build your own gyros, using chicken, pork, or a more traditional lamb-beef combo, all topped with fresh vegetables and classic tzatziki. You can also pick one of the ever-changing sides to complement your gyro—from pasta salad to tabbouleh and quinoa. Or, just enjoy the house-cooked fries. Come dessert, Maglaris has made things light and sweet with a Greek yogurt option decked with honey, fresh fruit, and nuts. Oh—and don't forget to pair your meal with a Goose Island brew on draft, or a glass of Greek wine that Maglaris casked himself.

 

The Burger Point

{1900 South State Street; 312.842.1900}

Burgers are a dime a dozen, aren't they? Well, not the burgers at The Burger Point in South Loop. Here, it's all about local, all-natural meats—that was Owner David Esterline's vision when he opened the joint in 2011. On top of that, all the beef patties are packed with 100-percent grass-fed and antibiotic-free beef sourced from Rain Crow Ranch. But the commitment to local and high-quality meat doesn't end at beef; the chicken and turkey are both free-range and vegetarian-fed, and all the meat featured on the menu is ground in-house every day. Even the veggies burgers are made by hand, from scratch. And along with everything else, you can expect the buns and bread to be day-fresh and preservative-free. If you're a newbie, get the classic Burger Point Burger and relish a fried egg, roasted chile peppers, double-smoked bacon, and pepper Jack cheese all piled high a pretzel roll. But don't fret if that's a bit too much burger to wrap your mouth around—toppings range from simple, high-quality cheese and aïoli to marinara and—wait for it—potato chips. There are tons of made-from-scratch toppings and sauces to customize your meat, too, or you can veer away from the burger and bun fare altogether and fill up on wings and fries. Whatever you're craving, you can be sure it's all-natural, high-quality, and absolutely delicious.

 

Pizzeria da Nella

{1443 West Fullerton Avenue; 773.281.6600}

Nella brings a small part of Italy—the delectable city of Naples—to Chicago. Nella Grassano, the resident pizzaiola, has crafted a menu that is simple but rich, and spans from the ever-popular Pizza Margherita, to the signature Pizza Lavezzi—served with grilled eggplant and smoked mozzarella, and topped with prosciutto di Parma, arugula, and cherry tomatoes. Other Pizzeria da Nella treats, such as the Panzarotti or “Zeppole,” are authentic reproductions of snacks found on the streets of Naples. The most popular of all, however, are four fried indulgences: Potato Croquettes stuffed with mozzarella, Arancini, Fried Dough stuffed with smoked mozzarella, and Fried Zucchini Flower stuffed with smoked mozzarella and prosciutto cotto. While this pizzeria is certainly a Chicago staple, no doubt it carries the flavor and tradition of Old World Naples—from bite-sized antipasti up to the bubbling pizze. And just in case you needed proof (and we're pretty sure you don't), Pizzeria da Nella is the happy recipient of the Best Neapolitan Pizza award from Windy City LIVE! (November 2012).

 

LOKaL

{1904 West North Avenue; 773.904.8113}

A thoroughly modern European dining experience awaits at LOKaL, a restaurant and lounge located in Wicker Park. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a snappy art gallery, and Chef/Owner Art Wnorowski is always busy crafting seasonal comfort dishes that celebrate his European heritage. As for street food offerings, two notable sandwiches leap to the fore. The Zapi Sandwich, for starters, is a classic example of the type of street food available in Poland: bread slicked with pesto and piled with mushrooms, arugula, and mozzarella. You can add sausage to make this one even more filling. Then there’s the Po’ Boy, a literal feast of pulled pork, horseradish barbecue sauce, coleslaw, and fried Polish sausages. This sandwich is extremely popular during Bottomless Brunch service (mimosas, Bloody Marys, and Champagne refilled while you eat), but is also a big draw late-night as LOKaL stays open until the bars close Tuesday-Saturday. You can either pick a sandwich up on the way home, or enjoy one while listening to the eclectic variety of music provided by DJs after 10pm.