Ninety-Nine Things We Like - Part Two - Restaurant Edition

It's time for us to continue our list of favorite things and this is a chunk of our very favorite restaurants in Chicago, which are very near and dear to our hearts.  We love food more than pretty much anything else and it's very important to us that our food choices do not have a a negative impact on the world around us. We chose these specific restaurants because they go out of their way to do one or more of the following things:

  • Source local produce, meat, eggs, dairy etc in season
  • Grow their own produce locally or onsite
  • Choose to serve meat that was raised sustainably or at least without added antibiotics/hormones
  • Change their menu to reflect the season and do not exhaust resources to serve dishes out of season
  • Do significant prep work, brewing, or baking on site, little of their food is pre-made or processed
  • Go back to original recipes or sources to provide the most interesting/nourishing meals possible

That being said, here is a short list of our favorite restaurants in Chicago, feast away Chicago friends (Note - the numbering is contiguous from the previous post so that we get to ninety-nine one day!):

Brunch at Gather - these might be Kristl's favorite potatoes

17. Gather - Our favorite restaurant in the city right now. We usually get two appetizers and then share a main. We particularly love their hamburger, arctic char, and crispy breakfast potatoes (only available at brunch on Sundays). Woah. They have precise seasonal menus, source a portion of their food, and the portions are large and affordable.  Lovely atmosphere, but be sure to make a reservation on the weekend! Oh and most days the owner is the host and does the seating, because he cares. (If you see brussels sprouts on the menu, you simply must order them.)

18. Edzo’s - This is an old school burger joint with your choice of sustainably sourced meats to choose from. There are also a dozen different types of fries and daily specials to keep you on your toes. The Lincoln Park location just closed, but the Evanston spot is going strong.

19. Hopleaf - They source some of their produce from urban farms on the south side and change their menu to match the season. They do the same with the beers on tap, if that's what you're in to. The food is delicious and they have a lot of room for gatherings, as long as you check their calendar first, because when it's busy, it's packed.

20. Frontera Fresco - The smallest and least renowned of Rick Bayless's offerings have brought us the most joy. We go to Frontera Fresco in the mall at Old Orchard and get tacos almost every time we are there. It's nice to know that there is some mall food coming from local farms and the meat is relatively well sourced too.

Dukbokki with Bulgogi at Dak

21. Dak - The most meager in terms of sustainability (though they do use antibiotic- and hormone-free meat),  but they have made up for in some sense by being really convenient and delicious for us.  We just wish they would stop using styrofoam for carryout. Sigh. (When we remember, we bring our own containers for leftovers when we eat in.)

22. Nightwood - We heard about Nightwood for their brunches, specifically the donuts, but we've only been there for dinner and drinks.  They made Kristl a truly excellent non-alcoholic cocktail, which is hard to find, though we found that the appetizers far outshone the entrees. Maybe someday we shall return for brunch.

23. Sola - We go to Sola anytime we need a fix of upscale food with Hawaii in mind.  It's not Hawaiian per say, but Chef Carol Wallack's love of Hawaii definitely shines through.  Menus are seasonal, which we love, and often feature a seasonal ingredient. They try to source locally and sustainably as much as possible, and if you are salivating over something on the brunch menu, go early because they will run out (sadly, we speak from personal experience)!

We had to taste a bunch of pies to narrow it down to only two for our wedding reception

24. Hoosier Mama - What is there to say except that these pies will ruin you? We've probably tried twenty flavors and I haven't been upset about any of them. And no, we aren't going bankrupt eating pie, they have a pie flight after 6pm everyday where you can choose 3 pies and get smaller slices of all three to try. Seriously though, they use great ingredients and old recipes. They also sell sandwiches and salads and have a full coffee bar at their Evanston location. (We had two Hoosier Mama pies in the dessert buffet at our wedding!)

25. Bang Bang - Nestled down in Logan Square is another great place to get pie, but to be honest the last time I was there I didn't even think about pie. No. I did, however, have biscuits three different ways. Oh, yes.  Just go there with like three other people, and order all the biscuits, and eat biscuits until you can't move. Don't worry, they only use seasonal fruit and the leaf lard that goes into their baking is rendered specifically for them by one farm. Magic.

26. Honey Butter Fried Chicken - We were recently talking with a fried who had just eaten at HBFC for the first time and we were gushing about how DE-licious it is and he was like yeah, but it's not cheap. It's true, it's not cheap, but that's because Honey Butter is not your corner shop that tastes good only because it's fried and is gonna violate health codes every 6 months or so. This place is legitimately tasty and legitimately sustainable. See their philosophy here. All that being said, I highly recommend "Da Club" sandwich, and the regular old fried chicken with honey butter. Yes.

27. Leghorn Fried Chicken - Not as high-brow as Honey Butter, but these are Amish chickens as well and the other classy thing about Leghorn is that when they sell out, they close up. Boom, done. Check out the menu before you go, because you have to be ready to choose which type of brine you want, which type of meat, any sides, sauces, or toppings.  It can be stressful, but it's so worth it. We're partial to the pickle-brined thigh on a biscuit, Rachel gets it hot, Kristl doesn't, but we're sure you'll love whatever you get!

28. Big Jones - If you want real Southern cooking and not some mockery of it, then you really must go to Big Jones. Big Jones uses heirloom recipes from the deep South to inform all that they do in the kitchen and also how they source their ingredients, all they way down to the grains that they use to make their griddlecakes. One surprising result of this is that their brunch is now gluten free. Naturally, not intentionally, because all the heirloom flours used in southern cooking didn't include gluten to begin with. For dinner, we tend to fill up on starters and share a main, but you do you.

29. Brown Trout - I guess you could just go ahead and say that we are fried chicken fanatics, because fried chicken brought us to Brown Trout too.  We have had other lovely dinners at this in-your-face sustainable restaurant, but the best use of your time and money, in our opinion, is Sunday night fried chicken and blue grass. They cook the chicken sous vide first and then batter and fry it to perfection. So juicy and wonderful. Dark meat highly recommended.

30. Revolution Brewing - Whether or not you enjoy their beer, the pub is worth a visit. They have small rooftop for growing vegetables in the summer and they butcher a pig or two a week from a local farm. The food is really well thought through and very good. And let's be real, who is mad about sustainable pub food? Not us.

31. Sauce and Bread - This small cafe is the child of two companies - Crumb bakery and Co-Op hot sauce - and it is a beautiful baby. Both businesses continue to exist in their own right, but Sauce and Bread is the location where their magic meets.  They have limited hours, but it's wonderful for a low key brunch or an afternoon snack - we actually had our post-wedding brunch there and they were incredibly nice and accommodating.  They also host a supper club that we have every intention of weaseling our way into sometime.

32. Au Cheval - It's the upscale diner of your dreams. There are burgers everywhere. It's impossibly delicious. A single is a double. A double is a triple. They make their own baloney. If you go at a busy time there is often a 2-hour wait, so we suggest going at an off-time. And let's be real, now is a good time. You have no excuses. We dragged ourselves there during one of the many frigid polar vortex days last winter because we figured (correctly) that we wouldn't have to wait.

Pea soup with roasted lemon puree and breaded goat cheese at Kendall this past spring

33. Dining Room at Kendall College - Kendall College is known for culinary arts and hospitality in Chicago and you can take part in this tradition by making a reservation at their dining room and seeing what the students can do.  We recommend going with a partner or a friend for lunch, because we've found that the lunch menus are more interesting and two-top tables tend to get extras. One time we got several extra appetizers thrown our way and we weren't mad about it. Kendall has a commitment to sustainable, locally sourced ingredients, and the price is right too.

34. Cafe Spiaggia (for Restaurant Week) - Restaurant Week is a potentially good thing that can turn out to not be that great of a deal depending on where you go, but we think we've really found a spot that delivers a deal and really excellent food. Go to Cafe Spiaggia. The food is as good as actual Italian food from Italy (which we can say having recently been to Italy), and the Restaurant Week deal is actually a deal. It's classy, it's wonderful, and it's delicious.

35. Pleasant House Bakery - Finally, Pleasant House Bakery is a great place to get British style savory pies. They grow a lot of their own vegetables during the growing season. They make their own sodas, and they have specials on different days of the week. We highly recommend their Tuesday Burger. Yum. They are also selling the pies they make in house under the name Royal Pies around Chicago at local groceries.

Jeni's!

36. Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream - This is the only chain on this list, but it's a midwest chain (based in Columbus, OH) that uses local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Jeni's is amazing. Some of our favorites are the Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, Sweet Corn with Black Raspberries, and The Buckeye State. The ice cream sandwiches (many of which are gluten-free) are mind-blowing. We rarely eat ice cream these days, but when we do, it's Jeni's.

37. Ras Dashen - We went to Ras Dashen last night and were delighted to see a notice that they are now using local, antibiotic-, steroid-, and hormone-free chicken from Gunthorp Farms. We love Ethiopian food and we are often hard pressed to choose a favorite.  In general, the cuisine is pretty friendly for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folks, and the crepe-like injera bread is fermented before it is cooked making it easier to digest and better for your gut flora. Our runner up Ethiopian recommendation would definitely be Lalibela on Ashland, which always has gluten-free injera on tap and is a little cheaper.

So, those are our recommendations at this time, we hope that you give a few of them a try. We hope that you love them as much as we do. We also hope that if you are going to try one out and have a bad experience, that you let us know, because we will probably leave this page up and wouldn't want people to  go on having bad food experiences in Chicago forever. This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are many delicious restaurants in Chicago and a number of them have sustainable practices. Our goal for 2015 is to hit up all the ones we've missed so far!

Please click HERE to explore part one of the Ninety-Nine things we like, and here is the link to part three: local goods we like and where to find them!