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Ethnic Finds

I'm moving to Chicago from Manhattan in the next few months and am looking for some great, ethnic finds. I tend to like Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, and Turkish. I'm also looking for the best Shanghainese soup dumplings and Peking duck. I'd like suggestions south of Addison and north of Roosevelt, if possible. Thanks a bunch!

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  1. Why do NY'rs always assume Chicago(or anywhere else for that matter) has xiao long bao of the quality found in their natal environs? Not gonna happen unless Tony get's his Shanghainese resto in line. How about checking out some awesome(better than Grand Sichuan) Sichuanese food at Lao Sze Chuan(Chinatown Mall and suburbs). Thai, you need to look at TAC, Opart, Spoon, Ros Ded, Sticky Rice....etc. Good Luck.

    3 Replies
    1. re: xtgirl

      To the OP, I understand that you are familiar with Chicago (having lived here before) and the ethnic neighborhoods beyond your stated boundaries, but are looking for suggestions convenient to home and work. This information helps us in making recommendations, so we know it's okay to recommend a place where you're asking, even though another one further away might be even better.

      I know two Thai places within your boundaries that are reasonably good - Vong's Thai Kitchen ( www.vongsthaikitchen.com ) in River North, and Amarit Thai ( www.amaritthai.com ) in the South Loop.

      For Indian food, I've heard people here recommend India House ( www.indiahousechicago.com ) in River North and Indian Garden ( www.indiangardenchicago.com ) in Streeterville, but haven't been to either.

      For Vietnamese food, Le Colonial ( www.lecolonialchicago.com ) in the Gold Coast is always good, although it's quite a bit more upscale than your typical storefront on Argyle Street.

      As for Chinese, well... I've been mostly disappointed by neighborhood-type Chinese places outside of Chinatown, and when I'm anywhere near downtown, I just hop on the el (or a cab) down to Lao Sze Chuan ( www.laoszechuan.com ). One exception - I recently ate at Shanghai Terrace in the Peninsula ( http://chicago.peninsula.com ), and it was very good; however, it's really an upscale, expensive, contemporary Chinese restaurant, one you might want to try for a special occasion, not a place you're likely to get carry-out during the week.

      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thanks nsxtasy,

        I have been to Vong's and it's a good option for non authentic but flavorful Thai. Did Amarit used to be in the River North/Streeterville area? I recall ordering decent Thai food from a place with that name but it wasn't in the South Loop (and it's been 5-6 years).

        I think good Chinese may be tough to find in both Manhattan and Chicago :(

        Thanks to everyone for the recs....truly appreciate it.

        1. re: xtgirl

          Yes, Amarit moved (last year, I think) from its former location in River North/Streeterville. Same place, same people.

    2. Your borders rule out the "ethnic finds."

      Chinatown is South of Roosevelt.
      The second largest population of Indian shops (restaurants too) in North America is north of Addison on Devon avenue around Western
      There is a second strip of Asian (More Vietnamese) around Argyle / Broadway which is also N of Addison.

      If you are looking for GREAT ethnic finds, it may be wise to not limit yourself to those boundaries. Don't be surprised if most (if not all) suggestions are outside of the boundaries. It's just how it is here. There are a few spots here and there, but some are more congregated in a specific part of town. I'll throw some real rec's your way tomorrow. Really gotta think about this one.

      4 Replies
      1. re: gordeaux

        Well, for Thai, IMO the best option that is closest to your boundary is probably gonna be Tac quick at Irving Park and Sheridan:
        TAC Quick
        3930 N. Sheridan
        Luckily, it is also among the best in the entire city if you ask me. It is steps from an el train. steps. literally.
        Indian -
        You're just out of luck within those boundaries. If you really are looking for "ethnic finds," however, you'll quickly figure out how special Devon avenue is, and visit often. In the warmer months, trust me, you will figure it out.
        Ditto for Vietnamese on Argyle. So easy by El train that you will be surprised you thought you needed to limit yourself to those boundaries.
        Turkish is not really represented well AFAIK, but there may be a Turkish joint up north on Clark in the 5500's?
        Also, there's A La Turka which I guess has been around for a while. I've never been, but it is in your N-S boundary:

        I believe Ed's Potsticker House offers Xiao Long Bao, but I've ALWAYS heard that none of it in Chicago even comes close to the places in NY when it comes to soup dumplings..
        Lao Sze Chuan will make a peking duck with advanced notice.
        Silver Seafood on Broadway just N of Lawrence will also do this, I believe.
        Phoenix in Chinatown as well.
        Phoenix Restaurant
        2131 South Archer Avenue
        Chicago, IL 60616

        Moon Palace in Chinatown also:
        Moon Palace Restaurant
        216 West Cermak Road
        Chicago, IL 60616
        There are prolly plenty more than this. I just did a quick search.

        1. re: gordeaux

          About that Turkish recommendation, and speaking of things Chicago does well... Turkish food is not big in Chicago, but food from Greece, Turkey's historical nemesis, is. The biggest concentration of our best Greek restaurants is in Greek Town, a stretch of Halsted Street just west of the Loop. You'll find recommendations in the discussion at www.chowhound.com/topics/119233

          And, for an overview of our best Mexican restaurants, many of which are within your stated geographical boundaries, see www.chowhound.com/topics/463572

          You'll also find a discussion of foods that are "quintessential Chicago" at Quintessential Chicago:

          1. re: gordeaux

            I would suggest Spoon Thai instead of TAC. Although TAC is very 'young trendy'. I guess I'm too old to appreciate the music. But I think the food is vetter at Spoon Thai

            Also soup dumplings really do NOT exist (I wish to be proven wrong) in the Chicago area. Some places call their small meet buns xiao lung bao's but they are the steam bun variety, not the delicate dumplings filled with luxious soup and meat. Boy I wish Shanghai Joe's or someone from NYC would open a place in Chicago.

            1. re: citywayne

              As stated elsewhere, Ed's Potsticker House has these (or, at least, used to; I haven't looked for them recently). Whether they can compare with NYC and Shanghai versions, I'll let others decide. I only know I had a helluva time trying to figure out how to eat them.

        2. Keep an open mind regarding your geographical limitations. The best quality and concentration of Vietnamese places are around the Argyle stop on the el's Red Line, a mile and a half north of Addison, and the best quality and concentration of Indian places is along Devon Avenue between Western and Sacramento, about two miles north of Argyle and a couple miles west of the Red Line.

          You also might find that there are ethnic foods in Chicago that either you never tried in New York, or that are better here than in New York (each city does different foods well). So keep an open mind about kinds of food that may be different from what you had most often in New York.

          1. What is this about staying south of Addison? Take a deep breath and venture north of Addison to the strip of Clark that runs north from Foster to Bryn Mawr. Formerly it was Swedish, so you still have an excellent Swedish deli, SVEA for breakfast, and Swedish Bakery. In recent years it has gone Middle Eastern, so you now have Reza's, Andie's, Pars Grocery, and Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery (plus a couple more places just north and south of the boundaries I gave). Meanwhile it's just a cool street so you also have Pasticceria Natalina (Italian), Edgewater Produce (Mexican), and a dozen good places that aren't ethnic but are worth knowing. This is a very rich street. From Lakeview take Red Line EL to Berwyn or Clark 22 bus up Clark....Variously, from Lakeview take the Broadway 36 bus to Ainslie and you will be in the heart of a Vietnamese/Thai neighborhood where restaurants and markets overflow Argyle Street up and down N Sheridan and N Broadway. Either of these options is 15 minutes by CTA from Addison.

            1. Best of luck finding proper "xiaolongbao;" they do not seem to be in Chinatown. A favorite is lao sze chuan (whose sichaun food is not great, oddly) for chinese in general, but it is hit or miss with ordering.

              Try Sticky Rice for great Thai.

              Pho 888 for good noodles.

              1. Nope no soup dumplings in Chicago. I haven't seen, but I haven't looked either, for peking duck. As others have already mentioned, you need to make your borders larger or you will miss many of the good ethnic areas. Many have already been mentioned. Good Mexican is had in Pilsen (18th St). Good Polish is on Milwaukee Ave from 3600 N all the way up to Niles. Don't forget good Pizza ... both deep dish and some good NY style too. Try Pat's Pizza on Lincoln Ave. Try Al's for good Italian Beef sandwiches. Korean is on Lawrence Ave.
                Good luck in Chicago.

                1. Turkish: Turkish Cuisine on Clark Street in Edgewater/Andersonville (fun neigborhood too) is your best bet.

                  Zad on Broadway at Barry is quite tasty. The chicken Shawerma is awesome!
                  Semiramis & Al Kayalamon just south of Kedzie are very good too.

                  Persian: Noon O Kabab on Kedzie on block south of Lawrence is excellent.

                  For Authentic German food, bier, and atmosphere try Resi's Bier Stube on Irving at 2100ish west. Don't forget to stop at the Huttenbar in Lincoln Square one block south of Lincoln Lawrence.

                  Pancho Pistolas in Brideport at 700 W. 31st Street for the very best carne asada in town!! Excellent food, terribly sweet margaritas.

                  Mexican/Char-grilled Steak Taco's and Burrito's:
                  Taqueria El Asadero on Montrose at Lincoln and Leavitt in Lincoln Square
                  Las Asadas on Western one block north of Armitage

                  Viceroy of India on Devon Avenue two blocks west of Western is excellent. Also try Ghandi.

                  Greek: Greektown
                  Santorini for a more upscale romantic feel or Greek Islands for great casual reasonably priced cuisine.
                  Venus on Jackson for Chicago's only Cypriot (Cyprus) restaurant. Great service, food, and atmosphere.

                  Mom & Pop Italian: Little Italy
                  Tufano's Vernon Park Tap

                  Basilico in Elmwood Park
                  Da Luciano's

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: amoncada

                    The schwarma sandwich (not just the chicken, but the beef/lamb as well) at Zad's just might be the best in the city at the moment. The two Palestinian partners are from Ramallah if I remember correctly.

                    Re: Turkish food is not big etc

                    That is simply not true. Turkish food is simply not well-represented by the media. Yes, the scene might not be REALLY big, but there are real strengths. Back in the late 90s, Turkish-specially along Lincoln Avenue-had a strong presence on the northside. But for whatever reason (gentrification? etc), this scene lost some of its luster during the heydays of the Chicago Chowhound Board and the discourse simply never got reexamined or renewed. Kurt who used to run an excellent Turkish restaurant on Diversey whose name escapes me at the moment in the old days is back at Cafe Orchid (on Addison/Lincoln)-which is all his. I would pit Cafe Orchid against the very best in say NYC which has a large and excellent Turkish restaurant scene. Grilled whole fresh fish, simply drizzled with olive oil and lemon are usually among the off-the-menu weekend specials. Then there's Layla's on Irving Park-with its secret "Uzbek" menu. I passed by this storefront the other day and there seems to be a For Rent sign up front: if it is not closed, do try the lovely khincull. Then there's the tiny Nazalik on Belmont/Lincoln-few things on the menu, but all done very very well. Then there are the old standards, still going strong, like this one:



                    1. re: RST

                      ZAD is excellent!!! Everything I've tried is top notch...well except for the red lentil soup as it's only so so. If I'm not mistaken, there's signeage in the window or on the awning that points to the Lebanese origin...not that it matters.

                      Turkish: Let's not forget the Turkish restaurant in Lincoln Square and Arkadash in Edgewater...nothing spectacular though. Honestly, the very best Turkish cuisine that I've ever tried was in Brooklyn about 15 years ago. Don't remember the place but the mom and pop storefront dining area must have been like 12 x 12 feet.

                      I've been wondering about Layla's. What is Khincull? I'll have to try Nazalik.

                      1. re: RST

                        >> Re: Turkish food is not big etc

                        That is simply not true. Turkish food is simply not well-represented by the media. Yes, the scene might not be REALLY big, but there are real strengths. <<

                        My comment about Turkish not being big here was a reflection only on the number of Turkish restaurants, not on their quality. I mean no disrespect for those Turkish restaurants that are here, and I think it's great that you and others are providing recommendations for them. The fact remains, though, that when you search on Metromix for restaurants in the Chicago area, you will turn up 185 Thai restaurants, 85 Indian restaurants, 56 Vietnamese restaurants, 124 Greek restaurants, and 6 Turkish restaurants. Maybe there are a few more than that, but they are nowhere near as numerous as for many other nationalities.

                    2. I really like Turquoise on Roscoe. We were in Turkey in the fall, and the food compares well to what we had in Istanbul.
                      Turquoise Restaurant
                      2147 W. Roscoe St.
                      Chicago, IL 60618

                      Turquoise Caffe Restaurant
                      2147 W Roscoe St, Chicago, IL 60618

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: leek

                        I highly second Turquoise. Not great service, but good food. Great breads and complementary salads. I've always enjoyed meals there. Nice outdoor eating area in the summer.