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Unique Chicago Ethnic Foods?

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I'll be visiting from Toronto for 4 days in February, staying at the James hotel near the million mile. I'd love to know what unique ethnic foods I can try while I'm there. Toronto has lots of great options including:

so if you can suggest other ethnicities that would be great. Or just any spots for awesome, Chicago-style food. Reasonably priced (up to $100 for two), as I'm bringing my sister on my dime!


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  1. Like any big city, Chicago has almost any ethnic food you can imagine. In particular, though, you don't have Mexican, Polish, or Korean food on your list (I know that Toronto has its own Chinatown, too, and so do we). Each group is represented by one or several neighborhoods and there are lots of discussions about those groups on this board.

    Oh, the other thing is that the James Hotel is on the Magnificent (Mag) Mile. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and the ethnic ones are not in the Mag Mile.

    EDIT: I also forgot Italian, Middle Eastern and Ethiopian (although there is no neighborhood for Ethiopian food).

    4 Replies
    1. re: rubinow

      where would you go for polish or slovakian or czech foods? how far are these neighborhoods from Mag Mile?

      1. re: keena

        There's a huge Polish community at Milwaukee and Belmont. It radiates out from there.

        A lot of people like the Red Apple Buffet at 3121 N. Milwaukee. www.redapplebuffet.com

        1. re: keena

          I would go to Berwyn. There used to be a lot of good places on Cermak Ave, but I don't know which ones are still there.

        2. re: rubinow

          Lithuanian. Healthy Foods on Halsted about 33rd street. A reasonable cab ride from the near north side, or take the orange line to Halsted and it's a several block walk south. I often imagine a Californian being transplanted to Chicago, looking in the phone book, and stumbling upon a place called "Healthy Foods." Imagine the shock as the dumplings topped with bacon and sour cream appear at the table.

          Chicago also has a growing Bulgarian community. But I don't think my favorite BG places are in business anymore, so if anyone has a suggestion for Bulgarian food in Chicago (other than the Old Well, which is great, but is way out in Des Plaines) please post it here.

        3. There are a few ethnic good eats around the immediate Mag Mile area. However, for really good ones you have to venture out to other neighborhoods. Aside from what's already mentioned, there is also a good representation of Central and South America in the city.

          1. take the blue line to greek town. i enjoy "parthenon."

            try topolobampo for fine-dining mexian.

            i also like ethiopian diamond for ethiopian food and cho sun ok for korean bbq. although you might have to cab for these two.

            1. How about Middle Eastern? The James is at Ontario and Rush. Due west at 432 W Ontario is Reza's (Persian). If you go to "chicago restaurant menus" then click onto "Persian" then "Reza's" then "on-screen menu" you can see what's for dinner, for example Fesenjan, Rock Cornish game hen cooked in a sauce of pomegranate and walnut. Big portions, big selection, moderate prices.

              1. We have some Thai you might not have tried. For years, there was a menu for actual Thai people and one for Americans. Through some persistence and a lot of effort, a guy named Erik M. and his friends got them translated at TACQuick and Spoon Thai.

                Here is a link to the translated menu thread. It's pretty terrific food, and dirt cheap (about $5-7 per dish on average). You can follow links at the discussion page to get pictures and reviews and ordering suggestions. The pork neck and Thai fried chicken, along with the banana blossom salad, were standouts. But everything I've tried has been pretty tasty and intereresting.


                1. How about Jiberito's at the Borinquin Restaurant. It passes as Puerto Rican ethnic food and is a sandwich now found in most Chicago area Puerto Rican Restaurants, but it was invented by the Borinquin and is rarely actually seen in Puerto Rico. Its a sandwich using grilled plantains, rather than bread.

                  Ethnic and cheap.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ah81

                    I totally neglected Greek food (yes, there is a Greek Town, but I really like Taxim in Wicker Park...it's doing something new with Greek food in Chicago).

                    I also neglected Puerto Rican food...Borinquen is the down-and-dirty place for that (just north of a string of other Puerto Rican restaurants on Division between Western and California: www.borinquenjibaro.com)

                  2. I live in Toronto but have visited Chicago quite a number of times in the past year. My number 1 recommendation is to have Mexican food when you are in Chicago. If you cruise the Toronto board, you will notice that one major complaint is that we don't have good Mexican food. My friends & I did a "taco trot" (like a pub crawl but with tacos), and it was amazing. (http://gracethespot.com/?p=378) Note especially the Cemitas - It appears Cemitas Puebla is the only place in US that serves this Mexican sandwich & featured on FoodTV. For more upscale Mexican, of course there are the Rick Bayless restaurants (http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/) which I believe is walking distance from mag mile. Too bad you are going in Feb - otherwise I would recommend getting a paleta (Mexican ice pop) from a street vendor.

                    I second that another must-try in Chicago would be Puerto Rican food, especially jibarito, a sandwich that uses fried plantains instead of bread unique to Chicago. I have only tried it at Borinquen (http://www.borinquenjibaro.com) & it was delicious.

                    Also unique to Chicago would be deep dish pizza & Italian beef sandwich. My pick for deep dish is Lou Malnati's (http://www.loumalnatis.com/) so far, and I like Portillo's (http://www.portillos.com/) Italian beef sandwich.

                    And while in Chicago, you should get a Chicago hot dog. Superdawg (http://www.superdawg.com/) is a pretty cool, old fashioned drive-in, although I'm not sure how well that works in the winter. Their onion chip is interesting. For more upscale "dogs", try Hot Doug's (http://www.hotdougs.com/) - very unique sausages. My understanding is that Chicago hot dogs have celery salt?

                    One restaurant I want to try but haven't got around to is Moto (http://www.motorestaurant.com/). Highly recommended by my colleague for its unique techie dining experience.

                    Some of these places may be difficult to get to without a car. I have written a Chicago trip planner that is "el" (Chicago's TTC) friendly if you want to take a look for reference on food & other sightseeing places. (http://letsfika.blogspot.com/2009/09/...


                    Happy chow in the windy city!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Orange

                      "Note especially the Cemitas - It appears Cemitas Puebla is the only place in US that serves this Mexican sandwich"

                      - Cemitas are a Pueblan thing. Most of the Mexicans in NYC are from Puebla. Those sandwiches are a dime a dozen in certain neighborhoods of Queens. It is however a rarity elsewhere. Even in LA, I can recall only two places that served them (due to lower levels of immigration from Puebla vs other regions of Mexico).