HOW CHICAGO LEARNED TO EAT

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THE FIRST WOMAN TO WIN TOP CHEF, STEPHANIE IZARD SHOOK UP THE CHICAGO DIN­ING SCENE IN 2010 WITH THE NOSETO-TAIL MENU AT HER DE­BUT RESTAU­RANT, GIRL & THE

GOAT. LIT­TLE GOAT’S UP­DATED DINER CLAS­SICS AND DUCK DUCK GOAT’S CEL­E­BRA­TION OF CHI­NESE-AMER­I­CAN COOK­ING FOL­LOWED. HERE, IZARD

TALKS ABOUT CHICAGO’S CHANG­ING TASTES—AND SHARES TIPS FOR FIND­ING THE BEST IN­TER­NA­TIONAL FARE.

I— AS TOLD TO LILA HARRON BATTIS

moved here al­most 20 years ago, and at the time eat­ing was divvied up into two cat­e­gories. There was su­per-fine din­ing— Char­lie Trot­ter’s, Rick Bay­less’s Fron­tera Grill (fron­ter­a­grill.com; mains US$20–$36), Paul Ka­han’s Black­bird (black­bir­drestau­rant.com; mains US$33–$42)—and then there were the Chicago sta­ples: hot dogs and Ital­ian beef sand­wiches and deep-dish piz­zas. It’s a stereo­type, but it was true then.

Char­lie Trot­ter first got the rest of the world to rec­og­nize Chicago for fine din­ing. Since then, Grant Achatz has car­ried that torch, and world-renowned places like his Alinea (alin­ear­estau­rant.com; tast­ing menus from US$190) have made it so that peo­ple visit Chicago just to eat. Restau­rants are now a huge part of the city’s cul­ture.

When we were get­ting ready to open Girl & the Goat (girlandthe goat.com; mains US$13–$26), some were ner­vous that din­ers wouldn’t want duck tongues and pig faces. I thought, Well, they taste good, so why not? Now that din­ers are more ad­ven­tur­ous, chefs put in­ter­est­ing things on menus. Chicagoans cringe when out­siders think this city is only deep-dish and hot dogs.

One of the coolest things about Chicago is the in­ter­na­tional food. This city has a long his­tory of im­mi­gra­tion. Lit­tle Vil­lage is one of the best ar­eas for tacos; my fa­vorite spot there is Taque­ria El Mi­la­gro (el-mi­la­gro.com; mains un­der US$10). Both the steak and lengua tacos are amaz­ing. Be­fore open­ing Duck Duck Goat (duck­duck­goat chicago.com; mains US$13–$22), I spent a lot of time in Chi­na­town, where Sze Chuan Cui­sine (szechuan cuisinechicago.com; mains US$6– $30) is awe­some—es­pe­cially the mapo tofu. All the great In­dian restau­rants are on Devon Av­enue. Gha­reeb Nawaz Restau­rant (gha­reeb nawa­zon­line.com; mains US$4–$7) has Pak­istani-In­dian food that al­ways hits the spot. I love the chilichicken biryani. I’m in­spired by all the dif­fer­ent parathas.

It used to be that when you went to one of those restau­rants, the pa­trons would just be from that back­ground. When I was a line cook, we’d go to this great Korean place, San Soo Gab San (ss­gs­bbq. com; mains US$10–$35), and we would have to bring some­one who could com­mu­ni­cate with the servers. Now it’s packed with peo­ple from all over. What sets Chicago apart is its small-city charm, which car­ries over into our din­ing. Yes, there’s good food in New York and San Fran­cisco, too, but when you look at the hos­pi­tal­ity, Chicago beats ev­ery­one. It’s a city full of friendly peo­ple, and from the mo­ment you walk into a restau­rant, there’s a gen­uine warmth that you don’t al­ways see in other places. >>

Stephanie Izard’s Duck Duck Goat, in Ful­ton Market.

Fresh rock shrimp aguachile with ‘broc-a-mole’ and pu­pusa at Girl & The Goat.

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