HOW CHICAGO LEARNED TO EAT
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.