A Chicago Food Guide

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Chicago is one of my top American cities. I’ve been at least five times and on the surface it appears a bit like New York with it’s really tall skyscrapers, but it’s got more of a lazy and open feel once you get to know it.  Plus, it’s in a league of its own when it comes to food. What’s particularly noteworthy about this city is that it’s famous for several iconic dishes: the deep dish pizza, the Chicago-style hot dog, and interestingly, popcorn.  And I’m going to tell you where to eat them all.

Where to have a deep dish pizza: Lou Malinati’s

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No one should visit Chicago without trying it’s most famous dish – the deep dish pizza. Lou Malinati’s is known as the oldest family name in Chicago’s pizza history, opened in the 1940s by a man called Lou Malinati! It’s the pizza spot that all locals will recommend.  To me, the deep dish pizza is more of a pizza pie, they take 45 minutes to cook because the dish is so deep.  It’s unique butter crust sets it apart from it’s competitors’ pizzas.

Location: Various, it’s a chain
Website: 
www.loumalinatis.com
Price: 
$15 – $30 per person

Where to have tacos: Milwalky Taco

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Mexican food in the states is always 200 times better than in the UK, so I make it a point to eat as many tacos as possible when out there.  Milwalky Taco is actually a little outside of central Chicago, in the quaint suburb of Libertyville, which is lined with loads of pretty shops and trees so is definitely worth a visit.  The tacos are also the best I’ve ever eaten so its worth the 40 minute drive from the city.  The tacos are pretty cheap, ranging from $3-5 and they’ve got a massive menu with all sorts from shrimp to lamb, to cactus tacos.  The pork taco was my ultimate fave and I still think about it a year later!

Location: 605 N Milwaukee Ave, Libertyville, IL 60048, USA
Website: 
www.milwalkytaco.com
Price: 
$3 – 5 per taco

Where to eat at a classic American diner: Portillos

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No trip to the states is complete without a visit to a diner.  Portillo’s is a chain that first opened in Illinois in the 60s as a ‘dog house’ serving another Chicago classic – the beef hotdog, which is of course still on the menu. There’s loads of other traditional diner dishes like burgers, fries and chicken strips (yum). What I loved about it is the look and feel of the place, as a typical over-excited tourist, it really does look like a diner you’d see in ‘the movies’.

Location: Various, it’s a chain
Website: 
www.portillos.com
Price:
Approximatley $10 per person

Where to have drinks with a view:  The Signature Lounge at the John Hancock Centre

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Chicago has an incredibly pretty skyline, there’s views of lake Michigan and loads of skyscrapers including the massive Willis Tower.  The John Hancock Centre has a bar on it’s 96th floor, they don’t take reservations so you can just walk in.  I found the best views were actually from the ladies loo! (Sorry fellas).

Location: 875 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Website:
www.signatureroom.com
Price: 
Fairly pricy, cocktails are around $18.

Where to have a fancy dinner: Cafe Spiaggia

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Cafe Spiaggia is the sister restaurant (and cheaper version!) of Spiaggia, a Michelin starred restaurant under Joe Flamm, the Top Chef winner. It’s still fairly pricey and fancy but in a more affordable range, it’s great for a special occasion.  Their Italian dishes are really well made, featuring lots of meat, fish, salads and hand made pasta dishes. There’s something for everyone.

Location: 875 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Website:
www.signatureroom.com
Price: 
$70 – $80 per person for 3 courses and drinks

Where to have a light lunch: The Purple Pig

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The Purple Pig is based on Mediterranean fare, but that’s a loose description.  This is one of the ‘in’ restaurants in Chicago at the moment, probably due to their experimental cooking.  The flavours culminate perfectly and really are unlike any other dishes I’ve had before.  It’s got an informal vibe and a tapas style menu that’s good for sharing.

Location: 44 Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Website:
www.signatureroom.com
Price: 
$20 – 30 per person

Where to have popcorn: Garrett’s

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Interestingly, Chicago is known for it’s popcorn, mainly thanks to the guys at Garrett’s popcorn who opened up over 70 years ago in the city.  If your knowledge of popcorn mainly centres around the sad microwave bags you get at the supermarket, your mind is about to be blown after trying the hand crafted popcorn here.  They’ve got tons of different flavours from Buffalo Ranch to Caramel. It’s worth popping in and stocking up.

Location: Various throughout the city
Website:
www.garrettpopcorn.com
Price: 
Bags priced according to weight

My top things to do:

Millennium Park & Cloud Gate

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Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (aka a massive shiny bean sculpture!) is so worth the hype. The city’s skyline is reflected from all angles and it’s an incredibly simple yet elegant work of art.  Plus, you can wander round the Millennium Park afterwards.

Visit a blues bar

Chicago will always be considered a Blues town and an informally known ‘Blues Alley’ is probably the best place to visit for a good time. Kingston Mines is an iconic institution that’s a bit of a dive bar that’s got live music most nights till late.

Navy Pier 

Navy Pier is the perfect place to visit when the weather is nice, for great views of the Chicago skyline, a few arcade games and a boat trip across Lake Michigan.  There are lots of nice cafes round here and it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.

Willis Tower

Be careful with what you call this one, as the locals will forever refer to it as the ‘Sears Tower’! This is the tallest building in the city, and has some fantastic views from the top. If you are brave, they also have a glass platform protruding out of the side which you can walk over…

The Shedd Aquarium

This is probably my favourite aquarium in the world, its HUGE, they have dolphin shows, they have seals and penguins and there’s plenty of activities going on for kids. If you do visit, plan to spend a few hours here as there’s lots to see.

The Art Institute of Chicago

Chicago’s Art Institute houses a huge collection, ranging from Van Gogh to contemporary works. They often have some great exhibitions here so it’s worth keeping an eye out for what’s on.  If you’re really into art they also have some courses and lectures on throughout the year.

 

 

Paella

I’d always thought of paella to be something that I’d only eat in restaurants as it seemed super complex (and expensive!) to make at home. I couldn’t have been more wrong and now it’s become one of my favourite home cooked meals.

Traditionally, some of the ingredients used to make paella are expensive, however using frozen seafood can make a huge difference. Either defrost in the fridge overnight or in the microwave on the defrost setting. You can also add mussels too to the recipe below!

Serves 2

Ready in 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 prawns
  • 1 chicken breast, chopped into chunks
  • Handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • 50ml white wine
  • Large pinch of saffron strands
  • 75g cooking chorizo, chopped into chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 6 scallops
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tomato, roughly chopped
  • 50g peas
  • 100g risotto rice
  • 250ml chicken stock

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the chicken, chorizo and onion and fry for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and white wine and then add the risotto rice. Add the garlic and saffron continue to stir for 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, peas, prawns, scallops and squid and reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Leave to cook for 10-15 minutes and continue to stir every few minutes.
  3. Add the lemon juice, parsley and some salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Parrillan

Overall: 4/10

Price: Approximately £45-£50 per head for 3 courses

Parrillan is an outdoor, terraced restaurant in the newly formed Coal Drops Yard area of Kings Cross (basically a large warehouse like space with a bunch of supposedly cool restaurants).  I say ‘supposedly’, because for me, Parrillan was a bit of a let down. Oozing chicness from the outside with its massive terrace and vegetation encircling the vicinity, my first impression was that of a glamorous haunt which you might find on the French Riviera. However, once we settled down I realised there was more to it than first meets the eye.

Parrillan is the sister restaurant of my favourite tapas restaurant in London, Barrafina, so I had visions of it being just as great. However, firstly, it’s pretty unwise to build a solely outdoor restaurant in a place like England. It was a fairly windy day, and the heaters cleverly don’t cover the entire dining area, so we spent the evening frozen, and eating quickly to get back home to warmth. An indoor area and heaters covering all areas probably would have been more sensible in a city that is cold most of the time!

Things perked up around the starters, which were the only saving grace of the meal. In fact, I’d recommend solely ordering starters, as they were miles ahead of the mains. The escalivada was a highlight, featuring smoky aubergine on crostini, and the tomato based dishes were made from what tasted like super fresh ingredients.

Tomato salad to start

Escalivada to start

Pan con tomate

The main event was the parilla – a grill used to barbecue your own meat, fish and vegetables at the table. I suppose for the novelty factor, this could be considered fun. However, the meat and fish was unseasoned and cost a bomb (£9 for 2 scallops that you have to cook yourselves?!?). They give you sauces on the side but it’s not great value for money and didn’t taste particularly special.

You’ve also only got yourself to blame if you end up poisoning yourselves. The staff don’t really provide instructions on how long to cook the meat so if you’re new to the bbq watch out!

The parilla

So, should you visit? If you have cash to splash and want an alternative dining experience I’d recommend giving it a go. Go heavy on the starters and bring a jacket. Otherwise buy a BBQ from Asda and a couple of sausages and it will probably cost less than a meal for 2 here.

Location: Coal Drops Yard, Stable Street, Kings Cross, N1C 4PW

Website: https://www.parrillan.co.uk

Salmon Sumac Salad

This salad is my go to dish for a summer picnic or for a packed lunch. I discovered sumac at a Lebanese restaurant a few months back and have been obsessed ever since, it adds a lot of flavour to lemoney dishes but isn’t overly spicy. The quinoa means it’s a salad that is actually filling, unlike most! It keeps well in the fridge for a few days so it’s also a great option for meal prepping.

Overall time required: 20 minutes

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 salmon fillet
  • 50g quinoa
  • Half a cucumber, chopped into chunks
  • Handful of rocket leaves
  • 3 radishes, sliced
  • 5 tomatoes, sliced in half
  • Vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • Handful of coriander, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil for cooking and 1 teaspoon for dressing the salad

Method:

    Prepare your quinoa according to the packet. I like to cook it in vegetable stock rather than boiling water for added flavour
    Whilst your quinoa is cooking, pan fry your salmon fillet in olive oil and salt and pepper until cooked through. This shouldn’t take too long, around 4-5 minutes.
    Toss all your vegetables and leaves into a bowl and add the cooked salmon , chopped into chunks. Add in your quinoa once ready.
    Drizzle the olive oil, sumac and lemon juice through the salad and toss so all the ingredients are coated.

Apple and Oat Pancakes with Sambazon Acai Compote

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Prep time: 15 minutes
Makes 6 medium sized pancakes

I was gifted a packet of Sambazon’s acai compote and asked to prepare some delicious pancakes with it.  Sambazon have found that traditional syrup is full of a lot of sugar, so they’ve added some superfood punch to a fruity compote to use as a pancake topping.  The acai bowl has recently become insta-famous worldwide, and their packets can be used to recreate them yourselves at home too. If you’re wondering where their interesting name comes from, Sambazon takes its name from its core goal: Sustainable Management of the Brazilian Amazon. It aims for and represents a positive future of global food consumption that makes a positive impact on local communities and protects the biodiversity of the Amazon Rainforest.

The pancakes are oat and apple pancakes, full of the same warming flavours of an apple pie. I found these went well with the fruity flavours of the compote.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Sambazon Original Superfruit Pack
  • handful of fresh blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or coconut oil
  • 45g oats
  • 1 apple
  • 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • 1 egg

Method:

  1. To make your pancakes, put the cinnamon, coconut oil, oats, sliced apple, honey and egg into a food processor and blitz for around 1 minute, until a sort of paste forms.
  2. Spoon on to a frying pan on a medium heat in round circles and cook for about 1-2 minutes and flip and repeat.
  3. To make your berry mixture, in a sauce pan, add blueberries/blackberries and Sambazon Original Superfruit and cook down on medium heat, stirring often until you have a thick syrup.
  4. Spoon on to the pancakes and enjoy!

ZeeZain

Overall: 6/10
Location: South Kensington

My Thoughts:

I was invited to try out the newly refurbished ZeeZain, a casual and modern Indian restaurant in South Kensington.  As you walk in, you’re greeted by an elegant decor.  The restaurant was busy, which is unsurprising given it’s location right by the museums, in a tourist hot spot, but it’s definitely not a tourist trap restaurant.  A window seat is perfect for people watching. It is a family run business with a long history in the area that is owned by Akhtar Miah and is named after his two sons – Zee and Zain.

The menu is wide ranging, there’s something on there for most people (curries, kebabs, vegetarian food). Compared to the other modern-Indian spots that keep popping up in London, the food is much more traditional – think classic curries, and mixed grills. For an Indian restaurant, the food isn’t overly spicy. Considering you’re in the heart of South Kensington, on one of the most touristy streets in the city, the prices are really reasonable, especially for the large portions.  It’s a great place for sharing a meal, family style.

To start, I was given a mixed grill starter with samosas and lamb and chicken kebabs. All were simple, yet tasty.  I then tried a few curries – the lamb curry and the fish bhunna.  I’m not a massive fan of tomato-ey curries (I generally as a rule never cook with tomatoes in my own curries!) so wasn’t a huge fan of these, the ingredients are definitely high quality, but I think they needed more flavour to counteract the overpowering tomato taste.  The highlight of the meal for me, was the garlic naan, they were light and fluffy and perfect for dipping into curries.

The service was good, the staff were friendly and attentive and we got to know them well throughout the meal, which is always nice.  We ended up sitting next to an American couple and got chatting to them, they actually thought the service was a bit slow, I suppose this comes down to cultural differences, the service in restaurants in America is always exceptional!

In my opinion, ZeeZain has all the foundations for a great restaurant – the location, decor, menu and vibe, the food just needs a bit of improvement in terms of flavour. It has the potential to be a great addition to the usual touristy restaurants in the area.

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Website: www.zeezain.co.uk
Address: 38 Thurloe Pl, Kensington, London SW2 7HP

Tahini & Turmeric Granola Bars

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The Groovy Food Company have developed a new coconut oil, infused with turmeric, which seems to currently be the nation’s favourite spice! This combination makes their coconut oil perfect for adding to curries, stir fries or even granola bars, as I tried myself.  I was sent a jar of their coconut oil and asked to try out a recipe their team have developed for these tahini and turmeric granola bars.  Tahini and turmeric are both ingredients that have traditionally been used in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, but is gradually becoming more and more popular in the UK.  I must admit, that when I initially read the recipe, I was slightly apprehensive, as these are not ingredients that I’ve commonly used to prepare granola bars! However, the end product was great, you are left with a granola bar full of warming spices, that is not overly sweet.

The Groovy Food Company also have a whole collection of other great recipes on their website using their products.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Makes approximately 30 granola bars

Ingredients:

  • 400g rolled oats
  • 100ml agave nectar
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons The Groovy Food Company Organic Virgin Coconut Oil infused with turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 dates, pitted and chopped
  • 100g pistachios, shelled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Spread oats evenly on a large baking sheet and place in the oven for 8 minutes, until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool.
  2. Combine agave nectar, tahini and turmeric infused coconut oil in a small sauce pan. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla extract, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, coriander, salt and black pepper and mix well. Add dates and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Combine toasted oats, pistachios and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Add agave and tahini mixture and mix well to ensure the oats are well coated.
  4. Grease the bottom of an 8×8 inch baking dish and line well with parchment paper. Transfer oat mixture to the lined dish and flatten using your hands (compressing the mixture helps the bars hold together better).
  5. Bake for 25 mins and leave to cool for 15 before transferring out to a wire rack. Allow a further 10 minutes before cutting.