If you’ve been to Chicago, you’re likely in on the local secret: Despite being considered America’s “Second City,” Chicago has fast become one of the global trendsetters when it comes to the food scene. But rather than put on airs about it, the city of Midwestern sensibilities still maintains its humble, accessible demeanor. It’s a community that takes deep-dish pizza and hot dogs almost as seriously as its many James Beard award winners. (Beginner’s tip: Never put ketchup on a Chicago dog. Ever.) There are over 40 Beard Award-winning chefs making waves in Chicago, and on May 4th, the James Beard Award Ceremony was hosted right here at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
One Chicago chef who is personally familiar with those coveted Beard Awards is Paul Kahan. He first made his name when he, along with two partners, opened the acclaimed restaurant Blackbird in 1997. Since then, he’s built a relative restaurant empire in Chicago. Name one of Kahan’s restaurants to any “foodie” with Chicago experience and they may start drooling: Publican, Nico Osteria, Dove’s Luncheonette, Avec, Publican Quality Meats, The Violet Hour, Blackbird, and Big Star. Before his time running this local empire, he spent formative years alongside famed chef Rick Bayless at his Chicago institution, Topolobampo. So it’s safe to say, this man knows his local Chicago food scene. Not only that, he’s also well versed on the vibrant local culture that makes Chicago so very charming. So for those who have yet to put The Windy City on your culinary bucket list, Paul is here to share the incredibly diverse flavors of his hometown. Get your stretchy pants ready.
Where The Chefs Eat (and Drink)
Paul: Parachute is one of the best meals I’ve had recently. Lula Cafe is the greatest neighborhood restaurant in Chicago. They offer world-class food without the world-class attitude, and Jason Hammel is a really good guy. Stop by Billy Sunday for a cocktail, Chicago Kalbi for Korean BBQ and MFK. Frontera goes without saying. I mean, it’s Rick Bayless! I used to work for him. The food is super bold and delicious.
Cooking in Chicago
Paul: I like shopping at the Logan Square Farmers’ Market on Sundays and the Green City Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays for produce and interesting ingredients. If I’m looking for something surprising, I head to Argyle Street for all things Vietnamese and stop for anything that catches my eye. Usually, it’s interesting animal parts. You name it, they’ve got it.
Paul: My favorite store is Reckless Records on Milwaukee, I love music on vinyl and could spend the whole day checking out their records. Just down the road from The Publican [one of Paul’s restaurants], my buddy Morelen Sinoway’s shop Morelen Sinoway Atelier sells all kinds of cool stuff and beautiful furniture.
Get a Craft Coffee Boost
Paul: If I’m heading to Reckless, I often stop by Wormhole for coffee first. Gaslight on Milwaukee and Fullerton is another great coffee shop. It’s my most recent favorite, the coffee is great and I like the space.
Still Hungry? Keep Eating in Fulton Market District
Paul: This neighborhood is historically a meat packing and market district, with many wholesale meat packers still operating. The Publican was one of the first restaurants in the Fulton Market, and we designed the beer hall to echo the neighborhood. Furthermore, Publican Quality Meats our butcher shop really references the neighborhood, harking back to my own dad’s smokehouse and delicatessen. Further down Fulton Market, past Ashland, is Goose Island Beer Company. They were pioneers of the West Fulton Market district, and their beer is crazy good. They were early adopters of barrel aging, and they also do brewery tours.
For more information about Paul Kahan’s restaurant group, visit oneoffhospitality.com.
Read more about 2015’s James Beard Award winners here: jamesbeard.org/blog.