In the span of three weeks, I somehow managed two moves while trying to find an apartment that I liked: from Uptown to Woodlawn, then from Woodlawn to Printers Row. Turns out that I need someplace larger than a tiny studio, and also within walking distance of a coffee shop (preferably one that has macadamia milk).
There was a lot of packing and unpacking, and packing again to unpack. But the one thing I never unpacked was my kitchen, so I found myself grabbing something to-go, virtually every day, in neighborhoods across the city. And of all the things I ate, these are my favorites. So if you’re looking for good takeout, read on.
This is the spot formally known as A Place by Damao, right on the border of Bridgeport and Chinatown. Da Mao Jia specializes in Chengdu cuisine and is home to one of my favorite dishes in the city. It’s the sweet and spicy cold noodle, made with perfectly chewy handmade noodles, peanut sauce, and a housemade chili oil. In fact, the entire menu is delicious, and the cold noodles also serve as a refreshing palate cleanser in between mouth-numbing bites of the wontons in volcano broth, or their ChengDu Spicy Duck Wings.
Meat & Jollof Plate
The best part about living in Uptown was all the different West African restaurants I had the chance to try. Out of those, Palace Gate Ghanaian Restaurant became my go-to. A lot of different stews, rice, and starches make up the menu, but my favorite is the meat and jollof plate. It’s a container packed with deliciousness - spicy, fragrant rice, tender stewed beef, and ripe, roasted plantain.
Another Uptown favorite, Immm Rice & Beyond serves up a khao soi that’s so good I ordered it at least once a week while I lived in the neighborhood. The dish is a spicy but sweet curry with braised beef, hand-cut noodles, and topped with a tangle of fried noodles and a dollop of chili paste. It’s a great mix of flavors and textures, and thanks to their khao soi, this dish has become the first thing I look for on the menu of any new Thai restaurant I visit.
House of Wings
You know how you have those hot wings that are hot, but somehow still bland? No kick, not enough salt, and the only notable flavor is “spicy”. They’re the worst, and far too common. But House of Wings is breaking that cycle with their crispy, well-seasoned, and well-sauced hot wings out of a little storefront in Lincoln Park. Plus there’s no seating, so this place was primed for takeout even before the pandemic.
Mr. G Sandwich
I call this the Italian sandwich to beat out all Italian sandwiches. The Mr. G comes courtesy of J.P Graziano’s, a family-run place serving up subs (hoagies, cold cuts, sandwiches, heros, whatever) in the West Loop since 1933. In other words, way before rent went up 500%. And their longevity must be based on the fact that the sandwiches are straight-up quality - made with chewy fresh-baked bread from D’Amato’s, imported meats, cheeses, spices, and oils. The Mr. G (named after the original owner) is layered with sharp provolone, hot soppressata, prosciutto, genoa salami, truffle mustard, balsamic vinaigrette, hot oil, marinated artichokes, fresh basil, and lettuce.
Croissant Breakfast Sandwich
In the words of a famous Chicagoan, “Hurry up with my damn croissants!” But please don’t actually say this to the nice people at Butterdough in McKinley Park. I warn you though, the airy, buttery croissants will make you wanna curse. The pastries alone are good, but when they put bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and herbed ranch on said croissant? I was hooked. But get there early, ’cause once they’re gone, they’re gone - and they sell out quick.
The Jibarito Stop
Pork Jibarito Plate
Usually, I go to Humboldt Park to satisfy my jibarito craving. But Jibarito Stop (which started out as a food truck and is woman-owned), set up shop right in the heart of Pilsen and is making some seriously delicious jibaritos. I like ordering the pork with arroz con gandules and a Champagne kola, but they also have great dinner plates, like stewed black beans or empanadas.
This one only pops-up occasionally so requires a bit of planning, but is worth the effort. Taco Sublime is a taco truck from the Under The Bridge Project, a community rehabilitation non-profit, that serves the best steak taco I’ve ever had. The perfectly-seasoned meat is tender and the salsa is tangy and delicious, but what really sets it apart is the caramelized cheese coating the inside of the corn tortilla. And the best part (even better than the crispy cheese) is that they donate their profits to different local charities every time they come out and serve food.
I have a special relationship with arepas. The first time I ever had one was while working on a Venezuelan food truck after deciding to quit my marketing internship post-college graduation. During that time I made (and ate) hundreds, if not thousands, of arepas - so I know a good one when I bite into it. And the huge arepas at Bienmesabe are good ones. They’re crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and stuffed with meat, handmade white cheese, and a variety of other delicious fillings. My favorite is the tropical arepa, which has shredded chicken, black beans, and plantains.
Bananas Foster Combo Scoop
That line isn’t out the door for nothing. If you’re craving something sweet, Shawn Michelle’s makes some of the best ice cream in the city. The first time I went I wanted to try virtually everything, but there are over 25 flavors, so I ended up going with the bananas foster combo: a mix of banana pudding and Jamaican rum raisin ice creams. Y’all. This woman made me like raisins. Let that be a testament to how good the ice cream is here.