Chicago foods to warm your heart and stomach
For richness and spice, curries are the way to go. My favorites can be found at Indie Café in Edgewater. This little spot doubles up as a Thai and Japanese restaurant and it’s BYOB, which is always nice. The curries are out-of-this world: rich, flavorful, spicy (they can increase or decrease the heat on request). The best of the bunch, in my humble opinion, are the Panang curry (with broccoli, carrot, kaffir lime leaf) and the Indie Signature curry (with potato, squash, and cashews); both also come with your choice of meat. And if you’re looking for something to cool things down, order a couple rolls off their sushi menu.
Let me just say if you’ve haven’t tasted the caldos at Xoco, you haven’t tasted soup, my friend. Rick Bayless’ smallest restaurant is always busy so expect lines, but believe me when I say the wait is well worth it. Xoco serves up limited fare: tortas (basically Mexican street-style sandwiches) and caldos (intense, hearty soups served after 11am). All of the caldos are excellent, but I especially like the Shortrib Red Chile (with braised tallgrass shortribs, red chile broth, roasted vegetables, epazote, wild arugula, and lime) and the Seafood (Mexican blue shrimp, mussels, catfish, red chile broth, potatoes, grilled knob onions, pea shoots, cilantro, and lime)—see what I mean about hearty?
Never doubt the power of the cheeseburger. In the dead of winter, what really tastes better than a big, juicy burger with all your favorite toppings? My go-to place is the Bad Apple, a spot that serves up inventive patties and pretty much every craft brew under the sun. Plus, they really know how to cook a burger (ask for yours medium-rare and they bring it out to you medium-rare, imagine that!) They’ve got a Frenchie burger (brie, spinach, truffle mayo, and frizzle fried red onions), a Red Dragon (brisket hash, over easy egg, pepper jack, and a roasted red pepper sauce), and their Wednesday night behemoth, the $26, 45-day dry aged prime rib wagyu.
For real comfort food, you can’t overlook the Southern-style varietal. Chef Art Smith’s ritzy Table Fifty-Two restaurant classes up good ole Southern cooking on its menu. Dinner’s great, but my favorite time to visit is for Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a taste of all my classic favorites: Pulled Pork Hash (poblano peppers, russet potatoes, and a sunnyside-up egg), Shrimp and Grits (Wild Gulf shrimp, stone ground grits, and spicy tomato stew), and Fried Chicken and Waffles with Burton Farm maple syrup. And, you can even order a side of Three Mac Cheese or Biscuits and Gravy (not that you need the calories)!
Tank Noodle Restaurant
Currently hot on the scene are two traditional Vietnamese dishes—congee and pho—and right in time for winter too. Tank Noodle Restaurant makes great versions of both. Congee, a type of savory rice porridge, is most commonly enjoyed at breakfast, but can really be eaten at any time of the day. Tank Noodle has a small list of congee offerings including the chock-filled Combination Congee with six different kinds of meat or, for the more adventurous eater, a Pig’s Innards Congee. Many of the restaurant’s best types of pho, a simple rice noodle soup, include sliced beef although I’d also recommend going out on a limb and trying the Pho with Ox Tail.
Bobtail Ice Cream
And then there’s hot chocolate, the queen of winter drinks. One place that surprisingly makes one heckuva hot chocolate is Bobtail Ice Cream in Lakeview. It isn’t anything too fancy—just steamed milk and homemade chocolate syrup—but something in the way it’s combined (and maybe a special ingredient in the sauce) makes it truly exceptional. They also serve up some fun drinks called Steamers which mix your choice of ice cream and a topping with steamed milk—when you can’t get Signature Sunset (a specialty flavor of Merlot ice cream and dark chocolate chips) off your mind, but are looking for a warm-up, this is the perfect, decadent combo.