As discussed in our blog on Chicago’s Fine Dining restaurants, the culinary center of the city appears to be shifting west, beyond the loop into formally gritty areas of the West Loop and increasingly, the formerly industrial and food processing area known as Fulton Market. Some of these restaurants, which were already among the hottest tickets in the city, were given a further boost with the annual 2012 James Beard Foundation award nominations, for which the area’s restaurants generally dominated Chicago nominations.
It is, therefore, not surprising that much of our planned (Grant Acwhatz’s Next, for which we were unable to get a ticket) and actual (Moto, Blackbird and Girl and the Goat) dining and cocktail time (Ing) was spent in this area.
These fine dining establishments, however, barely scratch the surface of a booming culinary scene where you can meet for happy hour, enjoy all types of casual restaurants, partake in some of the city’s most acclaimed (not to speak of highest-priced) prix-fixe restaurants, buy super-fresh seafood, meat and produce to take home and browse through a growing number of galleries.
While many of the restaurants require reservations–often months in advance, if you can get them at all—you can take your own tour of neighborhood and, if you are early enough, get a non-reserved seat in many of the area’s most popular bars and restaurants.
We began our tour during a packed Friday afternoon happy, at Clark Street, overlooking the Chicago River at Riverside Plaza. From here, we headed north along the riverfront to Randolph, where we turned west to Clinton Street, After hanging a left and turning into the commuter rail station, you find yourself in the middle of Paris, or at least Chicago’s version of a Parisian market, the Chicago French Market. Then, back on Randolph, you reach Randolph’s Street’s Restaurant Row, with Avec, Blackbird and Girl and the Goat, and if you want to wash dinner down with a beer, the packed Haymarket Pub and Brewery.
Then, turn north on Halstead Street for a couple-block walk to the now, super-hot Fulton Market Street. The 800 block is dominated primarily by high-end, steel-doored wholesale/retail food processing companies and one restaurant (Publican). The 900 block, however, is Chicago’s prix fixe restaurant central, with Moto, Ing, Next and the Aviary lounge. Beyond this are a growing number of galleries, antique stores and shops.
Our tour began near and on West Randolph Street:
- Riverside Plaza – 321 North Clark, is a very popular indoor/outdoor happy hour bar on the river,
- Chicago French Market – 131 North Clinton, where you can grab a quick bite, pick up take-out dishes or buy fresh ingredients and wine for your own home-cooked meal, while waiting for your commuter train.
- Avec – 615 West Randolph, a hot bar and restaurant by award-winning chef Paul Kagan, who also owns a number of other leading West Loop restaurants, most notably,
- Blackbird – 619 West Randolph, at which we ate, was nominated for Best Restaurant Great Lakes and chef Paul Kagan for Outstanding Chef in America
- Haymarket Pub and Brewery – 737 West Randolph, with its 11 house-brewed and 13 local “guest” craft beers
- Girl and the Goat – 809 West Randolph, the very hot newcomer on the block, where we also ate, and where chef Stephanie Izard was also nominated Best Chef Great Lakes.
- Olympic Meat Packers, at 810 W. Randolph.
Then, the Fulton Market neighborhood, some of the standouts include:
- Carnivale – 702 West Fulton St, a colorful, Latin fusion restaurant
- Isaacson & Stein Fish Co., at 800 West Fulton Market
- Publican – 837 West Fulton Market, which is also owned by Chef Paul Kagan;
- Moto – 945 West Fulton Market, at which we had our anniversary dinner, chef Homaro Cantu prepares an 11-course meal that, unfortunately, is somewhat longer on culinary imagination and visual appeal than it is on taste.
- iNG – 951 West Fulton, is a lower-cost, prix fixe restaurant owned by Moto’s chef Cantu. Although we did not eat there, the general manager was wonderful, opening the lounge early, and chatting with us about the city’s culinary scene, when we arrived early for our Moto dinner reservations.
- Next – 953 West Fulton Market, is the highlight restaurant on the block, It has been effectively sold out ever since Alinea (which in our mind, is the best restaurant in the city) chef Grant Acwhatz opened his innovative second restaurant. As if it weren’t poplar enough, the chef Dave Beran, was nominated as James Beard Rising Star Chef in America and the restaurant won the Best New Restaurant in America award. Darn, now we will never get in!
- The Aviary – 955 West Fulton Market, is the state-of-the-art lounge and restaurant that is affixed to Next.