Chicago, more specifically, Berwyn, has been my home for 28 years. In these 28 years, my experiences and appreciation for the cultural influences of food have grown exponentially. This appreciation comes from a variety of factors — my parents, friends, colleagues in hospitality, and myself – after all, for those of you who knew me growing up, I was an actual garbage disposal, consuming everything in sight.
Let's take a step back and focus on the cultural influences I alluded to, just a few sentences ago. At a bird's eye view, there are MANY, and I mean, MANY, cultural cuisines that made ways to Chicago. Generations of hard work, family dedication, and ingrained cultural roots have come to the Midwest and blessed us with unique culinary for lack of a better word, "experiences." Whether it's Greek, Italian, Japanese, Polish, African, Chinese, Ethiopian, French, Mexican (and its many sections or focuses, such as Baja), British, Moroccan, Indian, Lebanese, Spanish, German, Swedish…to be honest, the list goes on, forever!
You may wonder, "how the hell does he know there's Moroccan food in Chicago?" A dear friend of mine knows the owner of Shokran, one of, if not the best Moroccan restaurant of Chicago, rated 4.5 stars on Google, in the Old Irving Park neighborhood. To this very day, it is in the top five meal experiences I have ever had.
Okay, so that is one example. How about the British? British food tends to have the stigma of little to no taste and boring from a visual perspective. Try to make your way to Owen & Engine, in the fast east region of Logan Square. This is a 4.7 star Google-rated, restaurant – and from its oysters to mussels to bone marrow or burger, your eyes will light up, and your tongue will fill with flavor. If you do not believe me, read about my experience there – do you think I would bother to take the time to write about this twice for no reason? Their menu does switch up, so keep your eyes peeled and GO if you see something you really like…it may not be there days later (hint hint: the bone marrow).
Had your fill yet? No? Well, there's more (Billy Mays here?)! Let's go with Mexican. And we don't need to focus on the fancy sit down establishments here. Some of the food trucks or window stands are just flat out phenomenal in Chicago.
One of my personal favorites is a local establishment with two locations in Chicago and two in Berwyn, called Zacatacos. They have great chicken and steak which bring such life to their tacos and burritos, but their salsas are what separate them from the rest. In fact, I think lots of Mexican restaurants allow themselves to differentiate and stand out through their salsa quality and composition. Side plug here, Big Star (One Off Hospitality) is another true champion of this, let alone their unbelievable tacos.
And while I said I would not go into a fancy establishment, a recent experience has given me the strongest urge to do such. Lena Brava, Rick Bayless' Baja-inspired Mexican landmark brings the range back home to the very streets of Chicago's West Loop. There are no words or description I can possibly give that would describe or provide justice to the experience a customer receives here. However, if you DO go there, here are three bits of advice: go all the way out of your food comfort level – try something OUT there; save room for a dessert (you will thank me); and try the wine or cocktail menu (Mezcal is 100). With these in mind, your time there is well spent.While this may be flat-out biased, Chicago's food scene is on another level. It's simply amazing to have the different cultural influences brought.