Chow Down Chi Town: Outdoor Eats

September is still young and we want to help you squeeze every last drop out of summer. Dine out(side) at one of these lovely local eateries to enjoy the sweet sunshine and some savory bites that will leave your cheeks pink with glee and bellies full with warmth.

Big Star: It’s Taco Time. Chipotle. Chorizo. Chihuahua. Any topping. Any time. Paul Kahan of Big Star (and one of our fabulous founders!) brings BIG FLAVOR to the great outdoors…or at least to the heart of Wicker Park right near some train tracks. Hey, we’re city folk after all, right? Take a seat and take your time. With a stellar lineup of tacos, tostadas and torreados (don’t worry, I’ll explain later), this menu will keep you satisfied for breakfast, lunch, dinner or all three. Let’s start with those Chiles Torreados…jalepeño peppers…salted & grilled. Sounds simple. Tastes SPECTACULAR. Sick of spice? Go for the Taco al Pastor – loaded with pork shoulder, grilled onion and grilled pineapple, this one packs a sweet punch. Vibing with the veggies? The Taco de Zanahorias takes carrots & ranch to a WHOLE new level. Spiced carrots & almonds, pumpkin & sesame seeds, chipotle date yogurt sauce…who even needs meat?? So grab an iced glass of one of their many beers, whiskeys, tequilas, cocktails or house selected single barrels (I know, ALMOST too many to choose from), and kick it with a crazy carrot taco. HINT HINT…veggies that all little hands will enjoy!

Irazu: End summer with a BYOB bang at this delightful destination. Fresh ceviche, fried plantains and for dessert something unexpected…over a dozen milkshakes to choose from. Irazu brings the flavor and flare of Costa Rica to Bucktown in the perfect summer setting. Heat things up on a cool September evening with the vegetarian Chile Relleno dinner and a side of HOT peppers, or cool down this end of summer heat with the cabbage salad and an Iced Costa Rican Coffee with a splash of HORCHATA. Not a night owl? No worries. This hot spot is open for an outdoor breakfast the whole family will enjoy. Tiny tasters will devour the Arroz con Huevo – a SCRUMPTIOUS scramble of rice and eggs topped with avocado AND plantains. Looking for a bite on the go? Grab an empanada (or try all NINE FLAVORS). Cheese, chicken, chorizo…black bean, mushroom, zucchini…stomach growling yet? Costa Rica is calling your name…and we suggest you answer. Just don’t forget to bring your appetite.

Publican Quality Meats: DROP EVERYTHING and cancel all your plans this weekend. You will be too busy DROOLING FOR DAYS over the exceptional offerings of Publican Quality Meats. Brilliant brunch options brought to you again by our friend Paul Kahan. Did wake up on Sunday with a sweet tooth? Try the banana muffin with honey ricotta or the cinnamon toast with honey butter. Craving salty over sweet? Two words: sausage plate. Three house made sausages, summer vegetables, farmer’s cheese and a side of an afternoon nap. And I can’t forget the classic avocado toast, but this one’s topped with heirloom tomatoes, crispy shallots, chili, harissa AND scrambled eggs…did somebody say FOOD BABY?? Bring your family and friends to this Fulton Market find and get ready for a brunch for the books. There’s no rush this weekend. Slow it down, sip some coffee and savor those last few weeks of summer sun (and some salty summer sausage!)

Parson’s Chicken & Fish: West Chicago with an East Coast flare, stop by Parson’s for your fish fry and fritter needs. Try the Texas toast or Patio Pasta Salad if you’re loading up on the carbs for that long run along the lakefront…or just because who doesn’t love bread AND pasta? Take a step away from the city chaos and with just a bit of your imagination (remember that beautiful thing, from art class back in elementary school?) you will feel the salty seawater breeze on your cheeks and taste the simpler times. The brown wood of the picnic tables, red & white of the umbrellas and grassy green surroundings will remind you of cookout time at camp…with one important addition that we like served on the rocks with salt. For a super sweet sip try the pineapple punch. It is the perfect pairing with garlicky cheese curd fritters. Pop over to Parson’s for a fun Friday night and a round of toast for the table!

Bridge House Tavern: Wine on the water anyone? It may not be the Gulf of Mexico, but a cool glass and fresh bite by the Chicago River does the body and mind well. Bring all the little ones along and order the honey bacon popcorn, or pass around the po’ boys – tuna or crab cake, take your pick. The tavern fries are a splendid shareable (they have bacon too), or let your little ones get their sticky fingers on one of the last summer bruschettas of the season (THIS HAS BACON TOO). Don’t worry, for the non-bacon-lovers out there (if there are any) try the mussels in a tarragon saffron sauce or chicken salad on a pretzel bun. And for brunch, there is really only one choice…FRESH BEIGNETS. But they didn’t stop there…served with a CINNAMON MAPLE GLAZE and BAILEYS WHIPPED CREAM, these perfect puffs will put you in a good mood on any gloomy September morning. Of course, the kids only get a taste if they try some of your veggie omelet first – loaded with super spinach, mighty mushrooms and tasty tomatoes. Get it with goat cheese or without (for petite picky palates) and a side of potatoes and toast (opt for wheat over white!) So feast on some fries (and greens!) at this waterfront wonder before walking it off along the Magnificent Mile just minutes away.

Blackbird: Set on hustling, bustling Randolph Street, Blackbird is perfect for a sophisticated summer date night (or dine indoors in on a chilly winter night for a serene evening of elegance). Who is the chef & owner behind this one? You guessed it, Paul Kahan! (We can’t help it, he is just so talented!) Once again his menu does not disappoint. Start the night with the roasted quail, served with n’duja sausage, savoy cabbage, red verjus and purslane (red grape juice and parsley if you’re like me and still growing your foodie vocabulary!) Feeling fishy? Order the crudo of fluke for a first bite bursting with blueberry, jasmine and burnt lime loveliness. And the star of the show…the suckling pig with sport pepper, roasted sunchoke, sunflower seed, almond milk and burnt lime (we’re loving this seared citrus thing!) So try Blackbird for one final hurrah this summer…or stay one step ahead and reserve your table now for a Valentine’s Day delight.

Ada Street: A hidden gem (literally), this dining experience will fill your bellies and warm your soul. Tucked away in a back alley full of more elegance than most front yards, Ada Street offers crafty cocktails and small, sophisticated plates. Dine in for a view of the floor to ceiling libation selection along the mirrored wall, or dine out for a night on the peaceful patio. Kick off your weekend with sweet & spicy chicken wings cooked in duck fat served with a cool cucumber salad. Or the Wagyu tartare garnished with fried capers. Then move through the meal with gnocchi, short ribs, diver scallops or baby octopus. Mingle after dinner with drinks and dessert. The buttermilk panna cotta with chamomile caramel and garam masala cookie is a popular pick, but my personal favorite (maybe you read about it in my previous piece on spiced up s’mores) is the one with the simplest title and sweetest taste: “Chocolate.” One word. One love. The darkest chocolate ganache with the fluffiest sourdough for dipping, and some savory sea salt and olive oil for a smooth ending. Ada Street is smooth all around and this tasty treat is just the cherry (or chocolate) on top of what is sure to be a perfect evening on the patio.

Chicago’s crazy winter is coming…but not quite yet. Soak up some final rays of summer sun while you still can. Before you know it the kids will be eating up more of their vegetables than usual…in hopes of receiving everything they asked for on their Christmas list.

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