Whenever I go back to the Chicago area, I’m always impressed by the dazzling array of ethnic restaurants. While there’s plenty of fine dining—and pricey—options in Chicago, it’s easy to find fun, inexpensive, vegetarian ethnic food in both the city and suburbs. During my eight days in Chicago, I ate at two Japanese restaurants, one Afghan, and one Indian, and I’m eager to return to three of the four. Here are my picks.
Once a Jewish neighborhood, Chicago’s Devon Avenue is now a “Little India and Pakistan,” loaded with restaurants, sari stores, and spice shops. Mysore Woodlands is a casual Indian vegetarian restaurant featuring a good selection of south Indian food. Although Mysore Woodlands doesn’t serve alcohol, it looks like a nightclub, with a wide open interior and vaguely disco lighting.
We started our meal with Bhel Poori, a street food snack made with puffed rice, little fried noodles, potatoes, onions, chilies, and tamarind and mint-coriander chutneys. It sounds peculiar, but it’s a great sweet-sour-spicy-crunchy mish-mash. I also enjoyed another south Indian favorite, the “Special Rava Masala Dosa,” a crispy wheat lentil crepe with onions, green chilies and potato masala. This enormous pancake was at least a foot long, which meant there were ample leftovers. Prices were two-thirds of what I’d spend for an Indian meal in Boston that wouldn’t taste half as good.
Although Yoshu, in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, bills itself as a Japanese street food restaurant, it’s much more upscale than Mysore Woodlands, with a funky, sophisticated, industrial interior. On Sundays, they feature a fixed price ($20), three-course noodle menu, consisting of one of five noodle dishes, cocktail of the day (choice of alcohol or non-alcohol), and soft serve, made with cider, apples, and something crunchy. The soft serve was a highlight of the meal. The tartness of the apple was complemented by cinnamon and just the right amount of crunch. According to the reviews, they also offer a hibiscus soft serve, which I’d love to try.
Louise and I shared two noodle dishes. The Maitake Mushroom Ramen was vegetarian, with angry red ball (a spicy sauce, similar to the sauce served with bi bim bop), tofu, umeboshi, and a hen egg; the Grilled Shrimp Ramen was pescovegetarian, with lobster broth, bonito, kimchi, and bamboo shoots. While they both had complex broths and were fun to eat, neither blew me away. Maitakes—also known as “Hen of the Woods”—are one of my favorite mushrooms, but Yoshu deep fried them, which took all that earthy, woodsy flavor that I love away. Nonetheless, I liked the atmosphere, so I’d like to give it another try.
I also enjoyed our visit to Kabul House, an Afghan restaurant in the heart of downtown Skokie. This casual restaurant offers a variety of meat, fish, and vegetarian entrees. Every entrée comes with a choice of vegetarian soups. My salmon was glazed with pomegranate molasses and came with a delicious chutney and a cucumber salad. It was a simple dish, but I enjoyed its sweet spiciness. My meal was a bargain at $13.00.
So many great restaurants, so little time! Have to go back to Chicago soon.