Stovetop Diplomat

Chicago: What We Ate

Chicago: What We Ate

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Welcome to the second iteration of the What We Ate series! In this one, we went to Chicago – one of my absolute favorite cities – and did what damage we could!

Like it was in New Mexico: What We Ate the theme of this trip was largely quick-and-inexpensive. I make absolutely no claims that this is any sort of best-food-in-Chicago-list. That article has been written a million times by people way more knowledgeable than I. This is just a snapshot of some of the amazing things we got to experience while in the windy city!




As any good trip to Chicago should go, we started with getting a deep dish pizza delivered from Lou Malnati’s. I have mixed feelings about Chicago-style pizza (sometimes it’s just too much, sorry guys) but this one is absolutely my favorite. I’m no expert, and I definitely haven’t tried them all, but I know for sure that this one rules. We got the Malnati Chicago Classic, which is sausage and cheese on their famous Buttercrust™. Just look at that name. They trademarked it! How can you resist a place that believes in rich, buttery crust so hard that they trademark it?




The next day, we got a box of unbelievably delicious savory pastries from Sweet Bean which is a Japanese cafe and bakery in the South Loop. They opened fairly recently (during Covid, I believe) and they are doing such a killer job there. It’s tough to remember their exact names, but I know we got a couple of pork buns, the ham and scallion roll, and the bacon & cheddar milk bread. And then those pastries were so good that we went back the next day and got more. The second time, we got a Portuguese egg tart, a sweet corn roll, more pork buns and ham / scallion rolls,  and the surprising winner- the hot dog roll. The hot dog roll was a recommendation from someone in line – sliced hot dogs in a soft, slightly sweet fluffy bread. I admit to being pretty skeptical but what on earth – it was so, so good. Thank you random stranger!

I can never resist the fried chicken mantou buns at Ramen-San so that’s where we had to go next. These are similar to bao buns and they are just so luxurious! They’ve got a pork belly one too that’s also great- but the fried chicken one is where it’s at. Not pictured because everything was so delicious and I forgot, we also shared a bowl of the month’s special ramen, the Fatty. “Fortified tonkotsu broth, crispy carnitas, shredded cabbage, scallions, burnt garlic oil” is how they described it – total heaven!
Speaking of fried chicken, we finally stopped at the ubiquitous Harold’s Chicken for the first time. We only got tenders – and no doubt the bucket of fried chicken would have been better – but they did not phone them in at all, like some fried chicken places might. Super tasty, hot and fresh. But the real star here is that mountain of fried okra on the left. For the low, low price of $3 you too can have that heap of perfectly crispy golden, melt-in-your-mouth fried okra.  If I lived in the area, I would just scoop that up as a snack on the cheap ALL THE TIME. It’s for the best that I don’t.
Going to Lowcountry with my sister is one of our Chicago traditions. Nay, it’s more than that- it’s mandatory! Lowcountry is a seafood boil restaurant and it’s actually the first one I had ever been to – my life has been spent in very landlocked states. For the uninitiated, you pick out what seafood, veggies and sauce you would like and it’s boiled right in the bag that they bring to your table. You open the bag in the middle of the table (to split, if you’re like us) and get in there – forks are neither required nor helpful. It’s a mess but it’s so good and always so worth it. We got the Payday Combo with shrimp, snowcrab legs, corn and potatoes with everything sauce at a spiciness level of “3”; a side of the cornbread and an order of fried shrimp. Despite what it says on the menu about the combo being for one person, we split this three ways and were super full! We are all fans of spicy food and that “3” level spiciness is just perfect – it’ll make you sweat and your nose will run, but you still get to experience all the flavor of the sauce. My suggestion: don’t sleep on any of it. It’s all way too delicious to not get.
Some things that I forgot to take pictures of, but deserve a shoutout anyway:
  • Molly’s cupcakes – we grabbed the Peanut Butter Nutella, the Tiramisu, the S’mores and the  Raspberry and Cream. Every single one of them was melt-in-your-mouth unbelievable. I especially loved the graham cake on the S’mores one – I’ve never had a graham that rich and dense. They were out of one of the ones we were hoping for – the Samoa – and that’ll have to be next time, because my sister insists they’re to die for!
  • Taco in a Bag– we ate this at Riot Fest and I just want to compliment them on the excellent festival food idea. It’s essentially corn chips loaded with toppings in a little insulated bag. Super portable, high calorie, super flavorful, relatively inexpensive – the perfect festival treat. We got The Norberto which they describe as “spicy braised chicken thigh, sauteed pepper and onion, pepper jack, avocado jalapeno sauce, dried cranberry and cilantro”. Their brick-and-mortar location appears to be closed but it looks like they’re still on the event circuit!
  • Island Noodles- we ate here at Riot Fest as well. I’ve had their noodles before and they’ve been great, but this may just have been an off day. Delicious flavor but so, so over-the-top salty. It didn’t work for me on that humid Chicago afternoon.
  • Devil Dawgs– we grabbed Chicago dogs, which admittedly aren’t quite as good as Portillo’s but still are damn delicious. But the real star of this meal was actually The Clucker- their fried chicken sandwich served on a pretzel roll. So decadent, I’m still thinking about it.


Currently Listening: That 1 Guy – Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin 

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