Gino's East, 633 North Wells Street » Gino’s East offers classically filling Italian fare in generous portions. If you’re really hungry—or even if you’re not—try the deep-dish pizza. While the pastas, lasagnas, and other menu items are mostly safe choices, Chicago-style pizza is what Gino’s East is known for. Even if you’re famished after the 45 minutes it takes for your pizza to cook, bets are you won’t be able to finish more than two of the intensely sloppy, cheesy, thick, brick-like slices—health considerations aside.
The waiters serve you your first slice to prevent the embarrassing struggle that would likely ensue from trying to wrangle one free on your own. Salads are served family style and provide some much-needed organic relief after ingesting one of Gino’s slices. And don’t forget to bring a Sharpie. Just about every inch of Gino’s walls is fair game for, er, artistic expression.(312) 943-1124 (Adrian Florido)
Ina's, 1235 West Randolph Street » Ina’s has a lot working against it for the typical U of C student: It’s too far, it’s too expensive for breakfast, and the line is too long on weekends. But, man, is that some good breakfast. Ina’s also serves lunch and dinner, but the restaurant specializes in morning delights, including an array of signature pancakes and french toast “dredged in cinnamon and sugar” (as it was described during my first visit).
The omelettes and and skillet-type dishes use high-quality ingredients and are free of the grease you find at similar restaurants, and the place seems to go the extra mile with options like the Steel Cut Oatmeal. Ina’s just feels like an authentic breakfast—except better. Getting there on the CTA requires a bus and two train rides, but Ina’s truly occupies some rare air when it comes to breakfast cuisine. (312) 225-8227 (Jake Grubman)
Joy Yee Noodle Plus, 2159 South China Place » Chow mein. Pad thai. Udon. Korean BBQ. Potstickers. Crab Rangoon. Rice baked in a bamboo pot. Everything you love about Asian cuisine, you can find at Joy Yee’s, from the astounding list of bubble teas to the epic menu, which is a veritable cornucopia of delicious pan-Asian dishes.
This is a dining establishment with enough variety for repeat visits. You might order Thai fish cakes, mango chicken, and a lychee and watermelon freeze on one trip, and then Vietnamese spring rolls, kimchi and pork noodles, and taro milk tea tapioca on the next visit. The possibilities are endless—think Choose Your Own (Asian Cuisine) Adventure, but without the risk of drowning in quicksand. The only discomfort you’ll experience is from gorging on the massive portions.
The Chinatown location has recently been remodeled and expanded, and the brightly lit space is a happy clash of cafeteria-style seating and a Jamba Juice–esque corner where drinks emerge from a conveyor belt of blenders. Expect a wait for dinner, so go early or on a weeknight. The popularity of the restaurant means that you can now also find Joy Yee’s on 1335 South Halsted Avenue and in Evanston (521 Davis Street). (312) 842-8928 (Emerald Gao)
The Publican, 837 West Fulton Market » It’s a bit ironic that one of the hippest new late-night eateries in Chicago is styled after European beer halls, which have gorged the unwashed masses for centuries. With some extra flair and upgraded ingredients, the Publican offers the ancient combination of beer, pork, and noise to Chicago’s young club-goers and gourmands.
Set amid the stark industrial architecture of the Fulton Market District, the Publican stands out with its 10-foot windows and huge glass vestibule. But most dining hall-frequenting students won’t find the interior too unfamiliar; the main dining room’s giant banquet table seats 100, side by side.
The restaurant features a wide selection of imported beers from Belgium and Germany; try the Trappist ales infused with honey or the Flemish reds to complement the pork.
If there’s anywhere in Chicago to worship at the altar of the pig, it’s the Publican. Highlights include the fluffy spiced pork rinds, country ribs, and tender porchetta. It’s no surprise the Publican’s executive chef also owns the notoriously noisy Blackbird and Avec; the decibel level here falls somewhere between power saw and snowmobile. The restaurant must have been envisioned as a place to see and be seen—there’s no way to be heard.
The Publican is by no means inexpensive, although sharing a number of smaller dishes with your friends won’t set you back too badly. But if you want a European beer hall experience, it’s cheaper than a ticket to Berlin. (312) 733-9555 (Ben Rossi)
Sticky Rice, 4018 North Western Avenue » As first years will soon discover, Hyde Parkers are spoiled when it comes to Thai food choices. Unfortunately, most options adhere to the same monotonous and mediocre standard. UChicagoans on a quest for more interesting Thai cuisine must venture outside the neighborhood. The first stop of any such expedition has to be Sticky Rice.
The menu includes the standard Thai dishes, from spring rolls to pad Thai to satay, but it specializes in dishes from Northern Thailand that tend to have a bitter edge and sharp tang absent in Central Thai cuisine. Highlights include the Northern Thai sausages, grilled and homemade with red curry paste and other spices, and the mouthwatering kow soy, a coconut soup with egg noodles and meat.
Getting to Sticky Rice takes a long trip on the El, and its home, the North Center neighborhood, is a bit desolate. Luckily, the Music Box Theatre is just a few stops away on the Brown Line, making the restaurant a viable option for a North Side dinner-and-a-movie trip. Regardless, anyone who’s been eating greasy Hyde Park Pad Thai for a while won’t need much of an excuse to hightail it up north for this one-of-a-kind dining experience. (773) 588-0133 (Ben Rossi)
Taqueria Los Comales, 1544 West 18th Street » There’s a lot to do in Pilsen, so it’s too bad that many outsiders’ experiences of the neighborhood begin and end at Nuevo Leon, Pilsen’s best known restaurant. For something different, go to Taqueria Los Comales, located on the same street as Nuevo Leon, about a block closer to the Pink Line. Los Comales has no lines out the door and a spare, stripped-down look inside.
It’s simple, but that’s what sets apart Los Comales and its signature tacos. These tacos come without sour cream or cheese, meaning the burden is all on the meat, onions, and cilantro. Each of the eight meat offerings is wonderfully succulent, packed with flavor, and perfectly coupled with the crunch of the onion and the citrusy zest of fresh cilantro. They’re too good to have only one, and small enough to eat three or four if you’re hungry.
For a heartier dish, order a burrito; they’re so big your arms grow weary while eating them, and a dollar or two cheaper than Chipotle. Whatever you order, you’ll rarely wait more than five minutes to get your food. Cheap, fast, and a terrific departure from the ordinary: There’s not a false note to be found at Taqueria Los Comales. (312) 666-2251 (Jordan Holliday)
White Palace Grill, 1159 South Canal Street » The quintessential greasy spoon diner, the White Palace Grill is only a brief CTA ride away from Hyde Park and is your best bet for round-the-clock servings of warm food and Chicago history. Founded in 1939, White Palace is on the eastern edge of the UIC campus, and has served many a local politician, athlete, or celebrity in need of the best 2 a.m. waffles in town. Breakfast is the specialty, but the menu is diverse (including vegetarian options), and the food is fast, hot, cheap, and delicious.
While waiting for your food, you can’t help but be entertained by the eccentric wall decorations commemorating the diner’s place in Chicago history (including a sprawling mural of famous Chicagoans) and the colorful customers who give White Palace its unique character. There are cleaner, healthier, and hipper late-night dining options in the city, but White Palace is perfect for those cold winter nights when all you want is a short trip, a fun time, and filling food. (312) 939-7167 (Justin Sink)