Nestled in America’s heartland, off the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is an inviting location for visitors in search of such activities as theatrical productions, the aquarium, sports venues, art museums and, of course, food. Culinarily, the Windy City holds its own. With Chicago-style hot dogs, deep-dish pizza and ethnic food options, there are many palatable choices for any taste bud.
The majority of kosher dining options, which serve some of Chicago’s 260,000 Jews, are located in Chicago’s suburbs but are well worth the schlep. While you will find vegetarian fare available in Chicago proper, the kosher alternatives often have the freshest and finest ingredients. With a bit of searching, you’ll find some of the best hummus, good sushi and a flavorful steak at kosher establishments in Chicago. The rail system called the L connects the city with outlying areas, which makes kosher dining reasonably accessible via public transit.
Best Vegetarian Cuisine: Manghal Grill
Come with an empty stomach to the Manghal Grill. Co-owned by chefs Moses Eliel and Eli Mamalya, Manghal dishes up generously sized dishes with the freshest hummus and falafel, Israeli salads and Iraqi pita made in an authentic taboun oven. While Manghal is not vegan, mention your dietary restrictions and the establishment is happy to modify any dish. Everything is made fresh daily, with what Eliel refers to as a lot of “grilling, smooshing and smashing.”
The Salad Festival is an important addition to any dish. For $2 you can graze on an assortment of over a half-dozen Israeli salads with pita, including spicy matbuca, babbaganoush, purple cabbage, spiced chickpeas and beets. A strong local following trickles in throughout the afternoon to sip on Turkish coffee. For dessert, try the freshly made parve crème brulee. Certified Kosher; 1805 Howard; (847) 859-2681.
Best Kosher Fine Dining: Shallots Bistro
With unparalleled service, quality and presentation, Shallots Bistro offers high-end kosher dining. Located in Skokie, Ill., Shallots Bistro has a kosher wine cellar with more than 50 varieties of reds, whites and rare wines from vineyards around the world. With a full sushi station, you can choose from a variety of rolls, from traditional shrimp tempura and salmon avocado to elaborate creations — all made faux crustaceans. For dinner, try either the citrus-braised Chilean sea bass, which is served up with coconut rice and vegetables, or the chef’s special rib-eye steak , which is grilled to perfection and served with potatoes and asparagus. For dessert, have the fitting Black Hat — a Belgian chocolate cake with a liquid molten center that will quickly disappear from your plate. Certified Kosher; 7016 Carpenter Road; (847) 677-3463.
Best Nostalgic Jewish-Style Diner: Eleven City Diner
Enjoy the atmosphere of a 1950s-style diner and walls lined in family photos, retro decorations and music from a bygone era, while sitting in a booth or dining upstairs in a room lined with pictures of rabbis on the wall. If you make it for brunch, get the Challah French toast, served with fresh fruit and maple syrup, or try the fish platter, which has various options for you to create your own lox and bagel. The massively sized matzo ball soup is intimidating, but is a family recipe and well worth every bite. 1112 South Wabash Ave. (312) 212-1112.
Best Farmers Market: Green City Market
If you are in Chicago between the months of May and October, be sure to stop by the Green City Market. Now in its 12th year, the large farmers market is focused on locally grown, sustainable food. Locavores can easily indulge their senses with rows of Chicago-based vendors that offer up a variety of sustainably made and harvested goods, from vegetables to freshly made cheeses, artisan breads, pastas, sorbets and fresh doughnuts. 1790 North Clark St
Best Chicago Deep Dish: Giordanos
This is a touchy subject to many Chicagoans, simply because deep dish has such a strong Chicago identity, but Giordano’s has some of the best Chicago-style pizza around. Offering multiple varieties and many vegetarian options, the classic cheese or super veggie, which is loaded with mushrooms, green peppers, onion, broccoli and olives, should not be missed if you want to see what a deep-dish pizza is all about. 2855 North Milwaukee Ave; (773)862-4200.
Best Downtown Kosher Lunch: MetroKlub
Located in the artsy area of the West Loop, MetroKlub is in the lobby of the Crown Plaza Hotel. Offering the only kosher lunch in downtown Chicago, the restaurant caters to a clientele of out-of-town guests as well as to business district professionals, and makes for a great spot to lunch with colleagues.
While the chef serves up a wide variety of traditional sandwiches, burgers, pasta and wraps, try the seared Atlantic salmon with green beans, mushrooms and roasted potatoes or the traditional pastrami sandwich on rye. If it’s a cold day, order the tomato eggplant soup or soup du jour. Make room for the seasonal fruit sorbet and Chicago-based directly traded Intelligencia Coffee for dessert. Certified kosher; 733West Madison; (773)-549-4140.