We’re now well into August, which means I’m thoroughly settled in Chicago and have hit up all my old favorites, creating the opportunity for further exploration. Yet as I began to compile a list of new activities in which I partook this past month or so, I came to the unsurprising yet still slightly embarrassing conclusion that they nearly all consisted of eating. Clearly, I know my priorities. As such, my first fresh take on the city, an early summer recap, if you will, is dedicated solely to my top food discoveries. I’m spoiled in that my too-trendy-for-me neighborhood of River North is over-saturated with hip restaurants, and I look forward to all my future gastronomical adventures here.
Hampton Social was my first new find, although “find” is a little generous; this popular East Coast-inspired spot is located literally across the street from my apartment. After a week of walking past those open windows with hoards of boat shoe-clad patrons, I could resist the pull of my people no longer. Yes, it is rather basic and bougie, but I’m fine with that. Their brunch is on the overpriced side, but worth it for the delicious pineapple mimosas. The environment can be a little overwhelming, bordering on ridiculous, but I know I’ll return to their rosé-dedicated happy hour (which is actually a steal) whenever I need a dose of nostalgia.
My next chic brunch destination was Beatrix, with lines and wait times that can hold their own against New York. Thus, I was very glad that my lady date had the foresight to make a reservation – especially given the overlap with Lollapalooza. I pretended to consider the menu and seriously weigh the merits of their many über-healthy options, but knew I was going for those lemon pancakes all along. They were beautiful and wonderful; Beatrix is beautiful and wonderful. Apparently everyone knows that and there’s no need for me to reiterate. But while walking to the table, I instantly regretted not wearing a cute sundress and espadrilles (and was thankful, at least, for my oversized cool-girl sunglasses and red lips).
Which is why Meli Cafe is undoubtedly my favorite breakfast spot. Not only is it about a five minute walk away, but the aesthetic is casual and comforting. It’s the stuff of a suburban girl’s dream trying to make it in the city. I’m a fan of all the trendiness in River North, but sometimes I want to shuffle to brunch in my unflattering but ridiculously comfortable harem pants and bare face. Meli has the perfect neighborhood community environment, rare to find in a metropolis, filled with families and blatantly hungover young adults. Even better, their food is amazing and healthy. I’m slowly working my way through the extensive juice and smoothie offerings, have obviously dabbled in the Chambord-infused mimosas and regularly battle between the parfaits and homemade jams.
Yet there exists meals aside from brunch, such as when I spent a particularly enjoyable double date at Ramen-san. After being inducted into the delicious world of Ippudo Westside right at the close of my New York residence, I knew I needed to find an alternative here. And my dirty little secret? I think I like it better. Although the lack of adorable purple sparkling jelly sake is disappointing, but I digress.
Before even arriving in Chicago, I knew I needed to check out Imperial Lamian, thanks exclusively to the technicolor dumplings I saw on Instagram. And yes, I did get hot pink soup dumplings (spicy Szechuan) and take photos of them, as evidenced above. I also unabashedly ordered roast duck and butternut squash dim sum, because all three tables surrounding us had the precious pumpkin puffs and I needed those pictures, too. Unfortunately, aside from being very Instagram-able, these two dishes were far from spectacular. Thankfully, the namesake of the restaurant was where they excelled. La mian is, from what I can glean (and tasted), essentially the Chinese version of, fittingly enough, ramen. And the minced pork la mian is perfection.
And, finally, gourmet donuts. Because of course. I’d been a Stan’s gal previously, but now that I’m so centrally located to Firecakes, the desertion was inevitable. Ice cream donut sandwiches; it was simply too much to ignore. While I was actually very disappointed in that super trendy summer treat, Firecakes has easily redeemed themselves with my far too many return visits. I’ve since tested the malted milk ball, peanut butter cup and chocolate hazelnut (the clear winner) – and there’s an infinite amount more to go.