Mintel city food guide: What to eat in Chicago

August 6, 2019
5 min read

You regularly enjoy our analysts’ food adventures and you keenly read our insights about the food and drink industry. This summer, we’re bringing you the ultimate city food guides to accompany your travels around the world. From Chicago to Kuala Lumpur, London and Shanghai, get ready to discover the latest foodservice trends in these buzzing metropolises, crossroads of cultures, spices and flavours. Because who’s better than a local, food-obsessed, restaurant-hopping analyst to spot up and coming cuisines?

Let’s hear about Chicago’s food scene from Amanda Topper, Associate Director of Foodservice, and Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, Global Food Analyst.

The food hall expansion shows no sign of slowing down

Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, Global Food Analyst

The food hall trend has officially hit Chicago, with a number of these updated food courts popping up around town. Revival Food Hall kicked things off with its launch in 2016, bringing small storefront outposts of popular Chicago restaurants under one roof and letting busy downtown diners choose from Detroit-style pizza, tacos, barbecue, and more. Wells St. Market followed suit in 2018, offering a mix of local chains like Furious Spoon ramen and new restaurants, such as Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s gyro shop, Piggie Smalls. I can’t pick a favorite here, but I will say that Firecake’s walk-up donut window tempts me on too many occasions.

Furious Ramen at Furious Spoon in Wells St. Market
Pistachio Old Fashioned at Firecakes in Wells St. Market

In the months since then, a flurry of food hall activity has followed, with the opening of Politan Row in the foodie West Loop neighborhood, One Eleven Food Hall in the South Side neighborhood of Pullman, and Aster Hall in the heart of Michigan Avenue’s shopping district. Here, diners can experience a blend of automation and quality service: they order at a kiosk but pick up at the counter, where they connect with employees. They can also have food delivered to their table instead of having to go from “vault” to “vault” to collect their dishes, letting them create a personalized meal out of all the options in the hall.

Aster Hall kiosk
Aster Hall seating

Looking ahead, the Chicago food hall trend shows no sign of slowing down. In 2019, several new halls are set to open, including Chicago’s first Time Out Market and two Chicago locations of New York’s Urban Space concept. Some locally created halls are also on the books, such as Hayden Hall, curated by David Morton and Michael Kornick of local restaurant group DMK Restaurants.

The regional tastes of India

Amanda Topper, Associate Director of Foodservice

There has been an influx of Indian restaurants popping up in Chicago, especially those featuring modern takes on Indian classics, or more regionalized Indian dishes. Restaurants like Grand Trunk Road, Vajra, ROOH, Thattu and Superkhana International have brought a renewed focus on Indian fare to Chicago’s dining scene. Indian cuisine is growing in the US, with one in five US consumers having eaten Indian cuisine at home or away from home in the past three months.

I recently stopped by Thattu, a stall in Politan Row, Chicago’s newly opened food hall. Thattu specializes in the cuisine of Kerala, a state on the southern coast of India. Thattu’s menu of curries, bites and beverages is studded with ingredients like coriander, masala, cardamom and coconut. I tried the spicy Kerala Fried Chicken and the intensely flavorful Kadala(or black chickpea curry) served with made-to-order fermented rice flour pancakes known as appam. The Ayurvedic Ajowan Iced Tea brewed with roasted ajowan seeds, lime, and jaggery helped curb the heat from the spicy dishes. Ayurveda is also an inspiration for ROOH’s cocktail menu, which separates beverages according to each of the six rasas, or tastes of Ayurveda: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent.

Ayurvedic Ajowan Iced Tea and Kerala Fried Chicken at Thattu
Kadala with Appam at Thattu

Modern Mediterranean cuisine catches on

Amanda Topper, Associate Director of Foodservice

Middle Eastern food has become mainstream in US foodservice: diners already know and love dishes like hummus and falafel, but now restaurants are catering to curious palates with influences from more countries that touch the Mediterranean. In the last several months, three modern Mediterranean restaurants have opened in Chicago: Galit, focused on Israeli cuisine with influences from Yemen, Turkey, Iraq and Tunisia; Cira, featuring modern Mediterranean dishes from Italy, Syria, Spain and beyond; and LaShuk Street Food, a fast casual food stall with fresh takes on Israeli dishes like hummus, salatim (salads) and baklava. These cuisines have also become popular on social media due to their vibrant colors and beautiful plating.

I’ve personally taste-tested the hummus, falafel and pita at all three recently opened restaurants and experienced first hand their differences in ingredients, flavors and cooking preparations. For example, Cira offers a non-traditional brown butter hummus, while LaShuk Street Food menus hummus with a variety of toppings like baharat-spiced beef, or mushrooms and caramelized onions. Galit offers a Jewish comfort food take with its brisket-topped hummus.

As restaurants continue to explore the diverse ingredients and flavors of the Mediterranean, retail manufacturers will take note and incorporate these offerings in packaged foods beyond what is currently being offered on the market.

Iraqi Kubbeh Halab at Galit
Salatim at Galit
Brown Butter Hummus at Cira
Falafel Bowl at LaShuk Street Food

All pictures are courtesy of Amanda and Melanie. Follow them on Instagram to keep learning about the delicious food they eat in Chicago!

Melanie Zanoza Bartelme is a Global Food Analyst at Mintel, providing insights on global innovation and consumer trends across a number of food categories.

Amanda Topper is the Associate Director of Foodservice Research, responsible for overseeing all of Mintel’s foodservice offerings, as well as providing insight and competitive analysis across scheduled deliverables, and client and industry presentations.

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