Chicago

Where to Eat Indian Food in Chicago Right Now

All picked by local South Asian restaurateurs.

Indian Garden
Indian Garden
Indian Garden

Diwali, India’s annual festival of lights, kicks off on Saturday, November 14, and while celebrations might be a bit limited this year, rest assured you can still gorge yourself on all the piping hot samosas, silky paneer, pillowy naan, and soul-warming biryani our fair city has to offer. We hit up three esteemed Chicago-based tastemakers-Zeeshan Shah of Superkhana International, ROOH Chicago’s Manish Mallick, and Ali Dewjee of Bombay Wraps’ growing empire-to get their take on the best of the best from Little India’s famed Devon Ave and beyond.

Belen Aquino
Belen Aquino
Belen Aquino

Superkhana International

Logan Square
From hand-rolled bagels slathered with chili crisp cream cheese and plump roasted butternut squash dusted with toasted pepitas and garam masala to a ghee-washed bourbon Old Fashioned and original fruit-forward syrups like the Thomcord Grape Cardamom Cordial from local bar wiz Colleen Malone’s Be Cordial line, these Logan Square boundary-pushers menu defies expectations in the most delicious way.

“Our butter chicken calzone is one example of how we’re different,” says Shah, its executive chef and co-owner. “A typical Indian spot may serve classic butter chicken with either naan or rice or both, but we wanted to present a unique experience here. It was kind of Jason’s joke during one of our early meetings. We all laughed at first, then Yoshi and I went to work on R and D. The result is something super fun while honoring the traditional flavors.”
How to order: Order pick-up ahead of time via Toast or amble up to the spot’s newly unveiled take-out window on Diversey Avenue to see (and, more importantly, taste) the magic in action.

Al Ajwaah Sweets

Little India
When Shah feels the need to satisfy his sweet tooth, the Superkhana executive chef and co-owner makes a beeline for this Little India mainstay. “The sweets are out of this world,” he raves. “I particularly love the halwa-they make a few kinds, but I really like the sooji halwa. It’s like the best version of cream of wheat if you left out half the water and added all the best sugar. It’s like nothing else.” But it’s not all lollipops and gumdrops here. “Their focus is on intensely sweet Indian desserts, but they also have very good samosas and chai,” adds Shah. “It’s the only place on Devon I actually buy chai.”.
How to order: Peruse the wares and stock up in-person at the Devon Ave cafe or get the party delivered via GrubHub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats.

ROOH
ROOH
ROOH

ROOH

West Loop
This lauded West Loop staple fits right in on restaurant row thanks to an upmarket and progressive approach to South Asian standards. “All food at ROOH Chicago is made fresh daily in the kitchen by our professionally trained team, some of whom have worked in Michelin Star restaurants in Europe,” notes owner Manish Mallick. “They work hard on making sure we serve the highest quality produce cooked with a balance of traditional Indian spices that invigorate the taste buds.” 

Tasting menus ranging from inventive brunch and dinner fare to themed lineups for holidays like Dawali and Thanksgiving lead the way, each a guided exploration of the country’s diverse culinary landscape. “My favorite is the Culinary Journey, encompassing four courses of artistically plated, delicious meals,” Mallick says, describing one of his restaurant’s signature prix-fixes. “It’s an experience to remember and salivate days after. The dishes bring flavors from all regions of India: North, South, East, West and the coastal areas. On the menu, each dish is marked with the city that inspired it so guests can take a true journey. Add the wine pairing or cocktails-Hyderabad Tonic and the Old Fashioned are my favorites-to enhance the experience.”
How to order: Reserve a seat on the heated patio for in-person dining, nab some take-out from Toast and Tock, or have the goods delivered to your door via GrubHub, DoorDash, and Caviar.

Annapurna Simply Vegetarian

Little India
According to Shah, this is Devon Avenue’s number one supplier of both standard and harder-to-find vegan and vegetarian eats. “There’s no meat in sight, and that’s great,” he says. “They do some things not everyone does, like khaman dhokla and fafda. These are so good and also so underrated in terms of what someone might expect at an ‘Indian place.'”
How to order: Drop by the sundrenched corner outpost for take-out and onsite dining options, order ahead with Toast, or have it delivered via GrubHub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats.

Moti Cafe

River North
When it comes to this laid-back River North counter-serve, Shah goes straight for the samosas. Fellow street food standouts like crispy baked fries drizzled with zippy house Moti sauce and spicy, garlic-laden vada pav share a bill with more substantial options like chicken biryani and tikka masala. Fusion-fueled spins like naan paneer pizza, curry ramen, fiery chicken vindaloo tacos, and Nepalese momos tossed in sweet chili sauce are on-hand to keep diners on their toes.
How to order: Pop into the Huron Street storefront for take-out or ride the digital wave and score pick-up and delivery from Toast, GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats.

The Spice Room

Logan Square
This vibrant and beloved Logan Square joint is one of Shah’s local no-brainers. “I love Spice Room,” he declares. “I haven’t made a bad decision ordering from them, and I’ve ordered nearly their whole menu by now.” Highlights include a surprisingly complex and ultra-velvety lamb vindaloo, dreamy malai kofta in rich cashew sauce, and a particularly crave-worthy version of pav bhaji that consistently packs a fiery punch.
How to order: Call 773-360-8689 or check out the Armitage Ave storefront for take-out and onsite dining options or cruise over to GrubHub, Postmates, Caviar, and BeyondMenu for delivery.

Indian garden
Indian garden
Indian garden

Indian Garden

Streeterville
ROOH’s Mallick recommends this festive Streeterville addition, known for its extensive portfolio of familiar dishes and more obscure hyper-regional specialties prepared using age-old cooking methods and intoxicating spice blends. “Chicken biryani and Baingan Bharta are some of my favorite take-outs from Indian Garden,” Mallick says, praising the eatery’s off-site dining program. “The food always arrives fresh, warm, and ready to eat.”
How to order: Call 312-280-4910 or head to GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats for take-out and delivery.

Bombay Wraps
Bombay Wraps
Bombay Wraps

Bombay Wraps

The Loop, Streeterville, Lakeview
Indian street food classics get the modern fast-casual treatment inside this decade-old crowd-pleaser’s three brick and mortar outposts. Dishes are straightforward, delicious, and always at the ready. “Chicken tikka is definitely a Bombay Wraps favorite,” says managing partner Ali Dewjee. “You can enjoy it in a wrap with a side of samosas and dipping chutney or mix up your regular lunch routine with a sandwich roll and a side of spiced potato chips. And if you’re looking for a satiating meal, chicken tikka over basmati rice with condiments and sauces are a sure hit.”
How to order: Stop into any location to check out take-away and outdoor dining options or request your pick-up and delivery online via Toast (The Loop, Streeterville, Lakeview).

Gaylord Fine Indian Cuisine

Gold Coast
This Gold Coast fine dining destination ranks high on Dewjee’s list for South Asian comforts prepared with upscale cheffy flare, even after the pandemic sidelined their legendary buffet. “When you crave the rich, warm taste and aromas of Indian food, Gaylord delivers,” she says. “Earlier in the year they had a buffet spread fit for a Maharaja and Maharani, however they continue to serve pick-up and delivery via an abbreviated-albeit tasty-menu. The chicken reshmi kebabs and the pepper fish are my favorites.”
How to order: Call 312-664-1700 or come by the E Walton Street flagship for pick-up and onsite dining info, click on MenuPages to snag take-out, or look to GrubHub and DoorDash for delivery in a flash.

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Meredith Heil is a Thrillist contributor.

Chicago

A Food Expert's Guide to Chicago's Chinatown

Just in time for Lunar New Year.

Courtesy of Ninja Bar Chicago Instagram
Courtesy of Ninja Bar Chicago Instagram
Courtesy of Ninja Bar Chicago Instagram

Chicago’s Chinatown, a triangular slice of the Near South Side loosely bordered by Cermak Road, Wentworth Avenue, and a northbound-snaking branch of the Chicago river, has been fueling Grace Wong’s culinary cravings long before she cut her teeth dishing on the city’s vibrant restaurant scene for the Chicago Tribune

“Both my parents are from Shanghai and they immigrated to Naperville, which is about 40 minutes outside of the city,” says the esteemed former dining reporter, recalling her suburban upbringing. “When I was growing up, we’d make this semi-monthly pilgrimage into Chicago, especially Chinatown and the Argyle area, to get supplies because there was no real Asian population where we lived. There were maybe two small Asian grocery stores at the time; when we got an H Mart, it was literally the biggest news of my life. My mom was so hype about it.”

“It was always just a huge deal, piling into the van,” she continues. “We would go for dim sum in the morning and then the entire afternoon we’d be following my mom around to all these different specialty grocery stores so she could get the ingredients she needed to make dishes from her homeland. I remember being a kid and carrying giant plastic buckets around because we would pick up live crabs and live fish, stuff like that.”

Wong now lives on the North Side and although both the pandemic and her recent departure from the Tribune and their centrally located office has made travelling down to Chinatown a bit less convenient, she still manages to pay her favorite establishments a visit every now and then.

“I haven’t gone much since the virus hit but I have made the trip a few times, mostly when I’m just like, ‘I need my Boba fix!'” she says with a laugh. “And then once I get down there I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I need barbecue pork from BBQ King House. And I need my roast duck. And I might as well go to Park To Shop because I’m out of like, I don’t know, oyster sauce or whatever.’ It always ends up being an extended time.”

Courtesy of Grace Wong Instagram
Courtesy of Grace Wong Instagram
Courtesy of Grace Wong Instagram

Getting the lay of the land

It might look like one cohesive cityscape at first glance, but according to Wong, Chicago’s Chinatown is actually composed of two distinct, nuanced districts.

“So, there’s new Chinatown and there’s old Chinatown,” Wong explains. “The big plaza with all the Zodiac animals next to it-that’s considered, at least to my parents, new Chinatown. And then old Chinatown is down Wentworth Avenue, south of Cermak. If you look at a map, there’s a little triangle where Archer, Clark, and Cermak meet. Everything south of Archer is more old Chinatown and everything north of Archer is more new Chinatown.”

“Growing up, we spent a lot of time at old Chinatown, mostly because there are a bunch of bakeries there and we would bring home pastries to eat for weeks and weeks,” she says. “As I got older, we started going to new Chinatown more. You’ll see a younger demographic in new Chinatown, trendy places like Bonchon and Mango Mango-that’s more of the vibe. And it’s more touristy in the sense that the people who go into new Chinatown to walk around and spend their day there, they might not necessarily live there. Whereas with old Chinatown, you’re bumping past the old ladies that have lived in that neighborhood forever.”

What makes the neighborhood stand out?

After high school, Wong moved to California to pursue a degree in journalism at USC. And while she enjoyed the years she spent on the (much, much) sunnier West Coast, her experience in Los Angeles only further cemented her devotion to Chicago’s Chinatown.

“I think a lot of Chinatown’s across the country are kind of going away,” she says. I was in LA for like six and a half, seven years, and the actual designated “Chinatown” there is maybe one city block. Here, you can bump into people who straight up just arrived from China or Taiwan one minute then turn around and talk to someone who has lived in the area for generations the next, that’s all they know. I think that’s really cool.”

“Another important thing to note is that Chinatown is not only for the people who live there but also for all the Asian-Americans who in the surrounding suburbs, of which there are so many,” Wong adds. “To be able to go to a place where my parents can just chit chat with whoever without any worries about language, or where I can tell someone my very specific boba order and they’ll get it exactly right without asking me all these questions-I don’t know, it’s just a really special place for everybody.”
 

Grace’s list of can’t-miss Chinatown spots:

Courtesy of Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings
Courtesy of Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings
Courtesy of Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings

Qing Xiang Yuan

“One of my favorite places to get dumplings is Qing Xiang Yuan. They also have a location in the Loop. They do a lot of different styles, all handmade, which is really awesome. They’re really playful with the fillings and you can customize if you want them boiled or fried. And they have these really amazing takeout boxes that they designed for themselves-yes, I’m here for that packaging. They’re also pretty new and modern. I don’t know if my parents would love it, per se, because they’d be like, ‘This is a fancy restaurant.’ But it’s just dumplings! Go there and you’ll have a really great time.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Elitea

“Just south of QXY is the entrance to the Richland Center, which is basically a glorified food court. It’s one of the few places where you can get really regional cuisine and it’s also home to Elitea, one my favorite places to get boba. They have this fire brown sugar boba that is just, I mean, incredible.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

 

Hing Kee

“For soup dumplings, I like to go to Hing Kee. Back in the day there were always, like, aunties making dumplings in the window-I loved that. Every now and then I’d go for some other kind of snack, but their soup dumplings are the best.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Courtesy of Hello Jasmine
Courtesy of Hello Jasmine
Courtesy of Hello Jasmine

Hello Jasmine 

“Hello Jasmine on Clark Street is really good for Taiwanese snacks and boba. I usually get their roasted oolong, popcorn chicken, and maybe some sausage skewers. They also have this fried chicken sandwich that’s unreal. It was definitely a spur of the moment decision to get it, but it was so good I posted about it on Instagram.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

 

Laojiumen

“For hotpot, there’s this new place called Laojiumen. They basically do ‘fancy hotpot’ and I honestly can’t wait to go there when I feel like it’s safe to do so.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Bingo Tea

“Bingo Tea has the best cheese tea. They were one of the first and the biggest to do it. You know how cheesecake is cheese but not really? Like how it’s sweet but has a touch of like salt to it? Imagine that but whipped. There’s a fruit or loose-leaf tea on the bottom and on top there’s this foam-like latte foam but thicker. The name might be a little bit of a marketing issue, but don’t knock it until you try it!”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Lao Sze Chuan

“Lao Sze Chuan is a classic for Sichuan food across the board. It might be an unpopular opinion, but I love their dry chili chicken. People say it’s for tourists, but it’s actually so good!”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Courtesy of Minghin Cuisine
Courtesy of Minghin Cuisine
Courtesy of Minghin Cuisine

MingHin

“Right next to Lao Sze Chuan is MingHin. I’m telling you, no dim sum trip is complete without a stop there.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Courtesy of Slurp Slurp Noodles
Courtesy of Slurp Slurp Noodles
Courtesy of Slurp Slurp Noodles

Slurp Slurp Noodles

“Slurp Slurp Noodles is in the old Chinatown area and their hand-shaved noodles are some of my all-time favorites. They’re super bouncy and springy and served in this delicious sauce. And they’re not soupy noodles-more like the dry, tossed-in-a-wok kind. They also make their own mustard greens, which are fire. It’s a solid spot.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

BBQ King

“BBQ King is the absolute go-to for all your barbecue needs. And they’re for sure doing takeout right now, I know that from experience.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

MCCB

“MCCB, they do ridiculous, mouth-numbingly spicy food and it’s fantastic. Their grilled whole fish, it’s just swimming in chilies, and you’re like, ‘I’m going to die and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.’ I love it there.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Courtesy of Chef Xiong
Courtesy of Chef Xiong
Courtesy of Chef Xiong

Chef Xiong

“Another good place for spicy Sichuan-style food is Chef Xiong. They have a really cute logo with a Panda on it. I don’t know if I have a favorite dish, but I would say just go, sit down, and whatever they tell you to eat, do that. You won’t regret it.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Dolo Restaurant and Bar

“If you want to feel like you’re at a club but also eating Chinese food, Dolo is the spot for you. They also do cocktails and their food is definitely good, but it’s just like, ‘I’m here with my parents in this dark room with this loud music… I don’t know what to say.'” 
How to order: Click here to order online.

Feida Bakery

“Barbecue pork buns? Obviously great. Ham and egg buns? Obviously great. Cream horns? Obviously great. Am I missing anything?”
How to order: Call 312-808-1113 to order.

Park To Shop

“You have to check out a grocery store because grocery stores are the best. We love going to Park To Shop-there are two big locations in Chinatown. One is on Archer and one is farther south but both are great.” 
How to order: Click here to order online.

Xi’an Cuisine

“Xi’an Cuisine, they do what people call Chinese hamburgers. I kind of hate that name because it’s a bun that’s been pan fried and stuffed with cumin-spiced meats-to me, that’s not really a hamburger, but I understand the desire to assign it a name you’re familiar with. Either way, they taste great.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Aji Ichiban

“Up near the Richmond Center there’s this little candy specialty store called Aji Ichiban. I love going in there for sweets-they have Japanese candies, Korean candies, Chinese candies, all the candies.”
How to order: Click here to order online. 

Nine Bar

“More recently, there have been a few pop-ups coming from second generation Chinatown kids like this one out of Moon Palace. Pop-ups are such a big COVID thing. I would be remiss not to mention them.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Courtesy of Meet Fresh Chicago
Courtesy of Meet Fresh Chicago
Courtesy of Meet Fresh Chicago

Meet Fresh

“Another place for dessert is Meet Fresh-it’s so good. And you will definitely be shell-shocked by a tiny, 90-pound Asian girl eating an entire mountain of ice cream on her own because, yeah, that’s a normal occurrence there. It’s happened to me twice now and I’m shocked every time. I’m talking a mountain of shaved ice and pudding and taro balls-delicious, but you’d need at least four people to eat it. It’s amazing.”
How to order: Click here to order online.

Meredith Heil is originally from St. Louis, now lives in Chicago, and in between has been to all 50 states (that’s feet on the ground, none of that airport BS). She enjoys reading about, thinking about, talking about, writing about, putting on events about and drinking about craft beer.

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