Chicago is a city known for its wealth of food. Michelin star restaurants, features on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and competitions over the best deep-dish pizza cement Chicago’s respected food legacy. While there are many places on UChicago’s campus to eat, like dining halls, Hutchinson Commons, and food trucks, there are even more spots across the city of Chicago to grab a bite. All UChicago students have the UPass, which provides us with unlimited rides on all CTA buses and trains during the school year and makes traveling around the city easier. One of my favorite things to do in Chicago is try new foods, and thanks to the UPass, I can take the CTA for free to get to any restaurant imaginable. Over the past couple of years, I have frequented several restaurants that are particularly great to visit with friends. Here is a list of eight of my favorite eateries in Chicago (in no particular order!).
- Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings (Chinatown): My friends and I have been eating at Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings consistently since our first year (fun fact: we eat there so often that the restaurant staff recognize us). The restaurant is about a five-minute walk from the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line stop and has a cozy, laid-back vibe. The portion sizes of 12 or 18 dumplings per platter make it easy to share a ton of different dumplings among a group of friends, and you are always certain to leave full and satisfied. Afterwards, my friends and I usually grab boba tea at Kung Fu Tea nearby, but there are also a lot of other small shops where you can grab dessert or snacks for the road!
- Lito’s Empanadas (Lincoln Park and Downtown). Lito’s Empanadas gives you a taste of a classic Latin-American delicacy: the empanada. Lito’s offers a number of fillings in their empanadas from chorizo, chicken, and beef, to several vegetarian options. One of my favorite things about Lito’s is that they also have dessert empanadas, which is a sweet addition to the empanada experience and the perfect way to end a delicious meal. The Lincoln Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Zoo are a 10-minute walk away and provide the perfect spot to have a picnic outside.
- Shinju Sushi (Hyde Park): Five words (or maybe two, depending on how you look at it): all-you-can-eat sushi. Shinju is arguably one of the greatest ways to feast with friends. If you’re not in the mood for an almost endless assortment of food, you can always go for a classic bowl of ramen, udon noodles, or one of the many other entrée options available.
- Molly’s Cupcakes (Lincoln Park): Looking for a dessert spot? Molly’s Cupcakes is one of my favorites. While Molly’s is known for its center-filled cupcakes, you can satisfy your sweet tooth with other baked goods like homemade ice cream, cookies, pies, and more. I’m partial to the cake batter center-filled cupcake, but you can also create your own cupcake with almost any combination you can think of.
- Nando’s (Hyde Park): For my fellow One Direction fans, Chicago offers the unique chance to live out the dream of having a “cheeky Nando’s." Hyde Park is home to one of many Chicagoland Nando’s. In the warmer months, the front windows of the restaurant are left open so that visitors can enjoy the beautiful Chicago air while they eat. Major hint: try the peri-peri sauce, it’s life-changing!
- Yvolina’s Tamales (Pilsen): Yvolina’s is an authentic tamale shop located in the vibrant neighborhood of Pilsen. There are almost 30 different kinds of tamales with both meat-filled and vegetarian choices, giving you lots of options. The hardest decision to make, though, is whether to have red or green mole on your tamal!
- Velvet Taco (Near North Side): Velvet Taco is the perfect late-night food spot. Whether you’re looking for a chicken taco, a vegetarian taco, a fish taco, or some other kind of taco, you can find it here. The restaurant has two floors, leaving plenty of open seats to sit and enjoy the company of friends.
- Native Foods (Hyde Park): Before I arrived in Hyde Park, I did not know about Native Foods. Over the summer of 2019, my friends introduced me to one of the best desserts I’ve ever had: a vegan oatmeal creme pie. Native Foods serves exclusively plant-based food, making it an ideal spot for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free folks.
These are just a handful of the hundreds of restaurants located across the city of Chicago. Regardless of what kinds of food you’re in the mood for, there are so many different places to chow down and hang out with friends in Hyde Park and beyond. We are currently still in the middle of a pandemic, but many of these restaurants are still open for takeout, so it's still possible to have a delicious meal while helping to keep everyone around you healthy! Bonding over a good meal is a great way to build and strengthen relationships and community, and in Chicago, there is no shortage of opportunities to do so!