Michelin-Starred Chef Sarah Grueneberg Names Her 7 Favorite Chicago Meals
You could eat off these recs for a month
Wondering where Chicago’s best chefs eat on their days off?
Sarah Grueneberg — the Michelin-bedecked former executive chef of Spiaggia, current chef/founder of Monteverde, James Beard Award winner, Top Chef competitor and host of Dishalicious — knows.
So we asked her to share seven of her best recs, from a super-iconic steakhouse to a superior tiki bar with dolphin-shaped bananas.
You probably can’t eat them all in one day. But you’re certainly welcome to try.
Breakfast/Brunch: Little Goat Diner
When we need to have an early-morning meeting near the restaurant, Little Goat is our preferred venue. I really like Stephanie [Izard]’s version of okonomiyaki with pork belly. I’m not a sweet breakfast person, so this savory take on pancakes is solid. I also really like the “This Little Piggy Went To China,” which is her version of biscuits and gravy with a Sichuan twist. It has a sesame cheddar biscuit, sunny-side eggs, Sichuan pork sausage, chili garlic chive sauce and gooseberries. The coffee bar and pastries are a good alternative if you don’t have time for a full sit-down meal.
Lunch: J.P. Graziano
This is one of the OG West Loop restaurants. What started as an Italian grocery store now specializes in the most delicious Italian-style sandwiches. We came here frequently before opening Monteverde — and we continue to order from here for our manager meals or special occasion family-meals for our team. I usually go for the turkey sandwich with provolone, lettuce, tomato and roasted red bell peppers. Sometimes I’ll get the caprese with mozzarella, tomato and basil. In that case, I always add artichoke hearts!
Lunch/Snack/Group: QXY Dumplings
I really enjoy going here because they’re making the dumplings to order — much like we do with pasta at Monteverde — and you can choose the style of preparation: steamed, boiled or pan fried. Some of my favorites include: the lamb and leek dumplings steamed with chili oil; the lamb and coriander dumplings, pan-fried; and the shrimp, pork and leek dumplings, boiled. Then I’ll order the pork and pickled cabbage, frozen, so I can make them at home.
Afternoon Sweet/Coffee/Lunch/Dinner: Somerset
If you really want to try chef Lee Wolen’s Somerset but only have an afternoon coffee date available, then their pastry board (by chef Meg Galus) is certainly worth it! If you have more time, I like the beat tartare, any of the flatbreads, and the everything bagel and lox for weekend brunch. Plus, his veggies and salads are always on point, and a perfect healthy addition to any meal. Gotta have some greens.
Dinner: Mi Tocaya
Chef Diana [Davila] has turned this corner space into a lovely, cozy neighborhood restaurant. With a focused menu, there are a lot of hits. Come for the enchiladas potosinas (when on the menu) and don’t leave without trying (or taking home) the steak burrito. They also have a great mezcal list, which always makes dinner more fun. It’s worth the trip to Logan Square from the South Loop, where I live.
Date Night/Late Night: Gibsons
Gibsons was a restaurant I would walk by on the way to work when I first started at Spiaggia. It was a Chicago classic; as a young cook, I only wished I would be able to dine there one day. Today it’s one of my favorite places to go in Chicago. It’s also a place I bring friends from out of town. When you walk in, you feel like you’ve gone back in time — the look and vibe are classic. The staff is very welcoming, and they often remember their regulars’ names. Any of the steaks here are a good choice. I also like the crabmeat avocado salad, the pork chop with peppers and a side of crispy fries to put on the plate with the peppers and pork jus. Insider tip: The onion rings are an off-menu item. Ask if they have them, and enjoy them with your starters. Gibsons is nice for a date night or late-night meal, as the kitchen stays open until 1 a.m.
Cocktails: Lost Lake
Every time I visit Lost Lake I wish I was able to visit more often. Their tiki drinks are some of the best I’ve had, but I also love that they can make a great classic drink. If you’re with a group, make sure someone orders Bunny’s Banana Daiquiri — Who doesn’t want a banana in the shape of a dolphin as your garnish? The food is right on par with the drinks. Chef Fred Noinaj makes some incredible Asian-inspired dishes, including grilled chicken wings, pork dumplings, green chili dip with fried wontons and the General ‘Tso Boy fried chicken sandwich.