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Chicago's Most Overrated and Underrated Food Trends

By Sarah Freeman
November 4, 2013

Trends: we love to hate them. They sweep onto the scene in a fury, taking over menus and forcing chefs and bartenders to find new ways to use them. We asked you to weigh in on some of Chicago's most overrated and underrated culinary trends happening right now. Check out our picks below, and let us know in the comments what you think about these foodie fads.

  • Photo by: Flickr

    Overrated: Bacon and Pork Belly

    Someone please explain to us when pork became the hottest thing in the world. Yes, a fatty slice of pork belly is delicious - because it’s basically all fat. The same rule applies to a crispy strip of bacon. We'll allow bacon on the side of our eggs, but please keep it off of our donuts, cookies and cocktails. Here's another challenge: can a menu in Chicago please exist without the presence of pork belly? There are other meats out there, we promise.

  • Photo by: Galdones Photography

    Underrated: Roast Chicken

    Chicken is one of the most common proteins - it is also one of the easiest to mess up. The meat triggers a lot of memories of family dinners and simple suppers, making the feat of impressive chicken much more difficult to attain. Chefs like The Lobby's Lee Wolen rise to the occasion with a roasted chicken for two, while Thai Dang at Embeya prepares his Peking duck-style.

  • Photo by: Yusho

    On the Fence: Ramen

    The cure for the winter blues and a terrible hangover can both be found in a bowl of ramen. Noodles have taken over menus at many an Asian-inspired restaurant around town, including Yusho, Urban Belly, Oiistar and Slurping Turtle, with many more to join them soon. No longer limited to pork loins, these ramen shops are filling their steaming bowls with beef brisket, zesty chicken and meatballs.

  • Overrated: Brunch

    Frankly, we don’t care how red your red velvet pancakes are - no piece of pan-fried dough is worth a two-hour wait on a Sunday. The weekend is a time for rest, and that rest should not be happening in line for breakfast foods that are served until three in the afternoon. Brunch is a modern urban equivalent to church, where the upwardly mobile go to see and be seen worshiping the gods of stuffed French toast.

  • Underrated: Lunch

    One of the most important meals of the day is often one of the most difficult to find, especially if you, like many Chicagoans, work in The Loop. Fast and tasty lunch options are few and far between, which is why when a quality fast-casual concept like Blackwood BBQ opens, hungry office workers line up down the block. Other popular nighttime spots like La Sirena Clandestina are also opening early during the week to serve their take on sandwiches.

  • On the Fence: Supper Clubs

    Underground dining has been hiding in the wings for years, thanks to popular supper clubs like Sunday Dinner. Recently, a new wave of pop-up dining experiences arrived in Chicago, pushing the envelope of secret dinners in small settings. Keep an eye on Feast & Imbibe, Yo Soy and Tuesday Night Dinner to see if they can maintain big meals in small packages.

  • Overrated: Barrel-Aged and Draft Cocktails

    While both the barrel-aged and draft cocktail trend should be recognized for their innovation, the first is illegal in Chicago and the second is a technique better reserved for beer. Despite enhancing the flavor profile of cocktails, barrel-aging programs have recently come under scrutiny as liquor inspectors are enforcing laws that restrict alcoholic beverages to being served out of their original "bottles" - that includes barrels. Tap cocktails, on the other hand, reduce the potency of the beverage in favor of faster service.

  • Underrated: Exotic Cuisine

    A new wave of restaurants is introducing international flavor to the local scene. Tanta brought the bold dishes of Peru, Mott St tapped into Asian night markets, and Fat Rice exploded onto the scene with Macanese cuisine. There is still room to explore the unfamiliar: since these are new flavors to the market, chefs often hold back on the spice, funk and unfamiliar to satisfy the Midwestern palate. Please, chefs, bring on the weird.

  • On the Fence: Tiki

    A trend cannot ride on the back of one man, but Paul McGee is sure doing a good job of bringing tiki cocktails to Chicago. They're popping up at bars around town, such as The Whistler and The Dawson, but McGee's River North underground island paradise, Three Dots and a Dash, remains the tiki king, with its Polynesian decor and one of the city's most extensive rum collections. Where else can you sit under bamboo facades while sipping a Bunny’s Banana Daiquiri with a carved banana dolphin garnish?

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