When she opened Take Me Out, Karen Lim was attempting to fill her parents' shoes while they were still wearing them. The elder Lims are the owners of Great Sea, a Chinese restaurant known for its delectable Asian-style wings. But it turns out Karen’s version, which she calls "hotties", may be even better. Chicago magazine named them the best Asian-style wings in the city in 2009, and other press outlets, including the Chicago Reader and Chicago Sun-Times, have raved about them as well. Though an ABC News feature kept Lim's methods under wraps, it did list a handful of ingredients—chilies, honey, soy, and garlic—that contribute to the spicy sauce, a "secret weapon" that takes eight hours to brew. Guests can smother their wings in this tangy concoction or in its mild and medium variants, which provide less kick than the original version, yet more than lukewarm yogurt. Before being served, the meat is "Frenched," or pushed to one side of the bone for ease of eating (the wings are often compared to lollipops in appearance). Sides of crab rangoon, pot stickers, and daikon help mounds of rice offset the fire of each bite, and patrons can also bring libations from home.
The Han Dynasty is the inspiration behind Bridgeport's Han 202, and just as the ancient Chinese people learned to evolve with their surroundings, so too does Han 202's menu. It infuses Chinese recipes with techniques and ingredients from American and Asian cultures, earning the Zagat-rated, BYOB eatery praise from guests on Check, Please!. And to make the elegant dining experience affordable, the restaurant only offers a five-course, prix fixe meal, with past dishes including a green apple and white truffle oil salad, snow crab meat in a spicy miso broth, and an entrée of Chilean sea bass crowned with a sweet chili sauce.
Since it opened in a tiny dock space in 1950, Lawrence's Fish and Shrimp has been plying the Chicago community with fresh seafood, including the best fried shrimp in the city, according to Chicago Magazine. The legacy started with founder Lawrence Schweig, whose commercial fishing operation on Lake Michigan reeled in fresh fish. Two generations later, the staff still uses family recipes and a signature breading process to churn out specialties such as fried large shrimp, frog legs, and bone-in catfish. Customers can get their fried fixings?as well as sandwiches and decadent desserts?24 hours a day. The counter spot retains its homey feel with picnic table seating and by serving its breaded bundles in brown paper bags.
Husband-and-wife duo Alejandro and Diana Guerra strive to bring the Mexican beach restaurant experience to Chicago at their Mexican seafood institution, La Palapa. Here, patrons dine on spicy Nayarit-style seafood on an outdoor patio, basking under palapas—thatched palm-leaf umbrellas—with their toes planted in the sand-filled deck. Roving mariachi bands often pop in to serenade tables, and a menacing statue of a shark lords over the beachy scene, hoping to sink its teeth into helpings of seafood paella, spicy garlic calamari, and red snapper. The seafood combo melds shrimp, octopus, mussels, and scallops, and the Palapa shrimp is doused in Alejandro’s grandmother’s own secret spice concoction.
"They say, 'Tony, you're so crazy.' Yes, I am," celebrated chef and restauranteur Tony Hu told a Chicago Tribune writer. The comment refers to his decision to open seven restaurants within the same half-square-mile of Chinatown, a business venture viewed as ludicrous by many of his contemporaries. But the unusually close proximity of the eateries hasn't affected any of their successes, especially Lao Sze Chuan. Hu’s flagship creation opened 14 years ago and has since become legendary in the Chicago culinary scene. A huge line often snakes out the door on a Saturday night, and a visit to the restaurant prompted the following praise from one Check, Please! host: “There's no chop suey...there's no chow mein…it's not the things that you think you always think you're going to see on a Chinese menu. It's really regional food.” Inside the kitchen, chefs prepare Szechuan dishes such as dried chili chicken, Szechuan spicy rabbit, and hot pots of boiling broth, in which diners submerge lamb, shrimp, napa cabbage, and jewelry that’s gone out of fashion. Much of the menu is authentically spicy, but guests can opt for milder dishes such as steamed pork with sweet pickles or Szechuan tea-smoked duck.
Eating out at a restaurant enables people to avoid cooking for hours at home, washing dishes, and rubbing their own feet during meals. Relax at dinner with today's Groupon: for $10, you get $20 worth of Chinese cuisine and cocktails at Lao Shanghai.