EAT THIS CITY whisks us to 15 fascinating eateries in a different city each week. This week, we visit the Windy City of Chicago with cool breeze Chef Carrie Nahabedian!
KNOW THIS: Chicago is not new to the national food scene. The city has birthed some of the best restaurants in the country. In the ’80s and ’90s, Euro-decadence reigned — as a result, French technique is still ingrained in the city’s food DNA. In recent years, the house-made and artisan movements have had a huge impact on the Chi’s food culture, too. In a city where winter is very, very long, the idea of preserving food through pickling, canning, or making jams is just solid logic.
Meet Chef Carrie Nahabedian. This Chicago native has enough stories to fill a deep dish. Right out of the gate, she worked at the city’s high end restaurants. She fondly recalls this grand food scene of the 1980s, heavily influenced by the “French Mafia.” After paying her dues, Nahabedian left Chicago to become the Executive Chef of the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, and fell in love with California—the farms, the weather, and the diversity of the land. Cali looked like it had a hold on her, but she came home to open Naha in 2000. Turns out you can take the girl out of Chicago… but not for too long.
Nahabedian comes from a large Armenian family and works with her cousin (Michael Nahabedian) and two sisters. Naha’s Mediterranean-influenced food showcases her Armenian roots, and has earned her a James Beard Award (2008 Best Chef Great Lakes Region), and four-consecutive Michelin stars. The team behind Naha has since opened Brindille in 2013, with refined Parisian fare.
Chef Carrie says that she still feels the camaraderie of her kitchen upbringing in the ’80s, but now it’s tied to a young, vibrant and more diverse scene. The food community is strong, and they all have each other’s backs. She says everyone feels it if someone goes under — so the thing to do is to rep for one another.
On that note, we’re excited to share Chef Carrie’s top picks in Chicago:
Pequod’s Pizza — our hometown of Morton Grove is where it all started! Best crust, amazing deep dish or thin crust.
For Mexican food, there is only one place in my neighborhood and that is Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill or XOCO or, of course, Topolobampo.
I love the style, cuisine and flawless service at Shanghai Terrace in the Peninsula Hotel. Truly authentic and, in the summer, you can dine outside. This is Chinese food very refined.
Not sure if you mean food served on the street or in the style of, but for some real flavors and the coolest chef around, check out Bill Kim at Urban Belly/BellyQ.
Sweets are the specialty of Mindy Segal at Hot Chocolate. Love going there when I can get away and try out her deliciously inspired homespun desserts and more.
It has three stars Michelin for a reason, Grace is stunning. Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser have it all in this restaurant that has so many accolades you can’t keep track of them.
Casual dining with high quality ingredients… Get in your car and drive north to Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook. Chef owners Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris have been cooking American family cuisine centered on local products and family farms for more than ten years.
Go to the Green City Market for vegetarian cuisine — Wednesday and Saturdays in Lincoln Park. Jared Batson makes his wood fired pizzas, River Valley Ranch Portobello Mushroom Burgers, Gayle’s Grilled Cheese, and everyone is cooking the food of the market.
Head up to Bread and Wine for brunch. In this food desert off of Irving Park, co-owners Jennifer and Lisa have made quite a name for the neighborhood.
ICONIC FOOD OF THE CITY
Portillo’s is my idea of iconic Chicago food! Dipped Italian beef sandwiches, hot dogs and more. My 91-year-old father loves it there.
ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE
Been trying to go forever, but Phillip Foss of El Ideas offers his own interpretation of a culinary experience with an “odd twist,” in the best possible manner.
A favorite of everyone at NAHA is Conte di Savoia on Taylor Street. When it gets a ” little rough” around the edges, my cousin Michael jumps in his car and brings back authentic Italian Subs with the meat and cheese sliced so thin you want to cry… cause it’s so awesome. Don’t forget the filled to order Cannoli.
Any food within walking distance of my Streeterville home… Coq D’Or at the Drake is the best sneak in the city or RL for a bit more civility.
Love the food and design of Momotaro! There is so much going on, you and your date can just soak it all in.
RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND
The Duck Inn in Bridgeport is owned by my longtime friend, Kevin Hickey. He is making his name for bringing a cool vibe to a neighborhood known for Chicago politics, the White Sox, and soon to be river walk.
Thanks, Chef Carrie, for keeping it real, and sharing your knowledge!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier-level chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Feast upon the past here: Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston and Detroit.
See you next week!