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Food + Drink

Chef Andrew Zimmerman’s Chicago

Andrew Zimmerman, the James Beard-nominated Executive Chef at Chicago's Sepia Restaurant shares his perfect foodie day in the Windy City with
Charlotte Steinway

“As a chef and father, I’m always up pretty early, so a perfect morning begins with breakfast at Perennial Virant in the Lincoln Hotel. The restaurant is run by my friend Paul Virant, one of the poster children for Chicago’s locavore movement. Just sitting out on his patio with two sunny side-up eggs, biscuits and gravy, and a cup of coffee is the best start to the day.

From here, it’s on to my local farmers’ market across the street, Green City Market. It’s exploded with vendors and the range of produce in the last five years, though I always return to old favorites. Leaning Shed Farm produces a tremendous selection of heirloom tomatoes, greens and around eight kinds of cucumbers, while Beth Eccles’ Green Acres farmstand has one of the most comprehensive mixes of produce — her Japanese eggplant is some of the best you can get anywhere. For fruit, there are two real standouts: Seedling Enterprises, which is better for stone fruits and Mick Klug Farms, known for its exceptionally good grapes.

After a hit of all that good Midwestern produce, I love tooling around the Indian or Southeast Asian grocery stores up on Devon Avenue or Argyle Street on the North Side of Chicago. Along Devon, I try and stop at Udupi Palace for a Masala Dosais, vegetarian rice and lentil crepes stuffed with a very simple mix of potato, onion, turmeric and ginger curry. I order the Mysore Masala with spicy chutney, a little sambar and coconut chutney. They’re super flavorful, filling, and will only set you back about eight bucks. Over on Argyle Street, I round out a shopping trip with a tripe and beef tendon pho at 777. It’s not the most popular pho place in town, but I think their broth is better than much-hyped Tank. If bahn mi is more your thing, try nearby Ba Le.

Next, it’s back to my ‘hood of Wicker Park for a taco or two and a couple of drinks at Big Star on North Damen. My go-to drink is whatever good whiskey they’re offering as a shot special — the options rotate daily — plus a local IPA, like Revolution Brewing’s Anti-Hero. Luckily, it’s a real simple walk (or stumble) back to my house.

From there, the number of places I could have dinner in Chicago is tremendous. I do have my list of favorites, though: It’s almost clichéd at this point, but I never turn down the chance to have dinner at Schwa. Michael Carlson is a genius: his dishes are crazy but brilliant. I’ve also had incredibly good meals at Topolobampo. Nobody does refined, inspired Mexican food like Rick Bayless and the staff at Topolobampo: It’s just awesome. And of course, I would eat at any of Paul Kahan’s restaurants anytime. The man does such good, consistent work, and the staff is impeccable: You can have progressive American contemporary food at Blackbird or some hedonistic Oyster and pork orgy at Publican. Any of those places would be a great ending to the day.”

Check out our collection of Chicago stays for Restaurant Week