By Trent Modglin
Made in Korea and raised in Chicago, Soo Park (@fabsoopark) moved to Chicago when she was three years old, and she credits her parents for unlocking her appreciation and love for food by exposing her to a variety of cuisines. Her blog, Fab Food Chicago, was born in September 2015, and soon after, her marketing consultant company to help local restaurants and businesses grow. Check out FabFoodChicago.com for her blog and details about her new book, Chicago Food Crawls.
Q: What can readers expect from your new book, Chicago Food Crawls?
A: Chicago Food Crawls maps out the ideal culinary tours of some of my favorite restaurants. It is the ultimate guide in discovering the hidden gems and long-standing institutions within more than 15 neighborhood crawls (Bridgeport to Evanston), each featuring 3-10 establishments (150-plus restaurants). Plus you’ll find eight extra food-themed bonus crawls (Chicago favorites, doughnuts, pizza, sushi and more). Each tour is the complete recipe for a great night out, the perfect tourist day, a new way to experience your own city and great stories to enjoy from home. Expect drool-worthy photos and some insider tips.
Q: Was the research as fun as it sounds in a city like this?
A: Research was definitely fun! I have lived in Chicago since I was three years old, so my love for Chicago runs deep like deep-dish pizza. Food has always been something important to me. It is a universal language that connects people, cultures and the community. This book is my way of honoring the vibrant Chicago food scene and the people behind the scenes. Meeting the business owners and/or chefs and hearing their stories has really deepened my appreciation for Chicago and Chicago restaurants.
“Food has always been something important to me. It is a universal language that connects people, cultures and the community. This book is my way of honoring the vibrant Chicago food scene and the people behind the scenes.”
Q: What is one of your favorite “crawls” from your book that you think might surprise some people?
A: I included one suburb (Evanston) so that might surprise people, but it is one of my favorite neighborhoods to “crawl” through. Known as the dining capital of Chicago’s North Shore, all your cravings are just a stone throw’s away and easily accessible via the CTA purple line and Metra north line. From delightful French pastries (Patisserie Coralie) to mouthwatering burgers (Edzo’s Burger Shop) to photo-worthy Thai food (NaKorn), the food scene is bustling.
Q: What’s an underrated neighborhood, or a neighborhood on the rise, as far as Chicago’s food scene is concerned?
A: An underrated neighborhood is Bridgeport. People don’t realize the food diversity in the neighborhood. You can grab a Latin-inspired brunch at Nana or Korean-Polish street food at Kimski while sipping on invigorating drinks at Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar. Get chef-crafted, New American cuisine at The Duck Inn. If you’re into burgers, they have a secret menu item you won’t want to miss. More info in the book.
Q: If you’re hosting friends from out of town, what are three restaurants reservations you’re definitely making?
A: Formento’s — An Italian restaurant built on family traditions but with a contemporary vibe. The menu plays homage to co-owner John Ross’ grandmother’s recipes with chef Todd Stein’s modern techniques. End the meal with the chocolate cake. You won’t regret it.
Imperial Lamian — Features refined Chinese food in a sophisticated vibe. With an open-kitchen concept, you can see chefs folding dumplings, hand-pulling noodles and more. The presentation is just as important as the taste — as you can see in the artfully plated dishes.
Maple and Ash — See and be seen at this luxurious Gold Coast steakhouse. Enjoy prime cuts of meat as well as fresh seafood in a lavish environment with exceptional service. It is a fabulous option for celebrating special occasions.
“I recently checked out the spring menu at HaiSous in Pilsen, and it was fantastic. Chef Thai Dang’s thoughtful versions of classic Vietnamese dishes are refreshing.”
Q: What is the best meal (or two) you’ve had so far in 2019?
A: I recently checked out the spring menu at HaiSous in Pilsen, and it was fantastic. Chef Thai Dang’s thoughtful versions of classic Vietnamese dishes are refreshing. Every dish has the flavors of a home-cooked meal but with sophisticated techniques, indicative of the chef’s background.
I also loved Omakase Takeya, located on the lower level of Ramen Takeya in the West Loop. It is a prix-fixe Japanese menu with around 16 courses. The fish is carefully sourced and flown in mostly from Japan. Only premium rice and vinegar is used for the sushi rice.
Q: What are a few of your favorite alfresco dining spots in the city for spring and summertime?
A: I love Tanta’s lively rooftop space. The thirst-quenching drinks are exhilarating, and Peruvian eats outstanding. The seasonal rooftop restaurant Noyane (meaning “hidden roof” in Japanese) at the Conrad Chicago is also one of my favorites. They feature contemporary Japanese cuisine and craft cocktails. Don’t forget to try the spiked snowballs!
Q: What’s the ultimate hidden gem (or two) restaurant in Chicago that deserve to be discovered?
A: There is a no-frills, family-owned café/bakery called Kristoffer’s in Pilsen. They make the best tres leche cake and chocoflan. Even Rick Bayless recommends it.