Staycation: Explore Ethnic Restaurants

No need to head out of town for exotic eats. Take a staycation and avoid the airfare! Chicago is a melting pot of wonderful cultures.

Rich with ethnic neighborhoods, Chicago and the North Shore feature some of the most flavorful and interesting options available in the U.S. And I’m thinking beyond our many Italian, Mexican, Japanese andor French restaurants.

So take advantage of the diversity outside our front doors and expose your family to some of these wonderful ethnic eateries. It’s a lot cheaper than round-trip tickets!

Eastern European
Little Bucharest Bistro – Romanian (3661 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, 773-604-8500)
Russian Tea Time – Russian (77 E. Adams St., Chicago, 312-360-0000)
Smak-Tak – Polish (5961 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, 773-631-6171)
Zhivago – Russian (9925 Gross Point Rd., Skokie, 847-982-1400)

Dishes to Explore: Each country has their specialties.
Polish: Pierogi (stuffed dumplings), kielbasa, golabki (stuffed cabbage)
Romanian: Gulas (vegetarian goulash); Skirt Steak with onions, peppers and mushrooms; Veal Paprikash (braised in a paprika sour cream sauce); Mamaliga (soft polenta with crème fraiche and feta cheese)
Russian: Borscht, Pelmeni (seasoned beef-filled Russian dumplings), blini and caviar,  kotlet Pozharski Kotlety (chicken croquettes)

Addis Abeba (1322 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-328-5411)
Ethiopian Diamond (6120 N. Broadway, Chicago, 773-338-6100)
Ethiopian Diamond II (7537 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-764-2200)

Dishes to Explore: Injera, the spongy, pancake-like traditional bread of Ethiopia, is the perfect way to transport delicious Yesmir Watt (spicy red lentils), Doro Tibs (chicken cubes with lemon juice, garlic, onions and jalapeno) and Yebeg Alicha (lamb stew with onion, garlic, ginger and basil) to your happy mouth.

Avli (566 Chestnut St., Winnetka, 847-446-9300)
Cross Rhodes (913 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-475-4475)
Greek Islands (200 S. Halsted St., Chicago, 312-782-9855)

Dishes to Explore: Rich Moussaka (Greek eggplant casserole with egg custard topping); crispy Spanakopita (spinach-stuffed filo); filling Pastitsio (Greek pasta casserole); Dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves); grilled lamb and octopus; and Baklava (sweet filo pastry layered with nuts and honey)

Curry Hut (410 Sheridan Rd., Highwood, 847-432-2889)
India House (228-230 McHenry Rd., Buffalo Grove, 847-520-5569)
Mt. Everest (630 Church St., Evanston, 847-491-1069)
Tiffin (2638 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, 773-338-2143)

Dishes to try: Crispy, potato-filled Samosas and veggie Pakora (basically, Indian tempura) dipped in tamarind or cilantro sauces; enormous Dhosa (paper-thin, lentil-flour crepe); earthy Dal Makhani (lentil stew); flame-colored Tandoori Chicken cooled with cucumber Raita; spicy Lamb Vindaloo; Biryani Rice dishes and hot Naan and Roti breads to scoop it all up.

Jin Ju (5203 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-334-6377)
San Soo Gab San Korean (5247 N. Western Ave., Chicago, 773-334-1589)
Super H Mart (801 Civic Center Dr., Niles, 847-581-1212)

Dishes to Explore: Bi Bim Bop (rice bowl topped w/ veggies, beef, spicy red pepper sauce and a fried egg); Bulgogi (thinly sliced marinated, grilled beef); Pajun (fried scallion pancake); steamed or fried Mandoo dumplings; and of course, Kimchi Chee (spicy pickled cabbage) are the classic dishes not to be missed.

South American

Fogo de Chao – Brazilian (661 N. LaSalle Dr., Chicago, 312-932-9330)
La Fonda – Colombian (5350 N. Broadway, Chicago, 773-271-3935)
Tango Sur – Argentinean (3763 N. Broadway, Chicago, 773-477-5466)

Dishes to Explore: Argentinean: Empanadas filled with cheese and sweet corn, herby Chimichurri sauce on your juicy steak Asado, Dulce de Leche  (caramel filling) for dessert; Brazilian: Pao de queijo (warm cheese bread), Feijoada (black bean and meat stew), grilled Churrasco meats; Colombian: Arepas (stuffed white corn cakes), Sobrebarriga (braised beef brisket in creole sauce), Arroz con Pollo (chicken and yellow rice).

Pasteur (5525 N. Broadway, Chicago, 773-878-1061)
Pho 777 (1065 W. Argyle St., Chicago, 773-561-9909)
Saigon Sisters (567 W. Lake St., Chicago, 312-496-0090)
Tank Noodle (4953 N. Broadway, Chicago, 773-878-2253)

Dishes to Explore: Hot and nourishing Pho (delicious broth with noodles and meats); sugar cane with shrimp paste; light Goi Cuon (spring rolls); Com Tay Cam (rice clay pot); Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancake with seafood); and Bahnnh Mi (fabulous sandwiches with fresh pickled veggies) will make you feel like you’re in Hanoi.