Serious Eats Neighborhood Guides: Justin Large's West Loop
Editor's Note: Every few weeks, we love to check in with chefs or food personalities in Chicago to see where they are eating in the neighborhoods they actually live in. Last time, Heather Terhune showed us around Lincoln Square. Now it's time for Justin Large to select his favorite spots around the West Loop.
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If waits are any indication, Big Star is seemingly everyone's favorite summer restaurant. And the man behind those tacos is chef de cuisine Justin Large, who was formerly the sous chef at Avec. Large has been helming the Wicker Park joint since it opened, but he's kept his home in the West Loop, where he has lived for the past three years. We chatted with him recently, and he highlighted some new favorites along with a few old standbys.
Bar: It depends on what I'm in the mood for. If I want a quiet, off the beaten path bar, I go to Aberdeen Tap, where I can enjoy anything from my favorite bourbons to a tallboy of Schlitz. For a serious, well-curated beer list, I go to Au Cheval. I went to school in England for a while way back when, and I go for the Greene King's Abbot Ale.
Dinner Spot: Vera. Mark Mendez is doing really good stuff with both wine and food. There's a great cheese program. He switches the menu up quite a bit, but in the past I've loved a really great grilled octopus dish with potatoes and pimenton.
Essential Neighborhood Spot: Avec. I'll pimp my own restaurant group, since I don't think the West Loop would be what it is now had Avec never been born. I worked there so long so I ate everything, but everyone's favorites are the bacon-wrapped dates. The whole fish is awesome, the flatbreads change up a lot, and I look for changes in the pasta offering.
Pizza: I'm not a huge fan of Chicago-style pizza, since I grew up on the East Coast. I like Coalfire.
Burger: My favorite burger would have to be Au Cheval's burger. But if you go to Publican Quality Meats every Tuesday, they have a burger night that's pretty stinking good too.
Falafel: Baba Pita. It's not just for falafel, though they do a really nice job there. The beef kabobs are really good, the dolma is awesome, and the falafel is solid.
Date Night: My wife and I often veer off and go old school to Viaggio. It's super solid and very straightforward. They're most famous for their meatball salad, which is exactly how it sounds. It's an awesome dish of romaine hearts, tomato, cucumber, grated Parmesan, onion, and then giant veal meatballs that are the tenderest things in the world. They do a tableside service. It's something that's pretty special—we love that dish a lot.
Pastry/Dessert: I'm not a huge pastry guy, but D'Amato's Bakery has some good pastries and breads.
Bread: D'Amato's. I like that they do a lot of foccacia, which are already topped and ready to buy. Also Publican Quality Meats has a really great retail bread program. They're baking some of the best bread in the city.
Coffee: La Colombe, every time. I usually get an Americano when I'm there. I never do iced coffee. I feel like coffee should be hot, even when it's 98 degrees out.
Breakfast: The Palace Grill. It's a super solid, great diner breakfast. There are lots of characters there, and it's a great group of people who run that place. It's been around since the '30s. For breakfast, I mix it up a lot. Sometimes I'll eat omelets, sometimes French toast, or sometimes I'll have a patty melt for breakfast. The patty melt is the best in the city by far.