Serious Eats Neighborhood Guides: Ryan McCaskey's South Loop
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Acadia's chef Ryan McCaskey has lived in the South Loop for 13 years—long enough to see the neighborhood transform. "I saw it back when it was kind of shady and the gas station had bullet proof glass on the windows," he says. McCaskey is a staunch believer in his neighborhood and with Acadia, he's become a pioneer, building a restaurant that boasts the South Loop's only Michelin star. Many thought it would be difficult for a fine dining establishment to succeed there, but McCaskey clearly understands his clientele, many of whom are his neighbors of more than a decade: "Hopefully I'll be here long enough to see the neighborhood grow around us."
The South Loop's proximity to major highways, Lake Shore Drive, and downtown all make the area attractive. "I thought it was a great hub to be in," McCaskey says. "When I looked for homes, I researched a lot of neighborhoods. What attracted me about the South Loop was that it was up and coming and I knew the city was putting a lot of money into the South Loop. Mayor Daley actually lives a couple blocks down the street from me. I figured he would be a champion for the neighborhood." Although Mayor Daley has yet to dine at Acadia, McCaskey says the former mayor of Chicago hopes to visit with his daughters by the end of the summer.
Check out McCaskey's favorite places to dine in the South Loop.
Milkshake: I like Eleven City Diner and when I go over there and get a milkshake it makes my day. It's a $7 strawberry milkshake, but it reminds me of my childhood and makes me happy.
Coffee: I go to Overflow Coffee Bar on State and 16th. Every neighborhood needs a great little coffee shop, single owner operated. I think Overflow Cafe fits, but it would be cool to have something a little more kitschy and charming.
Burger: I actually like the burgers at Ricobene's. It's your classic Chicago delivery restaurant. They have pizza by the slice and they're known for their breaded steak sandwiches, too. If I have a friend in town, I'll go, otherwise I get it delivered.
Pizza: It has to be Connie's, just off of Chinatown on Archer. For me, it's sausage, pepperoni, and black olive deep dish. It's kind of my splurge since it's a little expensive. It's a classic Chicago-style pizza pie. I'm trying to like New York style, but I can't quite get into it. It's not for me.
Date night: That's a tough one for the South Loop. My own restaurant for sure. I just wish there were more options.
Groceries: That's tough. There's not a lot down here. I'll get up to the Whole Foods on Roosevelt. And we do go to the South Loop Market, which is the store behind us, a lot. They have an eclectic variety of produce, breads, and salumis. It's like an upscale convenience store. Like an upscale 7/11.
Thai: Opart Thai on State Street. They're really good and have one of my favorite Thai dishes, I think it's called Tiger Cry or Crying Tiger. It's marinated beef that's grilled and served with cucumbers and this kind of sweet and vinegary spicy sauce. It's an appetizer, but oh my gosh, I could eat plates of it.
Vietnamese: Cafe Hoang. They've been there for a while. Everything I've had there has been super fresh, simple, and authentic. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but they do it well and you can tell they use really fresh ingredients. Besides the phở, I really like their bánh xèo which is like a crispy light fluffy pancake and there's pork, shrimp, mushroom, and bean sprouts stuffed in it. They also have a great salad with pork, shrimp, and cabbage that's a little spicy, with peanuts, fried scallions, mint, basil, and cilantro. I could eat that every day. If I did eat that every day I would be a lot healthier. That and Vietnamese iced coffee are my summer thing. They do their coffee right with the little filter press.
Sandwich: I go over to Taylor Street. There's little in the South Loop for sandwiches, though the sandwiches aren't bad at Panozzo's. They have an Italian deli over there and they do a pretty good job. I like their tiramisu a lot too.
Bar : Kroll's. I hang out there a lot. They're also family-operated. The owner does our graphics and and her husband is my photographer. It's an upscale sports bar so you don't get a lot of drunk guys and loudness. It's little more behaved. Our employees go there a lot and we've gotten to know everyone there. Our usual after dinner drink is a PBR and a shot of Jameson. I go there for any big games if I have the day off. I was there last year for the Super Bowl. The food's not too bad for bar food. I don't have high expectations, but the fried cheese curds and loaded tater tots aren't bad at all.