The Rise of Fine Casual Dining
As of late, Chicago has welcomed a slate of restaurants that toe the line between fast casual and upscale dining. It’s a win-win situation for diners looking for affordable, quick food with an eye for design, detail, and quality. Here’s a roundup of some of Chicago’s best fine casual eateries.
Borrowing inspiration from the coasts, Brown Bag Seafood brought a taste of the oceans to Lakeshore East, in a fast casual setting that serves to transport guests to the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific. The sunny, beachy counter-service spot features fish and seafood every which way, fresh as can be, from broiled or blackened to fried and crispy. Diners can order their fish in taco form, sandwich form, salad form, or platter. And while the food is pristine, the immaculate space is just as impressive, designed to replicate a dockside diner lined with provisions and nautical paraphernalia.
All the way from South Africa comes Nando’s Peri-Peri, a rotisserie chicken concept that has rapidly caught fire in Chicago. The original location opened in the West Loop on Randolph Street, followed by locations in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and soon the Loop. The ordering process may be casual, what with counter-service and all, but the food and beverages are anything but. Heaping platters of succulent chicken adjoined by savorous sides like mashed peas, flame-grilled corn, and Portuguese rice make for a wholly unique experience. To drink, there’s pitchers of sangria, plus beer and wine aplenty. The space is highly unique as well, resplendent in bright, warm colors indicative of South African landscapes.
Stylish and zen, Glaze Teriyaki in Lakeview is a Seattle-style eatery hinged on Japanese-inspired proteins, salads, and sides. It’s a cuisine that harkens to the 1970’s, when Seattle saw a huge influx of Japanese and Korean immigrants, bringing their cooking techniques to the Pacific Northwest, where the finest ingredients were in ample supply. The dining room at this Lakeview eatery is bright, slick, and relaxing, with a concise menu of wholesome, sustainably sourced goods geared towards clean eating.
Not too long ago, Chicago welcomed its first two locations of ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, the Southeast Asian-inspired restaurant from the folks behind Chipotle Mexican Grill. The customizable dining format is similar to that of Chipotle, but with an Asian accent and an emphasis on noodles and rice dishes. Once diners choose their base, with options like jasmine rice, brown rice, chilled rice noodles, and salad, they can opt for proteins like grilled chicken satay, steak laab, pork and chicken meatballs, and organic tofu. Sauces like peanut sauce, green curry, spicy red curry, and tamarind vinaigrette lend a splash of flavor, along with garnishes and final touches of toasted rice, crushed peanuts, Thai chilies, or crispy garlic.