Animale (Chicago)

Photo courtesy of Animale.

In the not-too-distant past, to-go restaurants often meant fast food; a place you’d run into for sustenance in a hurry. Sure, you’d find the occasional truly fabulous hot dog or hamburger joint — looking at you, Hot Doug’s (sob! RIP) and Edzo’s — committed to responsible ingredients and outside-of-the-box flavors, but more likely, it would be soulless fast food. Happily, times have changed, and fast-casual restaurants, many touting healthier eating and better choices, have boomed.

We’re seeing a movement trend in Chicago toward what I think of as sidecar restaurants — offshoots of trendy spots that satisfy with the get ‘em in and get ‘em out ethos of fast food, but now with the added bonus of really tasty food. Here are some of our current favorite fast-casual sibs.

Chicago

Animale

1904 N. Western Ave., Chicago, 872-315-3912

Chef Cameron Grant and owner Aldo Zaninotto, the delightful Scottish-Italian team behind Osteria Langhe, have opened Animale in Logan Square. Step up to the counter and order some of their knockout house-made pastas (including Grant’s famous plin) with your choice of sauce (cacio e pepe is my fave). Italian street foods (like arancini) and “deep cuts” into Italian country foods, like sliced beef heart pastrami or tripe, are also on the menu, as is a massive truffle burger. This is where to bring real Italian food lovers.

BomboBar

832 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-492-7775 

Sure, you can grab a morning breakfast sammie here on your way to work, but we’re really here for the bombolini, which are basically light and fluffy Italian doughnut holes in flavors like Nutella cream (yes, please, right now), PB & J and salted caramel. You’ll also find creamy house-made gelato (the caramelized coconut fudge a must), Italian ices, strong Italian coffee drinks and even a Chocolate Chip Cannoli.

Duck Duck Ta’Go

857 W. Fulton Market, Chicago 

Stephanie Izard wants to give the people what they want, and what they want is her version of Chinese food. So she opened Duck Duck Ta’Go, a carryout window around the corner from the front entrance of her über-popular Duck Duck Goat. You’ll find a shorter, more street food-oriented menu available, including Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup, Char Siu Bao (Steamed BBQ Pork Bun) and Crab Rangoon among other deliciousness. 

Nonna’s

925 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-960-7323  

Nonna's (Chicago)

Photo courtesy of Nonna’s.

Sandwiches and homemade desserts from this Italian deli can be enjoyed at the counter or back in your office or meeting; everything is made in Formento’s kitchen next door. I’m a big fan of the Chicken Parm sub and the Turkey & Provolone (served on a potato bun with spicy Calabrian mayo and giardiniera). Follow it up with a slab of tiramisu and you might have to nap before you go back to work.

Nonnina To-Go

340 Clark St., 312-822-0077

Nonnina di Portare (Chicago)

Photo by Galdones Photography.

Look, Tony Priolo’s Nonnina is scrumptious, but if I had only a half hour for lunch in River North, I’d scurry next door to Nonnina’s to-go deli and grab me an eggplant parm or porchetta and salsa verde sub and call it a day. For dessert? My favorite Italian pastry of all time, sfogliatelle. Thin and crispy layers of pastry encase sweetened ricotta and candied fruit and I am in heaven with each bite.

Publican Quality Meats

825 W. Fulton Market, 312-445-8977

The Publican, Paul Kahan’s West Loop paean to pork and shellfish, might be closed for lunch, but never fear … PQM more than fills the bill. The thick and hearty Ribollita soup is always amazing, as is Return of the Gyro, their take on the fast food standard, here made with braised pork belly and all the fixins, served on griddled house-made flatbread.

Sidecar

1612 W. Irving Park Road, 773-665-4500

Ravenswood’s aptly named Long Room is a beloved neighborhood tavern; next door is Sidecar, which features breakfast and lunch from Biscuit Man (comforting biscuit breakfast sandwiches; flavorful naan rolls and rice bowls at lunch) and dinner by Beard & Belly (hearty chili, burgers, mac & cheese, sandwiches). Sundays mean pop-up guest chefs or Pedro’s Chi-Mex. What could be more fun?

Urban Belly

1400 W. Randolph St., 773-583-0500

Chef Bill Kim’s to-go joint is all about “long noodles, short rice and phat dumplings,” and that’s a very good thing. Located next door to Belly Q (with a second location on Damen in Wicker Park), Urban Belly tweaks the Korean food tropes. Try his Wheat Berry Bibimpap, Wok-Fired Rice Cakes with Shrimp and Peanuts, or the Phat Noodles with Lemongrass Chicken, Pork Belly and Braised Beef, and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t miss the soft serve with Soy Caramel Sauce. 

North Suburbs

Avli Rotisserie

566 Chestnut St., Winnetka, 847-446-6000

Greek favorite Avli, in Winnetka’s Laundry Mall, has set a pretty high standard for Greek food, but the nearby Rotisserie easily “meats” it (see what I did there?) with juicy, spit-roasted chicken, pork and gyros. Choose sandwich, salad or rice bowl; pick a protein and sauce (the tamarind BBQ is a good way to go) and you can be on your way. Need a whole suckling pig, turkey or leg of lamb? Order ahead for pickup.

Cafécito

700 Main St., Evanston, 224-307-2444

Cafécito at La Principal in Evanston

Photo courtesy of La Principal.

Churros, breakfast tacos and strong coffee are the name of the game here, which is just fine for Evanston’s Metra and El commuters. La Principal might not open ‘til lunch, but from 6:30–10 a.m., Monday–Friday, you can still get your Mexican food fix at the window.

Taco Nano

1743 Orchard Lane, Northfield, 847-386-7159

Taco Nano (Northfield)

Photo courtesy of Taco Nano.

Have time for a leisurely lunch in the suburbs? Hit up Happ Inn. Wanna grab and go some of the best tacos around? Head across the street to Happ Inn chef Freddy Sanchez’ Taco Nano and order a Pato en Mole Negro (duck confit with rich mole sauce), a Sea of Cortez (classic fried fish taco with cabbage slaw and chile mayo) and a Pork al Pastor (marinated with onions and pineapple, topped with fried jalapeños), with a side of guacamole and fresh, hot chips. Don’t worry; you’ll make room. 

Union Squared

1307 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 224-714-3300

Union Squared (Evanston)

Photo courtesy of Union Squared.

I have seen the future of pizza, mixed in with not a little bit of my Detroit past. The perennially packed Union Pizzeria has a new offshoot down the block, and the pizza is square, with a light focaccia-style crust with crispy cheesy edges that your family will fight over. The thick and zesty tomato sauce goes on top, not under, the cheese, a mixture of mozzarella and brick. Try the Supreme (sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, green pepper) or the Wild Mushroom (fontina, leeks, walnut pesto). They will knock your socks off.


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