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Spend a hot second in Chicago, and it’s clear why Bon Appétit crowned it the 2017 Restaurant City of the Year. From putting a new spin on classic dishes to tossing dessert items onto breakfast menus, the Chicago restaurant scene guides national trends. But it’s never about empty gimmicks. And with creative options teeming, Chicago catering has never been more delicious, either. Here are some of the hottest food trends, and the best places to find them in and around Chicago.

Chicago's food scene is a mix of twists on classics and new cuisines

Healthier Options

Hawaiian tuna poke bowl with seaweed, avocado, red cabbage, radish, and black sesame seeds

Everyone wants to be healthier, right? Well, Chicago chefs are following suit. They are cutting back on meat portions, using heart-healthy and locally sourced ingredients, and adding more gluten-free and vegetarian options to menus. And, they do it with an abundance of flavor and international flair. Eater calls vegetarian caterer Majani Catering’s Brazilian “Crab” Cakes (made with tofu) a “crowd pleaser.” They even placed Majani on their 20 best vegetarian-friendly restaurants list. Poke, a chopped raw tuna dish from Hawaii, has long been a trend on the west coast but has finally made its way east. It’s a healthy source of protein, so you’ll want to check it out at  FireFin Poke Shop. Meanwhile, Dave and Megan Miller have found a way to make pastries better for you at Baker Miller. They mill the grains that go into their bagels, cinnamon rolls, gluten-free Carrot Cake muffins, and other whole-wheat options themselves. It’s a labor of love, and once you sample these tasty treats you’ll know why it’s worth it.

Better Breakfasts

Breakfast bowl with spirulina, coconut, and blueberries.

Gone are the days of simple scrambled eggs and plain pancakes. Today, breakfast has no bounds. Everyone is looking for savory to collide with sweet, like fried chicken and waffles or crispy sweet plantains in an omelet stacked with savory chorizo. Nana’s offers Mexican-inspired burrito boxes with scrambled eggs, Chihuahua cheese, and tomatillo salsa alongside brioche French toast with organic maple syrup. And for a colorful catered breakfast so pretty it might distract from any attempt at productivity, try Babycakes Gourmet. They have over 20 gourmet pancake offerings, including Pumpkin Pie, Apple Fritter, and the rainbow-sprinkled Birthday Cake.

International Flair

Ethiopian injera piled with stews and sauces.

WalletHub lists Chicago as the 12th most diverse large city in America. So it should be no surprise that Chicago’s restaurant scene is just as diverse. From Mexican to Middle Eastern, international food is everywhere in Chicago. Eaters are looking to explore, and Chicago catering businesses have offered up new and exciting options to help. You’ll find flavorful Palestinian kebabs and dips awaiting at Hala In. Or, for warm winter dishes that satisfy without weighing you down, Tesfa’s offers Ethiopian spiced stews sitting atop tangy, chewy injera. And at Cemitas Puebla’s, their beloved tacos — with chicken, pork, or veggies — come in soft gluten-free corn tortillas.

Chicago Classics

Chicago-style deep dish pizza

Every true Chicagoan knows the neverending Chicago food trend will always be pizza. Sometimes it’s deep dish. Sometimes it comes with pasta and breadsticks on the side. And while everyone knows someone who talks about that pizza they had in Rome with its thin crust and freshly-made mozzarella, you just don’t mess with the Windy City when it comes to deep dish. But just because deep dish pizza is the thing in Chicago, doesn’t mean it’s getting stale. For that classic, trusty Chicago catering standby Rosati’s has been giving “the people what they want” since 1964. Try a classic like the penne with broccoli or shake things up with hot giardiniera on your deep dish pizza. At Aurelio’s, which is considered the oldest pizza franchise in the Chicago restaurant scene, they have gluten-free pies, stuffed crusts, and a pound of Italian beef in the sauce. And to explore Italy without leaving Illinois, check out Frankie Da Dude at Da Pizza Dude, and the Arugula & Prosciutto combo that comes with an oh-so-Italian charred, chewy crust.

Sweet (and Salty) Sensations

Dainty French macarons

It’s no longer enough to throw some chocolate chip cookies on the table and call it a day. Fortunately, creativity has never been an issue in Chicago. Pastry chefs are creating innovative desserts that bring together the sweet and the salty. So you’ll find there’s always room for dessert. At By the Park, discover surprisingly exciting flavors in their cookies. Salty pistachios contrast zingy lemon zest in their Central Park. Or try the cool peppermint and chocolate combo of Santa’s Village. For an upscale French finish, Le Petit Sucre uses farm-free eggs and natural fruit fillings in their impeccably presented, dainty, and delicate macarons. Or, Menchie’s brings the FroYo bar to the office, delivering a variety of yogurt and topping options for an Instagram-worthy sweet treat. And if you’re looking for candied apples covered in edible glitter, crushed toffee, and whole Oreos — and who isn’t? —  consider Bitoy’s Sweet Treats your new best friend.

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Jacqueline Raposo

Written by:

Jacqueline Raposo

Jacqueline Raposo is an expert interviewer. Her over 400 articles, essays, and podcast episodes feature Missy Robbins, Daniel Boulud, Alex Guarnaschelli, Marcus Samuelsson, and other such award-winning chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers, managers, and hospitality personnel. Find her at www.jacquelineraposo.com or as @wordsfoodart.

Posted in: Trends in FoodThe Best Of

Tagged with: Chicago, Food Trends, IL