Why Ukrainian Village Is My New Chicago Food Haven

My first foray into Ukrainian Village’s culinary scene was an incredible meal at Trattoria Ultimo, my current favorite Italian BYOB in the city. I was straight up obsessed with everything in this hole-in-the-wall restaurant – the handwritten menus, fresh ingredients, the low-key European vibe, mouthwatering handmade pastas…I could go on and on, but I’ve already committed an entire blog post professing my love for this restaurant. I went back two times pretty soon after I wrote that initial blog post, and I’m thinking I’m long overdue for another visit. When I took my mom there during one of her Chicago visits, she complained about the long Uber ride, but it was all worth it when she had her first bit of pasta. Everything was forgiven.

Then this spring, my husband and I decided to check out Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill, which is down the street from Trattoria. I’m always craving sushi and have struggled to find a solid sushi spot that has a casual vibe and is also easy on the wallet. I LOVE Hatsu Hana in Lakeview, and still believe it’s the best place for simple and fresh sushi, but it’s pretty pricey for what you get. At Yuzu, you can treat yourself to enormous rolls with the perfect fish-to-rice ratio and a great selection of robata items. My favorite is the Pot River Roll, stuffed with all sorts of fresh fish–so flavorful and perfect for sharing! Yuzu’s presentation is super creative, but I love that the sometimes gimmicky presentation is backed up by taste! Additional bonus – 90s hip hop music all night long.

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Another favorite Italian BYOB spot in Ukrainian village is Briciola. They have a beautiful outdoor garden patio (RIP, summer) and really great pastas. The food is just as good as Trattoria Ultimo, but the ambience isn’t as charming and unique. I ordered the black fettuccine special with scallops and jumbo shrimps in a sweet saffron cream sauce, and it was honestly one of the most delicious and unique pastas I’ve ever had. I’m pretty traditional when it comes to my pasta (the simpler the better), but the saffron cream sauce was such a great addition to the dish. I’d love to go back this winter and sample some of their other pasta dishes!

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Finally, this past weekend, we tried the shared omakase (chef’s selection of fresh sushi and sashimi) at Kai Zan, which firmly cemented my belief that Ukrainian Village has the best food scene in all of Chicago. At least right now. I loved, loved, loved Kai Zan! We came here with my brother-in-law and his fiance and sat at one of their cozy, semi-private tables. We were going to order a la carte till our waiter suggested the shared omakase for two, at just $35 a person. It’s 10 courses, but each plate is half the portion of the regular omakase, so you don’t get as much food. We were plenty satisfied with the amount of food that was provided, but you can always get a side of yakisoba or teriyaki. This is the perfect option for someone who wants to sample omakase without investing in the full spread. Every item was like a piece of artwork and so mouthwateringly delicious. Our group’s collective favorite was the “Angry Crab” – spicy crab wrapped in tuna, topped with tempura crunch and generously drizzled with truffle oil. It was AHHHH-mazing. We all just stared at each other in disbelief after taking a bit of this roll!

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Anyways, my point isn’t to ramble on about specifics of these restaurants, but just to show my appreciation for Ukrainian Village as a food destination in Chicago. I love the distinct personality of Ukrainian Village restaurants – much more relaxed and laid-back than River North/West Loop, but the cuisine rivals some of the bigger, more well-known restaurants of Chicago.

Are there any other restaurants that you would add to this list? I’d love to check them out!

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