Where to eat in Chicago on the cheap, according to Grant Achatz
No one would ever accuse Grant Achatz of being lazy. The Michigan-born, Chicago-based chef eagerly climbed the ranks during his career working under acclaimed chefs like Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria. He eventually made a splash in the early 2000s while leading the kitchen at Trio in Evanston, just outside of Chicago. Along with patron-turned-investor Nick Kokonas, Achatz opened Alinea in 2005. It didn’t take long for Alinea to earn three Michelin stars and placement on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Since then, Achatz and Kokonas opened the ever-changing Nextrestaurant in the now super-hot Fulton Market District, and taken drinks to the next level with adjacent cocktail lab The Aviary, which also has a hidden invite-only subterranean man cave-like bar called the Office.
In 2016, the team expanded its footprint in that neighborhood with the more casual and boisterous Roister while also giving Alinea a reported $1 million top-to-bottom overhaul. The following year, they opened The Aviary/Office in New York’s Mandarin Oriental hotel.
Achatz, who admittedly doesn’t like to give up control of his kitchens and therefore spends a lot of time working and not dining out often, does still make time to go out to eat with his longtime girlfriend, Briseis Guthrie, or friends. He tends to lean casual rather than fancy, hitting places where he can grab a bowl of ramen, a great burger, Chinese dumplings or pizza. Here are a few of Achatz’s favorite Chicago spots.
One of Achatz’s favorite restaurants doesn’t come from some underground Japanese ramen master, rather Lettuce Entertain You, one of the country’s largest restaurant groups. The team spent considerable time in Japan doing research and came up with Ramen-san, featuring authentic, spicy and delicious ramen. “There’s awesome ramen places in the city, but this is our go to,” says Achatz, who loves the traditional tonkatsu broth with spice-rubbed and oven-roasted Berkshire pork belly and soft boiled farm egg. “We go before work and it’s quick. And it’s emulsified pork broth and noodles – what more do you want?”