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The Run Down

There’s probably nothing more universal than sharing a good meal with family and friends. That’s why we’re hanging out around Edgewater and Uptown for this food-centric guide. While the area is probably best known for its multitude of Vietnamese pho restaurants, we’re switching things up and checking what more the area has to offer. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure style guide.

We start with either a traditional Ethiopian dinner or three-course Hong Kong style duck dinner. It ends with a Vietnamese dessert that might catch on to be the next big thing. Here are the details.

1a. Ethiopian @ Ras Dashen
1b. Hong Kong BBQ @ Sun Wah BBQ
2. Vietnamese Dessert @ Bambu

1a. Ras Dashen

Our first dinner option in this guide takes us to Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood where you’ll find a small cluster of Ethiopian restaurants along Broadway Ave.  Not sure the history behind why this particular area has so many Ethiopian restaurants, but whatever the reason, we’re sure glad they’re here.

We’re stopping at Ras Dashen, probably the most well known of all the Ethiopian places here in Chicago. A Jean Banchet culinary award and critical acclaim from restaurant critics will do that for you.

When you walk it, you’ll find a mix of tables. You’ll have regular high top tables and then you’ll have these low-to-the ground tables called mossabs. They are about the size of a traditional Ethiopian serving tray and circled by traditional chairs and small side tables for extra room. Try to snag one of these seats for the full experience.

The place itself has a contemporary feel to it. Ethiopian art and pictures line the wall in this cozy space. Now onto what’s most important — THE FOOD.

If you haven’t had Ethiopian food before, get ready for a meal with incredible depth and lots of strong spices. In terms of flavor profile, think garlic, chili powder, onions, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, and ginger. Here’s some other notes to think about as you order.

– We’re eating with our hands. Entrees and side dishes are served on top of a spongy sourdough flatbread called injera. Injera also doubles as your utensils. Break a piece off and use it to scoop up your meal.

– They provide you with a spoon, but we found that eating with our hands forced us to eat a bit slower, be more mindful, and it just made the entire experience feel more communal.

– The side dishes are what make the meal. You order an entree (we ordered lamb) and it comes with a veggie side dish. There are a lot of different sides to choose from, and you can tack on extra to your meal. We ordered beets and spinach. You can do whatever combination you want, but we recommend loading up on these.

– Get the sambusa as an appetizer. It’s a wonderfully delicious pastry filled with meat or different types of veggies. It comes with a cool yogurt sauce for dipping. I could munch on these all day.

1b. Sun Wah

If Ethiopian isn’t in the cards, then this three course duck dinner might do the trick. We’re at Sun Wah, right in the middle of Uptown and around the corner from all the Vietnamese restaurants on Argyle St. This family-owned restaurant has been operating since 1987, and they’ve been serving this off-the-menu duck dinner that’s just so damn good.

The first thing you’ll see when you walk inside is a long counter and visible kitchen where people are lined up to order duck to-go. That’s their jam. They’ve got roasted ducks hanging all over the place and people come here to load up on them. 

The dining space is just past the kitchen counter and it opens up to a wide open area. Not a lot of frills necessary. This place is all about the food and making room for as many hungry customers as possible. Now let’s get to the duck dinner.

 

You won’t find the duck dinner on the menu, but trust us, it’s a thing. They take an entire roasted duck and use every bit of it to turn it into a three course meal.

The first course is this duck bao bun. They start by carving up the duck in right in front of your table. With your duck, you’ll get six steam bao buns, a side of pickled carrots and radish, and hoison sauce.

Depending on how much duck you put into each bao, you could easily get a second order of six baos, and divvy up the duck across 12 baos.  It’s like doubling your meal for $4.

After the duck is carved up, they take it into the back and take the remaining meat on the bone and make a stir fry out of it. You can either do duck noodles or duck fried rice.

We’re not done yet. The bones of the duck are used to make this warm and delicate soup. Inside are mix of veggies and melon that give it just the slightest hint of sweetness that really brings out all that umami flavor.

2. Bambu

After dinner we’ve got dessert. We’re at Bambu, which is across the street from Sun Wah on Broadway Ave, and is part of a franchise of Vietnamese dessert shops making its way across the country. It’s finally landed here in Chicago, and we’re headed here to try out what might be the next big thing. If you’re into bubble tea and remember how that became a big deal back in the day, then you might like Bambu’s Vietnamese drink dessert called ‘che’ (pronouned j-eah).  Here’s a few notes about che to get you started.

– Che is a general word for a dessert pudding or drink.

– It comes in a lot of different forms. Bambu makes a huge variety of che drinks that are basically different combinations of tropical fruit, coconut milk, beans, jelly, taro, and coconut water. It can almost be a meal itself.

– Bambu also has bubble tea, smoothies, and a really decadent Vietnamese coffee on their menu. But try the che, it’s sweet, the fruit and coconut water is refreshing, and the beans and taro make it feel like a rich dessert.

This is a small store front with a few tables inside. It faces straight down Argyle St., and for all you photographers out there, you get this really nice shot of the Argyle red line stop.