Although some may dread this holiday, both singles and even couples, love can be celebrated any day of the year and with any type of +1. While some choose to visit the mushy, overly romantic, and overpriced locations, I decided to do something out of the box, compiling a list of restaurants that would both entice and satisfy your taste buds (and wallet). In the past, I have celebrated this Hallmark holiday solo or with my girlfriends, however, since my honey bunches of cuddle muffins (aka my boyfriend, Ryan) also shares my “love” for food, we have decided to provide a ménage à trois of locations that “fuses” both of our tastes in one location. Together we have created and reviewed our favorite fusion restaurants around the city, so grab your love-muffin, girlfriend, boy-that’s-a-friend, or eating partner and (in)fuse yourself.
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” ―George Bernard Shaw
400 South Financial Place, Chicago, IL 60605
Well known to the financial district of Chicago, Saucy Porka is fusion at its finest. However you wish to spend your Valentine’s Day with your love bug, do treat them to some of the tastiest Asian-Latin bites around. Although not opened on the special day (or on the weekends), you can be seated staring eye to eye at your significant other over a snack during the week before your big plans this holiday season. Chef and Owner, Amy Le, accommodated our Friday afternoon lunch with great recommendations that this restaurant has to offer. As a couple, it’s never a wonder that we do not see eye to eye on food selections, but we both agreed that the tasty treats that won our hearts were the Chorizo Egg Rolls. Made with queso fresco cheese, sweet potato, red cabbage, onions, and accompanied with an avocado aioli dipping sauce, this delicious appetizer combines the best of both worlds packaged in an approachable dish.
After our meal, we talked about the dishes we had indulged in and although my stomach was already growling at how full it was, I could not stop thinking about eating more of those egg rolls. The runners up for the next best items we had sampled were the bao tacos “bacos.” I personally have never seen or eaten a bao taco (let alone know what a bao was), so I was unbiased. While I had a child-like wonder at how the tacos were made, Aimee looked at me in awe over a simple bread creation. Both the pork carnitas (my favorite) and the Thai chicken curry bao tacos (hers) satisfied our appetites and taste buds. Although not our favorite, another notable popular fusion dish was the paella. To me, this is the perfect location for lunch and even a quick break from the office.
2957 West Diversey Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647
Tucked away on Diversey Avenue in Logan Square, this fusion style boutique has earned recognition and multiple awards for their innovative Chinese and Portuguese dishes – ranging from James Beard Foundation recognition, to #4 best restaurant in America by Bon Appetit, even being named one of the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants.” On a very cold and windy Chicago evening, we bundled up and ventured out to Fat Rice. While sitting atop at the bar, we awaited the coveted dishes of one of the best restaurants in the nation and were quick to notice the buzz of patrons that were spread around the restaurant. Hipsters and the fashion forward stood in a glowing transcendence that surpassed the crowd, all waiting like us to sample the delicious offerings. Before we visited, we of course had done our research and decided to try two stand-outs: The “bacalhau” and “piri piri chicken.” However, to our surprise, while skimming over the special menu (offered daily), we decided to order another dish that caught our eyes – the “salt and pepper cookie crusted pork chops.”
The “bacalhau,” a salt cod spread mixed with olives, mint, and chili with freshly made bread was the perfect kick off to our evening. The smooth spread and flavours enticed our taste buds and made our excitement for the rest of our meal grow (and our tummies rumble for more). Next was the spicy “piri piri chicken,” joined by grilled potatoes and spicy African tomato peanut sauce which was both heavily satisfying and sinus clearing. We definitely related this dish to a perfect spicy “pot-roast” and an excellent way to certainly thaw out from the cold. As a couple, we favored and relished in the salt and pepper pork chop. Each bite was crunchy, salty, slightly sweet, and nutty, totally encapsulating us in a food-high. The savoriness of the pork and dessert like crust were the icing on the cake for our evening. Although this restaurant was a hike from where we live, the hype and the creativeness of the menu were indeed agreeable and adventurous, Fat Rice certainly worth the travel and CTA fare.
937 North Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611
From the moment you enter this French-Vietnamese restaurant, you are instantly transported into an intimate and enchanting version of a 1920’s French Colony in Southeast Asia. Although this quiet and charming Gold Coast destination is a dictionary-definition of a romantic restaurant, Le Colonial is more than just a “pretty” face. The menu not only enhances the restaurant’s delightful ambiance, but it also highlights the marriage of both refined cuisines. Since both of us were unfamiliar with this type of fusion, it was exciting knowing that we were both going into this experience unbiased and open-minded. A great plus of this menu is that there are plenty of menu options for those who have allergies (like myself) and who are picky eaters (like my +1). Going off of researched recommendations and a few “off the cuff” decisions, we chose to order the “chao tom,” the signature “bun thit nuong,” and the recently acclaimed “Top 10 best Pho’s in Chicago” bowl of oxtail pho.
Wrapped around a piece of sugar cane and on top of a pile of angel-hair noodles, the grilled shrimp dipped in peanut plum sauce from the “chao tom” was definitely a front-running star (and gobbled up immediately, making us forget to snap a photo). However, the “bun thit nuong” had blown us away with flavour and aromatics. This was easily the favored dish of the night for both of us because of each bite had showcased a different flavour. The barbecue, nutty, acidic, and most importantly, the saltiness from the line garlic fish sauce, kept our palates on edge with each burst of flavour. The Pho also lived up to its recent review, making us wish we had ordered another bowl to take home. Its hearty ingredients had flavors that we both enjoyed while topping off our tummies as a great finale dish. Although romantic restaurants are typically not our “cup of tea,” Le Colonial had enabled us to enjoy a different type of date-night than we are used to. By being pleasantly surprised by how well the ambiance and theme of the menu were nicely fused together, we both agreed that this is a great neighborhood option for us to keep in our back pocket.
Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Eating