The Chicago restaurants every visitor must try, according to Takashi Yagihashi

Takashi Yagihashi of Slurping Turtle in Chicago, Illinois. Photo credit: Takashi Restaurant.
Takashi Yagihashi of Slurping Turtle and Takashi Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. Photo credit: Takashi Restaurant.

Hometown: Mito, Japan
Occupation: Chef and Owner, Takashi, Slurping Turtle, Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi
Years worked as a chef: 24
Years lived in Chicago: 32
Awards: Michelin Bib Gourmand for Slurping Turtle (2014-present)
1 Michelin star for Takashi (2010-present)
Best New Restaurant for Takashi, Chicago Magazine (2007)
Best Chef: Midwest, James Beard Foundation (2003)

What do you love best about Chicago’s food scene?

I like that there are different cultures and I can find a restaurant for any type of flavors that I want. The city has different areas that I know I can go to for a specific cuisine that I’m craving. I think I like in general the options available in big cities that small cities do not have.

Your dishes at Takashi combine elements of Japanese, American and French cuisines. What specifically is it about each of these cuisines that you particularly love and enjoy highlighting in your creations?

Japanese cuisine is minimal and I get to stay true to the ingredients and let them shine. I like that American cuisine allows me to be creative. French is very systematic and there’s always a reason for every technique or ingredient used. French technique is helpful for running a restaurant because it’s important to be detail-focused.

Seared Maine scallops and soba gnocchi with Trumpet Royale, celery root-Parmesan foam at Takashi Credit: Takashi Restaurant
Seared Maine scallops and soba gnocchi with Trumpet Royale, celery root-Parmesan foam at Takashi. Photo credit: Takashi Restaurant

If you had to name one personal favorite dish from your restaurants, which would it be and why? 

Seared Maine scallops and soba gnocchi with Trumpet Royale, celery root-Parmesan foam from Takashi. I like that there’s so many different elements that marry well together. This is a good representation of how I meld contemporary French, Asian and American cuisines.

Name the top restaurants that you think every visitor to Chicago should try. 

Alinea: Crazy, gastronomic. It’s like you’re on a journey.

Frontera: Traditional Mexican food and presented in a contemporary way. I like how Rick Bayless refines it.

Les Nomades: Best French chef in Chicago. I like the langoustine ravioli and seared scallop with coconut curry sauce.

High Five: They do a good job with the broth.

Arun’s ThaiFish paste with curry steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves is my favorite dish there.

Describe your perfect dining out day in Chicago.

Breakfast: Manny’s.

Lunch: River Roast.

Dinner: Chicago Kalbi.

What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?

I like River North when I want to try something new because there are new restaurants opening all the time. It also helps that Slurping Turtle is in the neighborhood, so I can pop in if I needed to.

What food places do you love returning to again and again?

My family and I love Chicago Kalbi. I try to go once a month with my wife and kids. They offer the highest quality Japanese style BBQ in Chicago. I like it because it reminds me of Japan. It’s a very interactive meal that you can enjoy as a family and share a variety of dishes. The flavor profile offered at Chicago Kalbi is more of a Japanese and Korean fusion, but the experience is still pretty authentic to Japan. The wife and husband owners are really friendly people so you feel at home when you’re there.

I enjoy doing my grocery shopping in uptown Chicago where there are many Asian markets. Tai Nam Market offers a great variety of Asian vegetables and ingredients for a reasonable price.

We have to ask: what’s your favorite Chicago deep dish?

All the Chicago classics are good. I like Giordano’s.

Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any restaurants or bars at Chicago’s airports or hotels you would recommend?

Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera at Chicago O’Hare is fantastic!

What’s your guilty pleasure and where in Chicago do you go to get it? 

Japanese BBQ is my favorite. My favorite thing to grill is pork cheeks and I go to Chicago Kalbi for it. They have a good marinade for it that keeps the pork moist and it’s a very light texture.

Finally, what would you say is the one thing any visitor must see or do before leaving Chicago? 

I used to study interior design, so I would recommend doing the interior tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. It’s cool to see how Frank used his first home to experiment with design concepts that contain the seeds of his architectural philosophy.

Chef Yagihashi’s Shortlist:

Takashi, 1952 N. Damen Avenue (Bucktown); contemporary French/Asian/American, dinner Tuesday-Sunday, lunch Sunday, closed Monday.

Slurping Turtle, 116 W. Hubbard Street (River North); Japanese, lunch and dinner daily.

Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, 111 N. State Street, 7th floor inside Macy’s (The Loop); Japanese, lunch only Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Alinea, 1723 N. Halsted Street (Lincoln Park); molecular gastronomy, dinner only Wednesday-Sunday, closed Monday-Tuesday (tickets must be purchased in advance).

Frontera Grill, 445 N. Clark Street (River North); Mexican, lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday, brunch Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.

Les Nomades, 222 E. Ontario Street (Streeterville); French, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.

High Five Ramen, 112 N. Green Street (West Loop); Japanese, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.

Arun’s Thai, 4156 N. Kedzie Avenue (Irving Park); Thai, dinner only Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.

Manny’s, 1141 S. Jefferson Street (South Loop); deli, breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

River Roast, 315 N. LaSalle Street (River North); new American, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Chicago Kalbi, 3752 W. Lawrence Avenue (Albany Park); Korean and Japanese, dinner only Wednesday-Monday, closed Tuesday.

Tai Nam Market, 4925 N. Broadway Street (Uptown); Asian supermarket, open daily.

Giordano’s, multiple locations; Chicago deep-dish pizza, open daily.

Tortas Frontera, Terminals 1, 3 and 5 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD); Mexican, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 951 Chicago Avenue, Oak Park, IL; tours offered daily except during certain dates in January and February.


About the Chef: He gained mainstream media exposure in 2012 when he finished in the top five on Top Chef Masters. Viewers across the U.S. quickly learned just how much of a power player Chef Takashi Yagihashi was, having laid claim to some of the culinary industry’s most prestigious honors.

Yagihashi initially pursued a career in interior design, but quickly shifted gears when a restaurant owner noticed his talents in the kitchen. After years of training and specializing in French cuisine in Chicago, he opened Tribute in suburban Detroit in 1996. It quickly earned rave reviews from the likes of GourmetWine Spectator, and The New York Times, which said Tribute “may be the best restaurant between New York and Chicago.” Nearly a decade later, he worked as Executive Chef of Okada at Wynn Las Vegas before deciding to return to his original American hometown of Chicago to open the acclaimed Takashi in 2007, the always busy Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi in 2009, and popular Japanese comfort food eatery Slurping Turtle in 2011.

In 2014, Chef Yagihashi decided to close the chapter on Takashi, which will shut its doors after dinner on January 3rd, leaving his fans and the food world curious about what he’ll do next.

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