Enjoying meals that neither you nor a dining companion has had to prepare can be a nourishing experience in Oak Park. The richness of that experience goes beyond just getting out to the so-called dining destinations. It’s also about seeking out places where you know preparations, even if simple, are respectful. Places you can count on when you’re exhausted, consumed with worry, or not quite up to changing from what you’re in.
It’s about knowing where to call when you need a last-minute dinner at home. It’s about where to set up a gift account for a neighbor or co-worker going through a stressful time. It’s about appreciating another level of the village’s diversity, because Oak Park has a kick-ass range of dining options.
You can get a balanced meal handed to you in a white bag at a drive-up window for $2.42 with tax, or set before you on a white tablecloth at a banquette for $42, before tax. From the expense-account standard of Dover sole to the day-before-paycheck staple of a hot dog salad on a bun, choices abound.
American fare comes in pubs, cafés, bistros, steakhouses, a drive-through and from a commercial kitchen that’s only for pick-ups and delivery. And it’s not all Midwestern cuisine. Dishes you’d find in New England, the South, the Southwest and California surface on local menus. Cuisines such as pan-Latin, pan-Asian, Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Brazilian, Italian, Greek and French fill out the village’s culinary landscape. The world in four and a half square miles.
There are echoes of the old country, no matter where in Europe that may be. The pub with the biggest stock of beer is also one of the kid-friendliest spots in town. In Oak Park, you can get egg yolk flowing atop a salad and from the center of a pizza. Giant lima beans can be a side for lunch or dinner; fresh greens, instead of hash browns, can be a side for breakfast.
If you’re into protein exotica, you can opt for frog legs at two local restaurants, for escargot and lobster at three spots, and for octopus at four. Of the nine places that serve calamari, one also serves fresh pasta made from squid. A fan of smelts? You can find them at one restaurant in Oak Park. Ditto for quail, rabbit and goat. While our dining neighbors in Chicago were cut off from foie gras, we had a spot here that served – and still does – foie gras du jour.
Basic meats get specialty treatment: pulled turkey, pistachio-crusted chicken, chile-cured pork, stir-fry lamb – goodness, what the two Indian restaurants in town do with lamb can keep a Greek cook in awe.
Sides, beverages and desserts rate foodie praise, too.
A place known for its yucca fries is down the street from a spot that serves a side of yucca flour crumbles. The place drawing out-of-towners for chocolate fondue is across the street from a neighborhood spot serving chocolate nachos. A place that makes getting servings of veggies – in carrot, celery and beet juice – a treat is across town from a spot that makes veggies a treat in its stir-fry line.
To impress friends charmed by sweets, it’s cool to know where to find a fried roll of chocolate chip cookie dough and where to get the kitchen sink sundae that serves at least three. For yourself, you need to know where to head for quickies of Snickers and Nutella gelato.
Starting next week in this space, we’ll be running a feature every week on the more than two dozen businesses that were part of our Restaurant Month promotion. So stick with us, because we’ve got details that can make you a foodie sophisticate in Oak Park – not to be confused with a foodie snob.