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Sunday, November 27

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Review Wed Aug 29 2007


I would almost rather say Shikago was a mere blip on the Chicago dining radar, nothing worth checking out, nothing to see here, move along. If for no other reason than a mediocre review would keep it as airily open and quiet as it was today. It just wouldn't be true, though.

Located at 190 South LaSalle in a building that would be worth visiting even if there wasn't a great new Loop lunch spot on the first floor (gold-leaf vaulted ceilings! beautifully patterned marble floor! air conditioning!) Shikago might have a silly name, but the food is seriously prepared, and seriously worth it. Once you get past the confusion of telling someone you're going to eat there ("I'm going to Shikago." "Dude, you're in Chicago."), bring them along -- it's well worth the trip. Juicy details below the fold.

I've worked downtown, steps from the Financial District, for going on two years and have constantly lamented the lack of good lunch options. Yes, there's nice places to eat, but they tend not to offer carry out (and I'm a busy lady, I need my food with the option of portability). And there's certainly no lack of options, but eating at Arby's or Chipotle or Corner Bakery quickly becomes a page out of Morgan Spurlock's book, and tends to make for a consistently less-than-inspiring lunch break.

So welcome, Shikago, new friend -- I think we'll be seeing a lot of each other soon. Entering the stylish first-floor dining room is like walking into the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum from the towering, glowing lobby. The space is cool and dark, with low ceilings and lower lighting that makes the largely reclaimed wooden fixtures softly inviting. Despite arriving at noon and eating in a two-thirds full dining room, the noise was conversationally low and no one bumped my elbow the entire time. A first for my downtown lunch dining, I think. Shikago also features a grab-and-go and sort of Asian deli section and a curvy well-stocked bar, neither of which compete with or overwhelm the seated dining.

In addition to creating a space well-suited to downtown diners who would rather take a real midday break than a mere lunch break, Shikago seems to have crafted its service around the same groups' needs. An 11am to 2pm opening for lunch and take-out gives diners (such as myself, today) the option to sit or grab a customized bento box and run, the bar and bar menu (small bites and appetizers) takes center stage from 3pm till closing, and the dining room re-opens for more serious seatings from 5:30pm till fairly late-night. I tend to get absorbed enough at my desk that my lunch times are roughly equivalent to those of "early bird" geriatric diners at other establishments, so I appreciate the large lunch window Shikago offers, as well as the solace that even if I miss the bento, there's going to be room for me to snack at the bar.

And speaking of snacks, the food isn't half bad. It's actually really good. I had a full portion of Vietnamese spring rolls, a collaboratively Asian effort with Korean-style beef short ribs, basil, vermicelli, and papaya, with a sort of Siracha soy sauce; my pal had the veggie stir fry, which seemed to be lots of peppers, greens and mushrooms, with a pan-formed cake of dark, rich fried rice. The service was great, though a little critical of the hostess (hmmm, catty), and fast. We had a basket of sesame flatbread drizzled with some sort of soy-hoisin-honey sauce (just guessing) and served with a side of hummus rushed to us almost the moment we sat down.

A peek in the "deli" case on the way out revealed fresh sushi, standard and special rolls, wontons ($0.59 each! what a steal!), samosas, and deep dishes of all the bento options. You can build your own Japanese-inspired lunchbox-to-go with customized combinations of proteins (pork tonkatsu, sushi), veggie (yogurt fruit salad, edamame, veggie of the day), and of course the most controversial yet secretly beloved of all food groups, delicious delicious starch (wasabi potato salad, rice balls, and more). The guy behind the counter asked if we were from "around here," which was oddly quaint for the Financial District, and sent us off, satiated, take-out menus in hand. I'm very much looking forward to a second helping of everything Shikago has to offer, whether dining in, taking out, or ordering delivery. Now if only they had a take-out drink menu as well...

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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