With the Chicago winter finally in full force, I’ve been daydreaming about a trip to the Greek isles or France or Vietnam. Although an actual international adventure is tough to swing at the moment, my favorite way to transport myself elsewhere without going far from home is to head to a fabulous restaurant with cuisine from different locales. You can let your imagination and palate take an exotic trip just by going out to dinner.
An added bonus is showing your kids that there is more to the world of flavors than just mac-n-cheese and nuggets. It’s also a great educational opportunity, providing a chance to talk about different cultures and countries as you experience their food, music, etc. Here are some favorite international restaurants in the Western suburbs of Chicago.
Greek Islands, 300 East 22nd Street, Lombard
When I asked friends for recommendations, Greek Islands was mentioned several times as a favorite. “They have the best authentic Greek food in Chicagoland. And that’s coming from a Greek whose father was a chef,” explains Kara Houston of Naperville. She recommends their signature saganaki on fire – kids of all ages love flaming cheese! Houston says that the Greek roast chicken is “delicious,” and says that families should save room for their baklava and other traditional Greek sweets. The restaurant imports its own extra virgin olive oil, cheeses, seafood, olives, herbs and spices from Greece. A visit to Greek Islands is the next best thing to traveling to Santorini.
Lao Sze Chaun, 1331 Ogden Avenue, Downers Grove
Lao Sze Chaun also came up several times as the place for family-friendly Chinese food. “Lao Sze Chaun’s Szechuan string beans and sole fish fillet in ginger scallion sauce are two of my three-year-old’s favorite things,” said Amanda Blau of Downers Grove. She mentioned that her son was more interested in the sole than the cake at his first birthday party. (Good reminder to start offering a wide variety of foods when little ones are very young!)
Green Basil, 43 E. Jefferson Avenue, Naperville
Who knew that at the edge of downtown Naperville you can find the most delicious pho, which is comfort food at its finest, at Green Basil? The rich Vietnamese noodle soup will warm you body and soul on the coldest of days. If you need a taste of something to remind you and your family of summer, though, try a mango, coconut or strawberry smoothie, with or without tapioca. The Banh Mi sandwiches are on great French bread (and you can get them without jalapenos if that would be too spicy and yup, as an adult I’ve done so.) If your child isn’t feeling adventurous, you can get side order of rice or noodles for just $1 and sliced beef is $2.
Bavarian Lodge, 1800 Ogden Avenue, Lisle
Chicken nuggets have nothing on the delicious chicken schnitzel or the 10 other kinds of schnitzel found at the Bavarian Lodge. Appetizers like potato pancakes and the Bavarian pretzel basket can be a good way to introduce kids to new foods. Bavarian Lodge bills itself as a German Restaurant and has all the traditional favorites, as well as some Hungarian dishes like goulash and paprikash.
Paris Bistro, 2835 Showplace Drive #103, Naperville
Murals of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in the Paris Bistro make it feel like you’ve traveled to the City of Lights. The gluten-free crepes are a nice option. The kid’s menu includes a Nutella and bananas crepe. There’s also peanut butter and jelly if you are desperate for a crepe and your kiddos are not. Brunch is served from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and is a great option. There’s a romantic vibe on weekend evenings that small ones may not fully appreciate. If the family isn’t up for a full meal, they have food on the go, or just stop in for a scoop of gelato or a delicious French macaroon.
Suzette’s Creperie, 211 W. Front Street, Wheaton
I brought my 10-year-old here for brunch on Bastille Day (well before their adult celebration started) and the crepes were delicious. We’ve also come with a few other moms and daughters for tea, and they offer both French and English tea, both of which are three courses. There are 17 tables, so be sure to make a reservation. If you don’t want to go that route, Suzette’s Boulangerie & Patisserie, a bakery serving artisanal breads and both savory and sweet products, is next door offering items to go.
Meson Sabika, 1025 Aurora Avenue, Naperville
Tapas can be a great way to introduce kids to new flavors because the small portions don’t require a major commitment. When you ask them to take just a taste or a bite, you can really mean that. Meson Sabika offers lots of vegetarian and gluten-free options on the menu. Some offerings are exotic for more adventurous palates, but also consider the Quesos Espanoles, an assortment of Spanish cheeses, apples and grapes. Located in a mansion first built in 1847 and renovated to be a restaurant, the setting is beautiful. It’s fun to talk about what went on in the rooms before it was a restaurant.