It’s a no-brainer that freshly prepared, sustainably grown food just tastes better and, in Chicago, there’s no shortage of exceptional dining based on those two tenets. Worried that once you bring children into the picture (and dining room), you’re relegated to a decade or two of boring, processed “kid” foods? Fret not. Here are four of our picks for farm-to-table greatness that’ll change (or cement) how your city kid views a menu–and defines a palate.
2537 N. Kedzie Blvd.
One of the forerunners of the Chicago farm-to-table movement, the bohemian, foodie-mecca Lula Cafe is truly a community gem–intended for the entire community. (Kiddo diners, too!) Their brunch is wonderful (and really, with farm fresh eggs and locally milled cornmeal for porridge, how could it not be?) and their vegetarian tasting menu always earns raves. On Monday nights, they offer an imaginative prix fixe dinner for $43–one that’s never been duplicated in their nearly two decades of operation. Daily offerings of sustainably sourced meats and fish make up their many menus. And if, by some crazy chance, your kids aren’t feeling the scallop crudo with miso-cured chanterelles (come on, kids!), Lula staff will provide a grilled cheese, quesadilla, dish of noodles and butter, plenty of fresh fruit and every sort of seating accouterment on which your tiny tot could possibly perch. Logan Square breeds cool city kids; Lula Cafe cheerfully feeds ‘em.
1120 W. Taylor St.
Everyone and their carnivorous uncle loves a good burger, but the folks at University Village’s Busy Burger have elevated the simple meat and bun creation to an all-natural art form. Owner Joe DeVito’s been in the burger business since the age of 18, and knows what customers don’t want; among them preservatives or hormones. So what made the cut? Beef from cows raised on small, family-owned farms. Freshly cut fries. Hand-spun shakes. And a kids combo that allows for a choice of a mini burger or one of their stellar hot dogs. This is fast food done right–and for the right price, too. You know how your mom always said that the secret ingredient was love and you never truly believed her? Well, turns out, she might’ve just been on to something.
3361 N. Elston Ave.
You wouldn’t necessarily think of a fried chicken establishment as a sustainably sourcing mainstay, but Honey Butter Fried Chicken has a refreshing (and utterly delicious) way of looking at things; their chickens are raised humanely and free of antibiotics on Indiana’s Miller Amish Farms, and ingredients from the cheese in their mac to the honey in their butter are from small farms and local businesses. The mindful menu absolutely shines with these upgrades. Pimento mac n’ cheese? Tuesday-only fried chicken tacos? Local, non-GMO, fried tofu strips upon request? Yes, please. (Kids can take advantage of a Honey Buddies meal that comes with chicken strips, pimento mac n’ cheese, a corn muffin with honey butter and a fun sheet of stickers.) They don’t stop there, either. Restaurant and takeout packaging are compostable and biodegradable, and they even sell back the fryer oil to their supplier who then turns it into biodiesel fuel. There now, don’t you feel better about your honey buffalo habit?
1471 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Rick Bayless knows good food. The culinary mastermind behind award-winning Mexican restaurants (and the winner of a little ol’ thing called Top Chef Masters) also knows a thing or two about sustainability. Not only does his Frontera Farmer Foundation benefit small, Midwestern family farms, but his restaurants source their meals from them, too. A third thing Bayless and team knows? Kids dig more than a halfhearted pb&j. Wicker Park’s Xoco, in particular, prides itself on the kid-approved, kid-craved options such as quesadillas with their choice of carnitas, bacon, milanesa chicken, and short ribs; fideos in mantequilla (toasted angel hair noodles tossed in butter and queso añejo); and caldo, their take on the classic comfort soup of chicken and rice. The $6 deal also comes with a drink (soda, milk or agua fresca), churros and even a dish of housemade ice cream. Exceptional dining with the kids that won’t take all of your pesos? Si, por favor.