3 restaurants with grandma-inspired recipes

When it comes to cooking, Grandma knows best. In fact these restaurants’ menus were inspired by the owners’ grandmothers’ classic, comforting recipes. Savor traditional Italian, southern and Mexican cuisine in these new Chicago eateries. Grandma would be so proud, she’d kiss the cook!


925 W. Randolph St., (312) 690-7295

From grandma with love: Fresh, homemade pastas and meatballs

The scene: Located in the West Loop, Formento’s is an elegant Italian restaurant that opened in February 2015 as a nod to the co-owner’s grandmother, Nonna Formento. Big windows, leather booths, bright tablecloths and jazzy music make for a lively environment to enjoy brunch, lunch or dinner.

Adult diners: You can’t go wrong when ordering the specialties. Silky, soft homemade pasta melts in your mouth. The Bucatini Carbonara was simply the best. Topped with black pepper, guanciale (like bacon, but better) and a farm fresh egg yolk, it is like heaven on a plate. Nonna’s Meatballs are sensational. We opted for the meatball sub, with giardiniera on ciabatta.

Kiddie diners: Formento’s offers an Etch A Sketch to kids for a fun twist. While I am not proud to say my 4-year-old daughter is the pickiest eater on the planet, the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes on the brunch menu completely won her over. Topped with tempting summer berries, they brought out a big, bright smile. The lemon curd was scrumptious, but our server was thoughtful enough to serve it on the side.

Ixcateco Grill

3402 W. Montrose Ave.,  (773) 539-5887

From grandma with love: Mexican moles and fresh tortillas

The scene: A protégé of Rick Bayless, chef/owner Anselmo Ramirez made Albany Park home to his new authentic Southern Mexican restaurant. You’ll feel like family at this full-service BYOB, where the staff is kind and welcoming, even when your kids are, well, acting like kids.

Adult diners: The menu showcases seasonal ingredients. I have many Mexicans in my extended family, so I’ve had the treat of enjoying authentic Mexican cuisine for years. But the Picaditas appetizer, masa canoes topped with poultry carnitas and pickled cactus, was a newfound favorite. However, the real runaway hit is Ramirez’s moles. Modeled after his abuela’s recipes, these exquisite sauces are simmered for 20 hours. Try the chicken with black mole. Red and green moles also adorn the rotating menu.

Kiddie diners: Ask for kids’ tacos or quesadillas, served on fresh tortillas made by Ramirez’s mother. Our little ones loved the desserts. The tres leches cake melts in your mouth, and the coconut sorbet was a light, icy treat that wasn’t too sweet.

Luella’s Southern Kitchen

4609 N. Lincoln Ave., (773) 961-8196

From grandma with love: Crispy chicken& waffles and savory shrimp& grits

The scene: This casual new Lincoln Square restaurant serves southern favorites, like chicken gumbo and skillet cornbread. Owner/chef Darnell Reed was inspired by his grandmother, Luella’s, flare for southern cooking. As a boy, he spent hours in her Chicago kitchen, learning the flavors and techniques from her Mississippi upbringing. As an experienced chef, he continues to lean on Luella’s expertise. You may even see her there, dining on her favorite dishes.

Adult diners: The Apple Cider Chicken and Waffles and Shrimp and Grits were both highly recommended, and for good reason. The chicken is crispy and juicy, atop a waffle with a unique cider flavor and just the right amount of crunch. New Orleans BBQ shrimp crown velvety, cream cheese grits. Your bellies will feel the love here.

Kiddie diners: Kids can’t go wrong with buttermilk pancakes. Biscuits with seasonal jam were also quite tasty: crusty on the outside and crumbly on the inside. You’ll wish you could make them this good at home … but you might have to call grandma for the recipe.

Cortney Fries
Cortney Fries
An award-winning travel journalist, Cortney Fries (pronounced "freeze") has been writing about family travel for over a decade. She knows that parents planning trips are looking for all members to have fun and make lasting memories. Cortney believes that you should definitely try anything that makes you slightly nervous.
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