Clichés are hard to live down. Some bicoastal snobs may still think of Chicago as the land of meat and potatoes—and maybe some deep dish pizza. Perhaps a hot dog that you’ll get yelled at if you try to put ketchup on it. But forget those stale old myths. Chicago hasn’t just morphed into one of the country’s premiere culinary epicenters (hello, Grant Achatz, Stephanie Izard, and Paul Kahan); it has also emerged a showcase for dynamic, often playfully updated food from across a myriad of cultures, as the city mines it own richly layered immigrant history.
That means, in addition to knock-out Latin flavors, there isn’t a better place to explore the evolution of Asian cuisine, from traditional to edgy new world versions. You can start the tour in Chicago’s still vibrant Chinatown, where restaurants like Phoenix and Cai do right by classic dim sum. Or you can dive into the explosion of contemporary Asian kitchens—call them the new classics–that have sprung up in every Chicago neighborhood. Head to bellyQ for tea-smoked duck; Fat Rice for its justifiably famous Arroz Gordo namesake dish; and Kimski, for only- in-Chicago Polish meets Korean cuisine. But don’t stop there. There’s a new wave of restaurants exploring the flavors of Vietnam, Korea, Japan, and cultural mashups that could only happen in a melting pot like Chicago. Here are five you won’t want to miss.