Parson's (photo: Clayton Hauck)

8 fast-casual favorites in Chicago

By Kat Odell

Chicago has embraced a recent dining trend–as have many other cities–toward more quick and casual eats. Here are eight of the city’s best.

Small Cheval
Consistently buzzy bistro Au Cheval in the West Loop has earned a reputation for its cultishly beloved burger, which draws the long waits. So, owner Brendan Sodikoff decided to roll out a simplified concept called Small Cheval, dedicated to just burgers and fries. It’s worthwhile to note that the Small Cheval burger isn’t identical to the famed Au Cheval specimen, though it is similar enough, served with two thin patties topped with American cheese, onions, pickles, dijonnaise, and (optional) bacon.
Neighborhood: Multiple Locations

Naf Naf
Naf Naf takes the customizable Chipotle model and applies it to Middle Eastern eats. That means guests build meals using pita or a bowl as the vessel, then adding shawarma, steak, or falafel, and adding a base of hummus, baba ghanoush, romaine, couscous or basmati rice and a sauce. All orders come with fluffy fresh-baked pita and you can even order online to skip any lines.
Neighborhood: Multiple Locations

Parson’s Chicken & Fish
Pop into this hip neighborhood hang in Logan Square for proper fried chicken served in myriad ways, plus boozy slushies, which one can enjoy on the eatery’s spacious patio or whitewashed dining room. In fact, this past spring management expanded the casual restaurant’s already sizable patio and dining room to include more seating and a new bar.
Neighborhood: Logan Square MAP

Rick Bayless launched this casual, all-day order-at-the-counter spot almost a decade ago, and it quickly earned a following for the chef’s casual Mexican dishes made with better ingredients—tortas, tacos, salads, and more. Come by for an unfussy meal of both familiar and unsung plates; if you’re a guac fan, next time try sikil pak.
Neighborhood: River North MAP

The Halal Guys
Over the last few years this New York institution has expanded with locations around the country, starting with an outpost in Chicago three years back. Since then the street meat chain has grown to include four locations around the city, all specializing in Middle Eastern–flavored gyros stuffed with chicken, beef, or falafel.
Neighborhood: Multiple Locations

Mini Mott
New to the fast-casual circuit is Mini Mott, the burger-focused off-shoot of popular Asian fusion eatery Mott St in Wicker Park. Here you’ll find Mott St’s esteemed double-stacked burger (which, in the past, was only sold at the bar or during Sunday brunch), along with chicken wings, fries, ice cream, shakes, and booze.
Neighborhood: Logan Square MAP

Chicago loves Portillo’s—and for good reason. Counting tens of dozens of locations, mostly throughout Illinois, while Portillo’s serves everything from ribs to pasta to burgers, it’s the Chicago-style dog that’s made the chain famous. What you’ll want to try here is the straight up hot dog, and drag it through the garden, meaning load it up with all the fixings: yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt.
Neighborhood: Multiple Locations

Qing Xiang Dumplings
Chicago’s best dumplings can be found at this cozy and clean Chinatown eatery, where dumplings come stuffed with a wide array of ingredients, always made and crimped to order. Pick from steamed, boiled, or fried—but just make sure to try the classic lamb and coriander.
Neighborhood: China Town MAP

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