Chicago SMAK: Chinatown + Lao Hunan

When I first thought about moving into Chicago, I was extremely hesitant. In my mind, there was no way that it was going to be able to live up to the New York City experience that I had. How could it possibly rival one of the largest hubs of food, culture and history in the world?


Now here I am, six months into living in Chicago and I can say that I underestimated this city. I think growing up in the Chicagoland area jaded my opinion. I thought that I knew everything the city had to offer. I had been down to the Art Institute too many times, I had taken too many selfies in the Millenium Park Bean, and had visited the Magnificent Mile too many times. I was sorely mistaken. There is a rather large difference between living in the suburbs and visiting the city and actually living in the city.


A few weekends ago I took the Blue Line south to the Loop, made a transfer to the Red Line and took a visit to Chinatown. My only exposure to this neighborhood was last October when I ran the Chicago Marathon.  I was very excited to explore the neighborhood and little more and enjoy some local Chinese cuisine.


After some window shopping and intense Chinese market browsing, we met up with a friend at Lao Hunan, at 2230 South Wentworth Avenue. Like many of the other restaurants on Wentworth, it doesn't look like much from the outside, or even from the inside for that matter. Tiled floors. Heavy communist undertones with waiters dressed in military-esque outfits. A wall of fame including pictures of 27 notable individuals from Hunan, and red Chinese characters that translates to "Serving People", Lao Hunan is clearly rooted in its origins.


Lao Hunan

Initially looking at the menu, I felt like the food was slightly overpriced for Chinese food. Despite my first impressions, the food was delicious and I would go again in a heartbeat. While some of the larger more well-known restaurants are great, I would recommend finding a restaurant that you may normally walk past and give it a try.

With over 500 items, can be easily overwhelming. Luckily we had someone with us that had been to Lao Hunan before so we let him do the ordering. Below are my three favorite dishes that we had:

Beef Tendon with Cilantro (above left): I am an absolute sucker for cilantro. So when the plate came out with what appeared to be a cilantro salad accompanied with a few slices of beef, I was thrilled. However, if you are not as big of a cilantro enthusiast as I am, pick and choose. Throw some beef and cilantro on top of a bed of rice and eat what you want. This dish was by far my favorite that we had.

Diced Chicken Hunan Style (above center): If you do not like spice, this may not be the dish for you. The red peppers that you can see above are extremely hot. I found that at times the spice overtook the dish and drowned out the other flavors. A definite repeat order, though I wish the spice level was more subdued.

Dry Chili String Beans Hunan Style (above right): Here is the close second for favorite dishes. I have no idea how they managed to make vegetables so delicious and savory. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. A little bit of spice. Oil with amazing flavors that I am sure are left-overs from cooking other dishes or meats. You could easily ordering a plate of these string beans and eat them as your entire meal.

Lao Hunan = 9/10 SMAK Approval Points

For anyone living in Chicago, or those who have visited the city, do you have any favorite Chinese restaurants?