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After he ditched his culinary schooling in Grand Rapids, Michigan, seven years ago in favor of hands-on restaurant experience in Chicago, it didn’t take Nathan Klingbail long to hear about Chicago Foods, an East Asian market and all-around kitchen emporium. He first visited the Sauganash location, which carries giant cooking tools for commercial use, before discovering a second outpost, Joong Boo Market (but commonly known as “Chicago Foods”). It’s a gem north of Logan Square—just off the Kennedy at Kimball—that’s also a full-on grocer and minirestaurant.
The selection and prices in the store really impressed Klingbail. “I can get fresh fish, produce that’s as cheap as Stanley’s, and there’s even a booze counter for sake or whatever,” he says, who left Schwa before it closed earlier this year to become a sous chef at Alinea. “Say you just moved into a brand new apartment and had nothing. You could come here and get everything you need for your kitchen to make dinner, including the food, for about a hundred bucks.”
Though Klingbail grew up vegetarian (“I was definitely the only kid rolling into school with a hummus and sprout sandwich”), he’s now an omnivore whose eyes gleam when he spies the beautiful silver-blue mackerel on ice. He also points out a fridge packed with goodies: “This is one of the only places in town where you can get veal feet. They’re great for [soup] stocks.”
Chicago Food Corporation began as a wholesaler in 1986, expanding into retail in 1993 as Joong Boo Market. Amid its densely packed aisles of kitchen equipment (stock pots, tea services, fish scalers), you’ll also discover seemingly unrelated sundries that cater to the Korean-American clientele. “The cushions are mostly for older people because they just love to sit on the ground,” manager Jeannie Hong explains. “For example, my grandmother loves to sit on the floor with her friends to talk and eat.”
No matter what you’re in the market for, Klingbail observes, “This is a bang-for-the-buck kinda place.”
Joong Boo Market, 3333 N Kimball Ave (773-478-5566).
Nathan Klingbail’s favorite finds
1. Japanese mandolin With its three interchangeable blades, “you can slice anything. Somebody with no skill whatsoever can quickly produce a consistent, good-looking cut.” $15
2. Bamboo steamer “[This is] a versatile piece of equipment that’s been around for hundreds of years. Everyone should have one for steaming buns, vegetables or dumplings.” $6.50
3. Fine mesh strainer “You can strain your gravy or any sauce with this, to make it smoother.” $4
4. King mushrooms “Also known as Trumpet Royale mushrooms—a very meaty, mellow mushroom that you won’t find in every store. It accepts other flavors well, so you can do a lot with them.” $4/lb.