I have two great loves in life; reading and eating (I actually have three, if you count my family, but for the sake of this blog post -- I won't). There are few things I like more than a good book or a restaurant recommendation.
So while foodies everywhere are pairing burgers with craft beer and sushi with imported sake, I’ve decided to pair children’s books with local restaurants.
Luckily, one of the best things about living in Des Plaines (besides the library, of course) is the food. There are over 100 restaurants in the city (I’ve counted), and the majority of them are casual, family-owned businesses -- making them the perfect place to bring (frequently messy and occasionally mischievous) kids.
Or don’t bring the kiddos; instead read them one of the recommended books, kiss them softly goodnight, and head to dinner (alone, with your husband, with friends, with whomever).
Side note: I work in Youth Services and have have three kiddos of my own. It makes sense for me to pair restaurants with children’s books, but you can (and should!) do this with adult titles, too. Here are a few quick recommendations: Solo with Restaurant Mehanata, Little Beach Street Bakery with B’s Sweet Bites, and anything by Banana Yoshimoto with Dotombori.
Here's my guide to great family reading and seriously good eating:
Read: Talking with Mother Earth by Jorge Argueta
A beautiful, bilingual books of poems by a noted Salvadoran poet, Walking with Mother Earth is a great introduction to both poetry and Central American culture. My boys especially like the poem titled El Maiz (The Corn). It’s sweet, simple, and the perfect prelude to pupusas -- a traditional Salvadoran dish made from thick corn tortillas.
Eat: Rinconcito Hispano
Don’t let the cramped space and sticky floors at Rinconcito Hispano scare you away. The food is fantastic so long as you skip the Mexican fare and stick to Salvadoran classics (the pupusas are the best). Even my pickiest eater likes the chicken, but you can always opt for a plain cheese pupusa (which my four-year-old calls “a puffy grilled cheese”). There aren’t many local Salvadoran restaurants, so we consider ourselves lucky to have a pupuseria just a few minutes from home.
Read: Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Keep it classic with a family read-out-loud of Pinocchio (our favorite is the version illustrated by Italian artist Fulvio Testa). A simple but magical tale, Pinocchio is the perfect starting point for a conversation about morals (my boys are in need of constant guidance) and famous Italian writers (Carlo Collodi is one). Pinocchio also pairs very nicely with a platter of burrata and antipasto from Via Roma.
Eat: Via Roma
If you haven’t been to Via Roma yet -- go! It is, without a doubt, some of the best Italian in Des Plaines (if not all of the Chicago-Area). The menu is simple, and the fish and burrata cheese are stellar (although no one is our family has had a bad dish yet). Via Roma is small, so it can be tricky with kids. Plan to go at an off time (later lunch/early dinner), and you shouldn't have any issues with seating. Plus, it’s BYOB, which makes misbehaving children more tolerable.
Read: What Can You Do with a Paleta? by Carmen Taffolo
A beautifully illustrated story about popsicles and imagination (there is so much you can do with a paleta!). This book is a favorite in our house (especially in the summertime).
Eat: Tutes Bakery
The baked goods at Tute’s are great (especially the fruit-filled empanadas), but my kiddos go mostly for the small freezer cart packed with traditional flavored paletas. My boys, picky as they are, will try anything new if it’s in popsicle form.
Read: Bee-bim Bop! or Project Mulberry both by Linda Sue Park
Rhyming, upbeat text makes Bee-bim Bop! a great way to introduce preschoolers to the traditional Korean dish (rice topped with vegetables and meat). For older readers, Project Mulberry is a story of immigration, racism, and friendship. Kimchi (a fermented Korean vegetable side-dish) plays an important role in the narrative, and there are few better places to sample it than New Seoul Korean BBQ.
Eat: New Seoul Korean BBQ
If your kids are super finicky, play it safe, and order Bee-bim Bop. If your family is more adventurous -- definitely do Korean BBQ (you cook everything yourself over a small fire in the center of the table). The menu is entirely in Korean, so we rely on mostly on guessing and Google translation to pick meats and vegetables. And, it wouldn’t be fair not to warn you the raw meat is cut table-side with a pair of giant orange craft scissors (much to the delight of my boys). If you haven’t done Korean BBQ before, you’re in for a seriously fun culinary adventure!
Read: Everyone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio
Hilarious for readers of all ages, Everyone Loves Bacon is more than just silly breakfast fun -- it’s a solid story about friendship and humility. But, honestly, our family would probably love any picture book featuring one of our favorite foods (bacon is something all my boys will eat!).
Eat: Gail’s Carriage Inn
Des Plaines offers no shortage of breakfast options, and our family has a few favorites (Katie’s Kitchen, Sugar Bowl, L & L Snack Shop), but hand’s down -- Gail’s Carriage Inn has the best bacon. So if bacon is your thing -- Gail’s is the place to go (plus, they’ve got seriously insane hash brown wrapped omelets, too).
Hungry for more pairings? Try these:
Have your own pairings? Please share!