If you were visiting Chicago for the first time and simply Googled “places to eat,” you’d be able to put a list together pretty quickly. It would be full of tourist-friendly lightning rods - big, popular spots like Girl & the Goat, Au Cheval, and RPM Steak (which, by the way, we like a lot). Passerotto, a small Korean restaurant in Andersonville, probably wouldn’t be on it. But it should be, because it’s a fantastic neighborhood spot serving destination-worthy food.
You’ll be charmed by Passerotto right when you walk in. It’s small, the staff is friendly, and the walls are decorated with cute drawings of French bulldogs getting tattoos that you’d have to be a soulless monster not to like. And while in this city it’s normal to be handed a poster-board-sized menu with so many sections it could have been written by George R. R. Martin, here there are only about 14 things to choose from (almost all of which are under $16). But the selection doesn’t feel limited, because the dishes all offer something different, and everything tastes really good.
The food at Passerotto is Korean with some Italian influences, and the pairing of the two different styles is most obvious in the noodle and rice dishes - like cavatelli in a nori butter sauce, and seared rice cakes topped with a lamb ragu. There’s also a farro bowl with raw fish and gochujang that’s essentially the lunch dish of our dreams (in fact, everything this place does with raw fish is fantastic). While some restaurants create fusion dishes that have about as much finesse as a toilet seat, at Passerotto the different influences meld together perfectly.
In addition to the appetizers and mains, there are a few great large-format options on the menu (they’re meant for two people to share, but could serve three or four). These range in price from $32-38, and each comes with about five or six seasonal banchan, like kimchi, soybean sprouts, and potato salad. We really like both the kalbi and the cacciucco soondubu (a stew with clams, mussels, and tofu), both of which are so good that even if you’re by yourself, you should probably just order one and take the extra food home.
The general feel of this place is laid-back, with servers who seem genuinely excited about whatever they’re bringing to your table. But one thing to keep in mind is that they have a limited amount of some things (usually the raw seafood dishes) - so if you’re eating here towards the end of the night, there’s a chance they’ll be out of something. Just take it as a sign that the ingredients are as fresh as possible, and try to come earlier on your next visit.
Passerotto is the best kind of Chicago neighborhood restaurant. It’s proof that you don’t need to go to the Big New Place to have an exciting meal, or use our city’s unusually high concentration of former Top Chef contestants to impress tourists. You can visit a smaller local spot for something delicious and memorable - and then tell everyone you know about it, so that they come, too.
The preparation of this changes (for example, one time it came with pickled lime, strawberries, and mint), but every piece of raw fish we’ve eaten here has been perfectly cut and seasoned.
These raw scallops are fantastic. They’re topped with a spicy seafood-based sauce and a soy onion puree that we want to have with everything from now on.
The lamb is mixed with soy-cured egg yolk, and covered with a pile of grated parmesan. It’s served with a very large puffed rice cracker that’s kind of hugely awkward but tastes wonderful.
What saves this from being a standard boring roasted vegetable dish is an excellent smoked tofu sauce.
Fried chicken thighs tossed in a sweet Calabrian chili sauce. The chicken is juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside, and the sauce has just the right amount of spice.
We like this pasta a lot. It’s in a nori butter sauce, and topped with Japanese sweet potato and pickled shallots. The nori flavor is subtle, and the pickled shallots brighten everything up.
We love this. The seared rice cakes are soft inside but have a crunchy exterior, and they’re topped with enough lamb ragu to give the dish great flavor without overwhelming everything.
This is a bowl of seasonal raw fish on top of farro mixed with gochujang. It’s delicious, and we wish we could eat it every day for lunch.
This is one of the larger dishes that comes with seasonal banchan. The kalbi is tender and served on the bone, and you’ll get sesame leaves on the side that you can use to make wraps.
Another large dish that comes with banchan. It’s a soup of mussels, clams, and tofu in a spicy kimchi-tomato broth. Eat it with rice - it’s fantastic.