14 Tropical Dishes For Escaping Winter

Illustration by Elliot Salazar.
Another winter, another day in "Chiberia." When it comes to our weather, some believe that January’s the worst — it's cold and dark, and we're all suffering from post-holiday blues. But, the true seasonal despair really sets in when February rolls around. The calendar may say spring is near, but we know better. February in Chicago can really test your winter will.

Luckily, even if you don't have the luxury of jet-setting to Acapulco or the Bahamas, you can still channel more temperate climates without leaving town. We scoured the city’s top restaurants for the most tropical, exotic, beach-inspired dishes, which will transport you to a warmer place — at least for a meal. 
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Photo: Courtesy of Embeya.
Head-on Prawns With Lemongrass At Embeya
Angling for an escape to Thailand? Try the grilled, head-on prawns with lemongrass dressing and creamy-tangy tamarind sauce for an elevated take on street food from Southeast Asia. Sweeten the deal with the tendron-and-lime cocktail, made with coconut water, vodka, vanilla, and fresh-squeezed pineapple, and the coconut-taro-root ice cream sundae (with roasted pineapple, caramel, and dehydrated jackfruit) for dessert.

Embeya, 564 West Randolph Street (between Jefferson and Clinton streets); 312-612-5640.
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Photo: Courtesy of Tanta.
Cebiche At Tanta
Pick one of the cebiches — particularly the Mixto, with squid, shrimp, Peruvian giant corn kernels, and bright red Bolivian rocoto peppers; or the Clásico, with seasonal fish, red onions, and cilantro. Light and citrusy, these gifts from the sea will have you dreaming of the Peruvian coast in no time.

Tanta, 118 West Grand Avenue (between LaSalle Drive and Clark Street); 312-222-9700.
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Photo: Courtesy of Bistronomic.
Passion Fruit Meringue Tart At Bistronomic
Inspired by a trip to the Jumbo Bay resort in Antigua, Chef Martial Noguier’s Caribbean creation starts with Linzer dough on the bottom, a passion fruit custard in the middle, and airy-sweet meringue on top. A wild-berry coulis + tangerine segments + Grand Marnier sauce = sunset on the beach.

Bistronomic, 840 North Wabash Avenue (between Chestnut and Pearson streets); 312-944-8400.
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Photo: Courtesy of Fig & Olive.
Paella Del Mar At Fig & Olive
Take a trip to Spain with this traditional paella, chock-full of black-tiger shrimp, uber-delicate sea scallops, calamari, and mussels layered over saffron-colored Arborio rice with chicken, green peas, red bell pepper, and artichokes. Scoop it all up with some crusty bread spread with the accompanying saffron aioli with hojiblanca olive oil, a grassy-fruity liquid "gold" from Spain.

Fig & Olive, 104 East Oak Street (between Rush Street and Michigan Avenue); 312-445-0060.
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Photo: Courtesy of Carriage House.
Fried Green Tomatoes At Carriage House
Nothing makes us pine for late summer in the Deep South quite like fried green tomatoes. Set back the seasonal clock with this version of the classic, served with pickled shrimp, creamed red peas, and a house-made hot-sauce vinaigrette.

Carriage House, 1700 West Division Street (between Wood and Paulina streets); 773-384-9700.
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Photo: Courtesy of Bar Takito.
Fish Tacos At Bar Takito
Like the famous fish tacos from a beachside patio in Baja, Chef David Dworshak's lighter, modern spin on the sunny snack comes with a ginger-garlic custard in place of aioli, and baby lettuce, fresh basil, and crispy rice instead of slaw — all wrapped up in an herb-infused, homemade tortilla. Wash it down with a refreshing La Paloma cocktail, made with tequila blanco, grapefruit, and lime juice, served over crushed ice.

Bar Takito, 201 North Morgan Street (between Carpenter and Sangamon streets); 312-888-9485.
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Photo: Courtesy of Three Dots and a Dash.
Polynesian Spare Ribs & Banana Dacquiris At Three Dots & A Dash
Just setting foot in this traditional-style tiki bar will warm you up inside. Wash down a plate of pineapple-glazed Polynesian spare ribs with the Bunny’s Banana Daiquiri, made with three types of rum, coconut liqueur, banana, and lime, and you’ll feel like you're hitting up the South Pacific and Jamaica at the same time.

Three Dots and a Dash, 435 North Clark Street (between Illinois and Hubbard streets); 312-610-4220.
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Photo: Courtesy of Frontier.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake At Frontier
Nothing screams tropical like pineapple, and what better way to enjoy the super-sweet fruit than in cake form? Complete with a ginger-vanilla cream sauce and candied thyme, this sweet treat will transport you south of the equator before you know it.

Frontier, 1072 North Milwaukee Avenue (between Thomas and Cortez streets); 773-772-4322.
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Photo: Courtesy of Summer House Santa Monica.
Acapulco Omelette At Summer House Santa Monica
Take a trip to the Mexican coastline during your brunch. Summer House’s Acapulco Omelette comes with avocado, jalapeño, Oaxaca cheese, and crispy tortilla strips — perfect for a Latin-inspired meal, especially when washed down with a sweet and citrusy passion fruit margarita. The bright and breezy, patio-style dining room will help fuel your imagination.

Summer House Santa Monica, 1954 North Halsted Street (between Armitage Avenue and Willow Street); 773-634-4100.
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Photo: Courtesy of Momotaro.
Sashimi Omakase At Momotaro
The sheer beauty of this dish — with its brightly colored salmon and uni, and fatty tuna in the shape of flowers and leaves, layered to look like a cut-out coral reef — will make you think of a remote island off the coast of Japan, or even Fiji. It’s tropical in looks and exotic in taste.

Momotaro, 820 West Lake Street (between Green and Halsted streets); 312-733-4818.
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Photo: Courtesy of Girl & The Goat.
Grilled Marinated Pork Belly At Girl & The Goat
Travel to Italy with this BBQ-grilled pork-belly dish served with castelfranco, a pretty, flower-like yellow radicchio with red speckles named after the northern town. It's layered with sweet and tangy blood orange sections over Steph Izard’s version of an Italian salsa verde, a green sauce made with parsley, olive oil, garlic, and lemon.

Girl & The Goat, 809 West Randolph Street (between Halsted and Green streets); 312-492-6262.
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Photo: Courtesy of La Sirena Clandestina.
Feijoada Black Beans & Rice At La Sirena Clandestina
Beam yourself to the beaches of Brazil with Chef John Manion’s twist on the traditional feijoada, a rice-and-beans dish topped with bright greens, braised beef, linguica (a paprika-spiked cured pork sausage), farofa (a toasted arrowroot flour that tastes like bulgur), and fresh salsa.

La Sirena Clandestina, 954 West Fulton Market (between Morgan and Sangamon streets); 312-226-5300.
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Photo: Courtesy of Owen + Alchemy.
#59 Juice At Owen + Alchemy
Sometimes, only a juice will do. This tropical, cold-pressed concoction — made from young, raw coconut juice and meat, plus filtered alkaline water and organic Himalayan sea salt — may evoke visions of Costa Rica (from where the coconut hails). But, even better, it’ll boost energy, mood, and hydration to help you power through the chilly Midwest winter.

Owen + Alchemy, 2355 North Milwaukee Avenue (between Fullerton and North California avenues); 773-227-3444.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mott St.
Choco-Banana At Mott St
Is there anything more beachy than a chocolate-covered banana? Chef Edward Kim’s dessert comes in the form of a Thai baby banana that’s chilled and dipped liberally in chocolate, then coated with roasted Szechuan peppercorns and peanuts for a surprising spice and crunch. Be warned, this sweet on a stick requires napkins — or a knife if you’re the sharing kind.

Mott St, 1401 North Ashland Avenue (between Beach Avenue and Blackhawk Street); 773-687-9977.