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There is nothing quite like walking into a bustling food market. Colorful fruit in green cardboard crates dot the counters like a Georges Seurat painting come to life. The smell of fresh seafood fills the air and the occasional waft of hot, sugary pastries hit your olfactory bulbs. While some people may think that this is only a sight found in the summer, there is a year-round Chicago French Market that is a can’t miss.
Getting to the Chicago French Market
Located down the stairs and between the various tracks of Chicago’s Ogilvie Transportation Center, the French Market is somewhat of an insider’s secret. Without being a regular rail passenger, one would easily remain in the dark of what wonders sat hidden below the spines of the tracks. From street level, there are few indicators of the action indoors, however from the months of April through October, weather permitting, al fresco seating under yellow umbrellas are a hint.
The best way to get to the Chicago French Market via public transportation is taking the Green Line toward Harlem and getting off at Clinton. Walk south on Clinton, keeping the tunneled intersections on your left hand side. Enter through the first door on your left after Le Pain Quotidien. Also of note, there are no bicycle parking spots on the sidewalk outside of the French Market. You will find fixtures for bike parking one block north or south of the market.
Saturday is the Best Day to Visit
Established in 2009, the French Market is the first indoor food hall in an expanding business model across the city. With the comparably low cost of stall rental and shared overhead costs, these food hall or market models are now quite popular in the city. Fortunately for weekend tourists, the Chicago French Market is an ideal place to visit.
Open from 7AM to 7:30 PM Monday through Friday, and 8:30AM-5:30PM on Saturdays, the Chicago French Market has certain times of the day that are incredibly crowded. Long lines wrap around the stalls around 7:30AM-9AM during the weekdays, and the lunchtime rush is even worse. If you plan on going during the weekend, off peak hours would be ideal. Even better for visitors, Saturdays are markedly quieter. With few lines and early openings for many stalls, it is quite possible to get an excellent plate of tuna poké at 8:30AM. After my crazy wait at Willis Tower, I comforted myself with some poké myself.
Tips to Avoid Buyer’s Remorse
There are a ton options of places to eat at the Chicago French Market. It is worth the time to take a lap around to determine what you want. After a few visits, I realized that I not only wanted lunch from the Chicago French Market, I also wanted dinner. Here are some of my tips for making the most of a trip.
- Bring a canvas bag with you to bring leftovers or take away items home with you.
- To save some money, bring your own refillable water bottle. There is cucumber water for the taking at the Aloha Poké Company stall.
- If seating is scarce at the far end of the market, head out the doors into the indoor station terminal. There is more seating, and the restrooms, out here.
- Don’t forget to check out the stalls near the seating! Currently, it is K-Kitchen Korean fare and Friekoten Belgian fare.
- Go ahead and get those dessert pastries. 🙂
Personally, my go to stalls are Aloha Poké Company, Vanille Patisserie, and Saigon Sisters (get the banh mi buns for a snack portion.) My boyfriend prefers Lillie Q’s, Da Lobsta, and we both love the double fried fries from Friekoten.