Healthy and Hungry in Chicago

This city bursts to life in the spring. Find a sunny spot outside, and taste the best of the Midwest.
Jennifer Tanaka

From Millennium Park picnics to rooftop hot spots, Chicago diners start taking it outside this month.

Green City Market
In May, this year-round Lincoln Park market moves out of its indoor winter venue and returns to the open-air location near the zoo. Linger over hardy lettuces, gorgeous strawberries, ramps, and all manner of radishes. Cooking demos offer up-close stargazing: Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill, Topolobampo), Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat), and Paul Kahan (Blackbird, The Publican) are just a few of the regulars.

Protein Bar
Fast food gets a healthy makeover with quinoa-based "Bar-ritos" and bowls, chili made with lean protein, fruit-and-vegetable juice blends, and vegan options galore. After debuting three years ago, four more downtown locations have opened, and more are in the works. Get your order to go from the River North locale, and walk to the LaSalle/Clark Street water taxi stop. Hop on, and, for $2, you can cruise down the Chicago River along the same route as the city's famous architectural boat tours.

Metropolis Coffee
This independent coffee shop and roasterie makes small batches of its popular blends—the brightly acidic, caramel-toned La Cordillera is a top-seller ($14 per pound, plus shipping)—and excellent single-origin coffees. Right now, the new-crop coffees from Central America, South America, East Africa, and Indonesia are all in peak form.

Nightwood
Here, the farm-to-table trend plays out unpretentiously with creative, hyperseasonal fare. One recent menu offered a tongue-in-cheek nod to Chef Jason Vincent's Jewish upbringing: The McMatzo Cubano—spit-turned pork loin, an over-easy egg, pickles, and mustard between matzo meal pancakes. You can always count on finding fire-roasted meats next to bright salads, seasonal veggies, and house-made pastas. In early summer, the restaurant freshens up its wine list with 30 or so rosés, available by the glass.

Taxim
At this refined casual restaurant, Chef David Schneider shows his love for regional Greek cuisine, which goes far beyond flaming cheese and spanakopita. Wood-grilled octopus, which Schneider pairs with fennel and onions, is a classic of Aegean coastal towns. Taxim's gyros? Spit-roasted duck, shaved off the bone and wrapped in flatbread with a dollop of minted yogurt. Enjoy it at the sidewalk cafe.