If you’re looking to add some upscale flair to your typical restaurant outings or reintroduce yourself to plant-based cuisine, you’re in luck with Chicago’s Aba. Serving a revitalized taste of Mediterranean cuisine paired with lively ambience and unmatched plant-based innovation, there’s no doubt that Aba is a must-visit the next time you’re in town.
AN URBAN GEM
With the weather finally warming up and vaccine distribution in full swing, the light at the end of the tunnel is quickly approaching — and with it, the resurgence of Chicago’s dining scene. From rooftops perched amidst the towering cityscape to intimate indoor setups perfect for date nights, Chicago’s culinary scene has long been recognized as one of the best in the world. And as we start to venture, perhaps with a bit more confidence, back into restaurants, it’s only fitting that we try the best ones first.
Enter Aba. The moment you take a step inside, you’re immediately greeted by their welcoming choice of earthy decor: wood-tiled flooring, the occasional olive tree, and hanging pendant lights. Between the humming chatter of the restaurant and contrast between the darker toned walls and golden lighting, only one word comes to mind: perfection. Truly, if there’s anything that rivals the intimate, natural feel of their indoor setup, it would only be their rooftop patio complete with rustic outdoor furniture and spacious seating. Overlooking Chicago’s historic Fulton Market with panoramic views of the city, a large opening scaling the length of the restaurant allows for ample natural lighting and seamlessly blends their two dining areas.
Aba, meaning father in Hebrew, aims to serve moden, Medditeratean fusion, drawing inspiration from Israeli, Greek, and Turkish cuisines among others in the region. They focus on using quality ingredients to create and innovate dishes that capture the beauty of the region’s cuisine: light, vibrant plates featuring a variety of spreads, cheeses, and fresh vegetables.
And one thing’s for sure: they certainly do deliver.
No meal at Aba is complete without a variety of spreads and dips to kick off the fun — so we got exactly that. Choosing from their large range of starters can be a bit daunting, but as a rule of thumb, just stick to your gut feeling; virtually all of them are guaranteed to be a hit. We started off with the Wild Mushroom Hummus, Whipped Feta, and Muhammara, with a side of fresh pita coated in za’atar. Each comes out neatly plated and precisely garnished with crushed nuts, olive oil, and scallions. Truly a sight to behold.
The Wild Mushroom Hummus features a mushroom ragu and truffle vinaigrette over a ridiculously smooth hummus, making for the perfect combination of textures. There’s a lovely earthiness from the mushrooms and chickpeas that pairs perfectly with the floral undertones of the truffle. The hummus itself is textbook: creamy and full of umami with notes of citrus and garlic. The Whipped Feta is another delight with a very refreshing lemony tang behind the more briney, salty cheese flavor you’re probably used to. The Muhammra is also nothing short of heavenly, featuring this rich sweetness from the pomegranate molasses cutting through the sharpness of the isot chilies.
All of these dishes are quintessential Mediterranean classics, but with Aba’s take on them, tradition and comfort give way to something much more elegant and sophisticated. And, perhaps, that is the beauty of Aba: turning classics into something utterly unforgettable.
Moving over to the entrées, you’ll unsurprisingly find yet another gargantuan variety of dishes to choose from. Of the ones we tried, the Charred Halloumi and Grilled Cauliflower Kebabs were among the best, providing a depth of flavors without becoming overbearing or being too lackluster to justify the $15 price-tag.
The Charred Halloumi features grilled sheep’s milk cheese in a turmeric sauce with grapes and piquillo peppers. If you’ve never had halloumi (first off, you’re missing out) it’s essentially a semi-hard, white cheese that could be compared to a firmer mozzarella. And really it’s not just the halloumi itself that truly makes this dish as good as it is; the grapes are what allow for that sweet-salty contrast that’s becoming popular these days. The turmeric sauce offers this warm, spiced flavor that perfectly coats the cheese with a really comforting richness. The grapes and peppers offer a welcome break in contrast and fattiness, while — of course — creating this sweet-salty dynamic with the halloumi for a bite bursting with flavor.
The Grilled Cauliflower Kebabs are another showstopper with crisped cauliflower crisped to perfection, basmati rice, and tzatziki. Of course, kebabs are an essential staple in Medditeranen cuisine and Aba’s not-so-traditional twist on it is an evidently delicious take. The cauliflower itself is well-seasoned and nicely charred, offering a deep, spicy base for the rest of the dish to build on. Paired with the basmati rice that’s light seasoned with cilantro, it’s a match made in heaven. Drizzle them with some of that cucumber tzatziki for a burst of freshness and the perfect meal is well underway.
Other dishes worth trying include their Salt and Pepper Broccoli, Crispy Potatoes, and Falafel. Although lacking that same spark some of the other dishes showcase, they’re still enjoyable nonetheless and even better if you’re sharing plates with a group.
As the meal came to a close, it was clear that Aba’s innovation didn’t stop with their desserts. They boast an unexpectedly diverse dessert menu and we definitely chose to take advantage of that. The Dark Chocolate Babka — a sweet bread topped with cinnamon, cardamom, and raisins — was ultimately a favorite with a pillowy and delicate texture. The Crème Brûlée Pie topped with rose honey was another inviting treat, with a velvety texture and floral aroma.
Aba leans into traditional Mediteranean cuisine and reinvents classics with just the right amount of culinary flair and grandeur. If their expansive menu and intimate dining setup weren’t already enticing enough, perhaps their gorgeous rooftop views will convince you that Aba is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
Aba is located at 302 N Green Street in Chicago. Learn more by calling 773-645-1400 or visiting abarestaurants.com.
Aryav Bothra is a food critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl