Once kids learn to use a fork and spoon, it seems crazy to encourage them to eat with their hands. But you’ll want to kiss utensils goodbye when you go to certain restaurants around town where laying fingers on your food isn’t just encouraged, it’s pretty much mandated. Check out our favorite no-silverware spots, from an Ethiopian standout to a classic rib joint. Then dive into a good meal, hands first.
This charm-filled rib joint is probably older than grandma and grandpa, having opened in 1932. It’s seen many a celebrity (Frank Sinatra, for starters) and has been the backdrop for movies, including The Dark Knight. Nautical-themed decorations, like anchors and ship steering wheels, keep kids’ eyes dancing. The specialty is baby back ribs eaten right off the bone. If you don’t want to share your slab, they have “Small Fry” portions that come with crinkly fries. Just watch out: Your little dining companion might find the barbecue sauce finger-paint worthy.
1655 N. Sedgwick Ave.
Evanston’s Ethiopian den serves your meal with a special type of thin, slightly spongy flat bread called injera that’s used to pick up your food. Try fosolina (string beans, onions and carrots cooked in vegetable oil and seasoned with ginger and garlic) or check out a combination dish (veggie and meat or chef’s choice) for a variety of different tastes. In typical Ethiopian tradition, let your kids try to feed you; it’s a custom called gursha that represents caring.
1322 Chicago Ave.
There is no way around getting messy with chicken wings, but you won’t mind the stickiness one bit when you taste this spot’s kicked-up Korean version. Get your giant crunchy wings slathered with original sauces. Little eaters love Seoul Sassy, a sweet mix of ginger, soy and garlic. You can always fall back on Plain Jane, which is anything but plain because of the spices and secret-recipe batter. Sit at the long benched tables for the feeling of an indoor picnic.
2940 N. Broadway St.
Eating pizza with your hands may not seem like such an adventure. But when the pizza dough is a vehicle for shoveling in mac ‘n’ cheese and chicken ‘n’ waffles … well, that’s a different story. Creative toppings make this casual haven special. The menu ranges from traditional cheese and pepperoni pies to decadent s’mores dessert pizzas.
3463 N. Clark St.
1615 N. Damen Ave.
Everything is made from scratch at this quick-casual spot where you get your fill of falafel. Bouncy-ball-sized versions of the Mediterranean treat are served a la carte or wrapped up in pita bread with toppings like tahini, tomatoes and onions. Grab a few dips like hummus and baba ganoush off the meze bar and let the hands-on fun begin.
1053 Lake St.
(other locations in Lakeview and the Loop)
It’s easy to make yourself at home in the sunny, lofted dining room that has a farmhouse feel (chalk it up to the antique signage and wood paneling). The inventive tacos turned out here are made with ingredients from local farms. We love the garlic shrimp topped with corn salsa, avocado and onions. Tacos come two to an order so it’s easy to make trades among the family. Don’t forget the guac and chips.
1360 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Your kiddo knows about hot crossed buns. But what about steamed Asian buns? The handheld treats called bao are great for littles because of their small size and savory flavors. You can’t go wrong ordering teriyaki chicken, BBQ pork or whole wheat edamame bao that cost just $1.69 a pop.
835 N. Michigan Ave.
(other locations downtown and in the Loop)
Where does your family like to go for finger food? Let us know in the Comments section below.
— Samantha Lande
Photos: Courtesy of Twin Anchors, Crisp, Falafill and Dave H at Yelp