With its focus on cook-and-mix-it-yourself soups, Tao Ran Ju's unique setup is sure to draw in a number of curious foodies. Pot warmers are built directly into the table, allowing customers to order, cook and consume their meals all without ever having to get up from their seats. The experience makes for a fun group outing in the same way Korean communal barbecue is best enjoyed among friends.
Long a comfort food favorite in the east, Tao Ran Ju is one of the only restaurants offering it in quite this way in Chicago right now. The restaurant is bright, spotless and upscale, especially for Chinatown. The large space, with its craved, dark wooden furniture and immaculately white tables, is inviting and comfortable.
Be prepared for a bit of a language barrier with the staff, though it isn't too hard to get what you want. Choose from a number of available broth options, then add poultry, beef, seafood or vegetables to your soup as you wish. With the broth alone starting at $3 and "mix-ins" about $4 apiece, it's easy and economical to try a couple different flavors when you're out with friends.
Not in a soup mood? The restaurant also offers dumplings and other small Chinese plates. Most of the menu is under $15 and Tao Ran Ju is BYOB.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Bill Burman