Native Chicagoan Carrie Nahabedian is the most decorated female chef in the city. Her 14-year-old restaurant, NAHA, has garnered a Michelin star every year since the inception of the Chicago guide. In 2008, she won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef" Great Lakes and this year she’s up for two more: Outstanding Chef and Best New Restaurant for Brindille. She shares what brought her back to the Windy City after 10 years cooking in sunny California.
What do you love about Chicago?
Everything. It’s the most vibrant, accessible, urban city in America, if not the world. I love the architecture, public works, museums and I love that we have a zoo right in the middle of the city. We’re a scrappy city with a strong mayor. Plus, we are one of the greatest restaurant cities in the world.
How do you get around?
Chicago is the perfect walking city. I walk everywhere but I’m never exhausted, like when I visit New York. I live in Streeterville and walk to work every day down the hustle and bustle of Michigan Avenue.
How do you resist the shopping?
I know what’s going on in all the stores with styles and sales! I’m a Saks and Bloomingdale’s girl but I also support independent boutiques. I’m a creature of habit so in my neighborhood my favorite stores for finding gifts are Elements on Wells and P.OS.H. on State for European Americana. The Golden Triangle is one of the city’s treasures. It’s like going to Southeast Asia right here in Chicago.
Where do you take visitors?
We always take the Gray Line yellow double decker bus tour with Matt Rini, the best tour guide in the city. He’s the funniest man on earth and should be in Hollywood. It’s best to do the tour on one of your first days here to get acclimated and see the whole city from a different vantage point. I also love the architectural boat tour. I’ve been on it a ton of times and never cease to learn something new.
What do you do on your day off?
We’re closed Sundays, so that’s my day off. I eat out on Sundays two or three times because it’s my opportunity to go out and be relaxed. I might do something on my own for lunch or meet one group at lunch and one group for dinner. I love my neighborhood so I eat at RL, Café Spiaggia, NoMI at the Park Hyatt and Deca at the Ritz-Carlton all the time.
Do you have a favorite secret hang out?
Coq d’Or at the Drake. It has the No. 2 liquor license in the city of Chicago. It’s my favorite little sneak in the city. The perfect place for no one to see you. You can blend right into the wall. I like that it’s dark and clubby and hasn’t changed in my lifetime. Oh, and the gardens directly south of the Art Institute are a quiet, private place to have a picnic or just sit and refresh yourself.
My Perfect Day
10:30 am — Morning swim
Dip in the pool at the Four Seasons. Afterwards, get a yogurt parfait at Allium for a pick-me-up.
11:30 am — Perfect polish
Get my nails done at Elizabeth Arden, a hot wax manicure with natural polish.
12:30 pm — Light lunch
Embeya for a light, flavorful lunch of crisp, refreshing spring rolls and iced tea.
2 pm — Art walk
Visit the Art Institue of Chicago's Thorne Miniature rooms, gardens and the Impressionist wing followed by a quick stroll through The Modern Wing.
7 pm — Happy hour
Cocktails at RL. A crisp vodka lemonade with lots of mint while mulling over dinner options.
9 pm — Dinner with friends
Most likely trying a new restaurant from my rotating hit list. Sixteen, Grace or Taxim for healthy cuisine with pure ingredients.