Chicago (CNN) — Dodging a forklift is getting less and less likely in Chicago’s trendy West Loop neighborhood.
The once-ubiquitous vehicles whizzing around with pallets of raw meat, vegetables and dry goods in this historic meatpacking and wholesale market district have almost completely given way to cranes, construction crews and restaurants — lots of them.
Goat empanadas, Roman lamb ravioli, craft cocktails and expensive real estate are what’s for sale now in this neighborhood west of Chicago’s downtown Loop.
In the past eight or nine years, the area west of the Kennedy Expressway has seen a who’s who of Chicago chefs open new spots along Randolph Street’s Restaurant Row and on streets a few blocks to the north and south.
Sarah Grueneberg, the James Beard Foundation’s newly minted Best Chef of the Great Lakes, fits right into this neighborhood with a very high concentration of very good eating.
“It’s a neighborhood that has a lot of roots and history and is also now kind of being reborn into the new restaurant epicenter of Chicago,” said Grueneberg.
A neighborhood classic
Despite the influx of new businesses, there are still a few places to get a taste of the old neighborhood.
A couple of blocks from Girl & the Goat, J.P. Graziano is an 80-year-old wholesale Italian grocery that got into the sandwich game 11 years ago.
The top-selling sandwich, the Mr. G, — a pile of Italian meats and imported provolone topped with marinated artichokes and a truffle mustard balsamic vinaigrette — is named after fourth-generation owner Jim Graziano’s late father.
Graziano’s sister also works in the shop and his mother sits behind an old-fashioned cashier’s window, ringing customers up as their sandwich toppings are sliced to order and piled onto local D’Amato’s Italian bread. Pro tip: Ask for a side of spicy giardiniera, a typical Chicago pickled vegetable condiment.
Graziano has been working on Randolph Street for 25 years, since he was a kid. He’s seen the transformation of the neighborhood from market to foodie haven firsthand, and for his part, he’s OK with it.
“The heart of the neighborhood has stayed with the people who have come into it, and that’s the one thing I was a little anxious about,” he said. -Story by Marnie Hunter, video by Channon Hodge, Robert Sevilla and Joshua Sarlo