Noah Sandoval is the executive chef and owner of Oriole, a two-MICHELIN-starred restaurant located in Chicago’s busy West Loop neighborhood. Raised in a military family, Sandoval got an unusual start cooking alongside his mother and later in a formal environment under chef David Shannon at L’Opossum in Richmond, Virginia.
The rest is Chicagoland history. After meeting his wife Cara while at since-shuttered Senza, Sandoval decided to open Oriole in a covert alleyway of Chicago’s West Loop in 2016. The restaurant has since become one of the country’s best extended tasting menus, recognized by our inspectors for its “crisp attention to detail” and “cavalcade of delicate small bites.”
In January, the Chicago chef extended himself further with a new concept called Kumiko spearheaded by Oriole’s bar manager Julia Momose and chef de cuisine Mariya Russell. In the basement is one-MICHELIN-starred Kikkō, an eight seat counter omakase. While Sandoval has more on his plate than ever, he still takes time for the occasional adventure.
His favorite travel destination is shared by many in his talent class: New Orleans, a food and culture capital that remains an inarguable recharge for creative chefs worldwide. “I lived in New Orleans in 2002 and have been going back every year since,” says Sandoval.
For eating out while in The Big Easy, Sandoval likes newer places such as Bywater American Bistro, the seafood grill Pêche, Paloma Cafe opened in 2018 by the team behind Revelator Coffee and brunch-magnet Cane and Table.
He also spends time with quicker bites. For a po’boy, Sandoval’s favorite spot is Verti Marte, a 24-hour deli and grocery in the French Quarter. For a muffuletta (the meat-and-cheese sandwich quintessential to the city), Sandoval looks no further than Central Grocery, a third-generation grocery store founded by the Sicilian immigrant Salvatore Lupo in 1906.
While food is of utmost importance, the bar scene is as much so. “I could go on and on,” says Sandoval. One of his favorite bars is the self-proclaimed hoarders’ haven Saturn Bar, a tavern of leopard-printed velour booths, filled with quirky odds and ends dating back over 40 years to its original proprietor O’Neil Broyard.
Sandoval also loves Parisol’s, the James Beard Award-winning cocktail bar Cure, Muriel Altikriti’s Lost Love Lounge, The John (where gold-plated toilet seats serve as chairs) and Mimi’s in the Marigny for cocktails and tapas from self-proclaimed “Louisiana boy” Heathcliffe Hailey. For a late-night bite after lots of bar-hopping, Sandoval sends friends to Clover Grill on Bourbon Street, open 24/7 and serving burgers, biscuits and malts since 1939.
For his love of jazz and wine, Sandoval heads to Bacchanal, a wine laboratory in the Ninth Ward open from 11 a.m. to midnight every day of the week. The venue brings the city’s best young jazz musicians to its backyard stage, and serves Mediterranean bites and an extensive wine list to a mostly local crowd. (The John is another jazz bar that Sandoval loves, boasting acoustics so good that local artists have come to record their albums there.)
In terms of where to stay, Sandoval’s recommendations have changed over the years. “Before Airbnb, I’d stay at the [adults-only] Royal Street Inn and Bar [in the heart of the trendy Marigny neighborhood] or [the family-owned bed-and-breakfast] Balcony Guesthouse,” located above the Asian-Creole fusion restaurant Silk Road, also in Marigny. If you’re looking on Airbnb, Sandoval recommends seeking out “a shotgun house that’s barely standing,” insisting that it’s “part of the [New Orleans] experience.”
During the day, Sandoval likes walking around the Bywater. “I think it’s the most beautiful neighborhood in the country,” he says. “Stop by Mardi Gras Zone ('where every day is Mardi Gras') and make yourself a Bloody Mary.” He also loves the Garden District, which is “full of very charming houses and home to Lafayette Cemetery No.1 (that dates back to 1832).”
“Obviously, the French Quarter is a sight to be seen,” he adds. “Debauchery turned up to a ten.” While in this requisite area, be sure to “browse M.S. Rau Antiques on Royal Street and ask about the player piano,” says Sandoval. Walk down Frenchman Street, a destination for jazz fans. “Pop into any club and you’re in for a treat.”
If you need a break from the lively French Quarter, “take the ferry to Algiers,” says Sandoval. “You can get a good look at the Mississippi River and its beautiful riverboats.”