Mina Im, better known as Chicago Food Girl, has gained quite the following during the past five years. And with good reason—Im is at the forefront of every food trend, restaurant opening, and classic Chicago must-try in the city. Read on to learn more about Im, how she came to be Chicago Food Girl, and some of her best recommendations for dining and generally enjoying the city.
You’re originally from St. Louis, Mo. What brought you to Chicago? Why did you decide to stay?
I ended up in Chicago by chance. I accepted the first job offer I received after graduation because I was very determined to be out on my own. I could’ve easily ended up in any other city.
The first year was awful. I was reverse-commuting [from the city to the suburbs] 90 minutes each way, had zero social life, and was 300-plus miles away from my twin sister. Not ideal. Yet, I never considered leaving. City life was the exact opposite of my suburban roots. It was exhilarating!
When did you fall in love with the food scene? What makes Chicago’s food scene different?
Food has always been a big part of my life. As a kid, I loved cooking yukgaejang (Korean spicy beef soup) with my mom and grandma. I fell in love with the Chicago scene when I discovered authentic Korean within walking distance of my apartment. It was my “aha” moment! I wondered what else I had been missing.
Chicago is a true melting pot. Although we are rich in ethnic neighborhoods, such as Pilsen, Chinatown, and Lincoln Square, you can find authentic Mexican, Chinese, and German in almost any part of the city.
How did the Chicago Food Girl blog come about? Did you always intend for it to eventually be so widely followed? When did it become apparent that this was going to be more than a hobby?
The blog started as a creative outlet for documenting my journey in a new city. As I continued to explore, I realized the majority of my Instagram-worthy moments revolved around food. Thus, Chicago Food Girl was born.
Social media was completely new to me. I had almost no expectations; I was learning on the fly. The only goal was to share positive experiences with others who had similar interests. My initial success was just good fortune. But then, working with McDonald’s was a game changer. I had worked with Fortune 500 companies in the past but never with the name recognition of McDonald’s. Partnering with such an iconic brand has certainly opened a lot of doors for me in the influencer community.
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you while working on the blog? The most memorable?
The strangest encounter was the first time I was recognized in public by one of my followers. It was surreal.
The most memorable was overhearing my dad brag about a new restaurant we recently attended. My parents are traditional Asian parents in the sense that they relentlessly pushed their children to pursue universally respected occupations, such as doctor, lawyer, etc. It was incredibly fulfilling to win their approval doing something I love.
Do you have a favorite restaurant that’s new in the city? What about an all-time favorite?
Is there anything you’re doing with the blog now that is completely different than how you started? Something you never thought you’d be doing or putting online?
When I first started, I focused exclusively on still-life photography. Now I’m able to give people a real-time glimpse of my full dining experience via Snapchat and Stories on Instagram. This has really increased engagement.
You post very personal things happening in your life at times. What has the response been to this? Are you happy that you’ve shared so much? Or do you sometimes wish you hadn’t?
I’ve always been an open book. It is very therapeutic to be unapologetically honest. Social media has amplified my reach, but I’m the same person I was prior to my first post. I don’t have any regrets. The majority of people are very positive.
In addition to the blog, you also have a full-time job in marketing. Why did you decide to keep your full-time job? How do you balance the two?
The skills I’ve learned in corporate marketing have been vital to my accomplishments in the influencer community. There is definitely a direct correlation between my successes in both worlds. I don’t foresee a time when I am not doing both. Busy is good!
In what direction do you hope to take the blog in the future?
I recently went to Amsterdam for a long weekend. It was amazing! I plan on traveling a lot more. In the past, the majority of my great food experiences outside of Chicago were happenstance.
There are so many aspiring food bloggers out there. Why do you think Chicago Food Girl has been successful?
As much as I enjoy showcasing Chicago’s amazing food, my real passion is interviewing the people behind the scenes: chefs, restaurateurs, etc. I love giving a voice to amazing stories that motivate people to chase their dreams. As a result, I think my blog is a good source of inspiration!
What are your goals for the blog? Where do you see it and yourself in the next few years?
I just want to meet as many people in the community as possible. If I continue to show up and engage, good opportunities will find me.
OK, we want some recommendations! If you were visiting Chicago for one day, where would you go?
Breakfast: Southport Grocery and Cafe, @southportgrocery
Lunch: Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings, @qxydumplings
Dinner: Mott St, @mottstreetchi
Drinks: The Boarding House, @boardinghse
Tourist attraction: Art Institute of Chicago, @artinstitutechi
Coffee: Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea, @ourfairgrounds
Snacks: Cindy’s Rooftop, @cindysrooftop
Dessert: Do-Rite Donuts, @doritedonuts
Pizza: Lou Malnati’s, @loumalnatis
Neighborhood: Lincoln Square