WHO SAID IT IN THEIR HEAD already?
Might as well do it again for those of you that are thinking it anyway. Ready? 3, 2, 1, GO!
If you are a Chicago Metro area native, and have no idea why you should be thinking about a rubber chicken getting tossed across the room right now, go google a youtube or something on your interweb telephone. Text your parents. Also, stop using the word “myself” incorrectly virtually every freakin’ time. You kids…
So, Berwyn. Bertown. B-town… Strap in. You might be in for a surprise or two.
[Side note: The “in the know” people have adopted the phrase, “Ber-winning.” This can be used positively or sarcastically. Examples:
1. The farmers’ market keeps growing, drawing more people and vendors… Ber-WINNING!
2. Another Journey tribute band will be headlining the street fair… Ber-WINNING!]
A brief history, hypothesized from a few possible facts:
Lots of Eastern European folks lived there, “back in the day.”
A decent number still do.
A decent number of Latinos live there now.
Bordered by Riverside on the west, Cicero on the east, Oak Park on the north, and some odd towns you’ve not heard of on the south. Go ahead and look em up. Told ya. Forest View? Sure. Sure you did.
Food choices in Berwyn proper:
Lots and lots of Mexican joints.
Lots of pizza joints.
Couple two-tree Italian places.
Several standard issue diners.
Brewpubs? One or two. Check!
Thai food? One or two (Bodhi Thai is the one to try). Check!
Sprinkling of Ameri-Chinese places. (But sorry. Once Katy’s opened in Oak Park, there’s really no reason to go to any of the places I know of in the area for Chinese. Or hop on 55 and take the Chinatown exit. It’s way closer than ya think.)
The chains are steadily moving in, but there are some indie joints, and they are on point.
Gonna try to share what I think stands out in Berwyn proper:
1. Mexican food
Mexican food. Let’s knock it out first. Lots of choices. I’ve been to many, and honed it down to these for my tastes.
Zacatacos (3827 Harlem Ave., 6224 W. Cermak, website)
For tacos? This place. BY A MILE. Both Harlem and Cermak locations. Zacatacos is for char grilled steak and fiery salsas first and foremost. Secondary hits include the potato tacos (trust me), the carne asada dinner, and the chicken enchiladas rojas. For the most part, they have the carne asada game on lockdown in the area. It’s usually decent, some days it’s fantastic, and some days not so much. Their salsa roja is generally crazy good if you like fiery and earthy.
Tacos Y Salsa (6346 W. 26th)
Tacos Y Salsa is mom & pop style homemade. Good days and bad. What I go there for is the 99c Monday night tacos. Al Pastor, Chicken, and Chorizo tacos are 99c on Mondays. Sometimes, you’ll get a gratis cup of soup—usually non summer. Of those 3 tacos, the chicken is usually the most variable but it’s usually just…ok. If the pastor is not oversalted, you’ll be in for a great value with the chorizo and pastor tacos.
They do a decent side of grilled onions, so we usually get a mess of tacos, an order of onions, and an order of guac for Monday night, “don’t feel like cooking at home” goodness. If you catch them on a night where the salsas are flamin’—this is THE SPOT for Monday. There was a neighborhood best taco competition where Tacos Y Salsa won for their “Taco Jarocho” or some such. It’s a grilled fish taco. I tried one… once.
Torres Fresh Market (6214 W. 26th, website)
Torres has a taqueria in it, a counter with about 6 stools and 5 tables for 4 people each. I haven’t had any of their guisados yet, but everything I’ve had there so far has been quite solid. I brought home a Chicken Mole special, and the wife gave it high marks. I think it is the standing Monday special. Other hits have been simple tacos, tostadas, sopes and the like—chicken, steak, carnitas, all pretty darn solid for the price, and the very low-key atmosphere. Bonus—they have changing weekly specials, standing daily specials, and a full fledged paleteria on premises as well.
For low key, no frills, I frickin’ LOVE this place. Torres is spotless, and the people working there are extremely friendly.
Familia Fresh Market (3308 S. Oak Park Ave., website)
They have a small hot food section for take out only. Some of their guisados (stews) are out of this world. Major hits: Costillas en salsa verde, carne de res en salsa roja—their carnitas on weekends is usually stellar. They also have barbacoa on weekends which I steer clear of—too salty for me. They will create a meal plate for you consisting of a hot dish with rice and beans. If you ask, the folks at the counter will combine two hot dishes for a meal plate. These meal plates are bountiful, to say the least.
They also have a cooler with a very decent selection of homemade salsas in 16 oz. containers like salsa negra, pico de gallo, and salsa aguacate that are worth every penny even when not on sale, if you catch a good batch. They also have a smoothie/fresh fruit counter at the front of the store. This counter has a steam tray section for their tamales. Every so often, you’ll get their A Grade tamales. When they are right, they give my homemades a serious run for the money.
2. Pizza & Italian
Pizza: There’s pizza everywhere. EVERYWHERE! My picks:
Premium: Villa Nova (6821 W. Pershing Rd., Stickney). Not in Berwyn proper, but in the next suburb south. Still, this place is exemplary, and most of youse already know that. My cred would be non-existent if I didn’t mention VN even though I’m sticking with Berwyn proper for the rest of this report.
Discount: DiNico’s (6627 W. Roosevelt Rd., website) For those of you that dig on crunchy, extra thin, at any hour of the day…DiNico’s! They can also rock the superjumbofootballstadiumparty sizes. (My pick: Extra thin crust “by request.”)
Deep Discount: Waldo Cooney’s (6733 W. Cermak Rd., website) Half price on all pizza on Tuesday nights, and you should remember that. It’s very decent for that price. After my second Tuesday in a row with a Waldo Cooney’s spinach/snausage thin crust, I’m very bullish on this place. I think they’re gonna get a lot of Tuesday orders from me. I might even try one of those “stuffed” pizzas that Chicago is supposedly famous for.
Paisans Pizzeria and Bar (6226 Ogden, website)
This place is better than the Mrs. and I give it credit for. Each time we go, we always say, “this place is better than we think.” It’s a BIG, family friendly, pizza/pasta/sandwich/brewpub joint. Hits:
Mussels in white sauce
Any burger or sandwich
Pasta without red sauce (they are a “sweeter” red sauce place, and I just don’t like that, but that’s THEIR thing, and plenty of people like that style).
Wildcard Neighboorhood Fave: Tonini’s Italian Deli (6950 Windsor Ave.)
Neat little deli on da sout side of the da tracks. Some incredibly welcoming people working there. Homemade sausages, new specials every day, long list of specialty subs, deli salads, prepared pasta or meat dishes… They do some really good work over there. They offer a daily, take-out, family dinner meal which might knock your socks off. Check out their Facebook page if you’d like to investigate.
I have two “go to” diners:
Connie’s Family Restaurant (3271 Harlem Ave., website) is a standard issue Greek diner. It is well run, the food is just fine (I think their pancakes are fantastic), and I have nothing bad to say about them. Very standard issue Greek diner, done right.
Tastee Corner Cafe (3207 Oak Park Ave.) is where I go far more, and where I want to go far more, but it can get pretty busy. It’s much smaller, and I think word has gotten out that they do some things very nicely. There’re some land mines on the menu, but if you know what to get, you’re gonna be very happy.
I hear the skirt steak and eggs breakfast special is the neighborhood fave, but I’m partial to their “Mexican Skillet” with over medium eggs, hold the cheese. In this, they use a standard issue chorizo, but they also throw in some fresh jalapeño. Fresh hot peppers are my weakness. If you don’t stress the “crispy” on the hash brown order, and they are busy, you’re gonna get hash brown mush. I can almost guarantee it. Split a standard breakfast platter between two people. Trust me… seriously.
They also do a reuben panini which is my “go to” lunch or dinner if none of the specials excite me. Saturday’s chicken dumpling soup is one of my favorites, followed closely by split pea (I forget which day.) A reuben panini with the included soup is good eats.
I haven’t quite figured out what their “deal” is—like why some things are fantastically homemade and comforty, but others are foodservice blah. They also have a tiny corner of their menu with some middle eastern fare—never ventured into that.
4. Fast Food
Big Guys Sausage Stand (7021 Roosevelt, website)
Big Guys reigns supreme as THE premium burger/dog/specialty sausage type joint. I haven’t tried their beef sammich, and haven’t heard much about it. I should give it a go next time I pop in. Wish they had more indoor seating for winter. That would increase my visits in the cold. Love eating at the pic-uh-nic tables out back.
If you can’t decide what to order at Big Guy’s, just order whatever their special of the day is, and get your fries with butter and garlic. Some of their specials that I’ve come across that are absolutely oustanding:
• Turkey Club. Best one on the planet, imo. In house roasted turkey, Hellman’s mayo, and a crazy amount of bacon. Remember when food was real? Big Guy’s does. You will never forget a Big Guys club sammich. It’s borderline absurd. It’s one of the rotating specials, so it’s not on the everyday menu. You have to catch it when you can.
• Homemade Gyros. Prettiest gyros ever? Yup. Good too. One more thing about Big Guys. PERFECT. FRIES. These are no joke. Big Guys is also a pillar of the community, imo. Some great people working there.
Novi’s Beef (6746 Ogden Ave., website)
Decent beef, their own style of giardiniera really sets them apart. They do a nice dog, too. Fries are usually excellent.
Bubba’s Place (6333 Ogden Ave., website)
Decent beef, really solid burgers. Great fries. They should really get more love for their burgers. Their burgers are no joke.
5. Taking Yer Lady Out
Autre Monde (6727 W Roosevelt Rd., website)
Autre Monde is the major player in finer dining in the area. Routinely mentioned around town when discussing the “where should we go for a <insert special occasion> dinner?” Autre Monde has clearly set a new level for finer dining in the area, and the casual vibe plus oustanding food make it an upscalish neighborhood star. I’d suggest to order the tasting menu. It’s a fantastic value, and without fail, you’ll get several outstanding dishes.
Some of my faves:
The octopus. I doubt I could go to A.M. and not get the octopus. Words cannot do it justice. You’ll see.
Roasted brussels sprouts with pork belly.
Crab falafel (You kidding me???) OUTSTANDING!
Roasted marrow bones.
The octopus though. You need this octopus in your life.
Sushi Junki (6643 W. Roosevelt Rd., website) is the only game in town that I know of, and it’s really solid. My only real caution when I go is their usage of the bbq eel sauce. They like to douse things with it. I’m not a huge fan, so I make note of it on their menu items, and ask for things without it. They do good work over there with sushi, though. Service can be slow at times, but minor quibbles aside, it’s very decent stuff.
Lavergne’s Tavern (6546 Windsor Ave. website)
This is a newcomer, very new. All signs point to it being a brewpub with a focus on interesting fare, beers, and cocktails. Family friendly as well. Menu is a very eclectic in a great way. Interesting options. I like it. Scratch that, I REALLY like it. The more we go, the more I like it. My “no think” order is the grilled fish tacos. The salsa they serve with the fish tacos is obviously geared for the capsaicin averse crowd—buyer beware. I think I’ve told our server each time I order them that the salsa does not do their tacos justice. It’s not like it stops me from ordering them almost 75% of the time I go though.
They have changing specials frequently, but some of the things I’d have no issue ordering:
Fried Asparagus (in season)
Italian Beef Egg Rolls (wish the giardiniera was hot, but I can’t blame them for taming it down)
Reuben—they do a slaw version, and even though I never thought I’d endorse such a thing, they do it right.
Fish Tacos (I might have to start bringing my own salsa for these)
Banana Bread Pudding
I gotta tell you something about this joint. If you skip dessert, you’ve done it wrong. Their desserts may be a reason why I rock the fish tacos most of the time, now that I think of it. I’m GETTING dessert when I go to Lavergne’s.
Chris Benton is not fussy, he just likes food made with pride.
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