I’ve enjoyed several allegedly Nepalese restaurants in town that basically did the Indian buffet thing with a couple of local specialties mixed in. But the first time I heard there was a full-fledged Nepalese restaurant in Logan Square serving momo and other Afghan favorites, I discovered Chiya Chai in Titus Ruscitti’s blog: “Oh Boy! This is what I was waiting for… As regular readers know I seek out Momo when on the road and these were right up there with the best of the best. The dipping sauces are a tomato and cilantro based duo that go great mixed together. The dumpling shell is delicate and in a surprise for me these were almost juicy enough to be considered soup dumplings. I just love the flavor combination of beefy meat and Garam Masala with green onions and such.”

The second time, oddly enough, was the very next day when Michael Nagrant reviewed the same place in Redeye. He starts by focusing on the chai: “The creamy top on the chai is foamy like the head on an art-directed root beer float. The brew is thick, wafts floral notes and finishes with a kick of heat from the ginger.” But he likes the momo fo’ sho: “I expected the chai to be good at a place called Chiya Chai, but what I didn’t anticipate was that the food—Nepalese classics infused with global ingredients—would also be fantastic… Momo dumplings ($8), the Nepalese version of potstickers, featured a slightly glutinous housemade wrapper that’s thinner than traditional Chinese dumplings. Inside, juicy pork was studded with scallions and sweet red onion that finished with chili heat and lilting notes of champagne grapes.”


The Tribune devoted the month to the best burgers in Chicago; and that prompted other people like Eater and Thrillist to spread their lists on social media, too. And what did we learn from a month of focus on this highly familiar foodstuff? That the thing we’re most familiar with is what the good burgers in town already are. I mean, my list would be Red Hot Ranch, Fatso’s, Edzo’s, BRGRBelly, Paradise Pup; throw in a couple of bars with good ones (DMK Burger Bar, Owen & Engine, the Jucy Lucy at Dusek’s, that sort of thing), and—is anybody surprised by anything? You pretty much knew all of those, I’d bet.

I could add a couple of obscurity choices like Ivy’s in Edgebrook and the Schoop’s chain; and I suppose we have to acknowledge the fan bases of Kuma’s and Shake Shack and Au Cheval, though I usually won’t do their lines. But boom, we’re pretty much done. I mean, if Americans are good at anything, it’s finding burgers to eat.

The more interesting parts to me were some of the sidelights, on things that may or may not be great, but give more insight into the culture and business of burgers. Like Louisa Chu’s paean to the Big Baby, the South Side’s version of the Big Boy/Big Mac style of double-decker burgers, which is well known to people who’ve visited LTHForum, but she has a good look at how something can be all over one part of town and completely unknown in another. And Nick Kindelsperger and others did the best and worst chains, which is less of a punishment detail than it might have been a few years ago—Smashburger is pretty good, and so is Culver’s, the In-N-Out of the midwest, while the ones you think kinda suck… do.


Lots in the Reader this week. Mike Sula finds Honey’s pretty but shallow: “It’s food that’s assembled elaborately, painterly, with precise strokes of delicate, if overmanipulated garnish and glistening patches of sauce. It’s food that in some ways reminds me of the gorgeous platings of Curtis Duffy at Grace. It’s expensive food that looks pretty but too often fails to resonate beyond the table.”

But he finds it more promising than Mahalo, the 17 millionth poke place to open in the last 6 weeks, in the lamented Bom Bolla space; the poke is okey-doke, but “from there . . . wipeout. The remainder of the menu comprises classic and tweaked pu pus and plate lunches. Tennis-ball-size Spam meatballs barely register on the potted-meat spectrum, instead getting filled out with pork and beef and drenched in a sweet coffee barbecue sauce, all which approximates a fair representation of mom’s meat loaf.”

Julia Thiel gets an intriguing tour of Ravenswood’s Dovetail Brewery and comes away impressed: “I’ve always thought that describing a beer as ‘drinkable’ is damning it with faint praise, but Dovetail’s lager changed my mind. It’s straightforward, crisp and a touch creamy, with more malt flavor than expected and a bit of caramel. I’ll be ordering it whenever I see it on a tap list for the rest of the summer.”

And Sula calls attention to the (quite beautiful) cookies made by staffer Elizabeth Tamny: “‘My stuff probably looks the most on occasion like the eastern European ladies out there doing traditional work—especially calligraphy and illustration and the needlework patterns.’”


Interesting piece on the chef of Ruxbin and Mott Street changing the work week around. One benefit: “Having Tuesday and Wednesday off also gives Kim and his staff a chance to eat at other restaurants and discover what’s being done all over the city.” (Newcity)


Monica Eng, a dedicated Stanley’s Fruit Market shopper, investigates how the wholesale fruit market and the bargain-priced places like Stanley’s really work. (WBEZ)


Bistro Campagne hung on after the sudden death of Chef Michael Altenberg. Now it has a new chef in Luke Creagan (Pops For Champagne). But how do you fill a founding chef’s shoes? (DNA Info)


Renzell is a new food rating service that aims to occupy a space between Yelp and Michelin. What’s it all about? Its founder and the Reader’s Mike Sula talked the state of reviewing and where Renzell could fit into that on The Morning Shift. (WBEZ)


How fast casual took over dining, by Maggie Hennessy. Blame the workplace: “‘Food follows the way people live,’ [Brendan] Sodikoff says. ‘It’s not necessarily as structured as far as attire, expectations, or what it means to have a formal night out and what that looks like anymore.’” (Thrillist)


The legendary Burt’s Place, home to the only deep dish pizza Anthony Bourdain can tolerate, will be back soon. Chicago mag has the story.


My friend Keng Sisavath has a short video report on a food event I bet you didn’t know about (I sure didn’t)—the Lao New Year food festival in Hampshire, way up northwest past Woodstock, where there’s a Lao temple. It’s 3 minutes and cool to see, watch it here.


My old Grub Street editor Alan Sytsma talks with two other New Yorkers, Food 52’s Amanda Hesser and Saveur editor Adam Sachs, about the state of food writing. For all that they’re at high levels—let a couple of freelancers in and see how different the conversation would be—it’s a good conversation worth a read about what the profession faces these days. The one thing that’s really missing is a consideration of how NYC dominates other markets—I’d certainly have said something about New York-based publications treating their restaurants as a profound literary subject and everybody else’s as a form of commodity headline news, basically (which I should point out was not the case with Grub Street when it was here).


Sandwich Tribunal offers a heartfelt paean to the Chicago gyros.


It is too hard to get funnel cake at today’s ritzy music fests with their lobster corn dogs, says Chicagoist.


I revised an old Thrillist list of Chicago’s best hot dogs, to take out what has closed (bye, Hoppin’ Hots) and to add 7 suburban spots (so people can stop commenting that it’s missing Gene’s & Jude’s).


I loved Giant, which is sure to prompt lots of review headlines about how the place is small but the flavors are… I especially liked the eggplant (reminded me of Fish Fragrant Eggplant at Ed’s Potsticker House, but Jason Vincent said he’s never been there) and the Sortellini, velvety sorta-tortellini with fresh summer tomatoes.

Even though I’m not totally convinced that beer needs all these weird flavors people put in it these days, I sure liked Forbidden Root’s ginger, strawberry-basil, and oak barrel flavored beers. As for the food… the quality of the food just shows how good the midlevel is these days, a roasted eggplant toast was terrific and hardly what you’d expect to see next to beer, even if it has strawberry and basil in it.