For my book I interviewed Roland Liccioni, the longtime chef of Les Nomades, successor to Banchet at Le Francais, etc. who just retired. I got maybe one good paragraph out of him; he’s just not the type of chef who talks himself up, as Michael Nagrant’s account of his last night at Les Nomades amply demonstrates:

Roland was a hero of Charlie Trotter’s, he succeeded and maybe surpassed Banchet’s quality at Le Francais, and did something no one in the history of Chicago restaurants has ever done, which is earn four stars five separate times from the Chicago Tribune from three different critics.

I asked Roland if that meant anything.  Returning to his usual self-effacing manner, he said, “No. It’s fine. Doing the work is what’s important.”

Despite this local acclaim, Les Nomades holds no Michelin stars, which I found kind of baffling. I asked him if this bothered him.


Nagrant’s account of that last night is rich with Chicago food history and reminds us how the city was not that long ago deeply plugged in to the European cooking scene:

I was also surprised to see Roland using xanthan gum to thicken a lobster sauce. He said, “This guy working at El Bulli comes to stage and he sees me using this and says is that agar agar or what? I tell him. He takes the technique back with him.”

I don’t have Ferran Adria in my cell phone contacts, so it’s pretty hard to verify this, but I’ll take it on faith because so far nothing I’ve seen has suggested Roland is a fabulist. He’s also clearly, despite his traditional foundation, a dabbler in modernism.

There’s a lot to learn in this piece, as well as at least one great shot of Chef Roland flipping his mirepoix in a wok, and oh by the way, though Nagrant’s Substack has a paywall, this one seems to be free to all. Don’t miss it.


Much excitement about a list of 25 restaurants to check out in Chicago, in the New York Times. I kind of hate when we get too flattered by outside attention—see also Michelin—but for what it is, it’s a very good list, led by Chicagoan (still, I think) Kevin Pang with two other people. 25 is too few to really cover the full variety of this city, but it offers a very of-the-moment list ranging from hot new places (Akahoshi Ramen, Maxwells Trading) to modern classics (Oriole, Monteverde) to old school classics (Superdawg, Johnnie’s Beef). You probably don’t need it—the only one I have not been to, besides Akahoshi yet, is the similarly long-lined Kim’s Uncle Pizza—but next time you have visitors who want advice (but will probably wind up going to Giordano’s or Cheesecake Factory anyway), send it to them.


How much unpublished work did Nick Kindelsperger leave behind at the Tribune? Or is he still writing for them? This week we get an update to a 2017 list of the best burritos in town:

The last time I counted down my favorite burritos in 2017, I was stunned to find dozens of restaurants serving the spare burrito style favored in northern Mexican states like Durango and Sonora. And I mean spare — no lettuce, tomato, rice, cheese, sour cream, onions, cilantro or avocado. The best versions just featured a flaky, handmade flour tortilla, maybe a smear of refried beans and stewed filling.

I thought that if there was any justice in this life, these would soon take over the city. Yet, when my burrito ranking went up, I heard countless commenters complain that those burritos sounded nice and all, but what about the burritos stuffed to the breaking point with every conceivable filling? (To be fair, I did include a few of those, though apparently not enough.)

So he’s got some of those, for people whose idea of a burrito comes from the nearest Chipotle or Taco Burrito King, but also a number of other styles represented: the West Coast burrito, the Durango burrito and so on.


Polish food, to me, is one of those cuisines that runs the gamut from A to B. But John Kessler (or at least Chicago mag’s headline writer) says “Pierogi Kitchen is Polished Polish”—so maybe there’s more to it than many long-established standbys like Smak Tak and Staropolska:

When Eastern European cool hits, Chicago will be at the epicenter. We’ve already seen pioneers in the restaurants Kimski, Tryzub, and Anelya. These are places for fun drinks and plates that tell a story — not just of a rustic Old World cuisine but of traditions and ingredients moving into modern times. Now add Bucktown’s Pierogi Kitchen, where the previous owners of the boozy-brunch fave Lokal, Artur Wnorowski and Gosia Pieniazek, have brought their Polish heritage to the party.

Though poke around the Polish in Chicago and you’ll see a lot of stuff that crosses the line into doner and other things common in fast food in Europe—that’s modern times to me.

He also talks to the gatekeeper at hot ticket Warlord, Julia Suhr:

What’s the longest wait time estimate you’ve given?

On Friday and Saturday I can be quoting four hours. By 7 p.m. I usually have over 150 people checked in, and the restaurant only holds 45 at a time. People are often surprised when I quote those times.

Are folks generally okay with it?

The majority are pretty nice and understanding, but there are a good handful of disappointed, angry folks. I tell them I hate quoting that wait time just as much as they hate hearing it.


The Infatuation checks out pan-Asian nightspot Gaoku:

Gaoku looks like someone converted a warehouse loft into a bar, and depending on when you’re here, the space takes on a different character. Their weekend-only lunch is calmer with only a few people eating rich khao soi ramen or saucy rice bowls with crispy pork belly (both are lunch menu exclusives). Nights are more active as tables of friends throwback fruity wakamomo smashes and couples at the bar trade bites of excellent tom kha-inspired scallops before a show at the California Clipper across the street.

I was also amused by a listicle called “The Least-Awful Clubstaurants in Chicago,” about all the scene-y places I’d never be caught dead in (though I have, in fact, been to one, Tao):

The mutant mashup of a nightclub and restaurant serves a very specific purpose—an educational opportunity about sparkler varietals and places to perfect your untz-untz-ing. If you accept that clubstaurants are not about great food or impeccable service, they can be fun places for your next birthday or bachelorette party. Sure, they’re all sort of awful. But the ones on this guide have at least one redeeming quality. Here are Chicago’s least-awful clubstaurants.

Yeah, I won’t be going to any of those. But it’s fun to read them making fun of glitzy places that pack them in—they’re just the publication to do it.


The Tribune:

With origins potentially dating back thousands of years, Chinese hot pot is at its core a “communal” food, according to Jeff Mao, who wrote the book “Essential Chinese Hot Pot Cookbook.” It’s not a single dish, rather an “occasion” and a “way of cooking,” similar to American barbecue, Mao said. Chicago’s hot pot restaurants serve regional variations of the meal, while valuing its communal nature, attracting hot pot novices and lovers alike.

Yeah, that’s what I’m not wild about—that it’s kind of an uninteresting, not to mention labor-intensive meal, if your fellow diners are your kids, so you wind up doing everything yourself. Anyway, if somehow you have a way to get eight people together for boiling broth and cold things to drop in it and fish out again, communally, read their suggestions for ones to check out; it’s certainly a hot way to eat.


Meanwhile, speaking of hot broth, Titus Ruscitti went to Akahoshi Ramen:

It seems like everything from the spacing to the lighting to the eye catching open kitchen setup was given much consideration. The menu is small with a selection of four different styles of ramen ranging from shoyu to a soupless Aburasoba selection. With my first visit being the first time I ever got try [owner] Mike [Satinover]’s ramen I decided to go with the namesake bowl. The Akahoshi Miso is described as a “blend of misos, homemade crinkly Sapporo-style noodles, and plenty of lard topped with beansprouts, green onions, menma bamboo shoots, pork chashu.” It’s the style of ramen Mike fell in love with while studying abroad in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido is where miso ramen first originated.

Last week I also mentioned the piece on the best shawarma which he’d done for Chicago mag, but had not been posted online yet. It’s here.


Chicago food chat site LTHForum will mark twenty years on May 27, but my fellow co-founder David Hammond kicks things off by reminiscing at NewCity:

This was a wonderful time: meeting like-minded people, learning from them, and sharing meals all over the city at places that weren’t represented in major food media. We had a cause, a platform, and a hunger for new flavors and as-yet-unexamined culinary traditions. We “discovered” new restaurants, whole new food traditions, but most importantly, we discovered each other, people who shared our enthusiasm for food and who would gladly chat online for hours daily. As one guy said at the end of the Westernathon, “I have found my tribe.”

We all did.

That was indeed what was wonderful about LTH in those early days, but Hammond hints at what followed in a note at the end:

Editor’s note: names of specific individuals have been largely left out of this story to ensure we don’t omit (and thus offend) any one person, and no one individual is as important as the community that grew together as a result of LTHForum. com and, in the process, made Chicago a better place to eat.

Once there was a little prestige and publicity to be had, the competition for attention could turn ugly; I said my more or less final words on LTH at the ten-year mark. A lot of years and even more history between then and now, too long ago to write more.

But I will tell you how I chose to deal with it in my book—and yes, it does matter enough to be included in a section on how food media changed in the 2000s. I wasn’t sure how to tell a story I was involved in—I considered cheekily interviewing myself, but ultimately decided that I’m sick of my own opinions on the topic; I wanted other peoples’. So I picked some interviewees to cover aspects of the experience I hadn’t really thought about before—like being a person of a different background (South Asian, or Filipina) and how welcoming or not you felt your experience was, especially when it came to your own heritage foods.

I’ll tell you another interesting discovery I made along the way. One of the reasons so many of us got involved with Chowhound and then started LTHForum was because we felt the mainstream reviewers of the day—the likes of Phil Vettel, Dennis Ray Wheaton, Pat Bruno, James Ward—who pretty much had the discussion of restaurants to themselves, were focused on upscale downtown and Lincoln Park restaurants, overlooking the ethnic neighborhoods. There was always a little coverage of the broader city—even at LTH we acknowledged that Monica Eng was an important figure who had preceded us—but not in those bylined reviewing quarters. In fact, as I’ve talked to people who wrote about food in the 70s and 80s, like Paula Camp (Vettel’s predecessor as reviewer), Carol Mighton Haddix and Pat Dailey, I’ve learned how committed they were to experiencing the whole city and leading their readers to it, whether they wanted to be led there or not. Here’s Haddix:

I always enjoyed trying to find the odd cuisine, which wasn’t always easy. Obviously there was Italian food everywhere, and pizza, and the Chicago classics. But I always enjoyed going out to places like Himalayan [Nepalese restaurant in a Niles strip mall]. We were trying to get a wide wide range of cuisines. Personally I like telling people about new things, new dishes, here’s what this is made out of. And how it tasted. There’s plenty of different neighborhoods and cuisines out there. I mean, it seems like Italian is never ending, right?

And here’s Camp:

I got more hate mail for sending people to Lem’s [BBQ stand on the black South Side] than I got for any other review I ever wrote. People didn’t want to know about it—I thought, egotistically I guess, that they needed to know about it… the idea that there is good food on the deep South Side, or that there is a Chicago rib tradition, and it’s worth knowing that that tradition exists and tastes a little different from Carson’s was, I think, worth doing.

That’s the Trib in the 80s sounding a lot like LTHers two decades later. In some ways I find it reassuring that we were not totally original—we were just reviving an old tradition for a new generation, and soon influential enough that some of us, like Hammond and myself would wind up freelancing for local publications like the Reader and Time Out, spreading the good word of food in Chicago.


Sandwich Tribunal tells about a pita-based sandwich from Egypt, hawawshi:

Hawawshi, an Egyptian street food, is a flatbread stuffed with a seasoned mixture of minced beef and/or lamb and baked. Many articles online claim that they were invented in Cairo in the early 1970s by an Egyptian butcher either named Mohamed al-Hawawshi or Ahmed el-Hawawsh. However, Travel Food Atlas points out that hawash may also be a word for “to stuff” in Egyptian Arabic. I have been unable to confirm this with Google Translate but similarly pronounced words like ashiya or ashana do have that meaning.


If I had to pick a chef whose influence was bigger than their reputation—well, Roland Liccioni for one. But another would be Sarah Stegner, whose restaurant is perhaps mainly known as a brunch place in Northbrook, and is thus often overlooked by city-dwellers, but whose influence as one of the key founders of/evangelists for the Green City Market is huge. She talks about all that with David Manilow.

UPDATE: Manilow will do an AMA on Reddit’s r/Chicagofood today at 2 pm.


It’s almost Passover. Yeah, I didn’t need Fooditor to tell me that, you say. But I can tell you this: Mindy Segal will have passover treats for sale, a flourless chocolate cake, and macaroons, dipped in Mindy’s housemade chocolate, Lait Extraordinaire. They’re on for pre-order by Wednesday; go here.


Here was a new one: started ordering a delivery pizza from one of my old favorites, but in addiion to knicking me $5 for delivery and another $5 for a tip, they also wanted to charge me an extra buck to “Support local businesses.” I’m sorry, I thought that was what ordering pizza did. I mean, a buck is nothing, if you upped the base price by a buck I’d never notice that, but it seems really off to want to stick me for an extra buck on a principle that my patronage is already doing something about. Be a restaurant, not a cause.


A few weeks ago I had a hard time getting out the door to try new places. But the weather gets nicer and like a cicada, I emerge:

I met a friend—a fellow LTHForum co-founder. no less—just over the Chicago border, in River Forest, to try a Thai place called Habrae, which has both Thai savory food and some desserts. The quality of ingredients was very high—nam tok, slices of seasoned beef, was as good as I’ve ever had—but dishes in bowls, like khao soi and kanom jeen, tended to be on the sweet  side and missing shrimp paste-y funk. So a mixed bag. As for desserts, I grabbed a couple to go, both involving coconut cream: I liked the pandan one but the best, for flavor and texture, was with black rice. So, a place that didn’t blow me away, but gets points for offering a familiar cuisine in a new way.

Some people abhor influencers on Instagram. I know why, but I follow several I think are just solid folks promoting cool places they find—much like we did two decades ago at LTH. Anyway, one such pointed me to a new Greek place called Yaya Ma’s, located at Sheffield and Clybourn and just open a month, in a location that used to be a pizza place (with a Faulds oven!, though I get the sense they’re not using it for their baking now). Anyway, it’s a nice little counter-service place making homemade Greek dishes and baked goods, which kind of reminds me of the homemade Italian at Munno; I talked with a guy who, I think, is not the owner, but his pal from his Greek hometown, who the owner brought over to help. He proved to be an enthusiastic advocate for the place and Greek food in general. Anyway, I ordered a small tray of moussaka, which was burnt a  little crispy around the edges, which I found charmingly homemade, and some little eggroll-shaped boreks with feta and spinach. It was all good there, and even better reheated the next day. I also bought a square of a kind of sponge cake soaked in orange liqueur (or something orange), which I quite enjoyed for breakfast over the next two days. Thanks, influencer whoever you were!