The nominees in the James Beard awards just came out. Chicago, which will be the host city again, got very few nominations. My feelings about that? Ennnhh… seems about right.

Here’s my theory in a nutshell. Foodie culture is everywhere now, probably mostly thanks to food TV. So from being something you found in only a few big cities—Chicago New York SF—it is now found in almost all mid-sized places.

The result of that is simply that we face more competition, from towns we never thought of for competition before. So some years we don’t get a chef on the Food & Wine best new chefs list, but Cincinatti or Indianapolis do. And this year… in the Best Chef Great Lakes category, traditionally a place where Chicago shut out other deserving cities by taking five out of five slots, we actually got smacked down 3-2 by Detroit. (Our two nominees are Diana Davila of Mi Tocaya, and Kasama’s owners Genie Kwon and Tim Flores.)

And why not? I went to Detroit summer before last, and it felt a lot like Chicago in the 90s—a lot of young people opening smallish, inventive restaurants in transitioning neighborhoods. That feels creative, especially next to the expensive monoliths Chicago seems to be mainly opening, which are hard to get excited by. (And which all the out of town food media will visit exclusively when they’re in town for the Beards, and then declare that Chicago is over.)

In other categories, Obelix is among the ten nominees for Best New Restaurant. Sepia received a nomination for Outstanding Hospitality—although it’s a past wine program nominee, this is its first in this category; and Damarr Brown of Virtue, another learned-from-food-TV name, is among the nominees for Emerging Chef. Given the big implosion that the Beards went through a few years ago over #BeardsSoWhite, it’s worth noting, and not surprising, that four out of five in this category are African-American. (Maybe someday, Asians will start doing interesting things with food, and get similar recognition.)

So, a decent list, nothing terribly surprising, nothing outrageously off. Maybe the parties will be good.


Grimod sets out to review the new omakase offering within Lettuce’s Sushi-San, The Omakase Room at Sushi-San—which I’m definitely more curious about now that John Kessler named it to this year’s best new restaurants list—by way of a well-informed history of omakase and sushi in New York and Chicago over the last few years:

Japonais, you suppose, had its heyday as “one of Chicago’s most hip dining destinations”: opening under chefs Jun Ichiwaka and Gene Kato in 2003 before bringing on Masaharu Morimoto in 2013 and closing in 2015 amid an eviction lawsuit. While the restaurant’s Las Vegas offshoot would last from 2007-2017, the New York location only survived from 2006-2011 after being branded a “big-box” “Nobu knock-off” and being saddled with a one-star review from The New York Times. In its time, Japonais unabashedly occupied the “fusion” genre that has today become anathema to tastemakers and critics. Slinging spring rolls, burgers, teriyaki, tempura, and filet mignon (cooked on a hot stone) helped comfort skeptics who, otherwise, would never set foot within a dedicated sushi concept. Thus, the restaurant helped introduce locals to forms like nigiri through mere exposure if nothing else. The association between raw fish and a sprawling, sexy venue filled with fashionable people had been constructed. These are the baby steps a dining scene must take to cultivate taste in new categories and eventually support more specialized concepts.

Incidentally, to answer one of his questions as his lengthy piece answers many of mine (he’s addressing himself):

Frankly, you have never visited Sushi Suite 202, Nobu Chicago, or KŌMO and will refrain from speculating as to their quality.

Sushi Suite 202 was quite good for the reasonable price; I enjoyed both it and Sushi by Bou for what they were, casual sushi spots from which I left happy. I accompanied John Kessler when he did a head to head comparison of several sushi a la carte spots, and we both agreed Nobu was the most expensive and one of the least impressive (also, the most annoying crowd). KOMO? I dunno.


I’d already gone there for a media preview, but I made another reservation for Valhalla when I heard John Kessler expressing his pleasure with it—I suspected a Chicago mag best new restaurants mention was in the offing. (It came in at #2.) Another reason to try to get in soon—Nick Kindelsperger in the Trib. Though he starts by warning certain customers away:

Fair warning: Do not visit if you demand a serene evening in a room of neutral colors and hushed conversations. At Valhalla, you’ll undoubtedly need to lean in to hear your dining partners and politely ask the waitstaff to repeat themselves if more than a few feet away.

That’s life in Time Out Market. Anyway, the food is what matters:

Valhalla is Stephen Gillanders’ biggest statement yet, the one where his mercurial ingredient combinations hit the hardest and surprise the most. The kombu-cured fluke is one of the most visually stunning dishes I’ve encountered as a restaurant critic. Gillanders ages the fluke for a few days to soften the texture, pairs it with funky fish sauce and creamy pine nuts, and then lightens the flavor with tart green apple cut into crunchy matchsticks. This is a very early entry for the best dish of 2023.


One of the city’s few Afghan restaurants used to be called The Helmand, in Boystown, which was, believe it or not, run by the brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Minus the “the,” it’s now true again that one of the few Afghan restaurants has that name, though the new Helmand in Albany Park is no relation. Mike Sula on it:

[Chef-owner Wahid Tanha] unskewers the lamb on a thin bed of lavash plated next to an enormous mountain of long-grain basmati rice studded with raisins and slivered carrots. Because the decadence and luxury of the fat are fleeting, you’ll want to pinch them up between folds of the flatbread, maybe swipe them through some mint-flecked yogurt or cilantro-mint chutney, and gobble them down before attending to the rice—the cumin-and-cardamom-scented national dish of Afghanistan known as kabuli pulao.


Michael Nagrant writes a love letter to Giuseppe Tentori’s clam chowder at GT Fish & Oyster, which began as staff meal at Charlie Trotter:

The Trotter’s family meal chowder wasn’t a deconstruction. It was a rustic creamy broth, with one twist: because the restaurant had a rich larder, the stock or soup could be spiked with crab, oysters, or bass.

“It was clam chowder on steroids. We only did it in the winter when it was cold. I just remember that five minutes of relaxation, sipping it from a deli cup. That clam chowder was the only break during a long shift,” said Tentori.

He also made a visit to The Graceful Ordinary, Chris Curren’s place in St. Charles. I agree with Nagrant that Curren is one of the top talents of his era (what era is that? chefs who came up in the early 2000s I guess) who’s never quite gotten his break, but I suspect making crowds happy in a prosperous suburb is it:

I knew about Curren’s talents. It is ultimately why I drove for an hour in Friday rush hour traffic from the city to eat here. Though he wasn’t regularly celebrated in the national magazines, I always believed, especially through his work at Blue 13 that he is one of Chicago’s better chefs.

But I didn’t know about Curren’s current team, which includes the vigilant fifteen-year-old in question. Which is to say, the kid is operating at a Michelin-starred captain-level, laser-focused on half empty water glasses to be filled and empty plates to be whisked away with the intensity of a Hunger Games contestant. In the two hours I eat, a phone is never removed from a pocket. There is no errant scrolling of social media or distracted laughter or moments of pause with co-workers.


And if anyone gets that song reference, I’ll buy them a cup of joe. Anyway, Titus Ruscitti does a nice roundup on Japanese places out toward Mitsuwa, including Kurumaya (which I wrote about for the Reader years ago, but alas, the photos of the charming illustrations by the chef of his food no longer exist there):

Kurumaya is one of a handful of spots I always consider when I’m out here and want something to eat. It’s not really an izakaya nor a sushi-ya but it is something in between the two of those. I’d describe it as an honest to goodness Japanese restaurant. The type of place you’ll typically find in an area where there’s lots of Japanese people. Kurumaya does a lunch and a dinner service with the former being a bit more limited than the latter. I typically come for lunch because I’m rarely out here in the evening so my go-to order during lunch is their shrimp tempura set. It’s a near perfect rendition of the Japanese classic with both the shrimp and vegetables being skillfully fried with a terrific Tentsuyu (tempura dipping sauce) served on the side.

He also visited Pompette in Bucktown:

Happy Hour in Chicago is lacking to say the least but Pompette has a serviceable menu that can be enjoyed at their bar. They offer a couple different drafts at $5/each and certain glasses of wine plus a selection of cocktails for $10 a piece. The menu also has a section of snacks in the $5-$15 range. A bowl of olives mixed with Manchego cheese is a nice pairing for whatever you choose to sip on.

And he checks out a relatively recent Vietnamese restaurant on Argyle, Danang Kitchen:

Pay attention to the daily specials board hanging over the cash register inside (they also update their Instagram at times). Bang Bang Chicken was listed on a recent visit and if not for my friend asking our young waiter what that was I would likely still be unfamiliar with this dish that I had just assumed was similar to Bang Bang Shrimp (a popular dish at corporate type spots). But as I learned from the waiters description Bang Bang Chicken or Xoi Man as it’s called in Vietnam starts with a big pile of sticky rice that’s topped with shredded chicken, Viet jerky, crispy onions, sliced omelet, and a semi funky fish sauce plus cilantro. You mix it all up and dig in and that we did. One of the best things I’ve ate of late.


Polish food is one of those things where, when you find a place you like, you stick with it, because how different does it get, anyway? So I went to Smakosz once, and I liked the Polish food in a Vegas lounge feel well enough (but haven’t had a need to race back). Steve Dolinsky visits it this week:

The cooks are sort of an extended family at Smakosz, a cozy, casual Jefferson Park restaurant that quietly makes some of the best homemade Polish food in the city. Rather than Krakow or Warsaw roots, the recipes come from a town between those two, on the Eastern edge of Poland.

“Lublin, we eat a lot of pierogies. A lot of beans, potatoes,” said Renata Kaminska, owner of Smakosz.

And he sampled good-looking pies at a new place in Edgewater called Honeypie.


At NewCity, a song to pasties in the U.P.:

From Escanaba to Marquette, Ironwood to Iron Mountain, pasty sightings are a common occurrence in the UP, as ubiquitous as Sasquatch cutouts or Dollar General stores. It’s rare that a particular dish can be so strongly identified with a specific region, but up north in Michigan, pasties reign.


There was a time when the new menu at Next, say, would be documented plate by plate—too much for me; I certainly started cutting back in my own coverage to preserve some element of surprise. Now you don’t know what’s going on at some of these places you hear about. But Fooditor contributor Amber Gibson tells us and shows us the latest menu at Esme—without exhausting us or our interest in the meal. It’s Latin American themed, inspired by co-owner Katrina Bravo’s heritage.


At the Infatuation, John Ringor liked the Filipino Boonie’s as a Revival Hall stall, and even more as a sitdown restaurant:

The beloved spicy and citrusy sisig makes a triumphant return as a starter on the panimula section, served piping hot with a fresh egg. The inihaw portion has grilled bites like the sugpo—tender Skull Island prawn covered in an umami-loaded bagoong butter that complements the sweetness of the meat. And then there’s the sinigang: pieces of trout in a tamarind and burnt tomato broth that’s perfect for drizzling over the rice, which comes with all the larger ulam dishes.


Here’s one right up my alley—at WTTW, a piece on historical Chicago women in food. Several of them are among those I’ve been dealing with in my book, like Nancy Goldberg, who had Maxim’s from the 60s through the 80s, Carolyn Buster Welbon, whose French restaurant The Cottage in rough-and-tumble Calumet City was a romantic getaway in an unlikely location (she’s deceased, but I interviewed her ex-husband, Gerry Buster), and Abby Mandel, founder of the Green City Market. Only one on the list is still around—Jackie Shen—though I’d have included on a list one they interviewed as a source, ex-Trib food section editor Carol Mighton Haddix. (And probably Penny Pollack while I was at it. And…)

The Trib takes a different approach to the inevitable women’s history month piece, looking at the women who inspired the names of places like Milly’s Pizza in the Pan and Dear Margaret.


Following the discovery of a heretofore unknown-to-Chicagoans item called tavern cut pizza by the New York Times recently, Esquire steps in to inform us more of this wonder of our age, as described by noted experts in tavern cut centers like… Brooklyn:

“I think it’s lighter to eat,” says Greg Baxtrom who recently started serving the thin pies at his restaurant and bakery Patti Ann’s in Prospect Heights, New York. “Nothing against doughier deep dish—they have their place. It’s just super heavy and super filling, and they don’t make great leftovers,” says Baxtrom, who grew up in a small town just outside of Chicago.

Okay, I’m being mean. I can’t find out which small town it was (Wikipedia just says he was born in Chicago), but he went to Kendall and worked at Alinea, so he counts as a tavern cut-eating Chicagoan. And he doesn’t use the word “casserole” once! Anyway, the article continues with a list of notable tavern cut pizza places—like D.L. Mack’s in Dallas and TRUSS in Napa Valley:

…where there’s ethereally thin Chicago tavern style pizzas topped with the bounty of The Bay with things like maitake mushrooms and crispy kale or sausage with feta and arugula…

Oh for criminy’s sake. There’s eggs and lots of frisee greens on this thing—you know, just like at Fat Tony’s in Palos Dells. There are two actual Chicago pizzas on the list—can you guess them? I seriously think you can—assume that one is whatever they’ve read about lately, and the other one is whatever is old school but famous. Write it on your card and please place it face down. Ready? The first one is… yes, Kim’s Uncle Pizza in Westmont, and the other one is, of course, Vito & Nick’s.

Speaking of the former, Friend of Fooditor Chris Chacko just tweeted a report on the wait times at Kim’s Uncle Pizza:

Expect 3 hour pickup waits during the weekends & 1.5 hours on weekdays…not because it’s small but because the phones won’t stop ringing.

Nice picture of the Faulds oven. Anyway, that news, which pushes my first visit to Kim’s back to 2026, leads me to remind you that if you want a real Chicago tavern cut pizza in roughly that part of the world, Chester’s in Summit has reopened, and I’m betting that even with Fooditor publicity, it is not a three-hour wait, plus they serve beer.


Joiners Pod has Rob Levitt on to talk meat.

Chewing talks to Italian beef honcho Chris Pacelli Jr., of a little place called Al’s.

John Carruthers, who I wrote about back in ManBQue days but is now known for his fundraising Crust Fund Pizza, was a chef contestant on Chopped. I never watch anything live, so to judge by how long it took me to watch The X-Files or The Sopranos, I’ll find out how he did around 2026, right alongside that visit to Kim’s Uncle Pizza. But you can get an idea sooner—he answered questions on Twitter here, and at first I thought he was on Car Con Carne to talk about it but that was just James Van Osdol congratulating him and linking to a 2021 episode. But hey, if you haven’t heard it, it’s new to you!


My wife had a need to meet with a Florida colleague, I was feeling cooped up in winter, Jack Nicholson-style, so we went to Palm Beach for a five-day weekend. By luck Titus Ruscitti had just published this South Florida post, so I used that as my basic guide for where to eat.

Palm Beach is, of course, rich and reasonably pretty, but not all that interesting to me—the coolest thing was this vintage theater, designed by Joseph Urban, who also worked on a little place down the coast called Mar-a-Lago. (Had a nice coffee place in it, too, called Chik-Monk.) Anyway, a couple of times we walked downtown, first to dine at one of Titus’ rare upscale recommendations, Buccan. It was jam-packed with guys in golf clothing and ladies who like Stevie Nicks a LOT, but we nevertheless got a small table and had a very nice modern American meal like you’d have anywhere—one main course was, in fact, a dish of sweet corn agnolotti, which I’ve had at Daisies in Chicago many times. Anyway, on the way to it we saw a French restaurant called La Goulue; French food in Florida-wise, Titus had expressed displeasure with a Daniel Boulud spot nearby, but I had more hopes for this place, which has been around since the 1970s and just gave off a pleasing neighborhood bistro vibe. It was heavy on old school French, so we went all old school and had cold vichyssoise, tarte flambee Alsacienne, Dover sole and crepes suzette for dessert, all the things that would have been offered at the 70s French places I’ve been writing about for my book. It was quite wonderful (if also, unsurprisingly, quite expensive).

Nevertheless, add in the Italian coffee place (Sant Ambroeus) we hit a couple of mornings and a solid New York deli we went to one day for lunch (TooJay’s), and Palm Beach seems to be in denial that it’s actually in Florida. For that we went north to Juno Beach and Titus’s recommendation of a place serving fish brought to it daily by local fishermen, Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill. It’s nothing fancy—think Wisconsin supper club, except with fish—but serving a full house on Saturday night, it worked like a well-oiled machine, sauteed grouper, grilled ono, an app of fried green tomatoes, Key lime pie to finish. Unpretentious, warm and welcoming even on a busy night, it was perfect. We also crossed the bridge to West Palm Beach for his recommendation of a 24-hour Cuban sandwich place, Havana Cafe, which was a lively scene and a solid lunch choice, even if I admit that the difference between a great Cuban sandwich and a merely pretty good one kind of eludes me.

One more place to note: my wife’s meeting was in Fort Lauderdale so I figured I would hit a tourist destination—the early 20th century-artsy Bonnet House, built by rich winter escapees from Chicago—and then read a book by the beach. But I saw there was a Florida branch of Pittsburgh’s Primanti Bros., a famed Italian sandwich shop. I had tried it once in Pittsburgh, wasn’t wowed, but figured I couldn’t pass it up when it was unexpectedly this close. Okay, having tried it twice now, it’s—well, I won’t say it’s the only mediocre place I’ve been to with an outsized reputation, because I live where Billy Goat Tavern exists, but heat some meat and cheese on the griddle, shove it inside white bread with some cold, vinegary slaw and then—this is the famous part—some French fries straight from the fryer. It’s like three different sandwiches collided on the highway on a rainy night, and the hunk of starchy fried potato in the middle of a sandwich just does not do anything for me, even if Cuban steak sandwiches are accompanied by crispy potato sticks, and that works. When it was too late I was given an Italian sandwich suggestion by another friend, and next time, I’ll take it!

*  *  *

Before we left Chicago I went to Daisy’s Po-Boy and Tavern—I needed a picture for last week’s interview with John Kessler and that seemed the easiest and tastiest way to get one—and as you probably know, it’s quite wonderful, would hold its own in New Orleans, both a po’ boy with precisely fried shrimp and a muffaletta which to my mind was better than the original at Central Grocery. Oh, and a really good bowl of red beans and rice. The only problem is it will make it hard for me to try new things in Hyde Park when I shlep that far—how can I pass up a chance to go to Daisy’s to try an unknown quantity?

And I was invited as a guest to a dinner noting the launch of Aldo Zaninotto’s new restaurant group, occasioned by the arrival of new young staff—Osteria Langhe chef Cameron Grant has left, burned out on the restaurant biz, Aldo says, and so a new chef named Michael Lanzerotte is in charge as culinary director for the group, continuing the Piemonte regional menu with new dishes of his own. Gnocchi balls stuffed with robiola cheese, a veal tournedo surrounded, Wellington-style with a regional sausage called “bra,”—add in wine pairings by Aldo and beverage director Ashley Akers and it was a most civilized evening. Osteria Langhe hits its tenth anniversary next year, and you would be well advised to check it out—much has not changed; when I asked Aldo if he still had the plin (the little gnocchi-like pasta that Langhe was initially famous for) he said “Of course! We can’t get rid of the plin—it would be rioting, like in France.”