I can’t absolutely swear to this, but I’m pretty sure the last time I had a chicken caesar wrap was in a meeting at the dot-com I worked for circa 1999. I don’t object to them—actually the tartness of the dressing and the crunch of the romaine lettuce makes it more appealing than a lot of chicken or turkey wraps, which are pure soggy blandness (or at least that’s how I remember them)—but like a lot of people, I was baffled as to why Nick Kindelsperger was eating them by the carload (per his Instagram) to find the best.

Turns out the kids are into them these days:

Why on earth is everyone eating chicken Caesar wraps?

That’s the question I blurt out while flipping through TikTok and encountering an endless succession of 20-somethings declaring their love for bulging, sauce-drenched chicken Caesar wraps.

Well, I’m tempted to respond in classic parent form (“If your friends said to jump off a cliff, would you do that too?”), and the person who apparently started it (one Ellie Grinter) did so as a joke, meaning she thought it was a ridiculous thing to make a viral sensation out of, but Nick digs into a case for the better ones:

This got me thinking: Is there such a thing as a great chicken Caesar salad wrap? When I asked Ellie Grinter, she said it’s easier to point out the attributes of a bad one. “Dry chicken, not enough dressing, if the wrap isn’t pressed, or if it doesn’t have croutons,” Grinter said. “A lot of people don’t put croutons in.”

Here’s the interesting thing: one of Nick’s five picks is from my neighorhood (Village Tap) and another is from a place that started in my neighborhood but soon moved downtown (Nohea Cafe). So evidently I’ve been living in the chicken caesar wrap capitol of Chicago all along.

Still doesn’t make me want my first one since the 20th century…


Eater has a piece on something they saw on Reddit—a spreadsheet, crowd-assembled, on what fees restaurants are tacking on these days:

The Chicago spreadsheet itself is a growing mess of more than 100 restaurants with tallying fees between 2.5 percent and 25 percent. There’s a note about the 25 percent outlier, which is charged by Daisies in Logan Square: “Daisies does not make their 25 percent surcharge obvious. If my father wasn’t a receipt analyzer, the rest of us, after having enjoyed lots of wine, may have very easily added standard gratuity. Shameful. Delicious, but shameful.”

Despite the Redditor’s claim, Daisies is fairly upfront: it uses a pop-up window that greets customers as soon as they log onto its website and fills the screen while explaining the fee is issued for “equitable pay and benefits” and the tipping isn’t expected. The explanation is also written on their menus.

​​The sheet also doesn’t distinguish between fees assessed for credit card transactions or money that (allegedly) would go toward employee health insurance. Independent restaurants and groups like Lettuce Entertain YouEnterprises aren’t separated either. Lettuce has been a target for diners angry about service fees as Chicago’s largest restaurant company added the fee to offset costs associated with the pandemic. As Illinois restored indoor dining, the 3 percent fee has remained.

My first instinct was that this was just whining; pay the damn fee and be happy you’re prosperous enough to eat out. Then I went and looked at the Reddit-compiled spreadsheet and something immediately struck me: the fees are wildly inconsistent. As in, not only how much, but what it’s for and who keeps it. Many of them charge a 3% surcharge, attributed to rising costs, which seems to be the thing that is coming closest to being standard. (When will costs not rise?) But others tack on charges of varying size, which may or may not be in lieu of a tip, and may or may not make it easy to know that you’ve already paid a service surcharge and don’t need to tip more. And some make it very difficult to get a charge removed from your bill—even if, say, it’s a credit card fee and you’re paying in cash. Occasionally the Redditors catch a place out: “Bartender confirmed charge does not go to staff, it’s just an additional fee the restaurant collects,” the entry for Logan Square’s Saba says. I also like the place (Sifr) that tacks on a “4% culinary charge”— a charge for food? I thought that’s what the menu prices covered! Maybe it goes to the Human Fund.

Well, that’s the sound of goodwill evaporating quickly. I won’t be surprised if we soon find government, which forced some of these things (for instance, restaurants who want to charge to help cover health care had to make it a separate item because there are legal restrictions on where tip money can go), stepping in to limit the ability to tack on extra charges for the things you think you’re already paying for. These solutions are because of real issues in the restaurant industry—but at this rate they’re likely to create issues of their own.


John Kessler’s review calls Warlord “the city’s most exciting new place to eat”:

We lucked into a corner table in the no-reservations dining room, adjusted to the soft-glow lighting and soundtrack of old rock standards, and ordered a meal of shared plates with zero spiel from our server. They were simple and deftly seasoned dishes that pulled us in and made us pay attention. It was “Oh wow, try this” over and over. There was a bowl of raw and pan-wilted arrowhead spinach that was mineral and buttery, with a tense shot of vinegar. There was a chunk of grilled pork shoulder that had spent a month in the dry-aging fridge (a focal point of the dining room), leaving the fat as dense as the meat, so fun to cut and swipe through its sauce of beets and butter. What a joy. There was no parsing of 14 ingredients in the dish, no shout-out to Chef’s grandmother or lacto-fermentation. Without any metanarrative coming between us and the food, the only story being told was one of flavor.

If the angle on the shot of co-chef Trevor Fleming were a little wider, you’d see me at left—Chicago mag was shooting the night I went. Though I’d settle for, not 14, but at least one more ingredient to our dishes—it was a very meat-focused meal strikingly short of vegetables… at the height of growing season. So that’s where I find it a not-quite-mature restaurant, saying “oh wow try this” but less “eat your vegetables”…


At dinner the other night a friend mentioned an article about a guy trying to eat his way alphabetically through the world. My response was, “Sounds like me in 2006!”

Since January, [Cam Brenson] has been posting videos of himself on TikTok eating those meals. He uses the tag @Bored_in_Chicago, though considering the work and prickly issues he must navigate to accomplish his goal, he may be the least bored person in the city.

His videos, which are posted alphabetically by nation and only now moving into the F’s, have drawn an average of 100,000 viewers per post. What started as a personal project has become decidedly public.

Well, at least we know how to get into the Trib food section these days: put whatever you’re doing on TikTok.


I was in Toronto recently, and one of the more striking things was that the Chinatown in the city, which had seemed pretty moribund a decade ago (replaced by a suburban explosion of Chinese businesses) is revitalized. Admittedly, instead of Chinese food it might be the place to go for coffee or falafel now, but it’s lively—and I remember seeing two jianbing (the Chinese burrito-meets-crepe thing) spots in short order. Well, jianbing keeps establishing a foothold here too, and at the moment we have at least two, Monkey King Jianbing in Chinatown, and a second one ironically calling itself the first jianbing house in Chicago, Jian, in the French market, as Dennis Lee writes:

I’ve got to say, jianbing might actually be the perfect snack, especially if you’ve got some time to kill before your train arrives. The original pancake is studded with green onions and black sesame seeds, and is filled with an egg (popped and fried hard), lettuce, a sweet soy-based sauce, and an incredibly crisp and flaky fried wonton wrapper.

The fried wonton is one of the most attractive aspects about the jianbing, because it provides an irresistibly crisp element to each bite. This is going to sound stupid, but I’d liken the whole thing to a Chinese Crunchwrap Supreme. (Step off, Crunchwraps are amazing.)

I don’t actually know what a Crunchwrap Supreme is, but as the piece goes on to reveal, you can get fries with that.


Michael Nagrant checks out Dusek’s under its newest chef, Ryan Pfeiffer, ex of Blackbird:

The next dish that rocks my world, mussels bathing in ramp relish and avocado foam-spiked pork consommé seems to have no country of origin. Maybe it’s vaguely Spanish, but it feels like the ideal savory sundae created for a dude with a handlebar mustache and an Alden boots collection (Horween leather variants only baby). This might feel like a knock, but it’s not. Rather my olfactory is so calmed by the smoke and musk, this dish invokes the kind of dude with good taste I’d always wanted to be, but likely never will.


Meanwhile, not on TikTok (but sounds like it could be), the Reader tells about a YouTube show which invites bands on to cook:

At the release show for Cut Your Losses’ self-titled debut Reflections of Ghosts at Schubas Tavern this past spring, local podcast producer and DIY chef King only had a few minutes to talk with acoustic punk artist Joe Costa, professionally known as Tourist Season, and rising punk band Shotgun Funeral before the music started.

King’s objective: finalize what both artists would be making on his online cooking and interview show, Deglazed.

“I had a conversation with Syd [Sargis] and everyone from Shotgun Funeral, and they all said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to make chicken and waffles,’” King says.


Amy Cavanaugh asks Richard Hanauer, wine director of the new wine-focused Lettuce spot, Oakville Grill and Cellar, for wines to go with a few of chef Max Robins’ dishes.


Steve Dolinsky has a perfect summer storysoft-serve ice cream spots, from all around the world:

Soft serve is lighter and creamier than ice cream, which tends to be richer and denser with a higher fat content. Also, frozen custard contains egg yolks, so you can’t compare the two.

The problem I had with some legendary spots was the soft serve just had a very artificial sweetness, with a texture that was, um, lacking. These five all not only taste great, but the first two also offer vegan options.


Friend of Fooditor Cynthia Clampitt has a piece at NewCity on Michael Lachowicz and his classic, Banchet-trained French cuisine at George Trois:

Spend some time talking to Chef Michael Lachowicz, and the word “grateful” pops up a lot. He is grateful for his family. He is grateful that he gets to cook the French food that he loves. He is grateful for good friends and business partners. And he is grateful for thirteen years of recovery. Tales of drugs and alcohol are not uncommon in the culinary world, but Lachowicz is grateful that for him it is in the past, and grateful for lessons learned. “More of my choices are good now. I’m better at taking suggestions. I focus on doing the next right thing, so I can stay on this path. And I’m grateful for what I have.”


A piece at Resy starts out as the sort of piece you would have seen on Mi Tocaya Antojeria five years ago, treating it and chef Diana Davila as a wonder for being a woman cooking Mexican, while burying the real lede, which is a frank discussion of surviving COVID:

…we didn’t get the Restaurant Revitalization Fund money which would have helped us tremendously. Yeah, we kind of have a chip on our shoulders about that one because we felt like the relief fund was tailor-made for a business like ours. When we didn’t get it and then we saw all the names that did, and some of them are friends, so it’s nothing against them personally — I don’t mean it that way at all, it was just really aggravating and it hurt. We probably wouldn’t be in the financial position that we’re in right now if we would have gotten that money. But I don’t want to paint the picture like we’re going to close, however, we are just barely breaking even because of how difficult operating is right now. That definitely was not where we thought we were gonna be at this point.


I just talked (for my book) with Jim Graziano about what Randolph Street was like before Jerry Kleiner’s hip restaurants took it over, and how it has gone through multiple cycles of revival. So very good timing, personally, for Dominic Lynch writing an obituary for the street in its current manifestation, where Allbirds has taken over the Marché/Nellcote space:

Outside the old guard, and a few respectable newcomers (Ever, Rose Mary, El Che), the West Loop is now dominated by vacuous restaurants signifying nothing: Hide+Seek, Gino & Marty’s, Lyra, Nisos (closed and rebranded as Nisos Prime — but it’s not a steakhouse!), Bodega Taqueria y Tequila, Texan Taco Bar, Nights & Weekends, to name a few. Formerly vacant storefronts on Randolph are thankfully filled, but mostly by chains like Velvet Taco, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Levain, and even a Taco Bell Cantina. The food is mediocre if not outright bad, the clientele is interested in vibes, not actually creative food; everything is rote, boring, and bland. But the presentation is flashy and optimized for social media so the newcomers keep going.

The West Loop has been cannibalized by its own success. The palpable excitement that permeated the neighborhood pre-Covid has been replaced with mediocrity. Blackbird died for this.

Will it come back? Hard to see how when deep-pocketed chains have taken much of it over and are unlikely to be dislodged, though one has to remember—when Girl & the Goat started the most recent wave, Kevin Boehm feared that the street was dead, never to return to its Kleiner heyday. Yet all it took was one imaginative, catchy Chicago restaurant.


Joiners podcast talks to a man with a podcast, David Manilow.

Meanwhile, Manilow talks with Zach Engel of Galit about his plans for the space next door.


Another top ten Italian beef list—who cares? Well, this one is kind of fun—one, it’s on Instagram so juicy beef pictures throughout, two, it has some oddball choices so far (Phodega?), and three, as the “so far” suggests, he’s rolling them out every day or two—and as I write this, he’s only up to #3, meaning the big question (Al’s or Johnnie’s for #1?) remains to be answered. The account is Jimbo Dreams of Beefs, and the list starts here.


Louisa Chu pays tribute to Seven Treasures, an old school Chinatown spot closing this month. The closing is a portent, she says:

While Chicago’s Chinatown has been cited [by the Tribune] as booming while others across the country fade, many of the biggest new businesses are global brands, with a number of notable hot pot restaurants among them. Haidilao Hot Pot, Shoo Loong Kan Hotpot and Qiao Lin Hotpot have all opened in just the past few years.

It will be replaced by, can you guess? A hot pot spot.


That’s basically the theme of Sandwich Tribunal’s Jim Behymer’s attempts to make cheese toast, an after-school snack for his generation, done up like a grownup who buys good bread and shops in Indian markets and so on:

Adolescent Jim would not have liked it. Too many crunchy vegetables, too spicy, didn’t want onions, didn’t want tomatoes, didn’t particularly care for having different things mixed together at all. But Adult Jim recognizes the validity of the bold claim Vir Sanghvi started his Chilli Cheese Toast article with: “..the greatest cooked bread-and-cheese combination was invented in Mumbai.”


I feel like all I’ve written about lately in this section is upscale dining, and so I resolved in the last couple of weeks to try and write about more mom and pops and other small-scale places. (Which kind of lasted until I got felled by a summer cold.) Anyway, a few, with one standout:

The standout is Helmand, the new Afghan restaurant located in an old Noon-O-Kebab location on Kedzie. I’ve had Afghan food at a number of places over the years (had to start my alphabetical dining somewhere) and it’s always been fine, but didn’t make me immediately race for more. This might be the first Afghan place that really wowed me—rustic, homemade food that nevertheless hit a high standard of tastiness, from two different types of mantu or dumplings, with meat or vegetable fillings, and a couple of different kinds of skewers with ground beef or chicken, all of which were very nicely seasoned and grilled with lots of smoky flavor (no one, Mike Sula included in this piece well worth reading or rereading, has said precisely how they cook here, but I suspect there’s some kind of charcoal grill setup in back). This is a real mom and pop—a teenaged boy (who instantly made me think of the Grand Budapest Hotel’s lobby boy) took our orders, and the whole family seemed to be sitting down for dinner at the other end of the room. But besides us and the family, it wasn’t that busy on a weekday night—so do yourself and some hardworking immigrants a solid and go check it out, for a meal whose deep-flavor-to-cheap-prices ratio is among the best in town.

When my summer cold hit, I decided a hot bowl of ramen would be just the thing—so I looked up a few of the new-ish ramen places and ordered some to be delivered from the only one open for lunch delivery then, Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya, a chain that has two locations within delivery distance of me, one in Lincoln Park and one in Wicker Park. Pretty close, but it was still kind of lukewarm when it got to me—but more to the point, it was all right but nothing that special, the same thickly porky ramen with Sun noodles I’ve had many times over the years. Nothing wrong with it, but what would have stood out in 2014 seems pretty middle of the pack now.

One of the accounts I always look at on Instagram is Blackpeopleeats, which scouts out stuff on the south and west side mostly. Last week I decided to go try a few places I’d read about there. I went for soul food at Bronzeville Soul—there were some nice sides (the steamed cabbage, and though I’m no great fan of mac and cheese generally, their bechamel-heavy version was pretty tasty) but the main, baked chicken, was rubbery and belied the statement up front that it might take a while because things were made fresh; in fact it all seemed like typical steam table stuff, just served from behind the counter.

I planned to make it a two-fer and compare it to Cleo’s Southern Cooking, but they were closed for a wedding, so instead I went to Bell Heir’s BBQ in Canaryville, which has gotten a fair amount of media attention, perhaps because the owner worked for his brother’s Luella’s Southern Kitchen. Interestingly, though a barbecue spot, the attention seemed to mainly be on pizza (there are two pizza ovens visible there, including a Faulds oven, though I have no idea what kind of smoker they used); the bummer is that the only way to try their barbecue brisket (a rare item among black-owned barbecue spots) was to get it on a pizza or a burger. Since I was on my second lunch of the day, I stuck to an order of rib tips with a hot link, which were quite solid, though I don’t know that I’d hit pretty good Bell Heir’s when the perfection of Honey 1 is about a half mile to the north.