The story of the week, without question, is Mark Caro’s profile of Nick Kokonas, the Nea to Grant Achatz’s Ali, and in an industry where how you play the game of being a noted restaurant owner is pretty clearly defined, someone who takes great pleasure in doing it differently. Caro takes us through the well-known iconoclasms—he broke and rebuilt the model for reservations, he fought with another chef (Cat Cora) publicly, he turned buying khaki pants into an analytical exercise worthy of selecting bombing targets in WWII—and a few new ones, like the tale of the umbrellas (which makes perfect sense to me, since a very similar approach to keeping a flashlight in the kitchen hardware drawer has largely been forced on me by circumstances).

It’s well worth reading, though if there’s anywhere it does not seem to go all that much, it’s the restaurant industry itself. For me the unanswered question of Nick Kokonas is, where is Alinea Group going next? It started when he and Achatz were both in their mid-30s and trader Kokonas was dining at Trio once a week. The result was one of the most avant-garde restaurants in the world, Alinea. Now, a decade and a half later, the Group’s idea of new is a Wisconsin supper club. I’m not saying that opening a place devoted to your comfort food is a bad thing, but it does make you wonder if there’s a restaurant or other nightspot in their future that wows like Alinea and The Aviary did—or if Kokonas no longer thinks of restaurants as his truest playground for innovation.

Not, of course, that top restaurant partnerships like that ever go their separate ways…


“Let’s get one thing clear. Street tacos come from the street,” says Titus Ruscitti. “It irritates the heck out of me when restaurants describe their tacos as ‘street tacos’ when they’re being served from the comfort of a nice open air kitchen at $5 a piece.” What prompted this rant? It’s the intro to a piece on street tacos… really found from stands on the street, all over the city (but especially, not surprisingly, in south side Latino neighborhoods).

You may have seen some taco carts here and there—I’ve hit an El Torito cart on Clark south of Andersonville a few times—but this is an epic guide that catalogs more than a dozen individual stands which set up shop, mostly on weekends. Go through it and you’re going to be instantly entranced by prospects like Lucido’s, running a pastor trompo in their garage, or Pescadito where you can “watch the guy as he swirls around a bunch of fish that’s frying away in his comal shaped fryer.” Read it all and take notes for next weekend.


Pierogi in Glenview—that’s the story Ji Suk Yi has on the sunny Ewa’s Pierogi: “‘I wanted it to feel like at home because I’m here every day and I want to feel good,’ said [owner Ewa] Zapolsky, who speaks five languages. ‘We always have fresh flowers.’”


La Mom on Halsted isn’t quite new—it opened and closed once within Chinatown proper—but Mike Sula says visit the newer edition for a rare deep dive into Shanghainese food: “Some of the more compelling among these are wide bowls of savory braised-beef soup swimming with thick, pappardelle-like hand-shaved noodles, a great centerpiece for any meal here. Jerkylike slices of mock ‘smoked’ fish are marinated in five-spice powder, deep-fried, then marinated again in soy sauce, rice wine, and star anise until dyed a deep amber. There’s a ‘braised chopped meat ball’ some might recognize as Lion’s Head meatball, a soft, almost silky amalgamation of pork and tofu glazed in a glossy brown sauce. Just as familiar is La Mom’s Hong Sue Pork, jiggly chunks of red-lacquered hong shao rou, otherwise known as Chairman Mao’s Red-Braised Pork Belly, a name Chiang Kai-shek—hanging in portrait above the dining room—surely disapproves of.”


That was quick! Just last week Bon Appetit informed us all that Chicagoans actually eat thin crust pizza, and this week comes the backlash from the Tribune, standing up for the one true Chicago pizza, deep dish: “Yes, you’ll have a hard time spotting locals lining up for Pizzeria Uno on a Saturday night in River North, but who do you think eats at the half a hundred other pizzerias serving deep-dish around the city?” Russian bots, probably, but anyway, they provide some tips for getting the most from the most pizza you can have in one pizza, including ordering delivery uncut (to keep the crust from getting soaked through) and adding giardinera to your pizza, as you should to almost everything short of a Rainbow cone in Chicago.


I know when I think of Schaumburg, African food is… wait, there’s African food in Schaumburg? Yes there is, John Kessler says, introducing us to Bisi African Restaurant: “Whether this is your first experience with Nigerian food or you’re nostalgic for your mom’s cooking back in Lagos, you’ll appreciate the clean flavors of a meal at Bisi.”


Indian food is having a big year and Steve Dolinsky reports on two new spots: in the West Loop, Rooh, where the owners wanted to put Indian on equal footing with other cuisines, “‘So why not put Rooh on the map in Chicago where the good restaurants are.’” Then, near the CBOE, Chipotle-style Indian fast food at Tikka ‘n’ Curry.


Two of our favorite breakfasts, and breakfast people, are in the media this week.

Fooditor fave Five Loaves Eatery was on a Food Network show, Carnivorous, on Sunday; owner Connie Simms-Kincaid made “the meatiest Monte Cristo in the Windy City.” No additional showings scheduled at the moment, but you should be able to watch it here.

And everybody’s Jewish grandma Ina Pinkney is now available via streaming. That is, the documentary about her life, Breakfast at Ina’s, can be rented for $2.99 or purchased on Amazon Prime Video or Vimeo. Look fast for the Fooditor family making a cameo appearance.


Here’s a fascinating story I found on Twitter. Juyondai is a popular and very expensive cult sake in Japan. It’s also made by a very secretive company which claims things like different bottlings from different rice fields, and doesn’t give interviews. So a wine and sake writer goes to visit the company uninvited… and quickly finds evidence that it’s all a fraud.


Apparently-former Chicago food writer Matt Kirouac and his husband Bradley are launching a new venture out of the restaurant scene: a podcast about national parks and the people they meet in them called Parklandia. It debuts on Wednesday on the IHeartRadio network; go here to its page, and read more at Block Club Chicago.


Wherewithall, from Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim of Parachute fame, seemed more curious than most as to whether my party had any allergies or dietary restrictions. About halfway through the meal I understood why: the menu only listed four courses, but we’d already had about five, which were only described to us as they arrived. Your only chance to object was up front.

Honestly, I’d have been fine with having no menu at all—I’ll just sit down and you bring me food. Which they did, starting with hummus and various farmers market vegetables fresh from the ground to dip in it, as well as little mini beignets and a dip like bacalao. Everything that followed was fresh and clean, bright and simple flavors, whether it was seared rare tuna served in a summery green sauce and with a single sundried tomato, or a bowl of many-colored beans and a cured egg yolk that tasted like caramel, or the dessert, a semifreddo dotted with currants, mint leaves and almonds.

It’s $65 for four (more like eight or nine) courses, in a sunny room with light fixtures with felt shades, like mushroom caps overhead. Surprisingly there’s no discernible Korean influence here (Kim is Korean and Clark has spent time there)—that’s what they do at Parachute; here it’s just bright, welcoming American food, and an utter delight.

And speaking of Indian food and Steve Dolinsky, his Twitter tipped me off to a new Nepalese restaurant in Lincoln Square, Himalayan Sherpa Kitchen. Nepalese food usually seems to mean momos (dumplings) and a few simple goat dishes, but this menu seems to delve a bit deeper into it, and alongside more familiar things, I enjoyed a plate of seasoned fried hunks of goat (a little chewy but flavorful) served with puffed rice and pounded rice (looks like rice run over with a steamroller), as well as, inexplicably, a small pile of uncooked black eyed peas.