Chicago magazine reviewer John Kessler came to widespread attention with this infamous piece. Which led a lot of people to attack him for dismissing some of the ethnic food in the city as being old and tired, and for being an old white guy himself.

If that’s all he’d said, they might have a point—but his point was subtler than that, as I knew because I had explored the suburbs around Chicago with him a bit, particularly the Korean offerings up around Morton Grove, Niles and Glenview. Basically Kessler was looking at Chicago the same way he had looked at the city he’d previously lived in, Atlanta—assuming that the real action was often to be found in smaller suburbs around the city itself, where immigration is more active. Which can be a wild goose chase at times—the two cities developed in very different ways (Sherman never besieged Chicago, for one), so there’s no reason to assume things will always be in the same places. But the instinct to explore the collar suburbs often paid off, and never moreso than with Korean food, which is much more active just past the border than it is in the rather faded Koreatown on the northwest side. Yet foodies and even food media don’t often check out those areas (though all credit to this 2019 Trib guide, which remains very useful). On one visit with Kessler to a veteran Morton Grove place called To Soc Chon, a Korean customer was so transfixed by the sight of two gringos sucking down volcanic bowls of Korean noodle soup that when we asked for our bill, we were told that he had already paid our tab.

All of which is to say, Kessler likes checking out Korean food up that way. And so this month in Chicago mag, he focuses on a few new finds in the Glenview-Northbrook area, which he calls

the Koreatown emerging along Milwaukee Avenue in Glenview and Northbrook… From the hilarity of Kong Dog to the fried chicken sushi rolls at K-Bop, from the rich beef soup at Claypot to the black bean pasta at Paik’s Noodles, all have made this stretch of road a worthy destination for anyone in the Chicago area who wants to eat well.

Kong Dog, which is one of those places doing the silly overdecorated Korean corn dogs and has outlets popping up as fast as Starbuckses around the area, is discussed here; a typical Korean nightlife crawl is talked about here. But the main review is for New Village Gastro Pub, which aims to evoke nostalgia for 70s bar food in Korea:

Tables are set with carafes of water and all the tongs, ladles, cutlery, and bowls you might need. A buzzer allows you to summon servers whenever you’re ready to order. On first buzz, get the house specialty: Korean market chicken, an entire spatchcocked bird that’s been marinated and batter-fried to a golden crisp. A server in heat-resistant gloves tears it into pieces, and honestly, I don’t think any action in my lifetime has occasioned such a strong Pavlovian response. The chicken is fantastic, particularly with bites of cabbage salad and tangy daikon pickle to cut through the grease.

Another must-try is army stew, which has a rich history. During the war, resourceful Korean cooks took whatever ingredients they could scrounge from U.S. Army commissaries and fashioned them into a jjigae. Spam, bacon, ham, and cut-up hot dogs keep company with kimchi and onions in a chile-hot broth. A brick of ramen noodles juts out, and American cheese melts on top. You bring it to a simmer over a tabletop burner and spoon portions into bowls. I was dubious, but the flavor goes on and on, a soft jazz symphony of umami built on fermentation, curing, and the marvels of food additives.


Hmm, I feel like I’m eating less octopus out of a certain suspicion that I’m eating a more than usually sentient creature (seen My Octopus Teacher?) But Nick Kindelsperger says this is a hot moment for cephalopods on plates:

Octopus is consistently one of the most enticing offerings on any menu. Gone are the days when you have to worry about tough and chewy tentacles. Instead, the meat is always astonishingly tender, while the edges are crispy and charred. Few foods pick up the aroma of smoke from a grill better.

This is not a surprise to Lee Wolen, chef at Boka and Alla Vita. “Octopus is the new shrimp cocktail,” Wolen said. “I’ve been saying that for years.” He also has the data to back it up. “It’s the No. 1 seller every week at Boka,” he said. Wolen said he just recently discussed eliminating the dish because it’s been on the menu for years, but it’s his favorite thing to eat and customers love it, so it’s sticking around.

Well, Boka is certainly one of the places where I might order it, confidence that it will be done beautifully overcoming my octopodal guilt.


At NewCity, Cynthia Clampitt on Mongolian food—in Mongolia and at a place in Morton Grove called Mazalae (where, incidentally, I once went with John Kessler, right before lockdown):

Upon entering the attractive, understated Mazalae, I greeted the hostess in Mongolian, to which she responded, “You will want milk tea.” I’ve had milk tea with a wide range of milks, but the thing that makes it noteworthy, even here with cow’s (rather than mare’s) milk, is the use of salt instead of sugar. It was savory and warming and made the wait for dinner easier. (Everything is made from scratch when you order, and there is even a warning on the menu for one item that takes at least thirty minutes.) The clientele is primarily Mongolian, and this operation is clearly a family affair.


The last I heard on the food scene, Bunny was a bakery run by Iliana Regan. Now Bunny is the name of a formerly well-known figure, the chef-owner of the late Cafe Marie Jeanne, who identifies now as transgender. (The etiquette in 2022 is that reporting the story in a way that makes it clear to the reader who we’re talking about is secondary to following the rules of not “deadnaming” people, so I had to read a couple of stories about Uncle Bunny’s pop-up at The Long Room to know for sure that we were talking about the subject of this long-ago Fooditor piece.)

So there’s a pop-up, which means the Chicago Tribune’s restaurant reviewers are right on top of it. Here’s Louisa Chu on the sort of thing you’re supposed to race and try for however long the pop-up runs:

…”a vegan Italian beef called the Italian Veef.”

They sandwiched yuba (tofu skin) instead of beef, with a shiitake mushroom and Maggi seasoning dip. Otherwise, it’s identical, with sweet peppers or hot giardiniera.

It’s identical! Hmm, I feel about this Italian beef the way Voltaire felt about the Holy Roman Empire, but some may find it their thing.

Meanwhile, speaking of things that actually are made of the things they’re named for, Louisa talks jibaritos at Jibaritos y Mas: 

At Jibaritos y Mas in Logan Square, they make the best I’ve had in the decades since the sandwiches were invented in the Humboldt Park neighborhood next door… The toasted, nutty plantains tend to slide against the subtly spiced beef, all with notes of cheeseburger from the unlikely cooling toppings. I highly recommend the house hot sauce, a fiery blend inspired by the Puerto Rican chile pepper condiment pique.

It’s a very good piece on the sandwich—and the family behind these exemplary examples of a classic Chicago food.


Titus Ruscitti has road trip advice (burgers of Michigan, all new to me) and also a new Thai spot, Real Thai:

A fried dish that Real Thai excels at is it’s Pad Khee Mao. Their “Drunken Noodles” are the best I’ve ever had made so by the fact that they’re offered extra crispy (fried) and also because you can choose pieces of fried fish as your protein of choice. This is quite simply my favorite noodle dish in Chicago right now and it could be for awhile. It hits all the notes one wants when it comes to real Thai food. Sweet, spicy, funky and so on.


There’s an exhibit at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture in Humboldt Park, called “The Sofrito Manifesto.” Mike Sula tells about the artist and cookbook author behind it, Bernardo Medina.


Chicago mag’s Best of 2022 issue of course includes food choices; go here to read about the best new cookies, the best new signature drink (warning: it’s at a Tiki Bar) and the nine best new sandwiches.


Block Club reports on the closing of MAD Social Club, a West Loop trendy restaurant run by Gina Stefani, of the Stefani restaurant family (her first venture on which she took the lead). Block Club’s piece is rather warm and sentimental about the closing, which came when they had trouble reopening after lockdown:

When MAD Social did open, it faced challenges with staffing, Stefani said. Reopening with a whole new staff and having issues with retention made it “extremely hard” to stay open, she said…

“I will always be forever be grateful to all the friends and customers that made MAD what it is,” Stefani said. “I mean, it was my dream when I opened that it was going to be a neighborhood place … and it did become that.”

Here’s what I think MAD Social’s six year run tells us. When they opened. they went hard in on showcasing items, desserts mostly, that would appeal to influencers—not a tactic they were the first to try (we already had the much-photographed oyster-caviar pie at Bellemore by that point), but one they pushed harder than anybody—and for a time they were all over social media. I guess you could call that being a popular neighborhood place. But in the end, when they ran into post-lockdown troubles, there really wasn’t a base of devoted customers to keep it going—just influencers looking for the latest sensation to snap pics of.


Joe Flamm (Rose Mary) is now in charge of the same group’s initial restaurant, BLVD—but don’t think anything was broken at BLVD! It seems that the PR pitch Anthony Todd got wanted to be clear that BLVD was just fine and is only going to get better:

Unlike some “quick, things are a mess, bring in a new chef” situations, BLVD was doing quite well before Flamm entered, so he wasn’t about to start messing with things. “You have to kind of live in it for a while, it’s like buying a new house; you can’t walk in and start changing things.” He made some new hires, he spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and then he started to dive in. His goal is to keep the steakhouse dishes that make BLVD so popular, but bring some of his own style, which he describes as “simplicity and elegance.”


Some might find this irritating—particularly some of the participants—but hey, I’m happy to see a vigorous and contentious debate about food happening, even on Instagram. Last Meal Chicago rips into Nick Kindelsperger’s review last week of Sueños; Nick responds; another friend of Fooditor, Matthew Mirapaul, uses dislike of Sueños to pump up Norman Fenton’s Mexican-tinged menu at Brass Heart (which I’ll support any time), and John Kessler feels some need to weigh in too. <gif of Bill Hader eating popcorn>


Why is ‘Michoacan’ in the names of so many taquerias, and just about every paleteria”? asks Edward McClelland. He talks to the owner of Lindo Michoacan to answer that question.


Wouldn’t be a new week without a new interview with Jeremy Allen White of that show. Ashok Selvam talked to him for Eater.


A longtime staffer of restaurants became an owner with the opening of Burger Biteinside a Rogers Park gas station:

North Side resident Edgar Bonilla drove down Route 66 about five years ago, admiring the old school diners along the way.

“One day, I want to have something like this,” he thought.

Bonilla made that dream come true in May, opening Burger Bite at 1500 W. Devon Ave.