As noted before, not a huge fan of hot pot, but John Kessler makes a new hot pot place called Yao Yao sound pretty good:

What distinguishes this place — besides its aquamarine walls and breezy-cheesy murals — is its devotion to getting one hot pot recipe right. Instead of the vast array of ingredients, broths, and dipping sauces you’ll find elsewhere, Yao Yao specializes in suan cai yu, a steaming stew of velvety freshwater fish (largemouth bass here) and pickled mustard greens in a lively, chile-tinged broth ($48 and big enough to serve two). You may throw in tofu skins and enoki mushrooms, but you’ll be fighting over the last slips of fish.

What he describes sounds kind of like the whole fish I had in a bitter yellow sauce at Tan Lu just before lockdown.


One of the things this culinary history book I’m working on has shown me is that restaurants are the harbingers of change in neighborhoods. To wit. Soulé, an upscale-ish soul food place that started in Ukrainian Village but has now built a new building and opened a branch in North Lawndale. Louisa Chu on Soulé and its owner, Bridgette Flagg:

“My friend told me about this church,” said the chef. She bought the sagging single-story brick building. It collapsed in the middle of construction. “I ended up tearing the entire church down.”

In its place, Soulé was born again. The crisp dark structure opens up in front with floor-to-ceiling windows. Glass garage doors can open fully when weather permits. For now, a long modern fireplace warms the lounge area. A full bar lines the wall alongside. An airy dining room leads up to a mezzanine, with a neon sign radiating the message: Believe in Yourself.

Flagg, for one, knows the role that restaurants play in revitalizing neighborhoods:

“My people deserve luxury,” Flagg said. “Maybe other people will follow, and eventually we’ll be like Ukrainian Village and have a bunch of small businesses up and down Roosevelt.”


Steve Dolinsky highlights the soul food at Virtue:

Sitting down to a meal at Virtue in Hyde Park – which has become an incubator for interpretations of Southern food traditions brought here during the Great Migration – is like sitting down to dinner at grandma’s (if she was from the American South).

“Things that maybe our mothers and grandmothers did when we were growing up and didn’t necessarily understand why, and now we’re using a lot of those same techniques and doing research on why they were cooking the way they were cooking,” said executive chef Damarr Brown.


Ever heard of agege bread? It’s a soft, pillowy bread from Nigeria by way of Jamaica, and it’s being made in Chicago by a Nigerian baker named Olugbemisola Olawumi, reports Mike Sula:

“You shouldn’t be getting it from out of state,” says Olawumi, who opened Joba Foods and Bakery for retail in December in a small Bucktown storefront on Western Avenue, selling Nigerian meat pies and large, pillowy, subtly sweet loaves of the freshest, whitest agege bread this side of Lagos. Before she started her wholesale operation, the only other passable local alternative was denser, heavier, Jamaican-style hard dough bread.

…Agege bread became known by the name of the Lagos suburb where a particularly prolific baker was headquartered, according to food writer Ozoz Sokoh. Today the bread is sold everywhere: on the streets, in shops, and in bakeries, and—cutting across class lines—it’s eaten by everyone. It swaddles fried eggs. It’s used to scoop up the steamed bean pudding moin moin. It’s spread with butter and jam (or peanut butter) and made into sandwiches with the fried, savory bean cakes akar.


Michael Nagrant saw the documentary Love, Charlie, and has thoughts about the man who is still our most famous chef:

Charlie didn’t cook very long. He didn’t graduate from the Culinary Institute of America. He didn’t hone his cooking chops in a long apprenticeship. Mostly he traveled and ate at the best restaurants in the world and did some quick internships (stages). He took his father’s money, synthesized all of these dining experiences, and then replicated what had been done forever in Europe, in America.  It was kinda like the culinary version of Elvis stealing rock and roll from brown people and pretending it was original for white audiences. Similarly, Trotter cribbed European practices and made them viable for rube Americans for the first time.

Never say “first”; someone will always come back with “Well ACTUALLY Jean Banchet…” That said, I think Nagrant is most on point when he compares chefs to movie directors. Many of them are, in fact, more like producers—bringing a crew of varied and diverse skills together under a shared vision and script—than the popular conception of chefs as auteurs, with it all springing from their heads in an outburst of solitary genius.


It’s just dropped by Resy in an early paragraph, but there’s a new chef at Bar Goa, which got very mixed notices when it opened, so maybe it’s worth checking out now—or again. Anyway the focus is on co-owner Rina Mallick, walking us through some of the items on the menu, like Railway Lamb Curry:

This one is inspired by a good story. India is a lot like Europe in the sense that people travel long distances on trains to get from state to state. Railway Lamb Curry is actually served on these trains, so it’s a nostalgic homestyle dish for a lot of Indians. It’s just something that travels very well and even tastes better the next day.


David Hammond talks about Israeli wine, both with producers and with chefs like Zach Engel of Galit:

“When we opened,” says Engel, “what was available was not stuff that I was interested in putting on the list. I didn’t want to serve it just because it was from the region. I wanted good, food-friendly, well-made wines. So, we had to speak with distributors very bluntly about our commitment to what our wine program would be, our vision for it, and to get them to follow through on a commitment to carry the wines we wanted. I also had to write some checks, to make sure that the wine would be available, because distributors weren’t already carrying it, and we were probably the only ones that were going to purchase it. I had to pre-purchase it. And then over time, those relationships became stronger as people saw what we were doing.”

As it happens, wine is a major focus of Grimod’s piece on Galit as well:

…the wine list, despite offering a wide range of bottles from a diverse array of regions, felt middling. The “Middle East,” “(mainly) Sonoma,” and “Pretty Much Everywhere Else” categories used to organize the selection seemed unique on the surface but ultimately worked to distract from a dearth of producers who offer top quality and value.

After lockdown, Galit redoubled its efforts:

Most consequentially, Galit “built a real wine cellar” (in Engel’s own words). The chef, in the same post, described that he’s “always been proud of” the program given the energy spent “meeting with reps,” explaining his vision for the list, “tasting,” and “learning.” Beyond the “obvious” focus on the Middle East, he was “proud to be supporting” winemakers engaging in low-intervention, sustainable farming and winemaking practices who create bottles “that just simply drink well with our food.” Thus, though Galit did not originally budget the money to give the program “a space in the restaurant to really breathe or grow,” the new cellar could finally “match the pride” the chef felt for his selection. In Engel’s words, “the restaurant feels a little more whole…a little more grown up” now.


The last thing I particularly need is a recommendation for Laschet’s Inn—walkable distance from my house, and one of the nearest places that does not specialize in cheeseburgers, it’s too often a fallback for me when I run out of imagination. But if you are not me, then you might not know this solid, welcoming throwback to the German heritage of North Center, so heed the gemütlichkeit coming from Dennis Lee:

The German beer list is fantastic, and if you’re looking to get a little sauced (no driving, please, and behave yourselves), a wood-paneled tiny nook like Laschet’s is a pretty comfortable place to do it. Especially if you want to listen to German tunes that start off traditionally at first, then eventually morph into an unexpected entertaining EDM version.

I could see myself getting happily rowdy after a few steins of brew. Good thing there’s plenty of good food to sop it up with.


This is a very cool story: a collection of 1700 cookbooks, many of them relating to African-American cuisine, have been donated to the Washburne Culinary and Hospitality Institute in Englewood, and the story behind the collection is just as interesting:

[Donor Sandra] McWorter Marsh and her brother are members of a storied family. Their great-great-grandfather, Free Frank McWorter, was born into slavery in South Carolina in 1777 and purchased his own freedom and the freedom of 15 family members before founding the community of New Philadelphia in southern Illinois, according to the National Museum of American History. It’s the first known town founded by an African American person and was recently designated a national park.

McWorter Marsh’s cooking and her cookbook collection reflect this history, one that is often overlooked by culinary schools, which traditionally have been Eurocentric and purveyors of French cooking techniques. These traditions don’t necessarily reflect the students at Kennedy-King, more than 70% of whom are Black, according to federal data.

That’s a piece at the Sun-Times; ABC 7 also has a piece on it.

Though I know there are people who would find the attitude that black students should mainly learn black food to be needlessly limiting; read Richard Grausman on that point in this Fooditor piece from 2018.


Edward McClelland does a walking tour heading west on Belmont. The kind of city exploration I’m very much in favor of, though I have to admit what drew my attention was a photo of the counter seating at the New Delta Family Restaurant, near Cicero, which partly makes up for the absence of one of my favorite dive-diner spots, Belmont Snack Shop, which burned down in 2020.


Steve Dolinsky is planning a fundraising run followed by pizza (to cancel the running out?):

If you like to read, run & eat 🍕, I’ve curated a one-of-a-kind pizza-themed running tour March 18 for Read & Run Chicago. Includes a copy of “The Ultimate Chicago Pizza Guide.” Features three pizzerias in West Loop, River North, and Streeterville 11 am-1 pm.

You can get tickets here.


Are bagel dogs anything to take seriously, or just some goofy food mashup you find in the freezer section at the Jewels, bearing a brand name like Nathan’s or Vienna Beef? Sandwich Tribunal ponders:

As a booster of all things Chicago, I am sorry to report that the Vienna Beef mini dogs did not fare well in this comparison. First off–Nathan’s dogs are damn tasty for a skinless dog, fatty and salty and garlicky, and these were the real Nathan’s dogs in bagel dog form. The Vienna Beef version on the other hand featured Lil’ Smokies-sized skinless dogs that were lean and shriveled and not very highly seasoned at all. Secondly, the Nathan’s Bagel Dogs used Everything Bagel seasoning on the bagel dough, giving the overall flavor a boost. The Vienna Beef mini dogs were wrapped in a layer of plain bagel dough that engulfed them, making the sausage-to-bread ratio much lower. They could have used that additional seasoning as well, but did not have it.

From there he attempts to devise his platonic ideal of a bagel dog…


David Hammond and Monica Eng were on WLS to talk classic Chicago eats—and one drink in particular.


Yovanni Torres works at Noodlebird—but he’s out right now because he just had a liver transplant. A coworker had this to say about him for the GoFundMe his sister started to help him while he’s recuperating:

When asked his name and what he’s spent his life doing, my coworker and friend Yovanni Torres, answered “My name is Yovanni and I’ve spent my life turning negatives into positives”. And that’s the thing about Yovanni that makes him such an inspiration to me and everyone else who is blessed enough to get to meet him. From his birth in Mexico to his move to the United States at 12 years old when he didn’t speak English and was unable to participate in school like his peers, from picking sweet potatoes in South Carolina to making puff pastry in Chicago, Yovanni has kept an upbeat and thoughtful attitude towards every obstacle in his way.

Read the whole writeup here, and then, if you can, consider making a donation to help him as he recovers from his surgery. Or order fried rice at Noodlebird—in February and March, they’ll give $1 from every order sold to Yovanni.


Some weeks back I was at Birrieria Zaragoza, talking to John/Juan (the dad), and he was asking about how to publicize something they were doing—which was popping up at a spot owned by friends in Uptown, 4800 N. Broadway. I never heard more about it until I suddenly saw on Facebook that it was happening. Oh well! It’s every Saturday and Sunday through March 12, starting at 9:00 am until they sell out.


I was just in a short Facebook discussion about how Japan is full of tiny restaurants that can seat about six people—but the economics work that a family can own a small business like this and get by. (Whatever income and standard of living qualifies as getting by in Tokyo.) Well, I just went to a Chicago restaurant small enough to belong in Japan—though it’s not Japanese. It’s called Territory Kitchen, and it’s located in the space that used to be that Dutch pancake place on Western just south of Lawrence. It’s an Italian restaurant with some German items on the menu (and, most oddly, a reference to Chilean style hot dogs), and it’s just big enough to hold two four-tops and some counter space with stools around them. It looks, frankly, like a place that should serve subs or something—which it partly is, a few of the items are sandwiches—but mainly it has pasta dishes and a few other things (there’s some sausages and schnitzel). With a TV in the room playing MTV Classic, plus the kitchen so close by that we could hear schnitzel being pounded, it doesn’t exactly have even neighborhood Italian joint vibe—though if they do enough takeout business, maybe the size of the place makes perfect sense, the new shape of restaurants in post-lockdown times.

In short, it seemed a mishmash of possible restaurant concepts. Yet the pasta dishes—my wife had spaghetti carbonara, very well made, and I had rigatoni amatriciana, a little heavy on red pepper—were pleasing. (Is rigatoni a common choice for amatriciana? I’ve never seen it before.) From thinking that it was a restaurant designed by people who hadn’t been to many restaurants, I was gradually charmed by the honest simplicity of the place, which reminded me a little of when I first discovered Munno (though you could fit three of this place inside Munno, at least). So looking for some pasta some night in the near future, plus the prospect of some German-tinged dishes as well? Consider Territory Kitchen a possibility.