In an unusually straight-to-the-point review, Michael Nagrant admires the Detroitness of the Yucatan food at Norman Fenton’s Cariño, which I agree with apart from the reference to a mysterious “D12 emcee Kuniya,” which I believe is in Cretan Linear B:

Fenton’s a Detroit hustler, baby, and any trepidation he or I might have had dissolved with the amuse course, a kusshi oyster “michelada shooter” brimming with clamato pearls and beer foam.

It was a modernist michelada in sea-form, spicy, cooling, creamy and umami-bombed. Like the D12 emcee Kuniva slayed in that YouTube video above, I saw a fantasm and it was the immense talent of Fenton shooting through my soul.

I know…what the hell, Mike? Why you so dramatic? But, I’m telling you, all I could think in that bite was, damn, why did I never make it to Brass Heart? I’m an idiot.

I suppose it’s because as the next course was delivered, what looked to me like a modernist interpretation of the Humboldt park duck lagoon, festooned with lithe violin scroll-like cucumber curls, jewels of roe, jalapeno scrims and nuggets of custard-centered King Ora salmon, I was like, oh here we go, fancy dishes that take twenty hours to make, but don’t taste good or say anything – the reason I now fear tasting menus.

But the bowl sung with salt, fat, acid, and heat and it redefined what I expect in an aguachile. This was no traditional aquachile, often a mushy marsh of seafood and soggy avocado, but an elegant palate cleanser rife with bright mouth-delighting roe and finger lime bubbles popping and firm juicy salmon. A dry ice river raged undeneath the bowl.

I did make it to Brass Heart and so I’ll just say, yes, you were an idiot if you didn’t go, but you get a second chance with Cariño. This review’s a freebie, so go read it all.

Speaking of Cariño, I’ve been curious about the concept of a taco omakase and how that would work; Anthony Todd tells more at Dish:

There will be four to five different tacos each night, including a fish taco, a seafood taco, an A-5 wagyu taco, and always, a classic taco. Classic meaning no modern twists, just the very best version of a Mexican staple that Fenton can make.An optional upsell is a truffle quesadilla with seasonal mushrooms, which I can’t imagine skipping. There are a lot of thoughtful little touches on the menu; for example, the tacos are all served with key limes. Fenton says, “No one does that, but the flavor is so much more floral and prevalent, so it really adds to it.”


John Kessler suggests you check out a new Thai place in Bucktown called Eat Fine Design by Khun Kung, and the photo shows one of the things that has people curious about it—a lump of Thai rice turned bright blue with butterfly-pea-flower dye:

What should you try? Lord, what shouldn’t you? Khao yum Pak Tai is a mix-it-yourself salad with butterfly-pea-flower blue rice, shredded makrut lime leaf, veggies, and pungent dried shrimp — a gorgeous dish for those who appreciate umami-rich flavors.

I ordered from there a while back, on Kessler’s recommendation, and I’ll admit I wasn’t as gobsmacked as he—all I remember specifically is that the housemade Isaan sausage didn’t have the funk of, say, Sticky Rice’s. Still, I wouldn’t write off any Thai place after one meal, you never know where the really good stuff might be in the nooks and crannies of the menu.


Ah, RIP Carl Weathers… anyway, Steve Dolinsky goes searching for authentic family-style soul food in Bronzeville and finds it at Cleo’s Southern Cuisine:

Kristen Ashley, a young entrepreneur, opened Cleo’s Southern Cuisine in Bronzeville a couple of years ago. She also has a Loop location open for lunch-only on weekdays, and in both spots, she honors her grandmother Cleo, whose Clarksdale, Mississippi roots influence the menu.

“Technically Biloxi – and I went to school at Grambling State University in Louisiana, so I took the Mississippi and the Louisiana and put it together and boom – there was Cleo’s,” said Ashley.


Cabeza tacos—tender, usually steamed cow head—are the subject for Titus Ruscitti:

Our first stop takes us to the border of Logan Square and Bucktown where Birrieria Estilo Jalisco remains a neighborhood fixture at the corner of Western and Lyndale. As the name of this place implies they make birria de chivo (goat) in the style of Jalisco. It’s pretty damn good but it’s the tacos de cabeza (beef) that draw me in on a weekly basis. The meat is so tender and so beefy and they really pack it in for around $5 a taco. They come served on warm El Popocatepetl tortillas. I’ve talked about this before but I do believe that certain Chicagoland corn tortillas work better with certain taco fillings and these two are a perfect pairing. You’ll know you had a real deal taco de cabeza when your fingertips are a bit sticky like they are after eating one from here. All due respect to the popular taco spot next door [Taqueria Chingon] but these are the best tacos on the block and my favorite taco in the neighborhood.

He’s got four more after that, from all over the city.


Can anyone think more about ramen than ramen obsessive Mike Satinover, who after years of sold-out popups now has Akahoshi Ramen? Grimod at Understanding Hospitality gives it a whirl. In some ways this is the most meta part of his review, but that also makes it in some ways the most interesting part, a perceptive view of how the food world is changing:

…the risk of transitioning into ownership for this kind of influencer also carries its own rewards: to live the dream of being the kind of craftsperson you have so long admired and sharing your passion with the public. It means walking the walk in reality—not just hyperreality—and earning the respect of an industry that, from their positions behind the stove, may be inclined to view social media mavens as mere gadflies. It means, in the best case, consolidating that internet fame and transforming it into real culinary esteem on the back of a loyal population of aficionados—many influencers in their own right—who are ready to support and advocate for the fruits of so many years of content.

Though this may seem like an unconventional path on the surface, you think Akahoshi Ramen represents an emerging strategy for at-home specialists to turn their “foodie” identity (one defined by its conspicuousness and the assertion of “expert” knowledge over others) into a real livelihood. Doing so, they may sidestep the hard knocks to be taken and dues to be paid in favor of a personal, granular approach that wins future customers from the comfort of their own kitchen. Then, when it comes time to launch, these influencer-chefs can skip straight to opening their dream restaurant atop a readymade reputation. The existing fans then help deliver the initial buzz, which is translated to more traditional media coverage and—before you know it—real eminence within the chosen genre. This is all fine and dandy (and, dare you say, deserved) when the end product matches expectations and competes in good faith with concepts that do not benefit from such a built-in audience.

Does it measure up to its own influence? You’ll have to read for yourself… after a discussion of the science behind MSG, the dining room layout, and other things.


Beard seminfinalist Carnitas Uruapan is the carnitas spot that people tend to think of first these days, but Dennie Lee visits another, about a half mile east in Pilsen, Carnitas Don Pedro:

The main star of the show is, of course, the carnitas ($11.99 per pound). The term “carnitas” means “little meats” in Spanish, and it’s all sorts of pork that has been slow-cooked in lard for hours until it becomes both crisp and tender. This includes the skin, ribs, shoulder, all that good stuff.

…Before you assemble yourself a taco, do yourself a favor and eat a few huge forkfuls of meat as-is. Go on, dig into the fatty pieces while they’re still hot, they won’t get any better than that—and revel in the salty, fatty, porky bliss.


A number of stories about last weekend’s big story, the Jean Banchet Awards, including at the Trib, WTTW and elsewhere. But the most affecting and cheering example is this little montage on Facebook/Instagram from the family behind Rubi’s On 18th.


You might think a list of Ukrainian restaurants in Chicago would have just one entry on it, which opened in about November, but there are also a handful of neighborhood spots, starting with the venerable Old Lviv in Ukrainian Village. Anyway, The Infatuation has a listicle of them. I must admit I’ve tried several of them, but mostly once and not in some years; I think Magic Jug is the only one I ever talked up anywhere, in one edition of The Fooditor 99, but a friend went and got a distinct “What are you doing here?,” mafia social club vibe.


Bon Appetit asks the question that has likely hovered somewhere around your subsconscious—can you afford to eat out?

You’re restaurant people. You voyaged your way through Michelin stars and ducked into many holes in many walls, you masked up to grab bagged cocktails and battled for the hottest of reopening reservations. You want owners to thrive and their employees to be well paid, but your grocery bill is a panic attack and your rent an existential crisis. This was a good meal. But you’re not sure when you’ll be back.

Since 2020 the cost of dining out has skyrocketed across the US, and even as other forms of inflation have eased, menu prices keep climbing. In 2023 restaurant inflation outpaced groceries, which meant that even as Americans were spending more dining out, data suggested they were going out less.

For me, there’s some truth to this—if the food’s good, I don’t think about money, if it sucks or even just underwhelms, even an $6 cheeseburger will weigh on my mind for days. But honestly, it’s not money that has kept me from going out to some of the new places I should be trying. It’s the unpleasantness of going outside in subzero temperatures, of parking in busy neighborhoods, and trying to make reservations when the response at Open Table or Tock is “Sorry, we have no availability within 2.5 months of that year.” (Who the hell are these people wanting to go where I want to go, before I want to go there?) Yeah, I should book things out weeks ahead, and then be pleasantly surprised when the day comes, but I’m more likely to just order a damn pizza at that point. It’s dumb, it’s not like I wasn’t very happy with the last two nice dinners I ate out (Pompette and Nettare, discussed last week), but… I don’t know, having a little trouble feeling the joy of going out, at least in advance. Mind you, I just spent six days in Mexico City and I hunted up interesting things to eat three (or more) times a day, and the only meal that sucked was, of course, the most expensive one in the swankiest part of town (there’s sure as hell a lesson there). So I do still eat out, when I’m motivated and all, but the motivation can be a little hard to come by.

Anyway, my point—and I do have one, maybe—is just, I guess, that the business is recovering, but I’m not sure the audience is fully recovered yet. Great food makes a difference, but beyond that, a new experience of some kind will get me excited again, whatever the price. (I mean something besides new mysterious surcharges on my bill.) What will it be? I’ll let you know when I have it!


Sandwich Tribunal, hot from making the case for the Francheezie, finds another, even more obscure regional Chicago food: the Freddy.

The Freddy is not a complicated sandwich–it’s made from the kinds of things that a Chicago pizza joint will generally have on hand–a patty made from the kind of sweet fennel-laced Italian sausage that is used on Chicago style pizzas; marinara sauce; mozzarella cheese; and grilled green bell peppers served on the same kind of sturdy French roll that’s used for an Italian beef sandwich. It’s the kind of thing that could have been invented anywhere–and probably has. For example, a similar Italian sausage sandwich with melted cheese, red sauce, and grilled peppers on a sausage patty in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is called a Cudighi–though that uses a specific type of sausage. There are probably similar sandwiches elsewhere.

The most interesfing thing about it, to me, is that it is very much a South Side thing;

It seems that for a time, the Freddy spread slowly around the far South Side, reproducing by mitosis alone. Or as Peter [Engler] put it, “as businesses split or were sold, the sandwich moved on but also stayed at its original home. This has been the main mode of the Freddy’s propagation.”


Speaking of the South Side, though not white ethnic food like a Freddy—one of my favorite places that spawned one of my favorite Fooditor pieces, but closed somewhere in COVID-time, was 5 Loaves Eatery on 75th street. Well, a branch of the family has another restaurant, Mabe’s Sandwich Shop, on the other side of 75th—and they’re doing brunch to go “from” 5 Loaves Eatery on Saturdays.


David Manilow’s podcast The Dining Table offers more variety than any food podcast on the scene—here he talks to Chris Cunningham of the very good neighborhood sandwich shop J.T.’s Genuine, here he talks to a chef at one of the mysterious other universe of Chicago fine dining—the upscale private clubs, and here he contemplates the best dining streets in Chicago (something Fooditor used to do, but with an emphasis on obscurity).

Chewing talks to two chefs with new places: Erling Wu-Bower of Maxwell’s Trading, and Jacob Potashnick, who is opening Feld this spring.

And the Joiners Podcast has a conversation I never thought I’d see—with a staffer from The Infatuation, Adrian Kane. I say that because I’ve never seen people from The Infatuation at any kind of media event or preview in Chicago, and the realness and Chicagoness of those staff names was in doubt at one time. But they seem to be real and here!

No Buzz List next week, I’ll be out of town. Back on the 19th.