Hard to imagine you read this newsletter and don’t already know this nearly-week-old news, but congrats to Chicago’s two winners at the James Beard chef and restaurant awards last Monday—Damarr Brown of Virtue for Emerging Chef, and Genie Kwon and Tim Flores of Kasama for Best Chef Great Lakes. Eater has a story here.


I write constantly, but hardly ever publish anything to link to of my own, because it’s all for this book I’m working on. So David Hammond invited me to talk about it a little at NewCity, and that’s what I did, writing about some of the underlying threads in telling the big story of how Chicago food has evolved over the last half century:

There’s always more happening than just food in restaurants. One of the best parts about chronicling the 1970s and 1980s is tracking societal trends over time, like women finding their own place in the then-very-male restaurant industry. Young women like Mary Beth Liccioni and Carrie Nahabedian fought their way into old-school kitchens like Jean Banchet’s, and wound up owning their successors—Liccioni took over Banchet’s Le Francais for a decade before buying Jovan Trboyevic’s Les Nomades (which she owns to this day); Nahabedian opened Naha where Gordon had been. Penny Pollack was the esteemed dining editor of Chicago magazine for thirty years, but when she started, her duties included sitting in for the (female, of course) receptionist during her lunch break.

I was chatting at a Beard party with a reader of this newsletter who said they read mentions here of my book project but don’t really know what it is, so this piece should give a better idea.

3. 7-10 SPLIT

Louisa Chu reviews the three restaurants Boka Group opened in the former Southport Lanes building, GG’s Chicken Shop, Itoko and Little Goat Diner:

…each restaurant is better than it needs to be, albeit with varying degrees of success.


If you’re thinking, “Not another fried chicken sandwich (with breast meat at that!),” hear me out. Or at least try to, if the crackling crust isn’t too loud, giving in to juicy flesh, touched with spicy mayo and hot honey, shrouded by a cool cabbage slaw, on a bed of housemade bread and butter pickles, all held on a toasted brioche bun. It’s a Michelin-starred chef’s take on peak Popeyes mania.


The must-order dish at the dinner-only restaurant might be the TCD, or tuna chirashi don, which literally translates to “scattered tuna bowl.” But there’s nothing scattered about it. A precise puck of finely sliced toro, or belly meat, is crowned with a heaping scoop of Kaluga caviar and pickled onion cubes over perfect sushi rice, with a side of small nori sheets. After taking a moment to admire the presentation, it’s time for TCB (taking care of business, baby!) and that’s the making and immediate eating of exquisite DIY hand rolls.

Little Goat:

The new diner is truly little, a fraction of the size of the old location. And it’s stylishly retro, inspired not by the ’50s, but the ’70s, as the chef told me when we spoke about the opening.

But Izard seems to be in her chile crisp era, sometimes resulting in too many flavors that are somehow not enough.

I’d say the retro is inspired by the bowling alley it used to be, and the chile crisp era comes from the fact that Izard has a line of products, including chile crisp.


Steve Dolinsky visits Smoque Steak to explore its three-step process:

“I’d never smoked a steak before so I thought I’d give it a try and I thought it was life-changing. I thought this was the best steak I ever had and I wanted to figure out how to do it,” said co-owner Barry Sorkin.

Steaks are first seasoned with salt and pepper. Then phase one.

“We start by smoking it – just a little bit of smoke to put some flavor on it,” said Sorkin.

…They’re cry-o-vac’d, then phase two: placed in a water bath called sous vide.

“We use sous vide to finish the cooking, and get a real precise finished temperature,” he said.

Phase three takes just a minute or two.

“It comes out of the sous vide and goes in a cast iron skillet with a little clarified butter,” said Sorkin.


Apero is a new wine bar in North Center. Anthony Todd says it plans to be big on orange wine, and the food, from Chef Dylan Heath, is to match:

Heath, who has done stints at Café Marie-Jeanne, The Betty, and Celeste, is interested in cooking seasonally and crafting dishes that show off the best of what’s growing in the fields. He’s not militant about it (“I’m not going to kill myself over never using lemons or anything like that”) but he wants to keep it casual and approachable, which is perfect for a neighborhood wine bar. Try a seared asparagus grenobloise with lardons, or a salad of pear, arugula, and fennel. Don’t skip Heath’s bread; like many of us, his bread nerdery intensified during lockdown, and all of Apero’s breads are made in house.

Also in Chicago mag this week: John Kessler talks about a pupusa place he likes, Olocuilta Pupuseria. If it sounds ever so slightly familiar… it’s where he and I conducted this interview about picking Chicago mag’s best new restaurants.


Most middle eastern resataurants in Chicago are generically “middle eastern.” Titus Ruscitti found one, Suda’s, that’s specifically Lebanese—and women-owned:

We decided to try the Sambusas from the selection of hot mezze on offer thanks to a tip from our waitress. They came out piping hot from a trip to the fryer and were nice and crisp on the outside while the ground beef on the inside was warm, soft, and really well seasoned. I thought these were the best bite of the night. We also got the Adis bil hamod which is a Lebanese lentil soup with swiss chard, onions, potatoes, and cilantro and they comped a traditional soup made with red lentils. Both of them were pretty good but I thought they could’ve used the same aggressive seasoning that the sambusas were given.


The Infatuation visits the vegan taqueria Don Bucio’s, from the same owners as Bloom:

…the menu here focuses primarily on tacos, and Don Bucio’s keeps it simple with five options. There are fillings like crispy al pastor made from legumes and vegetables, barbacoa made with guajillo-braised jackfruit, and fried mushrooms that mimic a fried fish taco so successfully it’s alarming. Each has complex layers of spicy flavor, and are made with either blue or thick, chewy housemade corn tortillas. Besides the tacos there are entrees like fajitas, made with soy-based flank steak that’s texturally satisfying but doesn’t feel like meat-mimicking frankenfood.


Two sad closings among the ranks of small, high-end tasting menus places this week. The first is Claudia, Trevor Teich (Acadia)’s restaurant in the Bucktown building that has been Scylla, Takashi, Dixie, Stone Flower, etc. (my previous favorite may have been Glory). Claudia had a long journey as an itinerant pop-up before getting this permanent spot. I had eaten at itinerant Claudia in a space near the West Loop (I wrote about it here), but had only gone to Bucktown Claudia for drinks and light food in its downstairs bar (reviewed here), which I liked just fine, so I’m sorry that it is no more. The Trib has a piece on it here.

Another bummer: Brass Heart in Uptown has closed. It was opened originally by a chef named Matt Kearney, and had some high points but didn’t quite work. (Weird coincidence: the space was the former 42 Grams, whose chef also opened Stone Flower, in the space where Claudia later was.) It was then taken over by Norman Fenton, previously of Schwa (see this piece here), who had also cooked in Tulum and did a tasting menu built on Mexican flavors, which I thought was outstanding and eventually put as my #1 dish on my annual top ten list (go here). Claudia at least got Michelin recognition, but Fenton’s Brass Heart seemed completely overlooked, falling in that time period when both the Trib and Chicago mag were between ongoing restaurant reviewers. It did get a Jean Banchet nomination for Restaurant of the Year and besides my review, friend of Fooditor Brad Cawn wrote one here, but other than those Brass Heart was the finest completely overlooked restaurant in town. We’ll just have to see what’s next for both chefs, who deserve better.


Adam Kuban is a pizza writer from New York who was heavily involved with Serious Eats back in the day. He was just in town (for the Beards, one assumes) and made a pretty epic visit to top pizza places in the Chicago area—some new (Paulie Gee’s) but a lot of old school classics (the first photo is Vito & Nick’s). You can read it at his blog It’s Pizza Night!


Sandwich Tribunal, for reasons that are unexpectedly personal and, well, human, has a story on a sandwich, written by ChatGPT in the style of Sandwich Tribunal. Though in fact, it has the gaseous high-schooler-faking-a-term-paper tone of AI writing more than it exactly nails the Sandwich Tribunal tone:

Prepare to embark on a culinary journey like no other as we unveil the crown jewel of sandwich artistry—the legendary Zephyr Supreme Sandwich. This extraordinary creation draws inspiration from the vast tapestry of global flavors, weaving together a symphony of tastes that will transport you across continents with each delectable bite.

Yeah, no, Sandwich Tribunal is a much better writer than that. The equally leaden-yet-insubstantial name attaches to a decent-sounding sandwich of roast beef and bacon with arugula and tomatoes, but that’s just statistical analysis of common combinations that tend to go together. I’ll stick with the human Tribunal.


My wife went off to London for a week and a half, so I ate out a lot, catching up solo on places it might otherwise take a while to get to. Here are some of them (you can see photos from these at Fooditor’s Instagram account).

Nomonomo is a name I recognized from the sign at its previous location as half of Wasabi; it’s reopened on its own in a former location of El Cid in Bucktown (note the crenellated roof). Inside it’s a cozy Japanese bar doing izakaya food over a binchotan grill and some fried and raw stuff as well. It’s bar snacks, so nothing earthshattering or especially artisan, but I was just fine with a skewer of skirt steak topped with chimmichurri, a char-grilled hamachi collar, and a platter that included a fried shrimp, some tempura vegetables and a hunk of battered pork belly on sticks. Agreeable and speedy, it’s a place that I know I’ll be back to.

For a guy who wrote a couple of weeks ago about how I rarely go out for steak, I went to my second new steakhouse in the last few weeks—Smoque Steak. At first glance—or hearing, of the electronica that plays over the dining room—you wouldn’t peg it as being related to Smoque, the unpretentious cement-floored barbecue joint a couple of miles to the northwest. This is a big barn of a room with wooden rafters, with no sign of the smokers in the kitchen that do part of the job of preparing your steak—which is smoked first for the flavor, then sous-vided to an appropriate even pink, then seared with plenty of butter. If more upscale-looking than Smoque, it still aims for an experience notably less expensive or opulent than downtown steak places, where you couldn’t get out for less than a few hundred bucks; the most expensive steak is a 16 oz. ribeye at $53, which could easily make dinner for two with some sides.

In any case, my reaction on my first bite was “why does my New York strip taste like barbecue?” but that soon faded and I enjoyed the perfect even cooking and the smoky flavor of a good steak. They offer a number of potential toppings, all priced at another $3 or $4; I got the chimmichurri (which comes with the least expensive steak, skirt) but honestly, I stopped using it after a bite or two, as the New York strip didn’t need its lily gilded that way. Besides steak, I started with a lobster bisque with cheddar biscuits, just because it was the most un-Smoque-like thing on the menu and I wanted to see if they could do such a dish—it was good, with the beef stock-meets-seafood taste you’d expect from such a traditional dish at an old school restaurant; I ordered a side of broccolini with my steak (too much for one person unless you’re splitting it into two meals, which indeed I was) and a butterscotch budino for dessert, which I liked a lot. There’s a nice reasonably-priced wine list, from which I had a glass of albariño with my lobster bisque, and another of rioja with my steak.

All in all, I liked how Smoque Steak seems to be bucking trends in a town that gets more expensive with seemingly every opening; the prices and the pleasant, not overdone atmosphere seem destined to make it a popular neighborhood place for people who don’t automatically think $250 tasting menu for a night out, and to judge by the nearly full room on a Thursday night, it’s already happening. (Disclosure: I ran into co-owner Barry Sorkin as I was leaving, and my dinner was comped after the fact.)

From the not-very-hip environs of north Elston, we go downtown to chic Soho House, where the room that recently held Sueños has become the (said to be permanent) home to Calli, a Mexican concept under chef Jonathan Zaragoza. There’s a cocktail list, heavy on tequila and mescal as you might expect—my son’s girlfriend ordered the thing we all liked best (and subsequently ordered our own), which was a watermelon-flavored margarita, which came off like a bit of a cross between a margarita and an Aviation or something similar pastel-colored. Anyway, we started with very good freshly made guacamole and garnachas, little discs of masa topped with pork belly carnitas; then “leche de tigre,” a ceviche in the Peruvian style with chunks of fluke, some sightly sweet potatoes and corn nuts; and finally an enmolada, kind of the shape of a burrito, but filled with two kinds of mushrooms and topped with a mole poblano, which I suspect is destined for my ten best list at year’s end—all the moreso for the surprise than Jonathan revealed to us at our table: Soho House is apparently entirely nut-free, and so he had to make a fully flavorful mole minus its main base ingredient along with spices. We concluded with one of two desserts, a rice pudding served with a base of roasted strawberry jam. Throughout we were just marveling at the richness of flavors, deep and complex and yet with the simple ingratiatingness of Mexican food. This was the rare meal where every bite seems to light up your mouth. Check it out!

One last food note: speaking of strawberries, I got some from Seedling at Green City on Wednesday that looked a little underwhelming—kind of small, and they looked like they had five o’clock shadow from the tightly packed, dark seeds on them. I was about to pass them by and then I remembered some wise words—”With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.” If they looked that much unlike big, bright red supermarket styroberries, maybe they had to be good. And they were—a lot of berry flavor and sweetness, I’ve been popping a few in my mouth every day since. Actually I bought three different batches of strawberries and they were all good, so I kind of think you can’t go wrong with farmers market strawberries at the moment. But if you’re at Green City, don’t miss these.