The Bear, FX’s series about an upscale chef who inherits his family’s Italian beef business, returned this week with a season about converting The Original Beef into a high end restaurant (which between this and The Menu, suggests that EL Ideas is the most influential restaurant in Chicago as far as Hollywood is concerned). By episode 3, we’ve had scenes set at Kasama and Avec, and I know that Ever among others lies ahead, which suggests to me that though the intense level of stressfulness of Season 1 isn’t going away—two words: mold problem—we’re in a different world, one in which aspiring chef Sydney, who went straight to making beefs from school as I recall, somehow knows and hangs with Donnie Madia and Rob Levitt.

One chef you won’t be seeing in The Bear any time soon is Rick Bayless, who attacked the show in this on-stage interview at the Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum. (If you’re not a subscriber, there’s a public clip here and Eater has some highlights here.) Bayless objected to the show’s depiction of restaurant work as manic and soul-consuming, saying the show “pushed us back another 20 years” from being recognized as a profession. His comments point to something that I think is accurate (but also ahistorical) about The Bear—it’s very much about the restaurant world of a decade or two ago (but without nearly as many drugs), the “pirate ship” mentality that Anthony Bourdain and Lucky Peach popularized—a world of ambition trying to make it without nearly enough money, staff, time or anything else that helps you stay sane in the restaurant business. Which already seems a contradiction when we see, in Season 2, real restaurant people carefully mentoring the characters, and seeming sane and well-balanced in life.

Of course, The Bear being popular means we’re getting the usual run of What is this Italian Beef Sandwich of Which I Keep Hearing? articles, only loosely connected with reality as we Chicagoans eat it. Kevin Pang has a piece at Esquire that gets at why it’s our sandwich:

The biggest part of the Italian beef’s charm is that it’s nothing sexy, and any portrayal as such would be disingenuous. It’d be easy for show producers to romanticize the Italian beef as this food-porny fever dream, the way Chef’s Table slo-mos a jiggly hunk of barbecue brisket. But The Bear doesn’t. It faithfully presents the Italian beef as it is: a sandwich born from poverty, made by and served to the Chicago proletariat.

The piece includes a series of beef recommendations from series creator Christopher Storer, which includes that Kasama pork sandwich again (I love those guys, but beef is in the title, no matter that it inspired your pork sandwich) but also includes, to its great credit, a very good lesser-known beef from Tony’s Italian Deli & Subs (see this Fooditor piece for more info, and note that the same cheesy CD gets mentioned in both Esquire’s piece and mine).

Speaking of “food-porny fever dreams,” Pang could have been describing the photo that comes with this New York Times recipe piece (that is, the froofy monstrosity displays if you link it online, but isn’t in the article, somehow). Anyway, some respected locals had words on Twitter for this recipe from New York:


to remain professional all I will say is this: today I saw a recipe for an Italian beef written by a new york publication

Beerinator, referencing the whole leaves of parsley a food stylist placed carefully with tweezers on the NYT’s beef:

Do not engage with the parsley. Don’t even look at it.

Titus Ruscitti:

Every Italian beef recipe that doesn’t flat out tell you that you’ll need a real deal deli slicer is nothing more than a recipe for pot roast sandwiches. I like The Bear just fine but enough already.


Here’s the deal: We won’t tell you how to stack mountains of trash on the sidewalk and you leave our Italian beef alone.

NBC Chicago has more examples of the local reaction.


Veronica Fabre couldn’t figure out why so many people were lined up outside TacoSur Birreria Tijuanense, her restaurant that opened in April. “It happened so fast,” Fabre said. “I kept wondering, where are they coming from? Why are there 10 parties waiting to get in the door? Then I found this viral video.”

So begins a piece by Nick Kindelsperger on a taqueria in Little Village, TacoSur, which was surprised to find itself a viral sensation on Tik Tok, and then—inevitably—the target of a backlash as well:

The taco-eating public got the message, swamping TacoSur and nearly overwhelming the operation. Wait times ballooned. Many complained loudly on Yelp and Google about the slow service, dinging the shop with numerous 1-star reviews.

It’s a story of our times.


Suddenly a place called Tuk Tuk Thai Isan Street Food in Lakeview was all over social media in the last month. Titus Ruscitti checks it out, and tell me this description doesn’t make you want to go, too:

Just like with any other cuisine I’m always on the prowl for regional offerings too which is what got me into Tuk Tuk Thai Isan on Clark a few doors down from the old Century Mall. It’s owned by the family who runs Green Tea Japanese Restaurant which is also on Clark up in Lincoln Park (across from Francis Parker school). They’re Thai and figured why not open a spot serving the food they typically make for themselves at home and family gatherings and the likes. The family has roots in Northeast Thailand which is the Isan region up near Laos.

Titus is actually in Italy at the moment; follow along for pasta pics here.


Michael Nagrant’s review of Smoque Steak is so artful and refined, I couldn’t tell if he liked it or not until I got to the very last sentence:

Order up a Glencairn of Four Roses whiskey simultaneously and you’ll have the best food and beverage pairing available in all of Chicago.

It’s a long journey to get there, with words like “overdressed” and “flavorless” along the way, but some sharp sociological bits:

Luxury at Smoque Steak is found not in the key flip to the valet or the tip bait of an opened car door, but an actual ¼ acre sized parking lot. It will be full and you will still have to park on the street, but it is quite the unique find.

Also novel, a remarkable number of staff at Smoque have neck tattoos, which is to say more than one. This is not a complaint, just an observation. Brooklyn no doubt has a steakhouse somewhere where nape art is a job requirement. I would eat there.


…is not what you get with dry-aged fish—it’s about concentrating and accentuating flavor. David Hammond talks to Patrick Bouaphanh, co-owner of Jinsei Motto, about why you would do that in a sushi joint:

People think seafood is best when you eat it right after you catch it. When you age fish, however, the meat breaks down a little bit and releases natural glutamates. The meat becomes a little softer, the tendons become a little softer, and it’s easier to eat. Even though it’s soft, the texture is bouncier. And because you’re drawing the moisture out of the fish, the flavor can be more intense.


Sandwich Tribunal wants you to up your bruschetta game beyond tomatoes and basil (and to pronounce it correctly—broo-sketta).

7. GO KO

A too-short interview, but interesting, with Lawrence Letrero of Bayan Ko in a publication called Voyage Michigan.


Another one bites the dust—perhaps not surprisingly if you listened to all of Brian Enyart’s appearance on the Amuzed podcast. Dos Urban Cantina, which served modern Mexican in Logan Square, for the last eight years, will close on June 30. As Enyart, who worked for Rick Bayless for many years, told Eater:

Enyart tells Eater that the restaurant enjoyed a fantastic May, but sales in subsequent months had fallen off: “We hit a slow couple weeks and we just want to make sure we can close this down as best as we can,” he says.

Also closing after the same span of time: Pearl’s Southern Comfort in Edgewater, whose last day was Saturday:

“Three restaurants is a lot for anyone, let alone in these times and with everything else we have going on,” [co-owner Danny] Beck says. “We decided it was time for us to have a little more time for ourselves and our families… at the end of the day, we’re getting up there in years and we need to slow down.”

Beck and business partner Rich Hagerty also have Toons Bar & Grill on Southport and Beck’s in Lincoln Park; Eater tells more.

And here’s one that’s a real sign of the times: Peoria Packing, a West Loop fixture that was quite the trip for people looking for meat to barbecue, is exiting the West Loop for North Lawndale. What was amazing about it was that the meat was just laid out on tables, and the entire room was chilled to refrigerator temperatures; you had to choose from a stack of spareribs or baby backs while being chilled just like the meat. Personally, in time as farm to table caught on, I was less interested in buying commodity pork for home use, and at one point I figured out that if I did want a really good example of a particular cut from Peoria, I would find a better one by choosing among what they shipped to a place like (now-defunct) Golden Pacific market near Argyle—the best cuts were clearly going to their wholesale customers.

Still, it’s a Chicago experience, at the very least you could check it out one last time while picking up a couple of feet of hot links for the 4th, or check out a visual essay at LTHForum from 2009, by Friend of Fooditor Cathy Lambrecht. (They don’t allow photos, but she didn’t know that, so she just happily snapped away.) No doubt condos will go on the property; Block Club has a story here (but honestly, I just told you more than they do); there’s also an audio piece at WBEZ here.


Speaking of WBEZ, they have a listicle on pizza slices, not so much a Chicago thing (versus New York) and you mostly know the best ones already (I assume you know Jimmy’s) but hey, it might be useful. I’ll tell you the place no one ever points to, though: Villa Palermo, on Devon near Ghareeb Nawaz. I think they use provolone, giving it the tang of the first slice I loved in Chicago, Logalbo’s on Southport; a slice from Logalbo’s eaten as I walked up to a show at the Music Box was a good weeknight for me then.


David Manilow talks to the big cheeses at DineAmic Hospitality (Bar Siena, Lyra, Fioretta) about expanding in the West Loop.

Anthropological talks to Zubair Mohajir of Wazwan about street foods of different cultures.


When I interviewed a guy from Austin named Otto Phan, who had stirred up a storm with comments about sushi in Chicago not measuring up, about the restaurant he was about to open called Kyoten, I said that Chicago had decent $60 sushi, but nothing above that.

How times change! We’re now a city with at least a half dozen places doing three-figure omakases—the most expensive being none other than Kyoten, but it’s by no means the only one in a sky-high range. Perhaps because Phan’s original Kyoten is out of most people’s league, he opened a second place called Kyoten Next Door, which is, indeed, in the space next to the original restaurant, both spaces now spiffed up (Otto said the original Kyoten had “guy decor,” and his female designer wouldn’t even let him choose the color of the chopsticks). Which I suggest to him might finally mean that Michelin—which claims it’s only food that matters when that’s obviously untrue and they’re observably very finicky about decor—might finally get their heads out of their posteriors and recognize that Kyoten is the best sushi in Chicago and probably on a very short list for north America, he suggests that it’s not something he worries about any more. Chicago recognized the caliber of what he’s doing and sustained him through the pandemic; that’s what matters to him now.

Also, he got married two months ago. He seems a contented man; chasing the red plaque is from another life.

So: Kyoten is $440-490. service included. By comparison Kyoten Next Door is a mere $159 per person—or about 3/4 of what Kyoten Original cost when it opened. So still one of the most expensive sushi places in town, yet it seems downright reasonable. Which it is, when I think that my meal there this week was probably better than that eye-opening meal at Kyoten five years ago. Though it’s a fair question whether Kyoten is more sophisticated than it was then—or I am.

The counter, which seats about 12 (vs. 7 or 8 for Kyoten) is staffed by two chefs, both trained at Nobu—Otto praised the skills taught in the Nobu network when I talked to him in 2018—and the chef at my end explained what was done to each fish, sometimes salt-cured, sometimes lightly marinated, brushed with soy sauce before serving each piece by hand to a small plate (which looked like an iPhone face down) and urging us to eat it quickly—the warm rice and supple, near-room-temperature fish is something you don’t want to neglect and allow to leave its point of perfection. Most of it came from Japan, but was farm-raised—except for one wild-caught fish which was, we were told, the only one we had that was also served on the Kyoten Original side. (I think it was the madai, but who can remember after a parade of such marvels.)

In any case, bite after bite was a wonder of a different sort—one firm, another almost as delicate, fall-apart soft as spongecake; one a fresh taste of ocean, another meaty with hints of onion or such savory things. It was all superb, and if $159 was high in 2018, it seems a deal if not a steal now and leaves me wondering how much better and more eye-opening the $449 meal could be—though unlike before I went into Kyoten Next Door, I’m seriously thinking I need to find out sometime. I’ll have to for myself, as I doubt it will get reviewed by any local media any time soon (not counting, of course, Grimod).

*  *  *

The second place I went in two days where the service was included in the tab was Thattu, the permanent location of Margaret Pak and Vinod Kalathil’s Keralan restaurant that started in the late Politan Row. At about $30 for a non-alcoholic soft drink of Indian flavors, a “beet puff” (vegetarian pastry), and a bowl of chicken and vegetables with  cumin-scented basmati rice, it’s obviously in a different economic category entirely than Kyoten Next Door.

I hate when people use the word “clean” to describe food—it’s loaded with (probably not even) unconscious racism, when Mexican or Chinese made by a white person is dubbed that—and yet it was the term that kept forcing its way into my head. Let’s try others—simple, light, inviting. In this case, stewed chicken, lightly sauteed chunks of vegetable, and a sprinkling of Indian spices, which unlike the lush and extravagant sushi dinner the night before, left me feeling like I could jog the lakefront afterwards. I confessed to Vinod at the end that I had probably ordered the safest thing on the menu (he agreed), but promised I would be back for the Pork Chop Peralan on some evening when I didn’t plan to jog the lakefront (so, any evening in 2023). The lightness of the food and the directness of the spices—I’m really trying not to say “clean”—and the un-sushi-like prices made it a place I could see popping into regularly.