I can see the future, and what I see is… Oriole at #1 on the Chicago magazine Best New Restaurants list in April 2017. Well, I suppose The Loyalist or Elske or something could surpass it, but Jeff Ruby’s rapturous review sets a four star bar: “Think of Chicago’s ultimate restaurant openings in recent years, the places that glowed with a formidable confidence from day one: Alinea, Grace, L2O. Now add Oriole to that hallowed list. Without resorting to pyrotechnics or self-indulgence, or pummeling diners with overlong and overrich meals, [chef Noah] Sandoval and his tight crew serve a parade of brilliant, beautiful compositions that add up to one unforgettable experience. And they pulled it off from the get-go, without the unbearable hype that usually precedes a restaurant of such caliber. It’s as if a miracle has been smuggled in right under our noses.”


In October 2014 the Feds raided “Mayor of Chinatown” Tony Hu’s restaurants, including the very popular Lao Sze Chuan. Speculation ran wild—immigration problems? (Hu is active in bringing Chinese cooks over.) The revival of the On Leong Tong, which ran Chinatown until the Feds busted them in the 80s? Yet the better part of two years went by with no action… until this week, when Hu was indicted for tax evasion and money laundering (which is basically just the act of depositing the taxes he evaded, by my reading of the indictment, as a graduate of the Dick Wolf School of Law & Order).

DNAInfo has published the indictment, and after reading it there’s the unmistakable smell of a big fish that got away. That’s not to say Hu may not be in big trouble, and indeed his empire could well not survive this—but it is hard to believe that the FBI went to all that trouble to catch somebody cheating on their cash receipts in the fairly penny-ante ways the indictment describes (in a lot of do-it-yourself detail, frankly), which is all too common in the restaurant biz and not something that normally calls for a SWAT raid. Whatever they thought they could nail Tony Hu on, it’s looks like after rummaging through his life for two years, they can’t prove it.


Jeez, when’s the last time an African restaurant had a review in a mainstream Chicago publication? Never? So kudos to Michael Nagrant for visiting Little Unicoco, a Rogers Park Nigerian restaurant (named for a famous place on the Nigerian music scene), and giving some exposure to one of our most invisible cuisines: “The menu is split into sections called ‘small chops,’ or finger and street foods, and ‘large chops,’ more substantial entree-size portions made up of soups and stews. Adeoye was a fabulous ambassador, guiding me through the various flavors and options. At one point, he even brought out raw alligator pepper, which has a floral perfume like Szechuan peppercorns but very little of the stinging bite. But I’m most thankful that he pointed me to a catfish stew called ofe nsala ($16) that boasts spicy, peanut buttery notes and reminded me of a good New Orleans étouffée.” (Redeye)


Louisa Chu spends a lot of her review of Imperial Lamian establishing her own bona fides by offering a primer on how to eat soup dumplings or xiao long bao, so that by the time she goes in for the kill, you believe her: “While the wrappers of Lamian’s xiaolongbao were desirably thin, about a third were already broken when served, leaking soup through the basket. Some fillings were bland, including the pork, Gruyere and truffle. On another visit, the pork was oversalted. A few times, it was just right. The inconsistency was maddening. Great XLB remains a unicorn in Chicago — and yes, I’m including Ed’s Potsticker House and Stephanie Izard’s new Duck Duck Goat in that assessment.” (Tribune)


You can’t tell the players without a scorecard in the Breakroom Brewery/Finch’s Beer story, but the Trib tries: Breakroom closed, Finch’s sold to some of its investors after its launch underwhelmed, they also bought Hopthesis, and now they’ll just be Finch, opening The Finch Kitchen in the Breakroom space, with some help from Matthias Merges (Yusho, A10… and his own Old Irving Park Brewing Co., coming in August in the space where Homaro Cantu planned his Crooked Fork Brewing). Got that?


Mike Sula can barely stay awake through the sheer Italian excitement Il Porcellino brings to River North: “It has the same ersatz, Disneyesque artificiality that LEYE is prone to employ to entice the masses. There are the padded red-leather booths, the red-checkered tablecloths, the wicker-jacketed Chianti bottles, and a wall bedecked with photos of pop culture icons. OMG Dean Martin! the tourists will squeal.” But he has to admit the food isn’t bad, just… familiar: “Gnocchi is sauced with a bright, meaty prime-rib Bolognese that somehow doesn’t weigh down the fluffy dumplings. A bowl of scampi spaghetti is similarly vibrant, with fat, sweet shrimp, whole roasted garlic, and the slow burn of Calabrian chiles. A special, spaghetti with meatballs, however, arrives covered in a wan, watery sauce containing meatballs so overextended with bread crumbs only a pigeon could be happy with them.” (Reader)


Given a choice between a whole staff covering something, or one obsessive person… let’s just say that Nick Kindelsperger’s approach to a taco a day for a month handily beats the Trib’s mac and cheese and breakfast months. Especially now that the obvious subtopics have sort of been covered, Kindelsperger is hitting more interesting, quirkier aspects of tacos qua tacos, and I’ve particularly enjoyed recent ones like this survey of top handmade tortillas (though no surprises there), a disappointed visit to the (always overrated but in the past, at least pretty good) La Pasadita, and going for tacos de canasta and other little-known south side highlights with Fooditor’s own Titus Ruscitti and Hunter Owens. Let’s hope this month means Louisa Chu is warming up for a month of Chinese food next.


Anthony Todd grabs tiki expert Rob Christopher to check out the new menu of drinks at Three Dots and a Dash—and the result are rinky-tinky more than tiki-tastic. Christopher’s summation: “My unfortunate conclusion is that Three Dots and a Dash is essentially coasting on its past glories, offering up the novelty of the ‘tiki bar experience’ to a customer base consisting largely of tourists and the River North crowd, and doing it at prices that beggar belief. If history is any guide, they’d better be careful: complacency was the main thing that helped deep-six tiki the first time around.”


I think it was snowing when I ate at Magic Jug, a northwest side Ukrainian restaurant, with Rob Gardner, so it’s about time he finally wrote it up for New City, puzzling out what makes it Ukrainian: “On our first visit to Magic Jug, we learned of their kiln-fired dishes. Take pelmeni. These small meat-stuffed dumplings are said to be Siberian. Get an order, nine or eighteen. The pelmeni arrive at the table in a ceramic jug. I believe that’s what it takes to make them Ukrainian.”


Interesting piece from the Trib real estate beat, but with plenty of food interest to it, on why Chicago’s Chinatown is healthy and growing while others grow stale, stuck in 60s Suzie Wong kitsch. The main reason, not surprisingly, is affordability—something San Francisco and D.C. can’t claim.


To judge by the rendering at the Trib, a pop-up based on a TV show called Saved By the Bell (which post-dates my TV watching youth and thus, any feeling of nostalgia) looks like the most hideously 80s place to eat since Ed Debevic’s, but they just did one thing right—hiring chef Brian Fisher, the Schwa vet who you read about here at Fooditor. Tickets are on Tock.


Alton Brown was in town to try Chicago’s best Italian beef. By which it means, he ate two of them—not surprisingly, Johnnie’s and Al’s. You can see his blind taste test here. You can see how he arrived at those two choices, well maybe, here. I’m not sayin’… I’m just sayin’.


I went to Ceviche, a Peruvian restaurant in that longtime sketchy nightclub space opposite the Green Exchange on Diversey. And sketchy no more, it is instead a warm and welcoming South American BYOB with a sure hand on seasoning and cooking South American comfort food, and some of the most genuine service I’ve had in a long time. Impeccably light fried shrimp and calamari and the same in a zingy ceviche (but don’t get any “mixto” dish, which will come with muddy-tasting tilapia), a hearty oversized potato croquette, highly scarfable fried rice chaufas, perfectly decent grilled ribeye and a nice “seco” beef stew—all very happy choices for a very reasonable price, this is a find (so hat tip to Kenny Z, who led us there).