Once we had burger lists every week. Now we have taco lists, apparently. And if I wanted one list, it’d be—well, after Titus’s it would be Nick Kindelsperger’s, and here’s his 31 tacos of the moment:

No other food holds such a magnetic sway over me. Sure, I find tacos deeply satisfying, but the great ones leave me in genuine awe. Though you can break tacos into three essential components — tortilla, filling and salsa — in the hands of a great chef, the possibilities feel limitless. I remain spellbound by well-made salsas and will always marvel at how dried corn can be transformed (through the process of nixtamalization) into stretchy, elastic corn tortillas.

The real question for me is, is any list going to go beyond the places that get mentioned on every list—not that I have any objection to seeing La Chaparrita become the Edzo’s of taco lists—and delve into the many different different things that can go into a tortilla? And that is the real virtue of Nick’s list, which has crispy fish tacos (the best thing at Antique Taco) and cecina (dried beef) tacos and the inevitable-in-2020 quesabirrias and a vegetarian taco and a breakfast taco. Oh, and who could say no to all of  this:

Taqueria Chingón’s menu is littered with fillings that you’ll find nowhere else in Chicago. Sure, there’s al pastor, but there’s also vegetarian al pastor, made with thin slices of portobello mushroom and celery root cooked on a trompo. If you want to try morcilla (blood sausage) or tender pork cheek, you know where to go. But the one filling I always return to is the duck carnitas, which somehow manages to be crispy, tender and juicy all at the same time. It’s topped with a slightly sweet date purée, colorful chunks of Cara Cara orange and a spellbinding sunchoke-habanero salsa that’s both spicy and aromatic. It’s one of those tacos that sounds too fussy for its own good, before you end up devouring the whole thing in less than 20 seconds.

I’m not going to say there were that many places I didn’t already know about—of course, some I knew about because Nick already wrote about them—but there were lots of tacos I’ve yet to have, so I have my summer cut out for me, I guess.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Mexican food front, Nick also reviews Con Todo Cantina—not a surprise, since I ran into him there—though he does seem a little surprised that consulting chef Jonathan Zaragoza was soon on his way out (I think that was already suspected when we both ate there):

But while Zaragoza crafted the menu and was the focal point of most of Con Todo’s press before opening, he just announced last month that he is no longer involved with the restaurant. I figured something was up after talking to him for this review, since Zaragoza was clear that he planned to be less involved. “(Con Todo) needed some help on the culinary side of things, and I had the time,” Zaragoza said. “I do have another project lined up.”

Well, yeah, it’s definitely hipster Mexican for Logan Square (it’s in the former Yusho space). Anyway, I liked its version of Mexican, and so did Nick:

The pamburguesa sums up Con Todo fairly well. This is a kitchen unafraid to take the time to do things the hard way — making corn tortillas from scratch, cooking the al pastor over charcoal — yet which also isn’t afraid to cast aside the traditional for whatever sounds most exciting.


One of the last places we’ve been waiting to see reopen is the Cherry Circle Room at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel. Anthony Todd tells us why it took so long and what’s new.


David Hammond delves into the mysterious history of the pizza puff, a study perhaps summed up by this factoid: “[while] the pizza puff is sold in thirty-eight states, about half of all puffs are eaten in the Chicago area.” Part of the source of this curiosity is Hammond’s upcoming book with Monica Eng, Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites, coming out early next year.


For Asian American Pacific Islander Month—for wha? you say—anyway, Steve Dolinsky talks about a different cuisine each week, starting with Korean food in the suburbs visiting Jeonju in Morton Grove for goat soup, and 92 Town in Schaumburg for pajeon. He also has a list of places in the city he recommends at the same link.


Titus Ruscitti made his first trip to Mexico after lockdown and one destination was Puebla:

There’s lots of reasons to visit Puebla and if I’m visiting an obvious one is the food. It’s one of Mexico’s gastronomic capitals and the birthplace of the much beloved Mole Poblano among many other regional dishes we will explore in this post. But outside of the food there’s a ton of other stuff to see and do. The city itself is one of the most European feeling in all of North America with all sorts of old buildings plus churches and also the famous Talavera art. Puebla was the most prominent of the Mexican centers of pottery production to employ the technique of tin-enameled earthenware, known in Europe as maiolica. Much like Portugal many of the buildings are covered in tiles. Puebla’s Zocalo (main square) is considered one of if not the best in Mexico. It’s a pretty city to walk but Ubers are also cheap (TIP WELL). Before brands like Corona turned Cinco de Mayo into a faux holiday it was a real one in Puebla where every May 5th they commemorate the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. If you enjoy Mexico you’ll enjoy a trip to Puebla.


Hell if I know when it will ever be spring, but we can think about planning road trips, and Chicago mag has an issue devoted to things to do in Southwestern Michigan, including Anthony Todd on where to eat:

It would normally be going out on a limb to call a spot the “best” restaurant in the area — unless that spot is Houndstooth. Nothing else even comes close, which is why this modern yet cozy space hiding on a dark street in Benton Harbor’s arts district has become a destination for Chicago diners. The chefs, James and Cheyenne Galbraith, are siblings who did time at Chicago spots like Elske and Boka. The cuisine is hard to categorize, so don’t think about it too hard and just order the milk bread with black garlic, the short rib tartare with crunchy shoestring potatoes, and the smoky-savory barbecued carrots with cumin cream.

Been meaning to go there since learning about it from The New Chicagoan. He also contributes—you’ll never guess—where to drink, and this sounds especially appealing, Waypost Brewing Co. in Fennville:

The tiny woman-owned brewery is set smack in the middle of a giant blueberry farm. Its indoor space isn’t huge, but in the summer a beautiful shady patio awaits. If it’s in stock, be sure to try the sea salt stout, one of the area’s more unusual savory beers.

UPDATE: Hoo boy! A pizza and brewpub place in New Buffalo—one I’ve been to—saw Anthony’s list and apparently concluded that the only reason they weren’t included is some conspiracy of their local rivals. The result was a threatening message to Anthony on Instagram, written in full Bond Villain Voice (“We shall see, Anthony. We shall see.”) and, as several people chime in, the worst way to do PR for your place with someone who writes for a major magazine.


Saw a lot of social media mentions of a list at Conde Nast Traveler of what they say are the 26 best restaurants in Chicago. It’s a list of conventional wisdom, not discoveries, nothing too unusual or new, mostly upscale but a few obvious casual things thrown in (Pequod’s, Sun Wah; apparently we don’t eat Thai or Mexican food except Mi Tocaya). That said, it’s not a bad list for a quick checklist of what’s newish and hot-ish at the moment, good for… travelers.


Chicago mag talks to Beverly Kim about her life and career including, inevitably, working in the elite kitchen of Charlie Trotter: “I just didn’t buy it after a while. It didn’t motivate me. It made me more insecure instead of building me up.” Read it all.


You probably heard last week that the 1930s-era neon sign from Chinese restaurant Orange Garden was going to be  auctioned off. What’s surprising is who bought it: Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan’s wife. It will be restored and installed at Madame Zuzu’s, the tea shop he owns in Highland Park, says Josh Noel in the Trib.


You may know a family-run Mexican restaurant on the northwest side, Pueblo Nuevo. Owner Lulu Alvarez is a warm and gracious host—but she’s had to close the restaurant temporarily to have surgery for some health problems she’s had for some years. There’s a GoFundMe fundrsaiser to help her during this time; read more about her and please consider contributing here.


This item requires a disclosure first: as many will know, I am a contributor to the Jean Banchet Awards show, pulling together the in memoriam section and other parts as needed. So I’m not an objective journalist on the topic; I strongly approve of the whole venture, which not only supports medical research into a terrible disease (cystic fibrosis) but is, I think, a very good thing for our local food community, bringing it together (especially in this post-COVID year) and—at a time when serious food journalism is kind of drying up—an important place that rising talent gets early publicity. Just look at how things like Thattu jumped from Banchet nominee to the James Beard longlist and magazine coverage, to see how it alerts the world to what the Chicago critical community is paying attention to. (It makes me wish more local food media attended it and experienced this side of our food scene—the only ones I saw there this year besides myself were Steve Dolinsky and Lisa Shames.)

So. Eater Chicago planned a piece on the Banchets, who’s behind them and how they happen, and I was one of the people that writer Leah Giangreco interviewed. A big part of the emphasis of this piece, it quickly became clear, was whether the Banchet nominations and winners are diverse enough. This will come as no surprise to readers of Eater Chicago, which incidentally has only ever had male lead editors, but is very focused on others’ diversity. (Just look at their reaction to John Kessler becoming Chicago mag’s lead reviewer two weeks ago.) But it’s an unavoidable question at the moment, given the experience of the James Beard Awards, which bungled its initial efforts to diversify their slate of nominees in 2020, imploding on the launchpad that year and calling their own judges racist. So I’m not knocking the Eater piece for approaching the Banchets with this question in mind; it’s a decent piece, and I’m just adding my own experience and perspective to it here.

The thing is, the Beards’ highly publicized problem is one that the Banchets never really shared—they took action to increase diversity on multiple levels years ago, well before the Beards. At the time the Banchets were, as I think I called them in Grub Street then, the “Restaurant With the Most Money” awards—they were a reflection of our food scene in the early 2010s which was heavy on glitzy, expensive buildouts like Grace, Ria, Sixteen, L2O and so on. In time the Banchets tried to expand past that with new categories reflecting a more inclusive vision of the restaurant scene—in 2016 they added a Best Neighborhood Restaurant category (first winner: mfk.) aimed at honoring standout mid-priced restaurants around the city, and a Best Ethnic Restaurant (now called Heritage Restaurant) award, which first went to Birrieria Zaragoza. The next year they added an Alternative Dining award, aimed at being receptive to whatever was happening on the food scene besides traditional sitdown service—so it was food trucks when those were hot, food halls when they were the thing, and ghost kitchens and popups this year.

So that was diversity in types of restaurants, in terms of how they operated, what cuisines of the world, and what parts of the city they represented. But broadening what types of restaurants were honored also led to male-female diversity as well. It’s still hard for women to find backing in the kind of upscale restaurant that typically gets the Restaurant of the Year prize—though it’s not unknown; Monteverde (two women owners) won in 2018, and Fat Rice and Smyth, owned by couples (at the time), won in 2016 and 2020. But look beyond the very top categories, admittedly pretty male, and you see lots of rising women—the previous set of winners, in 2020, also included Anna Posey of Elske (sharing Chef of the year with David Posey), Jess Galli of Middle Brow Bungalow as Rising Chef, Mariya Russell of Kumiko as Best Chef-de-Cuisine, Tatum Sinclair of S.K.Y. for Rising Pastry Chef, and Passerotto (owned by Jennifer Kim) for Neighborhood Restaurant.

“Even with those changes, there are notable categories this year where all the nominees are male,” says the Eater piece. “Chef of the Year boasts an all-male roster, with the exception of a dual nomination for Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark at Wherewithall and Parachute.” All-male, except for the woman on it! But you know what word can’t be used right before “male?” “White,” when the nominees included African-American chef Erick Williams (who won), Vietnamese Thai Dang, Mexican Carlos Gaytan, and Korean woman Beverly Kim. Diversity takes different forms, all important.

Jennifer Kim, who had Passerotto, is quoted as saying:

“Again, it kind of comes to a little bit of that elitism within our entire industry of just being like, what’s considered a chef, right?” Kim says. “Because yeah, some of them might not have traditional training. Some of them may have never worked in a Michelin-star restaurant. But why does that negate them from being able to participate in anything?”

Well, it doesn’t, that’s why. First of all, look at Kim herself—a two-time Banchet winner—but also look at this year’s Rising Chef of the Year winner, Ethan Lim of Hermosa. He grew up in an Asian restaurant family and over time evolved his sandwich shop into a Cambodian tasting menu; although he worked as a host at Next at one point, he’s never had upscale culinary training. Yet I guess that’s exactly who’s considered a chef—by the Banchets.

*  *  *

Speaking of the Banchet awards (and Eater), Grimod at Understanding Hospitality weighs in on the previous week’s controversy—the one about S.K.Y., and the CF Foundation higher-ups removing Jelena Prodan and S.K.Y. from the list of nominees for Best Sommelier. (The award went to Alex Ring of Sepia/Proxi, and I am told that the winners for the awards had been selected a few weeks before the controversy, the timing driven, as so often in these kinds of events, by a very practical consideration—how much lead time is needed to get the medals engraved.) Anyway, Grimod has some sensible observations on the issue of guests drinking very expensive liquor without necessarily knowing its price:

The server that made the mistake is not alleged to have engaged in any discriminatory behavior earlier in the meal. Upon offending his party by probing about the price, he brought the drink, heard their grievances, and expressed his regret. The point of failure in the hospitality process (the server) formed the same point through which the situation was remedied.

Nonetheless, the aggrieved guests “continued to ask for staff to address the situation.”…

Faced with an escalating scene (in which the aggrieved party sought some remedy that went beyond the server’s apology), the sommelier perceived the table as a group of troublemakers looking to solicit some form of compensation.

What, to the guests, seemed like discrimination was, if you are to assume good faith, a standard effort to protect the patron and the restaurant in the face of unknown pricing. From that perspective, the bar manager and sommelier defended their reading of the situation and refused to apologize.

In the end he has judgment for the judging organization:

While any controversy, certainly, detracts from the organization’s efforts to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, its refusal to engage in any impartial investigatory process abandons the very professionals it purports to honor.


Lardon was easily the new place I ate at the most times in 2021, admiring their housecured meats and sandwiches at lunch— if a bit less their dinners. Nevertheless, all of it pleasing enough that I was instantly curious about the bar and restaurant, Union, they opened next door, and tagged along with David Hammond and wife when they were invited to a media preview for it—not that the packed place (on a Thursday) seemed to need any help from media folks.

The narrow bar, running parallel to Lardon, focuses on an interesting list of local and midwestern craft brews, though I was pleased with the short but thoughtful cocktail list. The food menu looks pretty expected for a bar—but it’s all about execution, as chef Chris Thompson demonstrated at Coda di Volpe, which was much better than “Italian restaurant on Southport” would suggest. Of the appetizers we tried, the one that I would happily have ordered another round of, and kept noshing on, was deep-fried castelvetrano green olives with romesco to dip them in; I also really enjoyed smoked trout with toast, and the Lardon side of things was represented by bresaola tartine, served on toast with blackberries.

For entrees, we had hanger steak and pork chop—the fancy cut off a hog brought in to make cured meats on the other side, and a plate of housemade cavatelli with vodka sauce. Each was a bit better than expected, with the pork chop being especially flavorable and silky-smooth for a hunk of meat, and the cavatelli toothsome and satisfying. There are just three desserts, but I liked a blood orange verrine and a chocolate stout cake a lot. Could Union become the place I eat the most in 2022? It’s off to a good start.