Wow, an overloaded food media week, you might almost think people could make a living at this stuff… which by the way, please support us via Patreon and get your autographed 2020 edition Fooditor 99 when it comes out in November. Thanks for helping us continue creating independent, fearless food media in Chicago!


South Side Weekly’s annual Best of the South Side issue is out, and too many of the items are food-related for me to link them all. Plus I’m savoring them like Charlie Bucket eating his one and only Wonka bar of the year. But read about everything from the Best Fish-Filled Pineapple to the Best Tacos As Big As Your Face (Los Olivos, and if the photo looks a little familiar, I took one in the exact same spot and light that wound up on the back of the 2018 Fooditor 99), to the Best Banana Split y Neveria. Then go explore!


I really was planning to ignore the Bib Gourmands as much as I could, it’s always an odd, somewhat random list of (this year) 54 restaurants, many of them widely talked about by nobody except Michelin, go read Eater’s recap if you have to know the minute shifts in the list during a year full of exciting openings…

…then Birrieria Zaragoza got on the list.

Amazing because it’s a list that’s been at best quirky on Mexican food in particular, and God knows that tourists visiting Chicago aren’t generally shuffling around 43rd and Pulaski. But it shows the power of good food and good vibes to triumph over assumptions of where the best stuff is in town—all hail the family Zaragoza, some of the best people running a restaurant anywhere in town. And all hail the word of mouth that has made this a longtime favorite of real Chicagoans, in the absence of major press attention until relatively recently. In my first edition of The Fooditor 99, I put it at #2, to make the point that this is a city about mind-blowing meals under $10, not just over $100.

Congrats to all the newbies this year, which besides Zaragoza are: Avli Taverna, Cabra, Cira, County Barbecue, Etta, Flat & Point, Funkenhausen, Ghin Khao, Ina Mae Tavern, Kie-Gol-Lanee, La Josie, Nella Pizza e Pasta, and Virtue. The absence of certain names—Jeong, Galit, etc.—may mean they are due for a star. Just kidding! No one will get a star this year, they will need several more years to observe these standout openings of this year, because Michelin.

Here’s a recent interview with Jonathan Zaragoza, the son who has worked around a number of other local restaurants including Sepia. He has some interesting comments on being a young Mexican-American chef.


And while we’re talking awards, big congrats to Iliana Regan and local Agate Publishing, for her memoir Burn The Place landing on the National Book Awards non-fiction longlist, the first food book to make the list since Julia Child’s Julia Child & More Company in 1980. Doug Seibold, owner of Agate, says on Twitter why this matters: “There are a lot of things about this book, this author, and her writing that are remarkable, unforgettable, indelible &, but this is a story that has everything to do with the culture and landscape of NW Indiana and with the amazing, STILL undervalued culinary scene in Chicago.”


No way, Phil Vettel gave four stars to the 28th Next menu, a critical project of minutely and obsessively documenting something that is itself minutely and obsessively detailed, an act that feels by now as intricate and self-referential as a Chris Ware comic (now there’s a theme for a Next dinner, next time). Anyway, this is the Jose Andrés tribute dinner: “The challenge in saluting Andrés, however, is that all his restaurants are ongoing concerns… Instead, chefs Grant Achatz and Edgar Tinoco chose the theme ‘The Best of José Andrés,’ a menu that traces the chef’s career from his northern-Spain origins to his present-day restaurant empire in the United States. The menu is a pastiche of the chef’s most notable creations, an edible travelogue with stops in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami Beach and even Disney World.”


Mike Sula falls under the spell of the lady making fresh handmade pasta in the window on Division Street, at Tortello: “The display is meant to highlight the thorough effort the couple has made, going so far as to host Lilla Simone, a real Italian grandma and sfoglina, or pasta maker, to train the staff. Simone has since returned to Puglia, but the daily results of her three proteges are on grand display under the glass counter in this slim space: flour-dusted ivory tangles of bucatini, piled paccheri, and/or coils of fusilli, all sold by the pound next to containers of sauce.”


Joanne Trestrail is impressed with 90th Meridian, tucked inside a refurbished historical building in the Loop: “The smallish menu is deep rather than wide; every dish we sampled had at least one well-executed surprise among its layered flavors. Tuna crudo ($14) is crowned with a dramatic rice cracker studded with black sesame seeds. Below it, smoked egg yolk gives the fish a push in an unexpected direction… Among sandwiches, banh mi French dip ($16) is a clever mashup of Vietnamese and (in our opinion) Chicago-style Italian beef, with pho-braised short rib, basil chimichurri, crunchy pickled vegetables and jalapeno packed into crusty baguette, with a bowl of pho dipping broth (aka locally as ‘au jus’) alongside.”


Ji Suk Yi explains why Perilla is her new recommendation for Korean food: it “centers on the first generation Korean Americans’ experience as well as the food their parents prepared for them when they were growing up in the Chicago suburbs. ‘We wanted to find a good middle ground, be accessible…’ said [chef Andrew] Lim who bucked tradition and his parents’ wishes by pursuing professional cooking. ‘If it’s too cool, then only the [younger generation] will like it, so we feel like we’re in a good place. Our generation can appreciate it and our parents’ generation can find familiar items and flavors and be proud of the evolution of our cuisine.'”

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If food writing must mainly be lists, at least the Tribune does them with thorough digging, day after day, all over the region. Nick Kindelsperger followed up his city burger list with a suburban burger list. If you’re hoping for great discoveries, well… not in the number one slot anyway. But if you live there, you’ll find it useful. Kindelsperger then tweeted a picture of an Indian lunch from the suburbs, which to my mind is a far better use of Tribune expense money (and its fleet of mauve and hunter green 1938 DeSoto roadsters emblazoned with Colonel McCormick’s face, a familiar sight racing to stories around town), because there’s a lot of good Indian food in the burbs and no one’s written about 90% of it. So looking forward to that when it comes.

Meanwhile, Louisa Chu hit eight local dim sum places outside of Chinatown itself—would you have guessed there were more or fewer than that? So no Cai or Dolo (my standbys for sure); they were covered earlier. Instead she tells you what to look for as highlights at places like Grandee Cuisine in Streeterville or Tang’s Garden on Canal Street.


My sons and I make an unnamed appearance in Ina Pinkney’s breakfast column this time: “I had lots of company, so we really dug in. The highlights were two versions of toast: One featuring hummus with roasted eggplant, zucchini, red onion and pickled Fresno chile with lemon tahini dressing on multigrain bread, and another made with chopped, hard-boiled egg, smashed avocado, capers and red chile flakes on multigrain bread.” That’s at a kosher coffee shop called Bond Coffee Collective in Rogers Park; she also goes to Frida’s in Evanston and Peach’s at Currency Exchange Cafe.


Anthony Todd has a preview of the first of Carlos Gaytan’s three restaurants within a complex, Tzuco (which has one of the coolest designs in town, I can say after attending a preview myself).


At Plate, John Kessler takes a look at Au Cheval moving to New York and asks, what spells success or failure for a hit from one city moving to another? “It’s easy enough to duplicate the surface gleam of a popular restaurant, but much harder to communicate what guests fell for in the first place. Successful restaurants become sensations in a specific time and place and with a particular cohort of diners. (Indeed, all of us scratch our heads at the local places that diners both older and younger than us flock to.) These restaurants develop a recognizable personality within the civil discourse of a city.”

What often works is not to move from one established A city to another—Chicago to New York or vice versa—but to move from an A city to a boom town, a Vegas, a Nashville (like Billy Dec has and I wrote about here), or… Austin, as Aba apparently is (h/t Ari Bendersky). There, I think the question will be, not does the food stands out—it’s fairly typical middle eastern fare—but can they replicate the charms of the location, especially in a place with 100 degree days all summer?


I think Columbus, Ohio is one of the more underrated food cities in America—it has a great food hall in the North Market, quite the Somali food scene among other things, plus being the first place you see lots of aspiring fast casual chains—but Titus Ruscitti goes there for old school gutbombs in this report. I only spot one place I’ve been—the inevitable Buckeye Donuts.


You’ve probably seen this feelgood ice cream truck story from Block Club Chicago… if not, here it is.


Michael Nagrant has been reading celebrity food diaries in glossy magazines: “Famished, I summoned my personal chef Antony, and asked for almonds (he can’t cook, but he’s hot). Antony brought me seven pumpkin-spiced almonds (I like to keep things seasonal). I savored each one, except for the seventh. I planted that almond behind the pool house, in hopes of reforesting our plantation with a copse of almond bushes.”

Oh, and Nagrant also had choice words on Twitter for a reviewer who whined about having to go eat at rich people places in California. It might have been this piece, by Tejal Rao in the NYT (I have to say, given a choice between spending far too much money in California or New York, I will pick the calm, understated plutocracy of California over the more abrasive New York kind any time…)


I was just thinking about White Fence Farm, the suburban chicken getaway that is probably the closest still-operating business to the kind of place that The Milk Pail used to be. Anyway, Steve Dolinsky talks about White Fence Farm turning old enough for Social Security, and another place that serves the occasional chicken, Lula Cafe, is one birthday shy of being able to legally drink.


Grant Achatz spells out his recommendations for top places to eat in town, from fancy (Smyth, Boka) to QXY Dumplings (“You’re going there for one thing: to gorge on dumplings. Specifically, you want to get the lamb and coriander dumplings: they’re phenomenal. And it’s a super cool place. You’ll walk by the kitchen and see five or six old Chinese grandmothers back there rolling, shaping and cranking out all of these dumplings. It’s just the cutest thing ever.”)


Kevin Pang, of the Tribune food section, For Grace and then The Onion/The Takeout, announced he was leaving food writing. Then he sort of clarified on Twitter that precisely what he was doing was joining the PR/strategy/marketing etc. firm of Melissa Harris… who, it is interesting to note, is representing Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser’s new restaurant Ever. “What we’re hoping to build, though, is something new in the food world. Take everything I’ve learned from writing, filmmaking, digital media and behavior science to make cool things together.


A jar of Just Egg separates the “Just” and the “Egg” typographically because, in fact, there’s no egg in it; so that lets them claim the “Just” is the brand and “egg” is just the flavor. In the same sense, Dennis Lee’s new blog post is Just Dennis, because it’s actually by his girlfriend Davida. The question posed is, if Beyond Beef is such a perfect meat substitute, you should be able to do anything beefy with it, like make… beef tartare, right? Let’s start with the crack (get it?) about the Just egg: “The texture of the cooked ‘egg’ invoked a perfectly passable La Quinta continental breakfast, the kind you inhale gratefully after 3 hours of sleep in the middle of Kansas while on your way to anywhere but Kansas.” It just gets better.


Sad news from a restaurant that took a personal blow a few years ago: Susanne Poilevey, who with her sons ran Le Bouchon and Le Sardine after the death of chef-owner Jean-Claude Poilevey in 2016, has died from cancer at age 60. Besides the restaurants she co-owned, exemplars of classical French bistro cuisine in Chicago, she was part of the opening team of Charlie Trotter’s in 1987. (Tribune)

And two years after the passing of John Veliotis, owner of south side slice of life Johnny O’s, a little bit of Chicago died this weekend when Veliotis’ son Peter closed the Bridgeport hot dog stand/packaged goods store. But it lives on in this video I made a few years ago, showing what the south side was like and, incidentally, how to make a Mother-In-Law and a breaded steak sandwich (by far the best one in Bridgeport and thus the world, in my book).


I skipped this section last week because of the book review, so lots to go through quickly here:

Found myself on the north shore for high school musical instrument-related reasons, so I figured what’s another few miles to Buncha Hanoi in Glenview. Its namesake dish, grilled pork and noodles famously served to Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama, has the bright and fresh taste of Vietnam—without too much fish sauce for the north shore.

El Sabor Poblano is a real find in Rogers Park (I think it’s Sula’s, anyway, he reviewed it in May), doing something rare—genuinely regional Mexican in a mom and pop. Great handmade tortillas and the earthy pumpkin seed mole, a little bit of a shock at first, grew on me.

Hit D’s Cuisine for Sunday morning dim sum—and was worried at how empty it was around 9:30, though it filled up a bit as it got closer to dim sum/brunch hours. Anyway, it’s the real deal, if not as wide a menu as places like Dolo; if you’re near Lakeview, appreciate it and patronize it.

La Mom Kitchen in Bridgeport has gotten lots of love recently for excellent Shanghainese food from John Kessler, Sula and others. But when I did my big Chinatown roundup earlier in the year I skipped it—because all the Yelp reviews talked about was a lunchtime burrito, and that didn’t seem promising. Months later that seems to be gone, probably thankfully, but unfortunately success may have taken a toll on the quality of more authentic offerings. La Mom’s dumplings were fantastic, not exactly xiao long bao but similar, with a deep, comforting soupy-savoriness; and we had a first-rate plate of lacquered hong sue pork. But two soups were not all they could be: the Shanghainese beef broth with shaved noodles had great hand-shaved noodles, but underseasoning muffled what was good quality broth. Guilin rice noodles with beef broth and Sichuan peppercorn, though, was pretty disastrous, tasting like someone had burnt the peppers in the wok to ashtray level. When it’s good it’s very good…

Pera Turkish Kitchen is one of the cluster of new Turkish restaurants in Lakeview these days, and I ordered delivery from it. Most of it the usual stuff, well enough made for delivery, but one novelty that was a standout: bright pink beet hummus was quite good.

Momo World has momos (dumplings) and other Nepalese dishes. The momos were quite tasty and well-spiced; a cauliflower curry was bland, closer to Campbell’s vegetable soup than a Devon Avenue aloo gobi. Interesting enough to potentially go back—but the location, on Maxwell by Halsted, is so soulless, it’d have to be when I had to go there anyway.

Flora Fauna just didn’t work. Not the too-short cocktail list that should have been more tiki bar fun but was mostly things like an old fashioned with a pineapple slice in it. Not the “stone bowl” section of the menu which apparently means meats that don’t go together, in a too-heavy beef broth that makes all of them taste the same, with whole vegetables impossible to portion into sizes appropriate to the tortillas (WTF?) that come with them. They made no sense to my party, and while some of the smaller plates fared a little better, it all seemed like an attempt at an Asian cuisine that doesn’t actually exist.

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