Congrats to two Chicago restaurants for making The New York Times‘ annual (since 2021) nationwide restaurant list, which you can see here. First, Daisies, by Brett Anderson:

Chefs serving ‘authentic’ fritto misto in landlocked locations typically enlist the help of airfreighted squid. That’s not how Joe Frillman does things. His Italian-inspired cuisine is authentically Midwestern. That means fritto misto starring cheese curds and local mushrooms, enjoyed with a sassy sparkling rosé made from grapes grown along the Illinois River. The pastas include pierogi, and you’ll find fried whitefish from the Great Lakes. But the extreme locavorism is not shallow trickery. Daisies’ cooking is as adept as any you’ll find in Chicago. That extends to the desserts of Leigh Omilinsky, who became a partner in the restaurant, originally opened in 2017, when it moved into a new, larger space in March.

Then Priya Krishna on Thattu:

The former food hall stand serving fare from the coastal southwest region of Kerala in India has found a larger home for its loud flavors courtesy of owners Margaret Pak and Vinod Katathil. Everything here, down to the stainless steel plates the food is served on, feels homestyle. Expect fish fries, yogurt rice and coconutty curries whose remnants you’ll eagerly sop up with appam, lacy domes made of rice and coconut. Even the more playful dishes, like tater tots dusted with chaat masala, feel like those clever snacks devised in a pinch by an enterprising home cook.

In other honors, Jonathan Goldsmith’s Spacca Napoli made the 50 Top Pizza list of the 100 best pizzas in the world (Time Out has a story here); and Dominique Leach of Lexington Betty’s took top honors on Food Network’s BBQ Brawl.


John Kessler has a new column in Chicago mag, which lets him speak more briefly than a full review on thoughts about local restaurants. He started by asking the question: “Is Daisies worth a perennial spot in our dining rotation?” This will seem an odd question to the many Chicagoans who have long since answered that with a rousing yes—it was jam-packed when I went there on Friday night (more to come below)—but let’s hear him out:

Owner/chef Joe Frillman stands alone in this city for his deft use of animal products as seasoning. I love the way a cap of soft duck fat renders his potted carrots so lush, and I’m forever obsessed with the seasonal dish he calls “The Overpriced Tomato” — an open-faced tartine of summer tomatoes seasoned with “cheap balsamic” and molten bone marrow. These ingredients lift the sweet-tart tang and mouthwatering umami of sliced heirloom fruit at its peak. (Much of the produce comes from Frillman Farms, owned by Joe’s brother.) This dish is one of the glories of Chicago dining and, FYI, available through mid-October.

The distinctive handmade pastas, however, don’t hit the spot as much as I’d like. Strozzapreti with lemon, Swiss chard, and Rancho Gordo beans suggests a smart update on pasta fazool, while chitarra spaghetti in Sungold sugo sounded amazing to my ears: those little yellow tomatoes have the most distinctive sweetness in all of Tomatodom. Yet both generously portioned pastas swam about in rich sauces, nice enough if sloppy. I was hoping for more sharply defined flavors and less fat. I also tried a roast chicken entree that was tender and juicy but flabby skinned and meekly seasoned. Fine.

I saw chef-owner Joe Frillman at the end of my meal and found myself, as I often do, serving as the inadvertent representative for the food media-American community. His response to the general take was basically “whatcha gonna do,” but he objected in particular to one line:

I can’t weigh in on partner Leigh Omilinsky’s pastries and desserts

…regarding it, collegially, as dereliction of a critic’s duty to have been to Daisies and not had his partner’s desserts. Anyway, Kessler also makes an observation about Chinatown these days (“you may notice something unusual: almost none of the newcomers are Chinese”—he means restaurants, not people), and talks about Warlord, which he loves (and reviewed last month).

Kessler also published a full-fledged review of the suddenly white-hot Tuk Tuk Thai Isan Street Food in Lakeview:

A few notes on Isan cooking: First, it is pungent, funky, and dead-ass spicy. There’s a great word in Thai to describe these qualities: zap. Second, you may already know some Isan dishes. Think about nam tok (slivers of grilled meat dressed as a salad with raw veggies) and all the variations of laab (ground meat bathed in lime juice, fish sauce, and roasted rice powder). Third, people all over Thailand love Isan food the way people all over the U.S. love Southwestern food. A lot of émigrés from this poor, rural region decamped to Thailand’s big cities for opportunity and brought their foodways with them. Many found work as street food vendors. You can oftentimes tell the Isan stalls by their braziers with sizzling meat dripping fat over coals and by the giant mortars the cooks use to pound dressings to order. That’s the heart of it: Isan food tingles with energy.

Not that long ago Chicago mag, which was basically willed into existence in the early 70s by Allen and Carla Kelson’s restaurant reviews, had nearly walked away from such content. So good to see its commitment becoming stronger like this, at a time when genuine reviews are fewer and farther between. It makes me want to treat John Kessler to the plum crostata I had Friday night.


Nick Kindelsperger’s 4-star review of Kyoten tries to settle the question of what the difference is between $450-ish Kyoten and $160ish Kyoten Next Door, but the most insightful thing in it was, I thought, this sentence about owner Otto Phan:

It’s clear that if it doesn’t have something to do with seafood, Phan’s not particularly interested.

Hence the room, which has upgraded from, as Kindelsperger put it, a dentist’s office to, I guess, feeling like the breakfast area of a downtown hotel. But it’s all about the fish:

Though both serve sushi, Kyoten and Kyoten Next Door are fundamentally different. “At Kyoten, I only serve wild seafood,” Phan said. “That means things change day to day and week to week.”

This helps explain the vast price difference. “A lot of people don’t know that farm-raised tuna in Spain goes for $35 a pound, while auction-grade tuna in Japan can go for $300 a pound,” Phan said.


When my son was going to school near Minneapolis, I had a neat plan to visit him occasionally and eat my way through the city. That lasted until COVID put an end to it. Anyway, Titus Ruscitti just went to Minneapolis and has a report on where he ate, at least a couple of which are on my list, like Owamni:

If Minneapolis wasn’t so far I would’ve tried Owamni much sooner. The 2022 James Beard winner of the “Best New Restaurant” award wasn’t the only reason I decided to roll into the Twin Cities but it was one of the main reasons I wanted to roll thru. It’s ran by Chef Sean Sherman, a Oglala Lakota chef who only cooks with ingredients used before the arrival of the Europeans. So no wheat, flour, dairy, cane sugar, black pepper etc. It sits in a slick space along the Mississippi River and it’s considered the most prominent indigenous kitchen in the country. First up was Tepary Bean with pickled walleye, green beans, red onions and tostadas. Think of it as a mix between refried beans and hummus. It was the perfect starter on a very warm day. Moving on I was told the corn chowder is one of the most popular menu items so I ignored the fact it was 90° out. It too was really good, especially the fried wild mushrooms on top.

Closer to home he checks out Maman Zari, the Persian tasting menu on Kedzie:

While a tasting menu is new to the neighborhood Persian food is not. This stretch of Kedzie was already home to a couple Persian restaurants both of which are commonly busy. The tasting menu comes with nine courses and will set you back $85. That’s a good deal at less than $10 a dish with the total being at least half the price of a typical tasting menu. There’s a wine pairing but drinks can also come ala carte. The cocktail menu is small but I enjoyed a take on the mojito called a Hamedan Mojito. It features white rum, falernum, Iranian mint vinegar syrup (sekanjabin), lime and soda. It hit the spot on a warm summer night.


Steve Dolinsky talks arepas, Venezuelan taco-like things, all over town:

Understanding the arepa provides a window to Venezuelan cuisine. At Bolivar & Lincoln, just a few blocks south of Wrigley Field, three brothers took it upon themselves to share their culture.

“We see it as a way of being ambassadors of our country and beyond our country, our people,” said Alejandro Balza, the co-owner of Bolivar & Lincoln.

Corn flour, salt and water are turned into dough, which is formed into thick discs then cooked.

“It’s kind of like a round pocket that is baked over a griddle,” he said.

Speaking of round things you can stuff the insides of, Steve also visited R&A Bagels up on Lawrence:

Rachel and Adam Beltzman got bit by the baking bug during the pandemic, moving from bread to bagels pretty quickly. The resulting business – R & A Sourdough – which now occupies the corner of Lawrence and Winchester in Ravenswood, has allowed them to grow steadily…

The key to everything is their sourdough starter.

“So a sourdough starter is like the bloodline of this bakery. It provides the bacteria; instead of commercial yeast it allows the bread to rise,” she said.


At Time Out, Maggie Hennessy went to Diego, which Stephen Sandoval opened while in the process of opening a permanent home for Sueños:

Tostadas shatter with a satisfyingly greasy crunch, by the way, indicating they’re fried to order from fresh corn tortillas. We broke off shards to scoop up bites of tangy snapper ceviche in coconut milk with tomatoes, avocado, onion and lime, while sipping our first round of drinks. A crisp September breeze floated in through the garage-style doors, which were thrown open to expose the spacious, wedge-shaped patio full of potted palms and revelers wrapped in colorful serape blankets.


The Infatuation visits Helmand, the Afghan restaurant on Kedzie which I liked a lot:

Appetizers like spiced potato-stuffed flatbread and plump beef mantu inspire “Albany Park” Zillow searches. And while the local kabob competition is fierce (there are several great spots nearby), every grilled piece of meat and seafood at Helmand is cooked and seasoned so perfectly it’s the indisputable king of Kabob Row.


Michael Nagrant went to Yokocho, the Japanese izakaya-ish place on Randolph (though heavier on sushi than an izakaya would normally be; a yokocho is not quite the same thing, but the precise differences are beyond me):

I am not an expert on yokocho culture, but what I see is a well-oiled kitchen having fun, dudes in newsboy caps and fedoras and black t-shirts bumping to electronica while blowtorching wagyu with Searzalls.

It is dangerous to invoke this, but I am getting a Warlord-restaurant feel here, a team of content cooks who DGAF because they’re doing exactly what they want to do and how they want to do it. I don’t know, maybe they secretly all hate each other, but the vibe I’m getting is they all dropped molly together at a David Guetta show and you can never take that away.

A lot of that last paragraph might as well be Japanese to me, but I gotta check it out sometime now.


Dominic Lynch went to Ummo, from ex-Gibson’s Italia chef Jose Sosa:

The cacio e pepe was excellent, with a perfectly al dente noodle that retained some chew and a textbook emulsified sauce. Its peppercorn blend was noted on the menu and added a nice touch of dimension to an otherwise simple dish.

Our other pasta was the garganelli, which came with a braised lamb ragu, mint pesto, and a dollop of ricotta cheese, making for a very colorful dish resembling the Italian flag. Once all the components were inevitably mixed together the mint in the pesto faded out, to my disappointment. The braised lamb held up, though, and rounded out the dish.


Lots of attention for Paul Fehribach’s book Midwestern Food. Amy Cavanaugh talks with him at Chicago mag:

As much as the book is a historical record, it also looks forward. Fehribach sees newcomer enclaves combining their traditions with established favorites to yield dishes like Cincinnati chili ramen or bierock bao. “Immigrant communities shake up established foodways and play with them,” he says. Throughout the book, he notes how significantly segregation in cities limits our culinary experience. “The Midwest is the whitest region in the country, but there are plenty of Midwesterners who are non-European in origin, and they deserve a seat at the table,” Fehribach says. “It contributes to a richer, more diverse food culture.”

At NewCity, Kate Burns says:

“Midwestern Food” celebrates working people’s food, dishes that have been shared at church socials, school potlucks, and community gatherings. From chow-chow and ranch dressing to horseshoes and mincemeat pie, from sausages and pizza to BBQ and whatever else you can eat with your hands, this is the book to help you find the best way to reverse engineer these staples at home and knock them into another ballpark. Sure, you can make a stereotypically Midwestern dinner by combining four processed foods already on your shelf: a starch, a protein, some cheese and corn flakes (and maybe a can of soup). But Fehribach gives us origins and recipes to create scratch hot dish, multiple kinds of regional BBQ sauces, pretzel salad (which is really a pie!), booyah, a fish fry two ways, every kind of pizza known on the prairie and in the foothills, Cincinnati chili, nifty vintage cocktails, and bonkers-sounding desserts like Cranberry & Bone Marrow Pie, along with more than ninety others. His reconfigurations show us why these all-stars became part of the Midwestern culinary lexicon in the first place.

WTTW sums it up in a wry headline: New Cookbook Argues Midwestern Food is More than Casseroles and Cheese. But Here’s a Recipe for Fried Cheese Curds Anyway

And Jonathan Surratt at Bounded by Buns makes a few recipes from the book here.


I haven’t weighed in on the upcoming elimination of the tipped minimum wage in Chicago; I don’t presume to know enough about the business, though I suspect, like a lot of government economic policy, it may put some small businesses out of business and have little effect on the big boys, where tips already pay staff more than wages do. Anyway, Michael Nagrant rushes in where I fear to tread.

Meanwhile, the libertarian magazine Reason has views on another new Chicago economic policy: the idea of the city running grocery stores in food deserts.


At Time Out, Ari Bendersky talks about how tasting menus are shifting from the highest of the high end to more modest ways to explore a variety of cuisines:

This opens opportunities to enjoy these once somewhat unattainable dining experiences, while also letting chefs get more creative, have fun and showcase their food more authentically. Tasting menus historically have centered around classic French technique, which many younger chefs employ. But now the cuisine, whether Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern or even a menu revolving around variations on duck, plays a starring role built upon that classic training.


Hyde Park’s legendary Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap gets an oral history at U of C’s magazine:

Vyto Baltrukenas: When I’d go to other places, I was amazed if they weren’t like Jimmy’s. At Jimmy’s you would pull up and have a conversation with a professor or a plumber. I’d go to other places and, you know, everybody looks the same.

Jack Snapper: Somebody called the bar once and asked, “Do you know the source of the line, ‘And malt does more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to man’?” And I said, “Yes, that’s A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Housman. Would you like me to recite it for you?” Apparently I helped someone win a bet.


If you were watching Food Network in its early days you remember the Too Hot Tamales, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, partners in Santa Monica’s Border Grill and other restaurants. They actually met while working at Le Perroquet in Chicago; I interviewed Milliken and she recalls Le Perroquet owner Jovan Trboyevic warmly, but said that Feniger—who had come out as a lesbian early on—was regularly abused by an unhappy gay chef at Le Perroquet (abuse on some level being the natural state of kitchens, especially French ones, then). I expect this will be part of the story told in Forked, a documentary about Feniger’s life and career which will play at the Reeling Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival on Sunday. Which I know means you’ve already missed it, but presumably it will turn up elsewhere; there’s more about it at the Reader.


Is sitting in judgement on a hot dog a… Sandwich Tribunal? Apparently so, when it’s a Chilean hot dog:

The story goes that in the 1930s, a Chilean entrepreneur named Eduardo Bahamondes Muñoz decided to try selling hot dogs in Santiago after discovering them on a trip to New York. But when he started selling the sausages, potential patrons were put off by the meagerness of the offered condiments. Ketchup? Mustard? Muñoz had not counted on the inventiveness of the Chilean palate, but he quickly pivoted, adding a number of topping options. Some, like sauerkraut and the aforementioned ketchup and mustard, would not have looked out of place on a street vendor’s cart in the Big Apple. Others, like mayonnaise, were familiar but not commonly associated with hot dogs in the United States. Most importantly, he began using ingredients perhaps unknown in the northeastern US but beloved in Chile: palta, pebre, salsa Americana, salsa verde.


Nothing too fancy of late, and part of the weekend was spent visiting nostalgic favorites in Wisconsin with my mom as we went up to see my younger son in Appleton, where he repairs trucks. So I’m not writing about the Appleton supper club we went to, or ice cream at c. 1930 Beerntsen’s in Manitowoc, or burgers at Kewpee in Racine—though all had their period charms.

But before leaving town I did take her to Daisies, to confirm that I am right: at this time of year, the peak of growing season, there’s no better place to eat in town. The “overpriced tomato” which puts carefully selected beefsteak tomatoes on crusty bread with melted bone marrow for a blast of summer tomato-ness dialed up to eleven; the potted carrots laced with duck fat, a cucumber salad with the bright savory freshness of housemade Green Goddess dressing (if it’s been a long time since you had that not from a bottle, you’re missing out on one of the classics of James Beard-era American dining).

Admittedly, this is the part John Kessler favored too—I don’t see how you could not—but there were four of us to order pastas, and so I examined them carefully. My wife had the chitarra spaghetti—well, I can kind of see his point, it was a little less than meets the eye, but on the other hand a dish my mom had, from the same genre—pappardelle with a tomatoey mushroom ragu—was outstanding, the supple texture you want from freshly-made pasta with both tomato brightness and mushroom depth of umami. And, just to blow my mom’s mind, I ordered the beet agnolotti, the deeply magenta little pockets with trout roe on top which were practically bound to become the New York Times’ illustration for Daisies. We ended, as you may have guessed, with the plum crostata for dessert—the seasonality carrying over to that course as well. If Daisies isn’t the best pasta in town, it’s certainly the most inventive, creating new places for pasta to go. But seriously, if it isn’t, what is, and why you holdin’ out on me?

Some other, mostly modest, things I had since we last talked:

Pizza Matta: the new pizza place from Jason Vincent at Giant. I have to admit to not loving a lot of the new pizzas in town. I can like them while still feeling that they’re trying too hard to burst with flavors that end up fighting, or I just like the simplicity of basic Chicago pizza, not needing it to overdo things in the manner of a cheeseburger with pulled pork on it. On that basis, I found Pizza Matta pretty perfect, it’s got some of that fresh brightness that I find can be too much at times, yet the crispy, fairly thin (but slightly puffy) crust was excellent. I ordered a pretty basic set of toppings (pepperoni and black olive), precisely because that’s what I don’t usually get at home (my wife was out of town), which made for a somewhat salty pizza (but that was mainly my toppings, I’m sure). Anyway, I liked it a lot and it went right on my pizza rotation.

Eat Fine: John Kessler reviewed Tuk Tuk above but he also recommended a new place in Bucktown, from a chef named Khun Kung—but who he is and where he’s from is a bit of a mystery not entirely solved on its website (a stray mention of Champaign-Urbana’s “real food movement”). Anyway, I was eager for authentic Isan food, which I think it was, but not of a kind that greatly impressed me. Isan sausage seemed notably less funky than what I’ve had at Sticky Rice here or Lao Lao Bar in Toronto (the best Thai-Lao meal I’ve had this year): I can’t reconstruct what else I ordered, some typical things (tom kha soup, a noodle dish of some kind) but they didn’t seem as focused to a sharp point as they could have been.

I found El Braseritos on west Fullerton because I tried to go to another place—twice—which was inexplicably closed both (prime) times. Anyway, it’s a decent taqueria run by what looks like Mexican-Puerto Rican owners. Plus side: good steak tacos on piping fresh tortillas. Minus: the window promises a big pastor cone but what I got was a decidedly non-crisp, gloppy pastor stew. Still, stick to steak tacos or similar things and it’s not bad. (Google maps insists it’s on North Ave., maybe there’s one there too, or maybe they’re unrelated; anyway, mine was at 4419 W. Fullerton.)