What's nice about O'Connor's sausages is that nothing is too out there; he calls his food "blue collar gourmet food," which pretty much sums up an approach of quality with lack of pretension.
One of the hard things about finding good Mexican food is that signs typically promise things that are not literally true. The outside promises a pastor cone, but then all they do is grill marinated pork on a flat top. But some places still use a trompo.
The last place you expect to find seasonal variation is in Chinese restaurants. It does happen, but to the casual observer, it's the same bell peppers and bok choy month in and month out. So I was immediately curious when Cai, a big dim sum hall in Chinatown, had pumpkin congee on its menu.
This little neighborhood gem invented a fusion of two cultures breathtaking in its innovation: the gyros Jibarito. Whoa. Take a few minutes to let it soak in, if you need them.
This is a tale of two radically different versions of the same dish, the Korean bowl of rice, vegetables, meat and egg. Is one right and one wrong? Or is it all good? Let's find out.
One of my favorite places to get fried chicken in Chicago is MacArthur's, the famous soul food restaurant on the West side. I go for the chicken, but also for the sides, the desserts, the line, and the experience. It's a place that's the de facto community center of its neighborhood.
Other dishes here are decent, but this is really a one-dish spot—clean and bright and well run. Good fried chicken. No waiting.
If dim sum has a gateway drug, it's surely char siu bao, the barbecued pork bun, candy-sweet pork in a ball of cotton candy-like steamed flour.
They know what they're doing here with tamales, as they should since they have another Rosa's barely two blocks away on 55th.
There are people who, when you ask them about something, say "Oh, that's one of my favorite things to eat in Chicago," and if you tallied up everything they said that of, it would amount to a small town phone book's worth of dishes. So let me be clear about the chicken boti at Khan B.B.Q.: it's one of my favorite things to eat in Chicago, as in three.
I recommend just digging into the most splendidly barbaric thing on the menu, the platter of shrimp sacrifice to the dining gods they call Charola de Langostinos (which just means, platter of shrimp).
The food at The Choo-Choo Restaurant is delivered on HO train cars that run the circuit from the kitchen to the counter. You might expect, as a result, that the hamburgers would be, at best, edible. But surprisingly, it's one of the best examples of a smashed griddle burger on the Illinois side of the Indiana border
In this day of ramenphilia and ramen expertise, I can't say this is the greatest bowl to be had in Chicago. Others have more artisanal depth in their stock or lusher ingredients, like Santouka's pork jowl. But it's a perfectly fine old school bowl that tasted like its makers knew what they were doing.
Not every place that makes tortillas by hand is great, but as with Neapolitan pizza crust, if you get that right it almost doesn't matter what else you do.
Eat it, let your eyes roll back in your head, and feel yourself a million miles away from the Chicago you know where eating spicy skin and fat on a tortilla born seconds earlier isn't even thought of.
I was thinking about bland chicken sandwiches, not only because I see these nameless monstrosities all over, but because there is an alternative in Chicago which is superficially similar, but differs in one small degree—it's not a shameful lying mockery of a sandwich. It is, in fact, the great unknown Chicago sandwich, except for the being great part.
Pide ve Lahmacun's hits the perfect note for Turkish breakfast—hearty yet not heavy, a straightforward, unfussy start to the day as crisp as Christmas morning overlooking the Blue Mosque and the lapis lazuli sea.
Bombacigno's is a trip back into another Chicago, where reporters drink at lunch and City Hall fixers rub elbows with cops and Royko lives to annoy Hizzoner another day.
Even the most plastic food strip has something real and personal and quirky in it, if you keep looking. Case in point: there's no stretch of Chicago more blighted with noisy bars and oversized in-your-face signage and sheer brute Orlando-ness than Clark Street just south of Wrigley Field. Yet make the shortest of diagonal turns onto Sheffield and you'll see—for a few more days, anyway—an awning announcing "Hamburger King," accompanied by a neon sign of... a bowl of teriyaki.
There has been a boom in Central Asian restaurants in Chicago, often 24-hour ones for the cabbie market, on the northwest side in the last few years, all serving some minor variation on what people eat for a thousand miles in any direction in that part of the world: stewed lamb and rice, kabobs, dumplings. But for me one of this pretty new crop stands apart for the care with which the food is made, and the hints of spices from around the central Asian region which make it livelier than so much food from this part of the world.
Unexpectedly given its name, it's the Italian beef where that effort pays off the most. Is it better than Johnnie's? No, but just having many of the same virtues as probably the best beef on Earth puts you way ahead of most of your competitors.
Called Farm to Barstool, the video tracks how Pleasant House Bakery's Art Jackson transforms produce from gardens around Bridgeport into fillings for his unbelievable savory pies. The pies are then delivered next door for the hungry patrons at Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar (hence the barstool in the title).
If you're not in the mood for pie, you will be after watching Michael Gebert's latest episode of Sky Full of Bacon that takes us behind the scenes at Chicago's beloved pie shop Hoosier Mama. Owner Paula Haney and her staff make pies the old fashioned way with all-butter crusts filled with local, seasonal ingredients, and revive recipes from the 19th and early 20th-century (oatmeal pie, anyone?). Haney talks about how she started the business, how she makes pie, and her thoughts about the pie lifestyle. Watch the video after the jump....