Food Chain

Monday, February 27, 2017

A tiny takeout joint in a Wilmette strip mall serves some of the most lovingly made Pakistani food in the Chicago area

Posted By on 02.27.17 at 04:26 PM

Takeaway thali from Thali Bites in Wilmette - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Takeaway thali from Thali Bites in Wilmette

If I told you a take-out joint in a Wilmette strip mall served the most exciting Pakistani food north of Granville, would you take the Brown Line, transfer to the Purple Line, ride that to Central, then wait a half hour for the 201 to shove off to Old Orchard Mall before plodding about a third of a mile up Skokie Boulevard for some freshly curdled palak paneer and bhindi that tastes like green fireworks?

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya is the dependably good bowl Wicker Park doesn’t need

Posted By on 02.16.17 at 04:12 PM

  • Mike Sula

Unlike say, barbecue joints, the growing abundance of new ramen spots around town is a seemingly unstoppable restaurant trend I've started to get behind. Gone are the days when the conventional wisdom held that Santouka in Arlington Heights's Mitsuwa Marketplace food court was the only acceptable bowl in the region, if not the midwest. With some notable exceptions it seems independent operators and Japanese chains alike have insinuated themselves in the city, mastered the delicate art of the gooey hanjuku egg, the springy tensile noodle, and above all nailed the broth, whether it's an austere shio, a glutamically intense paitan, or a cloudy tonkotsu, creamy with pork fat. I would almost describe it as a golden age if more ramen-ya actually opened in a wider and more diverse collection of neighborhoods (h/t Futatsuki).

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eat Trump’s immigration ban: Ten Chicago restaurants that wouldn’t exist in a white nationalist America

Posted By on 02.09.17 at 02:46 PM

A sign at the Yemeni restaurant Mandi Noor - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • A sign at the Yemeni restaurant Mandi Noor

There have been plenty of occasions over the last few months when I've sat down to write about ersatz Chinese food, or half-assed barbecue, or yet another costly multicourse tasting menu, when I've been hit by one thought that stops me midsentence: Who the hell can eat at a time like this?

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Myron Mixon’s Smoke Show BBQ vs. Rylon’s Smokehouse is a no-contest barbecue showdown

Posted By on 01.30.17 at 03:31 PM

The Pick Three at Myron Mixon's Smoke Show BBQ - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • The Pick Three at Myron Mixon's Smoke Show BBQ

Over the last three years or so, I've written about nearly 20 new barbecue restaurants. That's more than the steak houses, Italian joints, ramen-ya, boutique taquerias, and all the other overplayed restaurant trends of the moment. Reiterating the common flaws inherent to most of these barbecue spots has become just as exhausting and formulaic as they are.

And yet here we are again.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

With Futatsuki, Chicago’s far north side has great ramen again

Posted By on 01.19.17 at 04:52 PM

Tonkotsu ramen and the remains of chicken ka-raa-ge. - AIMEE LEVITT
  • Aimee Levitt
  • Tonkotsu ramen and the remains of chicken ka-raa-ge.

It seems churlish to complain about the lack of ramen on the far north side when we've got so much pho and also a fair amount of matzo ball soup, but I can't help feeling a twinge of envy when I read about all the exciting new ramen joints opening in Logan Square and Wicker Park. Is there some reason why those of us who live on the upper reaches of the Red Line don't get to slurp our dinners, too? Is this some sort of punishment for no one volunteering to save the Sunshine Cafe in Andersonville when its former owner retired? Are we now forever unworthy?

It was a relief, then, to hear that Futatsuki Ramen had opened in the fall in Uptown, among the stretch of African restaurants across the street from Truman College. I headed over there one night that was cold enough to make ramen feel not only like a good idea but a primal need and invited a friend who claimed her life had not been the same since she couldn't get her regular fixes of Sunshine's katsu don.

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Tesfa Ethiopian Cuisine serves up abundant wonders in Uptown

Posted By on 01.19.17 at 04:21 PM

Shiro, yemisir wat, siga wot, doro wot, and more at Tesfa Ethiopian Cuisine - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Shiro, yemisir wat, siga wot, doro wot, and more at Tesfa Ethiopian Cuisine

Tucked between a Payless and a branch bank in Uptown, there's a tiny glass storefront, the most distinguishing features of which are the sacks of brown teff flour stacked by the dozens in the window. This new, unnamed bakery specializes in the tangy, spongy, fermented flatbread injera, milled from that grain native to the Ethiopian highlands.

It's a testament to the appetite for this essential East African staple in Uptown and Edgewater, where it's produced and consumed in variety. Around the corner, on Lawrence Avenue, there's another small storefront trafficking in the same thing. I wrote about the spot four years ago when it was Lake Langano, a counter service Ethiopian-Chinese takeout spot, with an unusual specialty: qocho, or false banana bread, a dense, chewy starch served with berbere-spiced kitfo (aka Ethiopian beef tartare).

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Logan Square Peruvian restaurant rises from the dead under another name

Posted By on 12.22.16 at 02:57 PM

  • Julia Thiel

The bad news is that 4 Suyos, one of my favorite Peruvian restaurants—which I loved for its relaxed, friendly atmosphere and BYOB policy as much as its excellent food—is closed. The good news is that I only realized it was gone when I went to Tumi, a Peruvian restaurant that, it turns out, occupies the old 4 Suyos space. Aside from a fresh coat of paint on the walls, new curtains, and the addition of flashing lights that frame the front windows, the new place looks almost identical to its predecessor. Low-key vibe? Check. BYOB? Check. While the management has changed, the chairs remain the same.

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Friday, December 9, 2016

Cafe Tola is building an empanada empire

Posted By on 12.09.16 at 03:50 PM

Empanadas at Cafe Tola - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Empanadas at Cafe Tola

Somehow over the last four years I slept on Lakeview's postage stamp-sized Cafe Tola. Maybe I just blinked and missed the tiny, 400-square-foot empanada emporium on the Southport corridor. Or maybe it's because the neighborhood isn't one normally associated with credible Mexican food. But the little place turns out some 700 of the savory stuffed pastries every day, co-owner Victoria Salamanca told DNAInfo in July. And when Salamanca and her husband, Gerardo, branched out onto hot dog holy ground—the Avondale space formerly occupied by Hot Doug's—it was time to reckon with the couple's nascent empanada empire. (The Salamancas are in the process of opening a third, even larger location on Southport.)

Chorizo-and-egg empanada - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Chorizo-and-egg empanada

I wouldn't have guessed it possible, but the Salamanca family have managed to crank up the kitsch level of the space far beyond anything Doug Sohn dreamed up, with glass display cases packed with Japanese robots and monsters, Frida Kahlo art, Dia de los Muertos-style skull imagery, a working Gorf arcade machine, and an exterior mural that manages to incorporate Yoda, E.T., and Transformers character Snarl.

Torta al pastor - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Torta al pastor

It's a diverting environment to take in these empanadas, some half dozen each day, none of which were duplicated both times I've been in. Some are better than others, of course. I like none better than the simple version with refried beans and gooey melted cheese. The piquant chicken salsa verde bests the dull chicken mole, while the chunky egg-and-chorizo outperforms the dry egg-and-cheese. I've enjoyed plenty of the others: rajas, birria, spinach-ricotta, ropa vieja, and more. The pastry is consistently wonderful, tightly crimped, blistered, and flaky; it's light but sturdy, and more than capable of holding the sometimes dense fillings together.

Taco de pancita - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Taco de pancita

Tola 2 also features a remarkably diverse lineup of caffeinated beverages (cold brew, coconut iced coffee, spicy mocha, masala chai) and an expanded menu of tacos, tortas, burritos, and even a queso flameado, a kind of queso fundido doused with tequila and set ablaze. I'm still working my way through all of these delights, but I can say the torta al pastor—even though it's missing the requisite pineapple—is legit, carved right off the trompo, and the taco de pancita features a thick slab of pork belly smothered in beans and pickled cabbage that gives Big Star's taco de panza a run for its money.

Cafe Tola - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Cafe Tola

Cafe Tola Loncheria y Tacos, 3324 N. California, 773-293-6346

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The textural pleasures of shaved noodles at Chinatown’s Slurp Slurp

Posted By on 11.29.16 at 03:26 PM

Hand-shaved noodles with pork belly at Slurp Slurp - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Hand-shaved noodles with pork belly at Slurp Slurp

By now, the steeliest of us may by inured to Chinese-style hand-pulled noodles, aka lamian. The absorbing figure eight ballet of arms and dough in the production of tensile wheat soup noodles was, a few years back, a star attraction in Chinatown, where chefs did the dance in full view of their fans at places like Hing Kee and Sing's Noodle House. That's to say nothing of the central Asian variant, lagman, produced less visibly at places like Jibek Jolu and Lazzat (now Chayhana). Then the big boys started getting into it: Imperial Lamian and Duck Duck Goat, mainstreaming the art for the crowd that rarely eats outside of downtown or the Fulton Market district.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Pulqueria Chicago steams lamb barbacoa in the style of Hidalgo

Posted By on 11.11.16 at 05:09 PM

Lamb barbacoa - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Lamb barbacoa

Berwyn's Pulqueria Chicago has the sort of broad, comprehensive menu that usually makes my eyes glaze over. How good can a Mexican restaurant be that also serves Spanish tapas, fettuccine Alfredo, french fries, and chicken wings? On the other hand, among all that disparate stuff it also serves two things not frequently seen around these parts that prove to be pretty remarkable.

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