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$5 lunches

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bee & Tea bets big on the popularity of boba tea

Posted By on 09.04.14 at 08:30 AM

All of the bao.
When it comes to franchising, frozen yogurt has proven to be a pretty safe bet. It's cold, it's delicious, and you can top it with shit like gummy bears and crushed-up Heath bars and still not feel like you're doing something as bad as eating ice cream. And it contains probiotics, which Jamie Lee Curtis says are good for our butts. Forever Yogurt, the brightly colored, serve-yourself yogurt franchise started in 2010 by young entrepreneur (and former professional poker player) Mandy Calara, has been a runaway success. In fact, it's run all the way from Chicago to Panama and China. Now Calara has another vision he wants people—investors and customers alike—to buy into: boba tea and bao shops. Enter Bee & Tea, which opened in Wicker Park in July and already has three more locations "coming soon" to Chicago.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Five-dollar* lunch: Dion Antic gives wieners another shot at the Haute & the Dog

Posted By on 03.26.13 at 09:48 AM

A lot less frightening than it looks
In this feature Gwynedd Stuart seeks out affordable midday meals that don't exceed five bucks (*actually seven, with tax and tip).

Opening a creative hot dog restaurant in Chicago seems like a losing proposition, mostly because your restaurant will never be Hot Doug's. This will automatically be treated as a deficiency and people will repeat the refrain like it was the chorus in a pop song about nitrite-laden meats: "It's OK, but it's no Hot Doug's." You could even try to preempt copycat criticism by calling it something like Not Hot Doug's or Definitely Not Hot Doug's and That's OK!, but everyone is still going to draw the comparison. And the comparison bodes poorly for the one that isn't Hot Doug's.

Restaurateur Dion Antic must be a masochist. His first foray into hot dogs, Rockstar Dogs, didn't make it. Judging from Yelp reviews and reader comments on a post Mike Sula wrote about it in 2008, people thought it was overpriced ("more expensive than Hot Doug's") and a subpar spin on another local hot dog joint (Hot Doug's). Also, it had a stripper pole and after 10 PM women could "dance" for a free hot dog. Grinding one's pelvic parts onto a cold, metal pole for processed meat products has to be one of the most depressing things I've ever heard. Why not just slide them, buns and all, into their underpants? If anything, it sounds like Rockstar was trying to differentiate itself, but tried too hard and maybe did it wrong.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Five-dollar* lunches: slipped the tongue at Taqueria Traspasada

Posted By on 12.28.12 at 03:05 PM

Yep, thats black salsa.
There's this movie that I liked a bunch when I was a kid and it's called Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Maybe you've seen it. Maybe you haven't because none of the Indy sequels will ever live up to Raiders. If we had this conversation aloud, in real life, we'd all slowly die of boredom.

So, let's not do that.

Anyway, in Temple of Doom, our hero, Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, and the cute Asian kid from Goonies travel to India to save a village of children who've been kidnapped and forced to work in a mine by a guy who pulls people's hearts out of their chests sometimes. Their journey is long and tiresome. They make it to the Pankot Palace, where a well-meaning Indian fella tries to feed them all manner of exotic foods—chilled monkey brains served in the skull, most memorably—much to the chagrin of Capshaw's character. Finally someone brings her soup. She heaves a sigh of relief. Alas, she nudges the innocuous-looking broth with her spoon, and discovers it's loaded with eyeballs, an albondigas soup that stares back at you.

I felt vaguely like Kate Capshaw when I nudged my soup at Taqueria Traspasada.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Five-dollar* lunches: Curry around the clock at Ghareeb Nawaz

Posted By on 12.05.12 at 11:31 AM

Goat, goat, chicken, chicken
Chicago newcomer and blogger Gwynedd Stuart loves to eat out, but she also happens to be a poor person because she's a Chicago newcomer and a blogger. In this weekly feature she seeks out affordable midday meals that don't exceed five bucks (*actually seven, with tax and tip).

I'm so confused by Ghareeb Nawaz.

They're open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which seems like it must be exhausting for the owners and operators of this high-volume Indian-Pakistani restaurant with an enormous menu. Also, they give you so much food and charge you so little money for it, which seems in conflict with generally accepted methods of running a profitable business.

But then I was less confused when the Internet told me that "gharib nawaz" translates to "helper of the poor." It just so happens I'm poor. So thanks for the help.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Five-dollar* lunches: Banh mi-oh-my at Nhu Lan Bakery

Posted By on 11.28.12 at 09:03 AM

So not a five-dollar footlong
Chicago newcomer and blogger Gwynedd Stuart loves to eat out, but she also happens to be a poor person because she's a Chicago newcomer and a blogger. In this weekly feature she seeks out affordable midday meals that don't exceed five bucks (*actually seven, with tax and tip).

When I tell people I write a feature about five-dollar lunches, a dining suggestion I often get—one that never ceases to be funny—is the five-dollar footlong at Subway. (I don't have anything against Subway. In fact, I think it might actually take some effort on their part to create meat products that taste like nothing.)

But I took a cue from the tongue-in-cheek suggestion. I sought out subs that are cheap and also taste like things, which made me think Vietnamese banh mi. And then thoughts of banh mi eventually led me to Nhu Lan Bakery on Lawrence. Not a great story, but one with a happy ending.

I should admit that I'm a relative banh mi neophyte, which I'm sure contributed to the awe by which I was struck upon discovering how goddamn cheap these sandwiches are. The most expensive banh mi on Nhu Lan's menu is the sugarcane shrimp and pork at $4.25. Most of the others are $3.50, and a few are as cheap as $2.95, if you're into headcheese (I am not, but I'm working on it). And banh mi-ophyte (sorry) or not, I can assume that like any other sub, the quality of the bread is as important as the quality of what's inside it.

If I didn't have lots of other things to do, I would write poems about Nhu Lan's bread.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Five-dollar* lunches: a journey south for Top Notch Beefburgers

Posted By on 11.21.12 at 11:33 AM

All fries should be hand-cut fries.
Chicago newcomer and blogger Gwynedd Stuart loves to eat out, but she also happens to be a poor person because she's a Chicago newcomer and a blogger. In this weekly feature she seeks out affordable midday meals that don't exceed five bucks (*actually seven, with tax and tip).

I don't get down to the south side of Chicago very often. No, wait. I don't get down to the south side of Chicago ever. Driving down 90/94 to my destination on 95th Street this week, I realized I basically hadn't been south of the Loop (south of the South Loop, at least) since the fateful day I drove into town in a U-Haul truck this summer, still haunted by the sight of two people fishing out of a johnboat in a toxic lake in Gary, Indiana. I hope they didn't catch anything—fish or diseases.

I live in Logan Square. 95th Street isn't that far away. But it kind of is, right? The whole thing felt like an adventure, even though all I was doing was getting a burger. I love adventures. And I also love old diners with cheap, simple food. So, Top Notch Beefburgers was worth a ride to the end of the Red Line. (Sadly, the antique store across the street, the one with the "pray to end abortion" sign in the window, was closed, or it would have been a trifecta of likable things.)

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Five-dollar* lunches: soup, sandwich, and a big-butt mural at El Cubanito

Posted By on 11.14.12 at 12:30 PM

Does this count as Cuban porn?
Chicago newcomer and blogger Gwynedd Stuart loves to eat out, but she also happens to be a poor person because she's a Chicago newcomer and a blogger. In this weekly feature she seeks out affordable midday meals that don't exceed five bucks (*actually seven, with tax and tip).

It's so boring to call a place a "hole in the wall." Yes, we have certain ways of communicating familiar ideas to one another and it's often easiest to rely on a cliche, even though it would take just a sliver of creativity to come up with a unique way to get a point across, in this case, that a certain establishment is tiny, unassuming, run-down.

That said, El Cubanito is such a hole in the wall. But—hear me out—it's a hole in a very specific wall, one that's been spray-painted with a mural of a guy who is ogling a scantily clad woman's gigantic butt and saying, "Mmmm . . . que rico!" So, there's that.

And the food.

Located on Pulaski, on what I guess is the westernmost edge of what can be considered Logan Square, and directly across the street from a gas station that's very proud of its $2.95 car wash, El Cubanito looks sketchy in a way that lots of places that serve good, authentic, inexpensive ethnic food often do. I call it "charm." The small menu is painted on the wall behind the counter, which means neither the offerings nor the prices change with any regularity—and nothing's more than six bucks. Which is great for people like you and me.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Five-dollar* lunches: Fried and filling things at Snappy's Shrimp House

Posted By on 11.08.12 at 10:37 AM

Dont get your heart set on the shrimp meal.
Chicago newcomer and blogger Gwynedd Stuart loves to eat out, but she also happens to be a poor person because she's a Chicago newcomer and a blogger. In this weekly feature she seeks out affordable midday meals that don't exceed five bucks (*actually seven, with tax and tip).

A thing this part of the country is not necessarily known for: affordable, fresh seafood. Emphasis on affordable. OK, fine. Emphasis on fresh, too. So I was encouraged when I heard people rave about the food at Snappy's Shrimp House in North Center. "Know the difference, taste the difference," their motto goes, the difference being that Snappy's serves only Gulf shrimp, not the flavorless, dinky farm-raised kind. And that's great.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Five-dollar* lunches: $1.75 tacos easily worth $2 at Taqueria Moran

Posted By on 10.31.12 at 03:37 PM

Cheap tacos ... and free accoutrements at Taqueria Moran
  • Gwynedd Stuart
  • Cheap tacos ... and free accoutrements at Taqueria Moran
Chicago newcomer and blogger Gwynedd Stuart loves to eat out, but she also happens to be a poor person because she's a Chicago newcomer and a blogger. In this weekly feature she seeks out affordable midday meals that don't exceed five bucks (*actually seven, with tax and tip).

Along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor—particularly in Logan Square—there's almost a glut of Mexican restaurants. I say "almost" because I'm not sure whether there can really be too many establishments that sell refried beans and lots of things that are covered in cheese and cilantro. But it would take a dedicated lover of cilantro-covered things to sample food from every Mexican place along Milwaukee from, say, Pulaski to Western. I am not that person.

I am, however, a person who's happy to fall for the ol' 99 cents trick. By which I mean that I won't spend $30 for that rickety piece of shit I just saw in an infomercial—but $29.99? Well, that's reasonable. This tried-and-true psychological sales strategy translates well to the restaurant industry. Two-dollar tacos? Yeah, that's great, but show me a $1.99 taco and we'll talk.

Taqueria Moran is even better at this trick. In fact, when they play it, it's not even a trick anymore, they're just giving customers a really good deal: $1.75 tacos. Good ones.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Five-dollar* lunches: Honey 1 Barbeque

Posted By on 10.17.12 at 03:05 PM

Pork galore.
Chicago newcomer and blogger Gwynedd Stuart loves to eat out, but she also happens to be a poor person because she's a Chicago newcomer and a blogger. In this weekly feature she seeks out affordable midday meals that don't exceed five bucks (*actually seven, with tax and tip).

There's a show on Food Network called $24 in 24. The premise, if you couldn't figure it out: a fella named Jeff Mauro—a Chicago native and winner of the seventh season of Next Food Network Star, a program that, for better or worse, begat Guy Fieri into the world—travels to a city and attempts to eat three meals for less than $24. Schticky? Sure (says the lady who writes about five-dollar lunches). Ambitious? Sure, that too.

When Mauro brought the show to Chicago, he spent the bulk of his meager $24 budget on lunch at Honey 1 Barbeque in Bucktown, which seemed imprudent because, c'mon, it's barbecue and you can for sure spend less than ten bucks. So I tested the premise! And I was right! Of course, this isn't to say that really good, wood-smoked ribs aren't worth lots of dollars. They are. But Honey 1 happens to have extraordinarily cheap lunch specials.

My dining companion and I tried their hot link sandwich and fries ($2.99), their small order of rib tips and fries ($4.99), and two drinks, and spent a grand total of $11.

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Performing Arts
Spirits to Enforce Berry Memorial United Methodist Church
November 08
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The Better Half Steppenwolf Theatre, 1700 Theatre
November 08

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