When Andersonville’s storied Swedish Bakery closed in 2017, Chicago collectively let our a huge gasp. Where could we get our Swedish treats? In stepped Lost Larson, with their modern take on Scandinavian baked goods. For Lent in Sweden, sampling Semla (plural semlor) pastries is a must, and Lost Larson has their own rendition (seen below). Traditionally, semla are eaten on Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday and also throughout Lent on Tuesdays. Lost Larson’s version has an almond cream filling, chopped almonds, and whipped cream all in a house-made cardamom brioche. Yum! They were fresh and full of almond flavor, definitely the most delicious version we have ever had. The semla at Lost Larson frequently sell out, so it is recommended that you place your orders in advance for pickup on the Lost Larson website (at either location). Plus, their new Wicker Park cafe (2140 W Division St.) is extremely charming, so we recommend that you pop in. If you need any more convincing, Lost Larson also has one of our favorite matcha lattes in Chicago (also seen below).
Tag Archives: Chicago
Prior to visiting Pa Lian (254 E Geneva Rd, Wheaton, IL) we had only sampled Burmese cuisine a few times before, and there are no Burmese restaurants in Cleveland, so it had been a while. So when we heard there was a new Burmese restaurant opening up in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, one of only 2 in Illinois, we were really intrigued! Burmese food is a delicious marriage of Southeast and East Asian flavors, with a touch of spices from the Indian subcontinent, a combination that can’t be beat. Pa Lian opened last year and has been introducing the suburbs to Burmese food, while serving a small, local Burmese community. Currently, Pa Lian is takeout-only and you can order online by Grubhub or by phone. The first time we visited Pa Lian was in May, and we ended up taking the food out to eat in a nearby park with a friend, and we were all impressed. Since then, we have been back a few times, and have never been disappointed. The menu at Pa Lian consists of Burmese favorites including a wide array of noodles, salads, and curries over rice, alongside Burmese-style tea and coffee. We are impressed by the variety of the Burmese dishes at Pa Lian, and while the menu isn’t huge, nearly every dish is new to us.
Our favorite dish from Pa Lian so far is Nangyi Dok ($12.50), a complex noodle dish (lower dish in the photo below), consisting of rice udon noodles, which are light and springy, topped with curry chicken, fried onion, carrots, cucumber and hard-boiled egg, and even the unusual topping of chickpea powder. Another standout noodle dish is Shan Noodles ($13.50) thin noodles topped with curried chicken, gai choy (a green leafy vegetable similar to bok choy), fermented black beans, peanuts and sesame (top dish in the photo below). In each of these noodle dishes, the combination of the springy noodles with the piquant curried chicken, vegetables, and fermented elements make for a surprisingly complex and delicious combination.
Perhaps the most famous Burmese dish is Tea Leaf Salad ($13.50, pictured in top photo), also known as lahpet, and we love Pa Lian’s rendition. This is a dish that is unlike anything else you can get in other countries, and involves fermented tea leaves topped with fava and yellow beans, peanuts, sesame seeds, tomatoes, cabbage and lime. This salad is tangy and refreshing, and the fermented flavors make for an extremely interesting flavor profile. The tea leaf salad is completely vegan, and vegans and gluten-free diners will find many options at Pa Lian. The papaya salad ($15.99) with the unique addition of Thai eggplants, is another favorite salad, bright and tangy. Along with tea leaf salad, another Burmese national dish at Pa Lian is Moh-Hin-Gar ($12.50) a spicy soup with thin rice vermicelli in catfish broth, topped with boiled egg, lime, cilantro, and crispy lentils. This warming dish is perfect for a chilly day, but we even enjoyed it in the 80-degree heat.
We are intrigued by Pa Lian’s comprehensive Burmese menu and are looking forward to trying some of the other dishes including Pe-Eih-Kyar-Kwe ($5.99) Burmese fried bread with vatana (cooked yellow peas) and the goat and split pea ginger curry ($17.99) Pa Lian’s dishes are a combination of salty, sweet, sour, tangy and spicy, and we are absolutely hooked. Be sure to visit Pa Lian when you are in Chicago’s western suburbs, you won’t regret it! Plus, if you are in the market for Burmese groceries you can also visit Papa Win (1730 E Roosevelt Rd, Wheaton, IL), a small Burmese grocery store nearby.
You may know by now, if you a frequent reader of the blog, that we are always on the hunt for the best tacos al pastor, near and far. And in Chicago, we may have found a new top contender in Taqueria Chingón (2234 N Western Ave Chicago, IL 60647). Taqueria Chingón is a counter-serve pickup or takeout spot, and we particularly liked their nice outdoor space, especially in these Covid-stricken times. We arrived on a weekday right after they opened at noon, and there was already a small line forming, a good sign of things to come.
The menu at Taqueria Chingón is limited: tacos, appetizers (quesadillas, ceviche), plus a few sides (nopal, frijoles) and desserts (churros, flan). For tacos, there is a full range, from the classic beef asada and chorizo alongside some more esoteric options like duck carnitas and vegetarian al pastor, made with mushrooms. All of the tacos are $4-6 dollars, which is a little steep for tacos, but hear us out, for a change, it is actually worth it!
The al pastor tacos ($5) are a thing of beauty, and they contain all of the factors we think one needs in a perfect taco. First, the homemade tortillas are pliable, and thick enough to handle the fillings, but not too chewy. Second, to creat the tacos, juicy pork is shaved right off of a spit (trompo) with a nice charred bark. Usually, al pastor tacos are pre-cut from a trompo and finished on a flattop, or never on a trompo to start with, but we think it makes all the difference. Finally, the taco has to have some pineapple on top, alongside the traditional onion and cilantro topping. A good al pastor taco is more than the sum of its parts, and Taqueria Chingón certainly delivered on every part. We enjoyed these tacos so much that we even went back to get another. Not wanting to give the other tacos on the menu short shrift, we also tried the cochinita pibil: stewed Yucatecan pork, which was spicy and flavorful.
Overall, Taqueria Chingón was a stunner, and everything we tried was at the highest level. It reminded us of taquerias in Mexico City: high marks for both style and substance, which was the goal of the owners. Taqueria Chingón is definitely going into our Chicago taqueria rotation and we recommend you visit if you get the chance.
When we were living in Chicago we frequently visited HaiSous (1800 S Carpenter St., Chicago, IL, 60608), a Vietnamese restaurant in Pilsen run by husband-and-wife team Thai and Danielle Dang. We really enjoyed our food and overall experience at HaiSous and its sister restaurant Ca Phe Da (right next door) each time we visited. And we were not alone in our praise: HaiSous gained accolades as a Michelin Bib Gourmand Pick and as James Beard award nominee.
The restaurant is still open during Covid, so we wanted to heartily recommend them to those still in Chicago. We are happy to see they still have some takeout options (both curbside and delivery) of their best-loved dishes (available Thursday – Sunday 4pm-8pm), along with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks including their famous Cà Phê Sữa Đá – Iced Vietnamese-style Coffee. During Covid, they have also pivoted Ca Phe Da to a new concept: Dang Good Wings, which has a pared-down menu of coffee drinks and HaiSous’ famous chicken (plus waffles)!
HaiSous used to have a set prix fixe menu, along with a rotating menu of a la carte Vietnamese favorites. You can still get some of our favorite dishes for takeout including: Crispy chicken wings with caramelized fish sauce and chili and Vietnamese Fries (6pc/18pc $15/$38). Papaya Salad (seen above) – shredded green papaya with beef jerky, fresh herbs, sesame and chili ($13). And of course, the classic Bun Bo Hue – a rice noodle soup from the region of Huế – beef/pork broth with lemongrass, chili and annatto oil ($15).
Alongside their takeout options, HaiSous has developed some additional innovative experiences, including a multi course meal with a pre-recorded cook-along demo for $40 per person. According to the site, “you cook one dish along with us, we’ll make the rest! Watch as many times as you’d like, it’s pre-recorded.” Each month there is a different menu, so you can keep coming back for more. March 2021’s menu includes a cook-along for Bún Đậu Phộng Gà, a savory dish of rice noodles, peanut hoisin sauce, chicken and Thai basil. Along with the March cook-along, you receive the following pre-made dishes: green papaya salad and Chả Giò, a Vietnamese egg roll with a lettuce wrap, plus a pandan waffle with whipped coconut mousse for dessert. HaiSous new menu and cook-along experience looks amazing, and we wish we were in Chicago to try it. If you do, let us know what you think!
Chengdu Impression (2545 N Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614) is one of the places we could have sworn we have already written about. When we were back in Chicago, it was one of our go-to spots to take friends craving Chinese cuisine. In the past few years, the number of options for regional Chinese in Chicago has really exploded, and we are so happy about it. Sichuan food – known for its spiciness, both in terms of heat and the unique numbing effect of the Sichuan pepper – in particular is now available at several restaurants throughout Chicago, and Chengdu Impression is a standout. Since the restaurant opened several years ago we have been there at least 5 times (and maybe more), which is saying something, since we are usually on the hunt for something new.
The Chengdu Impression menu includes both Americanized Chinese favorites (orange chicken and General Tso’s) along with a section of Sichuan dishes. We never tried ordering the American Chinese dishes, choosing to stick to the Sichuan side of the menu, but we assume they are good, too! Over the course of our many visits we started to settle on some favorites. First up is a classic dish, the mapo tofu ($13.50, above) tofu cooked in a spicy sauce with the signature numbing Sichuan peppercorns. The version of this dish at Chengdu Impression is our favorite in the city. We also like to start off with a small appetizer portion of Dan Dan Noodles (spicy noodles in a Sichuan peppercorn sauce, below). Another one of our favorites was the dry chili chicken ($14.50), breaded chicken pieces with a mix of chilies, which we have had at other Sichuan restaurants, but we love Chengdu Impression’s version because there is not too much superfluous breading, and still a nice amount of spice. A dish that was new to us was “Ants Climbing a Tree” aka Ma Yi Shang Shu ($13.95), a savory dish with vermicelli glass noodles, ground pork and a spicy sauce. For those looking for something different, a great vegetarian option is the YuShiang eggplant ($12.95) sauteed with sweet and sour sauce (you can also get YuShiang dishes prepared with meat).
The Sichuan dishes at Chengdu Impression are fresh and authentic, with generous portions. On one or our trips we even with with someone who had lived in Chengdu, and he was pretty impressed. We absolutely loved trying a new Sichuan dish every time we visited, and we can’t wait to be back in town so we can continue to work our way through the menu. Fortunately, the restaurant is still open, as of September 2020, for takeout. And if you are going to the iconic Chicago Blues Club, Kingston Mines, in the future, Chengdu Impression is literally the perfect place to eat, right across the street.
This is one of those reviews that we could have sworn we already wrote, since we were so impressed with the meal. Better late than never! The food at Galit (2429 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614) was so amazing, it was definitely one of the best meals we have had in 2019! Galit is owned and operated by Andrés Clavero and James Beard Award-winning chef Zachary Engel, previously Zach was the Chef de Cuisine at Shaya Restaurant in New Orleans. We enjoyed Shaya so much on a previous trip to New Orleans that we were delighted to learn that Engel was opening a restaurant in Chicago.
The theme at Galit is Israeli cuisine, with some modern touches and showing the influences from the diverse groups in Israel and around the Middle East. Galit’s sign is not visible from the street, and the only sign that lets you know that you are in the right place is a small blue and white address sign with “Lincoln Ave.” written in Hebrew, English and Arabic. The inside of Galit is clean and bright, and centered around an aqua-tiled bar and open kitchen (note the pita oven). We went with two other friends so were fortunately able to sample more of the dishes.
We ordered the Salatim ($22 for all – pictured above) which are a variety of dips and nibbles:
- Labneh: creamy yogurt dip with sumac and sesame
- Yemenite, Bulgarian and Israeli Pickles
- Ezme: a paste of tomatoes, peppers, walnuts and chives
- Pumpkin Tershi: Pumpkin spread with Urfa biber pepper, cumin and garlic
- Cipollini onions with feta
Don’t sleep on the pita either, like at Shaya, the pita at Galit it is freshly-baked, and comes right out of the oven hot, puffy and fresh. To be honest, we could have made a meal out of only the pita and the salatim dips. The Labhen and Ezme we our favorites from among the Salatim, the labneh was like the best version of queso you could imagine, and the ezme was bold and smoky. And don’t forget the hummus, another signature plate at Galit. There were 4 varieties of hummus ($9-16) including the classic version alongside more interesting varieties like “Bubbe’s Brisket” with smoky cinnamon, tomatoes, and carrots. We went with the Masabacha, which was made from chickpeas, herby tehina and aleppo pepper ($12). The hummus was superlative, silky smooth and delicious, and the herbs added a bright punch not usually found in hummus.
Another section of the menu was called “mostly over coal” and included a wide variety of small-to-large plates ranging from glazed carrots ($13) to shakshukah ($16) to Foie Gras ($18). We sampled the falafel ($12) served with “funky mango” and labneh. Iraqi Kubbeh Halab ($14), a crispy ground lamb fritter served with golden raisins and almonds. For mains we ordered chicken thighs with pine nuts, mushrooms and Bulgarian feta ($18), along with two orders of the fried fish Tunisian style ($22). Everything was delicious, but our favorite small plates had to be the falafel and the kubbeh, which were both absolutely bursting with flavor. The falafel was our favorite kind, bright green and herby, and was perfectly combined with the acidic mango pickle.
For dessert, we shared a chocolate cake ($11) with cardamon and hazelnut and a phyllo pie with apples and sahlab ($11) which were both tasty, but just not as amazing as the savory dishes. Other dessert options included date Ma’amoul cookies and apricot and hazelnut rice pudding. We also appreciated the original drinks on the menu, spanning spirits and spirit-free, including mint and yuzu fizzy lemonade and parsley, cucumber and cumin. For after-dinner aperatif pairings they have a variety of Araks, a anise-flavored spirit. There is also Yemeni coffee with hawaij and a variety of blends from the Rare Tea Cellar. Everything we sampled at Galit was fresh, delicious, and served with great attention to detail. This was definitely one of our best meals of 2019, and we encourage you to visit ASAP.
It’s October, and another Chicago Gourmet is in the books! This year’s Chicago Gourmet festivities, “Lights, Camera, Napkin,” provided a wonderful mix of food, spirits and fun, as it had in the past. I attended on Saturday this year and the mercurial Chicago weather cooperated, but just barely, and the earlier part of the day was 55 degrees and misting. Though there was a brief period of rain, the clouds lifted in the second half of the day. Though I shouldn’t be surprised, I have been going to Chicago Gourmet since 2009, and have experienced almost every type of weather through the years. Stationed in Millennium Park, Chicago Gourmet is a showcase of all things food, and features: diverse bites from top Chicago restaurants, international wine and spirits distributors, cooking demonstrations, book signings, lectures, and big-name brands pulling out all the stops with over-the-top booths. The price for Chicago Gourmet is famously steep (2019 prices: $195 per person per day, or $310 per person for a Weekend Pass), but it earns you unlimited food and drinks, plus whatever additional swag you can get your hands on.
My favorite part of every Chicago Gourmet is checking out the gourmet tasting pavilions, where local Chicago chefs dish out sample-sized portions that represent their restaurants. Sometimes the pavilions are themed (BBQ, Seafood, or a national cuisine), but other times they are drawn together seemingly randomly under the banner of a sponsor (Mariano’s, US Foods, etc.). Halfway through the day, the restaurants change over, giving visitors double the samples to try. My two favorite pavilions, this year, and in years past, are the Dessert Pavilion (with the awkwardly punny name “Keeping Up with the Konfections”) and the Thai Select tent (Thai Select is an imprint of the Thai government).
At the first round of the Thai Pavilion, I sampled dishes from Jimmy Thai Restaurant, JJ Thai Street Food, and Sticky Rice Northern Thai Cuisine. Jimmy Thai served a delicious green curry over homemade somen wheat flour noodles, JJ dished out chicken meatballs with tamarind sauce, and Sticky Rice went regional with Nam Prik Ong, northern Thai dish of ground pork, tomato and chili paste. I appreciated the nod to regional cuisine! Later in the day, the booth switched over to tasters from Star of Siam (our first Chicago Thai restaurant), Herb Restaurant, and Jin Thai Cuisine. The second round’s theme seemed to be Thai comfort food including Basil Chicken from Herb, Chicken Pad Thai from Jin and Mussaman curry from Star of Siam.
The Dessert Pavilion started strong with Recette, Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits and Bittersweet Pastry Shop and Café. My overall favorite bite from Chicago Gourmet this year was the caramel and pumpkin Canelé from Recette. A canelé is a French pastry that resembles a mini bundt cake, with a soft, almost custard-y center and a caramelized exterior (above). We had previously sampled Recette’s pastries at Renegade Craft Fair in Pilsen, and they delivered again at Chicago Gourmet. Bang Bang gave a Fall-appropriate showing with an apple crumble with an unusual-but-delicious miso twist, and Bittersweet introduced me to a whole new chocolate concept: Ruby chocolate mouse. Ruby chocolate, developed by Callebut in 2017, is distinguished by its fruity flavor and pink hue. It may look Day-glo but the color is all-natural!
For the second half of the day, the Dessert Pavilion mixed it up a bit by presenting desserts from restaurants which are not particularly known as dessert places, including a fall panna cotta from Steadfast and a Viennese sachertorte – chocolate cake layered with apricot, topped with a tiny pretzel (above) – from The Berghoff Restaurant. The dessert trio was rounded out by some delicious apple gelato from longtime-favorite Black Dog Gelato.
In my quest to seek out world eats, I found plenty of options. There was a lovely Japan Pavilion, featuring ramen from Strings Ramen Shop and what may have been the most unusual bite of the day: The “Kizuki bun,” a deconstructed Japanese hotdog from Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya.In terms of portions, Piggie Smalls went over the top and made a whole gyro sandwich (who can resist!?).
Other yummy world eats included veggie samosas from Hakka Bakka Indian Kati Rolls (above) and fresh ricotta and mozzarella from the Mozzarella Store, Pizza & Caffé. Tucked away in the Sam Adams Pavilion were samples from Evanston-based Viet Nom Nom and Cynthia’s Gumbo, a Louisiana Cuisine food truck run by Cynthia Boyd-Yette & Terry Yette.
I made a point to attend some of the cooking demos this year, always a fun experience, and especially welcome when the weather outside is a little less than sunny. I am always impressed by the skills of the chefs at these demos, and always learn a thing or two – this time I really learned the unexpected – how to make tofu. There was a great demo by Laura Cheng of Sun Wah and Thai Deng of Haisous on tofu. Laura Cheng owns Sun Xien Soy Products, purveyors of handmade tofu right in Chicago, a spin-off of the popular Sun Wah restaurant on Argyle. After Laura made the fresh tofu, Thai took it and turned it into a Vietnamese-inspired dish, and explaining the fresh herbs one by one as he added them to the dish, including the enigmatic banana blossom and culantro. The session was moderated by Bon Appetit’s Food Director Carla Lalli Music.
Chicago Gourmet also played host to a number of panels and seminars, and I attended a master class on South Asian Cuisine. The session was moderated by Check Please! host and Master Sommelier Alpana Singh and included the following experts: Sujan Sarkar of ROOH; Zeeshan Shah and Yoshi Yamada of Superkhana International; Colleen Sen, Author & Culinary Historian; and Rohini Dey of Vermilion. The panel was an eye-opening look into the state of Indian Cuisine in the US, and a fascinating look at those pushing the boundaries. Though many Americans are not familiar with regional Indian foods, the vastness and diversity of Indian cuisine cannot be overstated!
Rounding out the day were the wine and spirits, and I do my best to sample some of the international offerings on this front. There are some yearly classics: the Stella Artois area, where you can pick up a signature glass along with your beer samples, and Peroni’s bright-orange tent slinging the Aperol Spritz (prosecco, Aperol bitters and soda water), which has perhaps become the signature drink of Chicago Gourmet. I did learn about an entirely new-to-me spirit at the Iichiko tent, Shōchū, a Japanese spirit made from rice, sweet potatoes, buckwheat or barley. Though it may be confused with sake, shochu is actually much more popular than sake in Japan! I sampled a shochu and lychee drink, paired here with salted caramel gelato from Vero Gelato (found inside Mariano’s stores).
One of the best aspects of Chicago Gourmet is that it is different every year. Combining old favorites with new additions, Chicago Gourmet was as fun as ever. From sampling rare Whiskey, to watching world class chefs cook onstage, to tasting new treats from around the world, Chicago Gourmet is a foodie’s dream!
We absolutely love Pan Artesenal (3724 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL), a new bakery in Humboldt Park fusing Mexican and French baking traditions. They offer a wide variety of breakfast sandwiches, lunch bites and pastries, in a warm, welcoming space. The bakery is run by sisters Lizette and Marisol Espinoza (a French Pastry School graduate) featuring influences from both France and Mexico. The menu is full of riffs on traditional pan dulce including conchas, wheat rolls and cuernitos, European standards like baguettes, and truly unique creations like the nopal scone and the maguey worm baguette.
We have tried a variety of different pastries, but the real stars of the show are the croissants. Turns out we are not the only fans. These croissants have even been featured as one of the Chicago Tribune’s favorite croissants in the city. The croissants come in a myriad of rotating flavors including a classic butter, pistachio, nutella, cajeta and my personal favorite, the almond ($3.50). The croissants are light, buttery and flaky, and don’t skimp on the fillings. We also appreciate the full drink menu including espresso, iced coffee and hot chocolate, which along with the free WiFi, makes it a great place to work for a few hours. Pan Artesenal has quickly become one of our favorite cafes in our city.
What is one thing you expect to see in a subway station? We bet you didn’t say Thai steamed buns. However, at the Western Blue Line station in Chicago, that is just what you get. There you will find the Sala Pao Shop (1909 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647) tucked into an unassuming counter space. We didn’t really know that Thailand had bao-like steamed buns, but it turns out that they are indeed popular as a street food snack and in Chinese restaurants throughout the country, where they are known as salapao.
At Sala Pao shop the focus is obviously paos, which are $2.50 each and come in a variety of flavors: Basil Chicken, Pork Shumai (with pork and a hard-boiled egg), BBQ Pork, Veggie (mushroom, carrot, peas and broccoli), Penang Beef, and even a sweet custard option. The most traditional flavor is perhaps the sweet roast pork, but our favorite was the basil chicken. There was also a deal to get a free drink with the purchase of 4 paos, and we highly enjoyed our Thai iced tea. There are also some more substantial options like chicken or veggie dumplings (6 for $4.50), wonton soup ($4.50), Penang curry chicken rice bowls ($6.99) and vegan rice bowls with veggies and glass noodles ($6.50).
With L riders in mind, the Sala Pao shop has a variety of drinks including lychee thai tea, thai iced coffee, green tea, and basic coffee for a commuter pick-me-up. There is even something intriguingly called “Tropical Cream Soda” in lychee, guava and mango flavors ($3.25). We are looking forward to trying more pao and drink varieties (especially the sweet custard pao). You can even get a punchcard that earns you one free pao for every 9 purchased. Next time you are riding the El, don’t despair, stop at Sala Pao shop instead and treat yourself!
We have already sung the praises of the zeppole for St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), but it almost always overshadows the similar fried confection, the sfinge (or sfingi). The sfinge, like the zeppole, is stuffed, fried dough with Southern Italian origins. However, while the zeppole is filled with custard, the sfinge is filled with ricotta cream, much like a cannoli. Both are topped with candied fruit. We also think the sfinge has more of a cream puff texture versus the doughnut texture of the zeppole (don’t tell, but we might like sfinge better!). You can find sfinge around March 19 at any good Southern Italian style bakery. This is one treat we wont be attempting to make at home, but here is a recipe from Cooking with Nonna, of you are feeling advanced. We especially like the sfinge from Angelo Brocato (214 N Carrollton Ave.) in New Orleans and Palermo Bakery (7312 E Irving Park Rd) in Norridge, right outside Chicago. Astoria, Queens is also a hotbed for Sfinge.
It is no secret that we love babka, the twisted brioche bread with ribbons of tasty fillings ranging from cinnamon to chocolate and beyond. We have sampled many babkas in the past few years, especially in New York, but were a little disheartened by the lack of exemplary options in Chicago. However, now Chicago has an AMAZING babka purveyor: Masa Madre. Masa Madre is a two-woman babka-making operation in Pilsen that bakes babkas ready-to-order and pick up right from their apartment. Masa Madre is run by Mexico City-born Tamar Fasja Unikel and Elena Vázquez Felgueres, and the babka is inspired by Unikel’s Mexican-Jewish heritage. Some of their special-edition babkas, like the churro or dulce de leche are a fun spin on combining these two cultures. Masa Madre offers chocolate, cinnamon and matcha green tea every week. On holidays, there are even seasonal baked goods like pan de muerto and sufganiyot for Hanukkah. You place an order through their Facebook page a few days in advance and pick up your loaves in Pilsen, which is a small price to pay for the freshest of babka. One loaf is $20, and you can get mini babka muffins for $3.50. Our favorite is definitely the ooey-gooey chocolate – check out those delicious swirls!
There is nothing we like more than trying pastries from around the world, so we were delighted to visit a new bakery in Andersonville in Chicago that celebrates the neighborhood’s Scandinavian heritage: Lost Larson ( 5318 N Clark St Chicago, IL). Lost Larson specializes in traditional Scandinavian pastries made with the highest quality ingredients. The bakery itself is bright and clean, and there are even some comfy booths for seating.
We have been to Lost Larson a few times, and we have yet to try something we did not love. We think that the croissants are particularly good. The scrumptious chocolate croissant has a touch of cardamom, and there is also a Danish riff on a croissant, the Tebirkes ($4.50), which has an almond filling and is covered with poppy seeds. M was head over heels for the cinnamon roll ($4.50), which was subtle, not overly syrupy or sticky. The cardamom bun ($4.50), a Swedish classic, was also superlative. They also have seasonal specialties in the pastry case like Saffron buns for St. Lucia’s day in December (unfortunately they were sold out when we got there).
A full selection of beverages are available including espresso drinks, tea and a matcha latte. Recently, we also sampled a special elderflower mulled apple cider. Don’t sleep on the breads displayed behind the counter either, we were in love with the slightly-sweet Swedish limpa bread with fennel, anise, and orange peel. There are also a few savory open-faced sandwiches (known as smorrebrod in Denmark) with eclectic toppings like avocado and pickled herring ($8.50-10) if you are in more of a lunch mood. Though Lost Larson may be a bit more expensive than other bakeries, it is worth every penny!
Birrieria Zaragoza (4852 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60632) has been a stalwart restaurant for years, so we consider ourselves extremely remiss for not visiting them before this month! They only serve one thing – birria (hence the name Birrieria) – long-simmered goat stew from Jalisco state in Mexico. The benefit of only having one thing on the menu, is that you know it is going to be good!
We were amazed at all the different ways you could get the birria: as a stew, in a taco, or with broth only as a consomme. If you are itching for some tacos, you can get the birria made directly in taco form for $3.75 apiece, but if you get your birria by the plate, they also provide you with tortillas to make DIY tacos. We ordered a large plate with no bones ($15 without bones, $13.75 for bones in), which in our opinion is worth the slight extra expense, because then you can directly make your own tacos, and eat any extra meat. The platter came with 6 handmade tortillas, limes, peppers and other accoutrements.
All of the versions of birria came out to us super quick and piping hot. You can brighten the rich stew up with hot peppers and lime, and it was great to be able to make our own tacos just how we wanted them. We also got some nice freebies from the restaurant: a cheese quesadilla on a homemade tortilla (normally $2.75), and homemade tomato salsa in a molcajete (normally $4). We really liked the homemade tortillas, and the molcajete salsa was the perfect addition to brighten up the the birria tacos. We have to get back to the birria though – it was silky and tender, without any hint of gaminess. This is the best birria we have had in Chicago, bar none!
As you can see, the prices are all extremely reasonable, and we ate like kings for less than $25. You can even order goat by the pound for carryout ($22 for bone in, $25 for bone out), which we would definitely consider for a Superbowl party…. The service at the restaurant is great, too, it is definitely a family affair, and everyone couldn’t be friendlier. Birria is the perfect food for a cold dreary day (read: all of Chicago winter), so now is the perfect time to stop in for some at Birrieria Zaragoza!
This is my 6th (!!!) year going to Chicago Gourmet, a weekend-long food and wine festival that takes place in Millennium Park in the heart of Chicago’s Loop. Chicago Gourmet is a food festival that features chefs from restaurants around town serving small bites in food pavilions, alongside wine and spirits exhibitors, and it just seems to get bigger every year. There are 2 rounds for each Pavilion during the day, with a set of 3 or 4 new chefs when the pavilion turns over halfway through the day (12 to 3 PM or 3 to 6 pm).
My priority is always finding international food, and Chicago Gourmet tends to deliver in this department. This year there were 2 exclusively international Pavilions, The Mexico and Thai Pavilions, with other international bites sprinkled throughout. Though there were plenty of world cuisine on offer, I was disappointed, however to see that the sister cities pavilion, which had been present at the past few Chicago Gourmets, was not there. Stella Artois still had its signature booth, alongside a few more beer purveyors in the wine-focused festival than I had seen in previous years including Birra Moretti, Bell’s and Moody Tongue.
The Mexico Pavilion featured chefs from Guadalajara, Mexico this year, all up-and-coming chefs that do not yet have their own restaurants. There was even a mariachi group performing! The bites offered at the Mexico tent were innovative and tasty takes on Mexican classics, think: a pork belly taco with shrimp ceviche and pineapple sauce, a scallop tostada with mole and edible flowers, and a miniature roasted pork sandwich.
The Thai Pavilion also turned out some tasty Thai food from restaurants around town, including our perennial favorite Star of Siam that featured their inimitable Rama peanut sauce chicken. We also loved the Som Tum papaya salad from JJ Thai street food, but my favorite bite from the Thai tent was a delicate Miang Kham betel leaf from Herb Thai Restaurant, which featured all of our favorite flavors: shallot, ginger, garlic, lime, and peanuts.
Of course, there were also chefs serving up global fare in some of the other pavilions. Rick Bayless and Topolobampo turned out a great Oaxacan black mole on a homemade tortilla as his bite in the BBQ Tent. The labneh (Turkish yogurt) with carrot slaw from The Bristol was also a winner. The Supreme Seafood pavilion was also a standout, and features some of the longest lines year after year. Seafood-wise, the ceviche from La Josie and the Octopus taco from Octavio were standouts.
The dessert pavilion is always my favorite, and it did not disappoint this year. We visited for both rounds, and were surprised at all of the innovative flavors and American classics. Bang Bang Pie had a delicious berry cobbler, Hewn had a chocolate mascarpone marble brownie and our favorite was a stunning miso tart from Floriole.
As in previous years, there were also many international and domestic wine and spirits distributors. The free-flowing drinks are certainly a large part of the appeal for many fest-goers. I especially enjoyed the TYKU Sake booth from Japan. I sampled a few different sakes, and learned about what differentiated the different grades of sake, a spirit I had never really considered before – and there is a lot to learn about sake. For example, I learned that having polished rice made foe a more refined and high-grade sake. And of course the Campari tent was turning out delicious Aperol Spritzes, though since it was only 50 degrees, they were not as refreshing as they were last year when it was 90+ degrees.
One thing I did a little differently this year was to try a variety of wines in an effort to become more educated on the different varietals of wine and their specific qualities. Our dirty little secret on ETW is that we do not really know anything about wine! At least in terms of wine exploration, I think my wine mission was pretty successful. Having attended and skipped over the wine in the past, sampling all of the wine made Chicago Gourmet a little bit more worthwhile. More on that in a future post.
Some non-food vendors get in on the Chicago Gourmet fun to varying levels of success. This year Cadillac sponsored a build-your-own donut bar featuring Do-Rite donuts, which was fun and delicious, but left me scratching me head about how it related to cars. I brought a donut home for M, so no complaints there.
Of course, another major part of Chicago Gourmet is the demos and classes. The celebrity chef demos, featuring big names like Rick Bayless and Carla Hall demos always draw a crowd. However, I wanted to see someone who was newer on the scene, so I went to a demo by Jennifer Kim of the much talked about Chicago restaurant Passerotto, which features a mash-up of Korean and Italian cuisines. She made glutinous rice noodles in a lamb-neck ragu. It was interesting to see how these noodles were made, and the similarities and differences between rice noodles and Italian pastas.
The temperature this year was a bit cooler at about 55 Degrees, which turned out to be the optimal weather for food sampling. All in all, Chicago Gourmet was a fun experience, and a great way to try some new food and wine. I learned about restaurants (and wines) that I had never heard of before, and ate to excess. I am looking forward to seeing what Chicago Gourmet will come up with next year!
It’s that time of year: Chicago Gourmet! This is when Chicago rolls out the red carpet for local restaurants and for chefs and food businesses from around the world. This is the 6th year that we have been to Chicago Gourmet and are so excited to sample all of the delicious food. The official schedule has been posted, and it looks to be as good as ever with a full slate of demos, seminars and exhibitors. Some highlights include: We look forward to seeing you there!
There has always been controversy over the meaning of the word “barbecue” – some people use it interchangeably with “cookout” – grilling burgers or other meats in the backyard, while purists would argue that “barbecue” only actually applies to meats cooked low and slow in a smoker. Barbecue gets even more complicated when you factor in usage in other countries. In South Africa, barbecue – in all senses of the word – is called braai. Now there is a place in Chicago to experience low and slow smoked meats with a South African braai twist, Baobab BBQ (2301 W. Foster Ave., Chicago, IL). The owner, Andrew Dunlop, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa was extremely friendly, and chatted with us after our meal. Dunlop was long obsessed with American BBQ, and brings his mix of American and South African sensibilities to the Baobab menu.
The main attraction at Baobab BBQ is the meat, you can pick a choice of pulled pork, brisket, or roast chicken. There is also the classic South African spiced beef sausage: boerewors. You can get a combination platter of various meat (Brisket, Pulled Pork, Ribs, Pulled Chicken, Hot Link- $19) or sandwiches on brioche rolls with slaw ($9). Sides are extra, and their signature side is mac and cheese with bacon. We ordered the boerewors sandwich and a pulled pork sandwich – both were excellent. The pulled pork was tender and juicy, and we liked the slightly-spiced boerewors, which was similar to a brat but had a flavor all of its own. There are a variety of sauces on the counter to top your meats with, including the intriguingly-named Monkey Gland sauce. We were assured that the monkey gland sauce was that in name only (it is actually a ginger, garlic and chutney-based sweet sauce). Other varieties include Bourbon, Kansas City-style and mustard sauce.
Though many of the meats are prepared in American style, other South African flavors permeate the menu. There is also a salad with a traditional South African biltong, a dried beef, topping the salad ($8). For dessert you can get South African classics ($5 each): melktert (milk tart) or Koeksusters (braided fried dough). We tried both of these desserts, the milk tart was a pastry crust shell with a delicately-flavored milky pudding, and the koeksisters reminded us of a crispy, syrupy churro. The last dessert, which we didn’t try on this visit, is another SA staple: Malva Pudding, an apricot cake covered in cream. Another nice added feature is that Baobab donates some of its profits to local schools. Baobab BBQ is a unique addition to the thriving barbecue scene in Chicago, and we appreciate the South African braai twist on US barbecue.
One of the best things in Chicago is getting to enjoy the regional Mexican cuisine around every corner! Our favorite regional Mexican food is Oaxacan, so we are always on the lookout for new places featuring this region’s cuisine. Fortunately, in 2016, a new Oaxacan place opened quietly in Uptown, Kie-Gol-Lanee (5004 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640). Located near the Argyle red line stop, which is usually known for its Vietnamese pho options, Kie-Gol-Lanee has risen quickly to stand out as one of the premiere Oaxacan restaurants in Chicago. According to a Fooditor interview with the proprietors, the name of the restaurant is a phonetic spelling of Oaxacan village where they were born, Santa Maria Quiegolani, which is in turn a Spanish version of the Zapotec language words for “old stones” or “place by the river.”
We visited Oaxaca a few years ago, and our favorite thing there were the ubiquitous mole sauces, which come in 7 main varieties but have countless variations within each. Kie-Gol-Lanee heavily features its moles and other Oaxacan specialties on the menu. Though there are tacos and guacamole, more unique Oaxacan dishes make up much of the offerings. The appetizers start out strong: they even have the polarizing chapulines (fried grasshoppers – $8) as an appetizer. Personally, we love chapulines, and thought their rendition was great – they are a perfect salty, crunchy meal starter. Other unique appetizer included mushrooms in plantain leaves ($9). Salads with nopal (cactus) and beet sounded tempting ($9) as did the Oaxaca-style tamales (steamed in a plantain leaf instead of the more common corn husks – $5).
We were the most intrigued by the main courses, which included a variety of meats and seafood, many featuring moles. Highlights included gallinitas al horno ($20) Cornish game hen with black mole sauce and sesame seeds, and the camarones a la diabla ($20), shrimp with guajillo and chipotle pepper sauce. We ordered the arrachera a la parilla ($21) – grilled skirt streak with grilled onions and jalapenos, topped with a huitlacoche mole, and the chicken enchiladas topped with red mole ($16). The steak was cooked perfectly, and we were pleasantly surprised by the huitlacoche mole, which we had never tried before. Not a typical mole, this variety contained one of our favorite esoteric foods, huilacoche, a mushroom that grows on corn, which has a deep, earthy flavor and makes a delectable black sauce. The red mole on the enchiladas was incredibly rich and complex, elevating an otherwise simple dish. The moles here were the real deal, and you can tell that each was made from scratch from a huge variety of spices, vegetables and peppers.
We also sampled some of the agua fresca drinks- the jamaica (hibiscus) and horchata ($3), though in retrospect we should have tried the more unique offering, chilacayote (made with squash). However, we did get our squash fix with dessert – candied chilacayote squash with cinnamon ($8). For those scrunching up their nose at the thought of candied squash for dessert, this tasted like a cross between sweet potato and melon and was really pleasant! We highly enjoyed Kie-Gol-Lanee and it transported us right back to Oaxaca. Though priced slightly higher than a typical Mexican restaurant in Chicago, Kie-Gol-Lanee is worth every penny. The service is friendly, and the authentic Oaxacan food is something that you cannot find at many other places in the city.
We first had Malaysian food in the suburbs of Chicago many years ago at Penang. In the intervening years we have sampled Malaysian food in Malaysia itself and London, and every time we have it, we always fall in love again. Despitwe this deliciousness, Malaysian food is still pretty rare to find . When we heard about Serai (2169 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647), a new Malaysian restaurant opening in Chicago, we knew we had to give it a try. Malaysian food in a unique combination of Chinese, Thai, Malay, Indian and Indonesian influences, and with that amalgamation, it is no surprise that it is one of our favorite cuisines in the world.
Serai is located on a quiet corner of Logan Square, and is bigger then we expected – there are two dining rooms with wooden tables and chairs, and a full bar. The menu is pretty extensive, with Malaysia specialties, and it branches out into more general Thai or pan Asian foods. However, we heard that the Malaysian specialties were the standouts, and we recommend that you start off with Malaysian specialties. Some of the most iconic Malaysian dishes are on the menu including Char Koay Teow ($11.95) – stir fried flat noodles in soy sauce; Hainanese chicken rice ($14.95) – garlic and ginger poached chicken with rice cooked in its stock; and nasi goreng ($11.95)- a Malaysian fried rice. The server we had was very knowledgeable about Malaysian food, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about any recommendations or specialties.
We started out with a roti with vegetable curry (clearly showing influence from India). The roti flatbread was nice and flaky and the curry was mildly spicy and flavorful, and we appreciated that we could get the curry in chicken or vegetarian varieties. After only a little deliberation, we ordered our two favorite Malaysian dishes, beef rendang ($13.95) and laksa curry noodles ($13.95). The laksa noodles came in a coconut milk curry broth with char siu BBQ pork, shrimp, fish balls, a hard-boiled egg and “tofu puff.” Tofu puffs are fried, small pieces of tofu that somehow manage to have an airy texture, and Serai’s were exactly like what we had in Malaysia. The beef rendang ($16.95) is beef in a spicy dry curry sauce with lemongrass and ginger, served on a banana leaf with sides of rice, eggplant and string beans. The beef was extremely flavorful, and extremely complex, with just a hint of heat.
The servings at Serai were generous, but we happy scarfed down our dinner, pleased to get another taste of Malaysia. Though we were too full to partake, there are also a few desserts like coconut pudding or sweet sticky rice, and hard-to-find drinks like iced Milo (an international version of Nesquik), Teh Tarik and Malaysian-style iced coffee. Overall, we were very impressed with the food at Serai. Everything was delicious – and reminded us exactly of the food we had in Malaysia. We can’t wait to come back and try some more of the Malaysian classics, especially the chicken rice!
When we go to NYC, we always enjoy getting arepas – Venezuelan corn masa patties with a variety of fillings – but we didn’t really have a go-to arepa spot in Chicago (pupusas, yes, but not arepas). When we were back in town, my sister recommended we try BienMeSabe (1637 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613) in Ravenswood, a new arepas spot that has been making waves in the Chicago food scene. Apparently, it is even becoming a go-to place for MLB players from Venezuela. The inside of BienMeSabe is clean and simple, and an attractive seating option is the large outdoor patio. BienMeSabe was so new, that when we visited, the mural they were putting up on the wall was not even finished being painted. Another key feature of BienMeSabe is that it is BYOB. When we got there on Sunday for lunch, many people were enjoying the BYOB option on the patio.
BienMeSabe’s menu mostly consists of arepas with a variety of veggie and meat toppings, each running between $8 and 10. We sampled the Reina Pepiada (Chicken Avocado Salad & Gouda Cheese), Caribbean (Caribbean Cheese, Plantain & Avocado), and the After Party (Roasted Pork, Gouda Cheese, Avocado slices). If you are not in the mood for arepas, there are also meat-heavy mains including grilled steak, fish, and the national dish of Venezuela, Pabellon Criollo. We began our meal with the shrimp tostones and the fried yuca. The shrimp tostones consisted of grilled shrimp on top of fried green plantains, and were particularly good, we really loved the spicy avocado-based Guasacaca salsa. We were also excited to see that we could get some classic Venezuelan drinks: chicha – a rice milk drink similar to Mexican horchata, and papelon con limon limeade.
The areaps are decently sized for the price, and they are not stingy with the fillings. The arepa toppings were good overall, but a little bit of a hit or miss. The roast pork on the After Party was flavorful and tender, and we think it was our favorite arepa of the day. Though the fried plantains on the Caribbean arepa were delicious, there was just too much of the somewhat flavorless shredded cheese. And for me to say there is too much cheese, there really has to have been a lot. Despite this, we really enjoyed the arepas overall and we are happy to have a Venezuelan place in the hood. We will definitely be back to BienMeSabe to sample some of the other arepa varieties and maybe a tres leches cake!
Would you believe it if I told you there was a pepper unique to Chicago? No, I’m not talking about the ubiquitous sport peppers on a Chicago-style hot-dog, I am talking about the Melrose pepper. Melrose peppers are a type of sweet pepper ranging in color from green to red, that are mainly grown in the Chicago area (though now you can order seeds and plant them anywhere). Below are some green Melrose peppers we found at Mariano’s – you can see how they look like hot peppers – but they have no heat.
Having grown up in Chicago, I am surprised that I have not learned about the Melrose pepper’s existence until now. A recent Chicago Tribune article featuring the peppers was my first introduction, though my mom says that my Italian grandmother used to mention Melrose peppers. The peppers actually have their roots in Italy, and the seeds were brought over to Chicago by Neapolitans Joseph and Lucia Napolitano in 1903. The pepper that they transported grew wild in Southern Italy, and really took to the soil of Chicagoland, specifically the Napolitano’s home Melrose Park (from where they get their name). The peppers proliferated throughout the gardens of Italian-Americans in Melrose Park, and became a Chicago classic over the decades.
Outside of home gardens, you can also now find Melrose Peppers in August at Caputo’s and Mariano’s supermarket locations throughout Chicagoland (I would recommend that you call for availability). You can also buy seeds at Reimer Seeds or Southern Exposure (which is what we plan on doing next year). You can prepare Melrose Peppers similarly to bell peppers, though they are not as pungent, and are sweeter. A popular Melrose Pepper recipe is stuffing the peppers with Italian sausage, and the Tribune has another recipe for stuffed peppers along with other preparations. We have tried Melrose Peppers a few ways, and even though we do not like green peppers (or at least one of us doesn’t), we really enjoyed the taste – and history!