Friday, January 18, 2019

Two Lights Seafood & Oyster

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

There was a small flurry of restaurant openings near the end of the 2018 calendar. Some of them I got to before the year ended and some I still need to scope out. We stopped into Two Lights Seafood in Old Town a day or two before the year had ended. It's located on North avenue in Old Town where they could use some new blood. Two lights felt like so many other restaurants I've visited in the States. This isn't really to fault them as they all pretty much feel the same these days. You can expect much of the same with the menu which focuses on seafood. So of course they have an oyster bar, some crudo, and of course a cocktail menu. Two Lights is from owners of Tortoise Supper Club.

Newly Opened in Old Town 

Our visit to Two Lights was a tale of two categories of dishes. Delicious and just ok. Starting with some of the delicious is an order of excellent clam chowder. I consider myself a big time fan and experienced eater of the New England classic. It was my favorite food at some point in my youth. If they had some sort of takeout window creating easy access to this I'd get some to eat at home.

New England Clam Chowder at Two Lights Seafood & Oyster

Now for the just ok. While sitting at the bar we saw what looked like a really nice plate of onion rings. I guess they were something else bc we got a plate of something different. These were thinly cut and lightly breaded which is becoming pretty popular. The problem is that style is always extra greasy.

 Onion Rings at Two Lights Seafood & Oyster

Next up we have more just ok. On paper the idea of Tiradito was a good one. It always is as long as the Peruvian-Japanese favorite is done right. Tiradito is thinly sliced fresh fish that isn't sauced until it goes on the plate. The sauce of course can vary but like ceviche it's usually citrus dominated. Tiradito when done right should make your tongue tingle and want to dance. It's lighter than ceviche but in many ways much more fresh and flavorful. Except this was pretty bland compared to others I've tried.

Tiradito - Hamachi, Hearts of Palm, Avocado Creme, Red Finger Hot Chili, Passion Fruit, Macadamia

We did however get to end with a very nice plate of octopus. In fact it was one of my favorite plates of a two day span that saw us hit seven new spots. Described on the menu as grilled Spanish octopus it also had some fresh Greek flavors going when mixed with the salad made of tomato, cucumber, onion, and Feta. This was cooked perfectly to where a spoon easily broke pieces of the octopus off. I don't live anywhere near Old Town and parking is a bitch but if I had easier access to this dish I'd eat on the regular. The question is would it prove to be consistent? That's the tricky part. Until next time.

Grilled Spanish Octopus at Two Lights Seafood & Oyster

Two Lights Seafood & Oyster
227 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 929-3091
Website

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Buncha Hanoi

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
Vietnamese Buncha in Glenview

While putting together my ‘Best of 2018’ post I got hungry for some SE Asian food. So I rolled out to Glenview to try this new Vietnamese buncha specialist on my hit list. Buncha Hanoi is located on Milwaukee avenue in the same strip mall as about four or five Korean chains. It opened late last year. It was featured low key by Nick Kindelsperger at the Tribune during a month long noodles celebration.

Newly Opened in Glenview

I’m guessing most people reading this have seen the video of Bourdain and Obama eating the regional Vietnamese dish in Hanoi. If not it’s basically a salad of grilled pork and rice noodles with a little bowl of fish sauce laced dipping sauce. Me and my wife had a chance to enjoy this signature Hanoi dish while there. We ate at the same place where Obama joined Bourdain. I talked to one of the young ladies working in Glenview and she said it was their intent to make Buncha as popular as Pho. While they do serve bowls of Pho that's about it as far as the menu goes. They're specialists.

 Buncha at Buncha Hanoi

Initial thoughts? Pretty legit. This version might not be as funky as some veterans of this dish might like but they offer two different fish sauces on the side for you to funk it up. I liked the addition of little slivered of fried garlic to the noodles which are always served room temp. The pork was way better than what I remember in Hanoi as far as quality goes. The skewered pork was yakitori like. They grilled it up really nice. Aside from the skewers Buncha also comes with pork patties (and an egg roll here) and they too were done well. Not dry at all. I love seeing a specialist like this pop up and wish them luck. With success others will follow the model of picking one thing and doing it really well. 

Close-Up of the Grilled Pork

Buncha Hanoi
1705 Milwaukee Ave
Glenview, IL 60025
(847) 813-9150
Website

Monday, January 14, 2019

Sazon Cubano

-Grubbing in Chicago
Cuban Food in Belmont-Cragin

There's been a little mini boom in Cuban restaurants opening up. One of the more low key spots is called Sazon Cubano on Fullerton across the street from Hanson Park. They opened maybe four months ago and aside from Cuban food they also have some Puerto Rican favorites likes jibaritos.

Newly Opened in Belmont-Cragin

Sazon Cubano has a fairly large menu with more than a handful of categories. One of the obvious ones would be sandwiches. Though I'm kind of past ordering Cuban sandwiches in restaurants. Unless I see something that lets me know this place is making them two steps above everyone else. That's bc it seems like everyone else is making them average at best. Instead I opted for a ropa vieja aka old clothes sandwich. The nickname is in reference to the beef that gets shredded in tomato sauce. Often times it's from a previous dinner. Sazon Cubano makes theirs fresh for both sandwiches and also dinner plates. It makes for a damn tasty sandwich although I felt like it was missing some crunch and thus either some shoestring potatoes or even better some giardiniera would make it great.

Ropa Vieja Sandwich

There's plenty of items on the menu that look worth a try. But it would be hard to be more satisfying than the Cuban fried rice. For under $10 you get a ginormous plate of fried rice made with traditional Cuban yellow rice. It's mixed with peppers, onions, plantains, and your choice of meat. The pork is little slivers of meat that get well browned in the wok. As far as bang for your buck goes this is easily two meals. I found it to be quite addicting. I've already had a few cravings for some more. Good spot.

Cuban Fried Rice at Sazon Cubano


Sazon Cubano
5422 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 237-3333
Website

Friday, January 11, 2019

Finom Coffee

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

There were alot of great low key neighborhood openings in 2018. I'm using January of 2019 to share all the spots I didn't get to post about last year. Finom Coffee opened towards the end of 2018. They did so in what was a vacant building that had historic status attached to it. The building was built in 1889 and for a while was a popular tavern called the Whistle Stop Inn. Finom has turned the building into a neighborhood coffee shop that doubles as a bookstore and also serves food. The cuisine of choice is Hungarian. Something that until now was pretty much extinct in these parts. Let's roll.

Newly Opened in Old Irving Park 

Walking into Finom feels like you're transporting yourself overseas. I could easily see this place in Budapest which I traveled to a couple years ago. They did a great job with the interior. It's a place you want to sit back and relax at. It almost has the feel of a nice hunting cabin with the taxidermy on the walls. I'd read in the Tribune that quite a few local businesses such as Marz Brewing and Kimski helped with some of the interior design. Finom is off to a hot start. Aside from being featured in the Trib they were also the second newest restaurant in the Fooditor 99. Hungry Hound also stopped by.

 a peek inside 

You probably don't recall any round-ups on coffee shops featured over here. That's bc I don't drink coffee. What you see below is the Choco spice which is a hot chocolate drink with a very floral taste.

 Choco Spice at Finom Coffee

What got me interested in Finom was the food. As I read in the Trib 'Finom' means delicious in the native Hungarian language. The menu is small with maybe 5 or 6 items making it up. I haven't had all of them but I've really enjoyed everything I've tried thus far. Particularly the Lecso which is a thick medley of tomatoes, gypsy peppers, paprika mixed with Hungarian sausage and topped with a fried egg with a soft yolk. It's served in a cute little Le Creuset pan with some slices of bread on the side. Though it's described as a stew this is more like a ratatouille. It was as if a recipe for gumbo stopped right after the andouille goes into the pot with the Holy Trinity and spices. I really liked this dish.

Lecso at Finom Coffee 

Another great snack if you're in there doing work is the Pick salami sandwich. This is made with some fantastic ciabatta bread, Hungarian Pick salami (a brand), housemade cultured butter, sliced gypsy pepper and Hungarian Swiss cheese. This one really hit the spot. I think it was the butter.

Pick Salami Sandwich 

Last of the dishes I've tried is the classic known as Goulash. Or Hungarian Goulash if you're located outside of Hungary. Except on the menu it's called Gulyásleves. Nonetheless when you read the description it's exactly what goulash is described as. The dominant flavor in this is paprika which is where the red color comes from. Tender pieces of beef are joined by parsnips, carrot, potatoes, gypsy peppers, onion, and dumplings. It's a pretty soupy rendition to the point where it almost tastes like a perfectly made beef and vegetable soup. I actually had this just recently during that mini cold streak and it was just what I wanted as far as lunch on a cold winter day. Count me amongst the early fans!

 Gulyásleves at Finom Coffee

Finom Coffee
4200 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60641
(312) 620-5010
Website

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Los Buenos Diaz

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

Today we head out towards O'Hare. It's there where the tiny village of Bensenville rests. Hispanic and Latino people make up for almost 50% of the population and thus there's some good Mexican food to be found in town. I first found Los Buenos Diaz on Yelp. Pictures of what looked to be plates of modern Mexican food got me intrigued. I feel that places like Los Buenos Diaz are pretty common in the Chicagoland suburbs. Modern Mexican restaurants with nicely stocked bars that sit in strip malls. This is probably bc of Mexican foods boom here in the US over the last few decades.

Locals Favorite in Bensenville 

It doesn't take much to get me into your Mexican restaurant. A menu of tacos featuring housemade corn tortillas is always a good draw. Los Buenos Diaz lists their tacos as sets but the bartender had no problem letting us order as many individual ones as we pleased. I tried both a fried fish and also a cecina. I was very pleased with each of the tacos as they were anchored by the previously mentioned tortillas that were full of masa flavor. Overall I'd give both of these a solid 7/10 on the scorecard.

Tacos at Los Buenos Diaz 

Moving onto the entrees where most of the plates are in the $15-$20 range. The carne asada looked great in the pictures and came rec'd by a friend from the online food world. But they also do cochinita pibil which is one of my favorite regional Mexican dishes. The Yucatan style pulled pork is traditionally braised in lots of citrus and achiote paste. If you're following recipes to a core it's usually cooked in the ground but not many US restaurants practice that technique. You'll always find pickled red onions served atop cochinita pibil as well as black beans on the side. I liked the pibil from here but felt like it was missing something though I cant quite pinpoint what that was. That said when I made tacos out of the pbil and black beans with the tortillas supplied on the side they were delicious. They also give you two different housemade salsas that produce real deal heat. A very satisfying meal. #EatDaBurbs

Cochinita Pibil at Los Buenos Diaz

Los Buenos Diaz
224 W Green St B
Bensenville, IL 60106
(630) 594-4985
Website

Monday, January 7, 2019

Shan Shaan Taste

-Grubbing in Chicago
Shaanxi Noodles in Chinatown

In a recent survey issued by Eater Chicago I named Chinatown the best dining neighborhood of 2018. I couldn't think of another area where there seems to be an exciting opening every month. Towards the tail end of 2018 I was made aware of a new tenant in the Richland Center Basement. The dark and cold space is home to the city's best food incubator. Mike Sula of the Reader was first on the scene of this new stall featuring a plethora of handmade noodle dishes. It's called Shan Shaan Taste.

Newly Opened in the Richland Center Basement in Chinatown

One of the reasons I named Chinatown as the most exciting dining neighborhood is it's sudden boom of specialists. Places where they're specializing in a regional cuisine or even better singular dishes. As I learned in the Reader article by Mike Sula Shan Shaan Taste is run by a Chicago restaurant industry veteran named Richard Zhou. After many a stints at different Chicago area restaurants as well as a stand inside a Chinatown grocery shop Zhou has ventured off on his own into the damp Richland Center basement. He's the latest tenant bringing in the crowds of young locals who know some of the best food in the neighborhood is found in this food court. Zhou is hoping to hit it big with the cuisine of his homeland - the Shaanxi province in northwestern China. Food from Xi'an (the capitol city) is having a moment right now and Zhou is looking to further expand into regional chain status.

Liangpi Noodles and Roujiamo at Shan Shaan Taste

If you want to hit it big and then go the franchise route you need a signature offering. At Shan Shaan Taste that dish is a cold noodle salad called Liangpi. Also called cold skin noodles you can get the compete details on the making of this dish in the Reader article. It's not easy and thus it's probably not something you're familiar with unless you've ate alot of Shaanxi cuisine. The housemade noodles are the star of this dish which also includes "cucumber, sour black vinegar, raw garlic, sesame seeds, soy sauce, and a chile oil spiked with ten spices and herbs that he cooks at a gradually increasing temperature for an hour." I've had them twice and I really like the freshness of the dish as a whole. It's going to be a great snack on a hot summer day. The perfect lunch when paired with one of Zhou's housemade Chinese hamburgers aka Roujiamo. Some say this popular Xi'an snack is the original sandwich of the culinary world. The direct translation of Roujiamo is "meat in a bun" and that's pretty much what it is. I haven't ate a ton of these but Shan Shaan makes a fantastic one with some of the most succulent pork belly I can remember having. I loved the heavy sprinkle of green onion inside. You can get an order of the Liangpi and one Roujiamo of your choice for just $10.

Roujiamo at Shan Shaan Taste 

There's a handful of other offerings of fresh noodle dishes. One of them being a very nice bowl of beef noodle soup. While the broth itself is a very mild one, is this a thing in Shaanxi cooking? - The beef itself is full of flavor and tender enough to easily apart when poked with a chopstick. The housemade wavy noodles have a pretty good texture. Next time I think I'll try the noodles stir fried with some of that pork belly if it's an option. Bc Chinatown continues to grow with Chinese people and businesses there's specials on a board that are written in Chinese. As they're clearly catering to that type of clientele. If you've never heard of the WayGo app you may want to download it bc it will tell you what those specials are with a simple picture taken from your phone. I hope Shan Shaan Taste gets the traffic it takes to move out into it's own brick and mortar. It deserves good things for being the latest place to show just how deep China's regional cuisine goes. I wish them much success in 2019.

Beef Noodle Soup 

Shan Shaan Taste
2002 S Wentworth Ave Basement 10,
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 375-3122

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Best of 2018

- Memorable Bites from the past Calendar Year

It's time for my annual year end 'Best of...' list. The post in which I list my favorite bites of the year. But first I'd like to reflect on 2018. Personally it was probably the best eating year of my life. This will happen when you travel more than you ever have during said span. As far as Chicago the city goes I thought it was a pretty great year for food. Truth is I most always do. Sure some years are better than others but there's only so many cities in the States where the restaurant openings outweigh the number of days in a year. For all we know the best place to open in 2018 has yet to be covered. Which leads me to the hot topic that took over the Chicago food worlds conversations this past month. Without getting too into it, unlike the New Yorkers who had all sorts of opinions on it, I thought it was a good way to get the conversation going. The conversation being something other than recent restaurant openings. I don't think it was a bad thing that Mr. Kessler's article had people talking about the racist real estate practices in this city. Was it racist of him to say Chicago's segregation is part of the problem in why it's not as welcoming a food city as other spots? I think not. It's worth addressing.

The Best of 2018

That said I didn't understand the comment on immigrant enclaves being boring. I think we can all agree that it's fun when a new restaurant opens up and it's a big time hit with it's food. But there's something to be said about the fact the city has so many spots that are going on decade plus runs of business. I love seeing new spots open up but not necessarily at the cost of old ones closing even if I wasn't a fan of the spot that's closing. Restaurants are hard work. So much so it seems that most spots these days without alcohol are immigrant owned and that's bc of the hard work they bring. They became a way to better the lives of their children so they didn't have to spend 12 hours a day in the kitchen. I don't think it was Kessler's intent to make it seem like he was entitled to food which he considered exciting. To me it was him wondering when the next wave of spots is coming and part of the answer to that question is featured below in the best bites in Chicago from 2018. There's much more to come in 2019 bc as always the only eligible spots are those which I got a chance to post about. While I loved all bowls of soup in Asia I try to list just one dish for each category and trip.
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Best of Chicago


Pica Pollo at Morena's Kitchen 

Chicken Katsu Plate Lunch at Aloha Wagon 

Venezuelan Empanadas at Rica Arepa

Chips and Queso at Lonesome Rose 

Vietnamese Chicken Salad at Ca Phe Da  

Wood Roasted Pita at Pacific Standard Time

Afghan Grilled Meats at Kabul Kabab

Filet Mignon Tlacoyo at Xocome Antojeria

Potato Burek at Astoria Cafe

Ddukbokki Lamb Ragu at Passerotto

Pork Chop ”Chourcroute" at Funkenhausen  


Pica Pollo at Morena's Kitchen (Chicago)
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 Best of Beyond Chicago


Whole Fried Local Fish at Summer Luxury Resort (Koh Phangan)

Bánh Cuốn at Bánh Cuốn Gia Truyền (Hanoi)

Thit Nuong (Grilled Pork) at Hieu Hien BBQ (Hoi An)

Khao Kha Moo at The Cowboy Hat Lady (Chiang Mai)

Isaan Fried Chicken (and dip) at Polo Fried Chicken (Bangkok)

Crostini with Truffled Sausage at Le Volpi e l'Uva (Florence)

Sausage Pizza at Trieste (Rome)

Fried Halibut and Fries at Brigham Fish Market (Cascade Locks, OR)

Pork Chop over Rice at For Kee (Hong Kong)

Griot at Agrikol (Montreal) 

Albondigas at La Dominicaine - Café Traiteur (Quebec City) 


Crostini with Truffled Sausage at Le Volpi e l'Uva (Florence)
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Best Soups


Pozole at Grill 47 (Chicago) 

Bun Ca at Bun Ca Sam Cay Si (Hanoi)

Mi Quang Noodle Soup at Random Street Vendor (Hoi An)

Khaotom Moo Yat Sai at Koay Chup Restaurant (Chiang Mai)

Seafood Tom Yum at Raan Yaam Jae-Euang (Bangkok)
 
Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup at Chinese Cafe (Westmont, IL)

Yak Noodle Soup from A Bu Noodles (Beijing)

Wonton Noodle Soup at Mak's (Hong Kong)

French Onion Soup at L'Oncle Antoine (Quebec City)


Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup at Chinese Cafe (Westmont, IL)
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Best Noodles and Pastas


Pho Chien Phong at Pho Cuon 31 (Hanoi)

Cao Lau at Cao Lau Thanh (Hoi An)

Thai Style Suki (dry) at Suki Koka (Chiang Mai)

Kuay Teow Kua Gai in Kua Gai Alley (Bangkok)

Pasta Alla Gricia at La Tavernaccia (Rome)

 Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu at Trattoria Giovanni (Florence)

Gnocchi Night at Nostrano (Portland, OR)

Wanza Mian at Pang Mei Noodles (Beijing)

Curry Tendon at Kau Kee (Hong Kong) 


Wanza Mian at Pang Mei Noodles (Beijing)
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Best Dumplings


Dumplings at the Led'Tawan Market (Chiang Mai)

Wonton at Mung Korn Khao (Bangkok)

Kimchi Mandu at Bukchon Sonmandu (Seoul)

Pyzy at Little Polish Diner (Parma, OH)

Potstickers at Country Kitchen (Beijing)

King Mandu at Passerotto (Chicago) 

Sheng Jian Bao at Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-Fried Buns (Hong Kong) 


Sheng Jian Bao at Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-Fried Buns (Hong Kong)
 ________________________________________________________________________


Best Tacos


Lengua at Tata's Tacos (Chicago)

The Lalo Taco at Tacotlan (Chicago)

Jerk Chicken Tacos at Yamon Jerk Grill (Chicago)

Cecina Taco at El Chubasco (Chicago)

Salvadoran Taquitos at Papuseria Metapan (Chicago) 

Tacos de Canasta at Taqueria Belen (Chicago) 


Jerk Chicken Tacos at Yamon Jerk Grill (Chicago)
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Best Sandwiches


Banh Mi at Madam Khanh's (Hoi An)

Gyro Grilled Cheese at Garfield Gyros (Chicago)

Pork Sirloin Torta Sandwich at RC's Grill (Melrose Park, IL)

Roast Beef Sandwich at Da Nerbone (Florence)

Lampredotto Sandwich at Sergio Pollini Lampredotto (Florence)

'Banh a Mia' Sandwich at Tempesta Market (Chicago)

Bulgogi Hoagie at Broadway Cafe (Ann Arbor) 

Fried Chicken Sandwich at Fry the Coop (Oak Lawn, IL)

Build Your Own Biscuit Sandwich at Smack Dab (Chicago) 

The Wilensky Special at Wilensky's Light Lunch (Montreal) 

Smoked Meat Sandwich at Snowdon Deli (Montreal) 


Banh Mi at Madam Khanh's (Hoi An)
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Best Burgers


Cheeseburger at Ring's Bar (Plain, WI) 

Cheeseburger at Ridott Corners Tavern (Ridott Corners, IL)

Create your own Burger at Blimpy Burger (Ann Arbor)

Classic Cheeseburger at Goldyburgers (Forest Park, IL)

Cheeseburger at Frunchroom (Chicago)


Cheeseburger at Ridott Corners Tavern (Ridott Corners, IL)
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Best Sweets


Coconut Ice Cream and Sticky Rice on the Street (Hanoi)

Mango Smoothies all across Thailand 

Hungarian Strudels at Lydia's Bakery (Parma Heights, OH)

Pear Gelato at Gelateria Della Passera (Florence)

Italian Ice at Ava's Italian Ice (Chicago)

Popsicles at Pretty Cool Ice Cream (Chicago)

Hawaiian Shave Ice at Wailua Shave Ice (Portland, OR)

SnowBalls at Ina Mae Tavern (Chicago)

Strawberry Kakigori at Shari Shari Kakigori (Hong Kong)

Orange Julep at Gibeau Orange Julep (Montreal) 


Hawaiian Shave Ice at Wailua Shave Ice (Portland, OR)
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Best Meals


Cha Ca Dinner at Chả Cá Thăng Long (Hanoi)

Indian Feast at Ganesh Indian Restaurant (Hoi An)

Lanna Spread at Midnight Sticky Rice (Chiang Mai)

Home Cooked Thai Dinner at Baan Nual (Bangkok)

Burmese/Malaysian Feast at The Family House (Chicago)

Dinner at Osteria del Cavaliere (Rome)

Dinner at Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori (Florence) 

Dinner at S.K.Y (Chicago)

Chengdu Feast at A Place by Damao (Chicago)

Dinner at Proxi (Chicago)

Dinner at Han Oak (Portland, OR)

Korean BBQ at Maple Tree Barbecue (Seoul)

Peking Duck Dinner at Siji Minfu (Beijing)

Dinner at The Chairman (Hong Kong) 

Dinner at Joe Beef (Montreal) 

Dinner at La Buvette Scott (Quebec City)


Lanna Spread at Midnight Sticky Rice (Chiang Mai)
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See ya next year @chibbqking 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Eating BIG in Quebec City

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring French-Canada (QC edition)

We decided to go to Montreal this past November. Bc we had the time to spend more than just a few days there we also decided to do Quebec City. It wasn't that high on my bucket-list but it was on my to do list so to say. I'd always wanted to check it out and always figured I would do so when I went to Montreal. So we decided to give QC three nights and while that was probably just right you wouldn't miss too much if you just did two. It's a beautiful city to walk and luckily the weather wasn't anything awful. In fact it warmer there than it was in Chicago while we were away. My favorite part of the city was the fact that it didn't feel like we were in North America. It felt like we were overseas somewhere.

Sights from Quebec City

My favorite thing to do here was walk around. I loved looking at all the different old school living spaces as well as churches and such. There's quite a good amount of ground you can cover from the Old Town area down by the river all the way up to the Upper Town area where the famous Fairmount Château Frontenac is found. As far as the famous hotel goes it was cool to pay it a visit but those type of spots with 400+ rooms are not my style. If looking for a more intimate experience I recommend the Auberge Saint-Antoine in the Old Town area. It's a closer to most of the good stuff.

Sights from Quebec City

Supposedly the food scene in Quebec City has done a 180 in the last 10 years. Quite a few people in the industry there had mentioned this while we were talking with them. As far as my hit list goes (spots I want to visit) I never had a smaller one. It's a small city and most of whats covered online is found in Old Town and the surrounding areas. I'm sure there's more out there but I didn't have as many must stop spots as I usually do. Not the biggest of deals bc we made sure to make reservations for each night. The popular spots are just that and most of them are small intimate places with limited seating so make sure to at least reserve for dinner. The food is heavy so keep that in mind for lunch.

More Sights from Quebec City

Though there's plenty of pluses to visiting Quebec City in the summer they had just started decorating for Christmas and it looked like it was a very festive Christmas city. There was a certain charm to the cold that I cant describe but keep in mind it was in the mid 40's so it's not like it was dead winter. Maybe Mid November is the best time to go bc it's not yet winter and Xmas stuff is up.

 Sights from Quebec City
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Fromagerie des Grondines

This is the city shop of a very well known cheese farm in the Quebec countryside. Aside from a  wonderful array of meats and cheese behind glass they also have food and coffee to dine in with. I'd read they make some great grilled cheese sandwiches using their homemade cheeses and locally baked bread. It was right by another spot we wanted to try so we stopped for a raclette grilled cheese. It would've been nice if I had a kitchen or something while in Quebec City bc the display case was filled with some outstanding looking stuff. It indeed reminded me of the meat and cheese shops in France. The sandwich was exactly what I thought it was going to be. Which was really good. The quality of both the cheese and bread was top shelf making for a delicious snack to start our day.

Raclette Grilled Cheese at Fromagerie des Grondines
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 Le Renard et la Chouette

This is a good spot to check out if you're looking to get away from big groups of tourists. The type of spot that many of the city's younger gastro driven locals seek out. It seemed like most of the younger crowd both in front of and behind the bar knew each other. We were there for some natural wines and some meats and cheeses. The friendly bartender asked what we liked and put together a perfect plate of charcuterie. In hindsight it would've been nice to see what the kitchen here can do but we had made sure to make reservations for each night as the popular spots are always packed.

Charcuterie at Le Renard et la Chouette
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Casse-Croute Chez Gaston

The entire province of Quebec is BIG on it's fast food. Every town has a Casse-Croute which is what they call these little shops selling poutine, hot dogs, burgers and more. They're known for their greasy walls and cheap food that's best enjoyed after some local brews. I snuck over to this spot rec'd on Reddit by a local. I wanted to try something very traditional for my first poutine of the trip and I got that at this location of a popular regional fast food outlet called Chez Gaston. I was told this was a superior location to others. It was a small spot that could fit maybe six people. I saw other locations that looked like full blown fast food outlets. This location was much more personal. The poutine was good but the fries suffered from the fatal mistake of not double frying. They need to learn that skill.

Poutine at Chez Gaston 
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Kraken Cru

The Saint-Sauveur neighborhood is home to some of the new and vibrant food experiences in town. I'd read that Kraken Cru sits atop the list of such spots. Critics, locals, and tourists are all in on the  third spot from local restaurateurs François Jobin, Olivier Thibault-Allard, and Olivier Lescelleur Saint-Cyr. Kraken Cru became a hit after being listed in the 2016 Air Canada sponsored list of the Best New Restaurants in Canada. Inspired by North America's east coast raw bars, the kitchen serves local oysters and other small plates featuring different bounties of the sea. As with all of this restaurant groups spots you can expect an energetic vibe from those behind the bar. We were welcomed here with some shots which isn't uncommon. QC has some really great hospitality.

Local Oysters at Kraken Cru
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Albacore

We decided to dedicate much of the day to the restaurant group mentioned above. Albacore is yet another spot from the Kraken Cru team that we wanted to try. The menu here is seafood focused but it's a bit more expansive compared to Kraken Cru. It seemed like more of a date night spot than a night out with friends. We tried an order of shrimp and duck dumplings. They say in a black bean like sauce. It was an interesting dish as far as ingredients. A pretty common theme at all of their spots.

Shrimp/Duck Dumplings at Albacore
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L'Affaire est Ketchup

Our dinner reservation on night one was for the famous L'Affaire est Ketchup. Famous partly bc of their appearance on Anthony Bourdain's "Part's Unknown" episode on Quebec City. In that episode Tony is quoted as saying it was one of the most fun restaurant experiences he'd ever had. The vibe from the show made me really want to go and I would have my chance this trip. As I can personally attest the good vibes weren't turned on just for the camera. This is the first restaurant from the same dining team that owns Kraken Cru and Albacore. L'Affaire est Ketchup is the spot that made them famous. The theme here is rich Quebec dishes served up in a fun almost party like setting. The stove is one like you'd find at a fully furnished apartment in some random college town. So it's pretty funny watching them cook on what's basically a piece of shit. That said I call it that compared to some of the fancier stoves found in Michelin rated spots. In the end they know how to use it just perfectly.

 Starters at L'Affaire est Ketchup

Our meal was a tale of two sides. The first couple plates were just ok. A mushroom creme soup was more like mashed potatoes in terms of consistency. Maybe that's a QC thing? The other dish I don't even remember having. I need to do a better job of documenting my meals but sometimes you just want to enjoy the night. The next two plates were pretty much perfect in terms of what I was expecting. It wasn't freezing cold just yet but with it being a bit nipply at night both a duck heart dish and also a lamb shank were perfect plates of food for a cool November night. The heart was served in a rich brown gravy alongside some dried mushrooms. The meat had just the right amount of chew to make it feel like a perfectly cooked piece of rare steak. The lamb shank with local carrots was as good a dish I've had this year. In fact even though the first two courses were subpar the final two were good enough to give this meal consideration among the best of 2018. Especially with the hospitality as warm as it was. We drank shots with the chef who was sipping wine through the night. Rap was the music choice so some might find this place off putting but I wouldn't hesitate to go back.

Duck Heart + Lamb Shank at L'Affaire est Ketchup
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 Buffet de L'Antiquaire

This little diner is a longtime favorite of locals and bc of it's proximity to the tourist area it's also loved by us. I loved the old time feel of this two story diner that had a Wisconsin Supper Club vibe. They're open all day and the menu is pretty expansive. So it's a good choice for a large group especially of you have picky eaters in it. Breakfast is served all day and it's what most people eat here regardless of what time it is. I knew I was going to try a combo plate that featured all the good stuff. My classic Quebec breakfast consisted of two Eggs, Bacon, Sausage, Ham, Tourtiere aka Meat Pie, Potatoes, Maple Baked Beans, and Homemade Toast. The meat pie was on point. I loved everything especially the baked beans. Service was especially nice. My only regret was not returning to try some more.

 Quebec Breakfast at Buffet de L'Antiquaire
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Épicerie J.A. Moisan

Next stop is for those of you that like food by which I mean anyone who's reading this. Located up hill in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighborhood is Épicerie J.A. Moisan which is said to be the oldest grocery store in North America. It looked pretty cool so I made it a point to stop. It was worth said stop but I didn't think it was as cool as it could've been. Yes it's a specialty grocery store but much of the products were either stuff I've seen elsewhere or had little in interest in purchasing. Even the prepared foods seemed pretty average at best. I only spent 15 minutes inside so who knows for sure.

a peek inside  
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 Phil Smoked Meat

After a little bit of internet wandering I came to the conclusion that smoked meat isn't as big in QC as it is Montreal. There are no old time delis where they're making it the same way as when they opened or anything like that. There are however a few new school spots and Phil Smoked Meat was the one that caught my eye. Not bc of the sandwich though. There were mentions of smoked meat spaghetti which I came to learn is a thing in Quebec. Diners serving smoked meat will often offer it chopped up and served over a big plate of spaghetti and marinara. The smoked meat acts as the meat for the sauce. I get a big kick out of odd little regional treats such as this so I had to have an order. Wow. On what was a pretty windy day this warmed me up right. It worked together perfectly. Honestly it was better than most plates of spaghetti that I can remember. It's a great way to make use of the scraps.

Smoked Meat Spaghetti at Phil Smoked Meat
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Le Moine Echanson

Quebec City has a quite a few natural wine bars that seem worth exploring. Most all of them have what are said to be terrific kitchens too. Le Moine Echanson is one of the more popular ones especially wit locals. The menu is rustic and focused on lots of offal dishes. We arrived an hour before dinner service was set to start so we weren't able to try anything off the regular menu but they had a nice selection of charcuterie and cheese as well as oysters on special. We loved an extra porky pig rillette as well as some delicious local oysters. I don't remember the names of all the different oysters we tried but not one of them was bad. I happen to love the cold water creatures the best no matter which coast they come from. The French-focused wine list is predominantly focused on organic and natural wines which we've really come to love. If ever back in QC I'll come here for dinner.

Happy Hour at Le Moine Echanson
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Chez Boulay

We chose this well known bistro for our anniversary dinner. Despite it's popularity with visitors most everyone had good things to say about Chez Boulay. Bc it was a Monday many other spots were closed so we decided to try this spot where the menu is focused on turning local ingredients into Nordic cuisine. The dining room is a big open space which I liked. The kitchen is open air too. Despite the fact it was a Monday the place was packed and I think that was bc of the fact the 2018 conference for Relais & Châteaux Guide sponsored operators was taking place. So there were lots of big shot hotel owners and such and of course they had reservations here. Luckily we did too.

Foie Gras at Chez Boulay

For starters a simple piece of fresh seared foie gras was a no-brainer for me. This was covered in a red wine deduction and tasted like I imagine Paris did in the 70's. Sometimes you don't need to elevate a plate. Sure it's not a great shot for instagram but I bet it would get more likes than a pretty plate of salad. The Bison Tartare however was an instagrammable dish. Diced raw bison meat is mixed with daisy capers, toasted canola oil, puffed wild rice, crispy endives and chicory. Damn!

Bison Tartare at Chez Boulay

We chose a Porc Plate for Two as our entree. I was shocked by how much meat came on the plate. Not just that bit also two well sized melted Perron cheddar croquettes. The pork shoulder was cooked confit style with camelina oil, sautéed fingerling potatoes, and Jerusalem artichokes with lardon, mustard and camelina milk. Sitting on the bottom of the bowl was a big pool of brown gravy. Maybe not as exciting as some of the newer spots but it sure seems to be a reliable option for good food.

Confit Porc for Two at Chez Boulay
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 La Dominicaine - Café Traiteur

After two straight days of heavy eating I needed something not French-Canadian for lunch. I found this cute little Dominican cafe which was an absolute surprise. Though with a little bit of research I learned that Dominican Creole French is a thing. The reviews for here were all so glowing. I could pretty much tell from the pictures it was a gem in this predominately French-Canadian city. The menu changes up daily with with different dishes making appearances on different days. I had seen this wonderful plate of Dominican meatballs in the pictures and I was really hoping they had it on offer when I visited. It was my lucky day bc sure enough that was one of a few plates being served that day. The Albondigas plate came served with rice and beans as well as a vibrant avocado salad that took me from cold Canada to somewhere warm. This was just what I needed as far as a little bit of international flavor. I believe it was the owner behind the counter and he was a very gracious host. I'll remember this one.

Albondigas at La Dominicaine - Café Traiteur
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L'Oncle Antoine

This old time locals bar was right down the block from our hotel. I walked over late one afternoon to check it out. Very cool spot. It really does feel like somewhere in Europe though not necessarily France. This had the feel of an old English or Irish Pub. Aside from the fact the bar is basically a big cave they're also known for their French Onion Soup. Nothing better to kill a hangover than a bowl of French Onion and some more booze. You can enjoy these treats by the fireplace. Usually I find most restaurant made French Onion soup to be trash but this was not that. It had a nice deep beef flavor in the broth and at least a two inch blanket of melted Gruyere. I could've spent the night drinking here.

French Onion Soup at L'Oncle Antoine
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La Buvette Scott

My favorite dining experience of the trip came from this cute little French-Canadian bistro. La Buvette Scott was recommended often when I was doing research. Someone from the QC reddit page made it clear that I shouldn't miss this place so i got us a reservation through the hotel. It's a small intimate space just like that random little bistro in Paris we all have memories of. The menu changes nightly and is written on the wall. This was a common case on the trip. But you need not worry if you cant read French bx as mentioned earlier the hospitality in this city was world class. Perhaps nowhere was it better than here. We quickly engaged in conversation with the owner who happened to be headed to Chicago soon. I swear there were like 2 or 3 other hospitality people who had said they're coming to Chicago soon too. All of them to eat and drink. Food wise we got a few plates, all great.

 Salt Cod Fritters and Butternut Squash Appetizer

For starters an order of salt cod fritters was terrific. Not just the flavors but the texture was about as airy and fluffy of a fritter as I remember. Some thin sliced butternut squash was topped with caviar, kimchi. Spectacular dish. The wife insisted we try it and I'm glad she did. It was a skillful creation. Moving along an order of endives au gratin was again another spectacular dish. Loved the change of pace from the usual potatoes. Somehow the endives were crisp on the outside and silky smooth like mashed potatoes within.  For the entree a plate of pork belly with a bit of broccoli, grilled cabbage and Worcestershire sauce was one of the best plates of food from this past calendar year. The pork was about as perfectly cooked as I can remember. Which reminds me. It's time to get to work on the season finale year end "Best of 2018" post. Coming out next week. See y'all then. Merry Christmas.

Endive Au Gratin and Pork Belly with Broccoli 
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Note: To find the locations of all the spots featured in this post, as well as places I didn't make it to, please click HERE for my google maps guide to Quebec City. Click HERE for Montreal.

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