Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Jollibee

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Fast Food via The Philippines

Honestly I wasn't even sure if I was going to share today's post. Usually when I've eaten something underwhelming I leave it at that and move on to the next spot. But since Jollibee is a well known chain making a big splash in the States these days I will share my feelings on it and it's chicken.

Filipino Chain Favorite located in Seafood City on Elston 

When the first Illinois location of Jollibee opened in Skokie it came with constant lines and a couple refrigerated semi trucks parked on-site to hold all the food they were going through. Not one to enjoy a wait in a long line I never did get over to Skokie to try Jollibee. But then they opened inside Seafood City, the Filipino grocery chain with a store on Elston, and my time to try them came. I have plans to post about Seafood City and it's many dining selections another time as today I wanted to go in on Jollibee. Let me start by saying I just dont get it. So Anthony Bourdain gave it an endorsement? So what. He's not going to tell the people taking him there that its bad. The only thing I'll say is I totally understand a love for childhood flavors and I get that many Filipino people grew up on this.

Fried Chicken at Jollibee

I thought I would really like this place. I mean I've had nothing but good experiences with Filipino food. I enjoy eating Hawaiian which Jollibee definitely gears towards with it's rice and gravy dishes. But for some reason this fried chicken tasted like it came from a suburban grocery store. An offering consisting of hamburger patties, fried onions, and eggs was the same. It might as well have been from the Mariano's prepared foods section. It was tasteless. I had plans to try the famous spaghetti with hot dogs but I've heard the sauce is super sweet and I hate super sweet marinara so I'm in no rush to get back. I will say I like the pineapple juice and mango pies and will stop back for those.

Loco Moco like dish at Jollibee

Jollibee
5033 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60630
(773) 295-1658

Monday, July 24, 2017

Frank and The Cubans

-In Chicago: Every Dog Has it's Day

You pretty much need to have eaten at Frank and The Cubans to know about it. That or you need to have been driving down Western and were able to quickly spot the Vienna Beef signing announcing it's presence at the corner of 16th and Western. It's a permanent food cart sitting in a parking lot.

Newly Opened at 16th and Western

First off, I love the name. This is a classic Chicago style hot dog stand. In fact the owner grew up selling hot dogs out of a cart in a city park. Even though it's just a stand the menu has more than just hot dogs. A closer look reveals where the Cuban part in the stands name comes from. It's first listed.

The Menu (click pics to enhance) 

More on that in a minute. First off we try a hot dog. First thing I noticed is they mention the fact they serve a natural casing wiener. Next thing I notice is they store them in a ceramic holder which is what all the old pros do. Then and there I new these guys knew what was up. You can get a Chicago dog with a side of free standard frozen fries for just $4 and that includes tax. It's a perfectly made hot dog.

Chicago Dog at Frank and the Cubans

Then there's the Cuban. As regular readers know I take these very seriously. Most Cuban's outside of Florida (Tampa and Miami) are garbage for a variety of reasons. However as I've written about before you can achieve a classic Cuban sandwich at home if you're willing to hunt down the proper ingredients. I'm happy to report they take the necessary steps here to do so. Chicago style French bread works really well and they use that while making the pork on site. All of this perfectness can be wiped out if you don't properly balance the sandwich which is not a problem here. Each sandwich comes with an order of fresh fried plantain chips which are delicious. I've ate many Cubans across the city but none were made with as much care. My new go-to spot when I'm in the mood for one.

Cuban Sandwich at Frank and The Cubans

Frank and The Cubans
2444 W 16th St
Chicago, IL 60608                              
(312) 818-2415

Friday, July 21, 2017

HaiSous

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

The recent story of what happened at the long gone Embeya is a frustrating one. Without getting to much into it the city lost an acclaimed restaurant while the people that put their heart and soul into it lost not just their restaurant but also some money. No one knows where the investors who fleeced the chef and his wife went but I know where said chef and his wife went. To Pilsen, to open a Vietnamese restaurant. Huh? It is what it is and by that I mean is it's one of the city's best new restaurants.

Newly opened in Pilsen

We recently got to enjoy a meal at HaiSous before a concert at Thalia Hall. Wow. It was the highlight of a night that included a great show following the meal but it was the food that I was thinking about the next day. Chef Thai Dang and his wife Danielle seem to have put their past in the past and are looking ahead to a bright future. The food and flavors of Vietnam are hot right now and people like me are booking trips to go there and experience them. In the meantime HaiSous is here to give you the flavors of one of the worlds great cuisines at the corner of 18th and Carpenter and it's delicious.

Goi Vit (Shredded Duck Salad) 

I'd never known of Goi Vit until I read about it on the menu from here but now I cant wait to seek it out when in Vietnam. I just hope it's half as good as this which I'm sure it will be. Made with shredded duck, green cabbage, banana blossom, scallion oil, and vinegar it was one of the best things I've ate of late. Moving onto a bowl of claypot mussels swimming in a coconut broth filled with toasted coconut and lemongrass was also exquisite. I found myself slurping the bowl clean.

So Nao Nuoc Dua (Mussels Cooked in Claypot)

Let me tell you about the fried rice dish that reads so simply. Simple is sometimes better. Or in the case of HaiSous' fried rice it's way better. One of the most satisfying fried rice dishes that I can remember. Nothing sexy about it just white rice fried in scallion oil to a perfect consistency. So good.

Com Chien Gion (House Fried Rice)

Last but least is the pork belly dish. The picture below doesn't quite show the sauce you're to use to dip the pork belly in but it was as addictive as it gets. The pork belly itself was cooked to a melt in your mouth consistency and the little pieces of tamarind paste were just great when spread on. After eating these four things I know there's other terrific items to choose from but I could go back and order the same things and I'd be happy to do so. Each dish a hit. Count me among it's earliest fans.

Thit Ba Chi Nuong (Pork Belly with Tamarind Glaze)

HaiSous
1800 S Carpenter St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 702-1303
Website

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mizrahi on Clark

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to Lakeview

Mizrahi is a spot that's long been on my radar. However due to it's location in Highland Park, and weird hours, I'd never made it over there. Mizrahi is popular amongst Northshore residents for their famous falafel that even city folk say is great. A successful decade in Highland Park recently made way for a second location in Lakeview. Which was all I needed to finally give it a try.

From Highland Park to Lakeview

If you've been to any of the popular falafel and shawarma shops across the city than you know the drill with Mizrahi. They offer sandwiches and plates and in the case of the food from here everything is Kosher. The shawarma is a mix of lamb and turkey but they pre-slice it which is a no-go for me. That said it's their falafel I wanted to try so I went ahead and got a plate. Not cheap but you do get 8 balls of freshly fried falafel with your choice of rice or potato and sides such as Israeli salad and hummus. This place isn't cheap but you do get a bunch of bang for your buck. I have no idea if these are the best falafel in the city though they are really good. The thick cut fries were a nice surprise and the colorful salads were fresh and delicious. They should fit in nicely in Lakeview amongst their former Northshore neighbors.

Falafel Plate with Fries 

Mizrahi on Clark
3037 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 525-8777
Website

Monday, July 17, 2017

La Palapa

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

If you've driven by today's stop you will certainly remember doing so. Unless seeing a big ass shark looking over some palapas is something that doesn't catch your eye. La Palapa is the type of spot that can transform you to another place. Dine in on a a busy weekend and the BYOB will take you straight to whatever Mexico beach destination it was you last vacationed at. It's name coming from the dozen plus Palapas (an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof made of dried palm leaves).

Locals Favorite in McKinley Park

While La Palapa is big it's only so in the summertime. The actual restaurant is small with maybe four tables. It's outdoor dining and byob policy paired with plates of spicy shrimp is what makes it a big hit. I'll be honest and admit that Chicago's marisco places aren't going to compare to any of the spots in cities on the water but when it comes to the food at most of them there's pretty much one thing you're there for and that's langoustines bathing in butter. Me being the major taco aficionado I am I once decided to try the fish tacos and was reminded of what I said the sentence before this.

Fish Taco

There is one other thing that's worth ordering when stopping by for the langoustines and that's the Shrimp Zarandeado. Pescado Zarandeado is a popular grilled fish in the Nayarit region of Mexico and La Palapa makes a version with shrimps. This dish is all about the sauce which mixes a deep red chile sauce with lots of butter both before and post cooking of the shrimps. The sauce is the star. I like to mix the Zarandeado sauce with that of the popular langoustines. The latter of which can be hit or miss as far as seafood quality. I've had big meaty shrimps that tasted great but there's also been a time or two the shrimps were smaller and the meat was a tad tougher. Still at this pricepoint with that sauce it's not something that bothers me much. The atmosphere (and sauce) are why you're here.

Shrimp Zarandeado (top) House Special Langoustines (bottom)

La Palapa
2000 W 34th St
Chicago, IL 60608
(773) 376-9620

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Gage

-Grubbing in Chicago
Where the Tourists Eat

We've reached the dog days of summer. Apologies on my inactivity of late but it's been a very busy month. We just finished up Taste of Chicago and a few weeks before it started we had to go to the annual vendors meeting downtown. It's a three hour meeting with a lunch break in the middle and we ended up down the block at The Gage on Michigan avenue. With now being prime tourist time this place has been extra busy. Not the type of spot I seek out but when in Rome.

Tourists Favorite on Michigan Avenue

Popular for fish n' chips as well as other "upscale" bar food the Gage gets a nice mix of tourists and also a few locals from the likes of Randolph and such. I knew going in that the Gage draws as much people for it's views (Millennium Park is across the street) as it does the food but some do say the food is really good too. So we started out with a Caesar Salad. It was done right as far as ingredients but it still felt like something was missing. Maybe it was just the fact in the end all it is is lettuce.

Caesar Salad at The Gage

Moving along to the turkey club it was the type of sandwich that can hit the spot. Nice thick toasted bread and thinly sliced deli meat paired with fresh lettuce, tomato, and onion. But not triple deckered. Nothing groundbreaking but something that can be enjoyed on a nice summer day like today.

Turkey Club

Then there's the fish n' chips that the city's popular instagram accounts like to take fancy pictures of. These are why I wasn't opposed to dining here as I was finally going to be able to see for myself if they were legit or just hyped by a group of people who only eats free food from trendy spots thus dont really have a broad range of places they've tried. As expected these influencers need to expand their boundaries. What I got might have looked good but it tasted average at best. The fish was lukewarm and it tasted like nothing. The fries were bordering on cold and they were standard frozen fries. In the end the best thing about this meal was the view from outside. Sometimes you pay for that.

Fish n' Chips at The Gage

The Gage
24 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 372-4243
Website

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hanbun

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
Five Star Food Court Food 

I'm not exactly breaking any news with today's post but rather adding to Hanbun's praise. I'm going to assume most people who read this know what Hanbun is by now. But for those that don't it's one of the best restaurants to open up last year (2016) and it just so happens to be located in a dimly lit food court out in the middle of Westmont. Nonetheless it's become so popular during it's year + tenure that recent word on the street has them looking for a larger place to play. They would be Chef Dave Park and his partner / fiancee Jennifer Tran. Owners of Chicagoland's best Korean restaurant.

Locals Favorite in Westmont

I don't know why it's hard for some to believe there's good food in the suburbs but Westmont was already a dining destination for noodles at Katy's. Now it has one of the best 1-2 punches in all of Chicagoland. Chef Park was born in Korea and moved to the States at the age of 8. After a failed stint at Alinea (he didn't think he was worthy enough) Chef Park moved back home only to move back to Chicagoland and give the whole cooking thing another go. Lucky us because after a few stints in prominent kitchens he decided to go out on his own and open Hanbun. I'm no Korean food expert but I do find myself enjoying it more and more and Hanbun is reason number one. It's so good.

Korean Pork Bun - coffee scented pork. ssam jang. steamed buns. white kimchi. scallions.

Bao buns are pretty much available everywhere these days. People like Eddie Huang have made a fortune off of them. Your neighborhood isn't hip unless it has a local bao shop. Well I guess Westmont is pretty hip these days. This is the best bao I ever had. Quite frankly I never loved a bao until I recently tried this one. The coffee rubbed pork belly was cooked to perfection and the crunchy cabbage was perfectly placed. The vegetable pancake is also a stellar representation of it's kind.

Vegetable Pancake - medley of vegetables. tangy soy dipping sauce.

Moving right along the bulgogi was the most tender representation of this dish I've ever come across. You can really tell that the people behind the food have been trained on a culinary level as each dish is pretty much flawless. Make it a point to get out here for lunch if you haven't already.

Bulgogi - Marinated tender beef. crisp apple & arugula salad. soy sesame vinaigrette. served with barley rice.

My favorite dish of my only trip thus far is this hybrid Korean-Chinese dish which I have no idea how to say. According to google it translates to "noodles with black sauce" and when put like that it's much better than it sounds. One of the best dishes I've ate of late and I cant wait to go back for more. The recent James Beard award Chef park was nominated for was well deserved. I cant remember being this happy with a complete meal whether it was fine dining or from a food court in the burbs.

Jjajjangmyun -  korean-chinese style noodles. black bean sauce. pork belly. nuoc mam cucumber. chives.

Hanbun
665 Pasquinelli Dr #108
Westmont, IL 60559
(630) 948-3383
Website

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Eating BIG in Milwaukee Pt. 2

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Eating and Drinking in MKE

I've been stalling on this post going on a couple years now. But that's ok as it's only grown over time. As regular readers know I get up to Milwaukee pretty regularly and have always called it my favorite Chicago suburb due to it's proximity to the city. However that is in no way a knock on the city of Milwaukee and it's thriving food scene. I've always loved exploring this city and have long been a proponent of it being a great place to spend a day. They have a world class art museum as well as the the NBA's next best thing on top of a wonderful mix of both old and new as far as food/drink goes.

Downtown Milwaukee

Speaking of things Milwaukee has, Summerfest starts today (6/28/17). The Worlds largest outdoor music fest is the granddaddy of all of Milwaukee's summertime festivals. Heck they even have a first place baseball team in Milwaukee, for now anyway. I've featured many of my longtime favorites as far as food stops from the Brew City and many of them are the type of spots I would list as legendary spots worth the ride for them alone. Today I add a ton more to the mix. One thing about MKE I can promise is there's tons to eat, and even more to drink. What's not to love? Well aside from Sheriff Clarke and the awful segregation going on. Milwaukee is on the come up. It's become cool to visit.

Chris Farley Mural in Bay View 

As I had mentioned Milwaukee has a wonderful mix of classic old school spots and newly opened chef driven establishments. I've never been to a city where the bars are always so full. It's not like there's only a few as you'll pretty much find one on every corner of every neighborhood both commercial and residential. Many parts of Milwaukee feel like Chicago used to. Unfortunately the corner bars down here are bordering on extinct whereas in Milwaukee they thrive, or at least get by.

Corner Bar in Milwaukee 

So without further ado here is my most recent Chowing Travel Guide on the great city of Milwaukee.
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The Laughing Taco

Here we have one of the city's hottest new openings. It's owned by a husband and wife team and the husband part of it is James Beard nominated Chef Justin Carlisle of Ardent. His flagship restaurant has drawn many of Chicago's biggest gourmands up it's way and pretty much everyone has great things to say. Including me but no pics as it was dark and I dont like using flash. But what more can I say on that? I'm not your source for fine dining but I can tell you where to get some bomb ass tacos.

a peek inside (trompo in motion)

Laughing Taco is the idea of Chef Carlisle's wife. It came to her pretty naturally as she's a native of Monterrey, Mexico and wanted to bring a taqueria like those back at her old home to her current home in Milwaukee. Well I've never been to Monterrey but you know I've gotten around as far as tacos go, both in the States and Mexico, and I got to say these were legit enough to pretty much be a hit anywhere. I would love to have it as an option in Chicago's amazing array of taco shops but I'm just happy it's close enough in Milwaukee to get my fix now and then. They're really doing it right. One telling sign of a well run taco shop is the serving of regional tacos such as the taco de trompo. Not to be confused with it's cousin al pastor the trompo taco is made the same way with pork but uses only smoked paprika as it's seasoning. This is one of Monterrey's signature taco styles. Delicious.

Taco Campechano (Steak, Trompo Meat, Fried Cheese, Avocado, on Flour)

The State of Monterrey is in Northeast Mexico and they like they're meats in that part of the country. According to Lucia Muñoz (co-owner/wife) the taco shops of her youth get straight to the point. Much like the rest of Mexico's taquerias more times than not places specialize in one thing and maybe offer a few others and that's it. That's pretty much the idea of Laughing Taco. When you source the meat from a nearby farm (run by the chef's brother) and throw in high quality frozen margaritas you got a chef driven taco shop but it's one that doesn't try to be anything more. The tacos are top notch with the fillings the star. No need for fancy toppings that make them look good on the gram. These are classics with quality ingredients. All of them good enough to eat multiple amounts of. The potato crisped in tomato sauce might've been the most craveworthy while the steak was great.

Potato (L) Steak (M) Trompo (R)
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Iron Grate BBQ

Another one of the city's more anticipated restaurant openings came when Iron Grate BBQ came into play. These days Texas style BBQ is all the rage and the folks behind Iron Grate do a damn good job of creating this formerly uber regional style that's now pretty much found all over. More times than not it's nothing to get excited about but one look at Edna, the restaurants smoker, and you know they're for real. When Iron Grate first opened they did within a coffee shop but recent news has them moving.

Edna the on-site smoker

I got a chance to try Iron Grate not too long after it's opening and they were doing well on my visit. All the meats were above average with the brisket being the best as should be the case for a great Texas BBQ platter. One thing that Iron Grate has that you wont find in Texas is the Milwaukee rib. This is a custom cut made just for the pitmaster and it comes from a special cut of spare rib with the belly still attached to it. As far as it's taste think part pork belly and part rib and you got the idea.

Brisket, Milwaukee Ribs, and Sausage at Iron Grate BBQ

It's been a little while since my visit but when we stopped in they were selling bags of cinnamon dusted pork rinds at the counter and these were wonderful. I couldn't contain myself after trying one in the car. They were too good to make it home. Definitely get some of these if they have any.

Cinnamon Dusted Pork Rinds at Iron Grate BBQ
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Bavette Le Boucherie

I knew Milwaukee was for real when I found about this place and thought it was another hot chef driven place new to the scene. Turns out it's been around for a while. Somehow I never heard of it until recently as in the last six months but if you like to shop for meat after you eat Bavette Butcher has some wonderful stuff in their display case. They also had some fantastic cornbread on the dining menu when we stopped in. As good as anything I can remember eating south of the Mason Dixon.

Pan Fried Corn Bread at Bavette Le Boucherie

The menu here is ever changing but features sections with options of cheese and charcuterie, snacks, soup, salads, sandwiches etc. Usually when dining in Milwaukee we have a few spots in mind so we try and sample a few things before moving on to the next stop. Here we had some sweet and spicy fried wings that were really well executed but the wings themselves were to big for me. I prefer them smaller so there's not a ton of chewing and gnawing. Though still tasty.

Chili Fish Sauce Caramel Capon Wings at Bavette Le Boucherie

I looked at something that looked like a minor take on the Philly style roast pork sandwich and wanted to try it but it wasn't quite that. While it did have roast pork it wasn't sliced thin and instead of a semi Italian profile the feta and harissa gave this sandwich a Mediterranean vibe. Not bad at all. But the best thing about this place was the meat itself. I bought some ground beef that was some of the best I ever cooked with. So good I was eating it lightly seasoned (Paris seasoning from Spice House) as is fried in the pan like a little mini meatball. The kimchi sausage and classic brats were also nice.

Roast Pork with Feta, Harissa Aioli, Carrot Slaw, Roasted Broccoli, Olive-Almond Relish at Bavette Le Boucherie
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Red Light Ramen

Here's a spot that can vouch for the popularity of previously mentioned Chef Justin Carlisle. Red Light Ramen is his ramen joint that originally started off as a late nite Saturday thing at Ardent next door. It became so popular that it eventually became it's own restaurant. It's still no reservations and it's still small and as popular as ever so go early if you want to snag a seat. Or go late towards the end of the night. The menu is small with only a few things as far as entrees. Obviously ramen is what they're known for and their Tonkotsu is pretty damn good. Tender slices of locally raised pork sit in a pork broth with a potency of medium. You cant get much better in Milwaukee on a cold winter night.

Pork, Scallion, Mushroom, Bamboo Shoots, Nori, Fish Cake, Egg, Greens at Red Light Ramen

The ramen might be what most people are there for but don't sleep on the donburi bowl. They make a mean Japanese style beef curry served with white rice and a side of condiments that includes fermented corn, pickles, koshu. I might be wrong but it seemed like the beef in this was the same stuff used at Laughing Taco with the steak tacos and it worked great. I didn't taste much sweetness in this dish like most other Japanese curry's but rather I tasted heat and some notes of Indian cuisine. Who knows what exactly goes into making this dish but everything was perfect down to to the potatoes and carrots being cooked just right. This is a dish I can see myself returning for soon.

Japanese Beef Curry Donburi (Rice Bowl) at Red Light Ramen
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Movida

My visit to this place was probably the longest as far as time from visit to this post goes. It's been over a year but the folks behind Movida are doing well enough to have opened another spot that doubles as a hotel. While I haven't been to Hotel Madrid yet I did like my one and only visit to Movida. We went during Happy Hour and according to their menu this is still a thing. But not the same.

Fried Olives at Movida

On our visit they had all sorts of little bites to eat on special and all of them were pretty good. It looks like they ditched the little sandwiches they used to serve but these were a tasty bar snack paired with some nice wine from their cellar. Same goes for the fried olives pictured up above.

Happy Hour Snacks at Movida

I dont have the best luck when it comes to restaurant paella but Movida did a really nice version. It was small but that meant the chance for socarrat was much better. Socarrat being the crispy pieces of rice that stick to the bottom of the pan. Since the pan was small the socarrat built up quickly.

Seafood Paella at Movida
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Meat on the Street

Here we have another success story of food truck turned into permanent location. In this case that location is at a rather generic food court inside an old Pabst property turned student housing center near Marquette. There's five new food stalls and Meat on the Street is easily the least inclusive. They have Filipino street food and we tried both skewers and egg rolls and both were really well made. Filipino food is really starting to take off and when you eat at a place like this you understand why.

Filipino Street Food at Meat on the Street
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Bel Air Cantina

I've visited many of the modern upscale taquerias that have taken the country by storm and can say that we have it pretty damn good in Chicago. I say so because at least half of the time if not more than, the place ends up disappointing. Whereas in Chicago even the not so popular yuppified taco spots tend to be better than many of the rest I've tried elsewhere in the States. No difference here. While the building which it sits in on the river is really cool and a great place to drink on a nice day, the tacos here are expensive (more than $3) and average at best. Can't win them all.

Fried Avocado Taco at BelAir Cantina
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The Cheel 

I'm still sad about a Milwaukee food truck that's no more. They made the best momo dumplings I've ever had. Well I was happy to see a new Himalayan place when it opened up in the suburb of Thiensville. I admit it seemed a bit out of touch but the young owners behind The Cheel have already grown a large fanbase. The restaurant itself sits in an old 1890's building but the food here is definitely not old school. It's described as serving cuisine from the Himalayas to the Rockies.

Momo Dumplings at The Cheel 

All of the meat is locally sourced and you could taste the freshness of the goat in the dumplings. They were definitely tasty but they didn't make me forget about the ones no longer available mentioned up above. We also had some sort of pork stew that was really good but I cant seem to find it's description on the menu. This was hearty food and it was cool seeing locals embrace the place.

Pork Stew at The Cheel
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La Masa Empanada Bar

They might not be quite as popular as poke but empanadas have been having a moment at the popular table lately. Nothing wrong with that as sometimes you just want a snack and once in a blue moon you want something other than a taco. Enter the empanada. Here they have all the Argentinian classics as well as some fresh local takes. So how does chopped brat taste inside an empanada? Just ok actually. The sauerkraut was throwing the flavors off when mixed with the side of chimichurri.

Brat Empanada
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The Vanguard

What more can I say about The Vanguard? If you read my review than you know I'm a fan. The menu is mostly dominated by encased meats but they also have a burger. It's a somewhat recent addition that, like many other masterpieces, was created by getting use out of everything in the kitchen. When the sausage is stuffed some of them burst and the ground meat from them goes into the making of Thee Dirty Burger. The beauty of it is the patty consists of a little bit of everything. It's dressed similar to an In 'n Out Burger. There's also real chopped bacon bits scattered in and the use of their housemade Velveeta style cheese. It's quite a treat and something worth ordering on a menu with many interesting options to choose from. Go on. Git!

Thee Dirty Burger - bacon / lettuce / onion / tomato / pickle / OK Sauce / House Velveeta
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The Vagabond

This place opened up around the time hipster driven tacos were peaking. It's got all the things going for it as far as a hipster taco joint goes. Lot's of colors inside, plenty of drinks on offer, and even a classic airstream trailer from where drinks are served. Reviews are sort of mixed but I will say that the fish taco I had from here was actually pretty legit with a crispy piece of well fried fish being just about perfect, and I liked the addition of pickled bell pepper. The drinks were just ok.

Dos Equis Battered Mahi Mahi, Red Jalapeno Slaw, Pickled Red Pepper
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Boone and Crockett

Milwaukee has always been a big beer town but these days its becoming a big cocktail town too. I'm talking much more than brandy old fashioneds. There's some really good bars that have opened in the past five years and this one feels like it belongs somewhere in Austin.

a peek inside

Boone and Crockett is a popular place these days. Then again pretty much any place with a patio is popular during Milwaukee's summer months. Aside from some well made drinks this place boasts a permanent food truck in the back. Hence why it reminds me a bit of Austin. Gypsy Taco burst onto the scene with their non-authentic tacos and their unapologetic about that. 

Gypsy Taco 

The menu switches up with whats good at the market. On my visit they had a handful of options including a Dr. Pepper braised pork, a fish taco with fried smelt, and another taco made from fresh fried local mushrooms. All of them were unique but the fish taco with lake smelts was the best executed of the bunch. My only complaint is the fact they dress all of the tacos the same way which kind of makes the flavors similar in all of them. Fun spot to hang on a hot summer day.

Fried Lake Smelt Taco at Gypsy Taco
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Dock18 Cocktail Lab

The best cocktail bar in Milwaukee right now is more like a club house. The folks behind local business Bittercube Bitters have not only helped Milwaukee's cocktail scene thrive but they've also contributed directly to it with Dock18. This is their bar and it's not easy to find the first time around. The address takes you to a loading dock and unless you easily put two and two together you might find yourself looking around wondering if you're in the right place. Go the door right of Dock 17.

a peek inside

Because Dock18 is part of a distillery they're only allowed to use liquor thats made on site. You'd think that might hinder the bartenders abilities. Nope. A recent drinking session here resulted in some of the best cocktails I've sipped in Milwaukee. This months theme was taking popular pieces of art from the Milwaukee Art Museum and turn them into cocktails. This tiki like concoction below was almost an exact replica of the famous photo also seen in the picture below. A must stop in my book.

Cocktail at Dock18
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The Phoenix Cocktail Club 

This place is new but because of it's location in a federal historic building it feels old. That and the cocktails take you back to another era. The creativity behind some of today's cocktail bars is pretty remarkable. You have to do something to stand out. The Phoenix has an ongoing cocktail comic series featuring a drink that comes served with a comic book about said drink. As the drink gets reincarnated each time the comic comes out with a new issue too. None of this would matter of the cocktails weren't any good but the ones we sipped on our visit were good enough to warrant a return.

Cocktails at The Phoenix Club

They also serve up small plates here. Never one to pass on an order of housemade dumplings I decided to try the kimchi and pork version they were pushing. These were good drinking food.

Kimchi Dumplings at The Phoenix Cocktail Club
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Koz's Mini Bowl

Mini Bowling? Yep at one of my favorite dives in Milwaukee. Koz's, like so many other taverns in town, sits on a residential corner and more times than not you'll find the El Charitto taco truck sitting outside. Inside is an old school Wisconsin style tavern with a surprise in the back.

The Bar

This turn back the clock drinking spot has it's own four lane miniature bowling alley. Same as it ever was, pin setters included. The first time I came here after a day of drinking at the Brewers/Cubs game I fell in love with it and try and stop in each trip up the lake that I take. The problem is Milwaukee has a couple handful of amazing old school drinking establishments, cant get to them all each trip.

Mini Bowling Alley

I take friends here and as always everyone who goes has a grand ole time. The mini bowling is pretty fun once you get the hang of it. The cost is a couple bucks per ten frames and make sure to tip your pinsetter as there's faster ways of making money and they're choosing not to go that route.

Chicago Softball Sized Bowling Balls
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Foundation Tiki Bar

Pretty much any trip I make to Milwaukee includes a stop at this real deal tiki bar. Also located on a residential street this place has legions of fans in Milwaukee. It might not be on the level of a place like Lost Lake when it comes to the drinks but the actual atmosphere is that of a real deal tiki bar. I can't get enough of it. These days I get the same drink every time. The Mai Tai from here is a textbook recipe that pins you down pretty quickly. As close to Hawaii as you can get in Wisconsin.

Mai Tai at Foundation Tiki Bar
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Taqueria El Charrito Taco Truck

Milwaukee has a thriving taco truck scene. You can expect a report on them sometime soon. Some of them even specialize in things other than tacos such as tortas and hamburguesas. This truck here is a favorite of mine, but not for the tacos. Though before I get to it I should note that the tacos here are actually pretty damn good and well worth the $2 asking price. The steak is just tiny chopped bits but they're well crisped and it's the little things that can take a taco from average to above average. Such as the inclusion of some avocado and also a properly griddled tortilla. Good salsa too.

Carne Asada con Aguacate

But my go-to order from here is the charro beans. Loaded with steak, bacon, al pastor, cheap chopped wieners, onions and other little odds and ends they've been better at night, probably because they sat around all day but at a buck and change a cup these really hits the spot after a few games of mini bowling at Koz's across the street. 

Charro Beans at Taqueria El Charrito Taco Truck
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Crave Cafe

Located up North in Shorewood Crave Cafe opened sometime late last year and did so to some friendly pub. I saw an article about the burgers and made note for the next time I was in town. I made it in recently and while all eleven burgers on offer (each 1/3 lb) were tempting it was the Korean BBQ Burger ($7) that was calling my name. Served with a Korean-style barbecue glaze, seasoned mayonnaise, American cheese, slaw and spicy kimchi this is the owners ode to his time in LA. I love the combo of salty American cheese and fiery kimchi so of course I loved this burger. It was great.

Kimchi Burger from Crave Cafe 
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Tacos Los Gemelos

Not only does Milwaukee have a thriving Mexican scene but many of it's people are from Oaxaca. This is something I started to further explore recently after learning so. Los Gemelos is one of these Oaxacan owned spots and it was once a truck but now has it's own place. They do have tlayudas on the menu but I'm not sure they're the ones you'd see in Oaxaca. I'll find out another time as they're also known for their tacos al pastor that come served from a spit on the weekends. Unfortunately said spit is behind closed doors but there was no denying the tacos I got came from meat cut thin from a trompo. They could have been a bit more crisped but I wasn't complaining. I happily ate them. 

Tacos al Pastor at Tacos Los Gemelos
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Blue Star Cafe

I know little of the food of East Africa but this small unassuming spot hidden aside a large newly built apartment building always caught my eye. The menu is fairly simple with options like platters with a base starch and your choice of meat and also sandwiches, Kay-Kay, and Crepes. The Kay Kay was described as a flatbread topped with your choice of meat and both it and a big plate of rice with goat meat were tempting but I wasn't all that hungry on my visit so I settled on the steak sandwich I read rave reviews on. Good choice, college kids know a good sandwich when they find one and this visit there was nothing but them and a few cab drivers inside. I don't know if Steak Sandwiches are a big thing in Somalia, doubt it, but I do know Somali people and by extension their food are +common in Minneapolis and there's many connections between Minnesota and Wisconsin so it's not surprising to find a Somali restaurant in these parts. The steak was thinly sliced strips cooked in a marinade that the hot green sauce worked in perfect harmony with. The sambusas worked in the same way.

Somali Steak Sandwich at Blue Star Cafe
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Chef Paz

Out in the suburb of West Allis is a big selection of good looking food stops. I haven't had a chance to fully explore the area but we did stop in at one of the top rated places called Chef Paz. It's a Peruvian joint and the pics looked legit but there was just two of us so all we could make room for was a big platter of Jalea. This popular Peruvian dish is consists of fried pieces of fish and shrimp with mussel’s and calamari accompanied with golden yucca, tartar sauce, and topped with Creole Sauce (onion, tomatoes, lemon, cilantro, and olive oil). This came out piping hot and hit the spot.

Seafood Jalea at Chef Paz
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The Rochester Deli

As you may have learned in previous reports Milwaukee is a big corned beef city. They have some of the best spots I've ever been as far as corned beef goes. Well it just so happens I have another in Rochester Deli located in the suburb of Waukesha. It's a classic example of an old school deli.

Chicken Noodle Soup

As much as I love Jake's Deli, the Reuben sandwich from Rochester Deli is among the best I've had anywhere, Jake's included. The housemade corned beef isn't sliced as thick as at the other spots but the grilled marble rye is what makes it stand out. That and the perfect ratio of everything along with the fantastic toasting/melting job. I really liked this place when I visited. Good homemade soups too.


Reuben Sandwich from Rochester Deli
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Simmas Bakery

Wisconsin is home to some of the country's best bakeries and Simmas is considered one of Milwaukee's best. Started in 1982 by a Russian immigrant it's morphed into a major part of the community it's in. They got lots to choose from in there but what you see below is what you want. Problem is I cant tell you the exact name as my visit was a while ago. But if you see it, point.

Pastry at Simmas Bakery
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 Fritz's Pub

I'd passed Fritz's for years and always wondered whether or not they were still open and then a couple years ago I rolled by and spotted people coming in and and out and it was a Friday so I went in to try their fish fry. This is a classic Wisconsin tavern my friends. You'll feel like you're in a movie.

a peek inside

Opened in 1978 by a newly located immigrant who used his nickname for the place they have a nice menu of home cooked food, both Serbian and American. The hours are odd though as they're only open on Friday's and Saturday's and on Saturday it's only from 12p to 4p. Friday you got from 1p to 9p. But should you make it into here the housemade Ćevapi called 'Chewaps' on the menu are very good and even better paired with their build your own Shish-ka-bob sandwich. It might not be served as a traditional shish kebab sandwich but the extra tender pork and the potent grilled onions on a sesame seeded roll most likely from Peter Sciortino's Bakery makes for great bar food.

Combo Plate: 5 oz. order of Shish-ka-bob & 3 Chewaps

As far as the fish fry goes it too is also worth ordering. I usually stay away from places that don't serve lake fish (lake perch, blue gill, walleye) but this place just reeks of classic Wisconsin so you kind of figure the fish fry has to be good. Of course it is. Something about that batter. It was definitely laced with fresh black pepper and the fish was fried perfectly. The side of potato wedges was a first for a fish fry in my experience but they too tasted great. This place is a treasure.

Friday Fish Fry at Fritz's Pub
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The Historic Grain Exchange Building aka Mackie Building (1879)

The Swingin' Door Exchange is commonly listed when looking up the best fish fry in Milwaukee. I can vouch for these results. Located in downtown Milwaukee in the national historic registered Grain Exchange Building, this space has housed a tavern since prohibition.

The Swingin' Door Exchange

The most recent owners of the Swingin' Door Exchange have kept the charm and the wood-heavy interior remains intact. Plus, the Friday fish fry special remains, even if it has been rejuvenated. Choose from lake perch, bluegill, shrimp, and cod and enjoy the house-made slaw, a well buttered piece of locally baked rye bread, and some kicked up tartar sauce to go with it. The real deal indeed.

Lake Perch Friday Fish Fry Plate
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4th Base

Another reason I love Milwaukee is because of little gems like this. They just keep popping up each trip I take. 4th base is a bar and from the outside it looks like many others in Wisconsin. But step inside and you'll spy a big display case with all sorts of fresh looking steaks and chops and such. While 4th base is indeed a classic tavern it's also a nice little restaurant. Similar to a supper club.

a peek inside 

We stopped in one Saturday afternoon and had a nice chat with the locals. The menu features lots of stuff that sounds good but I had never seen a Reuben sandwich served with Lake Perch. So of course we had to try one. The perch was fried fresh and the bread locally sourced so this was a good sandwich. Also excellent were the thin fresh cut fries sprinkled with cheese. I plan on going back.

Reuben Sandwich with Lake Perch at 4th Base 
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Polonez Restaurant 

Polonez Restaurant is considered Milwaukee's best polish restaurant. It's one of those places where time seems to have passed by. Step inside and you're taken back to another time in Milwaukee. It's just got that old school Eastern European feel to it. The menu is filled with polish classics and none come with more fanfare than the pierogi. Both the potato and cheese were fantastic.

Pierogi at Polonez Restaurant 
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The Packing House

Here's a place out by the airport that reeks of Milwaukee. The Packing House was founded in 1974 and is still owned and operated by the same family today. Located out by the airport it's got all the characteristics of a classic Wisconsin Supper Club. Then there's the drive-thru.

Drive-Thru Fish Fry

Huh? A Drive-thru fish fry? Only in Wisconsin. How do I not go thru it at least once? Even if they dont have lake perch or blue gills or walleye on the menu. The fish of choice here is Icelandic Cod. Dinners come served with a cup of clam chowder, cole slaw, marble rye bread, hand-breaded Icelandic cod, and your choice of French fries or potato pancakes. s it the best fish fry in Wisconsin? No it's not but it did hit the spot on the ride back to Chicago while bringing back memories of a drive-thru prime rib place I use to frequent during my college days in Madison. Gotta love Wisco.

Friday Fish Fry at The Packing House
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Leon's Frozen Custard

Last stop up! There's no better place to end in Milwaukee. Leon's is a city icon known for their custard. People line up morning, noon, and night during their open season. Folks from Milwaukee usually pick one when it comes to their custard of choice and Leon's and Kopp's are the choices.

Non-Custard part of the menu

On what was my umpteenth trip to Leon's their 'Spanish Hamburger' finally got my attention. I asked the young lady behind the counter what a Spanish was and she told me it's their version of a Sloppy Joe. Figuring it was going to be something similar to a Mexiburger (sweet hot dog sauce on a bun) my curiosity still got the better of me and I went ahead and ordered one. They should call it an Iowan. This is basically a loose meat sandwich, albeit a tad bit wetter than most, which actually helped. I've become semi obsessed with this sandwich and no trip to Milwaukee is complete without one.

Spanish Hamburger and Custard at Leon's
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The Laughing Taco
1033 S 1st St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 210-3086

Iron Grate BBQ
4177 S Howell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 455-1776

Bavette Le Boucherie
330 E Menomonee St
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 273-3375

Red Light Ramen
1749 N Farwell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 837-5107

Movida
524 S 2nd St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 224-5300

Meat on the Street
1125 N 9th St
Milwaukee, WI 53233
(414) 477-6717

BelAir Cantina
1935 N Water St
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 226-2245

The Cheel
105 S Main St
Thiensville, WI 53092
(262) 236-9463

La Masa Empanada Bar
1300 E Brady St
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 885-1866

The Vanguard
2659 S Kinnickinnic Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 539-3593

The Vagabond
1122 N Edison St
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 223-1122

Boone and Crockett (Gypsy Taco)
2151 S Kinnickinnic Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 763-4935

Dock18 Cocktail Lab
2018 S 1st St
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 737-0692

The Phoenix Cocktail Club
785 N Jefferson St
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 539-5918

Koz's Mini Bowl
2078 S 7th St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 383-0560

Foundation Tiki Bar
2718 N Bremen St
Milwaukee, WI 53212
(414) 374-2587

Taqueria El Charrito Taco Truck
*Across street from Koz's Mini Bowl

Crave Cafe
3592 N Oakland Ave
Shorewood, WI 53211
(414) 204-8778

Tacos Los Gemelos
1116 W Historic Mitchell St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(281) 970-7097

Blue Star Cafe
1619 N Farwell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 273-9744

Chef Paz
9039 W National Ave,
West Allis, WI 53227
(414) 327-1600

Rochester Deli
143 W Broadway St
Waukesha, WI 53186
(262) 522-9611

Simmas Bakery
817 N 68th St
Milwaukee, WI 53213
(414) 257-0998

Fritz's Pub
3086 S 20th St
Milwaukee, WI 53215
(414) 643-6995

The Swingin' Door Exchange
219 E Michigan St
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 276-8150

4th Base Restaurant
5117 W National Ave
West Milwaukee, WI 53214
(414) 647-8509

Polonez Restaurant 
4016 S Packard Ave
St Francis, WI 53235
(414) 482-0080

The Packing House
900 E Layton Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 483-5054

Leon's Frozen Custard
3131 S 27th St
Milwaukee, WI 53215
(414) 383-1784 

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