Monday, November 23, 2015

Especialidad de la Casa Pt. 4

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

Time for another 'Specialty of the House' post where we feature local mom and pop Mexican restaurants serving dishes near and dear to their hearts. Dishes that are usually marked as "Especialidad de la Casa" on the menu. This is the fourth installment of this series. You can check out Part One HERE, Part Two HERE, and Part Three over HERE. The show goes on with Part Four.
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Mina's Restaurant

Chicago, IL

One day while driving West on Armitage I noticed a new restaurant sign hanging right before Grand avenue. I took a look and saw 'Enchiladas Potosinas' mentioned and decided to check it out. Inside is a long counter from what was most likely an old neighborhood diner. Behind the counter are a few Mexican ladies cooking up a storm. Th specialty enchiladas here are a popular recipe coming from San Luis Potosi. While they're called enchiladas they more so mimic empanadas. Like most Mexican recipes the exact preparation and ingredients used can change but the idea is to use masa with red chile grounded in. The masa then gets filled with cheese and folded. A quick trip to the cooker where they get a nice color on the outside while the cheese melts inside. At Mina's they top theirs with more cheese and some sliced avocado and serve them rice and beans. My lunch that day would be great.

Enchiladas Potosinas
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Lucero's Tamales

Chicago, IL

Another spot that just kind of caught my eye. This time while riding down 26th street in Little Village. I'm always on the prowl for good tamale vendors and this place seemed to fit the bill. After all thats the only thing on the menu. Your choices inside the bare bones shop are regular style or Oaxacan. I ended up grabbing one red pork and one chicken mole from the corn husked options and a red chicken wrapped in banana leaf. Result? Very good, the Oaxacan being the better style there.

Tamales in Little Village
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Macho Taco 

Justice, IL

Located in the bowels of the Southwest Suburbs don't let the name and looks of this place turn you off. Hidden in a strip mall Macho Taco is putting out some top notch tacos with the thick housemade tortillas being the focal point. They have the same filling options as most everywhere else but they do a little bit different here and there to set themselves apart. The steak is extra beefy with nice hints of char. It comes topped with pico de gallo and serrano aioli giving it it's own flavor profile. The fish is fried crisp and topped with the always reliable pickled red onions while even the chicken has flavor.

Assortment of tacos from Macho Taco
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El Duranguito

Maywood, IL

In yet another spot I saw while driving here's a place specializing in Norteno style burritos. Also somewhat hidden in a strip mall this place is worth checking out for those of us who enjoy a housemade flour tortilla from time to time. When people say burritos aren't real mexican food you have to assume they're talking about Chipotle or something because stuffing flour tortillas with different types of stewed meats is common practice in Northern Mexico. I knew I was in for something good when I saw a couple ladies behind the counter whipping out fresh made flour tortillas by the minute. I tried one with carne deshebrada and it might not look all that enticing on the eyes but it was the perfect comfort snack on the day I stopped in.

Norteno Burrito
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Las Gorditas de Don Angel

Cicero, IL

Located in Mexican restaurant heavy Cicero this place is putting out some top notch gorditas in the style of Santiago Papasquiaro, a city in the state of Durango. The front space is small but there's additional seating in the back where lots of families chow down on the house specialty. The menu is simple with the gorditas taking the lead role. Gorditas from the Northern States of Mexico tend to be smaller and are made with wheat flour resulting in a product that looks like pita bread and tastes like a flour tortilla. Compared to La Placita de Durango these are a bit smaller, thinner and boast more of a golden hue and thus equally as delicious. They're slit on one side then filled with various ingredients and Gorditas de Don Angel offers 19 options on their menu. Thus far the picadillo and chile posado have been real treats that I went back to the second time. Also of note are the Tacos Piratas which are another regional specialty of Northern Mexico. Made with steak, grilled onion and melted cheese as you can see they're not much different than a steak quesadilla (less cheese).

Gordita (L) Taco Pirata (R)
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Mina's Restaurant
5046 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, Illinois 60639
(708) 595-8582

Lucero's Tamales
3759 W 26th St
Chicago, IL 60623

Macho Taco
8350 S Roberts Rd
Justice, IL 60458
(708) 907-5890

El Duranguito
402 Lake St
Maywood, IL 60153
(708) 343-4584

Las Gorditas De Don Angel
3000 S Laramie Ave
Cicero, IL 60804
(708) 780-7433

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Herm's Palace

-In Chicago: Every Dog Has it's Day

All aboard! Next stop on the Chicagoland Hot Dog Stand Tour is Herm's Palace in Skokie. The current owners of Herm's purchased the place in 1974 from the original owner. They became a Vienna Beef Hall of Fame inductee back in 2006. It's not just the classic Chicago style fast food that got them a HoF nod but also the personality and friendliness of the owners. Everyone is welcome.

Locals Favorite in Skokie, IL

Herm's is one of these Chicago style fast food shacks that serves everything associated with this style of food. Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Polish Sausage, Gyros, you name it. Heck they even got beer and plenty of flat screen TV's if you want somewhere to eat and watch the game. The inside is pretty big with seating for at least 100. Decked along the front wall is their famous mural depicting the family that owns it with a bunch of important Chicago people in the sports and entertainment world.

Herm's Famous Mural

While they do have a menu that pretty much features everything it's still all about the hot dogs. They handle their plump natural casing Vienna Beef wieners with care never allowing them to sit and steam into mush. They're dressed perfectly and taste as good as anywhere. The fries are just the standard frozen variety and do not come included with the hot dog. Great place for a snack.

Chicago Style Hot Dog

Herm's Palace
3406 Dempster St
Skokie, IL 60076
(847) 673-9757
Website

Monday, November 16, 2015

Kai Zan

-Grubbing in Chicago 
Sushi Dinner

You don't see much sushi posts on here and that's because Chicago isn't abundant with great options for it. Something about being landlocked though you can get anything within a few hours these days and it's not like there isn't 100's of flights daily to Chicago. So why such average sushi? I'm not sure. That said there's a few spots that get people talking and Kai Zan in Ukrainian Village is one of them.

Locals Favorite on Chicago avenue 

Kai Zan is run by twin brothers who share a passion for real deal Japanese cuisine. Their sushi is higher quality than many others and not just in taste but also in looks. Each plate a work of art. The popular way to go as far as food is by letting the chefs send out whats good. this can be done via their omakase which allows you to experience the complete package with many different courses. Another popular package is the Monday night six course dinner. It sets you back just $35 and comes with many of the house favorites. I finally got a chance to do this dinner and left very much satisfied. Some stuff was better than others but at just $35 for everything it felt worth it. I wont waste your time trying to describe and each and every bite but I will say the highlights were the dishes with raw fish. I was hoping the takoyaki would be the real deal but it was a bit of a letdown. Just to give readers an idea here is how it all went down pictured below are the six courses that were served. Try them out.

 Angry Crab

 Tuna and Escolar Pearls

Tuna and Shitake Mushroom Soup

 Shrimp, Takoyaki, Pork, Octopus

 Salmon Maki

2 Piece Nigiri 

Kai Zan
2557 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 278-5776
Website

Monday, November 9, 2015

Eating / Drinking Tour of Hegewisch

-Grubbing in Chicago 
Down on the Southeast side...

Today's report is a few years in the making. I've always enjoyed exploring places that aren't normal to me. Thus the relatively unknown Chicago neighborhood that goes by Hegewisch has always interested me. Pronounced HEG-wish by locals the neighborhood is tucked into the far Southeast corner of the city near the border of Northwest Indiana. In many ways the neighborhood stays stuck in time. I'd venture to guess that maybe one of three people living in Chicago have never heard of Hegewisch. Started in 1883 by Adolph Hegewisch, President of the United States Rolling Stock Company, Hegewisch has always been industrial and it's seen a few different waves of people settle in. In the 1920's the area was over 50% Polish. During the 1960's the area boomed with many blue collar workers moving their families there. Police and Fireman also made it their home. Come the middle 90's the population dropped due to less jobs in the steel factories and second generations of families moving elsewhere. Today the population is about 44% White and 49% Hispanic.

Exploring Hegewisch
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Cruising or walking around Hegwisch is the best way to see it. The area was once a marshland and some of that can still be seen. Wolf Lake is a favorite of locals who like to fish. Some of the streets in Hegewisch go by letters (Avenue O etc) while others go by numbers. With the exception of a few newly built mansions, most of the houses are bungalow style and many of them overlook Mann Park which is where the kids play. It's a Chicago neighborhood that feels like a small town.

Bungalow Housing in Hegewisch

If one wanted they could go on a very interesting Bar Crawl of Hegewisch and some people have done just that. Don't quote me on it but theres at least 10 bars in the 'hood. Each one of them stuck in a different time period. Some in the 1940's others in the 1970's, all of them the old school shot and beer type. While most are White Sox bars at least a couple cater to Cubs fans. Pricing is more reflective of Northwest Indiana than it is the heart of Chicago and the same goes for the clientele.

Taverns of Hegewisch
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South Shore Inn

If you don't have time for a pub crawl but want a beer and a shot then I suggest South Shore Inn. It sits right across the street from the Hegewisch Metra stop that serves the South Shore line. As far as old school taverns go this is one of the best in Chicago. I'm not exactly sure when this style of bar became popular but not much has changed since it was first installed. For the most part the people in Hegewisch are friendly but some are a bit standoffish at first. I remember a couple years ago when I took the picture up above before stopping in and the bartender told me he was taking pictures of me as he had reason to believe I was scouting the place for a heist. We both laughed when I said c'mon you know there's Northside neighborhoods with much better target options than here.

a peek inside
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Steve's Lounge 

Another great place to grab a beer is Steve's Lounge at the corner of 132nd and Baltimore. As soon as you step inside you're greeted by a bunch of figurines that line the walls. There's also a big ass deer head looking down on you and some Cubs stuff to greet the local White Sox fans.

a peek inside

They double as a catering company and sell fresh homemade Polish Sausage as well. On Friday's they serve food. A Fish-Fry in the style of neighboring NW Indiana. I wrote all about Steve's Lounge for the now defunct Serious Eats Chicago (RIP). Read HERE.

Friday Fish Fry with Blue Gills
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Club 81 Too 

Located amongst houses on Avenue M here's another popular bar sometimes serving food (Lunch Mon.- Fri. / 11:00 am to 2:00 pm | Dinner Wed. and Fri. 4-8p). Club 81 Too has been around since 1945. Its dark inside but the bartenders are very lighthearted. As far as food there's a few things that people really like from here. One of them is the Friday Fish Fry served in the same manner as Steve's and another is the fried chicken which this neighborhood eats lots of. Also of note is the steak sandwich which comes with a stacked pile of thinly sliced steak meat thats flash grilled and goes into a bun with lots of onions. Its a good one. You're easily able to bite right thru the tender steak.

Steak Sandwich at Club 81 Too
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Baltimore Liquor Store - No food round-up of Hegewisch is legit without a shoutout to the famous Hegewisch Shish-Kebob which can be bought at this neighborhood liquor store. Sold in the bag by 3, 5, and 10 pounds they provide you with the specially marinated cubed pork which you need to skewer yourself and grill on your own. The marinade is pretty damn original with it's own flavor profile. Sometimes I'll stop and buy a bag when headed to a lake house in Indiana or Michigan.
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Chicago Pita Kitchen

The Chicago Pita Kitchen is a lunchtime favorite of those still working the blue collar jobs that haven't been shipped overseas. It's here where an untold Chicago food story has some history. I'll need a reader or someone to ask over on Reddit what the exact story is but there either is or used to be a store/company that sold what they called the famous Drago Shish-Ke-Bob aka the Dragobob. There's a facebook page with not much info but I think I remember reading that the people behind these claim it to be the original recipe for the famous Hegewisch Shish Kebob mentioned above. Or maybe its the other way around. All I know is you can eat a famous Dragobob at CPK. They come in pork, chicken or beef and can be had on a skewer or off of it inside a pita. Count me a fan.

Pork Drago-Bob on Pita

If you're near Chicago Pita Kitchen on a Saturday or Sunday you can try Gianna's famous lamb sandwich. In the picture below it doesn't look all at that sexy but thats because I had yet to dump the cup of lamb au jus over it. While there is a better lamb sandwich nearby at Small World Inn this one was still chow worthy. Also on the menu is all of the Chicago style fast food classics. 

Gianna's Lamb Sandwich Special at Chicago Pita Kitchen
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Los Cantaritos

As mentioned the neighborhood is now almost half Hispanic people which are the majority of the population on the city's 'Eastside'. I'd always wondered about this cute little Mexican restaurant on the neighborhoods main strip. From the outside I pictured a much bigger inside with lost of tables and maybe a stage etc but it turned out to be pretty bare bones with maybe 6 tables to eat in at. I wanted to try their tacos for the Chicago Taco Tour and did so not long ago. I ordered a steak which reviews praised and then because it was on the menu a crispy taco which in many cases around these parts can be a real deal fried taco aka a Taco Dorado. The latter would not be a fully fried taco but the shell was fried fresh and the ground beef had some actual texture and wasn't just mush so it was enjoyed as a snack. The steak was equally delicious with tiny bits of well crisped meat joining a hot corn tortilla with a very nice red salsa that just  barely tingled the tongue. I'm glad I finally tried them.

Steak Taco in front and Crispy Taco in back
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Gina's Chicken

As I mentioned earlier fried chicken is big around these parts. While technically not in Hegewisch both Loncar's and Hienie's are popular spots for the entire region. Within the neighborhood Gina's Chicken is where it's at. The fried chicken in these parts can be described as it's own style as all of these spots use what's called Hienie's Hot Sauce. It's a bright orange sauce that on the label goes by Quality Brand Hot Sauce sporting a dominant mustard flavor. It was originally made as a dip for Vitner's pork rinds some 60 years ago as Kevin Pang of the Tribune uncovered. Back to Gina's they're basically a takeout only joint and fried chicken is their forte. The product comes piping hot, no waiting trays here, with a minimally seasoned crust which is fine because it's all about that sauce.

Fried Chicken Plate from Gina's Chicken
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Pudgy's Pizza 

Last but certainly not least is some pizza. There are a few pizza places in Hegewisch though I think one recently shut down and is for sale. I'd always heard good things about Pudgy's which sits down near the end of Baltimore street. They don't open until 4p but it was mostly stomach space that had prevented me up until recently. Steve Dolinsky just did his Chicago pizza Quest Rankings where he went and ate a sh!t ton of pizza and ranked them by category at the end. As readers know I'm all about the tavern thin and before the Quest even began I predicted four spots that would for sure finish in the Top 5. Indeed they all did but I then wondered what would be fifth and final place to go into my starting five. Well after my first bite of this small sausage cooked well done I had an idea.

Sausage Pizza from Pudgy's

This is what I was looking for when I set out to find the fifth in my book. It has all the characteristics of my other favorite spots. It's damn thin like that at Pat's, it's got a little bit of cornmeal on the bottom like Barnaby's (Northbrook), the sauce is spread out just right and has very little sweet in it reminding me of Vito and Nick's and the atmosphere matches that of Villa Nova. In a very important part each and every slice includes some fennel loaded sausage just like all the others.

Booty Shot

While my Top 5 Pizza, Beefs, Burgers etc are always liable to change I think Pudgy's will stay in the mentions of where to get the best tavern thin pizza in Chicago and most certainly on the Southeast side. Even though this was my first trip in everything I was told to be the case was so from the quality of pie to the owners being there overlooking the operation making sure all is going well. And so concludes the tour featuring the booze and food options of Hegewisch. See ya next time.

Excellent Tavern Thin Pizza in Hegewisch
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South Shore Inn
13611 S Brainard Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-0350

Steve's Lounge
13200 S Baltimore Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-1071

Club 81 Too
13157 S Avenue M
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-4292

Baltimore Food and Liquors
13322 S Baltimore Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-5520

Chicago Pita Kitchen
13227 S Brainard Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-2000

Los Cantaritos
13343 S Baltimore Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-4015

Gina's Chicken
3415 E 106th St
Chicago, IL 60617
(773) 375-5580

Pudgy's Pizza
13460 S Baltimore Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-4199

Friday, November 6, 2015

Donuts, Cobbler, and Pie

-Grubbing in Chicago
For Your Sweet Tooth

As regular readers know I don't have much of a sweet tooth, during daytime hours anyway. Sometimes when I'm stuffed and the day is nearing an end and bed is calling I like to feed myself something sweet an hour or two before passing out. But I just don't have a crazy sweet tooth when the sun is still up. That said sometimes I do, usually after stuffing myself, and I do stop now and then for something sweet. Here's a trio of spots worth the sugar comatose they create. Don't overdo it.
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D&D's Tastee Freez

Locals Favorite in Ashburn 

One day a couple summers back I was cruising North down Kedzie when I saw something new had opened up at what was formerly a Tastee Freeze location. I pulled into the lot and was ready to try the donuts they speak of posted on the outside windows. "A Taste of the Old Fashioned" is the slogan at D&D's Place where the owner once worked at Chicago's famous Old Fashioned Donuts on South Michigan avenue. The owner of Old Fashioned gave the people at D&D's his blessing and everyone is happy. Especially the residents of Ashburn who now have a great morning eats option.

The Menu and Display Case

Those familiar with Old Fashioned Donuts know they make one of the meanest apple fritters you will ever have the pleasure of inhaling. You can now find what's basically that same donut at D&D. As far as apple fritters go this is as good of one you're likely to come across. There are no well worded sentences to describe it's greatness. It must be experienced. Once you go, you will know.

Apple Fritter

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 Classic Cobbler

 Locals Favorite in Chicago Heights

Another place I just kind of stumbled across while riding down the Dixie Highway one day. I'm a big cobbler fan. I do love desserts with fruit so there was going to have to be a stop. I was greeted by the friendly owner inside and asked which one is good and as expected got an "all of them" reply back. So I decided to go classic peach and was rewarded with a treat. All it needed was ice cream.

Peach Cobbler
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 Hoosier Mama Pie Company

 Locals Favorite in Ukrainian Village

Hoosier Mama has been keeping Chicago's pie fiends happy for a handful of years now. Located on Chicago avenue it will get the credit for turning the block around as more spots start to open up. The menu switches daily and while it's all really good I'm particularly fond of the banana creme pie. I dont eat a ton of pie so I cant compare this other variations but I tried it on a whim one day and have gone back when it was available on a handful of occasions. So creamy with big chunks of banana. Love it.

Banana Cream Pie
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D&D's Place
8324 S Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60652
(773) 778 7007

Classic Cobbler
200 Dixie Hwy
Chicago Heights, IL 60411
(708) 248-5093

Hoosier Mama Pie Company
1618 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(312) 243-4846

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