Monday, January 22, 2018

Especialidad de la Casa Pt. 7

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

Time for another installment of 'Specialty of the House' where we feature the feature dishes at Mexican restaurants across the city. Today's round-up is exclusively spots from the Southside. This wasn't planned but the fact of the matter is that is where you'll find the real deal mom and pop stops.
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The Grill on 47th

Archer Heights

First stop up is out by Midway. The Grill on 47th gets it's name from the street it rests on. From the outside this looks like a classic southside diner. At one time it probably was. These days it's still a diner that has all the regular breakfast items as well as what sounds like a good burger etc. But on the weekends it turn into a local pozoleria. According to the signs and the menu they make Pozole estilo Guerrero. Your choices are green, red, or clear for the broth and pork or chicken for the meat. What you see below is a small size pozole verde which is the most popular way of eating this soup in Guerrero. It was one of the best bowls of pozole I've come across and it starts with the rich broth and large chunks of tender pork. The toppings plate served on the side just made it that much better.

Pozole at The Grill 47 
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Yvolina's Tamales

Pilsen

For some of the city's best Oaxacan style tamales head over to Pilsen's 18th street. Located at the end near Halsted is an unassuming spot that kind of hides behind the tree in the summer. It's called Yvolina's and it's a grocery slash restaurant. The namesake is usually found in back where she's making fresh Oaxacan style tamales that come with your choice of wonderful sauces as well as some of the fluffiest Mexican rice I've ate. Not only that but she makes tortillas to order for the tacos. This is by definition a great neighborhood place. She's very popular at the local Taco & Tamale Fest.

Oaxacan Tamale (w/ Rajas) from Yvolina's Tamales
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Taquizas Y Banquetes El Siete

Brighton Park

Here's yet another street food success story. The family behind this place used to make their food exclusively for parties and pop up's. They saved up enough to go brick and mortar and now they still cater with taquizas but also have a location where you can come to them for their locally famous tacos de guisado and also their hot dogs. The tacos are terrific but there's not many spots featuring Mexican Danger Dogs and El Siete makes a really good one. For those who haven't explored the Mexican hot dog it's an absolute heart stopper. Made with a cheap wiener wrapped in bacon they're fried on a flattop with onions which go on top. You'll also get ketchup, mayo, tomato, jalapeno, more.

Mexican Hot Dog aka Mexican Danger Dog at Taquizas Y Banquetes El Siete
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El Campestre

Brighton Park

Next stop takes us to Archer avenue in the Archer Heights / Brighton Park neighborhood. Sometimes you just get a taste for some classic grilled chicken. At least I know I do. When it comes I usually like to go get it from one of the city's many Mexican grilled chicken specialists. Pretty much all of these spots do a bang up job with their grilled chicken and sides. When you get a meal deal you know you're getting enough food for not just one but maybe two meals. El Campestre has a few locations but it's this one I pass by most often. On my visit around lunchtime it was me and about 15 (no joke) members of CPD who were on duty in the neighborhood that day. For just around $10 I got some really good grilled chicken (1/4 meat) with two sides of my choice (rice + beans) along with chips and multiple salsas as well as tortillas. The best chicken tacos are made from the meat, rice/beans and tortillas supplied at the aforementioned grilled chicken specialists. Hits the spot.

Seasoned Grilled Chicken Lunch Plate at El Campestre
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Los Candiles 

Little Village

Our final stop is in Little Village. Right off 26th street you'll find one of the neighborhood's favorite gathering spots. Los Candiles has been a fixture in these parts for a while now. They're only open until 5p so it's popular for both breakfast and lunch. On a recent visit we ran into the alderman so you know this place is popular with locals. One of the things Los Candiles is known for are Enchiladas Huastecas, as well as Enchiladas Potosinas. These are both popular recipes from San Luis Potosi. I did some scouring of the internet for Enchiladas Huastecas recipes and noticed many different variations. All I know for sure about the offering at Candiles is it's well worth your time. Three corn tortillas are rolled in a red chile sauce and stuffed with chicken and then folded before being topped with sauteed carrots, potatoes, lettuce, and cream. Refried black beans and sliced avocado come served on the side. I love a good plate of enchiladas and this is one I'll return for. See y'all next time.

Enchiladas Huastecas at Los Candiles
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Previous Posts from this Series 

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The Grill on 47th
4359 W 47th St
Chicago, IL 60632
(773) 801-1061

Yvolina's Tamales
814 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 731-3167

Taquizas Y Banquetes El Siete
3817 S Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60632
(773) 851-9753

El Campestre
4226 S Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60632
(773) 927-1333

Los Candiles
2624 S Central Park Ave
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 522-8544

Friday, January 19, 2018

Weekend in St. Augustine

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
-Lunch in the Country's Oldest City

I grabbed today's post from the bottom of the files. We drove down to Florida over a year ago (closer to two) and stopped for lunch in the historic town of St. Augustine. Located on the Atlantic side (NE Coast) of the state it's said to be the oldest city/town in the United States. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers it's the oldest continuously operated town in the country. There's plenty of Spanish colonial sights that take you back into another time. These days it's a sleepy town driven by tourism.

Sights from St. Augustine 
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The Floridian 

We decided to do drinks and lunch at a spot called The Floridian. If I remember correctly it was a hot and humid Sunday. But we opted to sit outside in the vibrant garden as it was our first day in the Sunshine State. The Floridian is a modern Southern restaurant with a Floribbean focused menu. One of St. Augustine's signature dishes is pickled shrimp. As you may or may not know this part of Florida is said to have some of the best shrimp in the world. Pickling it allows for a longer shelf life.

Pickled Shrimp with Toast

The shrimp is pickled using the local datil pepper in the brine. I loved these. Firm and full of shrimp flavor. They went great with the toasted bread served on the side. The perfect bite for a hot soon to be summer day. We also split a fish sandwich, one of my favorite things to eat in Florida. There's some damn good fish sandwiches in the state and I'd include this one among them. This was the days fresh catch which escapes me but it's all good down here. The sandwich was made with datil-chipotle mayo, roasted bell pepper, tomato, and fresh spinach on multigrain bread with cheese. Yes many of the spots put cheese on their fish sandwiches down here and every one of them are delicious.

Fish Sandwich at The Floridian
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Barnacle Bill's 

Because our arrival was on a Sunday I wouldn't get to try a famous fried shrimp that people from all over rave about. Nonetheless they aren't the only place serving fried shrimp in St. Augustine. Barnacle Bill's is open seven days a a week and is another spot known for their fried seafood. In particular that aforementioned shrimp. St. Augustine has it's own style of fried shrimp. Most of note is the fact they butterfly them and then coat them in what I can best describe as as a tempura like mixture. I got to say even though these weren't from the famed O'Steens they were still really good. I got the sampler plate which came with the original style and also the 'Datl' do it' style which uses the local datil pepper in it's breading. Both were good but I slightly prefer the original, side of grits was awful though. Still that shrimp was some of the best of it's kind I've ever tried. I'd return for more. 

Shrimp Platter at Barnacle Bill's
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The Floridian
72 Spanish St
St. Augustine, FL 32084
(904) 829-0655

Barnacle Bill's
14 Castillo Dr
St. Augustine, FL 32084
(904) 824-3663

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Polenta Bar

-Grubbing in Chicago
Fast Casual Italian ft. Polenta

I met my wife for lunch one day a while back and we agreed to meet at The Polenta Bar. I think it opened a year or so ago and there honestly hasn't been much noise about it. This doesn't really mean anything but it was empty on our visit which was a nice Fall day. Not sure what gives.

Polenta Focused Plates in the West Loop

The Polenta Bar calls their food the "flavours of Milan". It's definitely a fast casual type place that uses the Chipotle model to an extent. However not all of the food is pre-cooked so after you order you will wait maybe 5 minutes or so. As the name suggests polenta is the focal point here. You can have it the traditional way in mashed-like form or you can get polenta cakes to pair with your choice of sauce and vegetable. I got the soft and creamy polenta topped with spicy Milanese sausage with a side of mushrooms cooked in red wine. It's a big ass plate of food and filling at that. I liked my lunch and while I haven't rushed to go back I would enjoy this option if I worked in the area. Beats Chipotle.

Polenta with Spicy Milanese Sausage at The Polenta Bar 

The Polenta Bar
1002 W Lake St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 265-0207
Website

Monday, January 15, 2018

Aloha Wagon

-Grubbing in Chicago
Real Deal Hawaiian Food off Route 66

The building at the NE corner of Western and Ogden has been many things over the years. It recently welcomed a new tenant in the form of a place serving Plate Lunch. Doubling the number of Hawaiian restaurants in Chicago. When I drove by one day last summer I noticed the 'coming soon' sign with the hashtag #AlohaWagon and I looked it up on instagram. It turns out the people behind this place used to run a food truck of the same name in Honolulu. I browsed through their instagram page and noticed a post saying they were moving to Chicago. I was excited for their arrival. You should be too.

Newly Opened at Western and Ogden 

Aloha Wagon opened in the early Fall and me and my friend who spends time with family in Hawaii each year didn't wait long to go check it out. The couple behind this place has roots in Chicago where she's from but they spent time in Hawaii, where he's from, before moving to Chicago. She works the front of the house and he cooks it up. For now the menu is sandwiches and plate lunch. Browsing their insta page I noticed they ran tons of specials in Hawaii and they plan to do the same here. In the meantime the Plate Lunch is perfect. No folks, poke is not the official dish of Hawaii. Not anymore anyway. It's sudden morph into Chipotle like status has made it unappetizing when served off of the island. A better rep of Hawaii as far as a dish goes would be the Loco Moco as seen below.

Loco Moco Plate Lunch at Aloha Wagon 

So for those that dont know - plate lunch is a popular meal in Hawaii. It consists of your choice of entree with rice, macaroni salad, and sometimes a regular salad. The Loco Moco is one of the more popular forms of plate lunch. It's one of the great carb bombs of the culinary world. More times than not it's made with two hamburger patties served over 2-3 scoops of white rice and topped with lots of brown gravy and one or two fried eggs. As always with a plate lunch there's a side of macaroni salad. It's a dish that I get yearly cravings for. Oddly those craving come during winter more so than summer when Chicago's climate is closer to Hawaii's. If you want to warm up during this cold streak get a Loco Moco. Much cheaper than a Canadian Goose jacket.

Mixed Plate Lunch with BBQ Chicken (L) and Kalua Pork (R)

Other popular forms of plate lunch are BBQ chicken, Kalua Pork, and Katsu Chicken. I've tried all three as it's easy to try two different items at a time by getting a mixed plate which is a popular two meat combo plate plus sides like you'd get at Panda Express type place. But this isn't corporate crap being pushed to the masses. It's real deal food like that which you'd find at local diners, food trucks, and houses in Hawaii. The Katsu pictured below is fried to order and it's top quality stuff. As are the chicken and pork. I know this hasn't been an easy first year in Chicago for them solely based on the weather but it's a pleasure to have them. I hope they're around a long time. We need spots like this.

Chicken Katsu Plate Lunch

Aloha Wagon
1247 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 888-9613
Website

Friday, January 12, 2018

Montrose Food Mart & Deli

-Grubbing in Chicago
Exploring the City's Independent Grocers

One of my favorite ways to pass a little time is through the exploring of independent grocers. I love doing this while out of the country but find it just as enjoyable in Chicagoland where there's plenty of spots to check out. No doubt some of the craziest are the Eastern European supermarkets. I say crazy totally in terms of people inside the store at once. If you've been to Fresh Farms in Niles during prime hours you know what I'm talking about it. If you like a place like Fresh Farms you will enjoy today's stop which goes by Montrose Food Mart even though it's located 6600 West on Irving Park.

Locals Favorite in Dunning 

Montrose Food Mart has been a neighborhood favorite for over 20 years. It's no doubt expanded in that time which is the reason it has Montrose in it's name even though it's on Irving Park road. This is one of the premiere grocers for the city's Eastern European (Polish specifically) community. It's literally a one stop shop with above average prepared foods, butcher counter, deli counter, bread station, booze etc. They have it all in terms of ingredients an Eastern European family would cook with. This doesn't mean you have to be cooking Polish food to shop here but if you want to get something you can eat right away it's a smorgasbord of options as far as the Polish diet goes.

Chef's Corner

The prepared foods section is to your left after you walk in. It goes by 'Chef's Corner' and the biggest draw here is the home cooked Polish food. But it's not the only draw. They make about ten different soups all half the price of a place like Mariano's. If you're looking for Polish classics like pierogi or zapiekanka they have those ready for you to take and eat. The "salad" bar is probably 30 offerings deep of every type of pickled vegetable and meat salad recipe you can imagine. It's impressive.

a peek inside

If you're shopping they have a nice selection of ground meats (beef, pork, chicken, turkey) and all sorts of different pieces of different animals. The house smoked meat selection is extra impressive. The home cooked Polish menu changes daily but always available is the $3.99 lunch special. You choose from one of the days entrees and get your choice of two sides, and your choice of cabbage.

Hunters Stew (part of lunch special)

I dont go in here all the time but when I saw a fresh tray of breaded pork tenderloin coming out I made sure to get into line and I've been back in that line a couple times since. It's one of the most filling meals in the city at under $5 but you wouldn't blink twice if you paid $10 or even a little more. It's all home cooked and it's done by folks who've been cooking this food their entire life with some of them having started off in Poland itself. I got something like two large perfectly fried pork cutlets with bowl-fulls of mushroom gravy. They made sure there was enough gravy for my double side of real mashed potatoes. All of this for less than $5 makes it seem like you're somewhere overseas. Check it out.

Lunch Special at Montrose Food Mart & Deli

Montrose Food Mart & Deli
6601 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60634
(773) 628-7515
Website

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sora Temakeria

-Grubbing in Chicago
Latin Sushi in Little Village

I noticed this new sushi place on 26th street a while back before they opened. It caught my eye bc 1) there's not much sushi to be found in Little Village and 2) it spoke of Japanese and Latin fusion. While many of the fusion foods out there are gimmicky there's a real connection between Japan and Latin America. It's real in places like Brazil, Peru, and Baja Mexico. So I was at the very least intrigued to see what they'd be doing. I drove by recently and it was open so I stopped into eat.

Newly Opened in Little Village

On their website, Sora Temakeria, states that they're "the Japanese counterpart of the Latin taqueria! The Temakeria was conceptualized in Brazil in early 2000 and has gained popularity worldwide ever since." They offer traditional rolls with a few Latin favored ingredients as well as Tamaki (hand rolls), and sushi bowls, and burritos. But what caught my eye strictly from a curiosity standpoint was the fried sushi. I had to give it a try even though I knew our meeting would go lukewarm at best. I tried the 'La Gorda' roll made with eel, cream cheese, avocado, spicy mayo, and sushi sauce. It was about what you'd expect. It tasted like Fair food and you can take that to be a good or bad thing. Your call.

Fried Sushi at Sora Temakeria

Sora Temakeria
3508 W 26th St
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 801-1571
Website

Monday, January 8, 2018

Morena's Kitchen

-Grubbing in Chicago
Dominican at Armitage & Grand

Let's start 2018 out with an instant classic. Morena's Kitchen is a small little Dominican kitchen where owner Morena is cooking up the cuisine of her homeland. It's so small that it's address ends in .5 and there's probably a total of 6 places to sit. In my 5 or 6 trips in I notice much of the business is takeout and much of the clientele are Spanish speaking customers. It's one of a handful of Dominican restaurants around town and it's by far my favorite. The menu has all the classics. All homemade.

Locals Favorite in Belmont / Cragin 

This is the type of spot where everything on the menu is legit. I had the weekend special oxtail before 2017 ended and I cant wait to go back and get that again. Sometimes certain things aren't available but just order your second choice and you'll be fine. The Dominican style carne guisada (stewed beef) is a wonderful batch of home cooked goodness. It's long strips of beef that are cooked until fall apart tender with all sorts of warm spicing used during the slow cook. The rice (you choose which type you like) gets all soaked up with the gravy from the guisada. It's a real stick to your ribs type meal.

Carne Guisada at Morena's Kitchen 

But the #1 reason to make the schlep to the west end of Armitage is the Pica Pollo aka Dominican Fried Chicken. It is in my opinion the best fried chicken in the city at the moment. I judge this solely off cravings and I continue to get them for this fresh fried juicy well seasoned bird. You'll notice the regulars call their order in and they know this chicken isn't pre-made so expect to wait the time it takes her to dip it into the batter and then fry it to order. Typically it comes with fried plantains.

Pica Pollo (Dominican Fried Chicken) at Morena's Kitchen 

There's a couple things that make this so good in my book. First is the seasoning job of the crust which leads into the second the frying job of the entire thing. The pieces are cut into smaller sized chunks but the meat remains as juicy as it gets for fried chicken. The seasoning is kind of like Popeye's turned up to ten. It's definitely got a subtle kick and tastes great with some lime squeezed lightly over the meat. Make sure to get both housemade hot sauces and use the fried plantains to make mini jibarito sandwiches. Morena's Kitchen is headed into my regular rotation this year.

Fried Chicken Up-Close

Morena's Kitchen
5054 1/2 W Armitage Ave B
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 622-7200

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