Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Outdoor Grill

 -Got Beef? (and lamb)
Gyro Shops of Chicago

There's Chicago style hot dog stands and then there's Greek owned Chicago style fast food stands. The latter of which will often serve hot dogs, Italian beef, pizza puffs, and more as well as options like gyros, and Greek chicken dinners served with pita and rice. Today we visit a longtime Greek style fast food establishment just off the corner of Milwaukee and Pulaski. Outdoor Grill sits in a strip mall with a few other common strip mall tenants like a laundry mat and a Chinese takeout type place.

Locals Favorite in Kilbourn Park

I'm not sure how long Outdoor Grill has been going but it's been a while. You can tell by the looks of the place and the actual menu listed above the grill space and all that. The menu has all the selections you'll see at these Greek owned Chicago style fast food spots. Every now and then I'll stop into one for a chicken pita sandwich when the taste for one comes calling. These are pretty much the same thing as a gyro just with grilled chicken replacing the gyro meat. Outdoor Grill makes a good one. No surprise bc the chicken (served a variety of ways) is regularly mentioned in online reviews.

Chicken Pita Sandwich at Outdoor Grill

The most mentioned item in online reviews, by far, are the gyros. They seem to push the gyros too as Kronos ads line the inside and the workers too who wear Kronos shirts as uniform. Really the only thing they don't seem to have when it comes to Kronos are those old posters of 80's models eating gyros. I don't eat Chicago style gyros all that often. But every now and then the taste for one comes and I can vouch for Outdoor Grill prepping up a good one. Because that's what it really comes down to. How each place preps the factory coned meat is how they stand out from one another. Outdoor Grill keeps the spit running so it's always browning the meat. They also crisp it up on a hot flattop which is usually a no-no when it comes to spits of meat but I prefer my Kronos gyros to be extra crisp as opposed to just heated through. It's much better when it's been crisped up nicely than when it was cut too early and didn't spend any time on a hot flattop. Served with a nice homemade tzatziki.

 
Gyros Dinner at Outdoor Grill

Outdoor Grill 
3265 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 202-9980
Website

Monday, April 12, 2021

Taqueria Chingón

 -Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

One of 2020's more anticipated openings happened toward the very end of that calendar year. Taqueria Chingon is the project of a few of the chefs and players at Bucktown's Le Bouchon. It opened to lots of love from local media most of whom these days have been reduced to sharing their current food thoughts on instagram. I visited shortly after they opened and people immediately wanted to know how it compared to some of the other taquerias I talk up. Not fair. You cant compare a chef driven taqueria like Chingon to a taqueria somewhere in say Little Village. It's pointless and quite frankly annoying. Tacos are always going to be cheaper at the more "authentic" spots which doesn't mean they're better or anything but some have this idea that a taco should never cost more than a couple bucks. It might not be straight up racist but the idea that the food should be cheaper at an immigrant owned spot is a thought process I cant stand. I'll pay whatever price (within reason) for a taco so long as it's good. Tacos at Chingon are in the $4/$5 range. If that's too much you need to make more money. Not to mention that tacos in the $1/$2 range use much cheaper ingredients.

Newly Opened in Bucktown

Taqueria Chingon sits on Western directly next to an old school birrirea. Chingon is new school by every definition of the term. All you have to do is go next door to see the difference. But today's post is about Chingon and so we'll start with the tacos al pastor they decided to put front and center. Personally I think the traditional taquerias are good for this and that while the chef driven ones are good for other things. One thing I cant stand about alot of the new school taco spots is their redundant and uninspired menus. I feel like for the most part any newly opened taqueria with a social media presence and what not usually presents a boring menu all things considered. They all have steak, chicken, fish, veggie, and "al pastor" as in marinated pork as in not the real definition of it. Chingon has a full fledged trompo up and running all day every day (from what I've seen).

A peek inside

In the picture up above you can see two trompos of spinning meat. One made with pork and the other is a vegan al pastor made with celery root and more. I tried the pork their first week in business and it's pretty damn good, for chef driven al pastor anyway. That's not a knock on these as most chef interpretations of al pastor tend to overlook what makes it so great. Chingon serves a traditional offering. The difference from some other al pastor places around town is their thick and fluffy housemade tortillas. Some say they're too thick but they do load up the tortillas so it helps it all stay together. I'm of the belief that a housemade tortilla doesn't make a taco automatically better. There's some tacos (like fish tacos in Baja) that wouldn't taste the same using some fancy tortilla made from heirloom corn or whatever. I still prefer some other spots around town where the tacos al pastor are more like you might find in Mexico. But that doesn't mean the version served here cant be delicious.  

 
Tacos at Taqueria Chingon

I think where Chingon really stands out is in their other taco offerings. None of which are normal as in steak with cilantro and onions and maybe a slice of avocado. They have a steak taco here but it's dressed with a chipotle chimichurri. Other offerings include a Pig Head Carnitas topped with a Mexican Giardiniera or then there's my favorite thus far the Morcilla (blood sausage). It's made with Pickled Apple, Red Onion, and Salsa Macha. Where else can you find a morcilla taco like this, not just in town but anywhere? There's some creative tacos on the menu but they don't stray too far from the flavors that make Mexican food so good. Their specials have also been inspiring with options like duck carnitas making an appearance in an ode to one of the partners French cooking. So while it's stupid to compare this place to everyone's favorite taqueria in Little Village or some other Mexican heavy neighborhood I think it's fair to say it's one of the better chef driven taco concepts in town.

Morcilla Taco at Taqueria Chingon

Taqueria Chingón 
2234 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 687-9408
Website

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Jarasa Kabob

 -Grubbing in Chicago(land)
Shawarma in Skokie

I'm noticing an uptick in Middle Eastern fast casual spots opening up. They've always opened at a steady pace but the newer ones have the feel of QSR's like Blaze Pizza and such. Actually "Mediterranean" spots were doing the Chipotle like food setup back when Chipotle was more closely associated with a type of smoked pepper and not a fast casual food brand. Enter Jarasa Kabob. 

Newly Opened in Skokie

Many of these new school Middle Eastern restaurants are opening up in the North suburbs and Skokie has a handful of them these days. Jarasa Kabob had something going for it which I really like to see at these type of places. Three fresh spits of meat up and running. I also liked that they offer what's usually described on menus as "Arabic Shawarma." The definition of which has to do with cutting of the wrap into individual pieces as opposed to leaving it whole (usually cut when ordered with fries). The combo of chicken shawarma, garlic sauce, and pickles in a toasted wrap is pretty common at many shawarma stands in the States. Particularly in Metro Detroit and Dearborn in particular where they’re as popular as Coney Dogs. Plus points due to the fact they cut the meat after I ordered. One of the better put together “Dearborn Style” chicken shawarma wraps that I’ve tried.

Arabic Style Shawarma at Jarasa Kabob 

Jarasa Kabob 
3641 Dempster St
Skokie, IL 60076
(847) 423-2088
Website

Monday, April 5, 2021

Hailey's Hoagies

 -Grubbing in Chicago
South Side Style Sandwiches in Englewood 

Chicago is arguably ground zero for regional sandwiches in the States. We have almost two handfuls worth of original offerings we call our own. I'm talking about sandwiches like the Italian Beef and Jibarito that were born in Chicago and continue to thrive almost exclusively here. Today's post focuses in on one of the lesser hyped sandwiches that should really be more well known. It's the Sweet Steak sandwich who's history cannot be exactly traced to one place but many call the now closed Taurus Flavors (planning to reopen hopefully) the spot where it took off. Well Taurus Flavors was basically ransacked by a car that plowed through it, the building itself wasn't in good shape as is, so it's closed for the foreseeable future. That said there's plenty of other spots in town making Sweet Steak sandwiches and what's maybe my favorite comes from Hailey's Hoagies in Englewood. 

Locals Favorite in Englewood 

So first things first what exactly is a sweet steak? I describe it as a deluxe style Sloppy Joe. The meat is chopped up steak that while not ground is close to it. The sweet part of the name comes from the sauce that's mixed in with the steak. It's most likely tomato based (it's red) and there's definitely some sugar in it (it's sweet) and possibly some bbq sauce too (it's smoky). It reminds me of Sloppy Joe sauce so with the addition of diced green peppers and sliced tomatoes on top it's kind of like a "deluxe" style Sloppy Joe. The biggest difference being these are served on sub rolls. As an article in the Chicago Reader from Ernest Wilkins describes - "That famed sauce, dubbed "proprietary" on one menu, varies in sweetness from place to place and visit to visit. As it soaks into the crusty bread, the sandwich takes on a texture akin to a dipped Italian beef". It's such a Chicago sandwich but for obvious reasons it's less heralded than others. This is a sandwich found exclusively in Black neighborhoods mostly on the South Side. Hailey's Hoagies on 63rd street is one such spot. 

Sweet Steak Sandwich at Hailey's Hoagies 

Pictured up above is a large which is two six inch sandwiches for around $10. They're offered in half sizes too. All the popular sweet steak spots will also serve up turkey hoagies. While this isn't a regional sandwich Chicago can claim it's own they're made in a certain style that makes them a regional treat all their own. You can get a turkey hoagie at a place like Monti's in Lincoln Square but it isn't going to be similar to the turkey hoagies served at the Black owned places like Hailey's. Thinly shaved turkey goes on the same rolls used for sweet steak along with thinly shaved onion, pickles, pepperoncini, American cheese, and special oil and seasoning. These have a unique profile to where I call them Southside style turkey hoagies. I have a hard time going to a place like Hailey's and not getting one of each. Last visit we took them over to Ogden Park with their signature berry shakes. 

Turkey Hoagie and Sweet Steak Sandwiches at Hailey's Hoagies 

Hailey's Hoagies 
1055 W 63rd St
Chicago, IL 60621
(773) 424-4439

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Colorado Mountains

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Where to eat in the Colorado Mountains 

We took a trip to Colorado last year part of which was spent in Denver as reported HERE. But the real reason for our roadtrip out west was to go hang out somewhere in the mountains of Colorado. My wife had never been and it had been years since my last trip. We ended up getting an AirBNB in Silverthorne which is about an 1.5 west of Denver. We chose it based on the quality of the spot as we filtered it out so that we had a rental with a wooden fireplace. Highly recommended if you're planning a trip out to the mountains at any point but especially in the beginning of October when Fall was just hitting the area. We loved how it was jacket weather see your breath cool in the early morning and then short sleeves and sunny in the afternoon. The Silverthorne area is located in a good location as far as getting around and seeing different towns and doing different hikes. This was the first trip in forever where food wasn't the focus. We did a few trails a day using the AllTrails app. I've always loved the outdoors but never been big on hiking though this trip may have changed that. 

Sights from hikes in Colorado 

I guess if there's anywhere where one can warm up to the trails it's Colorado and it's massive playground of outdoor activities. Aside from hiking somewhere near our rental each morning we also tried to take one both in the afternoon and then around sundown too. Some days we didn't make it to the third hike due to the first two being decent stretches of uphill movement. But the harder the trail the more spectacular views. We went as high as moderate as the expert hikes in Colorado are truly for the specialists. We had a chance to stroll through a handful of towns that were within daytrip distance of Silverthorne. That town itself is pretty corporate in that there's a ton of businesses there including an outlet mall but it's also close to some other nice towns such as Dillon and Frisco. If given the option on a future trip I'd stay in one of those over Silverthorne but this was a pretty last minute trip and we got a nice spot so no complaints. One of the highlights was an afternoon stroll through the mining town of Georgetown. I've always been fascinated with these due to HBO's Deadwood. 

Sights from Georgetown, CO

Another highlight was the drive from Silverthorne to Fairplay (another old mountain town). The drive along Route 9 was one of the prettiest I've ever taken. Other towns we got to check out included the Disney-like campus of Vail and the much hipper Edwards Colorado next door. The latter of which seems to to be an area that more younger people (skiers, chefs etc) are moving to instead of Vail. We did some hikes in Breckenridge but never ended up eating anywhere over there. The food wasn't abundant on this trip in terms of spots I wanted to check out. There's no doubt that the dining scene in this part of the Colorado mountains is lacking. That said I can lead you to some pretty good places. 

Sights from Fairplay and Alma (home to the highest weed shop in the world...literally)
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Sunshine Cafe (Silverthorne, CO)

This little hidden diner was to my gathering one of the best food stops in town. When you think about how Colorado is a big outdoors state it makes sense there’s great breakfast spots abound. Fuel is needed whether hiking, skiing, or biking. Lots to love about this locals favorite in a Silverthorne strip mall. Pan fried ruby red trout with eggs and hash browns and the ‘Ski Tech’ special served with two sausage patties, hash browns topped with melted cheese and green chili sauce with an egg on top. Both of which were made great. You can’t get a more classic Colorado breakfast session than that.

Breakfast at Sunshine Cafe 
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Cafe Profusion (Silverthorne, CO)

Speaking of hidden gems Cafe Profusion sits on the 2nd floor of a business complex and was only doing takeout on our visit. That's fine bc 1) there's no restaurant good enough to risk catching covid in and 2) they do Asian type fusion food so it takes out really well. It's also a gluten free restaurant but the menu is interesting enough compared to most of the generic spots out there. Run by an older couple inspired by their travels or something to the likes. I got the 'Pot Roast Penang' which the menu describes as beef brisket braised Malaysian Spices, vegetables and a side of Basmati rice. Not bad at all. Really good actually. The tender pot roast took to the Malaysian inspired sauce really well. Maybe not authentic but they tell you that in the restaurants name. Also surprising was a top notch hot and sour soup. One of the best I've versions I've tried actually. It was a bit of a letdown that they wouldn't be open the rest of the days we were in town bc we would've gone back. One minor complaint would be the size of it compared to the price but you expect pay a mountain type tourist tax up here. 

Pot Roast Penang + Hot & Soup at Cafe Profusion 
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The Blü Cow (Vail, CO)

Vail is like Disney World’s Epcot in the mountains. Not for me. That said the Swiss Hot Dogs found at The Blü Cow are quite the treat. Two pork and veal brats are griddled and placed between a French baguette and dressed with arugula, brown mustard, curry spice, and chopped onions with parsley. These have been served in the area in one form or the other since the 1960’s. In a town with a ton of overpriced and average food this old school bar from another era was a really nice surprise. 

The Swiss Dog at The Blü Cow
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Alpenrose (Vail, CO)

The wife didn't want hot dogs so we stopped for some "local food" while in Vail too. I use the quotes bc again it felt like we could be eating in the Switzerland wing of Epcot Center. Though we were seated outside so having the mountains as a back drop gave us that ski town feel. Alpenrose is one of a couple Swiss chalet type dining spots in town. The other was closed bc the staff that usually works there couldn't get visas to come from Switzerland. We tried two of the more common Swiss offerings in an order of fondue and also a Bavarian pork schnitzel with spaetzle and cream sauce. I liked the latter (not a big fondue guy) but we paid about 50% more than I would've liked. I'm not cheap but $36 for a smaller sized schnitzel was a bit much but like I said earlier in this post there's a mountain tax. 

Swiss Lunch at Alpenrose 
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Drunken Goat (Edwards, CO)

Like I was saying earlier the town of Edwards (20 min west of Vail) seems to be turning into a playground for the younger crowds as Vail is really an old money type place. The restaurants and grocers and butchers over here seem to be similar to that of other up and coming hip cities and towns. Places like the Drunken Goat where they have drinks, charcuterie, cheese and more. 

Happy Hour at The Drunken Goat 
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The Craftsman (Edwards, CO)

Here's another hip spot where the crowd was much younger than anywhere in Vail. The menu was also much more tempting with it's chef driven sandwiches and local craft brews and cocktails. The 'Green Chile Philly' seemed like a no-brainer for me and I was very happy with my decision. They used a really good roll with real shaved ribeye, chopped green chiles, and fromage américain. 

Green Chile Philly at The Craftsman 
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KB's Kakery & Dorothy's Tamales (Fairplay, CO)

I read about this little duo of a shop selling cakes and tamales while researching places to eat in the area. Locally grown chiles are life in the Southwest so I made sure to try my tamales smothered in sauce. Both the green chile and the red chile were quite tasty making it hard to pick a side. 

Tamales at Dorothy's Tamales 
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Salado (Fairplay, CO)

We took a ride down the incredibly scenic State Highway 9 south through Breckinridge and into Fairplay which sits at an elevation of 9,953 feet. It’s a small town with some big charm. But my main reason for visiting was for a meal at Salado which boasts an “eclectic Southwestern” menu and has a terrific patio outside along the towns sleepy main strip. The Navajo Taco is one of the more sad stories as far as a dishes history goes. But at the same time it’s a part of the Native culture and found in the Southwest pretty regularly. This one was made with ground beef, pinto beans, green chiles, roasted corn, sour cream, cotija, tomatoes on classic Indian Fry Bread. Served with a cup of smoky green chili. Tempura Fried Cactus with sweet onion prickly pear sauce for both of us as an app and Blue Corn Encrusted Ruby Red Trout with saffron rice for her. Cool spot in the middle of nowhere. 

Dinner at Salado 
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See ya next time @chibbqking

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Chinatown Noodle Special

 - Chicago Magazine Feature 


New Feature @ Chicago Mag (Pic: Jeff Marini for Chicago Magazine)

Click HERE

See ya next time @chibbqking 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Asian Cuisine Express

 -Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

For those folks that follow along on social media, you may be familiar with today's post. That's bc towards the end of 2020 I posted a thread to twitter sharing some of the best new (to me) tacos in town. Despite 2020 being a crap year all around there was still some really good tacos to be found. Perhaps none more hidden than those at Asian Cuisine Express - a takeout joint in Little Village.

Locals Favorite in La Villita

I got turned onto this hybrid Asian joint by a friend in the social media-sphere. He knew it would be my type of place and that it is. The restaurant itself is maybe a year or two old. I remember driving by before they opened and noticing it. The menu offers all the typical American-Chinese favorites and also has some Japanese dishes and then there's the reason we're here. Asian Cuisine Express hosts what might be the city's biggest spinning stack of meat. At least if you visit when it's not winding down for the week. It's a great little setup in that the ladies that run this place either pay the taquero to serve tacos here or he rents out the spot. I'm not sure which one but the taquero himself runs a taquizo business and can be found @taquizas_los_primos on instagram. The first questioned I asked myself when I learned of this mashup was "Al Pastor Fried Rice?!" and the answer is yes! Sushi al pastor too! The latter of which needs to be ordered a day ahead with a minimum of five rolls being ordered ($12/each). I have yet to try the sushi due to having nobody to share five rolls of it with (he sent me the pics). I'm putting in an order as soon the world is partying again. The Arroz Frito con Al Pastor is exactly what it sounds like. Chinese style fried rice made with chunks of fresh shaved al pastor mixed with some pineapple on top. YES. This in my experience is avail for takeout in individual portions. 

Al Pastor at Asian Cuisine Express 

I named the tacos al pastor from here the best new tacos in town for 2020.The first time I walked in here I was greeted by the biggest cone of meat I’ve seen in Chicago. Good start. I ordered up some tacos and watched the taquero flame it up before rotating the cone a few times to get it cooked. Still looking good. When the edges crisped up he sliced it thin straight into a tortilla and flicked pineapple on top. All I needed to see as far as knowing these were the real deal. That’s exactly how they do al pastor in Mexico City where it's one of the city signature snacks. No trips to holding bowls and hot flattops here. There's an art to making great al pastor and at the good spots that's about all they do. This means constant traffic which means the cone is always up and running and being sliced to order. It's not impossible to find al pastor like this in Chicago but it's certainly not the standard. Visit on Monday's and tacos are just $1 (closed Tuesday). I asked the lead taquero where he learned to make al pastor and he told me Veracruz. Yeah I'm def doing a taquiza this summer. Visit their insta for info.

Tacos al Pastor from Asian Cuisine Express

Asian Cuisine Express 
3823 W 31st St
Chicago, IL 60623 
(773) 847-4883

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