Monday, March 30, 2015

Velvet Taco

-Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

The first Velvet Taco to open outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth area was destined to be in the Viagra Triangle. The taco shop with a funny name has plenty of sexual puns in it's menu descriptions. I recently found out that if you can look past them, you may come to like this fast casual taco shop.

Newly Opened in the Gold Coast neighborhood

Lets get the fine print out of the way first. I tried Velvet Taco after they reached out via email and invited me to come on in and give my opinion. Sure why not, I'd heard of Velvet Taco thru my travels to Texas and took note of the Chicago opening when I first heard the news.

The Menu Board (click pic to enhance)

Velvet taco specializes in "chef driven" taco creations. The word fusion gets thrown around here and there when it comes to tacos but these would be a prime example of them. Broken down by meat on the menu board each taco is basically a specialty dish, from a cuisine other than Mexican, that gets put into a tortilla. The offering of a fried piece of paneer allows for most all of the options to be ordered Vegetarian. You can also replace the tortilla with a lettuce wrap. You just walk in and walk up to the counter and place your order and get a number which they find you by when your tacos are good to go. There's two floors and the upstairs consists of a handful of large communal tables with lots of light shining in thru the windows overlooking State street. Liquor is available and as should be the case with an import from Texas, they make a formidable frozen margarita.

Frozen Margarita

Aside from tacos they have a few other eating options including a "backdoor" rotisserie chicken. Served as a to-go item you just walk up to the backdoor and purchase one of their fire roasted rotisserie chickens whole. It comes with two sides of elotes, six housemade corn tortillas and a trio of salsas. The pre-taco option of crisp tater tots served with herbed goat cheese, smoked cheddar, avocado crema, real bacon bits, and a local egg on top is a winner. They stay open late so I expect this dish to be popular with the after-bar crowd though I still loved it during the day when sober.

Crispy Tots

Onto to the taco options. They have 15 of them including two frittata breakfast style offerings. While those are available all day I chose to go with six different lunch/dinner options. Pictured in order below from left to right are the Rotisserie Chicken, Crisp Tikka Chicken, Cuban Pig, Crisp Pork Belly, Bacon Burger and the Fish n' Chips. Delivered on the ever so trendy taco racks.

Velvet Tacos

First up you have to try and be open to enjoying this place and understanding of the fact that if you go in expecting credible Mexican flavors you may leave disappointed. That said the only Mexican taco option, the Rotisserie Chicken, was a winner in my book. They made the usually boring chicken taco much better without frying it or any ingredient in it. Hand pulled chicken from the birds they roast in the open air kitchen is topped with white queso, roast corn pico de gallo and a smoked poblano salsa. The corn tortillas are made on site. This one was simple and that's all it had to be.

Rotisserie Chicken (L) Crisp Tikka Chicken (M) Cuban Pig (R)

Other options were hit and miss. I liked the overall flavor profile of the Cuban Pig but thought it was a little dry. Adding on salsa took away from the intended tastes so maybe a little bit of pickle juice or something else can step that up. The Crisp Chicken Tikka taco was seriously spicy yet I kept taking bites. I should note these aren't one, two or even three bite tacos. They're large and two should be good for the average eating being. The Pork Belly taco was an ode to the Chicago style hot dog, as it's only available at this location, but they must not of got the memo that a Chicago dog uses an all beef wiener. The bacon burger actually took on the exact flavors of a well made bacon cheeseburger as did the fish n' chips with it's intended taste. The latter of which was my favorite with a perfectly fried piece of beer battered cod topped with a perfectly paired curry mayo and some malted fries hidden inside. Elevated fast food in a neighborhood that could use the option of it. Can you dig it?

Fish n' Chips taco

Velvet Taco
1110 N State St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 763-2654

Velvet Taco on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 27, 2015

Eat the Vote

- Best of Chicago Awards

Greetings readers, hope you're gearing up for a fun and or relaxing weekend. I interrupt nearly 8 years of regularly updated roadfood posts (771 to be exact) to let you know that the annual Chicago Reader's 'Best of Chicago' awards are currently being voted on. Truth be told I'm a little behind in posts as I work on a few collaborated projects and just didn't have the time to put one together this weekend so I just thought I'd throw it out there to regular readers should you want to vote. Feel free to vote for 'Smokin' Chokin' & Chowing' or 'The Chicago Taco Tour' or any other blog out there you regularly read. Another truth to be told, you must sign up and answer a minimum of 20 questions so I don't expect anyone to do it but should you already be voting, S'C'&C is for the people!

See ya Monday @chibbqking 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mojo's East Coast Eats

-The Sammy's of Chi (land)

Remember the days when "suburban food" equaled a few franchised restaurants a pizza place and a Chinese restaurant next to the dry cleaners? Yeah me too, it wasn't so long ago. These days it's much different. You can pretty much go to most any Chicagoland located suburb and find a quality mom and pop type spot to feed you. It might not always be better than your favorite example in the city but it will always beat a Big Mac or Whopper. Take Mojo's in Downers Grove for example.

East Coast style sandwich shop in Downers Grove 

I'd read up on this place thru the Grub Seeker aka jimswside on LTHforum. He does the 'burbs and wherever he goes justice when it comes down to finding the best local spots to eat at. On his review over at LTH he mentioned how he'd been on a major cheesesteak kick and Mojo's was the reason why. He talked to the guy who owns the place who hails from Doylestown, Pennsylvania originally. He's bringing the preferred way to lunch out East to the Western burbs. As to be expected the lead role here is their cheesesteak sandwich which is made of freshly sliced ribeye and served on a traditional Amoroso's roll. Eight ounces of chopped up meat goes into the bread and itty bitty bits of sauteed onions and the melted cheese of your choice rounds it all out. A fine example.

Cheesesteak Sandwich from Mojo's

The steak sandwich is pretty great for those of us that enjoy the aroma of meat and onions though I actually prefer the cheese steak hoagie. It's just a regular cheesesteak with lettuce, tomato and mayo on top but it all works so well together reminding me alot of the now defunct Hoagie Hut from Lincoln Park. Sometimes you just crave for these flavors and need them, that happened to me after the first time I tried Mojo's. I was back within a week, lucky for me I was already due out that way so I killed two birds with one stone. Unluckily for me, I haven't been back in the area since so I still haven't tried a hoagie or anything else. Fries are freshly cut and come with the option of Old Bay seasoning which can also be an addictive pair. I know where I'm eating next time I'm out there.

Cheesesteak Hoagie with Old Bay Spiced Fries

Mojo's East Coast Eats
2758 Maple Ave
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 796-2832

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Red Lion Pub

 -Grubbing in Chicago
Where the locals eat/drink.

There was a time in my youth when my fake ID could get me into any bar in Lincoln Park located on Lincoln avenue, with the exception of one. The Red Lion Pub has been a fixture of the neighborhood since 1984. The owner knew our age thus we wouldn't be drinking there until we turned 21. There was a period when Red Lion wasn't around for a few years due to the rebuilding of the entire inside. I was happy to hear of their reopening last year. Even though we weren't allowed to drink there the owner Colin was always happy to have us in when it came to the food, a favorite of my buddy that lived down the block. Lets check out the reincarnation.

Locals Favorite in Lincoln Park

No word on whether or not the construction scared the ghosts away but the buildings history remains, it's just alot prettier inside now. You get an idea of why it took so long to rebuild upon stepping inside. It's much more open now and still has two levels for patrons to enjoy food/drink.

a peek inside

Beer at the Bar

Speaking of food, they stepped it up here. The menu is basically the same but the quality of ingredients has increased greatly. One of my favorite wintertime eats is a nice serving of Shepard's Pie. At Red Lion they're making theirs with beef and lamb and instead of ground meat they're using small chunks cooked down into tender bites. An excellent example of this English pub favorite.

Shepard's Pie

Another example of the kitchens growth is in an old favorite of mine. The Red Lion Burger was once in my regular diet when I was growing up a few blocks away. These days it's as good as ever. They use Kilgus Farmstead beef and smash two balls down into thin patties while cooking. HP marinated onions, pub cheese, and a perfectly fluffy bun top off this simple but succulent delight. Fries are cut fresh and come with the option of a curried version served with a cup of mint yogurt on the side.

Lion Burger

I couldn't do a post on one of Chicago's premier English pubs without sampling the fish and chips. This plate stacks up well to the rest. Three nicely fried filets of ale battered cod sit atop a nice pile of fresh cut fries. Just like many of the other items the tartar sauce is now made in-house. It's great to have the Red Lion back and it's even better to see many of it's neighbors making it a regular stop.

Fish and Chips

The Red Lion Pub
2446 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 883-2422

Red Lion Pub on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 20, 2015

Riviera Maya Taco Tour

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

-Tacos and Fresh Seafood in the Yucatan Peninsula

If you follow any of my social media accounts you may recall I was in Mexico last month. The Riviera Maya to be exact. The wedding celebration of one of my longtime friends was the reason for my visit and as many weddings in Mexico go, an all inclusive package was part of it. We stayed in the beautiful Barcelo Maya Deluxe located about an hour from the Cancun airport in a small coastal town called Puerto Aventuras. It was an amazing resort and that helped make my first all inclusive vacation better than I ever thought one would be. Being with both old and new friends along with unlimited Don Julio certainly helped set the vibe as well. But as to be expected the food was just ok.

View from the balcony at the Barcelo Maya Deluxe

It wasn't that the food was awful but how does someone like me who's favorite cuisine is Mexican go into not just Mexico but one of the richest parts of it food-wise and not indulge in some local eats? It just wasn't possible. As amazing as the surroundings at the resort were I just couldn't sit around all day. So I ended up leaving the grounds on three different occasions and had a nice little taco tour.

Somehow I left this...don't ever question my dedication

The worst part of staying at these exclusive resorts is the price of taxis. They end up getting you good. For example I decided to go eat lunch by myself in town and had to pay $20 US dollars each way and it was maybe 2.5 miles. Still it was worth it as it was the first time I felt like I was in Mexico having only been at the Cancun airport and then the resort up to that point. Puerto Aventuras is small and there's basically one main road in town connecting with the main coastal highway. Lots of spots weren't open yet but a handful of them were. I got at 'em.

El Arbolito 

Puerto Aventuras

I read up on this place online, there's not much on it but someone did mention it somewhere and I was able to find it on Google maps. I made a mental note and asked the guys working at the resort about it and they knew where to send me. Hidden under the highway overpass this open air stand is specializing in tacos de guisado. I told the friendly lady to give me her favorite options and ended up with a nice trio of tacos. The chicken mole was outstanding as were the handmade tortillas.

Tacos de Guisado

Taco Paco

Puerto Aventuras

Another spot with some stuff online I also put this place in my mental notes. When I asked the cab driver where it was he explained to me how to get there. He was kind of shocked I wanted an hour until I wanted him to return, but I needed to get to some spots. This place is specializing is seafood tacos and they were pretty good. Not as memorable as my go-to stand in Puerto Vallarta but they did make a killer fish doradito which is a piece of fresh fish placed into a tortilla which is closed with toothpicks and then fried. As most all taco stands in Mexico go, you dress your own with an array of topping options and they had some really interesting salsas which spiced things up.

Shrimp Taco (L) Fish Doradito (R)

Rica's Carnitas Estilo Puebla

Puerto Aventuras

After hitting up the only two stands with any information online I just wandering down the towns only main road. First stop up was this friendly guys spot where they were frying big hunks of pork in lard in the copper pot pictured below.

Real Deal Carnitas

He was very welcoming and gave me some really nice samples of popular fried pig parts before I even ordered anything. What I did order was an excellent snack I ate later that day on my patio at the resort. Expertly fried pieces of pork will always be good by me.

Carnitas Tacos

Taqueria "Chitos"

Puerto Aventuras

Next stop was an all in the family spot. Mother, Toddler and Grandma all there to welcome me. We talked back and forth as clearly as we could with my broken Spanish and with it I managed to learn they cook their cochinita pibil the old fashioned way in back. That would be wrapped in banana leaves and placed on coal embers in a small hole covered by a blanket. Maybe the best thing I ate.

Cochinita Pibil Taco

La Fogata

Playa Del Carmen

A large group of us took a van cab into Playa del Carmen about 20 minutes away. The purpose of the trip was food and fun. I asked several employees at the resort where their favorite tacos in town were at and they basically all said Fogata. The tacos al Pastor would justify these endorsements.

Taco al Pastor


Playa Del Carmen

I asked a few of my followers @tweetsoftacos where to go and someone mentioned this place specializing in seafood tacos. That's what the group wanted and it was right where he dropped us off so we went on over and waited for a table. Then we waited some more until we were seated. Then we waited to order and the we waited for our food. They were packed and had a pretty tiny cooking space to work with. If the tacos were amazing I'd say it was worth the wait but they were just average at best. Low on seafood and not all that inspiring. The descriptions sounded better than the flavors.

Seafood Tacos

Don Sirloin

Playa Del Carmen

I had a place specializing in tacos arabes I wanted to go too but when we got there it was closed for good. Evacuated. However en route we saw a place with two different locations that were both packed and aside from that they were flaunting beautiful spits of meat. As the name suggests one of them is beef and the other is pork aka al pastor. I ended up eating two of each and regretted not getting more. Perfectly executed tacos de trompo. So simple but so good.

Taco al Pastor (L) Taco de Sirloin (R)



On our last day in town we took a van into the interesting town of Tulum. It's a growing community that has all sorts of independently owned hotels and restaurants. A couple of people in the group had been to Tulum before and led us to one of the towns best restaurants. Simple is grilling freshly caught seafood over charcoal and shaking up some strong cocktails to go with them. I can take a taco break for this. We had a wonderful meal here that might not be pretty in pics but was amazing in the mouth. As the name suggests there's nothing fancy about the food it's all about the taste of the ocean mixed with char. Good food, good company, great times. 

Some sights from our meal

Whole Grilled Hogfish

La Fonda Chiquita


To end the evening we took in the sunset at bar on the main strip known for their views and then wandered over to another spot our friend had in mind. Not only for the food but also the views.

Oceanside Dining

We were there for the tacos de pulpo (octopus) and they didn't disappoint. Nice chunks of locally caught octopus were chopped up after being grilled and served on fresh corn tortillas. We also tried some excellent fish tacos and others at the table were satisfied with the meat options. After that it was back to the resort and shortly thereafter back to reality as our flight left the next day. I'm already planning my return trip to the area. Stay tuned.

Tacos de Pulpo

Note: I'm choosing not to include the addresses because they're easily found online or easily found right there in town. See ya next time @chibbqking.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rueben Sandwich Special

-The Sammy's of Chi

It's St. Patrick's Day week and to celebrate were doing a roundup on a Lithuanian-American sandwich special. Huh? Well the Rueben sandwich does include corned beef which is something many Irish-Americans eat so why not right? It also includes toasted rye bread with melted Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and saurkraut. The exact origin of this now hugely popular sandwich is up for debate but I tend to believe the created in an Omaha, Nebraska restaurant side. But Omaha is a far car ride so I give you five options for one in Chicago. If you prefer corned beef hash check HERE.

Edgebrook Coffee Shop

Popular lunch counter in the Edgebrook neighborhood

Hidden in the Northwest corner of the city is this top notch breakfast/lunch spot. The type of place every neighborhood would be so lucky to have. While everything is here is said to be quality its the corned beef dishes that have stuck out with me. Whether in hash form or via the Rueben sandwich, they're both special. What might be the best Rueben in the city is a near prefect example of one. Whether in the form of the locally sourced bread to the chunky tender cuts of corned beef on over to the excellent hash browns that come with it, it's all good.

Near Perfection

The Bagel

This one is dedicated to a good friend of mine. One of his favorite things to eat is a Rueben sandwich and one of his city favorites can be found at this Broadway deli open since the 50's. The Bagel does sandwiches NYC style by piling the meat high, the corned beef product is a thinly sliced variety that gets tucked in between perfectly toasted bread. A stellar sandwich if I may say so myself.

Big Boy

Harrington's Deli

Locals favorite in Portage Park

Located on Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park in a small strip mall, this Irish deli does it all. Before entering you're immediately greeted with big displays of each day's specials. Stuff like Irish-style bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage, and a regular Friday fish fry are just a few of the ever rotating weekly home cooked specials on the board. Regularly offered items include a really good Rueben sandwich made with some excellent rye bread. The corned beef is cooked in house and the total sum of this sandwich is a real winner. Not the biggest one ever but a really good one.

Small but Mighty

Li'l Guys Deli 

Locals favorite in Bucktown

I'm a fan of the deep dish pizza from My Pie in Bucktown. Even better they sell it in slices. I get in there now and then for one and on a trip last year I saw a sign form the adjoining restaurant called Li'l Guys (a deli) and noticed it mentioned a homemade Reuben sandwich. Only available on weekends I took a mental note and eventually remembered to go try it on a Friday or Saturday. The baking of their own bread makes this one of the more unique options on this list. Its almost as if the bread is attached to the sandwich. Almost like a corned beef strudel so to say. I enjoyed it.

Homemade Rueben Special

The Corned Beef Factory 

Newly Opened on Lake Street

Ex-cel Corned Beef is one of a few stand-overs left from a different era. They've been providing generations of Chicagoan's with their excellent product for some time now. However as the neighborhood switches from packing district to living area they needed to do something to get the locals in and opening a deli counter was their idea in doing so.

Sandwiches packaged to go 

I'd driven by the new counter a few times and needed to complete this survey with stopping in. Its pretty plain inside with the menu being small. They have regular corned beef sandwiches as well as the Rueben and also an Italian beef, not much else. The Reuben is stacked high with thinly sliced lean meat, not my favorite style for it but still enjoyable. This sandwich was a monster and came with fresh house fried chips on the side. Nice addition to the area.

Large Sandwich 

Edgebrook Coffee Shop
6322 N Central Ave
Chicago, IL 60646
(773) 792-1433

The Bagel
3107 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 477-0300

Harrington's Deli
5685 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60646
(773) 283-8388

Li'l Guys
2010 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 394-6904

The Corned Beef Factory
1009 W Lake St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 666-2535


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