Monday, April 30, 2018

Gringo-Mex in Wisconsin

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- The Gringo-Mexican Food of Wisconsin

America's favorite faux holiday is around the corner! As always around this time of the year I will feature some of the country's great Gringo-Mex restaurants. In previous trips we've scouted out the American-Mexican food of NW Indiana. As well as the Gringo Tacos of both Illinois and also Iowa. Want to know where to go to get the best crispy tacos in the country? I'll give you a hint it's where we're going today. Wisconsin. One of my all time favorites when it comes to exploring. There continues to be plenty of spots on my radar and today I share with you four more that I crossed off at one point or another. As mentioned the theme is Gringo-Mex by which I mean Mexican food that's mostly made for a Caucasian clientele. It's one of my great guilty pleasures. I love getting the opportunity to take a trip back to a time when Mexican food was just becoming norm in America.

Little Cancun

Franklin, WI

We start at my favorite of the bunch in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin. First things first if you ever need a shady motel head here to the very street that Little Cancun rests on. You'll find about 15 of them up and down the highway. There's one right behind the restaurant. What a weird area. But it's worth the weird to indulge in some of the best enchiladas in the region. I consider Gringo-Mex to be a different animal than Tex-Mex which is what I would use describe this popular family style spot. It reminds of a place you'd find off the highway in a small Texas town. Though you know you're in Wisco when you go inside as this is a popular spot to watch the Packers. What you also notice right away is the smell of the fresh fried tortilla chips. Along with chunky red salsa a signature of Gringo-Mex.

Fresh Fried Tortilla Strips at Little Cancun 

As some of y'all know I consider there to be a time and a place for Tex-Mex. That time is whenever I'm in Texas. In fact I cant wait to one day go explore San Antonio. That's where the good stuff is at. It's hard to find legit Tex-Mex outside of that area. The dish I think most represents Tex-Mex other than fajitas and breakfast tacos is enchiladas. Specifically ones with red sauce, ground beef, and lots of cheese. The enchiladas at Little Cancun are the best Tex-Mex style enchiladas outside of Texas I've had. In fact I've been here for them on more than one occasion. Not "authentic" but damn tasty.

 Enchiladas at Little Cancun

My other love with Tex-Mex and for that matter Gringo-Mex is crispy tacos. Little Cancun makes a really good one. One of the filling options is "Little Cancun Signature Beef" or something like that. Well it's actually just good old carne guisada which is Texas style stewed beef. The good ones come in a rich brown gravy. That gravy coats the tender beef which goes inside a fresh fried shell.

 Crispy Taco at Little Cancun 

El Patron

 Edgerton, WI

Located in Rock County is the tiny town of Edgerton. It's a pretty one during the Fall which is when I was there a couple years ago. Located right near the classic downtown area is this place called El Patron. The family has a few locations and are known in the area for good Gringo-Mex. There were a couple of popular items one of which is the chimichanga which I dont do. The other is an item called the "Tostaguac" which is seen below. It's a tostada with meat, beans, and guacamole. Interesting.

 Tostaguac at El Patron 

Hushers Pub & Grill

 Caledonia, WI

We all know about the Friday Fish Fry, Saturday Night Prime Rib, and even Sunday Broasted Chicken. These are all popular specials found in bars and taverns up and down the state. But there's another nightly special gaining steam and that's Taco Tuesday's. I've been to handfuls of bars that participate in Taco Tuesday and they're always tacos of the gringo variety. Like those at Husher's Pub in Racine County. Every Tuesday they do AYCE tacos but they're also available for individual purchase which is what I did. After all they take a tortilla and drop it in the fryer until just crispy enough to where it can still fold and not crack. In goes some ground beef from the crock pot and on top goes a variety of gringo based taco toppings including lettuce, pickled jalapenos, and sour cream. I have no shame in admitting my love for the crispy taco. Click HERE for another WI bar doing these.

 Taco Tuesday at Hushers Pub

Conejito's Place

 Milwaukee, WI

Last but not least is the legend that is Conejito's Place in Milwaukee. This my friends is one of the city's finest drinking holes. From the outside it just screams Texas as it lights up the block with neon. Though the property itself is classic Wisconsin tavern. The type of spot that gets packed for Packers.

a peek inside 

I try to stop at least once of not more than once a year. It's the type of place that when it's gone it's gone for good. Started in 1972 by a guy named Jose "Conejito" Garza who wanted a place to call his own so he came to America from Nuevo Leon at the age of 18. Not long after that he moved to Milwaukee and worked as a butcher before buying a tavern and turning in it into his own little taqueria. He had a taco plate special consisting of steak tacos on flour tortillas with lettuce and tomato as a courtesy to his customers. They're still served today but instead of $1.50 they're $4.20

Steak and Bean tacos at Conejito's Place 

How do they keep the prices so cheap? Partly by serving everything on paper plates. Which some people hate. The reviews of this spot can be mean but if you're going in expecting to find the flavors of Mexico City you're the one that needs to be reviewed. This is a classic 1970's Mexican restaurant and it hasn't changed one bit. Drinks are still dirt cheap and the food is too. It's good drinking food and even though I know what real Mexican food is I dont find it offensive that a place serves something like what you see below and calls it Mexican food. It's old school Gringo-Mexican.

Enchiladas Plate at Conejito's Place

Little Cancun
7273 South 27th Street A
Franklin, WI 53132
(414) 761-6200

El Patron
2 W Fulton St
Edgerton, WI 53534
(608) 561-6400

Husher's Pub & Grill
9002 6 Mile Rd
Caledonia, WI 53108
(262) 835-9795

Conejito's Place
539 W Virginia St
Milwaukee, WI 53204
(414) 278-9106

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Lakefront Restaurant

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

My family recently enjoyed a meal at the new Theater on the Lake Restaurant in Lincoln Park. It's called The Lakefront and it's Chef is a pretty well known guy around town. This is Chef Cleetus Friedman's most recent gig. He was previously at both City Provisions and Fountainhead. Located at the very eastern end of Fullerton the restaurant sits inside the Theater were thespians used to gather.

The Lakefront Restaurant at Theater on the Lake in Lincoln Park

First things first it's a great location. How can it not be? It's literally on the lake. I cant imagine it being anything other than packed during summer if for anything bc of it's perfect place. That said all of us thought the food was pretty good. In my eyes it's more yuppie than hipster by which I mean the menu isn't terribly exciting however the dishes that are on there are made well. For starters a Smoked Trout Nicoise Salad was wonderful. Even if it's not salad season. It hit the spot. Sorry for the cell pics.

Smoked Trout Nicoise Salad 

Moving on with the appetizers we also enjoyed a really fresh shrimp ceviche. This one will be popular in July however I'm pretty sure the tortilla chips were from a bag. Tostitos? Whatever they were they weren't as good as housemade which is as easy as anything to make. All you need is a fryer.

Shrimp Ceviche at The Lakefront Restaurant

Next is a bowl of Littleneck clams with white wine, garlic butter, n’duja, shallots, and toasted bread. Another good dish. I think Nduja is like bacon in that it enhances almost everything. I love that stuff.

Littleneck Clams at The Lakefront Restaurant

Moving on my wife had the scallops paired with a bucatini and pesto. They kind of hid the dish under a bunch of greens but we both agreed it was a pretty good pasta, and we had just come from Italy.

Scallops with bucatini, spinach & toasted sunflower pesto, parmesan

A couple people got the chicken fried steak and we all liked this one. The mashed potatoes mixed with gruyere cheese were decadent. The chicken was breaded thighs with an apple sausage gravy.

Chicken Fried Chicken with breaded thighs, apple sausage gravy, gruyere mashed potatoes, fennelslaw

For my entree I went with the Hangar steak special. This was only after I learned that the 'Fresh Lake Catch' was salmon. I was hoping I'd find something from the Great Lakes featured. Nonetheless my steak was really good. Hangar steak is one of my top 5 cuts of beef so I always enjoy seeing it on a menu. Served on the side were some smashed potatoes, veggies, and a big ole cup of butter.

Hangar Steak Special at The Lakefront Restaurant

The Lakefront Restaurant
2401 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 414-1313

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Steak Out

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Steak & Rice on Western

My trip to Steak Out all the way towards the North end of Western avenue was my third attempt at understanding New York style Steak/Chicken & Rice. The dish made nationally famous by Halal Guy's is one of the signature snacks of NYC. It's known for being there when you're drunk and or in a rush. While Halal Guy's has gained a national following (not me) many spawns have popped up not just in New York City but all over the country. Steak Out is the second one I know of in Chicago.

 Newly Opened in Rogers Park

I love the dish that is meat and rice. It's one of the foods I crave most often. Every region on the globe has a varying recipe on this dish. So while I love the idea of NY style Chicken (or Steak) and Rice, I don't get it's appeal. I hate to say it but Steak Out was near inedible. I got their signature combo bowl pairing steak with chicken and it was so salty I couldn't get past the first few bites. The meat and veggies were layered on top of the rice which I hate. But the rice itself somehow even managed to be bad as it was swimming in a pile of liquid that totally voided its flavor. I dont know what happened but I cant imagine anyone actually thinking that what I was served was anything other than awful.

Steak and Chicken with Rice at Steak Out 

Steak Out
6237 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60659
(872) 806-2737

Monday, April 23, 2018

RC's Grill

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
Mexican Diner Food in Melrose Park

It's time to add Mexican diner food into the many genre's of Mexican cuisine that are out there. Mexican Diner food is pretty common in Chicagoland and my guess is everywhere else where there's a heavy Mexican population. I'm not talking about places like Dove's. I'm referring to blue collar breakfast spots that feature all the regular menu items you see on a diner menu as well as Mexican options. Nothing too crazy as far as the food just stuff like tacos, burritos, chilaquiles and so forth. Today's stop is a great example of the type of place I'm talking about. It's called RC's Grill and it sits in the bowels of Melrose Park. I'd never heard of it until I was driving but the signs caught my eye.

Locals Favorite in Melrose Park, IL

The mention of tortas and flautas was intriguing enough to stop in one morning when I was fighting jet lag after a trip to Europe. It was the crack of dawn but RC's was up and running as it's almost always open with the exception of a few hours each day. RC's is interesting in that the employees who fit the description of an all night diner waitress perfectly, are all white. Yet almost all of the clientele on my two visits were black. So I'm not sure where the Mexican portion of the menu comes in but it's quite possible it's from the owner (RC?) himself. I always like to try specialties of the house at whatever type of restaurant I'm at. RC's lets their customers know they have a couple specials worth trying.

a peek inside 

Both the torta and flautas are pictured in a sign above the grill and that's what I was there for. They make mention that both the sandwich and also the rolled tacos are specialties from the city of Jerez which is a city in Zacatecas. Lot's of the city's Mexican population comes from Zacatecas so no surprise. My first trip in I was told the flautas weren't ready so I tried the torta. This was one of those times when them not having what you wanted was an actual good thing. This torta was the real deal.

Pork Sirloin Torta Sandwich at RC's Grill 

This sandwich had two thin yet juicy patties of pork that were lightly fried on the flattop. Whatever oil it was they were fried in it really gave the pork some great flavor. Toppings were raw onion, tomato, pickled jalapenos, and avocado. The bread was fresh and crunchy. The sum of it all together made for one of the better tortas I've tried in the Chicagoland area. A great sandwich and a deal at just $5.95.

The insides 

Since they mention the flautas with the torta I had to go back and try them which I eventually did. Unfortunately they weren't as big of a hit as the sandwich. Flautas are little rolled tacos that are fried and lots of the time they fry them ahead and that's not something I'm fond of. Because they're rolled so small they dont lose much crispness but they also dont have that fresh out of the fryer crunch. These came loaded with lettuce, tomato, and cotija cheese which is common but the pickled carrots were way too mushy and they were missing the pickled jalapenos in the picture. Just not my style.

Flautas Estilo Jerez at RC's Grill 

Of course I had to try a taco too. The tacos at almost all of these diners with Mexican portions to the menu are most always made the way they do them here. That's with lettuce, tomato, and cheese. I dont prefer my tacos this way but I can enjoy one now and then. These weren't the best but they weren't bad either. Just a nice option to have if you're in the area and starving at 5:30 in the morning.

Steak Taco at RC's Grill 

RC's Grill
145 N 25th Ave
Melrose Park, IL 60160
(708) 865-2800

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Biscuit Man

-Weekend Brunchin'

One thing I'll always love about Chicago is our never ending choices in restaurants. Even for someone like me it's truly a pipe dream to think you could try them all. So with that there are spots that don't shoot onto my radar immediately. Take Biscuit Man for example. After learning about it through Nick Kindelsperger at the Trib I forgot about it only to have google refresh my memory when I recently went searching for Biscuits & Gravy. The Biscuit Man is a restaurant within a bar called The Long Room.

Locals Favorite in Lakeview

The Long Room sits on Irving Park road just West of Ashland. It's feature as you might guess is the long bar that extends from front to back. Right in the middle to the left of where you entered sits Biscuit Man. It's helmed by Chef Zeeshan Shah who hails from Albany Park in Chicago. According to the restaurants website making biscuits is a passion of Chef Shah. Since Biscuit Man is it's own thing you walk up to their window where you place your order and pay before finding a table to wait. Should be easy to find a table bc as mentioned the bar is long and has lots of seats. When we think biscuits we usually associate them with breakfast but Biscuit Man does more than morning food.

Fried Chicken Biscuit at Biscuit Man

The wife got a white meat fried chicken biscuit that they let you add stuff onto. Pickles and aioli were the additions. This was a good chicken biscuit though maybe not good enough to dethrone the current Chicago Chicken Biscuit Champ at The Roost. Though that doesn't mean Biscuit Man aint worth your time. He most definitely is. In my opinion the reason to visit is the biscuit and gravy. I didn't forget the "s" in biscuits. It's one big housemade biscuit. Which definitely passes the fluffy test. It's topped with a wonderful gravy (choice of bacon/mushroom) and comes with the option to add an egg which is the right thing to do. Man I'll tell you this was good enough to be loved below the Mason Dixon line. It tasted more like something I'd find in Nashville than Chicago. It was indeed a winner.

Biscuit and (Bacon) Gravy at Biscuit Man

The Biscuit Man
1612 W Irving Park Rd #3
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 665-8210

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Art's Drive-In

-The Sammy's of Chi

I'd wondered about Art's Drive-In, the restaurant adjacent to Stanley's, for a long time before trying it. I also waited a long time to post about it bc my visit here came at least 3 maybe 4/5 years ago. Since my visit they recently celebrated an anniversary that was either something like 50 or 75 years. Impressive bc I think if I asked 10 Chicagoan's I know whether or not they've ever been to Art's 9.5 out of 10 would say no. But if you asked them if they've ever been to Stanley's Fruits across the street 8 or 9 out of 10 would say yes. Art's is the definition of old school. I remember lots of spots like Art's growing up. Most of which are long gone. Like the rest of them did Art's opens extra early (5am).

Locals Favorite at North and Elston

Aside from the fact I'm pretty much interested in trying everywhere at least once it was the proclaim of having the best steak sandwich that really intrigued me. I love a good steak sandwich though they're not easy to find. To me the best cut of beef for a steak sandwich is probably skirt steak and Art's grills up an 8 ounce piece for their steak sandwich. Granted it was years ago this is the type of place that doesn't change much so I'm confident in saying it was a tasty steak sandwich. I do remember it being a tad bit chewy but that was bc it was a pretty thick piece of meat. It came marinated in a typical Greek sauce that really comes out when the fire hits it. Not a bad choice if going to or from Stanley's Fruits and you need something quick to consume that's not fast food.

 Steak Sandwich at Art's Drive-In

Art's Drive-In
1333 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60642
(773) 489-0099

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Spice Room

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Indian Cuisine in Logan Square

If there's one cuisine the city of Chicago is lacking in - Indian food might be it. Pretty much every single memorable Indian meal I've had has come in a place other than Chicago. In fact the best Indian food I've ever had came in the Vietnamese vacation town of Hoi An. That said there's been a few openings of late that have improved the city of Chicago's game when it comes to Indian food.

Locals Favorite in Logan Square 

The Spice Room opened up shop last year on Armitage in Logan Square. I remember hearing somewhere that the owners behind it are the same family behind Rangoli on North ave. Not surprising as Rangoli is widely regarded by many as the city's best Indian restaurant. Just like Rangoli the dining room at The Spice Room has been packed. I think you can attribute part of that to the fact it's a BYOB and the area it's in really likes it BYOB's. The other thing that can contribute to it always being packed is the fresh food they're making. One thing I have noticed in my 3 or 4 visits to Spice Room is the freshness of the food itself. Specifically the curry sauces and samosas seen below.

Samosas at Spice Room

Speaking of things Chicago doesn't have the samosa is high on my list. Lot's of cities and suburbs have spots that specialize in samosas but Chicago doesn't have anything like that. That said the ones at The Spice Room are damn tasty to the point where it brought back memories of the ones I ate that made me love the dish in the first place. The "Indian empanadas" were definitely fried to order with a nice smooth and also spicy potato mix waiting inside. Onto the curries. They're pretty damn good. Not good enough to make me forget memorable curries I've had outside of Chicago but good enough to go back for more when the hankering hits. The spicy options are legitimately spicy. Make sure to order some of their fresh garlic naan for dipping. All in all I'm happy to have SR near me.

Curries at The Spice Room

The Spice Room
2906 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 360-8689

Friday, April 13, 2018

Rice N Bread

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Korean Diner Food in Wrigleyville

Baseball is back! My Cubs are once again looking like contenders (I dont care about the slow start). What's looking a bit different these days is Wrigleyville. Lots of new buildings and with them new businesses. If you watched any type of local news this past week I'm sure you saw all the change. It's not the end of the world for me as money is what you need to win and the Ricketts family seems to be stacking cash these days. As long as they stay winning then who the hell cares if people from Iowa like to make a vacation of a weekend at Wrigley. The change started happening long before the Ricketts arrived anyways. Long gone is Yum Yum Donuts and Hamburger King is only a shell of it's former self. But at least in the case of HK you can still get a little piece of it at Rice N Bread.

Locals Favorite in Wrigleyville 

For those unaware Hamburger King was the name of the business where Rice N Bread now exists. The owners of Rice N Bread bought the business from Hamburger King's owner Sonia a couple years ago. Part of the deal was that Sonia would stay on for about six months and help the family ease into their new venture. With that they kept a few of the classics that made HK a legend in the area. I still go here mainly for those items. Stuff like Akutagawa as well as rice and gravy. But when the family took over they added an almost entirely new menu with a bunch of Korean favorites. To learn more about the dishes from Hamburger King that they kept on the menu click HERE. Today's post features a few of the new dishes that I've enjoyed since they took over. Items like Dolsat Bi Bim Bop below.

Dolsot Bi Bim Bop at Rice N Bread 

To get a gauge on any Korean restaurants food start with the bi bim bop. Extra points for places cooking it in a Dolsot aka stone bowl. This allows the rice on the bottom to get nice and crispy and that to me is the deal breaker between a good and great bi bim bop. Other items I've liked include the spicy don galbi which are marinated pork ribs with a similar eating style to Italian neckbone gravy.

 Spoicy DonGalbi (pork ribs) at Rice N Bread 

On Thursday they have a bacon kimchi fried rice special. It's the inspiration for one of my signature dishes that I've kind of created over the last couple years. The first time I tried this dish at Rice N Bread it was about as good as any fried rice I'd ever tried. Unfortunately a second visit for it wasn't nearly as good. From my own experiences in coming up with the perfect recipe it tasted like they cooked the kimchi too long on the second try. Hopefully that was just a one off. In the end this is one of the only places I would recommend going for food before or after the game as most of the bars and newer spots push nothing but inflated prices on average goods. If you want a taste of Old Wrigley stop at Rice n Bread for Akutagawa and then go sip Old Style at Nisei Lounge a few doors down.

Bacon Kimchi Fried Rice at Rice N Bread

Rice N Bread
3435 N Sheffield Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 281-4452

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Bistro 6050

-Grubbing in Chicago
Empanadas on Irving Park

It's not exactly in the city center but I'm surprised I haven't heard more about this fun little neighborhood space. It's called Bistro 6050 and it's owned by a really nice Filipino lady. Bistro 6050 has the feel of an old school soda fountain but it's only been open about a year and while they do have dessert drinks they're not like the ones our parents enjoyed way back when. They make smoothies, shakes, and bubble teas as well as empanadas and also both sweet and savory crepes.

Newly Opened on Irving Park

We visited on a Friday night and there was a really nice vibe going on inside. We saw what looked to be a few regulars (maybe family members) as well as a child's birthday party and a group of 20 something girls out for the night. Needless to say there was a bit of a wait for some empanadas.

Empanada Flavor Guide 

The empanadas are baked which is why you can expect a little bit of a wait. The flavor combinations represent much more than just the Philippines. As you can see up above you can try empanadas of all sorts. The best way to try a few is get the 3 for $7 deal they offer. So far I've been able to try the Barbacoa, Pulled Porky, and also the creamy chicken. The barbacoa has flavors of Latin America while the pulled pork is spiced with Filipino flavors and the creamy yellow chicken is due to the use of yellow Aji Peppers which are prevalent in Peruvian coking. I'm not the biggest sweets guy but the crepes were loved by the group of ladies I mentioned that were dining in. In today's food world so many spots are backed with big dollars and they all end up feeling the same. Not so here where it feels like a little bit of a blast from the past with it's true mom and pop feel. Go check them out.

Empanadas at Bistro 6050

Bistro 6050
6050 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60634
(312) 883-6050

Monday, April 9, 2018

Tipico Chicken

-Grubbing in Chicago
More Dominican Fried Chicken

Is this the year of Dominican Fried Chicken? Probably not but I have another spot worth checking out. Tipico Chicken opened some time in the last four months. It's bright yellow awning caught my eye one day while driving down Fullerton. The fact that it was a chicken restaurant made me want to check it out. Not just that but it was a spot featuring the foods of both the DR and Honduras.

Newly Opened in Hermosa

I'll tell you what 2018 might be and that's the year of the female-led kitchen. Like so many other spots I've featured this year Tipico Chicken is run by a team of ladies. The leader of whom is from the Dominican Republic. The menu features favorites from the DR as well as some popular snacks in Honduras such as rolled tacos. Fried chicken from both countries is offered. Since I was talking to the Dominican lady we went with the Dominican fried chicken also known as pica de pollo. Like everywhere else in the Caribbean the people of the DR like to fry their chicken hard. This results in an extra crispy breading which was the first thing you notice with this chicken. It's about as crispy as it can get which means the meat suffers a bit but when paired with their excellent black beans and rice this was a helluva lunch that was about as filling as any recent meal I've had. The question I'm sure some are asking is it on the level of the pica de pollo at Morena's? Not quite but still delicious.

Pica de Pollo at Tipico Chicken 

Always on the prowl for new to me things I can try I saw something called "yaroa" that caught my eye. I did a quick google search and came to learn this is a popular street snack in the Dominican. Not much different than salchipapas this popular snack is made using french fries as the base and then on top of them goes ground beef, sauces, and maybe some cheese. I read that in some cases the base is fried plantains and sometimes yucca. I'm guessing that much like salchipapas everyone makes them a bit differently. Tipico Chicken puts mayo, ketchup, mustard on top of theirs. This is like the Caribbean version of chili cheese fries. I could enjoy a plate of Yaroa late night after some beers.

Yaroa at Tipico Chicken

Tipico Chicken
4419 N Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 799-8807


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