Monday, August 31, 2020

Cucina 3

-Grubbing in Chicago
New School Italian Food on the NW Side

Over the last five years or so the Italian food in Chicago has gotten extraordinarily better. From an outsiders view looking in Chicago has always been a great town for Italian food. Yes and no. Great for Italian beef which is really more of a Chicago thing (by way of Italians) and also both tavern thin and deep dish pizza (same thing). There's a few red sauce spots here and there but most of them are well past their prime. The new wave of places is offering more regionally focused food, pizza of all varieties, and pasta crafted by passionate pasta people and not just those looking for something with a good profit margin. Today's featured place describes itself as a purveyor of Italian Street Food but to me it feels like an updated version of the neighborhood Italian places that are fading away fast.

Locals favorite in Chicago / Norridge 

Cucina 3's location puts it in Chicago on the map but Norridge is basically across the street. The entire strip of Harlem up here is filled with Italian food purveyors such as Forno Rosso Pizzeria. The owners of the Neapolitan Pizzeria that also has a West Loop location are the owners of Cucina 3. It opened a little over a year ago. It's location in the corner of the city means it's relatively unknown outside the area. Though from what I could tell on my three visits they have a gang of regulars. Everyone seemed to know each other and now they all know me. The menu breaks down into quite a few sections hence my comparison to the old red sauce type spots. They got something for everyone. No pizza but they do make panzerotti which is the famous Italian style turnover (empanada like in prep though not in size) most popular in Southern Italy. They also got the Chicago style fried shrimp. I call it Chicago style bc they use a heavy batter which isn't my favorite but I still enjoy them.

Gulf Fried Shrimp at Cucina 3

I've only gotten to try one sandwich but it was good enough to where I'll be trying a few more as the days go by. Their chicken milanese is outstanding from the fresh lightly breaded chicken cutlet to the fresh Mighty Vine tomatoes and made in-house fries. I'm not sure where they get their bread but with so many Italian bakeries out this way it's not surprising to find it work so well. I usually don't pine for a chicken sandwich but this is one I've wished was closer since I first had it. Really well made. Same goes for the salads. No picture but I picked up dinner from here once and we got a chopped salad that was a good prelude to an order of pasta and some bakery sheet pizza from next door.

Chicken Milanese at Cucina 3

The pasta portion of the menu includes two sections. There's the house-made pasta which has a handful of classics like spaghetti alla carbonara and Gnocchetti con Pesto. Our favorite offering is the Orecchiette served with Italian sausage, rapini, peperoncino, pecorino. It's a simple pasta (all the good ones are) but not something I've been able to mimic at home just yet. They make really well rounded pasta dishes here. Sometimes at home I find myself wondering what I'm missing and honestly it's most likely the fact pasta taste better from restaurants (that know what they're doing) bc they have a wonderful silky emulsion of water that's constantly cooking the pasta. It tastes better. 


On one trip we ate outside on the small patio in the middle of the strip mall parking lot. I'd overheard a regular contemplating trying something new or going with his standard order of "the best baked ziti there is." This convinced me to try it as it is also listed as one of the house specials. He gave me a good rec but sometimes I forget I make a really wonderful baked ziti myself and I like it a certain way so it's hard for me to find better. Though if you don't want to make it at home Cucina 3 offers a good version with lots of sausage and baked mozzarella. If you're ever out this way make it a point to stop here.

Baked Ziti at Cucina 3 

Cucina 3
4630 N Cumberland Ave Suite 1
Chicago, IL 60656
(773) 417-3301

Friday, August 28, 2020

Pressed Cafe

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
Latin American Sandwiches in Skokie

I love a good pressed sandwich. So when I passed by Pressed Latin Sandwich Cafe on Oakton in Skokie I made sure to take a mental note. Some online research later that day told me this was a well reviewed sandwich and coffee shop. They claim to serve the best Cuban sandwich and jibarito on the Northshore. Skokie is not part of the Northshore but I'll tell you my thoughts on the jibarito below.

 Locals Favorite in Skokie

Normally I would go for the Cuban sandwich on the first visit. I decided the jibarito looked better as I'm very particular on the building of a good Cuban sandwich. Plus my gluten free cousin was with me and she's of course a big jibarito fan being GF and all. Also for what it's worth online reviews make mention of the jibarito the most. I went with a classic steak version dressed traditionally with cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. We got an order of Yuca fries on the side of one of our sandwiches and then also a cup of rice and peas plus a cup of elotes. The sides were alright. The yuca fries which are made with cassava were the ones I'd get again next time. The jibarito was well made with the most important part the smashed plantain itself being crisp and not greasy. The tender steak was loaded with the cumin. Mixed with melted cheese and grilled onions made it that much better.

Steak Jibarito with Yucca Fries at Pressed Latino Sandwich Cafe 

Pressed Cafe
4845 Oakton St
Skokie, IL 60077
(224) 251-7649

Monday, August 24, 2020


-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

Here's another hot spot with connections to Chicago's Michelin starred Oriole restaurant. The recently opened Kasama occupies the old Winchester space in Ukrainian Village. It's ran by a husband and wife team who worked at Oriole prior to opening Kasama. As reported at Eater they sold out of food completely on their first day as legions of friends and fans came out for the couples chef driven Filipino food cooked by him and fresh baked pastries cooked by her. The menu is small but mighty.

 Recently Opened in Ukrainian Village 

For now Kasama feels like it does when you just move into somewhere new. Much of this is due to the current pandemic and thus there is no indoor dining at the moment. That said they have a beautiful patio in the back that customers can use and there's not going to be a better time this year to use it than right now. So I suggest taking advantage of it while you can. But even if you're looking for takeout the food seems to be the type that can withstand some travel. The pastries for sure.

 a peek inside 

Customers can browse a menu in the doorway and then walk in where you're immediately greeted by the pastry display case and someone ready to take your order. The baked options are pretty overwhelming and from the looks of them you cant go wrong picking any of them as you'll read down below. As for the Filipino food there's only a few options but I feel like that could change as they settle in. For now they do a classic Chicken Adobo as well as a vegetarian mushroom version. My mind was made up when I saw they're also offering a traditional Filipino breakfast of longanisa and or tocino (thinly sliced marinated pork) with a fried egg and garlic rice. One of my favorite ways to start the day and this version was as good as it gets. Particularly the house loganisa which ate like a hot link.

 Filipino Breakfast at Kasama

We also got some delicious pork lumpia egg rolls paired with a chocolate chip cookie from that kick ass pastry case. Speaking of which that ham and cheese danish (pictured below with a luscious cinnamon roll) is Paris quality good. Eater said it may be the best new bite in the city and that's not a claim I'm going to dispute. The combination of raclette, and shaved Serrano ham on a danish is indeed one of the best thing's I've ate of late. I really hope we can get our act together as a country and get covid contained so that places like Kasama can get back to what they had planned before it's unwanted arrival. Because what they've done under the circumstances is really damn impressive. 

Lumpia Shanghai and Pastries at Kasama 

1001 N Winchester Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 697-3790

Friday, August 21, 2020

Back of the Yards Street Taco Tour

- On the road with the 'Chicago Taco Tour'

Regular readers might remember a popular post from last year featuring street tacos in Chicago. Well today I have a sequel to that. We'll be heading to the Swap-O-Rama Flea Market on Ashland where on weekends there's a large concentration of street vendors surrounding it. The Swap-O-Rama has three locations in Chicago but it's the Back of the Yards location on Ashland that's the most popular. Although they're open on some weekdays you want to visit when it's at it's peak on the weekend.

Swap-O-Rama on Ashland

The flea market itself is pretty massive. I'd say it stretches for a few blocks (each way) outside and then there's probably 100+ vendor stalls inside. I'm not going to lie. Most of what's being sold is junk. But not everything as you can find stuff like ziplock bags, car tires, socks, and even toys for kids. It's a family affair as the walkways are lined with them out enjoying their weekends. As far as my interests go there's a few vendors specializing in chiles, nuts and candy, and also beans. It's a $2 entrance fee to get in and will take you at least 40 minutes to walk around all of the outside. It's big.

Sights from the Flea Market

The flea market is cool for like 15 minutes but the real reason you want to venture out here is the street food found outside the market. The best place to start is the corner of 42nd street and Marshfield. This is where the action is. Depending on the time of the day you're likely to find more than 20+ vendors lining both Marshfield from 42nd street to 43rd street and then also 43rd street from Marshfield all the way down to Western. The vendors on 43rd street are a bit more spread out so you may want to drive up and down as opposed to walk. Parking is pretty easy though it can get busy on Sunday's. I've visited a few times this summer and only a few of the vendors have been there every time. They seem to come and go so consider this the best of what's been there on my visits.

Sights from Back of the Yards 

Mesquite Grilled Steak Tacos

Despite it's size there's only a few food vendors inside the actual market. One of them was worth stopping for as soon as I smelled the smoke. I don't have a name but it's easy to find this stand as it's directly to the right of the indoors entrance. You'll see a crowd and if they're grilling the steak you'll see a cloud of smoke hovering above. They grill beef over mesquite charcoal and load the tacos up with a couple handfuls worth of smokey steak. I could easily down a few but there's lots to eat here.

Carne Asada Taco in the Swap-O-Rama

Tacos De Canasta 

Today's virtual walk through will start at the corner of 42nd street and Marshfield. On a few of my visits there's been a family selling tacos de canasta in the morning. Some vendors will arrive earlier than others and leave earlier too. I'd say peak time is from 10a-1p. Tacos de Canasta being one of the most popular forms of breakfast in Mexico. They're getting big here too finally. Click HERE for more.

Tacos De Canasta in Back of the Yards 

Tacos de Cabeza

Cabeza (cow head) is another popular breakfast taco in Mexico. I've had some amazing tacos de cabeza down there. They don't seem to be quite as good here but I was intrigued by this stand that sets up on Marshfield here and there. Both the cabeza and al pastor are worth stopping for. 

Cabeza Taco in Back of the Yards 

Carnitas Tacos

You can pretty much count on this family from Michoacán to be selling carnitas on both Saturday's and Sunday's. They've been up and running on each of my visits. You can tell they're popular bc cars will pull up and order a bunch of food to take somewhere and eat. Carnitas are fried up on site in a huge copper pot and available a variety of ways. Whether it's in a taco or quesadilla they make the tortillas for both on site. Really nice family with multiple generations working. Loved the surtido taco.

Carnitas Taco in Back of the Yards

Tacos de Birria

This stand on Marshfield just off 43rd (across from Don Bigotes) popped up a couple weeks ago. They're selling birria de res which if you read my recent story on you'd know is one of the hottest trends in food. You can find my recent story on where to get it in Chicago HERE. In the meantime add this little stand to the list. They make their quesabirria by putting the cheese in between two tortillas which isn't as good as melting it with the meat but it's still a nice taco with tender birria.

Quesabirria in Back of the Yards 

Tacos Acorazados

I stopped on 43rd as soon as I saw the sign for these. “Battleship tacos” are a regional specialty from Cuernavaca where they load them up with rice, hard boiled egg, grilled onion, nopales, guisados, and more. Not only are these rare in the States but they're pretty rare in Mexico outside of Morelos as well. Steak Milanesa is a popular filling and is a great choice here. This little stand is ran by a lovely couple from Cicero via Cuernavaca. Ask for "milanesa con huevo por favor". Their rice is so good.

Taco Acorazado in Back of the Yards


One of the most popular stands is this little blue awning that covers a large frying pot. These guys sell gorditas, pescadillas, and pieces of fried fish. I saw one girl eating what looked like a jalapeno stuffed with shredded fish, breaded and then fried. They also sell tacos de canasta and have a taco truck that parks on Archer near Montgomery. Pescadillas are hard shell tacos with shredded fish and sometimes cheese inside. One of the guys makes these nonstop as another fries them and another collects cash. The tortillas are held together with tooth picks so be careful for those if you try them. I cant eat more than two but damn they're delicious. Another thing I love about street taco stands is they usually have a really good salsa bar setup and that's the case here. Look for them on 43rd street. They seem to be there every weekend from what I can tell. Worth the stop for sure.

Pescadillas in Back of the Yards 

Tacos al Pastor 

There's a few stands selling al pastor sliced from the trompo. None are as good as Lucido's but this one based out of a loading dock on 43rd is still worth a stop. It's more of the Chicago Style al pastor in that it's sliced pretty thick from the cone and then blackened up on the flattop. If you've had the al pastor from Tierra Caliente or El Heredero on the city's Northside this is very similar. The difference is in the salsa bar. This stand probably has the best salsa bar on the block as there's at least ten options on the table including a fantastic smokey red salsa served out of a molcajete. Great setup.

Tacos al Pastor in Back of the Yards 

Barbacoa de Borrego

If you turn down onto 43rd street from Western you'll go down a couple blocks and then this stand will be the first one you pass. It may be the most popular of them all as there's always a crowd and I tried to go once around 1p and they were already done for the day. Their specialty is barbacoa borrego but they also serve up carne asada and a few other common taco fillings. That said it's the lamb they tout so that's what they consider their specialty and I stop for specialists. These were a great breakfast the day I ate them which was about 93 degrees so the aguas frescas was extra refreshing. 

Barbacoa de Borrego Tacos in Back of the Yards 

See ya next time @chibbqking

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Pizza Friendly Pizza

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

Every couple of months a spot will open in Chicago and receive the full blown food media blitz. By which I mean the few outlets left that are still dedicated to covering food in Chicago will be talking about it. The latest spot to receive this treatment is Pizza Friendly Pizza from Oriole Chef Noah Sandoval and team. This was one you could see coming as Oriole is considered by many to be the city's best fine dining restaurant but in the days of covid it's pizza that's been the popular pick. Which makes total sense all things considered. Last month I wrote about how Quesabirria is one of the country's hottest food trends and square pizza is another one that's hot. A handful of the trendier spots have added pizza to their menus and in the case of Pizza Friendly Pizza some chefs have opened new places entirely which focus on the popular style of square and rectangular pizza. As always this trend can be directly attributed to one of the coasts which in this case is out east in New York City. That said Detroit style pie has been trending for a while now. Of course NYC also plays a part in that. Pizza Friendly Pizza is doing Sicilian pan pizzas out of the old Bite Cafe on Western.

 Newly Opened in Ukrainian Village 

I visited Pizza Friendly Pizza during week one of it's existence. I'm guessing they have plans to eventually open the inside dining area but for now it's outdoor dining and takeout only. You have to go around the back and you can follow the sign for pizza at the corner of Western and Cortez. They should have someone directing the line which is something you should expect. It's one of the more popular openings of the year. I lucked out on my visit in that there was only a few people in line but that changed by the time I was leaving with my pizza. It's a walkup window type setup and there's a few tables scattered around the back if you want to dine in. The menu features four types of pan pizza, a few sandwiches, and some salads. Booze is available while you eat or wait. For now takeout is slices only as far as the pizza goes. If you want to order a full pie you need to plan ahead via tock.

Sicilian Pan Pizza at Pizza Friendly Pizza 

I decided to try three of the four pizzas on offer and very much enjoyed them all. That seems to be the verdict from pretty much every food media related person in town. Steve Dolinsky is the city's foremost pizza expert and he did a whole feature on square pizza HERE. The team at Eater Chicago recently placed Pizza Friendly Pizza on it's hottest pizzas in the city list. Mike G. over at Fooditor enjoyed a stop and had some good advice in that it's best reheated. There's instructions on how to do so but yeah when it's all made ahead of time the cheese isn't going to be hot by the time you get home. Nick K. at the Tribune is currently doing a slice roundup so you can expect to read his thoughts soon. But if you follow him on Insta you already know he liked it. Still waiting to hear from Sula who's always zigged when others zag so we may stay waiting. Over in the social media realm there's a guy I follow @brianerst who really knows his pizza. He said "The crust is super light and very crispy, if a little bland. The toppings were top notch - nice sauce and good cheese." Perhaps the most in depth review has come from another guy I follow on Social Media @zemanation. RIP Phred.

The Insides 

Pizza Friendly Pizza
1039 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60622

Monday, August 17, 2020

Sabe a Zulia

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Regional Venezuelan Food on Fullerton

I'm slowly working my way through the spots that opened slightly before the pandemic. Today's stop Sabe a Zulia is one of them. They opened right around the end of 2019 out on the 5300 block of West Fullerton. Chicago has gone from zero Venezuelan restaurants to a handful and counting in the last five years or so. Sabe a Zulia might be the most exciting of them all at least for me as it's a regionally focused spot. Zulia is one of the 23 states of Venezuela. A country that's gone into disarray and in doing so forced many of it's citizens to flee looking for a better life. It's not just Chicago that's seen a boom in Venezuelan food it's the US as a whole. It's no longer exclusive to just South Florida.

 Locals Favorite in Belmont-Cragin 

When I first saw Sabe a Zulia was open in a recently opened restaurants search I searched around and found their instagram page. It seems as though Venezuelan's in the States are great at networking with other Venezuelans as their account has thousands of followers and is updated often. It's all in Spanish but the translation option works pretty well. Through that (and online google reviews) I was able to learn that they focus on food from a specific region of Venezuela. You'll see there's quite a few menu items not found at other Venezuelan spots around town. But for starters they offer up some very traditional options. Tequeños are to Venezuela as mozzarella sticks are to the United States. Actually these are probably more popular over there than mozzarella sticks are here. They're the quintessential Venezuelan snack. They're simply a fried breaded cheese stick or a spear of bread dough with queso blanco stuffed in the middle and fried. I feel like their deliciousness depends on if they're fried fresh or not but most spots pre-make them and keep them in the display case making for a quick snack. I haven't tried the pastelitos yet but those too are a popular Venezuelan snack.

Pabellón Empanada and Tequeño

Speaking of which there's a large of number of snacks on offer. The prices here are kind of ridiculous. There's no better example of this than the empanadas which are massive half moons of fried dough stuffed with a meal worth of food. I tried the Pabellón empanada thinking it would just be a regular sized 2-3 bite treat with some shredded beef which is basically what pabellón is (it's one of the country's most popular meals). Surprised I was when I picked it up and it felt like the heaviest empanada I've ever lifted. That's bc it was stuffed with shredded beef, cheese, rice, beans, and a plantain. It was an entire pabellón dinner in empanada form and just $3.50. The hot dogs cost $2 which seems almost unfair. Fine they're not made with a natural casing Vienna Beef or anything like that but they are enjoyable if like me you get a kick out of Latin American hot dog culture. Every country loads up their dogs differently and as a lifelong Chicagoan this is something I can respect. In most Latin American countries there is no specific way to eat a hot dog as most stands offer a ton of topping options. That said each country has a specific topping combination they're known for. In Venezuela they like to eat their hot dogs with ketchup, mustard, mayo (or mayo based sauce), shredded cabbage, and potato stix. That's the tasty topping combination you're looking at below.

 Venezuelan Hot Dog in Chicago 

Another post from their instagram page that intrigued me was their sandwich selection. I guess sandwiches are big in Zulia where they call them morochos. An online review reads "It tastes like Zulia lives up to its name! These Morochos gave me back to my childhood in my beloved Maracaibo" so of course I was intrigued. Maracaibo is the capitol city of Zulia and a quick search of it paired with "morochos" nets you lots of info on spots serving these sandwiches in the city. They must like their pressed ham and cheese sandwiches bc that's essentially what these are. It was my first morocho so nothing to compare to but at $4 it's got a great price to taste ratio. Intrigued to try other versions.

 Morocho estilo Maracaibo at Sabe a Zulia 

The regional dish that hit the spot hardest was what they call a "Aguita de Sapo" on the menu. Which translates to toad water on instagram. A quick google search reveals these are also popular in the state of Zulia but it's confusing bc there's apparently a drink in Costa Rica called toad water so it's hard to find a recipe. That said they're fried arepas that are cut in half to act like a top and bottom bun and in between goes both a piece of fried cheese and lots of shredded cabbage and pernil (pork). Again at just $4 each this is pretty much a complete meal. But it did suffer a little in carryout mode.

 Aguita de Sapo at Sabe a Zulia 

Perhaps the most intriguing dish was a Cabimera style Arepa. While they do offer traditional arepas and in two sizes at that I couldn't pass on a chance to check this regional style out. Even if I knew it was probably not going to get finished. I saw a pic on instagram and I'm pretty sure this dish would intimidate most but certain parts of Latin America seem to have a love for dishes like this. It's kind of like an arepa meets nachos dish. It starts out with a fried arepa (or two) that are chopped up into bite size pieces. In the nacho comparison they play the chips. After that comes an array of popular Venezuelan arepa toppings and fillings including shredded beef, ham, shredded cheese, hard boiled egg, pickled onions, ketchup, mayo, and Parmesan. A little too much for us but to each their own. The most popular item with customers, all of whom seem to be Venezuelan, is the patacon. This is another culinary claim to fame of Maracaibo. The patacon is quite similar to the jibarito actually in that it substitutes fried plantains for bread. But at Sabe a Zulia they make a massive version that has to be eaten with a knife and fork. Served in small and large the large comes on a sizzling platter with about a pound of meat and melted cheese over the top. Seems like it wouldn't travel well so I'll try that when dining inside is less riskier. Like I said it seems as though Venezuelans network well so if you visit on a weekend you can expect them to be pretty busy as it's a small space. More to come.

Cabimera Arepa at Sabe a Zulia 

Sabe a Zulia
5306 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 417-4671

Friday, August 14, 2020


-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

It's hard to believe but restaurants keep opening. Maybe not as many as before and probably not as many in six months but for now many places planned pre-pandemic are still giving it a go. That's the story with the team behind Osteria Langhe in Logan Square. They recently opened Testaccio over on California in the space formerly occupied by Quiote. Like Osteria Langhe the menu is regional.

 Newly Opened in Logan Square 

Italian food is very regional and there's no better example of this than the food of Rome. But there's more than the four pastas and porchetta. That said you can expect to find the heavyweights of Roman cuisine on the menu at Testaccio. The space itself is a big spot with plenty of room for outdoor dining. I noticed there were people dining inside on our visit but we made sure to ask for outside seats specifically. I'll have to admit to feeling a bit nervous here and there. Well maybe not nervous but annoyed. I'm not sure this can work for the long haul. It certainly cant work during winter. But it's stuff that's going to have to be dealt with if you want to enjoy a night out anytime soon. The evening got much better when the food started arriving. Cacio e Pepe is served with Orecchiette which works just fine. The simplest of Roman pastas isn't so easy to make but Testaccio crushed it. They had the sauce to where it was basically like gravy. The advantage of cooking pasta in the same water all night. Of course the cheese was of high quality and the pepper was extra fresh. But technique is key.

 Cacio e Pepe at Testaccio 

They have a small section of pastas (4) but they're all tempting. Tortellini en Brodo is one of my favorite pasta preparations but it's from Bologna not Rome. Though here they make a Tortellini Amatriciana with a ham brodo and it was pretty much on point as far as the prep of the dish goes. Though I didn't like it nearly as much as the cacio e pepe which the waiter had told us was best.

 Tortellini Amatriciana 

We didn't get any of the skewers but it was cool seeing them on the menu. Some of the best lamb skewers I ever had were on a trip to Rome not too long ago. I've heard good things but we decided to go with a Roman style Surf & Turf for our next course(s). The surf part being a well made whole grilled branzino fish with braised greens, castelvetrano olives, preserved lemon. The fish was stuffed with herbs too so they really penetrated the tender fall apart flesh. This was good summer eating.

 Whole Branzino at Testaccio

The turf part would be the porchetta. Duh. One of my favorites as far as sandwiches go and also really good when ate on a plate with pickled mustard seed, apple, gremolata, and salsa verde (not the spicy Mexican kind but the herb-y Italian blend). The pork was crispy on the outside and near jello like from within. Really good and even better when crisped up extra in a pan the next day. I noticed they still have the truck that the Quiote team sold tacos out of and thought it would be really cool if they did daytime suppli and or porchetta sandwiches out of it at Testaccio. But that's just me being greedy. We need to embrace places like this now more than ever so I suggest going now and enjoying a nice meal out if that's something you're comfortable doing. Otherwise it could be all Olive Garden's soon. Much love to Aldo Zaninotto and team. They've brought the area another great regional Italian option.

Porchetta at Testaccio 

2456 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 661-6028


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