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)

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 

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 

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

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 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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

Monday, March 15, 2021

Quarantine Food Highlights Pt. 3

 -Grubbing in Chicago
Ghost Kitchens, Pivots, and Pop-Ups 

Indoor dining has returned at some spots but I'm not quite there yet. The same can be said for the restaurants themselves many of which have yet to pivot back to indoor dining at all. Many spots have had to shift their business models and menus around to make it easier to get through the pandemic. This has happened a variety of ways including the emergence of ghost kitchens and the addition of sandwiches and such to menus. Today's post takes a look at five spots I've been able to check out during this year long lockdown. Eventually we'll get back to normal but I have a feeling some places that pivoted during the outbreak might not go back to what they were before it. They'll open their doors to diners again and many of the menu items, pop-ups, and walkup windows will remain. 


Big Kids (@bigkidschicago)

First stop is a sandwich shop born during the pandemic. Logan Square's Young American bar needed to find something they could do with their large bar space located on the square. So they decided to team up with a well known chef in New Orleans who runs a popular chef driven sandwich shop called Turkey & the Wolf. It was named the best new restaurant in America by Bon Appetit in 2017 so it was big news around the food circuit when it was announced they'd be bringing their popular vegan collard melt to Chicago. Said melt has arrived and more than lived up to the hype based on others reviews. Also making an appearance from Nola is an upscale bologna sandwich (as in not the Oscar Meyer stuff on white bread) loaded with potato chips. The Big Kids name is a nod to the vibe this place gives off. Both in it's online presence and also the food they make. The menu has switched up with the likes of sketti egg rolls (spaghetti fried in egg roll form), Veggie CrunchWraps (Taco Bell like crunchwraps with Bahn Mi fillings), and the Space Torpedo which is one of my favorites. It's something a stoner working at the local sub shop circa 1976 might concoct after a “bathroom break” - but boy is it great. Turkey, Pastrami, Pasta Salad, Shredded Lettuce, Garlic Mayo, and Smoked Mozzarella on a hoagie roll. Somehow this tasted nostalgic even though they just opened. Looking forward to checking out their new smashed burger concept - "shiddy burger" which they're currently doing on Monday's. 

The Space Torpedo from Big Kids Sandwich Shop 


House of Fire (@house_of_fire_chicago)

This next stop has given me new hope for what ghost kitchens can become. When I first started reading about these large venues that host multiple restaurants I was a bit skeptic. Heck I still am and that's bc a decent percentage of the spaces rented out in these ghost kitchen campuses are by the likes of Wendy's and Chick-Fil-A etc. This one in Avondale pictured above hosts a TGI-Friday's. But it's also the home to House of Fire which is the city's first or least it's only current Azerbaijani restaurant. Azerbaijan being a former Soviet Republic that stretches across both Europe and Asia. Thus you can expect those wonderful aromas and flavors associated with Central Asian cuisine. I love both Georgian Dumplings (Khinkali) and also the Russian version called pelmeni. So I was excited to try the Azeri dumplings called Gurze. They're made with lamb and seasoned with what might be cinnamon and dill as well as other bold spices and served with a yogurt dipping sauce. One thing I don't like about ghost kitchens is the fact you don't get to see the people behind these places so it's tough to ask questions. One of the best things I've ate this year was something called a Qutab which is a stuffed Azerbaijani flatbread. I tried the lamb version which is described as a thin pocket of dough filled with minced lamb and spices. They come two to an order and different fillings are offered. 

Azeri Food from House of Fire 

Howdy Kolache (@HowdyKolache)

Exciting news! Texas style kolache is now found in Chicago. This popular morning snack is found all over Central Texas by way of immigrant families from Czechoslovakia. It's Tex-Czech! Originally called klobasniky and traditionally filled with just fruits these sweet yeast pastries started to get stuffed with stuff like sausage, jalapeño, and eggs after they arrived in Texas. More than a century later they’re as common as breakfast tacos and found at just about every coffee shop, bakery, and gas station throughout the Texas Czech Belt. As of now they’re only available to Chicago during pop-ups and at select coffee shops (The Sipping Turtle Cafe in Avondale is one of them). But keep an eye out and follow their Instagram for updates. They’re just getting started. I got hooked up with a box from one of the owners and I’m patiently waiting for their next public offering. Such a cool little setup. 

Texas Style Kolache from Howdy Kolache 

Brasseaux's Cajun Kitchen (@brasseauxscajunkitchen)

Here's another interesting option out of a South Loop ghost kitchen. I figured with a last name like Brasseaux that these people would know a thing or two about gumbo and such. Haha. I also read in a Block Club Chicago article that the owner was from down there. Good color and spice in the gumbo but it seemed to be lacking a certain something. Exactly what I don't know but I could tell from the prep of it that the potential is there. The Jambalaya was seasoned well too and even more importantly cooked properly as in not to a mush. Boudin balls were a bit dry and could’ve used some hot sauce but at the same time I knew fried food wouldn’t travel well, another demerit you could give ghost kitchens. As good as the food is in NOLA it’s better in Cajun Country so it’s nice to have a spot doing stuff like etouffee and such. I'm guessing the hope for most ghost kitchens is to go brick and mortar. 

Cajun Food from Brasseaux's Cajun Kitchen

Hermosa Restaurant (@hermosachicago)

I wrote about the Cambodian fried chicken sandwich from here in my last 'quarantine eats' post. But Hermosa continues to be one of the city's best evolving restaurants as it's still a hot dog stand but it's also a great place to go these days for home cooked Cambodian food stuffed into sandwiches and such. The young owner / chef continues to ramp up his menu offerings and is doing so in a way that's super affordable. Hermosa currently boasts a 'BIG FLAVA .. small price' part of it's menu and most of the items featured on it are Cambodian comfort food like a gridled rice or vegan green curry. There's also a few examples taking Cambodian dishes like Sach Chrouk and turning it into a sandwich. It's a Cambodian style pork chop with Southeast Asian style toppings including carrots, pickles, jalapeño served on a sub roll slathered with garlic mayo. Excellent! I paired an order of Mee Kula noodles with my sandwich and it was perfect. The Mee Kula ($6) consists of rice noodles tossed with pickled cucumbers, radish, beansprouts, crushed peanuts, and dried shrimp powder with fish sauce served with a hard boiled egg and some spicy Sambal Oelek like chili sauce. A noodle dish popular with the Kula people of Cambodia. The fact you can pair that with a hot dog is such a cool Chicago thing. 

Cambodian Food from Hermosa Restaurant 

See ya next time @chibbqking


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