Friday, October 29, 2021

Talard Thai Market

-Grubbing in Chicago  
A Thai Supermarket in Uptown  

As I've mentioned before 2021 has been a big year for Thai restaurant openings. While the city's Thai restaurant scene is by no means new it keeps getting better. I feel like today's stop is a big part of the recent boom. Talard Thai Market is new but not brand new. It opened on Broadway in Uptown in Nov. of 2019. It was opened by a couple of Bangkok natives that met in Chicago. Mike Sula was on it early and you can check out his story for the Reader HERE. As noted Chicago has had a good number of Thai restaurants for a while now but this is the areas first newly opened Thai market in over a decade.

Locals Favorite in Uptown 

From a market standpoint Talard is the first spot you should check when in need of Thai ingredients of any sort. If it's common in Thai cooking or a product from Thailand they're more likely to have it here than anywhere else around town. Local cookbook author Leela Punyaratabandhu is mentioned in Sula's piece as she's written two of the best Thai cookbooks you can find in English and is also the person behind the blog SheSimmers where she shares with the world some of her favorite Thai recipes. If you're looking to get into Thai cooking her work is the first stuff you should look at as far as research. After that you can head over to Talard bc you're going to want to try and make it all.

Steam Table at Talard Thai Market 

If you're more interested in leaving the Thai food to the Thai cooks around town don't fret bc Talard also boasts a cafeteria type setup in the back of the store. In Thailand this setup is called a khao rad gang and it's similar to a meat and three cafeteria of the American south. If you visit on the weekend they have more than 20 home cooked Thai dishes ranging from morning glory curry to rotating specials like Khao Kha Moo aka stewed pork leg. This is a dish I immensely enjoyed in Chiang Mai at the world famous "Cowboy Hat Lady" stand. I have vivid memories of a meal there which I partook in with a bunch of Chinese businessmen. Though we didn't speak the same language we communicated through our enjoyment of the food we were eating. Those memories were triggered when eating this.

Khao Kha Moo at Talard Thai Market 

On the same visit I got the stewed pork leg they were also making Khanom Tokyo (Thai style Dorayaki) to order. These too brought back memories of our trip to Thailand as there's a famous stand in Bangkok called Mr. Tokio that sells this popular street snack that's enjoyed by all. It's a made to order thin flat pancake that's wrapped around either a sweet or savory filling. A Thai adaptation of Japanese Doriyaki. I enjoyed the sweet custard cream and the savory sliced hot dog equally. The opening of Talard Thai Market has brought easier access to hard to find Thai ingredients and with that it's taken the city's Thai food scene up a notch into the echelon of the likes of LA and Las Vegas. 

Khanom Tokyo at Talard Thai Market 

Talard Thai Market
5353 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 942-6566

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

La Nonna

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Argentine-Italian in Avondale 

While I haven't been to every single restaurant in Chicago there's not many restaurants that I at least don't know of. This may sound like an exaggeration to some but after more than 15 years of exploring the city and it's suburbs through food I've driven past or browsed online just about every spot in town. When a new place opens up I recognize it as new right away no matter which neighborhood I'm driving through. Ok so this isn't 100% true in that I'm sure there's a few restaurants around town that not even I have researched but I'm confident I'm as familiar with the city's dining scene as anyone. So I was quite surprised when I stumbled upon La Nonna while looking up something else online. 

Locals Favorite in Avondale

When I first came across La Nonna (likely on google or yelp) I figured it was new, I hadn't heard of or seen it after all. But then I saw they had 100's of reviews and I couldn't believe I had zero recollection of this popular Argentinean-Italian restaurant in my noggin. A couple weeks later my mom, niece and myself needed a spot to get lunch and La Nonna was the perfect spot. According to an old DNAinfo article I found online La Nonna opened in 2017. The business partners behind it are both Argentinean and many of the recipes used come from one of their grandmothers. We had plans to visit Buenos Aires in March of 2020 but you know how that went. Chicago has a handful of Argentinean food options but for the most part they're steak type spots. La Nonna offers up a classic Argentine milenesa which is sometimes referred to as the country's unofficial dish. It's a humble meal of sliced and breaded beef that has roots in Italy. A popular way to enjoy milenesa is "a la napolitana" where it comes served topped with marinara, ham, and mozzarella cheese. It's a massive plate of food.

Milenesa a la Napolitana at La Nonna

While I enjoyed the milenesa I was really impressed with the choripan sandwich. You can find these all over Buenos Aires and debates over which spot serves up the best are often had. Even though the ingredients used are basically the same everywhere (chorizo sausage, bread, chimichurri) every porteño has a favorite place to eat them. La Nonna serves a split grilled sausage which is called a mariposa (butterfly) inside a well paired toasted roll with a slather of housemade chimichurri and lettuce, tomato, onion. It comes with fresh cut fries on the side. The end result is the best choripan sandwich I've had. Granted I haven't had a ton but it was an excellent sandwich overall. Perhaps the main reason La Nonna had evaded me for so long is the fact it sits in a very residential part of town.

Choripan Sandwich at La Nonna 

La Nonna
3400 N Lawndale Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 253-4741

Monday, October 25, 2021

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen

-Grubbing in Chicago  
New to the 'Scene'

Chicago has a decent Vietnamese food scene in that it's better than many but not on the same level as others. While Chinese and Thai restaurants are opening all the time around town you don't see as many Vietnamese spots joining the hustle. That seems to slowly be changing. The opening of Sochi Saigonese Kitchen is the latest example. It's not on Argyle or as far as north as most of the city's better Vietnamese options. It's actually in Lakeview of all places which could be another sign that Vietnamese food is close to going mainstream here in the Midwest like it already has out West. 

Recently Opened in Lakeview

Sochi is the project of a local couple and it's their first go at owning a restaurant. They're from Ho Chi Minh City originally so as far as the pho goes you can expect the Southern Vietnamese style. I suggest starting with an order of their unique around town egg rolls which are fried with a special rice paper they get from Vietnam. They're stuffed with pork and shrimp as well as rice noodles and herbs. These are popular throughout Vietnam but you don't see them too often in the States. 

Egg Rolls at Sochi Saigonese Kitchen 

The menu reflects the feel of the nice and sunny space. It's got an updated feel and has lots of elements you expect to find at a spot somewhere on Randolph, open air kitchen, loud music, younger crowd. I'd bet the Slap Ya Mama Crab Fried Rice is a popular dish with the groups out to eat. It comes with jumbo lump crab meat and also some butter grilled shrimp and was enjoyed by my wife. 

Crab Fried Rice 

I had to go with the pho since this was my first visit. As mentioned they do a Southern Vietnamese style recipe with flat and wider noodles and both short rib and skirt steak. First off I cant stress enough how important it is that pho come served piping hot and I was glad to see Sochi pass that test. They describe the broth as bone marrow broth and it had some nice deep beef flavor. A big plate of stuff comes on the side so you can customize the flavors of your beef noodle soup. I read that hoisin is a popular pho condiment in Southern Vietnam and I enjoyed the addition of it in this. Another thing I appreciated was the freshness of all the herbs served on the side. As far as our meal goes it was quite enjoyable and better than most other options in the area. The menu's limited right now so in time you might find a few more regional options. They serve a skirt steak banh mi during the daytime but I haven't been able to make it over for that. Sochi hits the spot if looking for Vietnamese in Lakeview. 

Pho at Sochi Saigonese Kitchen 

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen
1358 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 904-8511

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Eating BIG in Asheville Pt. 2

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties 
- Good Food and Great Outdoors in Western Carolina

I still haven’t boarded a plane since February 2019. However since then we have taken three long (15+ hours) roadtrips with the most recent being an excursion into North Carolina where we stayed in the Asheville area for a week before heading over to Charlotte for a couple of nights. This was our second roadtrip to Asheville and my first time visiting Charlotte. We wanted to go somewhere with a rich outdoor setting and ended up choosing Asheville over Colorado bc it’s a little closer but really bc it’s got a much better food scene than any of the other mountain towns. I can’t think of an American city with under 100,000 people that has a harder hitting chef driven food scene than Asheville. There’s lots of good spots in this Western Carolina mountain town that has access to great local ingredients and a ton of amazing locally brewed beers to feature on tap. It’s got a food and drink scene like you might expect to find in other more well known destinations. Plus amazing scenery outside of the city. 

Pics from Asheville 

Since we wanted a trip involved more around the outdoors we rented a spot in the quaint little suburb of Black Mountain. This was more so based on the rental itself which was private and away from others with an outdoor firepit sitting next to a creek. It was a great rental for a great price. The type of spot we wanted since we would be there for a week. Black Mountain itself felt like really nice place to live. There's an abundance of waterfalls in Western Carolina and we made it a point to visit as many as possible. If you go to my instagram page and click the stories under Asheville you can check out some of the waterfalls we saw and trails we hiked. There's a ton of options but you'll definitely need a car as most are not going to be within walking distance of the city. Another reason it's good to have a car is you can ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the country's best scenic drives except there's countless places you can pull over and enjoy the serene settings surrounding you on foot and bike. 

The Waterfalls of Western Carolina 

Views from the Mountains 


Benne is an ode to the old block it sits on. It’s located on Eagle Street in a historic Asheville neighborhood called ‘The Block’. It was home to a thriving African American community that's only recently become popular again, with gentrification. The beautiful space features murals by acclaimed local artist Joseph Pearson. Included on the wall are the drawings of four local women whose culinary, professional, and personal impact on The Block in the 1960s and 1970s is said to still be felt today. It’s also said one of them (Mary Jo Johnson) made a legendary cheeseburger, sounds like my type of spot. The menu here honors soul food and how it relates to both Appalachia and Asheville in particular. Lots to like including Haitian Crawfish Rice made with Carolina Gold Rice, Baked Mac & Cheese with Gouda, Muenster, and Sharp Cheddar, and an order of braised cream collard greens with pickled fennel. The type of spot you should make a point of stopping in at if visiting Asheville.

Dinner at Benne


I wasn't expecting to be eating French Canadian breakfast fare in the Blue Ridge Mountains but Sawhorse made this possible. It's ran by a guy from Albany who's family vacationed near the United States and Quebec border during the summer. He moved to Asheville from Chicago so I guess this is one that got away. French Canadian food has a reputation of being good fuel (pre-skiing) so this was the perfect stop post morning hikes. We actually visited twice. Buttermilk Pancakes were outstanding as was the Lumbercamp breakfast special consisting of meat pie, maple beans, homefries, dressed greens, eggs. An order of almost completely made from scratch poutine was as good as I've had in the States. Even though Quebec isn't close by Sawhorse fits in Asheville perfectly. 

Brunch at Sawhorse 

Forestry Camp

Speaking of spots with a very Asheville type setup Forestry Camp is exactly that. It's a restaurant production from the people behind Burial Beer located on the same strip of land as the brewery. I thought this picturesque Olive Brined Whole Smoked Local Trout with Maque Choux, Tomato, and Corn Broth plus herbs was maybe the best dish we ate all trip. It checked all the marks as far as locally procured ingredients made to taste really good goes. The trout was smoked / being smoked just a few feet from where we were sitting. We also had a really nice locally made cheese plate. 

Smoked Trout at Forestry Camp 

All Souls Pizza

There's no shortage of hipish spots with big patios in Asheville. All Souls Pizza is one of the more popular spots in the bunch. They keep up the local trend of using fresh regional ingredients to make wood fired pizzas and such. They feature a fish dish that's always changing which on our visit was wood roasted whole sardines served with a warm potato salad including olives. We both enjoyed this enough we wanted to return for more but they would end up closing temporarily due to an employee having possible contact with someone who was covid positive. As far as the pizza goes I was reluctant to get the pie made with country ham, eggs, garlic and mozzarella but the waitress sold me on it and insisted I get an order of their east coast pepper spread to smear on top. Great call as this was one of the better non tomato pies I ever tried and the pepper spread made it that much better. 

Dinner at All Souls Pizza

Jimmy Nix and Sons Apple House (Fried Pie setup on weekends - weather pending)

The town of Hendersonville is about 40 minutes south of Asheville. It's a gateway to the Dupont National Forest as well as the Pisgah National Forest and Green River Gamelands. It's a pretty vibrant community of about 15,000 people and it's one of the states big apple producers. There's a strip of farms along 64 and Jimmy Nix and Sons caught my eye due to a fried pie setup outside. It was ran by an older couple and she made them completely from scratch to order. Starting with the rolling of the dough all the way to dropping it in the fryer before he bagged each one. What a surprise these were as they were maybe the most memorable item I ate on this trip. There's nothing like these were I'm from but having tried another spot (pre-fried) I realized just how special these were and got another. Both apple and peach were awesome but it was all about the crisp oil free lard laced crust.

Fried Pie in Hendersonville

Clarita's Papusas

I spied this trailer just up the road from the fried pie stop and pulled in to find papusas on offer. Sure why not?! The signature Salvadoran snack is something I always enjoy when I have them but I don't eat them nearly as much as I should. A papusa is a thick corn tortilla that's stuffed with savory stuff like cheese and refried beans (most popular combo). I enjoyed one stuffed with cheese and loroco which the guy told me grows wild around there (it's a wild edible flower native to Central America). 

Loroco Papusa at Clarita's Papusas

Proper Asheville

While browsing spots I came across what looked to be a proper steakhouse. I rarely go out to steak houses bc most don’t offer a better steak at a better price-point than getting a dry aged cut from my local butcher and grilling it up over live fire. But the menu here was tempting with options like tri-tip  and they were all grilled over live wood. I chose that served with a red chimichurri and we got lots of good sounding sides too. An order of wreckfish with smoked farro piccolo, fried okra threads, pickled sweet potato, apple purée for her plus buttermilk fried NC oysters for both of us. Sides ordered included a house baked Parker Roll, crispy confit potatoes with peri peri, assortment of wood grilled mushrooms, coal fired romano beans with feta, pickled peppers, and mint. Dessert was a Peach and Vanilla Panna Cotta with honey roast peaches, smoked bourbon cream, cinnamon almond tuile.  

Dinner Spread at Proper Asheville 

Hole Doughnuts 

We spied a crowd hovered around this colorful blue truck and decided to pull in. I then looked up Hole Doughnuts and found a spot with 1,500+ reviews and a near perfect score on google. No that doesn't mean much to me except to continue looking into it which I did. I found something from Food & Wine that named these the best donuts in the state. Another endorsement that doesn't mean much but can at least warrant a try. Actually it was the pics themselves and the small menu of fried to order doughnuts that did it. I got the toasted almond sesame and left wondering why I didn't try them all. 

Menu at Hole Doughnuts 

Session (inside Citizen Vinyl) 

"Citizen Vinyl is a communal space housing a record press facility, cafe, bar, recording studio & analog art & record store – located in the historic Citizen Times building in downtown Asheville. This grand civic space serves to celebrate the history of manufacturing & craft – alongside the current state of music, food & beverage within our local community." - Citizen Vinyl Website. I own a grand total of zero records but I love the idea of what this place is. More cities need to make use of historic buildings like this one. Session sits inside the old local newspapers building and doubles as a bar / cafe. I read that it was a collabo project between a local chef and baker. They make chef driven sandwiches are mostly made from scratch and local ingredients. The smoked rainbow trout with creme fraiche, caper, pickled shallot on bricohe was a perfect post hike lunch. 

Smoked Rainbow Trout on Brioche at Session 

Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse 

Ukiah is the latest example in a long line of restaurants, bars, and breweries that make Asheville such a happening spot. Ukiah (Haiku backwards) is a Japanese smokehouse but I think that description is a bit misleading in that they more so grill over live fire wood which is still a very cool thing. It’s like an Izakaya and a good one at that. The menu is small but mighty with the beech mushroom tempura being an early crowd favorite (served with Tokyo ranch and onion ash). This was basically a blooming onion in mushroom form. What’s not to love? The whole meal, dish after dish was pretty much a hit.

Beech Mushroom Tempura 

Crispy Rock Shrimp with Gorgonzola and Chili Butter

Striped Bass Yakitori with brown butter ponzu, grilled lemon, sea salt

Tokyo Street Corn with Kewpie mayo, togarashi, nori dust, miso butter, and bonito

Striped Bass Yakitori with brown butter ponzu, grilled lemon, sea salt

Pork and Shiitake Mushroom Gyoza with black pepper ponzu

Yakiniku Crispy Baby Back Ribs

La Bodega by Curate 

On our last trip to Asheville back in 2014 we had an excellent meal at Curate. At the time it was a newish spot from a female chef who spent time at El Bulli in Spain. We didn't make it back to Curate but we did head over to it's new more casual sister spot, La Bodega by Curate. It's an all day Spanish cafe and goods shop with a selection of wine, tapas and sandwiches on offer as well as paella and more. We split a bocadillo de gambas frias (Spanish shrimp sandwich) served with truffle potato chips and it was excellent. Maybe my wife's favorite bite of the trip. An order of fresh fried churros served with a rich chocolate dipping sauce also hit the spot. Nice place to relax after an outdoor adventure. 

Lunch at La Bodega by Curate 

Avenue M Restaurant 

So I got a hot tip from my guy Newman Miller (Chef at Star hill Provisions in Kentucky) to check out this pasta forward spot in North Asheville manned by a friend of his. We like a lot of the same things (Laha’s Red Castle, La Chaparrita etc) so I knew I was in for some damn good pasta when he told me to try all of them. Well we ending up trying two and both were outstanding to the point it’s likely one of them will be named my favorite pasta prep of the year. But which? First was the sweet corn agnolotti made with the fluffiest little pillows of dumplings stuffed with delicious sweet corn that was all covered in lots of butter. After that came an order of ravioli stuffed with boudin served sitting in a tasty red gravy. We also had an excellent order of Asian leaning grilled brussels sprouts and some awesome bread service to start. I will pass the along the same advice about the pastas. Both were excellent. 

Sweet Corn Agnolotti - sweet corn filling, Appalachian sour corn

Ravioli - boudin with pork jus, black vinegar

Little Pigs BBQ

To give you an idea of how new and recent the development of Asheville is consider that this old school bbq joint is the city's oldest restaurant. Little Pigs BBQ has been around these parts since 1963. Yeah that's old but usually urban areas like this have spots that have been around much longer. But Asheville went from sleepy town to bustling city pretty quickly. Little Pigs serves Carolina style pit cooked pork with the regional fav hush puppies on the side. It's not bad by any means but also not great. I liked what I ate but knew there was better to be had on our trip into Charlotte. Stay tuned. 

Chopped Pork Plate at Little Pigs BBQ

Eating Big in Asheville Part 1

See ya next time @chibbqking 


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