- Memorable food from the past calendar year
- Memorable food from the past calendar year
-Grubbing in Chicago
Pakistani Food on Devon
It’s been a minute since we hit up Devon. So let’s head over to Bundoo Khan. It’s one of the most popular spots on the block, a favorite of Pakistani families who come from all over the Chicagoland area for Paki grilled meats and Karahi style cooking. Visit over the weekend and it will be busy.
I’m not 100% sure as I never got an email reply but I think this might be the U.S location of a popular spot in Karachi. Either that or it’s a spot that wanted to be something similar to the one in Pakistan. The owner mentions the fact that Paki grilled meats were hard to find in Chicago as being the main motivation for opening Bundoo Khan. Pictured below is the Gola Kebab which are oval shaped kebabs of aggressively seasoned minced beef plus some Chinese chicken egg rolls. All of the kebabs are very good from here with the Bihari kebab being my favorite of those on offer.
Aside from the grilled meats, the Karahi dishes are also very popular here. Karahi refers to a deep and thick cooking pot that’s similar to a wok. It’s used to cook and serve up one of my absolute favorite dishes in the neighborhood - Kashmiri Chicken Karahi. Bone-in chunks of chicken are cooked in a silky creamy curry with heavy hints of ginger and garlic paste. It’s pretty great. This is the dish that first comes to mind when thinking about what I want to eat when I’m on Devon. There’s lots of good options found up and down the block but I think about this one more often than any other.
The Burgers of Chi
Todays post is a long time coming as my first and only visit to the Choo Choo Diner in Des Plaines came in January of 2020 (before most had even heard of Covid). By the time we all knew what Covid was it had already closed due to the owners passing. More than two years later it’s open again with new owners / longtime customers. The restaurant dates back to 1951 when a local entrepreneur came up with the idea of opening a train themed spot, the big draw being having your burger basket delivered by a model train. The idea was part of a plan to beat out another newly opened hamburger joint nearby called McDonald’s. Ray Kroc even visited the Choo Choo to assure them that both places could exist together as McDonalds was not a sitdown spot at the time. You know how the rest of that story goes with more than 40,000 locations today but the Choo Choo has outlasted them all.
I visited the Choo Choo bc they were said to make a good burger. That said I can see the appeal in bringing your kid here as the model trains that bring you your food are fun and unique. They make a smashed burger but they’re not small. If you’ve ever been to a Schoop’s those burgers are a similar size. While this wasn’t on the same level as Schoop’s it was good enough to remind me of one of Chicagoland’s best burgers so that’s worth something. Fries were frozen but do come with your basket which will set you back about $12. Not cheap but what is these days? However it is filling.
-Grubbing in Chicago
Iconic Thai Food in Uptown
Chicago has some damn good Thai restaurants. So much so I’d name Thai food as one of the city’s better food strengths. We have some top heavy spots that would be good anywhere, including LA. Today we head over to the one of the city’s oldest Thai restaurants. A place that sat on Sheridan road in Uptown for close to 30 years before moving into new digs a few years back, also in Uptown.
The new space sits on Broadway and it's the anchor of a small strip mall (free parking). It’s a long and narrow spot with a decent amount of space due to the two dining rooms separated by the entrance. It’s big enough to where they have their own takeout section which is typically busy with people picking up their to-go orders. The menu at Siam Noodle & Rice offers all of the Thai classics and then some. There’s a section for Northern Thai dishes like dry fried beef jerky, bamboo shoot salad or larb with sticky rice. Then you got a handful of chefs specials such as the basil duck and a basil fried rice dish that you won’t find everywhere. In fact it’s the Basil chicken aka Pad Ka Prao that first turned me onto this place. This classic combination of stir fried minced meat mixed with Thai basil sitting atop a big pile of white rice is comfort food for Thai people. Lots of spots around town will serve some sort of basil chicken dish but if the chicken isn’t minced (not ground) it’s not made right. Not only does Siam make it right but they make it spicy in the perfect way (not too hot but definitely not mild).
Pad Khe Mao aka drunken noodles is a good dish to judge a Thai restaurant by. It’s not hard to make but some spots do a better job with the wok than others. Most importantly is the stir frying of the wide rice noodles, when done right they get that smoky flavor aka wok hei. Another part that’s important is the meat itself. Nine times out of ten the beef at these type of spots is not good. It’ll be too chewy or more steamed than stir fried which gives it a not so sexy look. The beef at Siam is one of the biggest exceptions to this. Bite size pieces of extremely flavorful beef is just tender enough to not fall apart but can easily be ripped apart. It’s similar in taste to the beef in a bowl of pho, just sliced a bit thicker. Siam rounds theirs out with egg, collard green, bean sprouts, basil leaves, black bean sauce and chili sauce. It’s one of the better versions in town, if not the best non-crispy version that I’ve found.
Siam Noodle & Rice is also one of just a few spots I know of where you can score a bowl of dry noodle soup, meaning a bowl of noodles without the broth. It’s common for noodle shops in Bangkok and beyond to serve their bowls of noodle soup without broth, making it a stir fry of sorts. You can order a number of the noodle soups at Siam “dry” for a $1 extra. I enjoy the traditional version with beef and a bunch of their house made hot sauce on top. You should also ask for their ginger sauce to go with it. When your dry noodles arrive they’ll be decorated with a handful of ingredients including ground peanuts, sugar and dry chile flakes. Mix it all up and squeeze the lime on top and you got a dish that brings me right back to Yaowarat. Bangkok’s Chinatown is the largest outside of China.
Siam Noodle & Rice
4142 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60613
It’s been quite a while since we ate some tacos over here. But the fact of the matter is there hasn’t been a ton of great openings. Mexican food in Chicago seems to have hit a bit of a speed bump. There’s still plenty of spots opening shop but it’s rare for one to immediately call you in. I’d hoped taquerias around town would’ve taken another step as far as offering something that’s not the norm (steak, chicken, “al pastor” etc.) but that hasn’t quite been the case. Nonetheless I’ve identified a handful of spots where you can get some very good non-generic tacos. Let’s take a look at them.
First stop takes us to a gas station complex at the corner of Halsted and Division in Goose Island. Gas station tacos have a reputation as being great but that’s not always case. El Tragon opened a couple years ago but it really has been slow on the taco front here in Chicago so I’m just getting to posting about it now. The menu seems to be pretty good up and down based on the reviews but there’s one taco that stands out. El Tragon serves up a taco de costra. Costra means crust and in the case of a taco de costra it refers to a cheese crust. Typically the cheese is melted onto the tortilla with the meat going on top of the cheese but Tragon does the reverse of that and tops a sliced piece of bistec with cheese which then gets flipped over cheese side down on a hot flattop. This style became popular in Mexico City a few decades back and are starting to become more common in the States.
I might get tacos from this family owned spot in Avondale more than anywhere else. Part of that is bc it’s a short ride from my spot. Yet there’s handfuls of taco shops within a short distance of where I live. But none of them make steak tacos as good as those at Zacatacana which now does tortillas hechas a mano on Tuesdays. They elevate what was already one of the city’s best steak tacos with it’s tender and juicy chunks of carne asada (char grilled skirt steak) paired with my favorite salsa verde in town.
There’s quite a few weekend vendors to be found inside and around the Buyers Flea Market in West Humboldt Park (open Sat. & Sun.). You’ll find Taqueria La Morena at the corner of Augusta and Kolmar. It too is open only on the weekends but that means you can pretty much count on their trompo to be up and spinning. Meat was sliced fresh to order on my visit which was the only one I’ve made but judging by what I got that day it's some quality al pastor served in a street taco setting.