One of the main objectives of our trip to Chicago was to taste all that food that both of us miss so. When Elihu stays with his dad they’re based out of DeKalb, which is a good hour west of the city. So when Elihu visits the Midwest, he doesn’t get to eat in the city much. This time, we had a local favorite every day of our trip. I was in heaven. Saratoga Springs may have some fancy shmancy restaurants – but there aint nothing like the places ‘back home’. Indulge me, if you will, as I share the highlights…
I’d prefer it from a small neighborhood joint, but Al’s Italian Beef was the first place we saw when we got off the train…
This was lil man’s first Italian beef sandwich. He dug it. Me too. (My first real carbs in months!)
Our first dinner was at the iconic Heartland Café in Rogers Park.
I had what I’ve been ordering for over a quarter of a century: the Dukes Tostada.
It always ends just like this.
Aha! Finally, after two long years, we’re at Dave’s Italian Kitchen in Evanston!!
Such a great, warm vibe in this place.
Dave’s wife Ellen (at left) is such a magical and loving hostess. Always has little surprises for the kids. Never ceases to impress.
The ubiquitous signed wine bottles and cozy booth.
Elihu pays a visit to Dave himself in the kitchen. Ellen first carried Eli through this kitchen when he was not quite a week old.
Elihu visits Tuan, who’s worked there for decades now. He’s from Vietnam, and Elihu has wanted to learn Vietnamese for several years now (have no idea why or where that came from). Tuan’s telling him to learn Mandarin instead as it’s more useful.
There’s Paul (and Jimmy’s backside). Bye guys! Love ya!
Ok, time for some REAL Mexican food.
I woulda had the goat if I’d seen it first. Phooey.
Ah, Jarritos de tamarindo in a bottle. Yes.
The next day, a little something sweet from Belgian Chocolatier Piron on Main Street in Evanston.
And away he goes with a cool $10 bag of treats. !
Our friends Chloe and Brad took us out for sushi at Hot Woks, Cool Sushi in Chicago! So nice of you guys! (Tastiest, most delicate spring rolls I’ve had in years.)
Next stop, Ethiopian Diamond in Rogers Park. Man, have I missed injera. This was SO good. Even better leftovers, too.
You just use your hands to eat by picking up the food with the flat, spongy injera bread (which has a lemony sort of flavor).
You know this place is the real deal cuz all the Ethiopian taxi drivers eat here. They were so kind and shared some of their fish with us. It was off-the-hook good.
And with a cold Ethiopian beer – heaven.
Being in the business ourselves, we just had to stop in and see what this was all about.
These poor creatures are caged in the same room in which they are dispatched. Ich. But they had room to move and were fed and watered generously. I forgot to ask the guy if he said prayers before butchering or if he used any different techniques. Not convinced there was necessarily a more humane element to the preparation of halal meat.
These are the cones. The birds go in upside down, the necks are slit and they bleed out. Doesn’t sound like it, but it’s actually a rapid and fairly humane way in which to do it. No matter what you think, it’s way, way less stressful on the bird than the whole factory experience.
On to my MOST important culinary destination of this whole trip. Can Evanstonians guess where this might be??
You’re right! The Evanston Grill! Bless this place, unchanged in thirty-some years.
And this is what we’re here for. Mr. Lee’s Bi Bim Bop. Like none other in the world.
I just love the Lees. They are the hardest working people I know. No time off ever, except Sundays. And they go to church on that day, so I sure don’t know when they rest. !
How touching – Elihu’s drawing and our photo, sent at Christmastime, have been put up on the wall. (Those are the Lees’ son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren to the right of our pics.)
This might be a new item on the menu. But then again, maybe I just never noticed it before as I was so focused on Bi Bim Bop. !
The Lees have known Elihu since before he was born. I fueled up here often during my pregnancy with him. Later, as a mere baby, Elihu himself ate – and very much enjoyed – the Bi Bim Bop too. (That’s Oscar in the back, a tall Mexican fellow who has been the only cook at the Grill – besides Mr. Lee – for a decade. He DJs on the weekends.)
One of my favorite views. Mr. Lee always has WFMT playing (the local classical station) and a stack of newspapers by the door. Never a more soothing and peaceful feeling was there in a diner.
And speaking of diners, this join hasn’t changed in forever either. Yay!
Love the homey, unpretentious feel. Such a wonderful neighborhood hang. Sometimes there’s hardly anyone there…
But on weekend mornings the place is packed.
I just LOVE that you get your cream in a pitcher. No fumbling about with those crazy-wasteful tiny half and half containers. !
One of the major reasons I come here (aside from the turquoise vinyl booths): their home made hot sauce. You can even buy a bottle. For $2.50. Why, oh why did I buy only one? I shoulda left with a case! My tiny bottle’s almost empty now!
I cannot explain how exquisite this sauce is, and how it simply transforms an ordinary breakfast.
Well, diners may be just fine for the commoners, I guess, but the fancy folk go downtown. We’re finally at Reza’s for Middle Eastern food – and of course for Elihu’s number one favorite dish of ALL TIME: roasted quail.
This place has high ceilings, a courteous waitstaff and doors that open to the street outside. It might be a classy place, but there really is no classy way in which to eat a quail. It really is a hands-on sort of thing.
The enthusiasm just can’t be contained.
And so ends our culinary tour of Chicago. Undid a bit of my previous weight loss success, but there is no question but that it was entirely worth it. I have no regrets, because nothing beats really good food.
A Post Script: Can’t find my pics of Cross Rhodes in Evanston. That was another important stopping point on our tour. I’m still trying to re-create their vinegar-y, oregano-y sauce on my own here. I’ve come close… but no cigar!
Two more post-post items, called to my attention by Facebook friends: first, Cross Rhodes owner and familiar face to all who ever entered the place, Jeffrey Russell, died last September. Thankfully, I knew way ahead of time so my heart wasn’t broken all throughout my meal. Second, there are two Ethiopian Diamond locations, each run by the same family – one’s on N. Broadway, one on N. Clark, both in Chicago, both fantastic.
If you haven’t tried any one of the places mentioned in this post, then DO. Each one has something extraordinary and unique to surprise and impress you.
3 thoughts on “Culinary Tour”
That’s right- there’s nothing quite like good food, and not just what the official critics call “good” food, either. The pictures that you posted have got me hungry, just looking at them!
There’s something special about small places that have been there for a long time, preparing dishes with their own personal touches. It’s always a postive, life-affirming thing to go back to such little restaurants. There’s a small place called “Hog Wild” in Midlothian, which serves flame-grilled pork chops, chicken, and all kinds of things, marinated in their homemade sauce, and everyone who goes there is always glad to come back.
It looks like you’ve got a nice vacation. The pictures from the boat trip were great, too! have a great summer!
Thanks, Eric. Ok. Hog Wild is on the list for the next Midwestern trip. Nothing like house-made sauces. They help weave the very fabric of life. !!! Have a great summer too!
Awesome! Thanks for the tour! GB