Occasionally, the Foodie hosts a travel segment. Word. This time, we revisit one of my favorite food towns: Chicago. The windy city should derive its name from the furious breezes created by the arms of hipsters eating muy rapido.
The last time we visited Chicago, I listed out the top things that I consumed. Lucky for you, I’m going to do that same thing again.
So here it is – the best of Chi-town, served up on your favorite food blog.
TOP NINE THINGS THAT I DEVOURED IN CHICAGO (IN RANDOM ORDER, BUT ALL EQUALLY ABLE TO PLEASE)
1. Au Cheval – A Burger to Remember
Oh mah gawd. There were murmurings about a diner. Tales of waiting in limbo with no reservations. Whispers scattered throughout the streets of what might be the best burger in town. Fittingly, Au Cheval (which means Horse in French) pulled some reverse-whisper judo on a human through what may be the ultimate hamburger.
I ordered it without any questions. Note: In Horse-speak, “A double cheeseburger with bacon” means “three thin patties instead of two, topped with slab high-quality bacon that is almost as thick as the burger meat.” Tackling this stack of wonder, I found myself tucking into the finest quality beef, perfectly melty cheese, a special sauce, thin-sliced pickles, tomato, and a divine bun.
A flawless burger is like true love: You can’t really describe it adequately, but you know that it’s there.
2. Frontera – The Guac
Eager to try one of Rick Bayless’ restaurants, I headed over to Frontera to sample authentic Mexican fare done local, fresh, and inventive. You’ve gotta praise the man for omitting burritos from the menu in favor of complex moles, duck enchiladas, and tamales. The real stand-outs here are the sauces, but I enjoyed the humble Guacamole the most – perfectly creamy and flavorful.
3. Hot Doug’s – The Pilgrimage
This sacred stop on the American food trail deserves a separate post, which will be forthcoming. All I will say here is that I waited in line, met the man, and ate the sausages in time to experience Hot Doug’s before they close later this year. Stay tuned for a full-on food porn special.
4. Yusho – Chicken Wings, Yakitori Style
I had never before tried yakitori anything. Now it’s all I can think about. The chicken wings with bonito salt, lime, and Thai chile are definitively the best way that I have EVER experienced this ubiquitous bird. So good we placed another order instead of dessert.
Quick Tutorial on Yakitori: Literally meaning “cooked chicken,” yakitori joints are a staple informal street food in Japan. The cooking method usually involves placing your desired protein on skewers and then grilling them over a unique smokeless charcoal called bincho-tan. This charcoal burns hot and white (like Scarlett Johansson), contains no chemical additives, and is much sturdier than the kind you use in your Weber. This stuff is expensive and goes for $50 for a 5-lb bag according to one source.
Though the yakitori chicken really blew me away, Yusho serves a wealth of excellent yakitori-driven dishes including octopus (with delicate enoki mushrooms, micro-greens, and egg yolk vinaigrette) and kakuni pork belly (with a creamy polenta-like version of the okonomiyaki savory Japanese pancake, hon shimeji mushrooms, and a sweeter, mild sauce).
The yakitori grill gives meats a unique and indescribable flavor. The lack of smoke produced by the charcoal means that the meat is infused with the pure essential vapors produced from the juices released onto the white-hot embers. If that doesn’t make you hungry, I give up on you.
5. Intelligentsia Coffee – Quad Latte
These guys have actually established a dominant presence throughout Chicago and are the best option for coffee around in some neighborhoods. They epitomize the highest-end of the coffee scene with new-age gadgetry, futuristic beatnik baristas, and words like “extractions” used in lieu of “pulling an extra shot,” because that would be so Dunkin’ Donuts of them.
The espresso drinks here are among the best in town. Luckily, I can also get Intelligentsia coffee at Bloc 11, which is where I first discovered them.
6.Parson’s Chicken & Fish – Amish Fried Chicken*
This Logan Square spot is one of those places that makes me angry that they weren’t also located somewhere around Boston. They do only a few things but they do them extremely well – including fresh salads, some of the best fried chicken, and a lightly crispy fish fry.
*Amish Fried Chicken = The most humanely and purely raised birds possible from regional Amish farms, fried expertly.
7. Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafter – Croissants, Waffles, and Other Delights
They would have had me with a mighty good croissant, but with apple turnovers and liege waffles, this hidden bakery magically transported me to Europe after a single bite. I left singing their praises in French.
8. Revolution Brewing – Anti-Hero IPA
I usually stumble across at least one new baller beer each time I voyage to Chicago. With so many excellent local craft brewers, it’s hard to go wrong. Anti-Hero by Revolution Brewing is a big, bold, and hoppy IPA that is supremely drink-able and would be stocked in my fridge at all times if it was available in MA.
9. Vosges Haut-Chocolat – Truffles & Wine
This is the first chocolate shop that I’ve seen with a tasting room, wine pairings, “flights” of truffles, and absinthe. I was unable to leave the place without turning back to sip on big Spanish wine and down boozy truffles.
Finally, and randomly, I leave you with an unforgettable scene from Taste of Chicago: