Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 14 Chicago Eats of 2014

Wow, that was a fast year. These are my top picks for my favorite eats of 2014. Some eats were from new places I hadn't tried before, and some were classics that I'll always crave. Onto the food, in no particular order:

Roka Akor

The Polar Vortex was a bad memory for almost everyone - everyone except for those of us who were able to get 41% off (due to how cold it got in Chicago in early January: -41F) the Decadent Omakase. Originally priced at over $130, this was a steal at 41% off, and a good value even at full price. This omakase included everything great about Roka Akor in one extreme meal. Scottish salmon nigiri. O-Toro. Real wasabi root. Amazing ama ebi (sweet shrimp). A5 Wagyu beef. Black truffle mushroom risotto. Fantastic dessert platter. We were stuffed when we were done, but we couldn't help but to want more. Easily the best meal of 2014.

Ruby's Fast Food

Although Uncle Mike's is closer to my place, Ruby's Fast Food is definitely worth the trip up north. Super garlic-y fried rice with flavorful longanisa (sausage) and salty-sweet tocino (pork belly/bacon), topped with a yolky egg. Breakfast of champions? No, more like breakfast, lunch, and dinner of champions.

Leghorn Chicken

I say, dear reader, pay attention when I tell you about Leghorn Chicken (ok, that's enough of the bad  impersonation of Foghorn Leghorn). But it is warranted. Leghorn Chicken might have my favorite fried chicken sandwich of all time. The housemade bun is soft, airy, but firm, and the Nashville Hot style adds a bit of kick to the chick. But the real reason this is my #1? The option of getting thigh meat. The dark side tastes so good. Oh and the hushpuppies are pretty solid too. 

Side Door 

Side Door, creatively named because it's the side door entrance to the building that houses Lawry's The Prime Rib, is a gastropub concept from the owners of Lawry's. But that doesn't matter. What matters is the Prime Rib sandwich. Just marvel at the thick cut juiciness of a perfectly roasted prime rib. It tastes better than it looks. Probably because I'm not very good at the picture-taking. Actually, no, it's really because it's DAMN GOOD.


Macku Signature

Take fresh fish and seafood, combine it with interesting flavors and additions, and you get modern nigiri. Everything about this place is just so good. This might be my favorite place to get nigiri in the city if I'm craving something more than the traditional. 

VIP Chinese Restaurant

Some of you maybe familiar with an establishment that begins with "VIP...", but did you know that it's really the best place in the city to get Korean-Chinese sweet & sour beef. Delicately sliced beef, fried in a light and crispy batter, smothered with sweet & sour sauce (the kind Asians eat, not the weird red Americanized stuff).  Oh, you didn't know you could get Chinese food there? That's because your mind is in the gutter.

The Happy Crab

The Spicy Fish Fillet contains no crab, but does have a lot of happy, for me at least. I am obsessed with this dish, and the Happy Chili Chicken is a close second. The batter, happy chili sauce, and fried tofu combine to make an awesome dish that I can't seem to get enough of. It's been my go to meal when I get back late from being out of town at a client. 

Summer House Santa Monica

Ok, this one is going to be a short one. Lobster? Check. Fries? Check. Succulent lobster with a side of fries is definitely a strong combo. Just get this if you go. 

High Five Ramen

The High Five Ramen an High Five Ramen will blow you away. Mostly because it's spiciness is the real deal, but also because it's just that good. It's a tonkotsu-based broth with a healthy (or not healthy, based on your disposition toward spicy foods) dose of sichuan peppers. And to top it all off, Sodikoff throws in some of the BEST pork belly I have ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth, cooked/smoked upstairs at Green St. Smoked Meats.


The potato bing bread with sour cream butter is worth the trip to Parachute alone. Although I thought the overall meal was good, it didn't live up to my sky-high expectations. But this bread...THIS BREAD.  The only thing more memorable than this bread was when my friend told our cute waitress that I thought she, my friend, was fat. The glare that the waitress gave me gives me chills to this day. "Hahaha you're not fat! <GLARE>" 

Umami Burger

The Hatch Burger - housemade cheese and green chiles atop a juicy beef patty, all sittting inside a beautiful bun. I'm a big fan of burgers, and although I thought that I'd be disappointed in this place due to the hype machine, I was pleasantly surprised. 

Note: I would have put ShakeShack here on this list...but I didn't have a photo to do it justice. 


The new spot to go to in the West Loop is Momotaro, with beautiful decor and amazing food that has resulted in rave reviews and hard-to-find reservations. Although I just have a picture of O-Toro nigiri, Momotaro has an extensive Japanese menu with top-notch ingredients and dishes you probably won't find anywhere else in the city. I can't wait to go back to try their Omakase.


Yes, there's a lot of sushi on my list this year, but it's warranted. Agami surprised me with the quality and freshness of its fish - notables are the scallops, ama ebi, and of course, the o-toro. Fantastic.


Pulled pork? Good. Butter-poached prawn? Goood. Ruxbin? GOOOOOD. This was their take on a surf & turf, and the fine folks at Ruxbin have managed to blow me away again, even though I've been to their establishment many times before. 

That's my list of awesome Chicago Eats I experienced in 2014. I'll have a supplement coming soon about some of the food I had traveling this year. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Chicago Eats - Sunda New Asian

Pan-Asian cuisine in River North.

Spicy Tuna and Jalapeno Crispy Rice
Take some rice. Pan fry it, throw on some soy-sauce glaze, and top it with spicy tuna. The spicy tuna was pretty light, using a on oil to spice it up as opposed to a mayo or cream based solution. The rice was definitely different, and a nice way to start the meal.

Pig Sticks
Pork belly on sticks. Sweet glaze. Red cabbage is an Asian Slaw. It all worked and it's definitely a good alternative to the Adobo Braised Pork Belly if you're looking to try a few different things on the menu.

Duck Hash
 Crispy fried egg and duck, what's not to like?

Pork Adobo Flake Fried Rice
Awesome fried rice. Maybe a hint of truffle oil (they love truffle oil here at Sunda, which I normally shy away from). Wish they put in two eggs instead of one.

First Visit: 

  • Crispy shrimp "toast" and spicy tuna "jam" - Nice, fun dish. The shrimp were definitely ground up within the "toast", but this was delicious. Definitely something to get instead of edamame for a starter.
  • Miso bronzed black cod - Fork-tender and flavorful, a perfect complement to the pork belly.
  • Adobo braised pork belly - Sorry for the terrible photo, but the serving size was enormous, and one of my favorite pork belly dishes of all time.
  • Lychee and raspberry sorbet - Light and refreshing, this was a perfect dessert for the time (90 degree summer heat). It was gone before I knew it!
The portions here at Sunda are pretty generous. I definitely over-ordered my second time around, but it was worth it to try some different things on the menu. With all of the new Asian restaurants opening up in the area like Roka Akor and Red Violet, Sunda isn't as popular as it used to be, but it's still cranking out pretty good food.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chicago Eats - Me Dee Cafe

Me Dee Cafe is a Thai place. They love cows. I don't know why. There are mini golden cow statues, the wall is a painting with a half dozen cows, and the logo is a cow. They seriously love cows. Luckily, this Ravenswood restaurant serves up some pretty damn good food, and they're open late too! Although there's a lot of OK dishes on the menu, there are some standouts - if you're a fan of congee, look no further...

Sunny Sunny
Pan fried quail egg. So good and fun to look at.

Mushroom n Cheese
These are mushrooms. With chihuahua cheese. CHIHUAHUA! I mean, need I say more?

Bowl of Congee (Large)
You start off with a bowl of congee. If you order 5 or more congee dishes, you get a large bowl for free! Not a bad way to save $3.

Ong Choy, Thai Style Chicken Sausage

Stir Fried Chicken, Baby Clams

 Crispy Pork Belly

Almond Pad Thai
 Lots of sauce. Good overall. Nothing that blew me out of the water.

Crab Fried Rice
They put in big chunks of crab meat. Awesome. Lots of other places break up the crab so you don't even know if you got any. Me Dee does it right and gives you lots of nice, big pieces so you know exactly how much crab you're getting.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chicago Eats - BadHappy Poutine Shop

Poutine - french fries, fresh cheese curds, all smothered in a healthy ladle of gravy. What's not to like? This French-Canadian dish seems to be getting more and more popular in the city, with it popping up on menus all over. But there's only one dedicated poutine shop, and that's BadHappy, located on the Near North side just down the street from my apartment. Dangerous, considering that BIG & little's is just down the street (and BadHappy actually took over B&l's old spot).

The Chef-Owner Tom and his wife Jaime run a great little restaurant. Jaime stopped and talked with us for a while giving us the history of this place; Tom is Southern, and has fine dining cuisine under his belt. The couple decided to open up a poutine shop in Chicago with some Southern flare...and it works out. Just beware, this stuff is pretty heavy, but definitely worth a visit!

The Good, the Bad and the Happy Poutine
Pork belly, braised veal cheek, fromage beaucronne (cheddar cheese curds), truffle mayo, foie gras mousse & gravy, sunny egg. Wow. Rich. Decadent. Amazing. Maybe a bit too rich and decadent, it was hard to defeat this one. But I did it. This is their signature poutine. Must try.

BadHappy Sauce Burger
Single patty for $8, then just a dollar more for each additional patty. They're about 6oz a patty, so be careful going for that triple burger. This has BadSauce, HappySauce (see pics of the bottles below), bacon, lettuce, pabalano, onion, and 'Wiz (which I assume is the cheese sauce on top). Great burger, but REALLY messy. Oh, and you can order ANY poutine on the side with a burger for only $3; what a bargain!

BBQ pork, fried mac-n-cheese, fried okra, Carolina cole slaw, PBR (yea, the beer) gravy. Not enough BBQ pork IMO. Mac n cheese was a bit sweet. Overall, this dish works, but not nearly as amazing as the Good, the Bad, and the Happy.

The AfterParty
Big forks bacon sausage, frites, lettuce, BadSauce, fried cheese curds, sunny egg, cajun mayo, and pickles. I didn't get this, but I thought it was worth taking a picture of.

BadSauce, HappySauce

Birthday Cake Shake
This is just 1/3 of the original; Jaime gave us this freebie while we were sitting around talking with her late at night. Amazing. The shakes are awesome, and definitely a must-try. Little pieces of homemade cake thrown in made for delightful little surprises.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chicago Eats - Korean Food! May 2012 Update

Lots of random shots at a variety of Korean restaurants in Chicago.

Great Sea (Albany Park)
Great Sea is another Korean-Chinese restaurant serving up similar dishes to what you'll get at Peking Mandarin (below). I actually never went here as a kid, but I went for the Ggampongi (sweet and spicy wings) and it didn't disappoint! The ggakdoogi (spicy pickled radish), however, did disappoint a bit. 

Han Bat (Lincoln Square)
The best sullangtang and ggakdoogi in the city. Hands down. Great for a hangover or just good, cheap eats ($10 total after tip). And I always seem to get more than my money's worth considering how many bowls of ggakdoogi I put down. Make sure to get the clear noodles, and the flank steak is generally the most popular option.

Chosun Ok (North Center)
Chosun Ok ("oak", not "okay") is a popular Korean place mostly known for its Korean BBQ using table-top gas grills. They're also know for their chadolbaegi (beef brisket) bbq where they end up making you bokkumbap (fried rice) at your table once you grill up all of the meat. But we opted to try out some of the other stuff here this time. Good food all around! 
Hae Nangmyun - cold noodles with a sweet and spicy sauce and raw skate fish
Japchae - noodles with various vegetables and beef

Various banchan

Dancen (Lincoln Square)
A Korean bar that serves amazing Korean comfort food. Also conveniently located next to Jimmy's Pizza Cafe!
Dduckbokki - rice cakes in a spicy and sweet sauce.

Fire Chicken - AMAZING. Best thing here. 

Seafood Stew. Delicious.

Sweet and spicy chicken with cheese.

Da Rae Jung (Lincoln Square)
Known for their mool (water) nangmyun, and I would recommend that for a hot summer day as it (and bibim nangmyun) is served cold. Just up the road from Dancen.
Bibim Nangmyun - spicy cold noodles

Maeaentang - spicy seafood stew

Pekin Mandarin (Albany Park)
I used to come here a lot with my family, and everything is familiar. One of the best places for jajangmyun in the city, and great chicken wings too!
Jajangmyun - noodles in a black bean sauce.

Ggamppongi - spicy and sweet chicken wings. Amazingly good.
Jang Choong Dong (Niles)
Jang Choong Dong is another good Korean restaurant in the 'burbs, and they have a $23 all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ. This time around, we opted to get some more "bar" food since we were here late. Jang Choong Dong is open til 4am, and they serve both food and alcohol til then, so it's a good option for those late night cravings for Korean comfort food. And even though it's in the 'burbs, it's only a 25 minute drive. It takes me 25 minutes to get to Lakeview from River North somedays, just to put it in perspective.

Bossom - sliced pork
Jjokbal - sliced pig's feet

Sundae - stuffed blood sausage

Budaejigae - Cozy's is better (below)

Cozy (Morton Grove)
This is more of a Korean bar, but it still serves good food. Really close to the "new" Korea Town that's been relocated to the burbs. 
Fried Chicken, Korean style

Budaejigae - spam, tofu, ramen noodles, cheese and plenty of other deliciousness in a giant pot. 

Kimchi bokkumbap - Kimchi Fried Rice!

H-Mart (Niles)
This is a Korean grocery store, but it has a pretty good food court. Also has a nice little bakery for Korean pastries. It's definitely worth a drive up!
Bibim Nangmyun

Mandu - Korean dumplings the size of your head.