Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chicago: Margie's Candies

The night's not over until you get dessert. Since we were in the area, we stopped by Margie's Candies for some ice cream.

Margie's Candies has an old-school charm to it: mini-jukeboxes on every table, cushy booths, and old pictures lining the walls:



The menu is just one step short of being overwhelming, but we managed to narrow it down to the Turbo Turtle Sundae:



That's three scoops of ice cream of your choice, caramel, whipped cream, pecans, wafer cookies, and hot fudge on the side. For our ice cream, we went with coffee, praline, and pistachio.

First things first, the fudge is amazing. Warm, gooey, and sinfully chocolate-y. Perfect. At first, I couldn't taste any of the flavors besides pistachio, which was light and fresh, just the way I like it. Then I realized that the only reason why I couldn't taste the coffee or the praline was because of the fudge. Without the overpowering awesomeness of the fudge, the coffee was subtle in a good way and the praline was slightly sweet, slightly salty, and downright tasty.

For less than $10 a sundae, that's a steal.


Margie's Candies
1960 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 384-1035

Chicago: Big Star

You know that winter is finally done and over with when Big Star busts out its patio seating. I've been to Big Star once before and while there's always been a lot of people, I never expected it be to this crazy on a Thursday evening. There was a long line to get into the bar, but luckily for us, we just wanted some tacos. So instead of getting in the monster line, we walked straight up to the window, ordered, and then grabbed a seat at one of the communal picnic tables:



My friend ordered the lamb taco, while I tried the al pastor:



At $3 apiece, the tacos are a bit small, but they're good. Really good. The combination of the pork and the pineapple in my taco was brilliant, but sadly, after the intense flavors of XOCO, my al pastor felt a little...underwhelming.

But this doesn't mean I won't be back. Big Star is a great place to bring your friends and chill over some beer and tacos. I'm not much of a drinker, so I can't say how good the alcohol is, but trust me when I say that the tacos are fantastic. So far I've had the lamb and the al pastor. The pork belly is next on my list. Beware of the lines though. And make sure you bring cash.


Big Star
1531 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 235-4039

Chicago: XOCO

Ever since I heard that Rick Bayless is based here in Chicago, I've been dying to try out one of his restaurants. I've never really been a chef groupie, but I remember watching Ray Bayless's show, "Mexico: One Plate at a Time" as a kid and being a huge fan. When I found out that my friend was going to be in town, I seized the chance to drag her to XOCO.

XOCO is Ray Bayless's latest project. It opened just last fall right next to the Frontera Grill:



The concept behind XOCO is Mexican street food. I've never been one for fancy dining, so this is right up my alley. The setup at XOCO is interesting in that you wait in line at the counter, but you can't order until a table has opened up for your party. Once you get a table number, you place your order, pay, and then get seated to wait for your food:



We started with the Thursday special, the mole poblano torta:



Braised pork, wood-grilled onions, fresh cheese...how can a sandwich taste so good? I was blown away by how flavorful and juicy the pork was, how surprisingly tasty it was with that hint of fresh lime. I found that the torta was perfect on its own; I hardly added any of the sauce.

Even though we wanted to save stomach space for our other food plans for the evening, we figured that since we were already at XOCO, we might as well take advantage of it and order something else as well. We ended up deciding on the roast duck caldo:



XOCO does not skimp on ingredients. There were big chunks of shredded duck meat along with nice, big cubes of potato. People who know me will be surprised to hear this, but my favorite part of the caldo was not the duck, but actually this unidentified squash that retained its crispness and brought this delicious sweetness to the dish. The broth was both salty and sour, with a kick that took me by surprise once in a while.

While XOCO may not be the cheapest Mexican place around, I will definitely be back to try the other tortas on the menu...and maybe a churro.


XOCO
449 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 334-3688
http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/xoco.html

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chicago: Cafe Corea

I swear, before I started this blog, the only restaurant I would eat at in Hyde Park was Harold's. Maybe it's because it's midterm/brief assignment season and my friends and I don't have as much time as we'd like to venture out. Now that I've turned in my brief, I promise to go out and eat more exciting things at more exciting places.

But in the meantime, a few of my friends and I got together for dinner tonight at Cafe Corea:



I ordered the soondubu jjigae (soft tofu soup) because that's the only thing my Korean foodie roommate can't make at home:



The food is decent. Can't complain too much. The owners are kind and prices are fair. But living with my roommate has shown me how easy and cheap a lot of those pricey Korean dishes are to make. I've been spoiled by Korean home cooking, so restaurant fare just doesn't seem quite as impressive as it used to.


Cafe Corea
1603 E 55th St
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 288-1795

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chicago: Harold's Chicken Shack

I had some pretty bad fried chicken yesterday, which led to a craving for Harold's. Harold's has the best fried chicken I've ever had. Hands down. Not only that, but since moving to Chicago, Harold's has been the one restaurant (if it can even be called that) that I have gone back to repeatedly. I just can't get enough of this place.

Ahh...how does one describe the Harold's experience? Harold's Chicken Shack is one of those no-nonsense restaurants where the food is the only thing that matters. There's no public restrooms, no bags, no extra napkins...basically no service. The bullet-proof window at the cashier certainly adds to its charm:



I noticed today that there's a sign that says "No returns over 7 days". What people could possibly try to return at Harold's is beyond me. I'm not sure I want to know.

My roommate and I have come to Harold's so many times that we have developed a system: 1/4 dark, small gizzards, both salt & pepper, with a hot and a mild sauce on the side. Since I was flying solo today, I made do with the small gizzards, salt & pepper, mild sauce:



Just look at that. A pile of hot fries on a bed of fried gizzards, all smothered in a smoky barbecue sauce, and topped with two slices of white bread with a tiny cup of coleslaw tucked on the side. Usually I like my mild sauce on the side, but I guess the lady behind the glass didn't hear me...or she just didn't care. (Not that I'm complaining. Getting the sauce on the side is an extra 80 cents.)

Tip: the best way to eat Harold's is to make tiny sandwiches by tearing pieces of the bread, spreading some coleslaw on it, dipping a fry in the mild sauce, and wrapping it along with a piece of chicken (or gizzard) in the bread.

Harold's doesn't skimp on the food, so go hungry. And bring cash. You can find a Harold's just about anywhere in Chicago, but apparently the best one with the special barbecue sauce is on 63rd and Cottage Grove. I've yet to make it down there but it's definitely on my list.


Harold's Chicken Shack
1208 E 53rd St
Chicago, IL 60615
(773) 752-9260

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chicago: Billy Goat Tavern

I've been in Chicago for about 7 months now and I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't make the trek to the Billy Goat Tavern until today. Made famous by an SNL skit, the Billy Goat Tavern is essentially a Chicago landmark...and the origin of the curse on the Chicago Cubs. As legend goes, the Cubs became cursed the day they refused to let "Billy Goat" Sianis bring his pet goat, Murphy, into Wrigley Field. Since that fateful day in 1945, the Cubs have never again been able to make it into the World Series. Hell hath no fury like a goat scorned.

This place really is a hole in the wall. Literally. Standing on the lower level of Michigan feels like being in another world, one where mole people hide from the light of the sun and drop by the Billy Goat Tavern for a beer and a burger.



Of course I had to order the famous "cheezborger" and a double at that:



Sometimes people just want a good old-fashioned greasy burger, with none of the fancy, frou-frou frills. For those cravings, the Billy Goat Tavern is the place to go. The burger patties are super thin, but you get to add all the ketchup, mustard, onions and pickles you want. Beware though, there are no fries at the Billy Goat Tavern. Only chips. Plus they only take cash.

The prices are a bit steep, given how simple the food actually is. So while this is definitely to take your visiting friends (make sure to read up on the history first so that you can regale them with tales of how the Cubs have since tried to break the curse or how "Billy Goat" Sianis posted a sign to keep out Republicans during the 1944 Republican Convention), I probably won't be coming back here for my regular burger fix.


Billy Goat Tavern
430 North Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 222-1525
www.billygoattavern.com

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chicago: Noodles Etc

The girls were craving some Thai today, so we headed on over to Noodles Etc. As with any typical restaurant around a college campus, the place was filled with students (like us) looking for a quick and affordable meal.

The best part about eating out with friends is sharing and being able to sample more than one dish. We decided with two noodle dishes and a rice one.

The Pad Thai with chicken was probably my favorite of the night:



While I can't say that it was the best Pad Thai I've ever had, the chicken was pretty moist and the flavors pretty balanced.

The panang with beef, on the other hand, did not impress me at all:



The beef was dry and the curry itself was a bit...chalky.

The Pad See-Ew wasn't bad, but again, not fantastic either:



Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Noodles Etc, but more because of the company I was with than the food on the table. The food was decent, but not particularly memorable. Then again, I haven't really found any restaurants in Hyde Park (besides Harold's Chicken Shack...but that's a post for another day) that have made me want to return for seconds.

I wish my first post was more exciting, but there's plenty of amazing food out there so I'm not worried.



Noodles Etc
1333 East 57th St
Chicago, IL 60637
(773)684-2801
http://noodlesetc.com/
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