Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chicago: Bobtail Ice Cream Company (Lakeview)

My friend wanted to try out Crisp because my dad made such a big deal about it when he came to visit over Thanksgiving (he made us go twice).  After a tray of Seoul Sassy chicken, we stood on the street trying to gauge if we had enough stomach space for some deep dish pizza.  It didn't take long to realize that we were only kidding ourselves and to nix that idea.

Just when we were figuring out the best way to get home, my friend's attention was snagged by Bobtail Ice Cream Company across the street:

Everyone knows that there's a separate stomach for dessert, which is why there's always enough tummy space for some sweets even after a full meal.  Not to mention the fact that ice cream is essentially...liquid and thus all it does is fill the little nooks and crannies in your stomach.  Think about it.  Makes total sense.

I've previously had ice cream at the Bobtail location in Grant Park, but this was my first time in the storefront in Lakeview.  Any place that stocks up on board games deserves a second visit, in my humble opinion.

I tried a few flavors (I can never bring myself to ask for more than two) before I settled on honey lavender:

On a sugar cone, duh.

My friend went with the signature sunset (merlot ice cream with dark chocolate chips) on a cake cone:

Those, dear readers, were kiddie scoops.  Way more ice cream than I was expecting.

Not as many flavors to choose from as some other ice cream joints, but Bobtail offers some interesting concoctions for sure.  Definitely check out the Lakeview location because the Grant Park one doesn't have any of the specialty flavors.

Bobtail Ice Cream Company
2951 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 880-7372

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chicago: Maxwell Street Market (Revisited)

I cannot express how much I love Maxwell Street Market.  Whenever it's a Sunday and the weather is nice, I just get this sudden urge to get some churros and lengua tacos.  Maxwell Street Market is also where I drag all my visiting friends regardless of where they came from ("I don't care if California has awesome Mexican food...we're still going!").

So that's how my friend found herself walking down Desplaines Street after church on Sunday.

When I brought my father here back in November, the blue churro truck (actually the Churro Factory truck, but "blue churro truck" just sounds catchier) was tragically MISSING.  On this particular trip, I was starting to get panicky when I couldn't find the blue truck in its usual parking spot, but was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief when I finally found it a bit further down.

The truck has been revamped!  The menu is now posted on the side of the vehicle and a little funnel cake trailer is attached to the back.  While the funnel cakes were tempting, we were there for the churros:

Stuffed churros.  Freshly fried.  I got a little excited and bit into mine before I remembered to take a picture.  As usual, I ordered the vanilla.  New addition from the last time I saw the truck: chocolate filled churros!  My friend ordered one and while it was scrumptious, I still prefer the vanilla.  My friend loved it so much that she went back for another one on our way out.

I basically have a set route at Maxwell Street Market.  We sort of went out of order, as the churro truck was supposed to be last, but oh well.  My first stop is usually at the end of the street at Lencho's Tacos, which is where we stopped next.

My friend got a chorizo taco:

I got my beloved lengua taco:

Guh.  Heaven on a plate.

Our next stop was Rubi's.  It's really easy to find...just look for the longest line.  I loveLOVElove the tortillas at Rubi's.  Nothing beats tortillas that are handmade on the spot.  Oh, and the cheese is amazing too.

The last time I went I tried to order a lengua quesadilla and was shot down by the lady taking my order.  I couldn't catch everything she said (something about it being spicy and red sauce) and like the chicken I was, I backed down and ordered something else.  This time around, I was adamant that I wasn't going to leave without a lengua quesadilla.  Success!:

Apparently the sauces change from time to time because the lengua was in green sauce this time.  Look how beautiful that is.  The thick tortilla.  The colorful veggies.  The oozing sauce.  It was indeed spicy, but it hurt so good.

The only downside to this trip was the bad horchata we got.  We randomly picked a vendor and obviously picked the wrong one.  Sigh...without good horchata, the Maxwell Street Market experience just isn't complete.  I feel like I need to go again really soon so that I can do it justice.

Check out my post from last year for more extensive photo documentation.

Maxwell Street Market
On Desplaines St between Roosevelt and Polk St

Monday, April 25, 2011

Chicago: El Nandu

After a day of Italian beef sandwiches, tres leches cakes, and hot dogs, my visiting friend and I met up with my girls at El Nandu for dinner to celebrate our friend, Esther's birthday. The epic painting on the side of the building makes the restaurant rather difficult to miss:

Thank goodness we had an early reservation because soon after we sat down, the place got BUSY. I love the feel of El Nandu, from the painted portraits that verge on being downright creepy to the Argentinian tango dancers going at it on the random screen mounted on the wall.

I was toeing the food coma line before even arriving at the restaurant, but I still found the space in my stomach to fit in some bread:

The bread was fantastic by itself (I'm a sucker for soft bread), but what really stood out were the two sauces. One was a chimmichurri and I have no clue what the other one was.

What follows is proof that I have no self control and that I should really listen to my stomach when it's telling me that I'm full and that I should stop eating.

My friend and I decided to share an entrée and because I've heard so much about El Nandu's empanadas, I made her share one with me too:

The empanadas at El Nandu come stamped with what's in it. How cute is that?

We ordered the tucumana, which includes diced steak, green onions, olives, egg, and various herbs:

So very good. I've never had empanadas as good as this one. The shell is perfection in itself. They could've stuffed it with nothing at all and I would've still enjoyed it. If I ever come back, I think I'll just order a basket of every different kind of empanada El Nandu has to offer.

For our main dish, we ordered the entrana, which is basically char-broiled skirt steak:

For $19.95, that's a massive piece of meat. I don't know how anyone could finish one by themselves. Even between the two of us, we couldn't quite do it without sneaking large sections onto my roommate's plate.

If I wasn't in a food coma when I entered the restaurant, I was certainly in one halfway through the meal. Note to self: don't try to squeeze in multiple food stops before dining at El Nandu. It's painful.

It seemed like a waste to end the night after dinner; it was a birthday celebration after all. Which is how after El Nandu, we ended up dancing the night away at the Butterfly Lounge. I honestly don't know how I did it. Adrenaline, perhaps? All I remember is wanting to curl up and sleep as I left the restaurant and then suddenly finding myself with my friends on the dance floor. Hopefully I was able to work off even 2% of what I consumed that day...

Update: Esther specifically wanted me to edit this post and write in her name instead of referring to her as "one of our friends".  If anyone else doesn't mind having their name written into my blog, let me know!  It'll certainly make it easier for me to keep track of everyone instead of resorting to "that one friend" and "that other friend".  Hope you had a fabulous birthday, Esther!

El Nandu
2731 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 278-0900

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chicago: Franks 'N' Dawgs

If a visiting friend wants hot dogs in Chicago, what choice do you have? In the name of wanting to try somewhere new, I brought my friend to Franks 'N' Dawgs:

The menu online looked very promising, so I was very excited to check it out. So excited that in my haste to get out of the rain, I entered through the wrong door, despite the sign clearly instructing us to use the side entrance. Oh well. Lesson learned.

Those who do know how to read walk down the long hallway before reaching the side door that opens right in front of the counter:

Those who do not know how to read (such as myself) enter through the front door and are forced to do the walk of shame along the row of tables in order to get in line.

After placing our orders, the guy pointed to a bunch of pictures posted on the wall and asked us to choose who we hate the most. I was a little caught off guard by the question and mumbled the first name that came to mind, which just so happened to be David Hasselhoff. Turns out these nifty photos had velcro attached to the back, which sticks to the side of your table and lets servers know where to bring your food:

A quick look around the room revealed a bunch of more interesting characters, such as Sarah Palin and Pee-wee Herman. I was writhing in jealousy when I saw that the table next to us had nabbed Dennis Rodman:

That would've looked so much better on our table. But I guess having The Hoff watch over your meal isn't anything to complain about.

My friend and I each selected a "dawg" and shared. I went with the black sheep, which consists of a toasted black pepper lamb sausage topped with black pepper oyster sauce, buttermilk vinaigrette, pear and red onion slaw, and basil:

My friend chose the krazy kimchi, which is a spicy beef sausage with braised short rib and turnips, kimchi, wild rice, and basil:

Both sounded really good on paper. But in reality? Meh. The sausages were good, no doubt about that, as were the toasted buns. But the toppings just didn't The kimchi was some of the worst kimchi I've ever had and the pear and red onion slaw was just a little off-putting. It's no big secret that I love basil...Asian basil. This stuff was just weak and very disappointing.

I was really curious about the truffle mac 'n' cheese. Originally I wanted to try the truffle mac 'n' cheese dog, but ultimately decided to control myself and order it as a side:

The mac 'n' cheese came with parmesan bechamel sauce, white truffle oil, brioche bread crumbs, and thyme. Gourmet mac 'n' cheese always appeals to me, but I've yet to find one that really wows me. The first bite is usually good, but by the 3rd or 4th bite, you just feel like you're eating cold pasta and cheese. Sigh...but I'm always hopeful.

Franks 'N' Dawgs was a big disappointment for me. But maybe we just ordered the wrong things?

If only Hot Doug's wasn't so in the middle of nowhere and if only the wait there was an hour shorter...

Franks 'N' Dawgs
1863 N Clybourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 281-5187

Friday, April 22, 2011

Chicago: Kristoffer's Cafe and Bakery

For my birthday last year, my friends surprised me with a coconut tres leches cake from Kristoffer's. I almost died from bliss. Over six months later, I still dream about that cake. Since my friend was in town, I shamelessly used her as an excuse to make a trip out to Kristoffer's:

I immediately fell in love with the place the minute I stepped inside:

There's such a homey, inviting feel to Kristoffer's, as if you're walking into someone's living room. There are members of the community gathered around various tables, joking and laughing over coffee. Photographs of the owner's sons are tacked onto the wall behind the counter. Students are studying silently in the corner, interrupted only when food is brought to their table.

Kristoffer's boasts of many different kinds of tres leches cake. We were particularly interested in the kahlua one, but unfortunately they didn't have any slices left. We allowed ourselves to wallow in our disappointment for a good minute before we directed our energy to the serious task of choosing another cake slice. We ultimately decided on the vanilla:

The cake was moist and amazing...but I couldn't really taste the vanilla. The chocolate icing essentially took over the entire cake.

Of course we had to get a slice of my dream cake:

The coconut tres leches was still as dreamy as I remembered. It's definitely one of my favorite cakes in the WORLD.

My friend and I sat and chatted for a long while after we finished our cakes. I was just about to suggest moving on to our next destination when this was suddenly set on the table before us:

Free samples?! Kristoffer's gives free samples?! And whole slices at that? If I wasn't already in love with the place, that would've sealed the deal.

The chocoflan was alright. I'm not a flan person to begin with, so I'm a bit biased. But that's besides the point. FREE SAMPLES?!

If I lived in Pilsen I would be at Kristoffer's all the time. I love the atmosphere, I love the cakes, and I love the staff. I am almost tempted to keep this gem all to myself and not tell anyone about it. Almost.

Kristoffer's Cafe and Bakery
1733 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 829-4150

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chicago: Al's Beef

My prospective med school friend left early Saturday morning, which definitely wasn't enough time for us to properly hang out. My other friend, who was on spring break from pharmacy school, stayed until Tuesday. The two of us go way, way back to 6th grade, so of course I had to pull out all the stops and show her a good time around Chi-town.

We had a late start Saturday, afternoon, but we needed the extra time to mentally prepare ourselves for a day of pure eating. Our first stop was Al's Beef:

The original, of course. Nothing but the best for my friend. I'd tried to go once before when another friend was visiting, but thanks to my bad planning, we went on the one day of the week when Al's was closed.

This time, we were successful in getting through the front door:

Basically all counter space. If you want to sit down, there are a few tables outside. It was raining that day, so we opted to stand inside.

The fries were quite amazing:

Nothing fancy. Just some well-fried, well-salted, skin-on french fries.

The "holy trinity" (as I heard it once referred to as) of Chicago consists of deep dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, and last but not least, Italian beef sandwiches. Every Chicagoan will give you a different answer regarding which place has the best of each. Al's Beef (the original) is hailed by some as having the best Italian beef sandwiches in the city:

Since my friend was on vacation and I was too by association, we bypassed the regular beef sandwich and went for the combo, which includes an Italian sausage. The sausage was a bit spicy, which was in itself good, but also a bit distracting from the beef. The sweet peppers were an awesome touch.

A good sandwich and if I lived in the area, I might be tempted to stop by once in a while. The way things are now, I'll probably only drop by if I had a guest who absolutely wanted to try an Italian beef sandwich while in town.

Al's Beef
1079 W Taylor St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 226-4017

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Chicago: Cafe Iberico (Revisited)

Over the weekend, I had two friends come in to visit me in Chicago. One was on spring break, while the other was checking out a med school in the area. Because they flew in on Thursday at different times, we didn't really get to all hang out until Friday night after my classes and after my friend's med school orientation.

My roommate and I discussed a lot of restaurant options and finally settled on Cafe Iberico. This was my second time at Iberico, but with 5 people around the table (we were joined by a school friend), this time around I got to try a lot more things.

First came the patatas bravas, which were spicy potatoes with special tomato sauce:

Spicy, but so very good.

Next was the jambon iberico, Spanish style cured ham with manchego cheese and tomato bread:

Best ham I've had in a long, long while.

I've been raving about the pulpo a la plancha since my last visit, so of course we had to get that:

Even better than I remembered.

Our server recommended the tilapia with white beans and spinach:

Not only was our server the cutest guy ever, he also knew his stuff. The tilapia was fantastic.

We also ordered the grilled sea scallops with saffron sauce:

And the paella iberica:

It was a lot of food and we all left feeling pleasantly full. On the train ride home we gushed about how great the food was and happily patted ourselves on the back for ordering the perfect amount. Our tune changed a few minutes after we got home.

"I could still eat."

I don't remember who said it, but with those few words, the floodgates were opened.

My roommate ended up whipping up a batch of dukbokki with ramen and we topped it off with half of a homemade pazooki.


Cafe Iberico
739 N LaSalle Blvd
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 573-1510

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chicago: Irazu

When a mass invite to dinner produced only 3 takers, myself included, we stubbornly headed out to Irazu anyway. We got there pretty late, so we weren't surprised by the long line:

BYOB is a blessing when it comes to long waits. People in line were getting the party started early by busting out their cases of beer. We took the classier route with our bottled wine.

The weather in Chicago that weekend was pleasantly nice for a change, so the outdoor patio was open for service and that's where we ended up being seated.

My roommate and I shared our entrées (no surprise there). We got the shrimp/veggie platter, which came with white rice, black beans, cabbage salad, and sweet plantains:

The shrimp and vegetables were saturated in garlic sauce, which was fantastic. But my favorite part of the dish was the rice. The rice was seasoned to perfection and I could've just eaten that by itself.

We also ordered the casado, which is essentially thin rib eye steak with caramelized onions, white rice, black beans, sweet plantains, over easy egg, and cabbage salad:

Big surprise of the night: I did not enjoy the steak at all. Perhaps it was because of the grill, but the steak tasted like liver. I wasn't imagining it either. My roommate confirmed it for me. Gross.

Overall the wait was just too much. The wait to get in was understandable, but the wait for our food to come out was a little over the top. Granted, it was a busy night and the unexpectedly nice weather probably prompted Irazu to optimistically open up the patio without having a sufficient number of staff on hand. All the same, the weather got colder as the night progressed and by the time the food arrived, I was cold, hungry, and eager to go home. My roommate and I basically scarfed down our meal, which is what most likely caused my subsequent tummyache.

The food simply wasn't good enough to justify the misery.

Irazu is known for its oatmeal shake. We didn't order it that night, but I had had it before. It wasn't as thick as I was hoping it would be, but was still delicious in a gritty horchata kind of way.

1865 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 252-5687

Monday, April 18, 2011

New York: Gray's Papaya

I was playing around with my phone the other day when I came across these pictures. I can't believe I forgot about going to Gray's Papaya during my New York trip! I didn't realize I'd left my camera's memory card at home that day until my sister and I were already inside Gray's Papaya and ready to dig in. I felt so dumb that morning. Thank goodness my phone takes some pretty awesome quality photographs.

Not that that really matters much when I just end up forgetting the photos in my phone.

Anyway, my sister is a big papaya drink fan, so I brought her to Gray's Papaya:

It's insane inside, which is part of its charm:

The walls are plastered with colorful signs and paper fruits hang from the ceiling.

The two of us split the "Recession Special", which includes 2 hot dogs and 1 drink for $4.45. There were so many tropical concoctions to choose from, but we finally settled on the papaya drink and added a coconut champagne on the side:

The hot dogs are pretty small, which is why the special comes with two:

Everything on it means onions, sauerkraut, and some mysterious red sauce that's sweet and tangy.

Nothing fancy, but it does the job.

After wolfing down the hot dogs, I dragged my sister back to my friend's apartment to fetch my memory card. Good thing we had a early start that day, so we could afford the little setback.

Gray's Papaya
2090 Broadway
New York, NY 10023
(212) 799-0243

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chicago: Fish Bar (Revisited)

Fish Bar is quickly becoming one of my favorite places in the city...and I've only been there twice. Last Thursday for my "date night" with my friend, we held out for a really, really late dinner. My roommate had a networking event, so we picked her up after it was over and zoomed right on over to Fish Bar.

Luckily there wasn't a line at all, which was probably due to the rainy weather. Upon entering we were warmly greeted by our favorite server, Marina. Her side of the bar was packed, unfortunately, but the server we ended up with was just as friendly.

The three of us split 2 oyster po' boys. There was no way we were leaving without having the BEST FRIED OYSTER ON EARTH. Still the best.

We also ordered some fried Eastern belly clams (not pictured here because we demolished it before I even thought to take out my camera). I'm now a believer of anything fried at Fish Bar. Such light breading! Not a hint of greasiness! Melt in your mouth magic! Now if only the serving sizes were bigger...

We finally got to try the codfish sandwich:

Very good...but nowhere as spectacular as the oyster po' boy. I'm starting to think that nothing will be able that compare to oyster po' boy.

Even though she wasn't our server, Marina brought over these little guys on the house:

Not sure what they were exactly, but they tasted damn good.

Love Fish Bar. Love the oyster po' boy. Love Marina. (She ran out to give us all hugs while we were leaving. How sweet is that?) If you haven't checked out Fish Bar yet, you're sooooo missing out.

Fish Bar
2956 N Sheffield Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 687-8177

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chicago: Little Branch Cafe

My roommate and I had been wanting to catch up with a friend of ours who has been quite the difficult one to pin down. We finally just picked a date and a location and made it happen:

My roommate picked Little Branch for brunch because she'd just gone there the weekend before and really enjoyed the atmosphere. Little Branch is a bit hard to find, as it's deep within a residential area.

From the industrial exterior, you would never guess that a cute little cafe would be hidden within. There are so many charming little details everywhere, such as these adorable stools:

As usual, my roommate and I decided to split everything. We started off with the pancake of the day, which was cranberry and pecan:

It was good, but while I could see bits of pecan and cranberry in the pancake itself, I couldn't really taste it.

To balance out the sweet, we went with the prosciutto and fig jam panini, which my roommate had been dying to try since her last visit:

The prosciutto was a bit overpowering for me in its saltiness, making me wish that there'd been more fig jam.

The home fries were fantastic:

Well seasoned, though they could have had a crunchier crust. (My favorite home fries are still from La Note in Berkeley.)

The scrambled eggs were perfectly fluffy:

Our friend ordered the breakfast burrito:

She knows us super well so the first thing she did after allowing me to take photos was to divide out a portion for us:

I don't remember everything in there, but I think you can get the gist from the photo.

Super cute cafe in a super random location. Definitely a hidden gem and a great place to hide out when you want to study.

What a great way to start off the day. Catching up with friends, laughing over all sorts of crazy things, and eating good if only there wasn't so much work to do.

Little Branch Cafe
1251 S Prairie Ave
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 360-0101
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