Diana's Friday Five: My Go-To Restaurants, Part 2! | chicago foodie girl

2.08.2013

Diana's Friday Five: My Go-To Restaurants, Part 2!

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana

Hi all, happy Friday! I'm back with another installment of my my Friday Five Go-To Restaurants! I hope you enjoyed the previous post and I've tantalized you with some of my favorite gems that Chicago has to offer.

This installment is a mixed bag of restaurants, but every single one has so many great things on their menus, you should really get out there and try them if you can!

One more thing - I've included links to all restaurants as well as addresses this time around. I'm hoping that this information will get you there sooner!  :)

1.  Central Kitchen & Tap (American Comfort)
4800 N Central Ave, Chicago

I can't believe I missed this place in my last post! CK&T is in the Jefferson Park neighborhood, which I recently moved to. Prior to moving I had read about this place in a local magazine and made a mental note to try it out, since it's so close to home.

And boy, am I glad I did!  CK&T is a renovated diner, and they kept a lot of the charm of the old diner, but added a bit of modern touches here and there. I can best describe the food as "amped up" comfort food.  I've been there several times since I moved into the neighborhood and they have yet to disappointment me.

This restaurant is counter service style. You walk in, check out the menu, decide what you'd like, ask the counter guy as many questions as you'd like (everyone there is very friendly), place your order, pay (if you live in the 'hood you get 10% off), grab your drinks (self serve soda fountain, your glasses are Mason jars, how cute is that??), have a seat, relax and wait for your grub (they'll bring it out to you).

                             

While you wait, there are small televisions strategically placed around the dining area so you can watch if you'd like, but if you'd rather listen to music or visit with friends or family, the TV's do not create a distraction or nuisance. They typically have eclectic type music playing in the background (if you're a Chicagoan, think WXRT), but there's a modern looking jukebox on the wall that's kind of pricey, but I got to listen to all of my favorites by The Cars while I ate my lunch about a month ago.  Fun!

Tom and I typically go for the sandwiches (w/two sides), but every so often we'll go the entrée route.We are working on trying every single sandwich on the list, and right now we are big fans of the pot roast sandwich. Talk about comfort food on a bun! All that's missing are the potatoes and carrots and my mother serving it to me while I sit in my footie pajamas in the living room watching The Facts of Life and I'd be in happy town. :)

Wait. Facts of Life? Footie pajamas? My mom serving it to me? God, I'm old. :)

I've also enjoyed the Schwim Schwam burger (I need to ask why they call it that!), Kitchen Club and chicken sandwich. On the entrée menu, I've tried the pork chop, hangar steak and the ribs (well, I made my sister order the ribs so I could try them, ha!). Everything is always cooked perfectly (even steak, which at a diner can be a crap shoot sometimes), and you can tell it has been prepared with quality ingredients.  Seasonings are great, and I was surprised to find sea salt in the salt shaker, as opposed to iodized salt, so BRAVO to CK&T!

I really need to get better about taking pictures at this place, but here's a
nice representation, courtesy
of Yelp.com.   :)
                               
There is one thing on the menu that I will order every time, without fail, and it's funny because it's a side dish!  It's the grilled corn on the cob. It comes the customary char marks, but they season it wonderfully with butter and salt and that whole combination is a freakin' party in my mouth. So simple, but WOW! Reminds me of backyard barbecues in the summertime! I'm sure it may go out of season at some point, so the asparagus and roasted potatoes come a very close second! 

Oh, and I almost forgot - I'm kind of a stickler for a good onion ring, and no restaurant I've ever been to has been able to cut it, until I went to CK&T. Thick cut onions, dipped in a batter that holds well, and they remain crunchy and delicious, even when they're cold.


2.  Andie's/Reza's (Mediterranean)
Andie's - two Chicago locations
Reza's - two Chicago locations, one in Oakbrook

I can't say enough about Mediterranean food. It's easily one of my favorite cuisines, but don't tell my mother that. :)

I discovered Reza's years ago on a blind date that went horribly starting right about the 30 second mark.  The only thing I was grateful for was his idea to go here. He was wise enough to order a combination platter for us to share (it was tons of food, so I was okay with it), which included hummus, baba ghannoj, tabbouleh, felafel and other goodies, served with warm pita. What a festival of flavors (I had never eaten this kind of food prior to this), all on one plate, and it was all vegetarian! It blew me away.

Photo courtesy of Yelp.com
                             
I needed to go back there right away, so I dragged my family out for a Sunday lunch and they loved it to the point where we've put in on the family list of go-to restaurants (wow, another post!  haha!)! At the time we ordered appetizers to share (hummus, etc), and then tried the entrées. My family loved the lamb and seafood dishes, I really enjoyed the salmon and scallop dishes in particular, which are served with your choice of side. I went crazy for the dill rice (on the left in the pic below), which is aromatic, light, fluffy and delicious. And it reheats really well the next day!  ;)

 Photo courtesy of Yelp.com
                             
Reza's recently changed up their menu, it looks like they narrowed down the food choices a bit (their menu used to be HUGE, so this makes things a little easier when trying to decide!) and added Mediterranean pizza (the chef's "new creation"), which is kind of neat concept, see the pic below. It comes out of the oven as shown in pic #1, then flipped onto your plate, then served to you as shown in pic #3.
 Photo courtesy of Rezas.com
                             
I actually have tried this type of pizza at this restaurant, so I'm not so sure about the whole "chef's new creation" thing, but either way, this style of pizza is really delicious and I look forward to trying it at Reza's.

And then there's Andie's! I just realized that I discovered Andie's on ANOTHER blind date, but that date went a lot better. Haha! Seriously, that was the best part about dating a few years back, I met several people who were either born and raised Chicagoans or out of towners that had their own favorite eateries and I got to try many Chicago restaurants I'd never heard of, so I'm grateful for the experience!  :)

Andie's cuisine is similar to Reza's (grilled meats & veggies, etc), but there are some differences. There are definite menu differences (I think Andie's has a tiny bit of a Greek slant compared to Reza's, there's a focus on seasonal ingredients, plus there's a Meatless Monday menu!), but the biggest difference to me is the whole comfort food feel I get at Andie's, kind of what my mother's cooking does to me. Warm fuzzies, you know?

Photo courtesy of Yelp.com.  Chicken Cassoulet - it looks and reminds me of my mom's cooking style.
Photo courtesy of Yelp.com.  Seafood Tagine - another reminder of my mom's style of cooking.
                                
My absolute favorite things on the menu are the Tunisian Chicken & Artichokes and the Mediterranean Basil Chicken, both served over dill rice. My family goes nuts for the lamb dishes (I don't like lamb, long story), and the appetizers are fantastic, especially the combination dip platter, which gives you a little taste of four dips; hummus, baba ghannoj, patata (potatoes with garlic) and harissa (red pepper) and pitas for dipping.

One more thing, if you enjoy Mojito's, Andie's makes a mean one, especially pineapple mojito, if it's still on the menu.  They also feature wine flights (at least they used to, it's been a while since I ordered one), which is fun when you are with friends. You each order a different flight so that way everyone can try a nice variety of their lovely wines.

What I really love about Reza's & Andie's (and well, Mediterranean food in general) is that everything is baked, broiled, sauteed, stewed or grilled, nothing is fried (outside of felafel, I think).  It just gives you a good feeling that you made wise meal choices, although watch out for the pita.  Each restaurant refills that basket on your table like it's their job, and it's so warm and inviting, you can't help but dig into the basket until it's empty!

And be prepared to take leftovers home, both restaurants offer generous portions and can sometimes leave you with 1-2 days worth of leftovers (particularly Reza's)!

3.  Tio Luis (Mexican)
(their website is down for maintenance, so the link is to their menu posted at Yelp.com)
3856 S Archer, Chicago

Tom introduced me to Tio Luis (the restaurant, not the guy, ha!) right after we started dating in 2009. The place is kind of a cross between a regular restaurant and a taco "joint", which is fine with me, but I'm kind of finicky about Mexican food, because I feel that a lot of the "joints" around Chicago have sacrificed quality and time in order to keep their prices down and provide super fast service, and it shows.

And here goes the rant. Bear with me.

Nothing makes me cringe more than going into one of those taco joints and seeing the vats of premade meats sitting next to the grill (god knows how long they've been there) where they're basically pre-heating portions to add to your tacos, tostadas and burritos, and while it's heating they'll drop a small ladleful of oil on top to make the meat moist again. NOOOOO! Then they're layering it with so. many. toppings. that when you bite into it, it's a gooey mess that really doesn't taste like much.

Or it's so spicy you can't taste a damn thing because you are on fire.

Then there's what I call the "beansicle", which is the side of refried beans you can pick up entirely with your fork, and is usually cold. Not good.Your food is served to you within 5 minutes or less and most people I know think theses places are GREAT. Sigh. Weep.

Sure, it's cheap eats/fast food and it shows. And it makes me sad, because being 1/2 Mexican, I was taught at an early age that when cooking authentic Mexican food (and Puerto Rican food too!) you need time, quality ingredients and seasonings. Everything is always fresh. And when you eat it, you're able to taste layers of flavor and it's always a satisfying meal.

I honestly have to thank my chef crush, Rick Bayless, for bringing the flavors I remember from family vacations to Mexico to his three restaurants: XOCO, Frontera Grill & Toplobampo. I've been to all three and basically broke the bank at the latter, but I have to tell you, it was worth every single penny. That's quality Mexican food, even with his inventive twists. He closes is restaurants once year to take his staff to Mexico so they can learn about authentic cooking and it shows. Those folks know their stuff.

But back to Tio Luis...sorry for the rant.

Photo courtsey of chicago.cbslocal.com
Although I haven't tried much off of the menu (and I should), to me Tio Luis definitely goes above and beyond that "taco joint". I'm crazy addicted to their marinated pork and I order it every time! It's marinated in (this is what I taste, everyone's recipe differs) adobo, peppers, citrus juice(s) and it appears that it's been slow cooked for hours, because it is melt in your mouth delicious. I typically order it in tacos and they top it with what you're supposed to top tacos with, onions and cilantro. YUM. The sides of rice and beans are decent, not outstanding, but I didn't come here for the beans and rice. :)

Here I ordered it in a taco salad. That taco shell bowl just cracks me up (um, salad should equal healthy, right?) but the contents?  DELISH. Fresh avocado, onions, corn, lettuce, cheese and that wonderful marinated pork.

Rest assured, I conquered that salad.  ;-)


Their guacamole is very good, fresh and chunky, and is served with tortilla chips. My only complaint is the lack of salt, but a few shakes of the sea salt shaker at home, and it tastes great. It's hard to screw up guacamole, unless you kill it with ingredients.  Keep it simple, I say!


I've also tried their Caldo de Res (beef soup, pic below) and holy crap, it takes me back to my youth. Soup never came out of a can for us, ever, especially when you were sick. Mom or Dad would put a big pot of caldo de res (beef) or caldo de pollo (chicken) and I swear it cured whatever was ailing you. Tio Luis' Caldo de Res is a hearty beef broth with large chunks of tasty meat and vegetables that is absolutely delicious!


I have also tried the Pozole (hominy and pulled pork soup), which is also fantastic.

There's love in the food at Tio Luis and I'm so glad that Tom introduced me to this place! My next time at Tio Luis I intend to try the guisado de res (beef stew), costillitas de puerco (pork ribs cooked in green tomatillo sauce) and a few others, just not at once!

4.  Borinquen (Puerto Rican)
Humboldt Park - 1720 N California, Chicago
Belmont/Cragin - 3020 N Central Ave, Chicago

Photo courtesy of Yelp.com
                             
I have to be honest, Puerto Rican food is not the healthiest food in the world. But damn, it's SO GOOD.   And as you all know, my mother is Puerto Rican, and I'm grateful that we didn't eat Puerto Rican fare on a daily basis (thanks, mom!), so for me, this type of cuisine is a treat, and still is.

Growing up, we ate things from time to time like tostones con mojo (fried plantains with a garlic dipping sauce), a thinly pounded out steak with onions, arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), pan fried chicken (not deep fried), ensalada de papa con bacalao (potato salad with cod - not your american style potato salad, folks) and wow, I could go on forever, but those are some favorites.

My mother is an AMAZING cook, so it took me a very long time to want to venture out and try someone else's Puerto Rican cooking, and then I discovered Borinquen. And you should, too!

The guy who owns Borinquen either discovered or invented (I can't remember) the "Jibarito", which is basically a sandwich, but instead of bread, he uses long flat (and fried) slices of plantains. He keeps the ingredients simple and boom! Party in your mouth. It's so bad, but so so good. Look at that sandwich!

Steak Jibarito - Photo courtesy of Yelp.com
                                
Then there are the "frituras", which is "fried stuff", aka "the bad for you stuff". Throw caution to the wind and dig in people, this is good stuff, just don't eat it every day, okay?  Some of my faves are the fried mashed potato balls with a ground beef filling (papas rellenas), cod fish fritters (bacalaitos), and then of course, tostones, which are flattened slices of plantain, double fried (yeah, that's right), served with the glorious "mojo" (pronounced moe-ho), which is crushed garlic with olive oil, the Puerto Rican dipping sauce for just about everything.

Tostones!  Photo courtesy of Yelp.com
Borinquen runs a very close second to my mother's cooking. I've never had a bad eating experience there, and the simplest thing on the menu - arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) is a very short step below my mother's recipe (don't tell her I said that).

And try the mofongo - mashed plantains mixed with pieces of pork. PR's will serve it on it's own which is great, but I LOVE it in caldo de pollo (chicken soup) - when I'm sick, it's one of the things I crave. Break that stuff up into a bowl of steaming chicken soup - oh god, I want some NOW.  :)

 Mofongo, right before I drop it into my soup. Photo courtesy of Yelp.com
                                     
The food is simple, but very well seasoned.  PR's use tons of garlic, onions, olive oil and so forth. I swear you'll walk out of Borinquen speaking Spanish.  Or you won't be able to wait to go back again!  :)

5. Gaudi  (Mexican/Spanish/American)
624 N Ashland, Chicago

Photo courtesy of Yelp.com
                             
I have to admit, Gaudi is more of a "gotta get back there more often" restaurant than a regular go to, but I felt it necessary to talk about this place. I discovered this restaurant through our company's accountant, as his office (well, it's his home) is about a block away and I always insist that we go there.

And I need to get my behind over there more often!

Gaudi serves an eclectic blend of items for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which range from Mexican dishes like huevos rancheros, to Spanish style tapas (small plates), to American grub like burgers and fries.

The service is awesome, very attentive, friendly and fast. The decor is just as funky as the menu, and I love it!  Check out those hand painted chairs!

  Photo courtesy of Yelp.com
                           
I've tried several of their sandwiches, wraps and some of the small plates (tapas), which have been great, but my favorite wrap (I order it almost every time) is called the "Big Red", which is grilled chicken breast, walnuts, cranberries, grilled onions, mozzarella and raspberry dressing. Yum.

Hopefully I can get back there soon to try some new menu items, take some food pics to share with you soon, and hopefully a more detailed review!  :)

Well, that's it for now. Happy weekend!

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4 comments

  1. Great post. I absolutely love Andie's. It is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. The dill rice is the greatest. We should all go someday. I haven't been a while.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh wow. They all look fantastic. I'm definitely going to try out Borinquen the next time I'm in Chicago. Outside of Puerto Rico, I've never been to an authentic PR restaurant (we don't have many non-American or Italian places where I live now). It sounds really delicious; I haven't had mofongo in years!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Okay, we need to make an Andies date - I haven't been there in forever.

    Also, I've wanted to try Borinquen since you first told me about it. Add that to your mental restaurant list (and then we'll add to the official one once we actually get it together!).

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Mario & Starr - I'm down for an Andie's date, let's plan on it! :)

    @wearyprof - when you go to Borinquen, the location on California is the one to go to, it's much less like a "joint" like the one on Central, that location was formerly a Taco Bell and it's tiny.

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