Dining and food culture in Chicago

A Genuine Myth: If They Call It “Authentic,” It’s Probably Baloney

Trends & Essays No Comments »
Inauthentic but traditional. Minty pea empanada at Wahaca, London.

Inauthentic but traditional. Minty pea empanada at Wahaca, London/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

Earlier this month, a chorus of Chicago food writers criticized what seemed an uninformed drubbing on Yelp of Chicago’s Cantina 1910.

You don’t have to look very deeply into the Yelp commentary about this Mexican restaurant to find statements like “It’s definitely NOT authentic Mexican” and “There is nothing authentically Mexican about this place.”

Similarly, watch just about any episode of Chicago’s excellent, Emmy Award-winning “Check, Please!” and you’ll hear citizen reviewers extolling the “authentic” flavors of this restaurant or that.

With all due respect, it doesn’t seem that many of these good people know what they’re talking about. Read the rest of this entry »

Of Vice and Vegetables: The Fulton Market District Furiously Builds on Chicago History

Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »
Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished hi-rise/Photo: MKRogers Features & Photography

View from Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished high-rise/Photo: MKRogers.com

By Monica Kass Rogers

“The last thing any of us wants is to see this neighborhood Disney-fied”

Riding the elevator to the top of developer Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished high-rise at the corner of Halsted and Lake, I’m fussing with the Velcro on the front of my neon yellow construction vest. The lift-operator, who looks uncannily like former mayor Richard M. Daley, has just confided that he’s afraid of heights. Somewhere between levels twelve and twenty-three—six floors shy of the top—Shapack quietly says, “This is the tallest building I’ve done yet.”

Standing in the open air looking out at the booming Fulton Market Innovation District that stretches from Halsted to Ogden below us, the Shapack Partners, Sterling Bay and other developer-owned vacant lots stand out, white blanks among the rubble and splintered timbers of demolition, as do signage-wrapped new construction sites and just-finished restaurants with so-new-it-sparkles HVAC and ductwork.

Randolph runs along the southern edge of the scene. Elevated-train-topped Lake Street is in the middle and Fulton Market sits to the north. Right now, each thoroughfare is lined with the mix of meatpackers, light industry, grunge and gleam that defines the city’s last remaining market district, which is now also its hottest restaurant neighborhood. Next year, there will be another dozen restaurants and bars down there, plus retail, new residences and hotels.

As for the industry and grunge? Says Shapack: “The last thing any of us wants is to see this neighborhood Disney-fied.” The “any of us” Shapack refers to—developers and restaurateurs, meatpackers and wholesalers, politicians and planners—have all been racing to keep up with unprecedented change without losing the essence of a neighborhood they love. Read the rest of this entry »

You’re the Best of the Best: Picking Chicago’s Korean-Style Chicken Wings Champion

Korean No Comments »
Great Seas Chinese Restaurant Wings

Great Sea Chinese Restaurant Wings

By John Carruthers and Dennis Lee

Here in Chicago, we do two things extremely well: food and superlatives. Everything is delicious and everything is the BEST. Right now, some click-farm content-bot is extruding yet another list of the thirteen best burgers in Chicago.

Let’s clean up this mess.

Like two overfed children smashing action figures together to determine whether Batman or Han Solo reigns supreme, we’re pitting two allegedly best-in-Chicago places against each other in a thunderous clash for ultimate supremacy.

Korean-style chicken wings, called kampungi, are the sticky, sweet, crisp and sometimes-spicy delights that stand in sharp contrast to one-note, vinegary, Buffalo-style wings.

Contenders for best Korean-style chicken wings are Great Sea Chinese Restaurant and Crisp. Read the rest of this entry »

Grandbaby Cakes: Carrying on Kitchen Traditions from Blog to Book

Recipes No Comments »
Jocelyn Adams/Photo: Chuck Olu-Alabi

Jocelyn Adams/Photo: Chuck Olu-Alabi

By Rebecca Holland

One look at the food and baking blog Grandbaby Cakes, and you get hungry, fast. A fluffy red velvet cake draped with blackberry cream cheese frosting slides across the screen, followed by cookie cheesecake swirl bars. A pink theme and friendly writing pulls you into the blog, and before long you’re reading tricks and family stories, reminiscing about your own grandmother’s recipes, which is exactly what Jocelyn Adams, the Chicago food blogger and more recently cookbook author behind the site, has in mind.

“What resonates with people is this love of family,” Adams says. “They find themselves thinking about their own families and their own memories. That’s what sets it apart from other recipe sites.”

Family is also what inspired Adams to start her blog. After spending years in the kitchen with her grandmother, mother, and aunts, she developed a love of baking and a library of family recipes. Adams started Grandbaby Cakes three years ago while working as an events producer; about eighteen months ago, she took the plunge into full-time blogging. “I started the blog to share recipes and inspiration from my family, then things kind of blew up,” she says. “I fell in love with it and started doing more recipe development and learning more about both baking and blogging, until I knew I wanted to do it full-time.” Read the rest of this entry »

Like Hugging Strangers: Halo Halo and Other Filipino Finds

Filipino No Comments »
Halo Halo/Photo: Rosemary Lane

Halo Halo/Photo: Rosemary Lane

By Rosemary Lane

Ray Espiritu, owner of Chicago’s Isla Pilipina, places a halo halo in front of me.

“It’s the kitchen sink of Filipino desserts,” he explains. A Filipino food virgin, I’m a little nervous to dig in, so I swirl my spoon around the cup of yam ice cream, flan, evaporated milk, coconut gel, red and white beans, crushed ice and a cherry, mixing the layers until they merge purple.

“It’s different right? It’s like hugging strangers,” Espiritu says. He’s right. Halo halo tastes unusual, but at the same time comforting and refreshing. Smooth and chewy, tart and cookie-like, the drink defies categorization, as does much of the cuisine of the Philippines. The country is comprised of more than seven thousand islands, each with regional dishes and techniques; it was occupied by Spain for almost four hundred years, but it also reveals American, Chinese, and Japanese culinary influences.

“It refuses to be defined,” says Sarahlynn Pablo, founder of Filipino Kitchen, a Filipino food/culture blog. Read the rest of this entry »

Fulton Market Transformation: When Google Comes to Dinner

Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »
Google HQ/Photo: Lauren Knight

Google HQ/Photo: Lauren Knight

By Lauren Knight

Once gentrification starts, it’s hard to stop. When the shift occurs between small businesses seeking new ground to full-scale land grabs by large companies, how do the little guys prepare for that transition? Take Fulton Market. What was once the bastion of meatpackers has swiftly become one of the hottest dining and drinking destinations in Chicago. As Randolph Street blossomed into “Restaurant Row,” a few pioneers trekked just a few blocks further north to take advantage of empty storefronts and warehouses.

The neighborhood is now Chicago headquarters to Google.

At the corner of Morgan and Fulton Market, an old cold-storage facility is being transformed into a beacon of new development. The 550,000-square-foot building will house other companies as well, such as SRAM International and Sandbox Industries, but Google’s 500 employees will fill the bulk of the updated structure.

One Off Hospitality Group was one of the first to see the potential in the Fulton Market neighborhood; the transformation that has occurred since opening The Publican in 2008 is an affirmation. Read the rest of this entry »

Hot Dog! Chicago Gets a Foodseum—A Museum Dedicated to Food

News etc. No Comments »
Classic Chicago hotdog/Photo: David Hammond

Classic Chicago hot dog/Photo: David Hammond

By Rebecca Holland

Chicago may still be best known for its humble hot dog, but now the city’s food reputation is undeniably international and there’s no doubt: Chicagoans have an enduring affection and taste for the classics as well as newer food innovations that characterize Michelin three-stars like Alinea and Grace.

“There really is no better place for a museum dedicated to food,” says Suzie Fasulo, director of people and operations at the Foodseum, Chicago’s newest museum slated to open later this month. “We wanted to create a museum for the people of Chicago, but we’re also opening in a very foodie time, where people are drawn to food from a tourism perspective.”

The Foodseum will soon start up as a pop-up at Block 37. The first exhibit, “The Hot Dog and Encased Meat of the World,” is fitting for a city whose primary claim to culinary fame once rested on the humble wiener. Visitors can learn about the hot dog’s history in Chicago and engage with the exhibit by getting hands-on with local butcher shop tools from the 1800s and smelling the familiar spices used in encased meats. “We know people use all of their senses to really understand and connect with things,” says Fasulo, “so the museum is very interactive. We want to engage all of your senses so you can take the inspiration of food and culture with you.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Dining Preview 2015

Lincoln Square, News etc. No Comments »
Composing/Photo: Monica Kass Rogers, MKRogers.com

Composing/Photo: Monica Kass Rogers, MKRogers.com

By Iliana Regan

Fairy tales are the theme of the autumn menu at Elizabeth. This theme will be reflected in some of the ingredients we plan to use, including pumpkins and apples, both of which have well-known connections to Cinderella and Snow White.

One of the great things about the fairy tales of Mother Goose and the Grimms is there’s the cultural and geographical background of the writers—Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm—who were French and German, respectively. The cuisine we serve will reflect both of those rich culinary traditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Dining Events 2015

Events No Comments »


Bunny the Micro Bakery (2928 North Broadway), Iliana Regan’s second act, is scheduled to open any day now. It’s really small— “perhaps the smallest bakery in town,” says the website—and will be serving baked goods that have been most popular at Elizabeth.

Foodseum, the Chicago food museum, slated to open September 19 at Block 37 (108 North State), explores food in Chicago’s past and present, and it will offer interactive exhibits for hands-on learning. Read the rest of this entry »

Mangonada: It’s Cool, It’s Popular and You May Never Have Tasted One

Fast Food/Street Food, Ice Cream, Mexican 1 Comment »
Delicias de la Morelia/Photo: Rob Gardner

Delicias de la Morelia/Photo: Rob Gardner

By Robert Gardner

Ever had a mangonada?  Perhaps you know it as mangollada, chamoyada or even its common variants such as the diablito or vampiro.  It’s spicy, salty, and frozen; it’s out there; and we’re guessing it’s something you’ve never heard of, let alone sampled.

In Chicago as well as suburbs like Melrose Park and Cicero, Latino stores are serving up mangonada to the many thousands who love it. We believe, within the next few years, the mangonada will be as talked about in Chicago as Italian beef or Vienna Beef hotdogs. While we have not visited all the mangonada-rias of Chicago, we suspect there are now more of them than there are Italian beef and hotdog joints combined. Read the rest of this entry »