Dining and food culture in Chicago

Resto 100: Chicago’s essential restaurants of 2010

African, Albany Park, American, Andersonville, Argentinian, Auburn Gresham, Avondale, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Beverly, Bistro, Brazilian, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Bucktown, Burbank, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Caribbean, Chatham, Chinatown, Chinese, Cicero, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Czech, Deli, East Garfield Park, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Ethiopian, Evanston, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, German, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hermosa, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Indian, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Japanese, Kenwood, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Lithuanian, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near North, Near South Side, Nepalese, New American, Oak Park, Pakistani, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Puerto Rican, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Roscoe Village, Sandwiches, Seafood, Soul Food, South Loop, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park No Comments »

Resto 100 is, as always, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

As last year, when we first dropped Charlie Trotter’s, we’ve continued to cull the old guard of the high-end, both as a reflection of the economic times and as a call to action for such spots to up their game. This year, TRU, MK and Boka didn’t escape the chopping block. While we don’t deny their importance in creating the food scene we have today, there are many other places we’d rather send folks—for example, Sepia, Bonsoiree or Cibo Matto (where, ironically, chef Todd Stein is a vet of MK).

Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand are two of the most successful cooks this city has, but neither spends a significant amount of time at TRU. This is not so much an observation as it’s a cry for the fact that we really miss Rick’s cooking. We appreciate his cookbooks and that he tried to open a nationwide restaurant chain, but with that not working out, why not return to his roots? It should also be noted that Chef de Cuisine Tim Graham was doing some incredibly innovative work, but was recently transferred to Brasserie Jo.

Boka, which we loved for its Charlie Trotteresque complexity, has frankly been a little inconsistent in its execution on recent visits, and frankly maybe too Trotteresque. We love the direction Perennial has gone, look forward to Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat, and think maybe they outshine the original jewel in Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz’s mini-empire.

That’s not to say you have to be cutting-edge innovative or perfect to make the list. For if you do something old-school or classic and you continue to do it well and you didn’t make your bones by being a game-changer, we honor that as well. This year, we added some overlooked classics including Marie’s Pizza, Ginza and, much to our own surprise, Hyde Park’s Calypso Café. Maybe the biggest surprise was Café des Architectes, which used to be as old-school as it gets. Martial Noguier and his pastry chef Suzanne Imaz are probably two of this city’s most underrated cooks, putting out slighty twisted old-school French gourmet plates flawlessly.

Likewise, the trend of informal, casual rustic dining doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, and we dig that. To celebrate that movement we’ve added The Bristol, Paramount Room, Brown Trout, Kith and Kin and others.

The beauty of any list, though, is that you may not agree. So drop us a line and let us know.

—Michael Nagrant, Resto 100 editor Read the rest of this entry »

Resto 100: Chicago’s Essential Restaurants 2009

African, Albany Park, Andersonville, Auburn Gresham, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Bistro, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bucktown, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Chinatown, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Deli, East Garfield Park, Events, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near South Side, New American, Organics, Pakistani, Palestinian, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Seafood, Senegalese, Soul Food, South Loop, South Shore, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, Wicker Park 4 Comments »
In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

Resto 100 is, as it has been in years past, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

In these particular hard economic times, we find ourselves dining out a lot more at the BYOBs, mom-and pop-spots and small ethnic joints than we do at the high end.  That being said, while we didn’t set out to consciously create a list to address our lighter wallets, it sure turned out that way.  More than ever, this list is a cross section of the wealth of culturally diverse and reasonably priced restaurants Chicago is lucky to have. Read the rest of this entry »

I Can See for Miles: Finding Cuba in Roscoe Village

Cuban, Roscoe Village No Comments »

cubano1By Michael Nagrant

In a month, when you’re digging your car out of six inches of dirty, slushy snow, you likely won’t mistake Chicago for the sunny climes of Miami or Tampa. But, right now, with the sun still peeking through the clouds, and the fact that, like sushi joints and the taquerias before, there now seems to be a Cuban sandwich joint on every corner, you can be forgiven if you think you’re in Florida.

The latest pork and plantain promulgator is 90 Miles Cuban Café in Roscoe Village. Like all the other spots, there’s a ton of pig, mountains of Café Bustelo coffee and lots of deep-fried goodies to go around. There’s also an ex-pat involved, Alberto Gonzalez, which is funny, because not too far away at El Cubanito (2555 North Pulaski), a very similar operation, there’s a man named working the grill. Read the rest of this entry »

Havana Hideaway: Cafecito puts Cuba in the Loop

Cuban, Fast Food/Street Food, Loop No Comments »

cubanocafecitoBy Michael Nagrant

A few weeks ago, some folks suggested I was an elitist jerk potentially in need of a hooker to loosen up. Most of this vitriol was from readers who took umbrage with my negative review of Yats, the Cajun Creole spot in the West Loop. In response to this hellfire, I went back and checked the last few years of my columns, and the data suggests I’ve spent more time lauding ethnic storefronts and casual spots over high-end fine cuisine. There was no need to call Eliot Spitzer to acquire the Emperors Club VIP hotline.

I wrote what I did, because I felt Yats had broken the culinary social contract of providing honest good food in a welcoming environment, more so than any place I’d been to that wasn’t operated by YUM Brands. My reaction had nothing to do with Yats being quick-service, low-key or casual. There are many informal places in town that I’ve lauded: Spa Café, Wow Bao and Take Me Out Chinese, among others. One of my favorite Cajun Creole places in the country just happens to be Lagniappe, a scrappy storefront, on 79th Street, where the food often takes forty minutes or longer to prepare from the time you order. What these places do that Yats didn’t is deliver a superior, often unique product at a great price in a clean and hospitable room. Read the rest of this entry »

The Dictator Has No Clothes: Going Cuban in Logan Square

Cuban, Logan Square No Comments »

cubanoNot since Montecristo cigars and Che Guevara has a Cuban flavored export been more hyped (at least locally) than the Cubano sandwich at west Logan Square’s El Cubanito (2555 North Pulaski). Foodies on lthforum.com have racked up three pages of mostly adoring love letters to the sandwich, and The Reader, Chicagoist.com and a handful of others have also chimed in with confirming odes.

For me at least, the dictator has no clothes. (I apologize if you just thought of Fidel Castro naked.) The roast pork, which on the best Cuban sandwiches has a garlicky citrus kick from mojo marinade, was so dry and tasteless, it channeled a Butterball turkey blasted in the flaming tombs of the sixth circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno. The shiny tasteless ham slices above the pork were a cut above supermarket cold cuts, and Cubanito’s parsimony with the mustard and pickles meant there was no balancing tang to cut the sweet swiss cheese and salty savory meat. What was undeniable is that sandwich casing, a crispy “water bread,” featuring a handful of smoky grill press marks, baked to specification for the restaurant by Gonnella, is excellent. For the bread alone, I’d make the trip. Read the rest of this entry »