Dining and food culture in Chicago

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 »

Eating More Like a Thai: Lessons for Being Less Farang

Thai No Comments »

By David Hammond

Sometime in the late seventies, Thai food came into our lives at Thai Villa on, as I recall, Lincoln Avenue. Before that, we’d had lots of Chinese and some Japanese food, but Thai was wonderfully new: ingredients so fresh, flavors bright and clean, the combinations of sweet and sour and heat and salt…unexpected.

Blue rice at Jin Thai/Photo: David Hammond

Blue rice at Jin Thai/Photo: David Hammond

One of the best things about being an eater of food in Chicago is that we have an immense range of cultures represented—and many Thai restaurants. According to Woraporn Kanjanawong, Consul at the Thai Consulate in Chicago, there are 250 Thai restaurants in Chicago. With only 3,000 Thai-Chicagoans (and a mere 15,000 statewide), the majority of people eating at Thai restaurants are likely “farang.”

Farang is a Thai word for someone of European descent. It’s not a slur; it’s more like “gringo”—not a compliment, but neither is it a put-down.

At Chicago’s ethnic restaurants, you eat foods you’ve never eaten before, and by doing so, you absorb another country’s culture. To do the near-total immersion thing at a Thai restaurant, consider following a few simple steps that will help you enjoy the experience as completely as possible and, perhaps, be a little farang. Read the rest of this entry »

Ramen Wars: Chicago Chefs Go Bowl-to-Bowl

Japanese, Trends & Essays No Comments »
Photo: Monica Kass Rogers, MKRogers.com

Photo: Monica Kass Rogers, MKRogers.com

By Monica Kass Rogers

With thousands of variations worldwide, ramen has always been a hot mess of flavor and texture that invites playful experimentation. And that’s what Chicago ramen battles are all about. Invited by host restaurants, chefs have jumped into the ramen-battle ring with characteristic Chicago swagger. Most of their ramen bowls have been great, some not so, but there’s no denying the exhibitionist fun of the throw-downs.

Chef leaders of the Chicago ramen-battle pack are Bill Kim (BellyQ, UrbanBelly, Belly Shack) and Matthias Merges (Yusho, A10, Billy Sunday), and both have been hosting two different styles of ramen-offs. Read the rest of this entry »

Better Than Fresh: The Super-Frozen Fish of Wixter Market

Seafood, Wicker Park No Comments »
Photo: Rebecca Holland

Photo: Rebecca Holland

By Rebecca Holland

“The whole goal is to get people to eat more seafood,” says Matt Mixter, the Chicago native whose seafood shop Wixter Market opened in Wicker Park on June 2. “I want to make it delicious, convenient, affordable and sustainable.”

Wixter Market (2110 West Division) is the only seafood market in the country promoting one-hundred-percent frozen fish and the only place in Chicago where consumers can purchase super-frozen fish products.

Mixter spent ten years traveling the world, processing the catch, distributing seafood for large retailers, and learning about different freezing technologies. Super-freezing, or freezing fish within twenty-four-to-seventy-two hours at minus-seventy-six degrees Fahrenheit, stops all decomposition in fish, increasing shelf life and preserving flavor. “These technologies were developed to cater to large companies, and I realized nobody was offering it in the small format, so I took the opportunity to do just that,” says Mixter. Read the rest of this entry »

Detroit, City on the Re-Make: Corktown’s Gold Cash Gold and Two James Distillery

Road Trips No Comments »
Gold Cash Gold, new resto in old pawn store, photo Gold Cash Gold

Gold Cash Gold, new resto in old pawn store, photo Gold Cash Gold

By David Hammond

Founded by the French more than three-hundred years ago, ceded to the British after the French and Indian War, and eventually surrendered to the United States after the American Revolution, Detroit is having a restart moment: it’s changing, it’s exciting and it’s a little over half-a-day’s drive from Chicago.

Though still synonymous with automobiles, the Motor City—Motown, The Arsenal of Democracy and even, ugh, Murder Town—is now becoming less known for being one giant assembly line and more known for being something of a frontier where the limits of the possible are still being defined. Detroit is now where the adventurous can stake a claim for not a lot of money and, who knows, maybe ride the crest of the city’s hoped-for reawakening. Read the rest of this entry »