Tag Archives: chicago

Chicago Restaurant Week

It’s Chicago Restaurant Week! Chicago Restaurant Week is actually almost two weeks (January 25 – February 4). It’s a great way to try out some new restaurants and at each restaurant, try a few more dishes than you might normally order a la carte. The restaurants usually have a $22 fixed menu for lunch, and a $33 or $44 fixed menu for dinner. After much analysis on what fixed menus were actually deals (surprisingly, for a lot of them, you just break even or even worse, lose money), I settled on a few spots:

Embeya

For lunch on Monday, I headed into Embeya which is located in the West Loop. I really need to try more of the restaurants here! No trouble at all getting a table during lunch time, and it seemed like a nice place to have a business lunch.

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For the first course, I chose the grilled beef jerky with red curry squash and pickled golden raisins. Grilled beef jerky apparently just means strips of steak, but that’s fine by me. I ate the entire thing, golden raisins and all, and it was delicious – my only complaint is that it was a little too sweet.

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For the second course, I ordered the chicken thigh with market beans, XO, and green olives. Yummy! This was also pretty soy sauce sweet like the beef jerky, but less so, which was good. The chicken was cooked perfectly, and I liked the XO even though after looking it up, I’m still not sure what it is.

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The dessert was a cacao nib brownie with hazelnut meringue, pickled beets, and smoked chocolate ice cream. The pickled beets on top were weird – I took them off. Everything else was your standard delicious dessert.

According to Embeya’s website, this lunch was worth $9 (beef jerky) + $15 (chicken thigh) + probably $7 (dessert) = $31, so not bad! After I ate here, I saw it on Thrillist’s list of Best Restaurants in Chicago Right Now, which made me proud of myself for picking it. If you know me, you know I love lists. Anyway, also on the list was…

Intro

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I made a reservation for me and my friend Tom for Tuesday night at Intro in the Belden Stratford hotel in Lincoln Park. The Tuesday night reservation was literally the only time available during restaurant week, so I jumped on it.

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For the first course, I chose the Vietnamese Chicken Soup with lemongrass, ginger, and shaved vegetables. It was okay… nothing special. When I thought Vietnamese, I thought of pho, but it didn’t have the same taste and both the soup and chicken were pretty bland.

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When the plate for my main course was set in front of me, I immediately thought, “Aw, crap.” I sent this picture to my friends and one said, “Those look like some nice snacks.” This was billed as Flat Iron Steak or “Beef and Broccoli,” which I suppose it was, but it was pretty misleading as their website has a picture of a similar steak of a much more substantial size. Nothing special to this steak either.

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For the dessert, I chose the Hazelnut Cake which was perfectly fine.

This meal was worth $8.95 (soup) + $29.95 (steak) + probably $7-ish (dessert) = $45.90, and this was one of the $44 dinners, so this was not a good deal at all. We should’ve ordered from the restaurant menu for one person, and then ordered a la carte for the other person, like our waiter suggested. But, at least I can say that I’ve been to the place, right?

Bistronomic

Tom and I also made reservations for Bistronomic, near the Water Tower, for lunch on Saturday. Bistronomic is one of the only restaurants with a totally separate menu for restaurant week – each of the choices on the fixed menu was a recipe from Julia Child’s famous recipe book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

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My pick for the appetizers were the PEI Black Mussels Marinieres with scallions, thyme, and chardonnay. I was pleasantly surprised at how many mussels there were – I think at least 20. They were good and weren’t gritty at all.

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Next was the beef bourguignon with bacon lardons, handmade linguini pasta, and beaujolais wine reduction. I was skeptical when I saw it, but it was delicious.

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For dessert I had a caramel almond souffle. I don’t think I could have eaten any more than they gave – it had a weird consistency that made it unappetizing. I had a bite of Tom’s clafouti aux piores, which was terrible. It tasted like nothing.

Since this was a special menu, I’m not sure how much it was worth, but I felt like it was a good deal. The only bad thing was that I was still pretty hungry after the meal! Might have something to do with not eating anything for breakfast before, though.

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Velvet Taco

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My friend Tom and I like going to new places to eat, so we decided to try out Velvet Taco! It just opened earlier this month on State Street, and is the first location outside of Texas. We went at 6 pm, so it wasn’t too busy, but while we were eating the place definitely started to fill up.

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The menu is separated into chicken, beef, fish, pork, vegetarian, and brunch tacos and there are a couple varieties for each. There’s lots of kinds that I’d try – buffalo chicken, fish n’ chips, ahi poke, shredded pork, and even fried paneer.

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I got the #11 Grilled Flank Steak (portobello, white queso, grilled red onion, mex-oregano, corn tortilla) and the #9 Crisp Pork Belly (house pickles, pickled fresnos, grain mustard, tomato, red onion, micro celery, poppy seed, celery salt, flour tortilla). I liked the pork belly one but wasn’t in love with the grilled flank steak – the queso tasted weird on it and it was hard to eat the steak.

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Tom got the #7 Cuban Pig (gruyere cheese, slow roasted pulled pork, shaved ham, peppered bacon, grain mustard, house brined pickle, crisp flour tortilla) and the #3 Spicy Chicken Tikka (crisp tenders, spicy pepper sauce, buttered
cilantro basmati rice, raita crema, thai basil, flour tortilla). He liked them both, and when he told me the chicken tikka one was really good, a random guy sitting next to us chimed in that the chicken tikka is his favorite of them all. I guess I know what I’m getting next time!

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Finally, the best thing here was the tater tots, served with a local egg, herbed goat cheese, smoked cheddar, avocado crema, and bacon. All things that I love that you wouldn’t think to put together!

Can’t wait to go back and try some more things on the menu including the elote-style corn and the red velvet cake!

Green Street Smoked Meats

My friend Tom and I went to a hockey game recently, and I was tasked with finding us a place to eat somewhere in the West Loop before the game. I definitely don’t get out to the West Loop often enough, so this was a perfect chance to try something new.

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I picked Green Street Smoked Meats, a barbecue place that just opened earlier this year. Like many barbecue places, you go up to order and get all your food on a tray. They sell meat by the half pound, so Tom and I decided to get a couple and split it. They also have a lot of sides, like baked beans, broccoli salad, macaroni salad, and potato salad… but no mac and cheese. WHAT?!

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It turns out that half a pound of meat is not a ton. We got, pictured below, half a pound of sliced brisket and half a pound of pork ribs, and a side of baked beans for the both of us. The meat was pretty good but I couldn’t help thinking about the price while I was eating, which ruined it – this tray was like $34. The beans were ok, maybe a little too sweet for my taste.

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The restaurant has a pretty big interior that is really dimly lit, and then a nice area with benches where you can sit outside.

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Probably the best thing about this place is that there is a Divvy station RIGHT outside the restaurant. We hopped on a couple bikes and made it to the United Center in like 10 minutes. Definitely the fastest way to get there!

Sidenote: is it barbeque or barbecue?!

Cafe 300

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I’m lucky enough to work in a building that has a really good cafeteria on the bottom floor. It even has its own Yelp page with 3.5 stars! The food is significantly cheaper than if you were to eat out for lunch, and sometimes the portion sizes can be so crazy that you can split the meal into two.

There are six stations: Grains Bar, Sushi, Create, Grill, Wild Greens, Flavors, and Deli. I will almost always get my lunch from the Flavors station, but if I’m feeling something different I might get a salad or sushi. The only station I’ve never been to is the Deli – I’m not a big sandwich person. I’ve decided to give you a look at what you could get here in a typical week!

Monday: Teriyaki Glazed Salmon Fillet with Wild Rice Pilaf and Asparagus ($9.18)

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The salmon was really good with the teriyaki glaze. My coworker Justin would refuse to eat this because he insists that it’s farm-raised salmon, but I don’t think about that. The asparagus was also perfectly grilled with a little salt and pepper but not too much.

Tuesday: Build Your Own Burrito Bowl ($8.04)

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This usually comes in a tortilla instead of a plastic container, but that’s probably for the best. They have rice, beans, and different toppings and salsas for you to choose from. They also usually have a chicken tinga which is really good.

Wednesday: Tandoori Rubbed Flank Steak with Lentil Dal and Grilled Vegetables ($8.83)

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This is one that I ate half for lunch and half for dinner – economical! The steak was perfectly cooked and you could definitely taste the Indian flavoring of the tandoori, which I have never had on steak before. The lentils were just ok (I think all lentils are like this though).

Thursday: House Smoke BBQ Chicken and Pulled Pork with Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese and Green Beans ($12.23)

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Barbeque Thursdays! I went a little overboard this day and asked for 2 meats and 2 sides (usually it’s just 1 meat with 1 or 2 sides) but I also saved half of this for dinner. The chicken is huge and well spiced while the pulled pork was flavorful and moist. And the mac and cheese was great. The only downside of barbeque from Cafe 300 is that I never love any of their sauces; I always ask for it on the side in case I don’t like it.

Friday: Green Dragon Roll with shrimp, salmon, crab salad & cucumber inside; salmon, unagi sauce, avocado and green onion on top ($9.93)

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Friday is a historically bad day at Cafe 300 for some reason; I never like what they have at the Flavors or Create stations. This day they had chicken & andouille gumbo at the Flavors station and I definitely didn’t want to eat that – I’m sure it’s nowhere near as good as even the gumbo served for lunch at my high school (which was pretty good). So I decided to get sushi, which is always a safe choice. Each roll is handmade after you order it so it’s not like the sushi you pick up at the grocery store, and the fish actually tastes pretty fresh. This roll in particular was pretty… wet. Lots of unagi sauce on it but it was still very good. My favorite rolls are the ones with crispy fried onions on the top.

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In the summer, it’s really nice to sit outside and get a break from the office. You get a great view along the river and can watch all the boats and kayakers go by. Just be sure to actually buy food from Cafe 300 if you sit at a table – you’ll get yelled at if you don’t!

Lito’s Empanadas

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I’ve lived less than 200 feet away from Lito’s Empanadas for more than two years, but I have always avoided it for some reason and I don’t know why. In fact, it’s right next door to Del Seoul. Maybe it’s because no one is ever inside, but that’s probably due to there being very little seating (there are 6 stools lined up against the window).

One day, I decided to venture inside to try to get further along on my mission of trying every single eatery on Clark Street between Deming and Wrightwood (still not there – haven’t eaten at Frances’ Deli). There are 12 different empanadas to choose from, which includes a couple dessert ones. I chose the #4 (champinon chicken with chicken, cheese, tomato, sauteed mushrooms, and onion) and #5 (slow cooked BBQ chicken and potatoes). After less than 10 minutes, I had fresh empanadas to take home.

Each empanada says “Lito’s” on it, as you can see in the picture – cute! After two bites, I was thinking about how I have been missing out all this time by not trying these sooner. I loved the #4 and the #5 was pretty good too. They also come with a green hot sauce made with green chilis, onions, and cilantro and a delicious ketchup/mayo based sauce.

These were so good that two days later, I decided to get them again for dinner. This time I got three empanadas, the #4 again, and the #2 (beef and rice) and #8 (spinach, mozzarella, and onion).

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The #4 was just as good as it was the first time, and the spinach one was also very good. I wasn’t a huge fan of the beef and rice empanada – it was a little dry and bland for my taste.

I will definitely be back at Lito’s – it’s such a quick meal to get and did I mention it’s cheap!? Each of these are $2.99! Two empanadas are definitely enough to fill me up. Next time I’ll have to try the apple caramel with cinnamon sugar one – sounds amazing!

Del Seoul

Del Seoul is BY FAR my favorite place to eat near me. It’s cheap, quick, and super tasty – what else would you need? Apparently Korean tacos have been a “thing” in L.A. for a couple years now but I haven’t really seen much evidence of the trend until this place. When I brought my friends to this place they described it as “Asian, but fake.” However, whenever you go into Del Seoul, there are always a lot of Asians… that’s how you know an Asian restaurant is actually good!

My parents and I ate here twice when they were in town moving me into my apartment, which is probably also a testament of how good it is. The first time, we ordered a Spicy Tofu Hotpot and a Kalbi plate.  The next time, we got the Bulgogi plate and the Spicy BBQ Pork plate, which are the same as the Kalbi plate, just different meats.

The Kalbi plate is definitely my favorite thing to get here. The plate comes to you sizzling, similar to if you got fajitas from Chili’s.  The short ribs are marinated in some kind of soy sauce, and I have no idea how to describe it in any other way than delicious.  They also throw in some onions, a healthy portion of bok choy, and white rice.  You also get a side of kimchi, which I am too scared to eat.

I also love their tacos, which is what they focus most of their advertising on. One day I got home pretty late and didn’t want to cook and called in an order for three tacos. They said it’d be ready in ten minutes. I was watching American Idol, so I waited until Contestant #2 had sung their last note, and ran out of my apartment and to Del Seoul.  They had my order ready and waiting, and I made it back home in time to watch Contestant #3’s intro package!

Here, I got a fish, chicken, and pork taco.  I’ve also tried their other two tacos, shrimp and kalbi.  They are all good and worthy of being ordered again, but my favorite is definitely the fish taco.  You get this huge piece of fried fish, which is cooked perfectly, and then they top it off with pickled onions and slaw.  All of the tacos have the perfect amount of spiciness to give it a lot of flavor.

They also have steamed dumplings (delicious) and banh mi sandwiches (haven’t tried). If you are in the neighborhood and are looking for something affordable but different, I would highly recommend stopping by Del Seoul!

Smoque BBQ

Last Saturday was an excellent day for a bike ride compared to every other day this July in Chicago, since the high was only 88 degrees (as opposed to 100 degrees). So I decided to ride my bike 6 miles to Smoque BBQ in Irving Park, which has gotten excellent reviews on both Yelp (4.5 stars) and Zagat (26/30 for food).

I got there at about 1:30 pm, which was perfect. There were still quite a bit of people but not enough where I had to wait for a table.  Right as I got in, a worker asked if I was eating there or to go, so he could get a table for me.  Sure enough, after I ordered there was one ready, which was great.

I ordered a sliced brisket platter with the brisket chili and mac and cheese as my sides.  I also added on 1/4 lb. of their St. Louis ribs.  Overall, pretty affordable and in the same price range as other barbeque places I’ve been to ($12.95 for the platter + sides, $4.50 for the extra ribs).

I have no idea how the slaw tasted, because I wasn’t going to waste my stomach on fatty lettuce when I could be eating the rest of this deliciousness.  The sides were so good, especially the brisket chili.  You could really taste each individual part of it, especially tomatoes and the brisket.  The mac and cheese tasted really homemade, while the breadcrumbs on top were a nice touch.  Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the ribs.  I thought it would be fall-off-the-bone tender, but it just wasn’t.

The real winner was the sliced brisket.  It was extremely tender and moist and quickly fell apart whenever I tried to get a slice of it on my fork.  The sauce that comes with it didn’t overpower the meat at all, in fact, it probably would have been just as good without the sauce.

One of the workers was amused that I brought my own tupperware to bring the leftovers home, but I explained that I rode my bike and didn’t want anything to leak.  And then what happened?  One of the barbeque sauces accidentally opened and spilled everywhere on the way home!  Anyway, this place was amazing and definitely fulfilled my barbeque craving.  I’ll definitely be back!