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my chicago part 1–eat

January 6, 2010

“I’m from Chicago.  The city, not the suburbs.”  That was the canned answer to anyone who asked me where I was from in college.  Ask anyone who met me during those 4 years.  At the time, it felt like such an important distinction to make as people would say they were from Chicago and when probed further you would find out they were from Naperville or Lake Forest.

It’s not that those places aren’t great.  I’m sure they are, but if we’re going to get technical here, they aren’t Chicago. People from outside Boston almost always said “I’m from outside Boston” and good for them, because they were. I wore my Chicago “the city not the suburb” badge proudly.  Maybe that makes me a city snob.  Possibly, if not probably, but I’m willing to live with that label.

Chicago, for me, is more than a city, it’s home.  It’s the city that I will always love no matter how crappy the airport, the weather, or the baseball team.  So, I thought I would write about my Chicago.  The Chicago I look forward to every time I go home.

Editorial note: This is MY Chicago, so these are probably not best suited for people who want to stay near their hotel or do this right after going up to the observation deck on the Willis Sears Tower.   On the other hand, if this is say your third visit to Chicago, you have access to a car or find yourself in this area, then knock yourself out.

There are naturally three categories of things that I do when I got home:  eat, shop and other. To keep this manageable we’ll just talking eating today.


photos courtesy of metromix

In August on a trip home to Chicago, my sister told me about a new restaurant.  Then she told me where it was.  I figured I must have been away from home for too long since if it was in the place that I thought it was the location was some dumpy mini-mall next to a laundromat.  So, we went.

The restaurant is in a dumpy mini-mall next to a laundromat.  Up side: easy parking!  No reservations and shared tables.  It is worth sharing that when I heard my sister was going to a restaurant that had communal tables, I figured the food must have fantastic.  And it is.  Simple, cheap (ish), and oh-so-wonderfully made.  Pictured above right is the dish that I have ordered on every visit: #15.  Homemade rice noodles, chicken, mango and Korean chili sauce.  Spicy with a hint of sweet all at once.  Mostly spicy though, so be prepared.    Dumplings and rices are also fabulous (namely the short rib scallion rice and the duck pho dumplings).

This is not paper menu in the drawer take-out Asian cuisine, but there is something for everyone here.  Now, whether there’s a seat for everyone is a different question.

Urbanbelly Chicago
3053 North California Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618
Closed on Mondays

photo courtsey of flickr

Pilsen is one of the strongest Mexican communities in Chicago.  As such, it’s a natural go-to area for good Mexican food.  La Casa Del Pueblo has been a market with a restaurant next door that my family has been going to long before I can even remember.  My grandmother would often drive out on Sundays and pick up meats for tacos, swinging by El Milagro for tortillas on the way back.  English is a little tough, but you’ll get by.  The food is fantastic.  Family favorites: barbacoa tacos, tamales (oh, the tamales!) and their champurrado (a chocolate based masa drink that is a meal unto itself).  No need to call for reservations.  It’s cafeteria style.

Pilsen is a great neighborhood in general to visit in and of itself.  I believe walking tours of the neighborhood’s murals are available.  I’ve never done it, but it sounds like a good way to work off those tacos.

Casa Del Pueblo
1834 S Blue Island Ave
(between Loomis St & 19th St)
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 421-4664

photo courtsey of lou malnati's

No post about Chicago would be complete without a post about pizza.  Chicago is famous for deep-dish pizza.  And this is a personal question for any person.  Of course, with this said, I think you’ll also find a large majority of people who will not miss a beat and name Lou Malnati’s and their pizza of choice.  There are tons of locations so you’re guaranteed to never be far and if you’re staying with someone, they deliver.  My personal toppings of choice are spinach and sausage, but that’s all up to you.

Lou Malnati’s
Tons of locations (even in the suburbs!)

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