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October 2006

Pilsen & BomBon = Pure Happiness

Dscf1870_1Strolling through Pilsen is one of my all-time favorite ways to kill some time. The quirky South Side neighborhood is always slinging up new shops and cafes, each with their own unique specialty (pork, sweets, beef, tamales, tortillas), and I haven't even rounded the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eating out in this spirited, still-on-the-cheap-side 'hood.
Though I'm completely in love with the blaring Mexican music, the enticing scent of char-grilled meat wafting from open windows, the friendly hello in a stranger's eye and the simplicity of a real working class neighborhood, one of Pilsen's best features is BomBon.

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Taqueria Puebla: The Real Deal, Lebanese-style

Dscf1903My fascination with Mexico builds on a daily basis, an allure I credit to the mass amounts of Mexican restaurants populating the streets of Chicago. Every time I turn a corner there's another hole-in-the-wall ripe for exploration. Thanks to the bravery of these sassy Mexican imports, my relationship with every far-flung region grows at a fantastically rapid pace.
For weeks my pal Lisa has been waxing poetic about a small Mexican restaurant she'd been hearing about, one that co-mingles the hearty influence of Lebanese cooking with the rustic bliss of homegrown Mexican cuisine. We finally gave it a go, proving the adage true: Good things come to those who wait.

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South African State of Mind

AfricamapgifI leave on Wednesday for South Africa.  It couldn't have come at a better time...the weather just turned bone chilling in Chicago and I need some sunny days.  I'll be gone a month and hitting up all the major cities and townships while in the country.  I'm mostly excited to jam down to Cape Town--its always been on my short list of places to go and especially if it is on somebody else's dime (I'm working on a documentary while there so the company gets to absorb that cost).  I absolutely cannot wait to get to the coast, hike thru the mountains, eat a whole new world of cuisine, drink fabulous South African wine, meet crews that call this lovely country home and well, again...EAT! It's all about the food, so expect posts divulging what I've found down every back alley. Ahhhh, just to be south of the equator right now.  48 hours and I am out!~Oh, and the best part is...I go back again in December for even longer....Life is all good in Mistyland.

Jerry's Sandwiches and Deli: A True Revelation

Dscf1682When I'm in my vegetarian mode, there's nothing more appealing than the thought of a sandwich. But the heartache seeps in pretty quickly—it's next to impossible to find a good one made for a veggie.
When I hit the point where I just can't stomach one more caprese sandwich on foccacia bread or another roasted vegetable and portabella mushroom concoction, I'll admit it—I start to crave a meaty sandwich full of thinly-shaved ham, crisp lettuce, brilliant red tomatoes and slathers of mayo on soft white bread. It's just the simple, but I can't bring myself to order the meat-filled wonder these days.

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Thai Aroma: It's Cheap, It's Good, It's in a Strip Mall

Dscf1400I recently directed an episode of the HGTV television show Small Space, Big Style, and when the lunchtime hour arose, my crew, the ridiculously adorable homeowners and I set out to find some good grub in Buena Park (on the HGTV dime, of course).

They recommended trying the fantastic burgers at Buena Bar, a traditional bar near their chic 350-square-foot apartment, but we skittered over only to find that it was closed for lunch. Of course this meant I had to dig deep into my mental I-ate-at-this-strip-mall-joint-once archives and bust out my insider knowledge of Thai Aroma.

Funny, they lived two blocks from this great little Thai place and happened to be on an extreme budget, yet they'd never paid attention to its faded exterior. Jeez, open your eyes, kids; just because a restaurant is in a dusty old strip mall doesn't mean the food's no good. It just means it's probably gonna be cheap and yummy.

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Caracas Grill: Venezuelan Food on the North Side

Caracas_arepaI know I touched briefly on Caracas Grill and their amazing arepas in a previous post, but I just think this cozy South American restaurant (Venezuelan to be exact) deserves a full blown entry.  Located sort of outta the way on the north side (6340 N. Clark), this little puff of a place has stolen my tastebuds with their tasty food.  I don't know what it is about Latin America in general, but their cuisine, their spices, their drinks, their heat and their heartfelt warmth just make me wanna hop in my truck and head south--Deep South, mind you.  Until then, though, I can get my fix at Caracas (which is the capitol of Venezuela, by the way), who has these poppin' char-grilled arepas (griddled corn pancakes that remind me of a funky grilled cheese) stuffed with oozing cheese which I  top with a hefty squirt of lime.  You cannot even imagine how delightful they are (especially on an empty belly).  Arepas are very traditional and extremely popular in Venezuela and you can literally make an entire meal out of them (I'm told the beef are exceptional).  If you get a chance, swing on up to the N. Side for a handful (trust me, you'll want more than one)~~
I get goosebumps sometimes thinking about all the countries I can explore simply by meandering the streets of Chicago.  What a city...

Veggie Sausage @ The Lake Side Cafe

Dscf1648There are some mornings when I wake up thinking, My God!  I could eat a pound of bacon...unfortunately, I cant bring myself to do it anymore (all those poor little pigs), but what I can do is slam a handful of the awesome veggie sausages at one of my fave vegan eateries, Lake Side Cafe.  This little gem of a place has some of the best veggie links and the line is nothing like Victory Banner.  I raved about their veggie polish sausage and now that I'm moving to the 'hood (E. Rogers Park)--really just a few blocks away--I'm gonna have to try every single thing on their menu.  They also have those crazy cheap vegetarian cooking classes ($15 each) and just a good, positive vibe rolling around.  Time to flip out and get healthy, no???

Save This Restaurant: From Time Out Chicago

Dscf1634Here's my latest article from Time Out Chicago---it's all about Indian lately, si?  If you love the spice, head out to Hoffman Estates and try the $7 buffet---just damn fine stuff...

Spice In Café

No foot traffic? Check. Remote location? Check. Limited Indian population nearby? Check. For most potential restaurant owners trying to make good on the American Dream, those factors would send them running scared. Not so for Bhima Ramineni (pictured), the shy owner of Spice In Café in Hoffman Estates. Starting out his stateside career with an Indian grocery, he then turned it into a small bakery. When the business neighboring the bakery went under earlier this year, he took the plunge and opened his tiny Indian-style restaurant with a menu of both Northern and Southern specialties. “I didn’t want to move to Devon Avenue because if you look closely, it’s not very clean,” Ramineni laughs.

The main draw is the all-you-can-eat buffet, a spread that sends the scents of exotic mustard seed, cardamom, cloves and rose syrup into the street. Vegetarians are addicted to the deep-fried onion ringlets, paneer cheese in spicy-sweet curry and cinnamon-tinged chana masala (chickpeas with chilies), while meat-eaters devour mouth-watering butter chicken in tangy tomato sauce. Every spice-laden dish is procured from a Ramineni family recipe, and the diverse offerings even include some Indo-Chinese cuisine (think fried rice with Indian spices). “A few people have heard about us from word of mouth,” Ramineni says, “but I’m just praying we make it.”—Misty Tosh

1061 W Golf Rd, Hoffman Estates (847-310-5954). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $10.

Peace of Mind~Where the Heck Are Ya?

Dscf1660_1I cannot think of a time in my life where I have been busier.  This year has been a banner year for work (sorry, not play) and over the past year, I have found myself traveling to Spain, Nicaragua, Bali and now in a few weeks I'll be heading to Africa.  I'm working on documentary that Oprah is doing (she's opening a girls school with Nelson Mandela) in South Africa and I leave in just a few weeks--looks like I'll be spending X-mas there, too.  I'm super excited (what sort of food will I encounter??), but in the meantime, all I'm really hankering to do is go sailing.  This lovely photo was taken at my favoite harbor in Chicago--Wilmette Harbor--where my pal Rick keep his boat.  Just to get my fix, I've been checking in on all my favorite sailing sites daily--with great heart flurries at not being able to just pick up and go at the drop of a hat (I am on this doc 'til next year).  One good thing, though--I am moving to East Roger's Park in December (where I just bought the cutest place on the lake) and I can literally put in (for when I have time to go kayaking?) within spitting distance from my new little home---and I am just that much closer to Wilmette Harbor.   I guess things are going swimmingly in life~~