Calvin's BBQ--All the good sides {From The Raving Dish}

Dscf4264It seems that I'm forever on the hunt for hearty, fulfilling side dishes. Not much of a meat eater, my desires lean toward the simple and easy to find, like French fries. But a girl can only stomach so many platefuls of fried potatoes. There comes a time when I need some substance, a time when I crave something I can chew, as opposed to inhale. Enter Calvin's BBQ, a tiny shack of a place on the outskirts of Logan Square.

I'd heard about Calvin's from Lisa, a foodie buddy of mine. She's always on the hunt for rough-hewn places that look as if they just might be churning out good grub and she'd spotted Calvin's on a recent sojourn through the city. BBQ joints are always good for homey sides, so I decided to give it a go. Let me just say this: When the smell of smoking meat hits you before you even got out of your car, you know you're onto something (credit that wildly tempting scent to the smoker out back).

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Moon's Sandwich Shop {From The Raving Dish}

Dscf42131You've probably blown past it a hundred times. The dirty exterior of Moon's Sandwich Shop, 16 S. Western Ave., isn't the prettiest thing to look at, with chipped metal gates splayed across the front and a grimy sign that's barely readable. It may look like it closed for good in 1985, but this is one book you don't want to judge by its cover.
Moon's is one of the best diners in Chicago, hands down. Usually packed to the brim with saucy characters, it's a bona fide chop shop in a city full of dinky imposters. I stumbled across this mecca of all things greasy and delicious some time last year in one of my infamous blaze-about-the-city-and-see-what-I-find foraging trips.

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A Perfect Sunday (From The Raving Dish)

Dscf3984Sunday mornings are made for utter relaxation, but because my days usually bleed together, I hardly know Sunday from Wednesday from Tuesday. One of my New Year's resolutions was to resolve that; if it's the weekend, treat it like the weekend. In other words, chill. Starting now.

And, oddly enough, my perfect morning entails getting pounded senseless by a half-naked, tubby little Asian woman at my favorite hidden gem, Paradise Sauna, 2912 W. Montrose Ave. If you've never made the trip to this steamy Asian bathhouse, you've been missing out (don't worry, everyone is always terrified the first time). I always go for the half-hour body scrub ($30 for the scrub, $18 for all-day access to the facilities). Imagine 30 minutes of being twisted, pulled, turned, shaped, molded and half-punched with sandpaper-like gloves, all while being hurled with buckets and buckets of hot water, topped off by the fact that you're buck-naked on a dripping wet massage table in a room full of other blissed-out steamers (eight person capacity).

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Salt & Pepper Diner: Yep, it's a Fried Egg Club Sandwich

Dscf2956I know it may sound horrifying, but one of the very best thing that I've put into my mouth is the self-created fried egg club sandwich at Salt & Pepper on Lincoln Ave.  Yeah, the waitress was a bit stunned that I didn't want meat on my club and would rather have a fried egg in its place, and then to toss on some extra mayo to boot.  Who cares though, when you're a veggie (yeah....) ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.  I know this looks like a heaping platter of food, but I did indeed mow on the entire plate---all french fries included.  Salt & Pepper also has an amazing scrambled egg on grilled rye bread with oozing American cheese, but that is a whole other story!

Johnny Rockets Milkshakes: Bring it On

Dscf1225After a long day racing around downtown taste-testing big, homemade pretzels for a recent article, the 'ole sweet tooth flared up and there was nothing that could satiate it besides an icy cold milkshake.  The closest place was the Johnny Rockets in The Gold Coast and I'm here to tell you that it was the best shake I've sucked down this summer.  Super-duper chocolaty, covered in whipped cream and thicker than ever, I could literally suck down one of these mamas every single day of the week.  Now if they could only work a bit on the customer service...

Scooter's Concrete Snickers: Later DQ!

Dscf0941A few months ago, my film crew and I set out on an epic road trip from Chicago to the very tip of Baja, Mexico. We were filming a TV show called, "Tracking Expats," traipsing up and down the entire peninsula of Baja trying to locate those randy souls that took the plunge, ditched America and bolted over the border. All in all, we logged over 7,000 miles roundtrip (in my trusty SUV), close to a hundred plates of beans and rice and boatloads of margaritas.

On the way there (across the whole of North America), we stopped at almost every single Dairy Queen (lovingly called the DQ) and picked up a few of those mind-numbingly addictive Blizzards. My fave is the Snickers Blizzard, and when we finally crossed back over the border onto US soil, where'd we roll to right away? Our good friend, the DQ.

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Superior Bar Food: Candlelite Chicago's Garlic French Fries

Dscf0569Sometimes the only thing that's gonna hit the spot is straight up bar food and lots of it. Problem is, where to wrangle up some good bar food? I know there are a few spots in my 'hood; The Village Tap (awesome veggie burgers and plates of made-from-scratch hummus), The Burgundy Inn (juicy pork chops and addictive yeast rolls) and Northside Bar and Grill (great, drinkable ranch dressing and crispy French fries), but for the most part, the late night shove-down is cheesy quesadillas and refried bean dip from Tony's Burrito Mex.

That is, until I discovered Candlelite Chicago way up on the North Side. This tavern has been around for 60 years (never heard of it) and had started to sag ("big time," according to the regulars) until a group of young bucks bought her a few years ago and did a full retweak of the interior, including the menu. This is bar food at its finest. I could go on and on about the cracker thin crust pizza (which everyone who knows about the place seems to do already), or the creamy baked goat cheese marina dip with homemade crispy flatbread, but compared to a few other stars on the menu, these dishes pale in comparison (though they are quite good).

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Pane's Strikes Again: Blueberry Lemon Puddings

One of my  favorite sandwich shops, Pane's, has some of the best desserts going right now.  My fave is the little Blueberry Lemon Puddings that come in a tiny silver tin.  They're way to expensive (almost $4) for a itty-bitty serving, but after the very first, super-rich bite, you won't even care about the dough.  And, blueberries aren't going to be around much longer either, so you better go while the goin's good.  Don't even think about sharing; I made that atrocious mistake.

Su Van's: More From the Tuna Front

Dscf0035After a recent trip to New Orleans (where I had one of the best tuna fish sandwiches ever created), I blazed back into the city with a full-blown tuna fish addiction. I've been hunting high and low for the best tuna in the city, and after sampling what seems like hundreds of versions, I'm thinking that Su Van's is pretty dang high up on the list. And, lucky for me, so are her home-style baked goods, super fresh veggie paninis and thick and glorious hot chocolate.

Though I live in the 'hood, I never gave Su Van's too much thought 'til I got a new office space a half block away. Maybe it's the less-than-obvious name, or perhaps it's the eerie quietness inside (seriously, even when the restaurant is half full there's barely a peep coming out of a soul), but whatever the case may be, there was always something a bit off about the place. Now that I'm always scouring the area for new eating options, I've changed my silly ways; I actually relish in the quiet (my office seems to be production central for every other rogue indie filmmaker in Chicago) of Su Van's and I guess I don't even mind the name (I don't discount my favorite breakfast haunt, Victory's Banner, because I don't know what the hell a Victory's Banner is, do I?).

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Gigantic Po' Boys and Blue Crab Quesadillas

Dscn1584_3 Being from the Deep South, I've forever had an affinity for all things fried. Doesn't matter what it is (meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, chocolate gravy, you name it), just coat it in flour and toss it in oil, and I'll happily devour it (especially if there is some icy cold ranch dressing or a slather of oily mayo involved).

One of my favorite places in town to get fried food is the adorable little dive bar on Webster called The Local Option (formerly The Local Shack). I adore it mostly for its anonymity (it looks like any old hole in the wall upon first glance and you could easily pass on by), but I love it even more for its small back room that substitutes as a New Orleans-style takeout fish shack.

The blazing red dining area leads to a quaint outdoor patio and shares space with an open kitchen that slings up some of the best fresh fish po' boy's, peel-and-eat-shrimp and crab cakes that I've had. And I've been up and down the Bayou (this, along with half the world, is one of my favorite road trip areas).

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