A cute little taco eatery opened up recently in Old Irving Park, and I visited it this month. Owner Jose Bustos and I had been in conversation for some time, so we finally made it happen.
When you walk in, you are immediately impressed by the decor, which is eclectic and CTA inspired. CTA like Chicago Transportation Authority. I thought it was cute that one CTA pays homage to another. All recipes are curated by Jose as are the restaurant interiors.
The after-work crowd was starting to pack in, so I snagged a table by the giant graffiti wall. So cool! Jose brought out fresh guacamole with a bag of chips made also fresh at the restaurant.
There is a bar dedicated just to salsa, where I filled cups of medium, hot and mild sauces, and pico de gallo. A warm bowl of elotes came out loaded with corn, mayo and a generous sprinkle of chili powder. I am officially obsessed with cotija cheese.
The chili powder definitely got my nostrils and that was all the excuse I needed to ask for a glass of chilled horchata.
Then it was taco time. For me, seafood AND tacos is literally heaven. I haven’t seen heaven, but there better be seafood tacos there. A platter of Shrimp Taco, Fish Taco and a Chili Relleno Taco were placed in front of me. I loved how fresh both meats were, marinated and seasoned with Cajun spices and topped with a jalapeño slaw. Jose isn’t afraid to test the spice component! But its spicy and flavorful. The avocado in the shrimp tacos were amazing for texture too.
Vegetarian friends, the Vegetarian Taco was poblano stuffed with cheese, egg battered, fried and then laid on a fresh tortilla. What else do you need to know to hurry there?!
Many other meat tacos on the menu that I obviously couldn’t indulge in, but they looked great. Just saying!
Flan to finish, a simple alchemy of eggs, sugar, milk and vanilla. Caramel sauce running down the sides and making every bite delicious.
Everything about this place is insanely fun and yummy. This, is the way to do tacos and my next Cinco De Mayo celebration will be at Chicago Taco Authority.
April showers, bring May pasta! The month started with me being transported to Italy at Osteria Langhe’s 5th Anniversary celebration. They know how to throw a party. The festivities were held in their backyard with a full on Piemontese feast. There was a portable coal fire oven out of which Chefs were rolling out a variety of pizzas. Those didn’t stop coming but after a while, I did stop counting how many pieces I had. Fresh pasta and other appetizers were being passed around too.
An amazing selection of wine and spritz were being served as a live Italian band performed. Guests had a gala time as they grooved and mingled. Anyone I was with that had been to Italy assured me that this was exactly what Italy was like. Bravo for creating such an authentic experience for a celebration.
Chef Cameron Grant was seen making the rounds, greeting guests. It was such a happy event and a huge feat for the team behind the restaurant. I was honored to be part of it!
The Bristol is a Chicago classic. From being known as one of the best gastropubs in town to one of the top brunch spots in the city, I have always loved their rustic décor, dim lighting and communal seating ambiance because it makes you want to stay forever.
I went in with a guest this month for a menu-tasting and I am glad it had been a while since my last visit because it made it that much more exciting.
I started my soiree with the Mole & Wine, an interesting concoction of mulled wine, Peligroso tequila, and Aztec chocolate bitters. You need a sophisticated palette to enjoy this one. An extensive selection of other wines and cocktail classics also offered for libations.
The Monkey Bread is the first thing on their menu, and we weren’t moving forward without an order of it. A sticky pastry served with dill butter will immediately put all your carb cravings to rest. Delicious!
The Pimento Cheese on a rye-cornbread waffle is one of the most interesting things I have eaten. It was topped with trout roe, and a lot of it. You must get this!
Mussels were fresh and you could literally taste the saltwater, in a good way! The shellfish came strongly flavored with smoked onion and piquillo pepper,and we asked for the bacon cream on the side for my friend. Let me also rave about the shiro miso sourdough toast served with, that couldn’t have been more perfect to soak up the broth. Beware, you can fill up on this dish!
Our server told us the pastas were smaller plates so we decided to each one of each. The Raviolo, singular for ravioli, comes one giant ravioli stuffed with ricotta, herbs, and an egg yolk. You pop open the ravioli and watch as the egg yolk bleeds out into the brown butter broth the pasta floats in. It also has parmesan. The best dish I ate here, and now one of the top three pastas I have ever eaten.
I really enjoyed the Shrimp Agnolotti too. Poached shrimp with tarragon-shrimp cream, breadcrumbs and dehydrated trout roe. Got my roe fill for sure after this one!
Finally, we made our way to the entrees and had their Steelhead Trout with barbequed carrots, ramp green goddess, Mizuna and toasted sesame. Ugh, too amazing for words. It looked so much like salmon but it less ‘fishier’ in taste. I will go back for this one soon. A total beauty too!
We managed to squeeze one dessert in, and I have to say, I think we ordered the best one. Their Basque Cake is pure Spanish decadence. A previous pastry chef’s grandmother’s recipe that present Chef Julia Fitting executes beautifully. A bread pudding pound cake, with a strawberry jam, candied walnuts and loads of chantilly.
I couldn’t believe everything we ate and I don’t want to think of the calories we consumed on that very extravagant meal. But when the food is that good, there’s no regrets. The Bristol really upholds Chicago’s food reputation as Chef Todd Stein whips magic.
The Terrace 16 had its Spring menu launch event this month and we actually had beautiful weather which allowed us to celebrate on their beautiful rooftop patio. Even though I’ve visited numerous times, its always refreshing and exciting to be in their space. So elegant and so exquisite. Fashion blogger Lizzy Fay and I attended together and had a terrific time enjoying sips and bites. All cocktails are named after famous Chicago buildings but the Members Only was my pick of the evening.
Bites such as the Lobster Arancini and Crab Cakes were being passed around, while thee was whole carving station dedicated to pescatarians! A giant branzino! If you haven’t dined here, make sure to check it out this summer. You won’t have a better view of the city from anywhere else, I can guarantee that!
After having an amazing dinner at Hutch American Kitchen and Bar in Andersonville for the first time last month, I was undoubtedly stoked for brunch at their Lakeview location, Hutch American Bistro. And since my mamma is far away, it was nice that I got to visit the restaurant on Mothers Day.
Of course, being one of the neighborhood’s favorite spots, it was even more packed than usual, but somehow the humming always energizes me. And I got to bring my friend Alicia with me, who I literally haven’t seen in a year. It was memorable all around.
We forayed into our meal, first with tea and coffee, and then with a giant carafe of their Mango Mimosas. They have these featured on the menu as their ‘Eye Opening Cocktails’ and while my eyes were very relaxed after a few glasses, my mouth was certainly wide open. If they were going to make such fruity mimosas, they have to be bottomless.
We kept those coming, as we ordered the Totchos; that’s tater tots nachos! Points for creativity and execution. A skillet of crispy tots were dressed with two fried eggs, pico de gallo, truffled cheese fondue and avocado. What else could possibly be missing to make these loaded and luxurious?! Loved watching the yolk bleed into the tots and while they got soggy, they somehow managed to retain their external crispiness. It was like magic!
For benedicts, we both opted for the Veggie one. An English muffin with spinach, mushroom, poached eggs, Hollandaise sauce and chives came out. Hard for me to admit, but I did not miss the salmon or lobster in this dish! So well-done.
But you know me, I can’t go too long without my seafood, and loved every bite of the Smoked Salmon Flatbread on their brunch menu. Small squares of golden crust with salty salmon, cream cheese, capers, red onions, and lots of arugula.
Golden advice: do not ignore the Chilalaquiles on their menu! The fried corn tortillas were folded with scrambled eggs, cheese, medium spiced salsa roja and sour cream. This may have been the chilaquiles of my dreams!
We sweetened the meal with an order of their Belgium Waffles. This was a classic, and came with powdered sugar and strawberries. The waffles were so fluffy, oh my!
So many other brunch items we didn’t have room for, but will go back for!
It was a treat to have attentive service even amidst the crowd. It is apparent that the restaurant is used to being busy and does not compromise on the quality of food or service, no matter what. Thank you Hutch, for an extraordinary Mothers Day!
I like my seafood, but if you can serve it to me in a hip atmosphere, even better! River North got lucky again with the new Clutch Bar and Restaurant that doubles as a lounge. They offer lunch, brunch and dinner and for those interested, dancing.
This is the first location in Chicago after Dallas and Houston and I am thrilled to have one in the city! My friend and I visited for dinner one evening this month, and we had a fabulous time.
The décor is glitzy and glamorous with large windows that open up. It’s the perfect place for libations and we were having exceptionally good weather the night we went, so we indulged. We got the Gunz N Roses made with vodka, rose aperitif and raspberry, and the Tiki, Do You Love Me, an island-inspired drink, named by our server Megan! I had to get it in her honor.
The Crab Dip was the first to arrive and what a good start! A creamy dip which was also a wonderful combination of flavors was served with toasted bread. We scooped and smeared until the next dish showed up.
One can never have enough octopus in life. Here, a ‘tomatoey’ dish made with tear drop chilies, olives and garlic was served with grilled ciabatta. The olives gave it a nice aftertaste too and the octopus was faultlessly cooked.
One of my favorite dishes here wasn’t in fact seafood-laden. Their Baked Brie is popular for a reason. Beautiful presentation of a puffed pastry with melted brie inside, topped with blistered grapes, pistachios and basil, and served with rosemary honey to drizzle as we please. I purposely didn’t finish this, so we’d have leftovers. Don’t you commend me on my will power?
We ventured into the mains because we were starting to get carried away by all the wonderful appetizer selections. The Saffron Tagliatelle was pretty phenomenal with white wine, shallots, caper berries and jumbo shrimp strewn all around. One of my favorite types of pastas too, so I’m glad it was made well.
I wouldn’t have expected to see the Connecticut-Style Lobster Roll on the menu; what a pleasant surprise! The most vibrant looking lobster meat with a striking orange hue was piled on top of a buttery bun and seasoned with chives, parsley, dill and lemon zest. A nice and hearty sandwich not to be missed on a visit here.
Vegetarians, rejoice in the Quinoa Tabbouleh at Clutch. A light and refreshing medley of cilantro, blueberries, feta, lemon and olive oil. And spiced peanuts and sunflower seeds for texture. This dish screams summer on a plate. Portion is huge too, enough for a few meals even after.
Somewhere between all this food, the sun had set, the lights had been dimmed, and the windows had been shut. When our server arrived in a different outfit, we actually forgot where we were. The lounge scene had taken over and the music had put us in a party mood, just as we realized that it was a school night and we were too full to move.
We did get to celebrate my friend’s birthday however, as our server kindly brought out champagne sparklers with a giant flourless cake for her. We managed to eat it, because, you never let dessert go to waste. Then we rolled ourselves home, somehow.
What a fun-filled visit to this new neighborhood hot spot. If you walk by it, you won’t be able to not go in. And even if you don’t live nearby, my guess it you will hear about it enough this summer and have FOMO. Clutch is Clutch!
This month, the Nation’s Restaurant News had its 22nd MenuMasters celebration at The Drake Hotel downtown.
The event was a tribute to all winners, Chefs and their teams, chosen from over 400 restaurants around the country to showcase the award winning dishes and be felicitated. There were eight winners all together. Well deserved, is what I have to say!
The NRN can throw a party like no other. Held at the pristine Drake Hotel, a beautiful ballroom glistened as guests walked in to a beautiful stage set up and food stations serving the food. In addition, there were other passed hors d’oeuvres.
Two highlights for me were meeting Chef Paul Kahan as he served a delicious Country Fried Morel, gorgeously plated. Named Innovator of the Year for a reason.
The Nacho Fries from Tacobell were insanely tasty. 53 million fries were sold within the first five weeks of launch and I successfully consumed a few million myself. They won the best New Item of the Year. Also, well deserved!
The NRN MenuMasters award is the highest honor a chain restaurant can receive for excellence in menu research and development.
The After Party was even more grand with the most innovative desserts I have seen, including Dragon’s Breath which were frozen Lemongrass Puffs in liquid nitrogen served on a stick. After I had my senses adequately tickled, I went over to collect my very own autographed painting by artist Mark Andrew Bailey. So thoughtful NRN!
Waiting for next year already!
A new Eastern European seafood spot graces the city in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, called Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar and it’s absolutely remarkable. A menu tasting took me there recently and I got to bring a friend along. I love places that are stylish yet casual.
The vision for the very talented team behind the restaurant was to create stories with food and drinks from their past, and make it an ode to immigrants in the city. Three Chefs; Chef Guy Meikle, Alan Kruger and Shane Zimmerman pay tribute to their respective heritage through an eclectic menu, including one solely dedicated to caviar, as these chefs wanted to make luxury foods accessible and affordable to all. How’s that for a concept?!
Our dinner was a true global journey which started for me with a drink called the Divine Tsche, an incredible concoction of English Harbor 5 yr rum, brown sugar, Kombucha and toasted coconut rim. Abby ordered their Lazy Daisy, an apple, mint and pine infused vodka served on the rocks. We were both highly pleased with our orders and swapped in-between.
With such a great selection from their expansive raw bar, we had to get a platter of my favorite Kumomoto and Martha’s Vineyard oysters. These were chilled, sweet and meaty. And we were in heaven.
The Beet-Cured Gravlax was similarly delicious and so spanking fresh. I loved the tastes of the lingon-berry mustard with it. Everything at Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar is served traditional Russian style, and all the rye bread and butter are house made, while pickles pickled in-house.
Then came our caviar platter served in a delicate presentation; two cups of Rainbow Trout Roe and Herring Roe each. The former more sweet and the other were larger eggs with a wilder taste. A perfect contrast. They also came with mini servings of capers, boiled egg whites, yolks, onions and dill. What I’ve learned now is never to be fooled by these fishy pearls, because they can be filling!
And we were just getting started.
Something about eating caviar with my friend on a Monday night felt utterly royal and I didn’t think anything could surpass that.
That was when the Million Dollar Noodles made their way to the table. Crab, uni butter, trout roe, nori and crispy grains. Unlike any other noodle dish I’ve had and I can’t really explain it except to say that these buttery noodles were perfection.
If anyone knows how to do Pierogis, it’s Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar! The ones we had were stuffed with wild mushrooms, crème fraiche, mustard, and cherry-black pepper gastrique. These Polish delights also represent Chef Meilhe’s heritage, were steaming fresh and delicious.
The last item we could manage to polish off was their Crab Souffle, which our server told us we had to get. Brioche packed with uni, blowfin roe and herbs. I can’t imagine it is easy to make a perfect high-rising soufflé with such a beautiful top golden crust, with sweet and salty flavors of crab still preserved. So impressive and you will forget all about the dessert.
What a meal! Every single dish here shows creativity and history. Utilizing some methods of cooking I didn’t even know were possible. And I loved that its fancy food accessible to all!
The restaurant is a hidden treasure, and people who learn about it become patrons for life. Service is memorable and servers are passionate about their work. How can I not go back?!
I’m not a sports fan but I do enjoy a good tailgate. The Broken Barrel Bar is exactly what they say it is, a chef-driven tailgate party. And the most innovative tailgate with the tastiest bites and drinks. The restaurant is an expansive room with exposed brick, a beer garden and tons of games like Jenga to bags; all the right elements for a successful barbeque vibe. This gastropub is surely Lincoln Park’s hottest new sensation.
With a menu that’s 98% homemade and all meats smoked in-house, we knew we were in for a treat.
Drinks were right up my alley, and I went right for the Tropical Tumbler because it had my favorite pineapple rum in it. My friend Ada’s Strawberry Margarita was yummy too. And after enjoying the first round of drinks, we decided to celebrate our thirsty Thursday with their Jungle Juice, a concoction of four different vodkas, and a secret juice served in a pimp chalice.
I had gone in vowing to try their Crispy Goat Cheese Balls and they were everything I had built them up to be. Whipped goat cheese fried with panko crust is then drizzled with rosemary-truffle honey and chopped walnuts. You won’t know what hit you!
If you put cauliflower on a menu, I’m going to get it. Broken Barrel’s Crispy Cauliflower has a sweet chili glaze with sesame seeds and micro cilantro for garnish. It was yummilicious!
The Mushroom Flatbread was nicely made with oyster and shiitake mushrooms and Boursin cheese. I quite liked the idea of pickled onions as a topping for pizza. Another fun discovery for me this month!
Earlier this year, Executive Chef Bryant Anderson won first place at the Mac and Cheese Fest for his secret recipe, and I was pumped to try. His award was well-deserved as we ate from a giant platter of creamy, cheesy pasta with jalapenos and fried onions as our topping. There’s a selection of twelve toppings to choose from so you know they know what they’re doing.
Also on the award-winning list, are their wings, which my friend ordered. Here, they are smoked over oak logs and then fried crisp to perfection. She ordered the dry rub sauce and when I saw her licking her fingers, I figured they were good!
If salads are your thing, I would recommend their Kale and Goat Cheese Salad on the menu. It’s a sizeable portion of baby kale, arugula, house pickled cauliflower, red onions, goat cheese and a mustard IPA vinaigrette. The cauliflower added distinctive taste and crunch to the leafy medley.
With all this delicious food, we still hadn’t tried anything seafood. The Blackened Fish Tacos would be my pick for fish off their menu. Your classic tacos with fresh Cajun-spiced salmon, topped with a jalapeno slaw. Two delicious, giant tacos on a plate that would fix your taco cravings fast.
Finally, we got to dessert. The Cookie Monster was a great choice. A giant warm chocolate chip cookie sandwich with chocolate and caramel, M&Ms and whipped cream. Nothing could go wrong with those ingredients!
An utterly pleasing dining experience. All servers had the biggest smiles on their faces and ours had been with the Wine Not Hospitality for seven years. Food and drinks are innovative, delicious and affordable. Portions are substantial too!
I hope your summer plans include a visit here!
As a long-standing citizen of the South Loop, I’m extremely pleased when new places open up in the neighborhood, especially ones that take your breath away. VU Skyward, led by Chef Nolan Narut, is a 13,000 square feet lounge located on the 22ndfloor, with three huge bars and two gorgeous patios. And basically plenty of space to eat, drink, and be merry.
What a great way to enjoy their ingredient-driven beverages, and indulge in modern eats while soaking in unmatched views of the lake and downtown! Thank you Concentric Restaurants group for bringing VU to us!
But VU is much more than a pretty space with breathtaking sights. Chef Narut’s menu is to die for. Mostly comprising of shareable plates and handhelds, every dish here is a global inspiration.
Cocktails are listed by the alcohol, and while I usually steer towards the rum, the vodka- based #2 with cherry orange liqeur and peach cordial sounded more appealing that evening. Don’t worry, the Rum #2 made the next round. Because drinks here are too good to stop at one.
Nothing paired better with drinks than the Fingerling Potatoes with chile oil and cotija cheese and a tantalizing annatto aioli you won’t forget. This garlicky mayo was seriously everything.
As long as Chicago keep’s putting flatbread on a menu, I will keep ordering it. The Wood Fired Flatbread was so amazing. I haven’t had one with gruyere in a long time, which also happens to be my favorite cheese. A very French-inspired dish which was perfect because my guest happened to be French!
The Crispy Spanish Octopus was a beautiful presentation and presented smoky, braised flavors. I loved with it the harissa mayonnaise and pickled vegetables served on the side.
Salmon Tartare is such a delicious way to enjoy raw fish, but it has to be done right. Chef Narut’s version is surely impressive. It had the right amount of saltiness that was reduced by the crème fraiche. The lavosh was a great choice for an accompaniment.
It had been a weekend of ceviche, so I thought, what’s one more for comparison sakes? The Rock Shrimp Ceviche at VU is sure to get your senses going; a nice bite and a little kick from the spicy leche de tigre but with crispy plantain chips to offer a little respite from the spice.
The last dish to wow me was certainly not the least. The Panko Fried Oysters were briny morsels covered in breadcrumbs giving it that airy feel. Fried golden brown and marinated with fennel. A true taste of the sea.
As you can see, seafood is plenty on this menu. And portions are big, which is why I wasn’t disappointed that they don’t serve dessert. There was no room!
And while we couldn’t enjoy the patio because of the rain, rest assured I will be back. A restaurant like VU Skyward becomes a habit, fast.
I had my first ever olive oil tasting event this month and it was a night I will never forget. Olive Oils From Spain European Union is currently doing their world tour and stopped by in Chicago and Black Bull in Wicker Park hosted them and us. Firstly, I did not know just how beautiful and green it was inside the restaurant, instantly put me in the mood to mix and mingle.
The wonderful restaurant staff greeted us as delicious pinxtos were being passed around along with sangria. Both Chef Marcos Campos (Executive Chef of Black Bull) and James Beard winning Chef Seamus Mullen addressed guests before splitting us into two groups. In the first part of the presentation, we watched both Chefs demo a beautiful Gazpacho and Tortilla Espanol using olive oil. Why didn’t I think to use olive oil with my eggs before?!
And then we moved on to a guided tasting of three different kinds of olive oils by Chef Alfonso Fernandez, as we sniffed and sipped olive oil using the proper techniques. And I thought wine was complicated. I felt like the coolest person ever.
As if that wasn’t enough, afterwards the Chefs cooked up a feast for us of grilled prawns, mussels, squid ink rice and so many other tasty dishes, aka a feast. Even the cocktails and dessert incorporated olive oil so creatively. Olive oil will be my new cooking obsession, so be prepared if I cook for you.
In all seriousness, I learned so much about the wonders of olive oil and it made me want to revisit Spain at once. Olive Oils From Spain made that a little easier, as they sent guests home with not only a bottle of olive oil but also a suitcase. No excuses left, I’m headed to OHare!