My favourite Chicago eats

I had fun mentally re-eating all the good stuff I had in New York… let’s do it again!

This week, I’m going back to Chicago. Initially, I only agreed to add it to the itinerary because husband wanted to go; I really didn’t know much anything about the city, other than it’s home to the Chicago Bulls, and as children of the 90s/the Jordan era who both grew up playing basketball, that’s obviously our NBA team of choice. Other than that, it was a bit of a blank city for me.

After spending almost a week there over Christmas, though, my opinion changed completely; I loved that city. I can’t tell you why, either – it was just one of those places that felt good to be in. Beautiful buildings, the gorgeous river than runs through it, friendly people, and amazing food. The food scene reminded me a lot of Melbourne, actually, which may be one of the big reasons I loved it so much! We ate a lot in that week, and it was hard to narrow it down to the favourites, but here they are….

 

1. Do-Rite Donuts (donuts)
The food: A traditional buttermilk glaze
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The memory: Ohh I loved this place! Our first day in Chicago, it was cold like I couldn’t believe, and it was Christmas Eve! We were on our way to the Christkindl Christmas Market, and noticed a giant donut pointing the way to a cute little store. We grabbed a donut and some hot tea, pulled up our hoods and sat out the front in the cold to take it all in… a kindly old man sitting on the table next to us struck up a friendly conversation, and it was the most wonderful welcome to any city we’ve ever had!
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2. Au Cheval (diner, burgers)
The food: The Au Cheval cheeseburger with a fried egg; same thing everyone else was ordering!
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The memory: The wind was like little frosty daggers this day, and after a morning of sight-seeing, we couldn’t have been happier to get into Au Cheval and escape the cold! After much pre-trip Googling, Au Cheval’s fried egg cheeseburger seemed to be the must-try burger for Chicago, and it didn’t disappoint. We were lucky enough to get a seat at the counter where we watched the most well-oiled machine out together the most spectacular looking (and smelling) food for the Saturday lunch crowd; it was mesmerising, and really made us think of Chicago as a proper food city.
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3. Portillo’s (hot dogs)
The food: A Chicago dog. Obviously.
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The memory: Another day of walking and walking and more walking, we finally found ourselves in the neighourhood of a Portillo’s, and it was finally Chicago Dog time. I remember sitting on the second level of the restaurant watching over all of the happy people and families with their tables of dogs and fries, and thinking how lucky we were to have made it all the way across the world to enjoy something as simple as a hot dog, which so many people would completely take for granted!
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4. Billy Goat Tavern (burgers)
The food: Double cheezborger. No fries, CHEEPS! No Pepsi, COKE!
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The memory: This was another exciting one – we love watching travel shows, especially the ones that are food heavy. And on all of the travel shows about Chicago and food, the Billy Goat Tavern shows itself. We sat there in the crowded sub-street level diner with our burgers re-hashing the Bulls game we’d been to the night before, and talking about how long ago it felt that we were sitting on the couch watching this place on TV wondering if we’d ever actually get there…
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5. Lou Malnati’s (deep dish pizza)
The food: The Malnati Chicago Classic – sausage, cheese and vine-ripened tomato sauce. Simple.
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The memory: I know that “real” Chicagoans don’t do deep dish pizza, but to enjoy it, you just need to not think of it as pizza. It’s a quiche pizza hybrid. A quizza, if you will. This was one of the deep thoughts that was discussed over dinner, sitting at a high bench table, finally out of the -15°C cold. Sometimes we just act like kids…
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6. Rubi’s Tacos (street food – tacos)
The food: Pork tacos – amazing!!!
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The memory: Market and street food are two of my favourite things, and when we came across Rubi’s with a massive line, we figured we should probably join it – I remembered reading somewhere they did the best tacos. When we realised no one in the line was speaking English and there was no real menu, we figured a) we were definitely in the right place for breakfast and b) it was lucky I knew how to order pork tacos in Spanish. Sitting among the crowd, we stood out like green elephants, and really enjoyed feeling so out of place – that’s what travel is all about!
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7. Doughnut Vault (donuts)
The food: A vanilla glazed raised and a buttermilk old fashioned
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The memory: A tiny little place with the delicious smell of fried dough in the air and nowhere to sit – it felt just like being back in Melbourne! Another freezing day, we got there nice and early, grabbed our donuts and enjoyed them outside – I remember my butt being freezing against the cold concrete sidewalk we were sitting on, my fingers being sticky as all hell, and the two of us giggling like we were two kids who’d stolen a piece of birthday cake. Good times in Chicago! 🙂
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Treat yourself Tuesday – tacos of Isla Mujeres, Mexico!

Over sized sombreros.
Colourful ponchos.
Beautiful beaches.
Multiple cocktails.
And delicious tacos.

Would I be right to assume that some, if not all of the above come to mind when we think about Mexico? I’m going to focus on that last list item today, because
a) it’s cold in Melbourne and I’m dreaming about sitting in the sunshine in Mexico right now with tacos, and so are some of you judging from how much love last week’s Colours of Isla Mujeres post/Instagram shot got,
b) I’m a huge advocate for experiencing a new place properly by getting involved in street food culture when travelling,
c) gallivanting around a little Mexican island on a golf buggy taking in the sights and hunting for tacos was a new and very fun experience that I highly recommend, and
d) what better way to treat yourself than with tacos?! So, as part of the OUR GROWING EDGE monthly link up party (see bottom of the post for more info!), here are three of the best taco stands worth hitting up on Isla Mujeres!

 

1. Poc Chuc
Av. Juarez con Abasolo

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2015/01/img_6313.jpgThis place was great because they gave you the option to eat in if you didn’t want to grab your tacos and run. We visited twice during our recent visit a few months ago in January, and the photos above were our favourites – the chicken empanadas up top, and the chorizo tacos below. It makes me a little sick to think that we’re paying something like AUD$5.00 or $6.00 PER TACO in Melbourne, when the chorizo tacos here only cost the equivalent of AUD$1.25 each. Yup. And they were much, much better than the expensive hipster ones…

 

2. El Burrito Feliz Tacos y Tortas
Calle Abasolo #5 Col. Centro

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These were probably close to my favourite tacos – this little lady was firing them out like a one woman restaurant. She was really something to see! She also spoke not a single word of English, so luckily my Spanish was good enough to order “dos tacos carnita por favor,” and they were incredible. We found her tucked away on a street not far from Playa Norte Beach, but if you don’t stumble upon her, just ask your friendly hotel staff if they know where to locate her!

 

3. Las Comadras
Av. Miguel Hidalgo

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Another amazing spot, with the added bonus of having the taco stand set up in a shop front, with a few stools and tables scattered around if you’re lucky enough to snag one! Chicken and chorizo tacos, for which we paid about AUD$1.00 each, and were absolute perfection – the tortillas were grilled up to order, filled with your chosen protein, and handed over for you to top with lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream, chilli and herbs. They also have a brother restaurant, Compadres, next door, should you want a slightly more upmarket dining experience; but with tacos this good at that price though, I couldn’t imagine why you’d want to!

 

 

This post is part of the our growing edge monthly link up party over at Bunnyeatsdesign, which aims to inspire bloggers to not only try but also discover new things 🙂 This month’s theme is “treat yourself” and is hosted by Caroline from Shrinking Single, who does delicious recipes for one – mainly skinny with a pinch of chocolate 😉
our growing edge

Eat here: Tropisueño, San Francisco, USA (Mexican)

Tropisueño
75 Yerba Bueno Lane, San Francisco
http://www.tropisueno.com/

I’m gonna stay with the Mexican theme for anther day, because writing and posting about Punta Sur yesterday got me craving Mexican food, and remembering how damn good it was in San Francisco, of all places!

This was quite the pleasant surprise! I’d heard the Mexican food in San Francisco was pretty good, but wasn’t expecting an actual restaurant to come through with the goods – I thought it’d be more the street food-style stalls in the Mission District.

Having had a craving for Mexican, we found Tropisueño, a fantastic little place tucked down a side strip in the city. We walked in to find the place packed to the rafters and were told it’d be about a 15 minute wait; I don’t think we actually waited more than 10. We were seated quickly, and it was immediately apparent we were in for a good night – this was some of the best customer service I’ve ever experienced in a restaurant. The lady who looked after us for the night was amazing; she was clearly flat out, but made time for a quick chat with everyone seated in her area, leaving each table smiling and laughing. That’s what turns a good dinner into a great one 🙂

Then there’s the food. After being seated, we were straight away presented with a complimentary bowl of freshly fried corn chips and dips (top left), which were much appreciated! We also ordered:

– beef tacos (bottom right) – tender, braised beef cheeks, taco truck style with onion and cilantro. salsa tomatillo and radish.

– pork tostaditas (bottom left) – roasted pork on crisp tostadas, guacamole salsa güero and pico de gallo, shredded lettuce.

– chicken salbutes (top right) – soft-crispy thick masa tortillas, shredded chicken tinga cabbage slaw, pickled onion, pico de gallo, avocado.

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This was some of the best Mexican food I’ve had, including the stuff I ate in Mexico; fresh, insanely tasty, great flavour combinations, everything just right and just so. No need to dissect each dish bite by bite. This is the dining experience we’re all looking for; amazing food, impeccable service, decent prices, lovely restaurant, free lollypops on your way out! Make sure you make time to get here when you’re in San Francisco  : )

Tropisueño on Urbanspoon

Eat here: Eggslut & Tumbras at Grand Central Market, LA

Grand Central Market
317 S Broadway, Los Angeles
http://www.grandcentralmarket.com/

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Another weekend, another opportunity to sit back and relax and brunch in peace. Even more so this weekend, given that it’s a long weekend for Easter! Hooray for extra lazy breakfast days! Wish I was back in LA to enjoy another breaky at the market…

Our arrival into LA was somewhat, well, mental. We flew into LA from Australia, landing at around 7am, went straight to our hotel in Anaheim for a quick shower and change of clothes, and went straight to Disneyland. We had 3 days there. Then we hired a car, after 3 Disney days, to drive from Anaheim to LA. Mental!

Being Aussies, driving on the other side of the road was interesting. So was getting used to the fact that over there, people drive through red lights, legally, if they want to turn right and no one else is coming. Also, husband gets motion sickness, so he drove which left me to navigate. For someone with absolutely no sense of direction, my map reading game is surprisingly strong; what the maps don’t tell you, however, is which areas are safe and which are kinda dodgy. I may have navigated us through some of the dodgier areas. Anyway, we made it to LA with minimal fighting and no real wrong turns. Our hotel room wasn’t gonna be ready for a while (we left first thing in the morning) so we drove straight on to Central Market for breakfast; I’d heard that Egg Slut was amazing, and I wanted it.

 

Egg Slut
http://eggslut.com/

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First stop for “real” food (AKA not Disneyland food). All the hype surrounding this place seemed to come to life when we got there – solid line around the stall (took us around 25 minutes which wasn’t too bad, considering) and a film crew; standard morning at the market!

I felt like a complete tool asking the lady for a “slut” when she asked for my order, but that’s what all the cool kids were getting… As you can see up top, the Slut is a  perfectly coddled egg on top of a smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar and served with a demi baguette, for USD$9.00. I thought that as pretty pricey when I ordered, but it was a deceptively filling meal and a decent sized baguette. And it was amazing! Seriously, I can’t remember eating a better egg breakfast in recent memory… the potato was so smooth and creamy, the egg yolk was the perfect sauce, even the baguette was perfect!

The other beauty you can see is the bacon, egg and cheese breaky roll. I didn’t eat this, someone else did, but it was so attractive and sat right in front of me at the counter before someone came to whisk it off to it’s rightful owner, I thought it needed to be documented as well.

Truly delicious breakfast, fantastic service, wish we’d been able to go again!
Eggslut on Urbanspoon

 

 

After breakfast stop number one, which I really didn’t share much of, husband took a turn to pick the next stop – tacos.

Tacos Tumbras a Tomas
http://www.grandcentralmarket.com/vendors/36/tacos-tumbras-a-tomas

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We noticed this place on the way in and figured it must have been amazing because the line was long, but moved quickly, and we couldn’t overhear anyone speaking anything but Spanish. We got a pork and a beef taco,  for all of a few dollars, and they were magic. Super soft meat and a LOT of it, unbelievably tasty, extra soft tortillas which they doubled up on (thankfully), quick service, amazing meal. Don’t overlook this place – you really need to try the pork tacos!

 

Tacos Tumbras a Tomás on Urbanspoon

 

As for Grand Central Market itself, it’s a fantastic little market area with the most incredible range of food, both ready to eat and fresh produce to take home. The heavy Hispanic influence is obvious from first entry, reflected in the great selection of meats, fried fruits, exotic spices and the like available. It’s a great place to spend the morning, and as a traveller, I’d have loved accommodation with a kitchen so I could have taken some of the produce home to cook up! Absolutely loved this market 🙂

Eat here: La Catrina, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

La Catrina
corner of Madero and Av. Hidalgo, Isla Mujeres, Mexico
https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Catrina/460133244113146

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Finding this place again was fate. I first ate tacos and drank strawberry daiquiris here a few years ago on a trip I took with my work colleagues, and it was my mission to find it again in January when I returned to Isla Mujeres. I had no idea how I was going to find it – my sense of direction is useless at the best of times, and I’d paid absolutely no attention to street or restaurant signs the first time around. We arrived on the island and took the same route to walk to our hotel as I took with the girls when we visited together – I recognised the Senor Frogs shop and pretty much ran towards it! The plan was to dump the bags, then look for this place; we didn’t need to – turns out it was on the same street as the hotel and we walked past it on the way!! I could not believe my luck!

Anyway, we dumped the bags and turned around to head back for lunch. We proceeded to visit daily, for the incredible food, crazy happy hour deals that lasted all day long (2 pina coladas for under AUD$6.00? Yes, thanks!), and the wonderful service.

The tacos above may look familiar – I ordered the same thing for our first meal here as I ordered on my last visit, and they were every single bit as good as I remembered! Another visit saw us order the tasting plate (below) which did have a bit of everything on it! Their pico de gallo was magnificent, and a little bowl of it came with everything you ordered there.

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The service was fantastic – everything came with a smile, it just felt like pulling up to your Mexican grandmother’s house for a feed. The prices were also phenomenally good considering the quality of the food – three tacos and two beers for AUD$7.20, are you kidding?! You can rarely even just get the one beer for that price in Australia! When you visit Isla Mujeres, make this your first stop, too 🙂

 

New Maxwell Street Market & Rubi’s Tacos, Chicago

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Our last day and night in Chicago 😦 I have to say, I’m going to be really sad to leave this city; I’ve really gotten to like it here. This morning we ventured out to find the New Maxwell Street Market, having heard it was a nice way to spend a Sunday morning. We had an initial misadventure, having visited the old market site instead of the new one (it’s been relocated by the city a few times) and eventually found it at 548 W Roosevelt Rd (blue line to Clinton and a short walk!). We’d gone off information that the market is basically 1 part food to 2 parts trash-n-treasure; it was more a 10/90 ratio.

Perhaps it was the very cold temperature (somewhere around the -3 degree Celsius mark), or maybe it was the fact that we’re between Christmas and New Years, but it was super quiet! Held in what looked like an older industrial area, there were maybe two dozen stalls that resembled a giant garage sale, and only 4 food stalls that we could count; we only needed one.

Rumour had it that Rubi’s tacos are the must-eat dish at the market, so that’s what we had for breakfast! We tried the tacos al pastor (pork) and wow they were amazing… Little squeeze of lime, fresh tortillas hand made as you wait, perfect! I can see why the line was so long and people say it’s worth the wait; when a taco place is full to the brim with local Mexicans, you know it’s gonna be good!!

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The market wasn’t worth visiting for the shopping, but was more than worth visiting for the tacos at Rubi’s!!

Real tacos. In Mexico.

For someone who hates spicy food, I actually really love Mexican food. I’m still a sook and don’t put any hot sauce or anything on my meals, but I do very much love the flavours and freshness of a properly prepared, legitimate Mexican meal. You can’t get many of those in Melbourne, where sugary fish bowl margaritas at Mexican-by-numbers restaurants seeming to be what most people think of when you mention Mexican food.

I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Mexico through a work thing last year when I was still working in the travel industry. Mexico is a really freakin long way to go for only a weekend when you’re travelling from Melbourne – the flight from here to LA alone is around 14 hours! But we eventually landed in Cancun at around 6am, and after checking into our hotel, were granted a free day before the non-stop official obligations and conferences started later that evening. So a group of the girls I worked with hopped on a boat and headed off to Isla Mujeres, one of the most stunning places I’ve ever visited. You can see some of the photos I took that day right here, but this post is about the food. After a morning of traipsing around this precious little island, we naturally got pretty hungry. An A-frame sign advertising 3 tacos and a beer for 85 pesos seemed like a pretty decent lunch venue (for those of you playing along at home, 85 peso is around AUD$7.00 – that’s amazing for those of us who usually pay $7.00 for a beer, or around $5 per designer, hipster taco at home!).

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In we piled, a pack of Aussie girls delirious after 26 hours on a chartered flight full of other travel bunnies, which was the equivalent to a flying party bus. We’d boarded the flight after working a full day, had a few (or more) drinks and chocolate chip cookies on the flight, no sleep, and nothing but a mango margarita on arrival for breakfast. We were handed menus by a bemused Mexican, who probably wasn’t sure whether to call his mates around for a laugh at us, or the cops to get rid of us at that stage. Shenanigans ensued, laughs (by both parties) were had, and food was somehow ordered.

Best tacos of my life.

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The tortillas were soft and fresh and tasted like nothing I’ve ever had called a corn tortilla. The fillings were so ridiculously simple and at the same time so full of flavour. Everything seemed to just work magically. Including the brown slop on the side – re-fried beans. Make friends with this stuff when you’re in Mexico. It’s not like the crap you get out of a tin at home. This stuff is unbelievably good.

It’s a real pity that so many people conjure up images of cheap, shitty food and bad tequila experiences when you mention Mexican food, because it’s not all like that. It’s also funny that so much Mexican food you get in Australia is smothered with greasy melted cheese, because over a table full of tacos ordered by us 8 ladies, not one taco had cheese on it! I blame the Americans (sorry!) and their Tex-Mex for this generalisation. Real Mexican food is fresh and light, it shouldn’t make you feel sick and heavy and greasy and disgusting! If it does, you’re doing it wrong!

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It was a big weekend and we didn’t really get a chance to stop and breathe after this meal and the quick visit to the beach that followed. But it’s stayed with me as one of my best food experiences while travelling, because it really changed the way I looked at Mexican food.

My challenge now is going to be to find it again when I go back in January with husband! I’m very much looking forward to my few days on this little island slice of heaven after 6 weeks of non-stop travel, and plan to eat my weight in tacos in that time!