Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Hawaiian honeymoon dining on Kauai and Oahu

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Well, a lot has changed since my last post. I got engaged, took a year off from blogging to plan a wedding, and am now happily married! This also means I’ve become Hillary Weller rather than Hillary Proctor, but the blog name will remain the same for now.

We just returned from 10 days in Hawaii for our honeymoon, so that seemed a fitting return to blogging. We split our time between two Hawaiian islands: Kauai and Oahu. On Kauai, we covered the majority of the island; for Oahu, we stayed primarily in the Waikiki Beach area of Honolulu. This was my first time setting foot anywhere in the state, so I was anxious to try the source of all the Hawaiian flavors I’d enjoyed from afar.

Macadamia nut pancakes with pineapple and coconut syrup, Eggs 'n Things
Macadamia nut pancakes with pineapple and coconut syrup, Eggs ‘n Things (Honolulu)

I’ll start with my favorite dish of the trip. It was one that came highly recommended at Eggs ‘n Things, a beloved Honolulu breakfast spot: macadamia nut pancakes. The nut-studded cakes were unbelievably fluffy underneath their griddled exterior, and the addition of fresh pineapple and the restaurant’s signature coconut syrup made them truly remarkable. I loved these pancakes so much that they merited a repeat visit: we went back for our last meal before heading to the airport to fly home. That time, I ordered a slight variation (banana in the pancakes and macadamia on top) and they were still just as stellar. I also happily took home a bottle of the coconut syrup.

We had a favorite breakfast spot in Kauai, too. A lovely bakery happened to be conveniently located across the road from where we were staying, so we tried a few of their pastry selections. Both the mango muffin and the roasted pineapple croissant-scone hybrid showcased the fruit flavors of the island.

Hawaiian roasted pineapple and chocolate chip croisscones, Passion Bakery Cafe, Kauai
Hawaiian roasted pineapple and chocolate chip croisscones (enjoyed on our oceanfront lanai), Passion Bakery Cafe (Kauai)
Guava muffin, Passion Bakery Cafe, Kauai
Mango muffin, Passion Bakery Cafe (Kauai)
Pakala bowl with açai, peanut butter, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, granola, almonds, and chocolate chips, Little Fish Coffee
Pakala bowl with açai, peanut butter, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, granola, almonds, and chocolate chips, Little Fish Coffee (Kauai)

Another morning dish I’d been anxious to try was the açai bowl, a surfer favorite that’s anchored by an açai berry frozen yogurt-style base, then layered with granola and fresh fruit. At Little Fish Coffee on Kauai, our bowl boasted peanut butter and chocolate chips in addition to the fruit and granola. It was the rich fuel we needed for the rest of the day’s adventures. In Waikiki, we sought out the bowl at Island Vintage Coffee. The açai and granola were delicious, but the sweet local banana and fragrant Hawaiian honey were what really shined.

Original açai bowl with strawberry, blueberry, local banana, Big Island organic honey, and organic granola, Island Vintage Coffee (Honolulu)
Original açai bowl with strawberry, blueberry, local banana, Big Island organic honey, and organic granola, Island Vintage Coffee (Honolulu)
Pink Island shave ice with strawberry, lychee mint, vanilla gelato, fresh strawberries, mochi, lychee popping boba, and condensed milk snow cap, Island Vintage Shave Ice (Honolulu)
Pink Island shave ice with strawberry, lychee mint, vanilla gelato, fresh strawberries, mochi, lychee popping boba, and condensed milk snow cap, Island Vintage Shave Ice (Honolulu)

While we’re on the sweet side of things, let’s talk shave (not shaved!) ice, a traditional frozen treat in Hawaii with all kinds of variations. We went back to Island Vintage for their Pink Island, whose ice mound had half strawberry syrup and half super-refreshing lychee mint syrup, plus mochi, lychee boba, fresh strawberry, and condensed milk to top it off. At Uncle’s on Kauai, they served shave snow, where the creaminess and fruit flavor was already incorporated into the ice before shaving. After adding a haupia (coconut) cream top, I couldn’t help but slurp up every bite.

Strawberry shave snow with haupia (coconut) cream cap, Uncle's Shave Ice (Kauai)
Strawberry shave snow with haupia (coconut) cream cap, Uncle’s Shave Ice (Kauai)
Dole whip swirled with vanilla, Hilo Hattie (Kauai)
Dole whip swirled with vanilla, Hilo Hattie (Kauai)

To be sure, Hawaii wasn’t short on frozen treats – from classic soft-serve pineapple Dole whip to ice cream served in an adorable “hang loose” cone to a sky-high Hula Pie enjoyed along the Waikiki beachfront at Duke’s, our collective sweet tooth remained sated.

Shaka-Boom cone with vanilla soft-serve, chocolate sauce, Oreo cookie dust, and sprinkles, Kokoro Cafe
Shaka-Boom cone with vanilla soft-serve, chocolate sauce, Oreo cookie dust, and sprinkles, Kokoro Cafe (Honolulu)
Kimo's Original Hula Pie with chocolate cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, hot fudge, toasted mac nuts, and whipped cream, Duke's Waikiki (Honolulu
Kimo’s Original Hula Pie with chocolate cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, hot fudge, toasted mac nuts, and whipped cream, Duke’s Waikiki (Honolulu)

We tried a lot of savory Hawaiian favorites as well. At Lava Lava Beach Club on Kauai, we had loco moco, traditionally a burger patty with egg, rice, and gravy, and in this case with a mountain of fried onions and a delicious patty blend of beef and sweet Portuguese sausage. That meal was extra memorable because we looked up from our beachfront table and spotted a whale in the distance! Later, we also tried a classic, no-fuss plate lunch with freshly-fried chicken katsu, sticky white rice, and macaroni salad.

Hapa Laka loco moco with half beef, half Portuguese sausage, Lava Lava Beach Club
Hapa Laka loco moco with half beef, half Portuguese sausage, Lava Lava Beach Club (Kauai)
Chicken katsu plate lunch, Ai Ono Cafe at Lihue Airport
Chicken katsu plate lunch, Ai Ono Cafe at Lihue Airport (Kauai)

Our most theatrical dining experience by far was at the Smith Family Garden Luau on Kauai. Our evening began with a tram ride around the property, then we had time to explore the lush grounds on foot. Next, we witnessed the imu ceremony, in which a whole-roasted, leaf-wrapped Kalua pig is carefully removed from its earthen oven.

From there, it was time to enjoy a mai tai and the full buffet. This was my chance to try poi, a starchy Hawaiian staple that’s polarizing among visitors. Unfortunately, I had to agree with the naysayers: even when paired with the meat, the poi retained an unpleasant flavor, and its paste-like texture only made matters worse. But there were plenty of other dishes to enjoy, like the mahimahi, purple yams, lomi salmon, and of course the pig, whose smoke-kissed flavor was in a class of its own. Dinner was also accompanied by live Hawaiian music and a hula lesson.

Finally, we moved to the amphitheater for the stage show, featuring dances and rituals that represent many of Hawaii’s cultural influences (plus some impressive pyrotechnics). The whole experience was as seamless and well-choreographed as a Disney enterprise – it was undoubtedly a highlight of our trip.

Kalua roasted pig, poi, lomi salmon, sweet & sour mahimahi, macaroni salad, guava and pineapple breads, coconut rice pudding, mai tai, and more from the dinner buffet at Smith Family Garden Luau
Kalua roasted pig, poi, lomi salmon, sweet & sour mahimahi, macaroni salad, guava and pineapple breads, coconut rice pudding, mai tai, and more from the dinner buffet at Smith Family Garden Luau (Kauai)
Mixed ahi and salmon poké with spicy mayo, Shaka Poke (Honolulu)
Ahi-salmon mixed poke with avocado and spicy mayo (eaten on Waikiki Beach in view of Diamond Head), Shaka Poke (Honolulu)

Seafood was another top priority during our time in Hawaii. I had the chance to enjoy poke in two forms, one on each island. At Shaka Poke, a tucked-away gem in one of Waikiki’s shopping malls, hunks of salmon and ahi tuna came dressed in spicy mayo with seaweed and avocado. It was the ideal humble meal to eat on the beach, especially with a view of the resort skyline and Diamond Head at dusk. On Kauai, Sam’s Ocean View used tuna poke to adorn wonton chip nachos, alongside avocado, spicy aioli, and plenty of black sesame. It was the kind of snack you can’t stop eating.

The most eclectic fish I tried during the trip was moonfish at Mahina & Sun’s in Honolulu. The fish itself was dense and held up to the mixture of Mediterranean flavors in the rest of the dish – lots of fennel, olive, sumac, and lightly pickled cucumber, plus grilled flatbread to sop it all up.

Ahi poke nachos with chopped avocado, red bell pepper salsa, wasabi, and sriracha aioli over wonton chips, Sam's Ocean View
Ahi poke nachos with chopped avocado, red bell pepper salsa, wasabi, and sriracha aioli over wonton chips, Sam’s Ocean View (Kauai)
Opah (moonfish) with cucumber, fennel, suman, flatbread, and black olive tapenade, Mahina & Sun's (Honolulu)
Opah (moonfish) with cucumber, fennel, sumac, flatbread, and black olive tapenade, Mahina & Sun’s (Honolulu)
Curry udon with soft-boiled egg, Marukame Udon (Honolulu)
Curry udon with soft-boiled egg, Marukame Udon (Honolulu)

On our second night in Honolulu, we joined the throngs of people in line for Marukame Udon. The wait was very much worth it for tender, hand-pulled udon noodles in a rich curry broth. Between picking up your noodle bowl and getting to the cash register, you could select tempura items and other appetizers buffet-style, so I took that as an opportunity to try spam musubi (seared slice of spam over rice with a seaweed wrapper, like nigiri). It was easy to see why it’s such a popular Hawaiian snack.

Our last dinner of the trip was at Senia, Honolulu’s buzziest fine-dining restaurant. There was a lot to love on the menu; the ahi brioche and citrus-cured hamachi both celebrated Hawaiian flavors in a creative and beautiful way.

It was certainly a special introduction to Hawaii for me…but exploring the cuisine of the islands we didn’t visit seems like a very good excuse to return!

Ahi brioche, Senia (Honolulu)
Ahi brioche, Senia (Honolulu)
Citrus-cured hamachi with avocado, jalapeño, and wakame, Senia (Honolulu)
Citrus-cured hamachi with avocado, jalapeño, and wakame, Senia (Honolulu)

The details: Eggs ‘n Things, 339 Saratoga Rd., Honolulu; Passion Bakery Cafe, 4-356 Kuhio Hwy., Ste. 121, Kapa’a; Uncle’s Shave Ice, 4454 Nuhou St. #419, Lihue; Smith Family Garden Luau, 3-5971 Kuhio Hwy., Kapa’a; Lava Lava Beach Club, 420 Papaloa Rd., Kapa’a; Little Fish Coffee, 3900 Hanapepe Rd., Ste. D, Hanapepe; Sam’s Ocean View, 4-1546 Kuhio Hwy., Kapa’a; Hilo Hattie, 3-3252 Kuhio Hwy., Lihue; Ai Ono Cafe at Lihue Airport, 3901 Mokulele Loop, Lihue; Mahina & Sun’s, 412 Lewers St., Honolulu; Marukame Udon, 2310 Kūhiō Ave #124, Honolulu; Shaka Poke, 2250 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu; Duke’s Waikiki, 2335 Kalakaua Ave., Ste. 116, Honolulu; Island Vintage Coffee, 2301 Kalakaua Ave. #C215, Honolulu; Senia, 75 N. King St., Honolulu; Kokoro Cafe, 2233 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu; Island Vintage Shave Ice, 2201 Kalakaua Ave., Kiosk B-1, Honolulu (all Hawaii).

Travel Eats

Travel Eats: a workweek in San Francisco

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Catalonian Fideus, Foreign Cinema

Catalonian Fideus with scallops, prawn, clams, local cod, tomato, saffron, spinach, English peas, and cumin sauce, Foreign Cinema

I’ve been staying extra busy the past few months (apologies, blog readers!) with a new role at work, and that role took me to our Bay Area offices for a week. While it was a pretty packed schedule, I still fit in some quality meals.

The night I arrived in San Francisco, I made a beeline for the Mission, a neighborhood that I knew from experience was great for dining. Foreign Cinema stood out for its sleek open-air dining space with string lights and a movie projected on the back wall. The food was also excellent – from a Catalonian noodle dish, brimming with four kinds of seafood and a buttery cumin sauce, to smoky, mole-slathered calamari with lime and tortilla chips.

Calamari, Foreign Cinema

Monterey calamari, Oaxacan mole rojo, chickpeas, lime, cilantro mayo, and corn tortilla chips, Foreign Cinema

Frittata, Dottie's True Blue Cafe

Avocado, tomato, jalapeño, corn, scallion, and feta frittata with cornbread and potatoes, Dottie’s True Blue Cafe

Dottie’s True Blue Cafe is a comfort food classic that had come highly recommended by friends, so I made sure to stop for brunch. I arrived just before it opened, and a line had already formed, as is typical, but the short wait was worth it. I went for the frittata special, a mammoth plate of eggs stuffed with some of my favorite ingredients (avocado, corn, feta), plus a side of crispy cornbread with pepper jelly. While I was far too full to try any of the bakery offerings during my visit, I managed to bring a small loaf of Dottie’s signature coffee cake back to Chicago (and was very glad I did).

Another landmark I finally tried this trip was Mission Chinese Food, chef Danny Bowien’s trail-blazing take on Chinese cuisine that opened in the Mission nearly ten years ago, and now has locations elsewhere. Of the dishes I tried, the Westlake lamb dumplings stood out for their balance of tangy sauce, crispy wonton wrapper, and lots of fresh dill.

Westlake lamb dumplings, Mission Chinese Food

Westlake lamb dumplings with tzatziki, ma la vinaigrette, and peanut, Mission Chinese Food

Burnin' Brock, Hogwash

Burnin’ Brock sausage sandwich with chicken habanero sausage, harissa aioli, fried avocado, pickled cabbage, fresh fennel, and apple, with Moonlight Death & Taxes black lager, Hogwash

One unexpected dining success came at Hogwash, a craft-beer-and-sausage spot in Union Square. While I first chose the Burnin’ Brock sausage sandwich almost solely for its fried avocado, the rest of the spicy, crunchy flavors came together exceptionally well for one of the most satisfying bites of the trip.

And I did still fit in a few sweet indulgences, starting with Tartine Manufactory, the recent restaurant offshoot of legendary Tartine Bakery. I went with a fairly simple sundae – strawberry and vanilla swirl soft-serve, colorful sprinkles, and candied almonds – but it was elevated just enough to feel special.

Sundae, Tartine Manufactory

Sundae with vanilla bean and strawberry sorbet swirl, candied almond, and sprinkles, Tartine Manufactory

Bi-Rite Coffee Toffee ice cream sandwich

Coffee Toffee ice cream sandwich with brown sugar cookies and Ritual coffee, Bi-Rite Market

Bi-Rite, another favorite from past trips, has both a market and an ice cream shop on the same block. Rather than waiting in the long ice cream line, I picked up an ice cream sandwich (and a few other edible souvenirs) from the market. After a ride home to thaw, the rich coffee ice cream melted into the crumbly brown sugar cookies to the point that it might as well have been fresh from the shop.

Speaking of coffee, there are a wealth of great roasters in San Francisco, but one of the stalwarts is Blue Bottle, so I felt very fortunate to have a shop within walking distance of my hotel. Their latte really is worth savoring.

Latte, Blue Bottle Coffee

Latte, Blue Bottle Coffee

The details: Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission St.; Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, 28 6th St.; Mission Chinese Food, 2234 Mission St.; Hogwash, 582 Sutter; Tartine Manufactory, 595 Alabama St.; Bi-Rite Market, 3639 18th St.; Blue Bottle Coffee, 66 Mint St.; all San Francisco, California.

Best Bites, Chicago

Best Bites: Gumbo, étoufée, and po’boy, Heaven on Seven

Bayou etoufee, Heaven on Seven

Bayou étoufee (special) with crawfish, crab, and shrimp

Heaven on Seven has been one of my Chicago dining blind spots: a classic that I’ve somehow never managed to visit. It’s a boisterous Cajun restaurant tucked away on the seventh floor of a Loop high-rise (you even have to sign-in with a charming doorman before getting on the elevator). We visited the week of Fat Tuesday, so Mardi Gras decorations were in high gear and we were both given a string of beads upon arrival, but I have a feeling it still feels like a party all year around.

Heaven on Seven interior

Restaurant interior, with Mardi Gras decorations covering a wall of hot sauces

One of the many specials was a bayou étoufée with three kinds of seafood: crab, crawfish, and shrimp. The trio was a great sampling of shellfish flavor, stewed together in a rich gravy and served over rice. We also shared the catfish po’boy, a mammoth sandwich loaded with catfish, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and honey-jalapeño dressing. What really made it was the way the bread was toasted with butter and herbs.

Fried catfish po'boy, Heaven on Seven

Fried catfish po’boy with coleslaw

All entrees come with gumbo, soup, or salad, but it’s easy to see why pretty much everyone gets the gumbo. Chicken, andouille sausage, and the smoky depth of a black roux came together for a thick and satisfying soup – with a warm jalapeño corn muffin to round it out with sweetness.

Gumbo, Heaven on Seven

Gumbo with a jalapeño-cheddar corn muffin

The details: Heaven on Seven, 111 N. Wabash, Chicago.

Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2018: Dinner at Split-Rail (Seinfeld and Friends)

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2018, held January 26–February 8. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Rye Toast, Split-Rail

Rye Toast with beet-cured salmon, beet cream cheese, and dill (Seinfeld, “The Rye,” Season 7, Episode 11)

Best Bite: Chef Zoe Schor built a tradition of themed Restaurant Week menus in past years at her previous restaurant, Ada Street: female chefs in 2014 and famous last meals in 2015. So she continued the tradition at Split-Rail this year with two five-course menu options: one inspired by Seinfeld, the other inspired by Friends. We shared both sets of dishes, and most of my favorites were on the Seinfeld side – especially luscious beet-cured salmon atop rye toast (to commemorate the episode when Jerry stole a loaf of marbled rye from an elderly woman). On the Friends side, I really liked the winter squash tartlet, inspired by an episode where “tartlet” is repeated over and over by a chef under the influence during Monica’s job interview with him. It was almost like a mini pumpkin pie, but more savory with creme fraiche and pumpkin seeds.

Winter squash tartlet, Split-Rail

Winter Squash Tartlet with creme fraiche and toasted pepitas (Friends, “The One With the Stoned Guy,” Season 1, Episode 15

The Butter Shave, Split-Rail

The Butter Shave cocktail with dark rum, butterscotch, and baking spices (Seinfeld, “The Butter Shave”, Season 9, Episode 1)

Other notes: The theme extended all the way to the cocktails, with a spin on hot buttered rum to represent the Seinfeld episode where Kramer shaved his face with butter. And it’s not a Seinfeld dinner without a Soup Nazi reference, so we had to try the crab bisque, which had a pleasantly high proportion of crabmeat to broth. So there was, indeed, soup for us.

Crab bisque, Split-Rail

Crab bisque with oyster crackers (Seinfeld, “The Soup Nazi,” Season 7, Episode 6

The details: Split-Rail, 2500 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago.

Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2018: Dinner at Boka

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2018, held January 26–February 8. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Heirloom carrots, Boka

Heirloom carrots with sesame, buttermilk, and dates

Roasted chicken,  Boka

Roasted chicken with rutabaga, cabbage, and banyuls

Best Bite: I first visited Boka during Restaurant Week 2011 (before I even started this blog!), so a return visit was well overdue. I was excited to finally try the roasted chicken that’s been a mainstay of the menu ever since Chef Lee Wolen took the helm. It was possibly the most perfectly juicy slice of chicken I’ve ever eaten. The roasted carrots were also at just the right doneness, with a buttermilk dressing and lots of sesame.

Banana dessert, Boka

Banana dessert with chocolate, creme fraîche cake, and speculoos

Other notes: The banana dessert was anchored by speculoos (cookie butter), a combination that reminded me of this Stan’s donut – but elevated with a beautiful presentation of shaved dark chocolate, cubes of sponge cake, and banana ice cream. And the technical expertise required for the slow-poached egg nestled in dense cavatelli and parmesan was truly impressive.

Slow poached egg, Boka

Slow poached egg with cavatelli, butternut squash, and parmesan

The details: Boka, 1729 N. Halsted St., Chicago.

Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2018: Dinner at Willow Room

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2018, held January 26–February 8. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Squash soup, Willow Room

Squash soup with Dark Matter espresso-roasted squash, brown butter, and chipotle creme

Best Bite: The squash soup was the most innovative dish of our meal at this cozy Lincoln Park spot. The brown butter, espresso, and squash came together to create a silky soup, with extra warmth from the chipotle.

Beef tartare tartine, Willow Room

Beef tartare tartine with shallot, caper, yolk, herbs, and parmesan

Other notes: My other favorite dish was actually from the same course as the soup: the beef tartare on toast, which had tons of salty and sour notes from pickles, capers, and parmesan. It was also fun to see muddy buddies (aka puppy chow) used as the topping for a chocolate pudding dessert – but because we were celebrating a birthday, I was too focused on the candle-blowing to snap a photo!

The details: Willow Room, 1800 N. Halsted St., Chicago.

Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2018: Brunch at Barrio

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2018, held January 26–February 8. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Churro French toast, Barrio

Churro French toast with dragon fruit, grilled pineapple, and horchata whipped cream

Best Bite: Barrio introduced me to a brunch combination I’d never thought possible: churro French toast. Cinnamon-laced churros were layered together like bread pudding, then dipped and griddled like French toast. The dragonfruit and grilled pineapple accompaniments made it even more tropical and exotic.

Adobo fried rice, Barrio

Adobo fried rice with crispy pork belly and a fried egg

Other notes: The savory side of brunch was also satisfying, with especially crispy pork belly and scallions dotting egg-topped fried rice. The festive drink menu (including a rumchata-espresso-soft serve concoction) was well worth exploring as well.

The details: Barrio, 65 W. Kinzie St., Chicago.

Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2018: Dinner at Frontera Grill

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2018, held January 26–February 8. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013–2018.

Skate wing milanesa, Frontera Grill

Skate wing milanesa with crunchy-coated New England skate wing, limey serrano mayo, pickled onions, ensaladita, and garlicky black beans

Best Bite: If I see skate on a menu, I’ll usually order it (see also: Mexique). This crunch-coated version with lime mayo and pickled onions was still perfect for tucking into tortillas – though I wasn’t surprised that Mexican master-chef Rick Bayless would even make humble tacos high-end.

Sopecitos rancheros, Frontera Grill

Sopecitos rancheros with crispy corn masa “boats,” braised beef chuck filling, roasted tomato-serrano sauce, avocado, and Mexican cincho cheese

Other notes: I loved the masa boat appetizer with beef, tomato sauce, and tiny hunks of avocado. And the cleverly named Dos, Tres, Cuatro dessert didn’t just include tres leches (three milks), but also two kinds of nuts and four kinds of chocolate in a s’mores-like presentation.

Dos, Tres, Cuatro cake, Frontera Grill

Dos, Tres, Cuatro cake with dos candied nuts (candied almonds and pecans), tres leches, cuatro chocolates (chocolate-infused tres leches cake, chocolate cookie, caramelized cocoa nibs, hot fudge)

The details: Frontera Grill, 445 N. Clark St., Chicago.

Best Bites, Chicago

2017 in Review: 20 more of Chicago’s Best Bites

Like last year, I’ve chosen 20 more Chicago dishes and drinks – some old favorites, some new discoveries – that I didn’t have the chance to blog about in 2017. View year-end recaps from 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Burrata, Forbidden Root

Burrata with strawberries, malt crumble, pink peppercorns, mint, basil, and toast, Forbidden Root


Best spin on a egg

Scotch egg, River Roast

Scotch egg with pickled mustard seed, River Roast

We ordered this appetizer almost as an afterthought, but all the textures – tiny pickled mustard seeds, crunchy battered sausage, and a perfectly runny egg – made it memorable. It was even better accompanied by live blues performers on the riverside patio on a warm September day.

Most unique breakfast sandwich

Torta with chorizo verde, Quiote

Torta with chorizo verde, green chile aioli, and xni pek on a lobster roll, Quiote

The chorizo verde is now a mainstay of Quiote’s dinner menu, but over the summer it showed up as an egg-topped breakfast sausage. The meat itself was so flavorful that I could have easily eaten it on its own, but having it safely ensconced in a soft lobster roll made it more delicious.

Most indulgent dim sum

Baonuts with chocolate, Duck Duck Goat

Baonuts, Duck Duck Goat

At the end of a dim sum feast at Stephanie Izard’s Chinese eatery, we couldn’t help but order this donut-bao hybrid. The crackly, not-too-sweet topping gave way to rich chocolate filling; I did not regret ordering it.


Most nutrient-packed bowl

Cadillac curry bowl, Left Coast

Cadillac curry bowl with brown rice, garnet yams, green beans, madras curry sauce, pickled sultanas, green onion, basil, mint, and toasted coconut, Left Coast

Left Coast’s menu is brimming with healthy, veggie-centric options, but I’ve stuck with this curry bowl every time. From the green beans and yams all the way to the toasted coconut, every component comes together well.

Tried-and-true pizza

'Nduja pizza, Coalfire

‘Nduja pizza with mozzarella, ​sauce, ​berkshire ​sausage, ​‘nduja-infused ​whipped ​ricotta, ​cherry ​bomb ​pepper, Coalfire

If anyone mentions Coalfire, ‘nduja (a spicy, spreadable sausage) is the first pizza I recommend (and so does most of the Chicago food media). Sausage comes in two forms: one is sliced thin, and the other is whipped into the ricotta mounds. Fresh from the coal-burning oven, it’s pretty much a foolproof pick.

Most comforting beer pairing

CB&J, Hopleaf

CB&J with house-made cashew butter, fig jam, and raclette cheese on sourdough, pan-fried, with Stilton mac-&-cheese and house-made potato chips, Hopleaf

Hopleaf in Andersonville is world-renowned for its encyclopedic beer list, but they definitely don’t cut corners on the food. The CB&J is an especially comprehensive pairing, with three kinds of comfort in one dish: a cross between grilled cheese and PB&J (raclette cheese in addition to cashew butter and fig jam), crunchy chips, and mac & cheese (made cheffier with Stilton). I’d trust it to soak up any brew.

Best fancy burger

Appalachian Spring burger, Butcher & the Burger

Appalachian Spring burger with pesto, caramelized ramps, tomato, mushroom, and truffle Swiss, Butcher & the Burger

You know it’s really spring when ramps start appearing on every menu, and Butcher & the Burger was no exception. I’m usually overwhelmed by all their options, so ordering this special was a no-brainer. It was a winning combination of truffle-pesto-onion goodness.

Best not-so-fancy burger

Cheeseburger and chocolate shake, Small Cheval

Cheeseburger and chocolate shake with Fernet, Small Cheval

Small Cheval keeps it simple with a slightly more portable version of the famous Au Cheval burger, complete with griddled patties, American cheese, and house-made pickled. I also added fernet to my chocolate shake for an extra licorice-y kick.


Summeriest vegetable dish

Heirloom tomato with burrata and lime granita, Cold Storage

Heirloom tomato with burrata and lime granita, Cold Storage

We snacked at seafood bar Cold Storage as a prelude to dinner at adjacent Swift & Sons, and this dish was a perfect pairing with our oysters. The sweet corn and cool lime granita set off the juicy tomato and soft burrata beautifully.

Best use of goat

Goat liver mousse, Girl & the Goat

Goat liver mousse with picked veggies and crumpets, Girl & the Goat

My rule when dining at Girl & the Goat is to always order one goat dish (and one bread, and at least one from each of the standard menu sections…but that’s another story). The mousse was almost mesmerizing in its silkiness atop warm crumpets, with a nice variety of pickled vegetables as palate cleansers.

Most addictive snack

Gochugaru chile popcorn, Forbidden Root

Gochugaru chile popcorn with coconut oil, Forbidden Root

Along with the strawberry-and-pistachio-studded burrata dish at the top of this post, this popcorn stole the show at West Town brewery Forbidden Root. Maybe it was the coconut oil, maybe it was the specific type of chiles (the same ones as the Korean hot sauce that’s used in bibimbap and other dishes); either way, this popcorn was outrageously good.

Best hybrid appetizer

Buffalo chicken waffle cone, Brickhouse Tavern

Buffalo chicken waffle cone with buffalo chicken bites, bleu cheese crumbles, chives, and ranch dip, Brickhouse Tavern

The second-floor terrace of Brickhouse Tavern overlooks Park at Wrigley (the new development next to Wrigley Field), so it was the perfect perch after a July Cubs game. This was the most creative (and successful) buffalo chicken format I’ve seen yet.

Concession stand stunner

Pulled pork nachos, Lillie's Q at United Center

Pulled pork nachos topped with house made beans, pulled pork, smoky BBQ sauce, pickled jalapenos, sour cream, and chopped green onions, Lillie’s Q at United Center (Sections 206 and 330)

Most of Chicago’s stadium food has been getting an upgrade in recent years, and I was especially pleased to find a Lillie’s Q outpost at a recent Blackhawks game. The pulled pork nachos put those standard cheese cups to shame, with plenty of pulled pork, sauce, green onions, and even BBQ beans.


Best atmosphere-matching cocktail

Coconut negroni, Boleo

Coconut negroni with coconut-washed kappa pisco, campari, and sweet vermouth, Boleo

Boleo occupies a colorful rooftop space on the 15th floor of the Kimpton Gray hotel. This subtly coconut negroni was an ideal sipper as I gazed at blue sky and tall buildings (and wished I could take home the gorgeous glass).

Closest drink to a vacation

Pina colada, Mahalo

Pina colada, Mahalo

Mahalo is the closest you can come to a Hawaiian escape without leaving Wicker Park. This piña colada was a refreshing treat on the surfboard-adorned rooftop.

Best boozy milkshake

Peach cobbler shake with rum, The Roost

Peach Dreams shake with vanilla milkshake, homemade peach cobbler, and white rum, The Roost

As much as we love the fried chicken at The Roost (a very popular catering pop-up at the office), our group may have come to brunch at the Irving Park Road location primarily for this shake. I’ve had the peach cobbler as a side before, but it really is dreamy when whirled into vanilla ice cream and spiked with rum.


Sweetest surprise

Orange blossom cheesecake, Beatnik

Orange blossom cheesecake with candied pistachios, shredded phyllo dough, honey syrup, blackberries, and dried apricots, Beatnik

Beatnik was the most Instagrammable restaurant interior of 2017, with its bold fabrics and exquisite chandeliers. Food-wise, while we expected all the globally inspired cocktails and snacks to be on point, this dessert was what shocked our entire party. The cake itself was delicate and citrus-y, and the shredded phyllo worked even better than a crust.

Most nostalgic dessert

Lunchbox pie, Bang Bang Pie Shop

Lunchbox pie with peanut butter pastry cream, strawberry-blueberry jam, candied peanuts, and potato chips, Bang Bang Pie Shop

Anything PB&J is a winner in my book, so I was thrilled to see this pie special. The potato chips were a nice final touch on an already nostalgic slice.

Most novel treat

S'mores and red velvet churros, Bodega

S’mores and red velvet churros, La Bodega at Barrio

River North newcomer Barrio also opened a neighboring upscale bodega that specializes in fancy churros. I chose the red velvet and s’mores varieties, both warmed and drizzled in chocolate, and let’s just say there will be more churro stops in my future.

The $0 three-peat

Talenti cinnamon peach biscuit gelato, free in Millennium Park

Talenti cinnamon peach biscuit gelato, free in Millennium Park

Talenti ran a free gelato promotion at three movie nights in Millennium Park this summer, and (somewhat coincidentally) those were the three I attended. This flavor ended up in my hands the first time, and I sought it out thereafter because the cinnamon and peach were so perfect for summer. And the price of $0 made it especially satisfying!

Thanks for reading in 2017, and looking forward to another delicious year!

The details: River Roast, 315 N. LaSalle St.; Quiote, 2456 N. California Ave.; Duck Duck Goat, 857 W. Fulton Market; Left Coast, 717 N. Wells; Coalfire, 3707 N. Southport Ave.; Butcher & the Burger, 1021 W. Armitage Ave.; Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St.; Small Cheval, 1732 N. Milwaukee Ave.; Girl & the Goat, 809 W. Randolph St.; Cold Storage, 1000 W. Fulton Market; Forbidden Root, 1746 W. Chicago Ave.; Brickhouse Tavern, 3647 N. Clark St.; Lillie’s Q (300-Level) at United Center (Sections 206 and 330), 1901 W. Madison St.; Boleo, 122 W. Monroe St.; Mahalo, 1501 N. Milwaukee Ave.; The Roost, 1467 W. Irving Park Rd.; Beatnik, 1604 W. Chicago Ave.; Bang Bang Pie Shop, 2051 N. California Ave.; La Bodega at Barrio, 65 W. Kinzie St.; all Chicago.

Travel Eats

Travel Eats: An autumn weekend in Nashville

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Whipped feta, Butcher & Bee

Whipped feta with fermented honey, cracked black pepper, and pita, Butcher & Bee

In the fall, I spent a long weekend in Nashville with a girlfriend. We were there to celebrate another friend’s wedding – which had incredible culinary offerings of its own, I might add – but also managed to sample a lot of other local offerings.

I have to begin with Butcher & Bee, where their brunch menu was possibly the most enticing and creative one I saw all year. I absolutely couldn’t get over the whipped feta appetizer, with a pool of fermented honey and a healthy dusting of black pepper. It was deceptively simple at first glance, but the feta spread was so outrageously good with the blistered pita bread that I’m sure I’ll be recalling it for years to come.

Delicata squash, Butcher & Bee

Delicata squash with farro, goat cheese, herbs, and sunny-side egg, Butcher & Bee

I was also impressed by the most beautiful presentation of delicata squash I’ve seen at any meal, much less brunch. From the lacy fried egg to nutty farro to juicy pomegranate seeds, it was a lovely, still-light dish. For balance, the breakfast sandwich biscuit put us back into richer territory. A fluffy biscuit was slathered with more whipped feta (!), plus egg and maple-sage sausage. It was a classic done very well.

B & B biscuit, Butcher & Bee

B & B biscuit with whipped feta, honey butter, maple-sage sausage, and soft scrambled egg, Butcher & Bee

Pimento cheese, Husk

Pimento cheese with pickled serrano peppers and benne wafers, Husk

And because I had loved Husk so much while visiting Charleston four years ago, I knew I had to check out the Nashville location. I first made sure we ordered the pimento cheese in some form, as chef Sean Brock is known for it. Here, it was hidden underneath a tunnel of seedy crackers, but still as good as I’d remembered.

My favorite dish, though, turned out to be the crab rice. Amidst so many different textures, the buttery crab flavor still shone through in the best way.

Ol' Fuskie crab rice, Husk

Ol’ Fuskie crab rice, Husk

Duck confit, Husk

Duck confit with beets buried with ash, malabar spinach, and shiso, Husk

Another highlight was the duck confit and its ash-buried beets (it sounds strange, but worked). And for dessert, we had the most adorable popsicle, almost like a Creamsicle but with melon and a hint of crunch.

Cantaloupe popsicle, Husk

Cantaloupe popsicle with Brewster oat granola and wood sorrel, Husk

Meat-and-three with fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, and collard greens, Arnold's Country Kitchen

Meat-and-three with fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, and collard greens, Arnold’s Country Kitchen

Nashville is also known for the classic meat-and-three (a meat main course with three side dishes). For that, we went straight to Arnold’s, the top recommendation from a coworker who grew up in the area. We arrived right at opening, to avoid the long lunchtime lines, and weren’t disappointed by the extra-fresh-and-crispy fried chicken, creamy mac-n-cheese, and vinegary greens. And I couldn’t pass up a comforting slice of strawberry pie with a mile-high blanket of whipped cream on top.

Strawberry pie, Arnold's Country Kitchen

Strawberry pie, Arnold’s Country Kitchen

Cookie dough doughnut, , Five Daughters Bakery

“100-layer” cookie dough doughnut, Five Daughters Bakery

Since we were staying in East Nashville, it was convenient to explore the up-and-coming food scene there. We happened upon Five Daughters Bakery, and saw that their version of a cronut (croissant-donut hybrid) claimed to have 100 layers. I didn’t count them, but did conclude that putting a smear of cookie dough on top of any donut is a brilliant idea. In that same category of hybrid indulgences was the waffle grilled cheese at The Terminal Café (I’m hopeful that Chicago will catch up to this idea soon).

Waffle grilled cheese with avocado, The Terminal Cafe

Waffle grilled cheese with avocado, The Terminal Cafe

Looking Up, Talking Down cocktail, Pinewood Social

Looking Up, Talking Down cocktail with Chattanooga bourbon, lemon, amaro montenegro, apricot, ginger, and mint, Pinewood Social

I was excited to briefly check out Pinewood Social, an airy all-day venue with novelties such as bowling lines and a pool. While we didn’t stay for those activities, it was still worth it to sip this cocktail, a julep variation with added depth from amaro and ginger.

Iced bourbon vanilla latte, Barista Parlor

Iced bourbon vanilla latte, Barista Parlor

It was warm enough to still crave caffeine over ice, so I found two delicious versions: the iced bourbon vanilla latte at Barista Parlor, a gorgeous converted garage space; and the salted maple pecan cold brew at The Trailer Perk, an adorable mobile shop parked inside the Nashville Farmers Market.

Salted maple pecan cold brew, The Trailer Perk

Salted maple pecan cold brew, The Trailer Perk

Golden Milk latte, Ugly Mugs

Golden Milk latte with espresso, vanilla, turmeric, cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon, and steamed milk, Ugly Mugs

One last trend worth mentioning was turmeric – the golden-hued powder is becoming increasingly popular for its health benefits, so it kept popping up everywhere we went. I tried it in a latte with other warm spices at Ugly Mugs, then in a cooler at Café Roze; both were flavorful and somehow cleansing. I have to say, too, that having that vibrant cooler alongside (really good) avocado toast, all on top of a millennial pink table, felt like the most Instagram-worthy moment of 2017.

Avocado hummus toast and turmeric cooler, Café Roze

Avocado hummus toast with grilled bread, pepitas, and aleppo, and turmeric cooler, Café Roze

The details: Butcher & Bee, 902 Main St.; Husk Nashville, 37 Rutledge St.; The Terminal Cafe, 733 Porter Rd.; Five Daughters Bakery, 1900 Eastland Ave.; Pinewood Social, 33 Peabody St.; Barista Parlor, 519B Gallatin Ave.; Ugly Mugs, 1886 Eastland Ave.; The Trailer Perk at Nashville Farmers’ Market, 900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.; Arnold’s Country Kitchen, 605 8th Ave S.; Cafe Roze.