Best Bites, Chicago

2014 Best Bite #3: Paratha tacos, En Hakkore

For the third year in a row, I’m using each day in December to celebrate the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2014, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at year-end Best Bites from 2012 and 2013.

Paratha tacos, En Hakkore

Paratha tacos with spicy pork, kimchi, onion, mushroom, cilantro, lettuce, pickled radish, and En Hakkore sauce

Why it’s another 2014 Best Bite: Blending flavors of Korean and Indian cuisine, these tacos were fusion at its finest. The pan-fried flatbread served as a pleasantly flaky vehicle for the spicy, crunchy filling. They were easily the best non-traditional tacos I’ve had in Chicago.

View another Best Bite from En Hakkore.

The details: En Hakkore, 1840 N Damen Ave., Chicago.

Standard
Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: pulled pork, pickles two ways, and moonshine, Lillie’s Q

Fried pickles and kool-aid pickles, Lillie's Q

Pickles two ways: beer-battered with ranch, and marinated in cherry kool-aid

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: The stakes were a little higher than usual at this recent meal: I was challenged to prove to a skeptical Memphian that there’s good barbecue to be found in Chicago. With my reputation on the line, I had faith that two restaurants in particular would meet the lofty standards of someone who hails from a BBQ capital: Lillie’s Q and Smoque (which will be phase two). After our party secured a window table at Lillie’s, we started with two preparations of pickles. The fried pickles came in substantial beer-battered slices – they almost looked more like fried oysters – alongside a thin ranch dipping sauce. While they were a solid snack, what really earned the seal of Southern authenticity was the jar of fiery red kool-aid pickles, sweet from a cherry kool-aid marinade and spicy on the finish. As conversation turned to tales of childhood nostalgia, I knew we were already on the right track.

Pulled pork and collard greens, Lillie's Q

Half-pound of pulled pork (pre-sauce) and collard greens with ham hock

The real test, of course, was the meat. The half-pound portion of pulled pork was as smoky and perfect on its own as I’d remembered, but I couldn’t resist splashing bites with almost every one of the diverse sauces (it also reminded me to replenish my own fridge, where I consistently stock either the Smoky or Carolina retail varieties). My generous side of greens provided a welcome vinegary contrast, and the potent moonshine cocktails were a fitting libation. I’m proud (and relieved) to report that Lillie’s Q passed the test, so my credibility remains intact.

Moonshine, Lillie's Q

A few variations on moonshine: blueberry, apple pie, and just neat

The details: Lillie’s Q, 1856 W. North Ave., Chicago.

Standard
Best Bites, Chicago

2013 Best Bite #17: Brown butter & blueberry pie, Hot Chocolate

Each day in December, I’m celebrating the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2013, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at 2012’s Best Bites.

Brown butter & local blueberry pie, sweet corn ice cream, lemon-lime curd, kettle corn, blueberry rose reduction

Brown butter & local blueberry pie, sweet corn ice cream, lemon-lime curd, kettle corn, blueberry rose reduction

Why it’s another 2013 Best Bite: Two friends and I ended up at Hot Chocolate after a much-hyped hybrid dessert sold out before we could nab one. But all’s well that ends well, because the composed desserts here are phenomenal – pastry chef and owner Mindy Segal didn’t win a James Beard award for nothing! This pie was a lovely way to celebrate blueberry, corn, and the last bits of summer. Each element played off the next, from tart curd and nutty pie crust into fruity, floral sauce, and from crunchy kettle corn into melty sweet corn ice cream. And I won’t even get started on the white mint hot chocolate I drank along with it, except that it’s like none other in the city (and was one of seven hot chocolate options on the menu).

The details: Hot Chocolate, 1747 N. Damen Ave., Chicago.

Standard
Lists

List: My 10 favorite places to work remotely in Chicago

Since my job affords me the privilege of working from home one day a week, I’ve made a habit of working from different coffee shops and cafés all over the city – I’m one of those people who’s more focused in that setting, rather than more distracted. My main criteria are good coffee and food options, free WiFi without a time limit (the only exception here is a two-hour timeout at Whole Foods), and reasonably comfortable seating. This list is by no means exhaustive, and in no particular order. I also excluded a few places I love because they’re usually crowded (I’m looking at you, Wormhole and Star Lounge).

KnockBox Café // Humboldt Park

Falling into the “hidden gem” category, KnockBox is a tried-and-true favorite, with friendly staff, easy parking, and a great variety of coffee drinks, sandwiches, and snacks (plus I’m a sucker for applesauce being offered as a side).

Panini with a side of applesauce at Knockbox Cafe

Panini with a side of applesauce at KnockBox Café

Sip Coffee House // West Loop

I love Sip for its array of seating options (upstairs/downstairs, inside/outside) and an extensive, creative drink menu.

Gaslight Coffee Roasters // Logan Square

I had high hopes last summer when I found out that a new coffee shop was opening within walking distance of my apartment, and Gaslight has exceeded expectations, with excellent coffee roasted on-site and a suitably Logan Square-ish aesthetic.

Latte and pain au chocolat in a window seat at Gaslight Coffee Roasters

Latte and pain au chocolat in a window seat at Gaslight Coffee Roasters

Whole Foods // Lincoln Park

Let’s be honest: this gargantuan grocery store is one of my favorite places in the city, period, so I’m always content to assemble a hodge-podge of tastes from a few of the kiosks, then settle in with a laptop in the upstairs river-view seating.

New Wave Coffee // Logan Square

I’ve spent many hours at this convenient Logan Square mainstay, sipping either bottomless Metropolis coffee or a delicious Hail Mary (New Wave’s version of “dirty chai”, or a chai latte with espresso) and sometimes splurging on a spinach and feta croissant, if there are any left.

Oatmeal and Hail Mary (chai latte with espresso) at New Wave Coffee

Oatmeal and Hail Mary at New Wave Coffee

Ipsento // Bucktown

I love holing up in Ipsento’s cozy back room, and can’t get enough of the shop’s namesake signature latte with coconut milk, honey, and cayenne.

A cozy, brightly colored corner at Ipsento

A cozy, brightly colored corner at Ipsento

Dolce Casa Cafe // Ravenswood

I was immediately charmed by Dolce Casa’s cheerful space, energetic service, and killer breakfast items.

Robust Coffee Lounge // River North

A pleasant discovery in the River North area, I especially appreciate Robust’s relaxed vibe and its impressive selection of local sweets (Brown Sugar Bakery, Dat Donut, Lucia’s Homemade Aljafores, and more).

Iced latte and bagel sandwich on the patio at Robust Coffee Lounge

Iced latte and bagel sandwich on the patio at Robust Coffee Lounge

Heritage Bicycles General Store // Lakeview

This bicycle and coffee shop hybrid has proven to be a pleasant, laid-back working environment with lots of natural light; pourover coffee and Glazed and Infused donuts don’t hurt either.

Eva’s Cafe // Old Town

Eva’s Cafe is another gem within its neighborhood, refreshingly spacious with good coffee and lots of interesting seating areas (think wrought-iron furniture and a fireplace).

Globe and other pieces along the counter at Eva's Cafe

Globe and other pieces along the counter at Eva’s Cafe

Where are your favorite places to work remotely? I’m always open to new suggestions!

Standard
Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Sashimi bibimbap, En Hakkore, and gelato, Black Dog Gelato

Sashimi bibimbap, En Hakkore

Sashimi bibimbap, En Hakkore

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: The beautiful spring weather over the weekend called for a leisurely midday lunch, starting at a fairly new Korean place that I hadn’t tried yet and ending with dessert at a tried-and-true favorite. First up was En Hakkore, nestled in the heart of Bucktown. The small menu offers mostly traditional Korean dishes, with a few fusion-y twists, such as paratha tacos on fried Indian flatbread. My sashimi bibimbap, a stunning bowl of rice topped with more than a dozen kinds of vegetables and four varieties of sashimi, was nothing short of a work of art. Once it was all mixed together with housemade gochujang (Korean hot sauce), it wasn’t quite as pretty, but the fresh, bright flavors in each bite echoed the sunshine streaming through the windows. My dining companion went for a more typical bibimbap with bulgogi-style marinated beef, which was just as delicious.

Blueberry french toast and turkish coffee gelato, Black Dog Gelato

Blueberry french toast and turkish coffee gelato, Black Dog Gelato

We could have ventured either direction on Damen Avenue to reach a Black Dog Gelato location, but ended up going north to the Roscoe Village outpost. I’ve been a Black Dog fan ever since I volunteered at the Luxury Ice Cream Festival four years ago and was assigned to help out owner Jessie Oloroso at her booth. From the first bite of salted peanut, one of her first signature flavors, I was hooked. Since then, the bold gelato has received nationwide attention, and now shows up on the dessert menu at restaurants all over the city. While I’m always content with Black Dog classics, such as goat cheese-cashew-caramel or malted vanilla, I usually go for whatever’s new and interesting that day. After a lot of tasting, I landed on a breakfast-inspired combination of cinnamon-scented blueberry french toast and cardamom-laced turkish coffee. So good. We’re right at the beginning of gelato season, so if you haven’t tasted this gelato yet, just go. And then go again.

The details: En Hakkore, 1840 N Damen Ave., Chicago; Black Dog Gelato, 859 N Damen Ave. and 1955 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.

Standard
Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #23: Breakfast burrito plate, Red June Cafe

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Breakfast burrito plate

Breakfast burrito plate

Why it’s a Best Bite: As many of my friends and coworkers know, I love to work remotely from different coffee shops and cafes around the city. On this particular day, I spent a few hours on my laptop at a cozy Bucktown spot that I hadn’t been to before. I had read good things about the breakfast burrito, and was glad to discover all that went into the plate to make it a tasty, satisfying meal. The burrito itself was filled with piping hot sausage, hash browns, and steamed eggs, with melted cheese inside and on top. Besides sides of salsa and sour cream, the plate also included tortilla chips and a beautiful fruit cup. I’m grateful for Red June and other friendly cafes that go beyond pastries and put love into heartier fare.

The details: Red June Cafe, 2020 N Leavitt St., Chicago.

Standard