Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sultan's Market

Location: 2057 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60647
Sultan's Market on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
Sultan's Market is one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in the city.  They offer a huge menu that is cooked fresh and everything is at a reasonable price.  The specialize in both sandwich versions and full dinner plates, in which the latter is a much better deal.  For some odd reason, I rarely make it out to Sultan's but when I do, I always leave happy and with a full plate of left overs.  Overall, I couldn't give it a perfect rating, mainly because of the sub par pita and the OK sauces.  If somehow they could improve their pita to "Naf Naf quality" and change their sauces to meet the "Pita Inn standard" then it would without question be the perfect middle eastern restaurant.

What We Ate:

Baked Spinach Pie

When we arrived, the spinach pies were just being pulled from the oven.  I always get one when I come to Sultan's and they are addicting.  It is a simple dough on the outside, and it is filled with stewed spinach and other mixed veggies/spices.  It is nothing like spanakopita because there is no cheese.  It is much freshier and lighter.  I highly recommend this as a light appetizer.

Chicken Shawarma Dinner

I love chicken shawarma, and I find Sultan's Market to be some of the best.  The chicken shawarma dinner costs $7 and comes with enough food for easily two people or two great meals.  As you can see by the picture, the plate comes with rice (I chose to have half Rice w/ Lentils and half curry basmati rice), tons of chicken shawarma with onions and orange bell peppers placed directly on top of the rice, choice of salad (I choose the jerusalem salad), a huge helping of hummus, and pita.  Everything was incredible.  The different rices are spiced heavily and both go really well with the chicken.  The jerusalem salad is very refreshing with lots of cucumber and tomatoes in a light cream sauce.  And the hummus was as fresh as can be.  I usually eat less than half the dinner because I have already stuffed myself with a spinach pie.  Great value and great taste!

Falafel (Vegetarian Combo) Dinner

Another one of the dinner plates Sultan's Market offers... the vegetarian combination comes with similar option as I have listed above, but instead of meat, it comes with two huge falafels that are sliced into thinner, more manageable pieces.  The falafel here is freshly fried.  They only fry a few at a time so that each plate is as fresh as it can be.  The outside has a nice dark brown crispy crust and the center is some of the softest yet textured falafel I have had.  The spices are great.  Making little falafel sandwiches with this dinner is easily the best idea.  Just order a few more pitas for 50 cents a piece and enjoy!


For the past week, my roommate and I have obsessed over baklava (eating pieces and pieces from a local Detroit favorite).  After running out, we were on the search for some good baklava.  Here at Sultan's Market, the baklava is not only reasonably priced ($1), it is fresh.  We ended up ordering a piece and the consistency was great.  It was softer and room temperature.  The filo was extra crispy.  And overall, it wasn't too chewy.  I definitely recommend paying the buck for a piece.


One of the big disappointments of Sultan's Market is their pita.  I am unsure if it is made at the restaurant, but it just isn't as fluffy or tasty as other places like Naf Naf.  It does do the trick and allows the rest of the food to shine, but it is still a huge disappointment for me.


The sauces here aren't the best.  The tzatziki sauce (cucumber sauce) was the better of the two, but it was still bland.  The hot sauce was not hot at all.  Nothing comes close to Pita Inn's sauces. Luckily, the food didn't really need sauce so it didn't hurt the rating too bad.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Bring CASH...  It is a cash-only establishment and you don't want to withdraw from their ATM and get charged those ridiculous fees.
- Without question, order the Dinners... They tend to be 3 bucks more than the sandwich but you get easily 3 times the amount of food.
- Think about sharing or at least bringing some home for leftovers.

- The spicy red sauce isn't that great.  I wouldn't plan on using too much of it.
- Plenty of parking on the street so don't worry about that issue too much.

How far would I walk for this food?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Burger Point

Location: 1900 S. State St., Chicago, IL 60616
The Burger Point on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
I heard rumors that a great burger place was opening up at "the point" of State and Archer... and I had to check it out.  I thought to myself "finally a burger place on the South Side of Chicago."  Unfortunately, after trying the food... I realized we still DON'T have a great burger place on the south side.  Some of the menu items we tried were awful. In fact, they may be some of the all-time worst food decisions I have made.  From bland to oily, the food was never that impressive.  The ordering system seems like a great idea and somewhat "futuristic" but all I could observe was a congested counter with a longer line than necessary and an unused, confusing iPad system.  Overall, this barely made it to a 2 mile rating.  It was saved by a tasty chili and some decent wings.  I probably won't be back unless the restaurant can convince me to give it another try.

Check out the iPad ordering system... It is supposed to
speed up the ordering process, but it didn't appear to help much.
What We Ate:

#11: The Burger Roll

Singlehandedly could be one of the worst meals I have ever eaten.  Whenever I see something unique to a menu, I tend to order that item; however, this time, this habit of mine backfired.  The burger egg rolls were exactly how described except they forgot to mention the gallons of oil that will also fill the egg roll.  Inside the deep fried wrapper was ground beef and cheese and enough oil that it would run down your hands on each bite.  It was awful.  It is accompanied with their special sauce which is a mayo based sauce mixed with some ketchup and I believe relish.  I would never order these again and it will be difficult ordering even an egg roll at a Chinese restaurant because of the fear of the amount of oil it may contain.

#13: The Shroom Burger

The shroom burger was one of their creations topped with tons of mushrooms and both swiss and brie cheese.  In addition, my friend had them add lettuce, tomato, onions, honey mustard, ketchup and pickles.  The burger was good sized and in her case was a veggie patty.  She also requested the bun be changed from the typical brioche bun to a pretzel roll... which was a great decision.  The brie cheese was a thick slice and when melted just ran right off the burger.  I assume that the burgers here are better than I currently believe... but I will have to come back and try one first.

Habanero Mustard Chicken Wings

When biting into my first chicken wing, I was glad I added this to my meal.  These were 100x better than the burger rolls I chose.  The order came with six huge wings, which were quickly fried, giving them a nice crunchy texture and extremely hot and moist inside.  The were tossed generously in a habanero mustard sauce that I chose.  The sauce was SPICY.  It started off more mustardy, but as you ate wing after wing, the heat definitely creeps up on you until you are looking for that glass of ice water.  If you like spicy, I highly recommend the habanero mustard... but I will make the assumption that the other sauces are good too.  The wings... something worth trying at this burger joint.

Scratch Made Chili w/ Everything

The other positive part of this meal was their chili.  Made from scratch each day, the chili is a good mix of spices, meat, beans, and an array of toppings.  I went ahead and got my loaded with all of them, including olives, chopped jalapeños, chopped onions, sour cream, and cheddar cheese.  It was extremely hot (temperature-wise) and had a nice spiciness with the addition of the jalapeños.  I should have stuck with my gut instinct and ordered the burger covered in chili... maybe next time if there is a next time.

Spiral Potato Stick w/ Salt & Vinegar

When something is considered a speciality... you would think it would be amazing and something that would draw crowds to the place.  Well, I saw many websites praising the spiral potato stick at The Burger Point... but after receiving our spiral potato stick, I was left with not only disappointment with this recommendation, but also a bad side dish.  We chose the salt and vinegar spiral because of how tasty salt and vinegar chips tend to be.  There was nearly no seasoning on this spiral except for some white powder that covered the one end of the spiral and maybe two chips deep.  Everything else was a bland potato chip that ketchup couldn't even help.  I do not recommend this at all.

Sweet Potato Fries w/ Sea Salt

Finally, a side dish that actually had flavor and was worth ordering.  The sweet potato fries were dusted with sea salt, but a cinnamon sugar variety was also available.  They did serve the fries with some awful cilantro pineapple style sauce... it didn't taste good at all and we didn't use it more than one time.  A little ketchup is all you need for these.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Some logistics:  You can order using their iPad systems or you can order with the cashier.  Sometimes the iPad system is faster, but I wasn't sure when you pay.
- If you decided to try this place out... Do order one of their burgers... the burger egg roll as you can see with my description is awful so avoid them.  The burgers were OK, but nothing fantastic
- Order take out... they say it takes about 15 minutes to get ready, but in reality, it takes a little longer than expected and there is only one person running phones and cash register so the line starts to back up if multiple people arrive at once.

- Stay away from  the spiral potato sticks and the burger rolls.  You will be thankful to never order them.

How far would I walk for this food?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sprinkles Cupcakes

Location: 50 E. Walton St., Chicago, IL 60611
Sprinkles Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
As one of the first cupcake shops that I heard about in the US, I was excited to find Sprinkles coming to Chicago.  And even better... they were bringing their CUPCAKE ATM.  Each day, they bake a few of their staple cupcake flavors alongside their "rotating menu."  I do like how they have new cupcakes each day.  The best part about sprinkles though is their ATM.  It is filled each night with dozens of that day's cupcakes.  They packaging and refrigeration system keeps the cupcakes fresh (I honestly couldn't taste any difference, and I have been here many times).  The ATM is credit card only and does not take gift cards (we learned the hard way).  It has been difficult for me to find the perfect cupcake so for now, I am giving them the highest rating of the places I have been... but still not a perfect 5 miles.  I may have to change it once I try some other places in the city.

                  The Cupcake ATM                    Which ones to choose... decided on 1 ended up with 3.
What We Ate:

Red Velvet

The staple of all cupcake shops... the red velvet cupcake.  It is the typical southern style light chocolate cake with the red food coloring.  As always, it is topped with a cream cheese frosting.  The cake on this was light and fluffy.  The chocolate flavor in my opinion was almost non-existent, but the cream cheese frosting made up for it.  In fact, the cream cheese frosting was by far the best frosting out of the cupcakes we tried.  This is definitely a safe bet and one of their most popular cupcakes.  It is offered everyday and they even have a vegan option.  So definitely check it out.

Black & White

Immediately after we saw this cupcake scroll through on the ATM, we all knew we wanted to try it.  The black & white cupcake is a belgian dark chocolate cake topped with a vanilla cream frosting.  The cake was incredible.  The chocolate was rich, yet fluffy and not overwhelming.  The vanilla frosting had a strong vanilla flavor that paired well with the cake.  Overall, it was everyone's favorite cupcake.

Chocolate Marshmallow

This cupcake reminded me of a childhood snack cake... Hostess's Ho Hos.  So with Hostess being out of business, this may be the next best thing.  It is a dark chocolate cake which is injecting with a marshmallow cream filling and topped with a bittersweet chocolate ganache.  It was definitely the richest of the three cupcakes we tried from the ATM.  It was almost too sweet even to my roommate and my sweet tooth's likings.  Luckily, we shared all of the cupcakes, making it a little more bearable.  If you order this cupcake, make sure to have a large glass of milk, or in my case, a large glass of ice water to wash it all down!

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- They do have a doggie cupcake for $1.  Make sure to pick one up!
- CUPCAKE ATM!!! come anytime in the night... just don't expect them to have every flavor in stock.

- Driving around this area during peak hours and weekends can be tough... and parking even tougher so I suggest taking public transportation.

How far would I walk for this food?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!  Hope everyone had incredible food and an even better food coma.  

Here is what we had at our Thanksgiving meal... 
I would definitely walk (well drive) 182 miles for this meal!


Efebina's Cafe

Location: 1640 S. Blue Island Ave., Chicago, IL 60608
Efebina's Cafe on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
One of my favorite cafes to study at in Chicago!  It is in the heart of pilsen and is a wonderful "hole-in-the-wall" type cafe that supports local artists, serves delicious coffee, and has amazing lunch/snack options!  The location is difficult for some people and the seating is not too much, but the food definitely makes up for these low points.

Update: September 2nd, 2012
Still a great place to study in Chicago.  There hasn't been as big of a crowd here and its open till 9pm so I have found it a little better atmosphere than before.  This time I tried the smoothies and another food item and it was just OK.  Check out reviews below, but for now the rating will remain the same.

2nd Update: November 22, 2012
I always love coming here... This time I tried one of their soups which you will see below.  Still an amazing place to study and just hangout.  The atmosphere was cold though and the coffee this time was luke warm which was disappointing.  The soup and coffee experiences counteracted my opinion, so for now, the 3.5 mile rating stays.

What I ate:

Green Pozole Soup (2nd update)

This was my first time trying pozole soup outside of what I have made at home.  It is a Colombian style soup that is made with green chiles, small pieces of chicken, lots of spices, and dried maize or hominy.  The hominy are the corn like dumplings swimming in the green soup.  They have a spongy consistency which is addicting.  This soup was nice and hot in the cold coffee shop.  It had the perfect spice and was served with tortilla chips to crunch on top.  Delicious soup!

Little Bites - Chicken Salad (update)

Served on little crackers, these "little bites" pack a lot of flavor.  I chose the chicken salad ones, but you could also get tuna salad.  It comes with a piece of American cheese and avocado on top.  The chicken salad was a little too sweet for my liking and the American cheese was a random addition.  The cracker was a good salty vessel for the snack.  It comes with four, which is a little pricey but it is a healthy snack while studying.

Guava Smoothie (update)

I chose to get my smoothie made in water as opposed to milk or soy milk.  They do give an option and have lots of other flavors like banana, strawberry, pineapple, coconut, etc.  When made in water, it reminds me more of a slushie with only a hint of guava flavor.  It was very watered down, but it was refreshing during the hot summer days we have been experiencing.  My friends had different flavors which they both liked.  I haven't had any other flavors, so let me know what you think!

Vegetarian Arepa

Where else can you get an Arepa when studying?  This dish is a Colombian arepa which is a grilled white corn flatbread. Mine was topped with melted chihuahua cheese, fresco cheese, and fresh vegetables including roasted red peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, lettuces, and tomato. And with a nice cup of coffee...Definitely a great way to study!!

Chicken Focaccia Sandwich

Freshly baked tomato and herb focaccia... Filled high with a marinanted chicken breast, chihuahua cheese, lettuce, tomato, and some kind of homemade chipotle cream sauce. It was served nice and warm!! And had an amazing pasta salad side... Tons of fresh veggies and not too creamy. The chipotle cream sauce was layered on thick, so maybe ask for light if you don't like too much fat added to your sandwich.  It is still another perfect meal when studying!

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Come here to study!  It is never too loud and has free WiFi!
- Definitely try the arepas!... I suggest the vegetarian one because the plain one doesn't taste like anything and the meat one is overpowered by the corn taste.

- Don't drive here... the free parking is farther from the place.  I suggest riding your bike and then grabbing dinner at one of the local pilsen restaurants!

How far would I walk for this food?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Triple Crown Seafood

Location:  211 W. 22nd Pl., Chicago, IL 60616
Triple Crown Restaurant on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
One of the most authentic Chinese restaurants... if not the most authentic.  Everything here is "Grandmother" approved so do be afraid to try everything, especially their seafood!  And if I posted it, and it's not on the menu, just ask.  They have some specials that you have to ask for.  In terms of atmosphere, the restaurant is located off the main strip, and the entrance isn't glamorous.  In fact, the entrance is more sketchy and grimy than anything else.  But that really doesn't matter, because the food is that good incredible.  Stick to my suggestions below and you will not be disappointed.  I rarely give 5 mile ratings... but Triple Crown Seafood definitely deserves it.

What I ate:
Razor Clams 

Without question... The BEST dish of the night. Definitely a rare treat... These razor clams are lightly steamed and then topped simply with roasted chopped garlic and a few scallions. They are served on a bed of glass rice noodles. The garlic flavor is strong but this dish is unforgettable... The clams are as fresh as can be and have much more substance behind each bite.  I promise, you will CRAVE these for a long time! 

Beef and Chinese Broccoli Chow Mein

My older brother loves this noodle dish.  The chow mein noodles are crispy at first and then the sauce from the stir fried beef and fresh Chinese broccoli make them soft and full of flavor.  You can change the toppings, but I highly suggest the chinese broccoli and beef.   The meat is tender and well seasoned.  I like to describe Chinese broccoli as a mixed between broccoli and spinach.  You get the crisp fromt he steam but still get the leafiness that everything enjoys.  This is one of the staple dishes that everyone should order.  It is extremely filling so make sure to leave room for the rest of the meal.  I have had a vegetarian option that utilizes tofu rather than beef... it is also very good.

Steamed Whole Flounder

One of my favorite dishes at Triple Crown.  The dish consists of an entire flounder cooked at its simplest preparation... a little soy sauce, ginger, chives, green onions and a little steam.  The fish is fall off the bone tender but still keeps that firm consistency that makes the fish somewhat substantial.  Flounder has a lot of natural fats (omega-3s), so you will find a little bit of an oily texture to the fish, especially the skin.  The ginger adds a very prominent flavor to both the fish and the sauce.  Definitely scoop a few spoonfuls of sauce over your white rice.  And make sure you eat white rice with this dish because it cuts the salt quite well.

Steamed Fish Fillets with Yellow Chives

Another excellent seafood dish are these fish fillets that have been cooked with yellow chives.  Rather than working with a huge bone like in the flounder (above), the sole fillets are cooked in bite sized morsels and are more mild tasting than fishy.  So if you are scared of fishy flavors, this may be a dish that will change your mind.  The yellow chives are an interesting pairing and give the entire dish a garlic flavor. They compliment each other very well! Just add some white rice and a cup of hot tea.

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

My mom and I crave these head-on and shell-on shrimps.  They are lightly fried with a handful of jalapeños giving the dish just enough spice to be noticed.  After pealing away the shells (you can eat the legs), you are left with a nice sized shrimp with plenty of flavor.  Definitely ask for white vinegar with garlic mixed into it.  The hot shrimp dipped in the garlic vinegar is a combination that cannot be explained... it must be tasted.  After enjoying the body, don't forgot to suck the juices out of the shrimp head.  That is where all the sweet, yet fishy flavor is located and my favorite part.

Salt and Pepper Squid

Similar to the head on shrimp described above, these salt and pepper squid is the exact dish, but instead it utilizes huge squid chunks.  I was afraid the squid was going to be tough, but it was surprisingly tender.  A few fried jalapeños garnish the dish and once again definitely ask for the white vinegar with garlic pieces.  Eat it while its hot, because after it cools, the squid toughens up just enough to be less enjoyable.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- SHARE PLATES... this is family style restaurant so SHARE! (a table next to us had 8 people and they each ordered 1 sometimes 2 dishes per person... they didn't realize that it was family style and they had enough food to feed a small army.)
- Other "must try" dishes include: clams in black bean sauce, sizzling tenderloin, mandarin style pork chop, roasted quail, mongolian beef, salt and pepper smelt fish, watercress in garlic sauce, and any of their fried rices. (hopefully I will add more pictures)
- If some of my suggestions are not on the menu, just ask anyway... the waitresses usually know what the dish is.

- Don't forget to get your parking ticket validated.  It ends up being only $2.00 for 3 hours of parking if the restaurant validates.
- Honestly, just don't forget to ask for the white vinegar!  It is super important for the salt and pepper dishes!

How far would I walk for this food?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Top Notch Beefburger

Location:  2116 W. 95th St., Chicago, IL 60643
Top Notch Beefburger on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
After hearing that a burger joint on the far south side has one of the best burgers in the city, I had to make the drive to try it.  Top Notch Beefburger has been serving burgers for a while at a reasonable cost with simple, yet amazing toppings.  Overall, the size and cost ratio as well as the quick service and incredible quality made me give out the perfect rating.  Seeing everyday people, from doctors to police officers, dine at the restaurant shows that everyone can enjoy this amazing burger!

What We Ate:

Western Specialty Burger

This was one of the "specialty" creations offered at Top Notch.  It is a 1/2 lb beef burger topped with 3 slices of cheese (I chose pepper jack, sharp cheddar, and swiss), 3 strips of bacon, 3 rings of grilled peppers, and grilled onions (you can ask for raw if that is your preference).  It was all served on a typical hamburger bun.  The burger was huge... it was cooked to a medium doneness (they do not ask how you want it cooked).  The beef was extremely juicy, flavorful, and just one of the better tasting burgers... one that doesn't need all the additional toppings.  But, the toppings put this burger over the top!  The peppers were still crunchy but had a nice char to them, the grilled onions weren't too strong, and the cheeses and bacon that topped everything weren't too overwhelming.  In fact, as bacon tends to do, it made everything that much better.  I would recommend this burger to anyone (well except a vegetarian) and I can't wait to try the others they offer.

Deluxe 1/2 lb Beef Burger

Unsure of which speciality burger my brother would want, I decided to get him one of the deluxe beef burgers instead.  This way he could appreciate the burger as opposed to all the toppings.  The deluxe burger ranges in size and is topped with lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles.  It had sharp cheddar cheese on it and was also cooked to the medium temperature.  The picture looks deceiving because all the toppings are covering the burger patty, but trust me... the burger is a good size.  My little brother enjoyed the burger and had to fight off the food coma after downing some fries and part of an oreo milkshake.  I can't wait to get one of the simple burgers at Top Notch.  Next time we will probably switch places with him ordering one of their specialties.

French Fries

Each of the burgers comes with a side of their french fries.  They weren't anything unique... just the typical thin cut potato deep fried and much better if eaten right away.  As I drove home, the fries would inevitably get soggy, so I had a few before I left and the crispiness on the outside was good.  However, I knew I would be handing over a bag of soggier fries to my little brother.  It's not their fault... its just how all fries work.

Oreo Milkshake

I really enjoyed this oreo milkshake.  The chunks of oreo were ground up enough to fit through the straw but not pulverized like most places do it.  It tasted exactly like most people's milkshakes, it was just a little thicker and chunkier.  Also, the size options are excellent.  They offer a small enough small that you do not feel terrible ordering it and the prices are reasonable.  I highly recommend getting one... or at least sharing one.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Tons of street parking around so no need to stress.
- Definitely order the milkshakes.  The small size is perfect and only costs a couple bucks.
- Some Logistics:  After ordering and eating, the tab is paid at the register... not at the table!

- It is worth the drive... so don't miss out!

How far would I walk for this food?