Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chi Cafe

Location: 2160 S. Archer Ave., Chicago, IL 60616
Chi Cafe on Urbanspoon
A Quick Word:
When late night rolls around, an urge for Chinese food is met by limited options in Chicago.  Yes, you have the typical fast food, Panda express-style restaurants, but for more authentic dishes, you have to make a trek to Chinatown.  Luckily, Chi Cafe is open late and definitely the place to go after a long night of drinking, studying, or just wanting a second dinner.  Located in the newer strip mall side of Chinatown, Chi Cafe is frequented by locals and tourists.  They offer a more limited menu, when compared to other establishments, but they definitely do not lack the variety needed to please just about anyone.  The flavors are very traditional and their dishes very reasonably priced, making this place popular among college students.  The atmosphere is more modern with a couple of flat screen TVs and booth-style seating.  You can definitely tell the younger crowd is who they try to attract.  Each dish we tried had a minor flaw to it, but because of the great prices, huge portions, late night options, and of course the cleaner, modern atmosphere... I can safely give them a 4 mile rating.

What We Ate:

Mixed Vegetable Chow Mein

When it comes to noodle dishes, the crispy chow mein noodles is always a must.  Here, we ordered the mixed vegetable chow mein which consisted of broccoli, bok choy, carrots, mushrooms, green peppers, and more.  The egg noodles were stir fried with the vegetables and soy sauce until the noodles had both a soft and crispy texture.  The dish was huge... it easily served our table of four with leftovers for the next day meal.  The dish itself wasn't too salty.  The vegetables were plentiful, but were cut extremely large.  I mean, who wants to eat half of a bell pepper in one bite?  And, with chopsticks, what are we supposed to do with such large pieces of vegetable.  I know this may be a little picky, but it did make the dish a little harder to eat.

Orange Chicken

One of my friends loves the Panda Express entree -- orange chicken, so we opted to try the more authentic or should I say less Americanized version of this dish.  The chicken is lightly fried before being tossed in an orange glaze.  It is served with a side of broccoli and a cup of white rice.  The orange glaze reminds me of a sweet and sour sauce with a hint of orange.  The generous coating may overwhelm the palate so I suggest rolling it around a few times on your plate to rid the chicken of excess sauce.  The white rice also cuts the orange flavor.  I actually enjoyed this dish.  The chicken had a nice crispy texture and after minimizing sauce intake, the orange flavor was quite pleasing.  The dish came with a couple dozen pieces of meat, so definitely enough to share!

Garlic Chicken Fried Rice

We stuck with the more safe option of fried rice... their garlic chicken version.  This group of friends shies away from seafood and other meat options, so I was completely fine getting this classic filler dish. The rice was cooked very lightly in soy sauce before a medley of chopped chicken, carrots, peas, garlic, and scallions were added.  In my opinion, the dish lacked some flavor (garlic was prominent), but my friends compensated with hot sauce.  I added some of the orange glaze from the chicken and enjoyed it very much.  One of my friends even added some of the chow mein to their rice and mixed it all together.  You can't really mess up fried rice, and here, they did just fine.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Great late night spot!  Definitely come here after 9pm for easy parking and amazing food.
- SHARE each dish... they are good sized portions

- Don't expect to sit and talk here... the atmosphere is quick paced food with people always waiting for next available table.

How far would I walk for this food?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hash House A Go Go

Location: 1212 N. State Parkway, Chicago, IL 60610
Hash House a Go Go on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
What I tend to look for in a brunch restaurant is quantity and greasiness. These two characteristics are great whether you had a heavy night of drinking or just want to hold yourself over for a couple of meals.  Hash House A Go Go has a few dishes that highlights these qualities, but also a few that miss it entirely.  Their motto is "Farm Food with a Twist," which is definitely exemplified by their use of fried chicken and meatloaf in a number of their dishes, including a meatloaf eggs benedict.  The atmosphere of the restaurant is real relaxed with pictures of tractors and corn filling the walls.  Also a more industrial feel is kept with plenty of aluminum wall panels.  The location keeps this place fairly busy especially on weekends, so just be aware.  Unfortunately, some of their food doesn't have the same impact of flavor as their signature dishes.  For that reason, I felt as if they focus on just a few dishes when preparing meals.  And, that is why I decided that a 3.5 mile rating is fair.

What We Ate:

Sage Fried Chicken and Waffles

As soon as We arrived at the restaurant, I anticipated chicken and waffles being on their menu.  Not only was it on the menu, it was considered one of their specialities.  Their dish is made up of a bacon waffle tower (yes, there are 4 waffles with bacon pressed right in). They then layer two sage fried chicken breasts and finally top everything with fried leeks and a warmed maple syrup.  This dish is absolute heaven.  The size is incredible by itself, but the flavor takes it up to the next level. The sage is definitely noticeable in the chicken and the aroma from the rosemary stem that holds everything together reminds you have that thanksgiving smell.  The waffles could stand alone and adding crunchy, salty leeks also helps being together that sweet-salty combo everyone craves.  This is one of my all time favorite breakfast plates and I highly suggest it to anyone.

Veggie House Hash

With the restaurant name including the word hash on it, how could you not try their house hash?  My friend thought the same way and she ordered the veggie version.  It was made with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh spinach.  All the ingredients were tossed with their hash potatoes and the dish came with two eggs and a biscuit.  The ingredients were definitely all fresh... Not farm fresh, but much better than other breakfast joints. However, the flavor was well short of spectacular, and probably closer to average at best. All I tasted was the oily potatoes until you bit into a sun-dried tomato (maybe the one key ingredient that made you come back for more). The biscuit is on the drier side but definitely addicting. These biscuits are huge so you will for sure have plenty of food.

Tangerine Juice

Fresh squeezed juices were on their menu with one being tangerine. We figured we would try it to see how it compared to everyday orange juice. It was a little on the sour side, but that's because no sugar was added.  I never know if the cost of fresh juice is worth it especially when it hits the $4 price level. Anyway, give it a try I guess.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Stick with their featured dishes... They have multiple dishes featuring their sage fried chicken and meatloaf, including a meatloaf benedict. I know I'll be trying that one next.
- Share dishes!  These portions are some of the biggest I've seen for breakfast.

- Juices... I'll pass.

How far would I walk for this food?

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Location: 1001 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago, IL 60607
Wishbone on UrbanspoonWishbone Restaurant on Foodio54
A Quick Word:
Somehow, this southern restaurant evaded my obsession of country-style dishes.  Huge hearty brunches is something I love and I expected Wishbone to continue the trend.  Unfortunately, I was let down.  My family and I walked into a wonderfully decorated restaurant with that southern feel to it.  The menu looked great (minus the fact that there is no chicken and waffles).  However, two things really annoyed me.  First of all, the portions... I know we are in a country of obesity, but seriously, when you get a plate with half of the plate showing and you are extremely hungry afterwards... isn't that also a problem?  Luckily, the prices were a little on the friendlier side, so ordering an extra side wouldn't be too much of a problem.  The other part that annoyed me was the service.  They aren't very attentive, at least at our table.  I mean this place is always packed despite the small portions.  Either there aren't many places people know about that serve this style of food, or people are being more healthy.  I suggest trying Big Jones for southern breakfast.  I guess I will give them an average of 3 miles for my rating.

What We Ate:

Crab Cake Benedict

Immediately, my parents both decided on the crab cake benedict... and they knew it would be big enough for them to share.  And, it was!  The meal consists of an english muffin split in half that is topped with crab cakes, spinach, two poached eggs, and the traditional hollandaise sauce.  It comes a side of the house potatoes and choice of toast (my parents chose the raisin cinnamon swirl).  I managed to snag a bite of their meal which was delicious.  Real crab meat with enough to give the cake a nice seafood flavor and texture.  It wasn't made of too much binder so you actually feel like you are eating crab.  The eggs were poached perfectly and the hollandaise sauce was rich.  Personally, I thought the dish was enough for one person, but for smaller appetites, sharing is an option.

Red Beans & Rice

One of my favorite southern dishes is cajun red beans and rice.  Seeing it for breakfast, I was immediately sold.  Their spin on red beans and rice includes the New Orlean's style red beans slow cooked with chicken andouille sausage, peppers, and onions.  It is ladled on top a bed of white rice, served with two eggs over easy, and I opted for the corn muffin, rather than biscuit or toast.  I was very disappointed with the overall size of the meal.  They skimp on both rice and chicken sausage which is disappointing.  At least give me enough rice to make me full.  Two small corn muffins were essentially thrown on the plate with one of them breaking into small chunks.  The muffins do have a nice crust on the outside and real corn kernels, so this was definitely the best part of the meal.

Southern Benedict

My little bro is all about some kind of southern creation when it comes to breakfast.  This time, it was the southern benedict.  Rather than the typical english muffin, they top a freshly baked biscuit with ham and two eggs and then drown the entire dish in sausage gravy.  Rich is the first thing that comes to mind, especially with all the thick gravy.  But it is tasty.  Unfortunately, after a while, the flavor is to one-note that you kind of lose your appetite.  Maybe spice of the meal with a side of fruit or a corn muffin or something.  Giving griddled potatoes just adds more oil.  Or maybe reduce the gravy and add some freshness... tomatoes and spinach?  Just a thought.

Smoked Beef Brisket Hash

If I could have ordered a second breakfast, I was going to choose the smoked beef brisket hash.  Luckily, my older brother picked the dish... allowing me to have a few bites.  This hash was made with chopped beef brisket, house potatoes, peppers, and onions.  He decided on two eggs over easy and corn muffins for his starch.  This dish was a little on the smaller side as well.  The brisket had a smoke flavor, but it wasn't as prominent as I would have hoped.  Everything else was essentially standard and with being standard in a hash, it was just average.  Looks like my two choices flopped.

Oatmeal with Brown Sugar and Raisins

My brother's wife was smart, she chose to have an order of oatmeal and a smaller order of biscuits and gravy.  The oatmeal was great... slow cooked whole oats served with a side of milk, brown sugar, and raisins.  You could add other mix-ins, including pecans, bananas, or flax seeds at an additional cost.  It is hard to mess up oatmeal, unless you add too much water, but not to worry here, it is just the right consistency.

Biscuits and Gravy

Similar to the southern benedict listed above, the biscuits and gravy is essentially what the name implies.  A biscuit was placed into a smaller soup cup and covered with their sausage gravy. This was the right amount because of the richness of that gravy.  I would suggest this side over the southern benedict just because you can order something else and not feel like you are eating the same thing over and over again.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Do come early for brunch on weekends.  This place fills up fast and they do not take reservations.
- Driving is easy to this area; plenty of parking so no worries on that end.

- Don't have too high of expectations.  The food is average, but there are much better brunch places in the city.  (Even for southern/soul food style food)

How far would I walk for this food?

Wishbone on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Chicago Diner

Location: 3411 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60657
The Chicago Diner on UrbanspoonChicago Diner on Foodio54
A Quick Word:
Having lived in Chicago for several years, I have had several recommendations to try this purely vegetarian restaurant.  Somehow, I kept pushing away The Chicago Diner and was only recently able to try this restaurant.  Upon walking in, you feel like you arrived in a TV show diner.  Metallic accents and that "kitchen feel" was what I first noticed.  After checking out the menu, I was surprised to see essentially every meat dish imaginable... turned vegetarian.  From traditional sandwiches like a philly cheesesteak to buffalo chicken wings, there is a reason why this restaurant has won best vegetarian restaurant several times.  The food is definitely tasty, but for true meat lovers, you can still tell that something is a little strange.  Personally, I thought the food was over seasoned... maybe they are trying to make up for the fact that they are using weirdly textured fake meat?  Regardless, the creativity was out of this world and the flavors were still all tasty.  If you are a vegetarian, this place should be added to your "must try list;" if not, definitely give it a try once.  My impression of the restaurant was good enough for a 4 mile rating--nothing higher because it just couldn't compare to the true meat dishes that I do crave.

What We Ate:

Dagwood Classic

One of my all time favorite sandwiches is corned beef deli specials.  These are usually piled high with meat.  At Chicago Diner, it is a little different... first of all, it is completely vegetarian, just like the rest of their menu.  The sandwich is made from marbled rye bread stuffed with corned "beef", sliced "turkey", and "bacon."  They add melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a thousand island dressing to complete the Dagwood.  When I first tried the sandwich, I was pleasantly surprised with the flavors; it actually tasted like a corned beef sandwich.  However, the consistency was way off... it was a little to mushy for my liking.  I choose sweet potato fries for my side, which were great.  Freshly fried and seasoned with a little salt.  Definitely something to try, but I probably won't order it again.

Philly Cheesesteak

My roommate chose the Philly cheesesteak sandwich... the first one for him, since he actually is vegetarian.  A hoagie roll is filled with sliced seitan (fake beef), grilled peppers and onions, and melted cheese.  For his side, he choose mashed potatoes with a vegetarian gravy.  I thought this sandwich was the best.  It actually reminded me of a cheesesteak because the thin meat consistency was very similar to the real deal.  And the melted cheese was the "icing on the cake."  I do wish it was much spicier, but maybe we should have spent the extra 50 cents for the giardiniera.  The mashed potatoes were had a salty gravy and the seemed closer to powdered potatoes than hand crushed.

The Titanic BLT Burger

The next best sandwich was chosen by my other friend.  The titanic BLT burger wasn't as large as I imagined, but it was still a great veggie burger patty.  It was topped with fake bacon, fried onion strings,  lettuce, tomato, and a chipotle sauce.  She chose mac and cheese for her side, which came out a little flavorless and sort of like a plastic consistency.  The veggie burger was good... but not the greatest I have had.  My suggestion is to turn this burger into Western Style--rather than chipotle sauce, serve it with a BBQ sauce since fried onions and bacon compliment BBQ sauce quite well.

Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich

My other friend decided on the spicy chicken sandwich.  Sounds safe right?  Well, she was wrong... this sandwich is made with a panko-cayenne breaded fake chicken patty.  It was served with ranch, lettuce, tomato, and onion.  Unfortunately, this sucker was SPICY.  And spicy is an understatement.  It was easily the hottest chicken sandwich I have ever tried and the cayenne is not a pleasant spice for flavor.  In fact, it reminded me of a fried piece of bread just caked in cayenne.  I wish they changed up the pepper spice, or had more substance besides the breading.  She choose waffle fries which were standard but still tasty.  I wouldn't recommend this sandwich.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- They do serve alcohol, so if you want to continue your Wrigleyville journey, this is a place to consider for food.

- This place is always packed... don't expect since its a purely vegetarian restaurant that it is easy to get a table.  Waiting is usually the norm.

How far would I walk for this food?

The Chicago Diner: Logan Square on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sanity Scene - Dayton, Ohio (Part 3 of 3)

For the final post on the food scene of Dayton, Ohio, I decided to lump together more of the ethnic foods of Dayton.  This will include a nicer seafood spot, a Middle Eastern restaurant, some BBQ that can compete with the best, and much more.

I wasn't able to try them all... skipping out on the Indian Buffet's and the well-established Thai restaurants.  But, the places I went to are definitely be places I would consider visiting again the next time I end up in Dayton.

Pasha Grill
Pasha Grill on Urbanspoon

One of my brother's favorite restaurants was Pasha Grill.  Located in The Greene Mall, they specialize in Middle Eastern Cuisine.  They have a special Turkish-style bread that is served prior to the meal with an oil-sundried tomato dip.  The falafel appetizer was disappointing.  I found the falafel to be undercooked and expensive.  But, the entrees were definitely worth the cost.  We ordered one beef kebab and one chicken kebab dinner to share amongst us three.  Both are well seasoned, not overcooked, and come with both rice and vegetables.  The broccoli was simply steamed, but the rice had a nice flavor... I think it was dill.  Hummus was our choice for a tasty appetizer; I think it is nearly impossible to mess up.  I wish the sandwiches were available at dinner time... my brother said this is a new change that he wasn't even aware of.


El Rancho Grande
El Rancho Grande on Urbanspoon

I was craving Tex-Mex style food one afternoon and asked my brother where he would recommend going.  Immediately, both him and his wife mentioned El Rancho.  We planned on heading here following church and I am so glad we did.  He recommended I ordered the Special Dinner... supposedly it was a huge dinner plate.  I was skeptical; usually I am never full leaving a Mexican restaurant unless I order two different entrees or some appetizers.  When the special dinner arrived I was SHOCKED.  It came with the following:  one chalupa, one enchilada, one taco, one tamale, one chile relleno, Mexican rice, and refried beans.  And of course, the chips and salsa that all Mexican restaurants give.  There was so much food, my meal came on two separate plates.  At first, I was embarrassed by how much I ordered, but as I started eating, I was glad I chose this option.  Each was made with ground beef (probably the only way to keep the cost at $12).  The sauces were all delicious with just enough spice to satisfy.  The chile relleno had a way too much cheese; in fact, it was nauseating how much it had.  It isn't the most authentic Mexican food, but for being Tex-Mex, and for the price, it sure hit the spot.


City BBQ
City Barbeque on Urbanspoon  City Barbeque on Urbanspoon

When it comes to BBQ, I feel confused by the south side scene of Chicago.  There, I have encountered some of the best BBQ, but also some questionable meals.  In Dayton, I found several locations for one establishment known as City BBQ.  My brother, his wife, and I went on a Tuesday night for their $1.15 per rib special.  And we ordered just about everything available on the menu!  Somehow, we were able to finish a dozen ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, a sliced brisket sandwich, a hot link, hush puppies, fries, corn bread, and cole slaw.  I really enjoyed this place because nothing was covered in BBQ sauce... instead, they provide 4 different sauces at the table and also a warmed up version near the drink dispensers.  I preferred the brush fire and the mustard-based sauces, both served warm.  Definitely dip the ribs into these and you will not be disappointed.  In terms of tenderness, the ribs were spot on--they had a good bite, but were not chewy.  The pulled pork and brisket sandwiches were both tender, non-fatty, and also had a good dry seasoning cooked right in.  Place the slaw on the sandwiches and choose your sauce.  The hush puppies and corn bread were easily the best of the sides, with the hot link coming in close third.  This is a place I would frequent if I lived nearby.


Jay's Seafood
Jay's Seafood on Urbanspoon

After being denied by a couple of randomly closed Italian restaurants, we ended up at Jay's Seafood in more of the downtown area of Dayton.  This restaurant is located in an old warehouse building and attracts more of the older crowd (at least when we were there).  But, this is supposedly the place to come for good seafood.  I stuck with the prix fix menu for $26.  I chose to have the shrimp gazpacho, the monk fish entree, and peach pie for dessert.  Some of the other dishes ordered was the mozzarella cheese strip appetizer, the lobster roll, and the chocolate peanut butter pie.  For my prix fix, the shrimp gazpacho was probably the best part... spicy, cold tomato soup was topped with three boiled shrimp.  The monk fish itself is a little oily, which was expected, but the accompaniments of bacon and garlic cloves didn't really fit in the dish at all.  The mozzarella sticks was just enough for our four person table with the thick cut mozzarella being lightly melted from the frying process.  The lobster roll was huge and served with fries.  A little too much celery and fillers for my liking, but still a great sandwich.