The Astronomer and I didn’t plan on checking out any of Chef Rick Bayless‘ restaurants while in Chicago because we have plenty of amazing regional Mexican food here in Los Angeles (despite what Señor Bayless believes).
Alas, when hunger pangs hit an hour before take off, I was forced to find a bite to eat inside O’Hare. While the smells emanating from Manchu Wok were damn enticing, my curiosity got the best of me and I lined up for a taste of Tortas Frontera. Lo siento, mi amigo Bill!
In addition to its namesake tortas (griddle-baked Mexican sandwiches with a variety of fillings), Tortas Frontera also dishes up molletes (warm, open-faced sandwiches), guacamole, soups, salads, and a “yogurt bar.” To the right of the kitchen and food preparation area is a full bar with plenty of tequila and margaritas to go around.
The food here is made using locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. There’s even a list of all the farmers and purveyors whose fruits, vegetables, and meats are employed by the restaurant prominently on display. I see this kind of name dropping at restaurants all the time, but this was a first for an airport eatery.
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A meal at Chef Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat was an absolute must on my culinary tour of Chicago. I first tasted her cooking late last year at the Food & Wine All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. She prepared a hiramasa crudo with pork belly for an event called “A New American Lunch” and an especially memorable spicy goat curry for the grand tasting. Chef Izard makes the kind of bold and exciting food that I love to eat, and I couldn’t wait to do so on her home turf.
Girl & the Goat has been booked solid ever since it opened two summers ago. I tried and failed to snag a reservation a few weeks before our trip, so our party of four prayed for a miracle when we walked in at dinnertime on a Saturday night.
We were seated sometime past 10 PM and wrapped up our dinner around midnight. It wasn’t the most ideal situation, but we rolled with the punches and were rewarded with a stellar feast.
The menu here is divided into three categories: Vegetable, Fish, and Meat, with a separate specials menu full of goat options. The restaurant goes through seven whole goats each week, all of which are grown and raised locally. “Izard,” by the way, is a breed of Pyrenees goat. Hence the chef’s fascination with the animal.
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The Doughnut Vault doesn’t make it easy for doughnut fiends to get their deep-fried high on. The shop is only open for a teeny tiny window starting at 8:30 AM Tuesdays through Fridays and at 9:30 AM on Saturdays. The blue doors slam shut just as soon as the last ring is sold, which is usually an hour or two after opening.
The internet is flooded with sob stories penned by poor saps who were left empty handed at the hands of The Vault. Needless to say, I did not want to add to that dialogue.
The lines haven’t let up since Brendan Sodikoff opened Doughnut Vault over a year ago in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Housed in an old bank vault, the shop sells around 600 doughnuts each day.
Sodikoff, who has spent time in the kitchens of Per Se and Alain Ducasse, also owns and operates a half dozen other eateries in the city including Au Cheval Diner, Bavettes Bar & Boeuf, Curio Chicago, Gilt Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar, and Pizzeria Cella. His diverse portfolio of restaurants helps explain how a doughnut shop that barely operates for ten hours a week can be a viable business venture.
Knowing that it might take a few tries to hit the doughnut jackpot, I made sure to pencil in a visit to Doughnut Vault every morning of our trip (See: Appendix I).
My first attempt, at 10:30 AM on Friday morning with my friend Esi, yielded no fruit. The following morning, The Astronomer and I, along with our friends Mike and Kellie, arrived on the scene thirty minutes after the shop opened. The line of eager customers stretched out the door, around the corner, and then some. Things weren’t lookin’ so good for us…
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I wish I could take all the credit for following up lunch at Hot Doug’s with dessert at Margie’s Candies. But alas, that brilliant idea was all Roy Choi‘s. He’s a self-proclaimed hot fudge sundae fiend and sent me to Margie’s for a pitch perfect specimen. Hot dogs + Hot fudge sundaes = Hot damn.
Peter George Poulos opened the ice cream parlor and confection shop in 1921 in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. Originally named Security Sweet Shop, the place was renamed Margie’s Candies in 1933 to honor Peter’s wife. A second outpost was opened by Margie and Peter’s son Peter Jr. in 2005 in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. Margie’s Candies continues to be a family-owned restaurant.
Stepping inside Margie’s Candies, it doesn’t seem like much has changed since the shop first opened eighty years ago. The space has an antique chic way about it, while the service is quick and friendly. Sliding into our brown pleather booth, The Astronomer and I admired the table side jukebox. Nifty.
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One of the most highly anticipated meals on my recent jaunt to Chicago was at Hot Doug’s, a “Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium.” Here, Doug Sohn serves a bevy of traditional and exotic wieners topped every which way. The path to Doug’s is a well-beaten one due to loyal locals and tenacious tourists. The wait was well over an hour on this chilly Friday afternoon in March.
Joining The Astronomer and me for lunch was one of my oldest and bestest friends Kellie, a Chicago resident. While The Astronomer and I are accustomed to waiting in tortuously long lines for food [see: here, here, and here], such absurdity wasn’t a part of our companion’s day to day. I prayed that Doug’s dogs would be well worth the wait.
The primary reason for the line moving at a snail’s pace was the limited seating available inside the restaurant. To ensure that everyone had a proper place to sit, orders were only taken when a table was vacated.
Fortunately, the time between placing an order and food arriving was impressively fast. We were seated and eating within five minutes.
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