Now that we’re in full-steam-ahead restaurant mode, our vacation days have taken a serious (but very welcome) hit. So, what are two gluttonous globetrotters to do? Live vicariously through our friends on Twitter, Facebook, and beyond, with the help of Cheeky Chicago.
You might have heard about our Are You Cheeky Enough To Chow? contest, the chance for one lucky winner to win a slew of prizes in exchange for their craziest eating adventure. The top 10 finalists joined us last night at Cheeky Chicago’s First Look at Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar, one of our first official nights in the restaurant (complete with plenty of bites, cocktails, sake, and so on), where the grand prize winner was announced. Just to fill you in, the grand prize winner will not only be receive a 2 night/3 day vacation to San Francisco for two (including a Southwest flight and accommodations at The InterContinental San Francisco), they’ll also be Cheeky’s first San Francisco correspondent.
This blog has inspired me (Mike). For too many years my dining life has taken a back burner to my office life. Go ahead and judge me, but I have on more than one occasion turned down a dinner invite because I had… work to do. And so now, without further ado, I say: NO MORE. I quit my job last week.
Now, what do you do when you find yourself riddled with free time and your final bonus check? That’s right, you go to VEGAS.
Chicago has quickly become the capital of Mexican food north of the border. Are we biased as Chicagoans? Yes. Does that make the statement any less true? Nope. As residents of this fair taco-filled city, we felt it was our duty to investigate one of the West Coast’s top contenders. So when we hit California, we beelined for the the Mission District.
Our Tour Guide
Led by our San Fran tour guide, left, we made our way over to Taqueria Cancun. As you can see in the photo, he was hand-selected based on his hunger level, his capacity to eat while walking, and his propensity to try new foods.
That’s not completely true; he’s a friend… but those are still important things to look for in a friend/tour guide.
Chips and Guac
First things first: three Pacifico beers with limes and an order of chips and guac. As you can see in the photo, Chao had some difficulties holding himself back while I took a photo.
We both agreed: the chile flake tortilla chips were extra-thin and crispy, something you don’t always find in Chicago. Spicy guacamole, paper thin chips, fresh salsa–it was hot and crunchy at its finest.
Next up: tacos. We tried the taco de cabeza (beef head) and the taco de lengua (beef tongue). Each was loaded with meat, enough meat to require two tortillas (at the risk of everything falling apart).
The meat, although tasty, was pretty much the bulk of the taco – a definite switch-up from what we’re used to in Chicago (the land of sauce and fillings).
The winner of the day–maybe the trip–was the fried pork torta. This was truly one of the best tortas any of us had ever tried. It was that perfect blend of melted, creamy goodness but without any sacrifices on flavor.
It was an explosion of fresh guacamole and tomatoes, sour cream, melted mozzarella, and fried pork. The salty/savory flavors of the fried pork playing off the smooth-and-creamy awesomeness of the guacamole… We really should have titled this post “Ode to a Torta.” Or, “The Creamy Pork Sandwich That Changed My Life.”
So, if we had to choose between the Mission and Chicago? Had to decide between Taqueria Cancun and, say, Big Star?
Well, the people behind Big Star have truly hit the trifecta: price, quality, and authenticity. AND, they only use one tortilla in their tacos (which may seem like a petty criticism, but two tortillas are just too many).
The Mission was incredibly authentic and beyond affordable, which made it fairly easy to overeat (if there is such a thing). But, from what we’ve tried, Chicago does have something over the Mission. What the Windy City lacks in proximity it makes up for in flavor. Now, if only we could find a torta like that in Chicago.
There has been a a lot of talk in Chicago lately about food trucks. Correction: there has been a lot of talk in cities such as New York and Los Angeles and Portland about the amazing food trucks that keep sprouting up in their fair cities and a lot of talk in Chicago about WHY WE DON’T HAVE ANY.
So, here’s the lowdown in Chicago: Food trucks are allowed but only if there is no actual food being cooked on the truck. Everything that is sold needs to be pre-packaged in a licensed kitchen – which kind of misses the point. Nevertheless, Gaztro-Wagon, Happy Bodega, and Phillip Foss’ Meatyballs Mobile are pretty popular additions to the burgeoning scene in Chicago.
But, if you’ve known me an hour, you already know that I like to do things right. So, when 48 hours in New York City showed up on my travel itinerary, I decided to dig a little further into street meat culture. I sought out the best of the best, the masters of their trade, and tried to squeeze them all in to the allotted time (fail).
Airport food has pretty much always resided in a category alongside hospital and rest-stop fare. As a veteran of the friendly skies and not-always-friendly terminals myself, I’ve sampled a good deal of airport food, and I can tell you firsthand that there are several exceptions to that rule in the last few years. In fact, you might even deem it a movement in some airports.
I put together my top 5 airport meals based on my experiences. Am I suggesting you drive out to the airport for dinner, tonight? Nope. But you just might be surprised by your next layover feast.
We couch our blog as conquering the world one bite at a time, so you can imagine our excitement when we arrived at an event with eighty chefs preparing bites: the annual Meals On Wheels Celebrity Chef Ball. The event happened this past Friday night, and our work was cut out for us.
Chicago’s best chefs, a floor that takes up an entire city block, and me and Chao–we got down to business. It was crowded, it was hot, but we were on a mission (and luckily Chao has very sharp elbows). Here are a few of our faves, in no particular order:
The burger has recently evolved to become this perfect meal in a little package… and this was truly the perfect composition: the Hay Shortay, a mini Tallgrass burger with port-braised short ribs and warm onion/fennel slaw, no ketchup required.
Soup is usually a hard sell at an event, but Takashi’s take was special. It was the perfect balance–sweet, spicy–it was umami. Curried lentil soup with a chicken-prosciutto croquette, a little different from what we’ve come to expect from Takashi, but spectacular nonetheless.
Cary’s a Georgia boy, and everything he does has a Southern twang. Take his interpretation of a classic, 1940s dish: East Coast oysters Rockefeller… with collards and bacon.
Now, we’re back to our normal activity–eating. And, these days, blogging. Chao is off riding cyclocross this morning, but that’s a blog post for a different time. Thanks for reading this post, checking out our blog, and to all Chicago chefs and restaurateurs for supporting a truly awesome cause on Friday night. Cheers!