May 30, 2005

adrift in chicago

It's been really frustrating this weekend: I haven't been able to get me & tallasiandude to decent restaurants. I am accustomed to having good places to eat at my fingertips for any situation or location, but I haven't been here long enough to have places in my head, and the places I DO know I'm not sure where they are or when they're open. So we've ended up dragging ass all over town only to find closed doors, or dithering for an hour trying to figure out where we want to eat, or just giving up completely.

For instance, tallasiandude wanted to try Italian beef, after hearing it described in delicious detail by H & J. So we tried going to Man-Jo-Vin, at Belmont & Damen, only to find it closed (i think for the holiday weekend). By then we were pretty hungry, and still wanted to try & make it to a dance before a movie, so we tried to find something quickly along Belmont or Clark. And didn't, really. We ended up at the Golden Nugget on Clark, which provided a serviceable BLT & grilled cheese-n-tomato, and a decent waffle with ice cream & strawberries. Acceptable, but not exactly what I had in mind for impressing my guest with the culinary marvels of this fair city.

After the movie, I wasn't sure what might be open around 9pm on a Sunday, but we were downtown so I thought we could check out the Billy Goat Tavern & get a burger. Closed. It was getting later and we were growing crankier, so we capitulated and thought we might try the big open patio at Pontiac Cafe on Damen in the midst of the Wicker Park madness. What is not apparent about the Pontiac from a mere drive-by is that it is an insane meat market, which isn't *so* bad in itself, but staff is annoyingly self-important and the menu was tedious and expensive. We blew it off, and tried to go to the yuppie noodle bar across the street (which had just closed), and by this time we felt even older & lamer than we did when we walked into the Pontiac's swirling morass of horny 20-something hipsterflesh, so we retreated to the all-nite low-rent diner Lorraine's, on the corner of Damen & Chicago, where we had powdered mashed potatoes, powdered orange drink, fried chicken, squishy white bread & butter, a pork chop sandwich, and a pizza puff straight from the fryolator. Pizza puffs are a weirdly ubiquitous food here, and I had to try one. They're pizza topping enclosed in a dough packet & deep fried. Not bad, really, especially late at night. Lorraine's is deeply sketchy, with dirty dishes & marginally functional staff. We felt infinitely more at home there than we did at Pontiac.

But recall that this saga began with a craving for Italian beef. So we got a little more organized this morning, and looked online and called ahead. Johnnie's is closed for the weekend. Al's is closed. Max's is closed. Man-Jo-Vin is still closed. So we decided to look for local, possibly-of-dubious-quality Italian beef. All of the handful of purveyors along Chicago & Damen were closed. So we went to plan B: the DeMar coffee shop, where we had a great waffle and respectable eggs & hash browns the other day. Wait for it, wait for it.... closed.

So we gave up and went to Mr. Taco around the corner on Marshfield, despite not really wanting Mexican, and sat in the open air patio. Happily, the chips were light & crunchy and came with great green & red salsas, and the tostada al pastor was really good. The other gorditas & tacos were fine too, and the orchata was yummy. But it weren't no Italian beef, and poor tallasiandude was fed, but unsatisfied.

As a foodwhore, i feel it to be my responsibility to make sure my friends not only eat, but eat well, at every meal, and the amount of compromise, capitulation and sheer futility over the last few days have been making me crazy, feeling guilty & inadequate. Pathetic, I know, but there it is. I gonna have to get busy learning where shit is in this town.

Posted by foodnerd at May 30, 2005 09:44 PM

i feel so sad... and totally identify. we've been here years (and i get paid to eat at places) and i know, know, know the food round town is generally to-die-for, but everytime someone new pops into town for a visit, we fall to pieces and just can't quite get it together for the best place. next time tall asian dude comes (there will be one, won't there?) you will have more of my undivided attention fer sure. there will be an itinerary and a strict schedule! we will eat. and good.

Posted by: h at June 3, 2005 05:30 PM

Ever tried Nuevo Leon in Pilsen (1515 W. 18th)?Every time we have an out of town guest, we take them there and they are always impressed. they make their own tortillas on-site and the prices are incredibly cheap. its better than mr. taco, but not a Picante type place. careful though, its cash only!

Posted by: Emily at June 22, 2005 01:58 PM

Not to sound stupid or anything but if you wanted a Beef sandwhich why didn't you just go to Portillo's. Just asking. i think there Beef sandwiches are pretty good.

Posted by: D-man at August 11, 2005 02:29 PM

Every time I get back to Chicago from California, I have to go to Man-Jo-Vin's. Portillo's beef sandwich cannot come close.

Posted by: JERRY at October 4, 2005 11:46 PM

My father used to drive me weekly to Man-Jo-Vin's 30 years ago when it was on Laramie and was worth the drive. I had not idea it had reopened and wish I would have known this a month ago (as I just returned from a visit back to Chicago).
It is too bad that for tourists, Portillos is thought of as the de facto Chicago Italian Beef sandwich. Granted, Portillos is not bad, but there are so many better beefs out there. Johnny's makes a great beef as does Al's.

Posted by: Crip at July 28, 2008 02:04 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?