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The memories?? Italian beef, Malnati's, Bohemia Crystal & Chinn's REPORT

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My husband and I grew up in Hinsdale and Mt. Prospect and have since lived more than 25 years all over the world and currently reside in Long Beach, CA. Every year we make the annual Christmas pilgrimage back to Chicago to visit family and every year we go to the same traditional places to eat. We can hardly fit in all the food in our schedule! This year we didn't have time for the usual White Castles (we get them frozen), Garrett's popcorn, and Chicago hot dogs.

Within 30 minutes off the plane we got Chicago Italian beef at the first place we saw--Browns. I LOVE their chicken but we were desperate for the beef. Portillo's and Al's are our usual favorites but I was starving from the long flight with visions of food dancing in my head. We took the sandwiches to go and when we got to my mother-in-law's we unwrapped small mounts of dry beef on a small dry roll. No peppers, no juice! I was so disappointed I actually called Browns to complain. They offered us a free sandwich next time we came in which I did today. This time it was even worse! It was tasted like Italian curry beef. It was overly salt and had a strong curry flavor.

Next,we gathered with my husband's family and forced the issue of having Lou Malnati's for Christmas dinner instead of turkey. (We were really limited with time and turkey is not on the eating schedule when visiting Chicago.) We have eaten Lou's for years along with Uno's. We picked up 2 large sausage pizzas and found extraordinarily soggy crusts and very little sauce on the top of the pie. Disappointing, particularly since we had forced everyone to give in to our cravings.

The next night we got together with my side of the family at Bohemia Crystal on Ogden Ave. The food was of typical quality (almost everyone ordered the duck as usual--nice and crispy) but the wait staff got several orders wrong and was very unfriendly.

And tonight, our last night, we went to Chinn's Crab House in Wheeling. I was very skeptical because of the hype but my mother-in-law really wanted to go. Actually...it was excellent! I had Alaskan black cod marinated in a miso and baked, my husband had terrific charbroiled swordfish and mom had coconut shrimp. I am extremely picky about fish and rarely order it out because it is so often overcooked. My cod was outstanding! Slightly undercooked, fresh, tender and tasty. I didn't care for the atmosphere or the crowds but the fish was worth the wait. (We called ahead a few days ago for preferred seating to cut the wait in half.)

So, we struck out on all but one meal, which is really unusual for Chicago but we ended on a great note. We'll be back next Christmas!

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  1. >> We have eaten Lou's for years along with Uno's. We picked up 2 large sausage pizzas and found extraordinarily soggy crusts and very little sauce on the top of the pie. <<

    Last night we picked up a deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati's (Evanston location) and ours was totally different from your description. The crust was nice and crunchy, and the sauce on top was very good (it was more along the lines of whole tomatos rather than tomato sauce, which you may interpret as very little sauce but I interpret as more authentic tomato taste).

    < shrug >

    1. So sorry that the chow was not up to snuff. It is especially hard when you are really looking forward to something and then have friends or family have a bad experience with it. I totally agree with nsxtasy above about the take out or better yet, take home and bake option from Lou Malnati. I wonder if the staff was on holiday burnout?
      Regarding Brown's Chx. STAY AWAY from the entrees other than chicken. I have never seen anyone have good luck with anything and what you described seems par for the course. Also be very careful of the Al's Beef franchises as most of them are very bad. I would hate for you to have bad chow next year

      1. As long as you come all the way out to Bohemian Crystal in Westmont, you might want to try an excellent alternative: Bohemian Garden at 980 W. 75th St., Downers Grove (north side of 75th east of Lemont Road). Food is IMHO better than Bohemian Crystal and very inexpensive. Good homemade dishes. Service is generally good, too.

        1 Reply
        1. re: CJT

          Many thanks for pointing us to "Bohemian Garden at 980 W. 75th St., Downers Grove"... We ate at the "Golden Duck" a few weeks ago and came back only to find it was torn down and is now an "Action Auto" parts store... Grew up around 26th and Pulaski and have been going farther west each year to get decent Bohemian food....

        2. If you ate at the Golden Duck "a few weeks ago", you were in a dream. They tore the restaurant down about a year ago. But glad you liked knowing about Bohemian Garden - you wil not be disappointed.

          1. Being 100% bohemian myself, I've grown up on this wonderful & filling ethnic food. Many of the ones in the western suburbs have been leaving us (Dumpling Villa in Villa Park and the forementioned Golden Duck). However, depending on where you stay when you come into town, Czech Plaza on the north side of Cermak Road and just east of Harlem in Berwyn is about as good as it gets. Large portions, potato, bread & fruit dumplings. Liver dumpling soup.... YUM!!!! A full meal with dessert for anywhere between $7-10!!!

            1 Reply
            1. re: wineaux

              I second Czech Plaza. My Bohemian in-laws love it. They also have a decent imported beer selection.