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May 19, 2011 02:39 PM

Birrierias, Soul Food, Jewish Delis, and more?

Visiting Chicago for the first time in over 35 years and looking forward to trying things not found in the Bay Area, especially the "Regional Mexican" We sill be staying near Rick Bayless' places and will try at least one, maybe all three. (We only have a week). Also hoping to find some "Regional Mexican" food made by and for Mexicans from that region. In this regard, I've come across mention of several "Berrierias." Any recommendations in regards to quality or location?

Anybody been to the reopened Edna's, now called Ruby's? Worth a trip?

We are Jewish Deli starved here and haven't been to New York, Florida, or L.A. for a while, so considering Manny's or Eleven City. Any thoughts?

Also plan to visit:

Uno or Due, Al's #1 or Portillo's

Purple Pig and/or Publican

Urban Belly

North Pond and/or Blackbird and/or Sable

Any feedback appreciated

Oh, and has anyone been to Von Freeman's Tuesday night gig at the New Apartment Lounge?

North Pond
2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

3053 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Purple Pig
500 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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  1. >> looking forward to trying things not found in the Bay Area, especially the "Regional Mexican" We sill be staying near Rick Bayless' places and will try at least one, maybe all three. (We only have a week). Also hoping to find some "Regional Mexican" food made by and for Mexicans from that region. In this regard, I've come across mention of several "Berrierias." Any recommendations in regards to quality or location?

    The two original Rick Bayless restaurants - Topolobampo and Frontera Grill - are still good choices for regional Mexican cuisine. I especially recommend Topolobampo for lunch, when it's easier to get reservations (including on Opentable) and when they're not so expensive. Frontera Grill can be a zoo if you don't have an advance reservation (only over the phone). My three favorite restaurants for provincial Mexican cuisine are Mundial Cocina Mestiza, in Pilsen, a few miles southwest of the Loop and near the 18th Street station on the CTA Orange Line; Mexique, in West Town, a couple miles west of the "Magnificent Mile" (North Michigan Avenue) and reachable on the #66 CTA bus which runs down Chicago Avenue; and Mixteco Grill, in Lakeview on the North Side, near the Montrose stop on the CTA Brown Line.

    Bayless's third restaurant, XOCO, leans more towards Mexican "street food" (think of it as the Mexican equivalent of sandwiches). "Birrerias" are places that specialize in birria, a Mexican stew that usually includes goat. Not my thing, but you can try it.

    >> We are Jewish Deli starved here and haven't been to New York, Florida, or L.A. for a while, so considering Manny's or Eleven City. Any thoughts?

    Manny's is good. Eleven City really isn't a Jewish deli; it's more of a New York diner. It's okay, but if you're looking for a good Jewish deli, there are better choices. My favorite Jewish deli is Steve's Deli, in River North. It originated in Detroit (which has some of the best Jewish delis anywhere, mostly better than Chicago's). Great traditional deli sandwiches, great stuffed cabbage and chicken pot pie too.

    Your other choices are fine. I haven't been to the couple that you were specifically asking about (Ruby's and the New Apartment Lounge); maybe others can help.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Ditto skipping Manny's and Eleven City. Both are more about attitude than food (and neither does a potato pancake well, in my opinion) - they're for people who didn't grow up with delis but like the idea of a deli. Steve's is a much better bet.

    2. Jewish deli here is just ok. They do it better in all the cities you mentioned - and Ann Arbor's Zingermans. I appreciate the craving, but can't really promise the land of milk and honey and pastrami here.

      There are a couple of berrierias on west Fullerton Ave. between about 2300 and 5000, but I've never tried any of them so I can't give you reports on quality.

      Nsxtasy mentions some good options for regional Mexican.

      8 Replies
      1. re: chicgail

        Without going too far off-topic, I've never been all that impressed with Zingerman's. There are other, better delis in the greater Detroit area, including Steve's and Deli Unique, which I've tried, and there are a couple others I haven't tried that get raves on the Great Lakes forum (Star Deli and Stage Deli IIRC).

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Once again, people, there is no such thing as a "Jewish" deli. When you went inside, did they offer to Bar Mitzvah you? I doubt it. There is nothing religious about it. It's a kosher deli which has to do with the preparation of the food. Yes, it is blessed by a rabbi but that has nothing to do with the restaurant or you.

          For example, I went to Memphis last month and wanted some local chow. I found a great hole-in-the-wall and had some of the best burnt ends, roast chicken and ribs of my life. When I told my friend about it, I referred to it as a barbecue joint -- not a Christian Barbecue. Jesus wasn't there. Crosses were not on the wall.

          Repeat after me... kosher deli. Kosher.

          1. re: grimaldi

            Kosher actually has a specific meaning. It has nothing to do with being "blessed" and everything to do with supervision of ingredients and preparations. None of the delis mentioned here are kosher. Yes, some ingredients and meats are kosher but the establishment itself is not under any supervision nor would any observant Jew eat there. A true Kosher deli, for example would never offer cheese in the same establishment that meat is served, so, for example, you'd never be served a Reuben in a Kosher deli.

            Jewish-style is more accurate because it conveys a more accurate description. A lot of the deli meats we associate with these delis were adapted or adopted by Jewish immigrants to New York, Romanians and Hungarians, among others. They used spices from their respective cuisines and cultures combined with meat that was cheap and plentiful in the U.S.

            So Jewish-style is more accurate and descriptive than Kosher in these examples.

            1. re: ferret

              Thanks for the advise and recommendations. And thanks for the above, ferret. You said it better then I was about to.

              Don't think we'll make a special deli visit, but if we need to, it will be Steve's.

              I've liked the cabrito that I've had and still would love some advice on Birrierias.
              Found a year old thread in which Jim Leff gives Birrieria Ocotlan a nod, and Birreria Zaragoza is touted by deesher. Any updates? No other chowhounds into these tantalizing sounding establishments?

              From what I've read, Edna's (now Ruby's ) is a landmark establishment, just reopened by long time employees. Tasting Table gave it a nice write up in February.
              Anybody been?

              4007 E 106th St, Chicago, IL 60617

              1. re: gumbolox

                Zaragoza puts out a serious product. Homemade tortillas, and all the fixins. They do everything with pride. You'll get crunchy bits, fatty bits, clean onion and cilantro, the broth, and more. Also, the proprietors are engaging, and over the top nice.

                4852 South Pulaski Road
                Chicago, IL 60632-4116
                (773) 523-3700

              2. re: ferret

                Ferret is correct on all counts. Jewish-style delis distinguish a place from say German-style delis. They are not Kosher.

                1. re: chicgail

                  And, to add to what I said (for grimaldi) the "Jewish" appelation is not unique to delis, it's historally been used in similar contexts for cultural preparations of dishes, for instance, you'll occasionally see recipe references to "Jewish style" - including the well-known "Carciofi alla Giudia" (Artichokes in the Jewish Style).

              3. re: grimaldi

                I think that the difference is, in the case of "Jewish Deli," the word "jewish" is a descriptive adjective that has a meaning related to Delis that is independent of the religion. It's an informal descriptor for a certain type of deli.

                If 'Christian" referred to a specific type of BBQ, then yes, I'd like to know if it were a "Christian BBQ" restaurant - especially if I didn't like other types. In that case, it wouldn't be the religion - just the description. I wouldn't get all huffy about whether it was referring to a religion or not.

                Take the religion out of it. Put it this way - there was a great Drag Brunch on Sunday's at a place near where I used to live. I'm pretty sure the term "Drag" was crucial - and I never heard anyone getting worked up and saying "for example, I went to Memphis last month and wanted a good brunch. I found a great place that had delicious omelets and told my friend about it. I referred to it as a good brunch place - not a Hetero brunch place. It wasn't "heteros only." Gay-bashing slurs were not on the wall."

          2. I'd prefer to say that I am strongly recommending Zaragoza.

            7 Replies
            1. re: deesher

              Definitely head to Zaragoza. The homemade tortillas alone are worth the trip. In addition to the birria, be sure to get something that comes with the salsa in the mocahete. A simple quesadilla works fine. I love the Bayless places, but if you want the small, family run, authentic ethnic experience, Zaragoza is perfect.

              1. re: jjo

                Add another vote for Zaragoza. It's simply perfect: small menu, everything delicious. I agree with the suggestion to get the salsa molcajete, either with a quesadilla, or just to eat on the handmade tortillas. Amazing. As mentioned above, the family that runs it is delightful as well. As for it being goat stew, I convinced my not-super-adventurous mother to make the trip out there with me, and now she's addicted. It's not all that different from lamb -- the goats they have are not super-gamey, and the broth is nicely spiced, good to cure whatever ails you, and is actually vegan (should a vegan/vegetarian wish to venture out there with you).

                1. re: pamiam

                  Thanks, guys, Zaragoza looks perfect:
                  I'll make every effort to make the trek.
                  Anywhere else?

                  1. re: gumbolox

                    I'd go to the Bayless restaurants for lunch (Xoco at an off hour) unless I had a reservation. If you eat at the bar at Frontera, you can order off of the Frontera or Topolobompo menus and it's much easier than trying to go for dinner.

                    If you go to Al's #1 (which I probably would), make sure you go to Taylor Street. Not all Al's are created equal. Additionally, you will be able to have an excellent Italian lemonade from Mario's (make sure you order a fresh fruit version- currently canteloupe, watermelon or tutti frutti) across the street.

                    I know this additional information isn't directly responsive to your request but here goes.

                    I'm not sure how good Thai food is in the Bay Area but I would recommend a visit to TAC Quick. Make sure you ask for the "translated menu". The pork neck, crispy en choy, pad thai in omelette, fish cakes, papaya salad, and chicken with basil and preserved eggs (among other items) are all really great. It's BYOB, very inexpensive and accesible off of the CTA Red line.

                    I'd also suggest a trip to Great Lake Pizza. I would call it American craft style pizza. I'm told that it most resembles Pizzeria Bianco. If you show up on a Wednesday around 6:30 you shouldn't have a big problem getting a table. There are only about 12 seats, so timing is important. If need be, you can always head down the street to In Fine Spirits for a quality cocktail and they will call you when your table is ready. It is also reasonably priced (around $24 for a pizza) and BYOB. The salads are also really great if the farmers market products allow.

                    TAC Quick
                    3930 North Sheridan Road
                    Chicago, IL 60613-2935
                    (773) 327-5253

                    Great Lake
                    1477 West Balmoral Avenue
                    Chicago, IL 60640
                    (773) 334-9270

                    In Fine Spirits
                    5420 North Clark Street
                    Chicago, IL 60640-1210
                    (773) 334-9463

                    1068 W Taylor St
                    (between Carpenter St & Aberdeen St)
                    Chicago, IL 60607

                    1. re: deesher

                      >> If you go to Al's #1 (which I probably would), make sure you go to Taylor Street. Not all Al's are created equal.

                      Taylor Street, in the UIC/Little Italy neighborhood, may or may not be all that convenient to where you will otherwise be spending time. Consider where you will be, and it's up to you; you may decide that it's not worth the added travel time when you can get an excellent representation of our local Italian beef sandwiches at Portillo's in River North, or some other place close to where you will be.

                      As for pizza, get our delicious local specialty of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, which you can get here and nowhere else. The original locations of Uno and Due in River North are still excellent (and still use the original recipe, unlike their dreadful franchise locations elsewhere). Lou Malnati's and Pizano's are also excellent choices. Wherever you go, keep in mind that you can phone ahead in advance with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while there for it to bake.

                      I haven't been to Great Lake, but I've heard horror stories about long waits and them running out (it's a VERY small place). Note that it and In Fine Spirits are in Andersonville on the far north side, about seven miles north of downtown.

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        Thanks, everyone. We arrive tomorrow and now have a pretty deep list. More than we'll be able to visit.
                        One place we plan to go that has been unmentioned is Taxim. Any comments?
                        And still no feedback on Edna's/Ruby's. No Chichowhounds into fried chicken and okra?

                        Anyway, thanks again. Will report back next week.

                        1558 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                        1. re: gumbolox

                          I've been to Taxim. It's pretty good, but very noisy. Hard to talk to my dinner companion across the table. I'm not rushing to go back. Let us know what you think.

                          1558 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622