I got in late on a Friday and had a hankering for some beef. In Chicago-ese, that means none other than Italian Beef. Most beef joints close on the earlier side, but I knew of one that would stay open late and has several locations that aren't that hard to get to from O'Hare airport. Local mega-chain Portillo's, though definitely not my favorite, serves a decent beef. In fact, in Denver it would be a God-send (as it likely has been for Chicagoans in California since they opened there). I got a beef to go, with hot peppers. I tried to wait until I got to where I was going, but I think the bottom of the bag would have fallen out. Here it is in all its juicy splendor.
The beef is one of the world's more perfect sandwiches: tender beef slices dripping in juices, soft yet crispy French-style bread soaked in juices, and hot (or sweet, but you gotta go hot) peppers all over the top--dripping in juices. If you have never had one, just look at it and imagine how good it would be. Yes. It is that good. In Denver I have not explored the limited beef-scene, though I plan to soon, and years ago I had a decent one at Nonna's Bistro on Leetsdale. I am excited to see that one is also opening up on 21st down the street from Coors Field. Baseball with beef? That rivals my Cuban-baseball standby.
TacosI also of course got out and tried some pastor. Chicago has a helluvalota Mexicans, and so there are taquerias everywhere. But because of this, there are really bad taquerias everywhere as well (I had a horrible drunk taco at 3am on North Clark). Since I've been gone for so long, guidance is good. This time I got it from Titus Ruscitti of Smokin' Chokin' and Chowin' with the King. He pointed me in the direction of Tierra Caliente, near North and Ashland. I also linked this photo from his site, which you should always visit before you go to Chicago:
The tacos are in the back of what is otherwise a small grocery store and butcher shop. We pulled up to a small counter and stared right into what was a crude-but-good-looking spit of pastor. We got a couple tacos right away and they were good, but not great. Definitely a good marinade, and actually they skipped the obligatory Health Department second grilling (it is Chicago after all), so it was also very moist.
The problem was that this Sunday afternoon these guys didn't give a shit about cooking tacos. Or anything that matter. After telling a few customers that they had already run out of Menudo, they confessed to us with a laugh that they just forgot to start making it the night before. They also forgot the pineapple for our tacos, so that didn't help the pastor, which was also sliced way too thick, the taqueros eyes fixed on the TV the whole time, where Mexico was playing an international friendly. Yes, these guys were just as hungover as I was. Despite that, it was a good taco al pastor, and I can see how it could be great when they were on their game.
Not all was lost, however: the carne asada was good and the carnitas were absolutely divine.
Chicago is one of the great food cities. It is also a large city with tons of great neighborhoods that all have their absolute gems of restaurants that you won't read about in most mainstream media. There are plenty of options, however, so when you go, I really do urge you to get out in the neighborhoods and check out Mr. Ruscitti's blog before you go.
I also went a couple of other places worth mentioning that weekend and I hope to get around to writing about at least one of them soon. In the meantime, I just got back from Santa Fe, so am trying to catch up with life and get all this green chile out of my system.