The Rise of Dad Food

In the last few years, “dad rock” has been used as pejorative shorthand for critics to dismiss bands or music of a certain ilk. Such music is usually plaintive, nostalgic, seemingly simplistic, maudlin or sometimes just fringe complex and weird.

Mod Mex

Pepe Barajas, chef/owner of La Josie, a new upscale Mexican restaurant in the West Loop, was practically born into the hospitality game. As a little kid in the ’80s, he was popping the tops off Jarritos and Coke for patrons at his grandfather’s Mexico City taco stand. When he was 7, he immigrated to Chicago and watched his single mother waitress for her brother, founder of the local Los Comales chain of restaurants. Seeing her struggle financially, Barajas dropped out of high school and helped his mom open her own taqueria, Los Comales No. 8.

Rabbit Food

The true character of a restaurant is often measured by what its crew does when no one is watching. Great restaurants do what’s right or go the extra mile even if diners don’t see the details or have specific expectations. New York’s Eleven Madison Park (EMP), for example, sends guests home with a parting gift of homemade granola so good it could put Nature Valley out of business. To mitigate what is often the most awkward restaurant service act, presenting a bill, they bring a bottle of apple brandy and offer gratis pours of the spirit with the delivered check so that guests don’t feel like they’re being rushed.

Chicago’s South Side

My very favorite thing to do as a food writer is to hop in the car and devote a day to just driving around the city looking for new spots or to rediscover old ones that no one ever talks about anymore.

Sweet Thang

Whoa-ah-oh-a-oh. Sweet thiiing! Go ahead. Try to take a bite of the Sweet Thang taco from Bronzeville’s Love Taco, featuring roast chicken, grilled pineapple, red onion, queso fresco, jalapeno and pico de gallo slathered in the house secret sweet sauce, without the chorus of Chaka Khan and Rufus’s 1975 single clanging around inside your brain. In my case it was the Mary J. Blige-version (when I think of Chaka, I’m more likely to sing “I’m Every Woman), but you know what I mean.

Love and Bulgogi

Love has done a lot of things for the world, but it has not brought me great bulgogi. That is until now, for Sol’s on Sheridan, a new Korean restaurant in Uptown that serves great red chili-slathered beef, has landed in Chicago as a result of a great love affair.

Intro Dim Sum

Despite pimping black truffle-stuffed pasta or whiskey cocktails infused with bacon, most chefs don’t crave the things they purvey at their restaurants. After years of reporting, I’ve found a chef’s desert island meal is more like a Miller High Life and a piece of fried chicken.

The Texican

Everything I know about Tex-Mex cuisine, I learned from Chi-Chi’s. That a now-defunct (in the U.S.) chain founded in Richfield, Minn., was a source of Mexican culinary inspiration is weird, I know. But because of Chi-Chi’s, guys like Rick Bayless had to explain why they didn’t serve free chips and salsa at their authentic regional Mexican restaurants. For a Michigan kid like me, the only thing greater than free chips and salsa was endless Cheddar Bay biscuits at Red Lobster.