You trust cab drivers to get you from point A to point B, but did you ever think to trust their taste buds? I've discovered cabbies have mapped out more than just the city's streets; they've uncovered the tastiest quick eats around town. The next time you pile in a taxi, get more out of your fare by quizzing your driver for his favorite spots to park his ride. Before you know it, you'll be the interloper frequenting these locales instead of me.
As I rolled up to the ad-covered façade of Ghareeb Nawaz, located down the street from the busier section of Devon, a steady stream of cabs began to gather along the street. Just like the ads touted, this spot serves some ridiculously cheap and delicious eats: Warm naan, paratha and chapatti breads cost just .50 cents an order, the moist tandoori chicken tikka is a mere $3, and veggie items, like the chickpea dish chana masala, run only $2. Cabbie or not, this place spells deals. No wonder it's named after an eighth-century saint of India named the "Sustainer of the Poor."
Pita Inn (Skokie)
At the original Skokie outpost of this Middle Eastern favorite (there's another location in Glenview), the cafeteria's line, filled with families, teens on dates and cabbies, never seems to die down. I dined on my $2.75 falafel sandwich, admiring the vines tacked to the walls, the handsome wooden tables and the quick service. I had my fill, but the next morning I woke up with a craving for the same scrumptious food. On the return trip, I ordered the kifta kabob sandwich, warm pita bread stuffed with seasoned ground cuts of tender beef and veggies. Only the cabbies taking suburban routes will end up here, but I imagine that some of them make detours just to stop in.
Shan Food & Restaurant
Uptown has plenty of cheap restaurants, but none of them are as high-quality as this cab driver hot-spot that's part-grocery store, part-cafe and part-restaurant. The case of sweet treats looked quite delicious, but all of the writing—save for the $1.50 price tag—was in Arabic. I turned instead to the giant yellow sign hanging near the TV and spotted aloo paratha
, a soft Indian flatbread fried and stuffed with veggies for only $1.99, and a warm piece of naan for .99 cents. Wandering about the grocery section, I landed on a giant round of Ethiopian anjera
bread. Settling on a container of the sweet and creamy kheer
, an Indian rice pudding, and a bar of Dove soap, I plopped down my cash and marched out the door.
Peacock Cafe and Restaurant
Cabbies of Eritrean origin know about this place, but passersby often skip over it and head to nearby Ethiopian Diamond instead. The two restaurants serve similar cuisines, but Peacock's ambiance sets it apart. From the paintings of the Eritrean countryside to the beautiful woven baskets, special touches added by the Mezengi family abound in the cafe. The staff is friendly and the food comes quickly: Minutes after ordering, I received a hot to-go order of spicy tibsi derho, white boneless chicken pieces stir-fried with hot peppers, spicy onions, peppers and tomatoes, and a generous serving of the spongy injera. As I noshed, I couldn't stop thinking about my next trip to try the spaghetti with meat sauce, a menu item reflecting Eritrea's late-1800s colonization by the Italians.
Other in-the-know cabbie hangs:
Khan BBQ Restaurant
This Indian spot on Devon churns out flavorful, moist kebabs and some of the best naan around at insanely low prices.
The menu boasts Ethiopian favorites like tibsi begie, savory cubes of lamb meat cooked with spicy berbere sauce, but the owners are actually from Eritrea.
When I stopped in here, a group of cabbies were breaking the Ramadan fast with Baba's delicious Middle Eastern eats. The falafel rocks, and the hummus is the thickest and creamiest I've ever had.
This cafeteria-style spot in River North is popular with the local Muslim community, so don't expect to hear a whole lot of English. But do expect excellent Pakistani food behind those sneeze guards.