The year 2005 can be summed up in one word for me: craving. For the past 300+ days, I have had the most intense, gotta-have-it-right-now craves of my life. And while I'll always dream about the addictive French toast at Victory's Banner and the insanely delicious Spanish-style hot chocolate from Angel Food Bakery, it's always exciting to discover a new round of addictions. Most of mine came in the form of food, but a few drinks made their way into the mix for good measure. After a year of raves, here are the best of the best:
Where's the beef?
Fresh from years of not eating meat, this year saw me jump straight back onto the meat wagon (I indulge maybe once a month), and I wasn't after chicken nuggets. I wanted red meat, and madly dove into a mouthwatering delicacy called chevapi, which is not much more than a skinless sausage grilled to perfection. Served with chunks of homemade bread in most Eastern European restaurants (Memories Inn Tavern and Bel Ami have killer versions), you slather the dense bread with a thick gob of sour cream and top it with slivers of raw onion and a tiny link of meat.
But chevapi met their match with La Perla Tapatia's ground beef burrito covered in queso. This gigantic burrito clocks in at a solid two pounds, packed full of fresh ground beef crumbles peppered with tiny potato cubes, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, cheese and whole beans. Dripping with grease and flavor, each bite was a total revelation.
Sweets are always at the forefront of my mind, but I tried to keep it real and not get too crazy (umm, yeah). The sugar I did consume with wild abandon came in the form of dried mango slices and Indian/Pakistani desserts. I picked up bags of dried mango everywhere I saw them, the Middle East Bakery and Grocery emerging as the clear winner in the dried fruit offerings category. The orange treats, topped with a small dusting of sugar, made their way into my mouth more than I care to admit (severe belly aches always followed, due to consuming the entire bag).
As for the Indian desserts, these babies are nothing but ticking sugar time bombs. Shan Food Restaurant sells them cheap and fresh; infused with exotic ingredients like cardamom and rose water, every chunk of sweet I tried was like a tiny sugar rock waiting to explode in my mouth.
Mojitos made their way into my life on a regular basis due to the fact that my office is just around the corner from La Taberna Tapatia. This cute Mexican haunt has the best mint-sprinkled, rum-heavy drink that I've sampled, and after a couple of these, I'd usually crave a hyper-strong, sugar-doused Bosnian coffee to perk me up.
Gurman Inc. Restaurant, a no-frills Bosnian restaurant on Lawrence Avenue, pours a delicious version that it whips up for a couple of dollars, served in an adorable china set. Never a soda pop drinker, I was stunned to taste a refreshing Salvadorean pop called Kolashanpan (its slogan is "A Taste of Salvador") at Restaurante el Salvador on the South Side. A mix between orange soda and ginger ale, it was less sweet than regular soda and went nicely with their ground beef soft taco (possibly the best I've tasted) and chewy, hand-slung pupusas (again, some of the best around).
And then the appetizers...
I innocently ate my way through dozens of Asian restaurants' versions of fried crab rangoon, only to come to the horrific realization that I could live off of this heart-attack inducing appetizer. Zen Noodles and Satay have my favorite versions, but really, how can you go wrong with crab and cream cheese stuffed in dough and deep-fried?
In a sense, I guess I ate my way around the world without ever leaving Chicago and loved every minute of it. With my Bosnian coffee, I was lounging in a gangway in Eastern Europe, and with my mojito, I was chillin' on a beach in Nicaragua. My Salvadorian soda pop had me hiking a mountain in El Salvador and my Indian/Pakistani desserts led me all the way through the sub-continent on a glorious food adventure. I can't wait to see what I'll happen upon in 2006. Bring it on.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.