This food from Bar-B-Que Bob's
tastes as good as it looks.
Since November of last year, I've been on the road. Ever read Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck? Well, my adventure-filled trip was reminiscent of that book; throw in a few Mexican outlaws, some rowdy Muslim school kids, a solar-panel vintage travel trailer and a slew of blink-and-they-might-just-kill-ya locals in the Virgin Islands and you've got the gist of my journey. Winter's not my thing anymore, so I was off volunteering on a small island in Indonesia, checking out a beautiful sailboat perched in a small bay near St. John in the Caribbean, driving from Chicago all the way to the Eastern tip of Mexico (literally to the Belizean border), driving back from Mexico up to Los Angeles for a few months of work and finally, I pulled the long haul from the West Coast to the remote mountains of Tennessee to visit with my parents. It's been a glorious but really rough, road-weary ride.
Ahhhh, but now the time has finally come to head home to Chicago. It's just for a week (another month in Bali is coming up) but I can already taste the food—all that fantastic food that I only seem to find in the back woods of Mexico, the deep jungle of Indonesia or the dusty streets of Chicago.
My dad asked me the other day about the very first thing I would eat when I got back to Chi and I knew immediately: a Cuban tamale, soupy black beans, fluffy rice and a piping hot cortado from my favorite local tienda, La Unica. All topped with a giant squeeze of fresh lime and a sliced avocado, of course. But, the more I thought about seven days in Chicago, the more I thought about every single morsel of food I couldn't wait to shove down. The question has now become, what sort of long-lasting damage can I do to my belly in a mere seven days?
First on the list is La Unica and that's an easy one because it's just down the road from my house. Next up has got to be Tank Noodle on Argyle and Sheridan. I need a big whopping bowl of its tofu noodle coconut soup (bun ca ri tau hu) with fresh mint, basil, bean sprouts and lime. It's got to be served with a pile of steaming sticky rice, though, because that's what creates the perfect bite; a spoonful of rice tucked into that warm, coconut-tinged sauce and expertly dressed with little pickin's from the fresh herb pile. To round out the list, I'd throw in some goi cuin from Hai Yen, a mess of vegetarian Indian goods from Shan Food & Restaurant, some greasy tacos from Supermercado Chapala, a pile of buttery pancakes from the Bongo Room, and some amaretto-doused tiropitakia from Katerina's. All told, you've got a whole lotta hurtin' happening in this girl's tummy.
And last but not least, before I roll, I must sling down some good old Southern-style sides from Bar-B-Que Bob's. Even though I managed to track down some coma-inducing BBQ doozies off the side of I-40 on the way from LA to TN, I'm still excited to revisit the smoky baked beans and mac 'n' cheese at this hole-in-the-wall on Howard Street. It's the kind of place that you need to be told about (due to its off-track location), but once you are in the know, you'll never head back to another faux 'cue joint in the city again. The TV is blaring at full blast (with bootlegged first-run movies, mind you) and the staff is utterly stunned to see you pop in, but the price is so low and the menu so fresh and home-cooked, you can't drive by without a flip into the parking lot for some killer to-go food. Who said all take-home meals have to be Chinese, fast food or pizza?
THE FINAL RAVE: All the desserts at Bar-B-Que Bob's are homemade, so make sure you order up each and every one of them. The pecan pie is like inhaling pure sugar.
DRINK IT: Orange Fanta
I'm sorry, but the very best drink to couple with a big pile of BBQ isn't beer and it ain't Coca-Cola. It's a just-pulled-from-the-cooler, teeth-chattering cold Orange Fanta. Tiny ice slivers included.
EAT IT: Fish Keg
For those who like fried foods as their meal-in-a-bag, you cannot beat this old school fish fry house. The hushpuppies dunked in homemade tarter sauce rule.
DO IT: Pilsen
Before I hit the road to Bali, I plan on hopping down to Pilsen for a quick traipse through the 'hood. I must find the perfect Mexican tostada—just like the ones that are dished up in Mexico. I will not sleep 'til the quest is complete.
GET CRAZY WITH IT: Waycrazy's BBQ Located deep in the mountains of TN, this crazy popular BBQ log cabin whips out tender pork sandwiches with true Southern flair...a big dollop of sweet shredded cole slaw rests on top of the just pulled meat.