Lamb and Beef Gyro at Covo Gyro Market ($7.50)
The lamb and beef gyro ($7.50) at Covo Gyro Market is the antidote to every middling, greasy, overstuffed, and disappointing gyro that uses slices cut from one of those uniform cylinders of meat. Sure, occasionally you'll find a satisfying version, but none can hope to measure up to this one from Covo, where each element is given its due.
1/2 Mix Chicken Dinner at Harold's Chicken Shack ($7.49)
"Harold's chicken is tossed with seasoned flour, which comes out shatteringly crisp and blessedly ungreasy, with meat that's wonderfully moist. It's great chicken just on its own, but there is a customary condiment that helps enliven in bite. Hot sauce is my weapon of choice. The bright red sauce soaks into the nooks and crannies of the crust, and wakes up your tongue for each amazing bite." Read more here >>
Harold's Chicken Shack #36, 1361 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago IL (map); 773-252-2424
German Shephard at The Haute & the Dog ($4)
The quality of the sausages is immediately apparent with the German Shephard ($4). Tender and almost creamy, this long and thin sausage has a slight garlic profile. It's topped with sauerkraut and brown mustard, and then loaded on to a wheat bun. Usually, wheat buns are tough and dry, which distracts you from the sausage. But this one is light and soft, so that it actually adds something to each bite.
Mana Slider at Mana Food Bar ($3.50)
"The patty of brown rice and mushroom, kissed with spicy mayo, gives any veggie burger in town a run for its money. Truth of the matter is, Mana gives any veggie restaurant in town a run for its money, too." Read more here >>
Japchae at Tozi Korean BBQ ($8.95)
"Curly strands of delicately cooked egg crowned the bowl, adding a bright accent of yellow to the already richly colorful tableau. Smoky onion slices; strips of tender carrot, zucchini and green pepper; earthy mushrooms; and juicy spinach were all knotted up in the generous tangle of noodles. The smoky-sweet beef spoke highly of Tozi's BBQ cred. The dangmyeon—sticky, elastic, and extra toothsome—had been thoroughly inoculated in the japchae's unctuous, savory-sweet sauce, made with sesame oil and soy." Read more here >>
Slice with Pepperoni at Santullo's ($3.75)
As Travel + Leisuremade clear, Chicago has a pizza scene where a collection of different styles are all welcomed with the same enthusiasm. What we don't have much of is a slice culture, the kind of New York joint that sells individual slices for quick consumption. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but the only one that is genuinely popular is Santullo's. Just don't go expecting some kind of magical piece of pizza, the kind that you'll find at DiFara or Sal and Carmine's. Instead, think of this as a solid corner pizza joint, the kind that serves up satisfying slices when you need a quick meal. Though close to $4 with only one topping, know that the epic serving is the size of two normal slices.
Santullo's Eatery, 1943 W. North Avenue, Chicago IL 60622 (map); 773-227-7960
Tri-Tip Sandwich from Lillie's Q ($8)
"It's perfectly fine when served on its own, tasting sort of like medium-rare flank steak with a background of smoke. But the tri-tip truly finds its calling when stuffed in a brioche roll for the tri-tip sandwich ($8). Getting the sandwich 'Southern Style' only costs an extra dollar and is kind of required. The light coleslaw provides just the right crunch and vinegar to balance the meat, all without getting in the way. None of the excellent house barbecue sauces are necessarily required, but after some intense field research, I will admit that the Carolina Gold—a South Carolina influenced mustard based sauce--seems to work the best." Read more here >>
*We are really sad to report that Lillie's Q is "closed indefinitely" due to a fire last week. Check out the restaurant's Facebook wall for the details. Hopefully it can get reopened soon.
Italian Beef at Jay's Beef ($5.80)
Though it looks like a relatively new addition to the neighborhood (it opened in 2007), Jay's Beef has some serious history behind it. The original Harwood Heights location has been serving overstuffed Italian beefs since 1976. Though not the beefiest version in town, it's markedly better than any beef in the neighborhood. That counts for something.
Pork Carnitas at Antique Taco ($7 for two)
"The pork carnitas ($7, for two) come with something of a bacon and spinach salad on top, a seemingly odd choice. So, why does it work so well? I'm thanking the tamarind glaze, which adds an unmistakable citrus zing to each bite, making what sounds like an over-loaded and fatty taco taste somehow balanced and restrained." Read more here >>
Papas con Rajas Taco at Big Star ($3)
"This taco from Big Star uses chipotles, which lend a smoky complexity to each bite. Though moderately spicy, they are tempered by cubes of potatoes. It's hard to properly explain why it all works. This is just one great taco." Read more here >>
Al Pastor Taco at Tierra Caliente ($2)
"The cylinder of meat is cooked on a vertical spit with a hunk of pineapple on top. As the meat turns in front of the open flame, fruit juice lovingly drips down over the meat, lacquering it in sweet, syrupy crust. The edges are sliced off with a large knife, and dished up, leaving the uncooked parts to have their time with the flame." Read more here >>
Tierra Caliente #1, 1402 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago IL 60622 (map); 773-772-9804
Cecina Taco at Carnicerias Guanajuato ($2.02)
"Two things are important to remember: (1) Taquerias in grocery stores tend to do most of their business during lunch; (2) the food is almost always better the busier they are. With the high turnover rate, you have a better chance at getting meat that is freshly off the grill or griddle... When everything is aligned, my favorite is the cecina taco, which is aggressively seared, nicely salted, and extra beefy. It's everything I want cecina to be." Read more here >>
Buffalo Wings at The Fifty/50 ($8.00 for an 8 piece)
"The Buffalo Wings ($8.00 for an 8 piece) have the potential to be divisive. That's right, you're looking at breaded wings here. These suckers were huge, juicy, and unique. I can't think of many other places you'll find the style beyond your grocer's freezer. But you know what? I liked them for what they were." Read more here >>
Croque Vert at Birchwood Kitchen ($9.25)
"Featured exclusively on the weekend brunch menu, this sandwich is a locavore's delight of regionally grown market vegetables and Gruyere cheese pressed between crisp, fresh-baked slices of sourdough bread. The vegetables change depending on the season and what the restaurant has in the kitchen, while a mildly spicy dijon mustard adds a little zing to each bite. And the pièce de résistance: two fresh eggs cooked sunny-side up that, when cracked, seep through the crevices of the toasted sourdough without taking away that desired crunch. Tres bien." Read more here >>
Falafel Sandwich at Sultan's Market ($3.75)
"Two big pieces of falafel are chopped into large chunks and stuffed into a pita dripping with hummus. House-made Jerusalem salad—a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and parsley drenched in lemon juice and tahini—is heaped on top. Spicy red pepper sauce is optional, though recommended. Personally, I like to add some extra tomatoes and onion slices. And for just less than four dollars, the taste to cost ratio makes this one of the best bargains in the city." Read more here >>
Beef Phở at Bon Bon Vietnamese Sandwich ($7.95)
"The broth, made from simmering par-boiled beef bones, is a fine and nuanced extract, full of savory, meaty flavors and sporting just-right salt and oil levels. A generous helping of steak swims in the broth amid soft, slightly smoky onion slices. The beef is tender and delicious, reminiscent for me of meat cooked in a Japanese shabu shabu hot pot. Bon Bon traffics in exceedingly fresh herbal accompaniments, including crisp and pungent mint leaves, cilantro, and gorgeous bunches of anise-laced Thai basil, its stems the color of Asian eggplant." Read more here >>
White Cheddar Chicharrones at Trenchermen ($5)
"Is it wrong to compare something favorably to cheesy puffs? That's the position I'm in trying to describe the awesomeness of the white cheddar chicharrones ($5) at Trenchermen. In fact, they're more delicate than any puff I've ever encountered, with only a slight trace of pork coming through. The white cheddar is distinct but lightly applied, so that you get the shot of salt and funk, but without all that excess gunk left on your fingers. Basically, this is bar food par excellence, and I can't imagine ever stepping foot in the Trenchermen without an order of these." Read more here >>
Falafel Sandwich at Falafel & Grill ($3.75)
When it first opened, nothing about the outside of Falafel & Grill seemed to inspire much confidence. But enter the triangle-shaped storefront on Milwaukee Ave. and everything changes. The aroma of caramelized meat rotating in the back fills the place. As great as those grilled meats are, the freshly fried falafel sandwich might best it.
Artichoke and Pepper Sandwich at Cipollina ($6.75)
"House-marinated artichokes and roasted red peppers are topped with heaps of arugula salad, a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine that adds a bitter, almost lemony flavor. Black olives are pureed along with capers and olive oil into a tapenade that's spread on a fresh baguette. Pecorino romano, a sharp, salty Italian cheese made from sheep's milk, is grated on top for the finishing touch." Read more here >>
Cipollina, 1543 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622 (map); 773-227-6300
Italian Meatball Sub at Native Foods Café ($7.95)
"The meatballs—made from Native Foods's sausage seitan—were juicy and deliciously seasoned, with a hot-paprika kick. The roll was fresh, crispy, and tasty, although a little greasy. The thinly sliced charred onions and bell peppers were great, and the tomato sauce was a tangy, very respectable marinara. For a fake-meat sandwich, this was flavorful and filling without leaving you feeling like you ate particle board." Read more here >>
Cheese Sandwich at Milk & Honey ($7.50)
"It may seem odd to endorse the cheese sandwich ($7.50) at Milk & Honey Café, what with the brunch-and-lunch spot's chalkboard full of enticing and seemingly more complex options. It harbors no meats of any kind. It ain't "piled high." It's not even grilled. But in its simplicity--just six ingredients, bread included--lies oh-so-many layers of flavor." Read more here >>
Eggplant Parmesan at Wicker Basket Cafe ($6.95)
"Press-toasted to crispy perfection, the eggplant parm sandwich was warm, rich, and super-satisfying. With all that tomato sauce coating the tender slabs of lightly breaded eggplant, you might expect that the slices of bread would get soggy and messy. But that wasn't the case. The bread held up to the last bite."
Apple Fritter at Glazed and Infused ($3.00)
"My first thought when I picked up the Apple Fritter ($3.00) was how light it was. That could go either way—will it leave me feeling light and refreshed unlike most rock-in-the-stomach versions or did they just cut corners by skimping on the apple chunks? A thousand times the former. The doughnut shop cinnamon roll flavor comes first, followed by still-tart-and-toothsome hunks of apple. I could eat this all day, no regrets." Read more here >>
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie from Letizia's Natural Bakery ($2.25)
"Sporting some beautiful lacey butter and brown sugar edges and a deliciously chewy center, this is one oatmeal cookie unmarred by the inclusion of raisins." Read more here >>
Letizia's Natural Bakery, 2144 W Division St., Chicago, IL 60622(map); 773-342-1011; http://fsorano.wix.com/letiziasbakery-the-original
Blueberry Muffin from Bake ($2.50)
"Blueberry muffins are perhaps the quintessential American breakfast pastry, so why is it so difficult to find one that isn't sticky-sweet and dense? Bake gets its right: a springy, not-so-sweet interior packed with tart, bursting blueberries, capped with a crumbly oat top. For $2.50, it's a formidable breakfast, served on a plate so sweet you'll never buy a convenience store muffin again." Read more here >>