LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurant Awards, Announced November 3, 2008
What is a restaurant and what makes it great? Easy to know when you experience it, but a little harder to define in the abstract. However you do it, the results are the same - this year's new Great Neighborhood Restaurants are another excellent and eclectic collection of places with good food and even more character. From old school to no school, to new school; from more American than apple pie to wonderfully exotic; from Utica to Zion, they cover a range of styles and geography that just keeps on growing. But there are some things they have in common - we love them and they feed our bellies, our hearts and our souls in ways that delight, amuse and even touch us. We hope you will visit them and share our pleasure.
In a time of increased focus on the ingredients in our food, many of this year's new Great Neighborhood Restaurants feature hard-to-find and very high quality ingredients. In north suburban Northbrook, Sarah Stegner took a step back from the top tier of haute cuisine to provide a more personal and lighter take on food at Prairie Grass Cafe - letting the ingredients speak for themselves. At Double Li in Chinatown, Ben Li brings us traditional cuisine with a focus on some amped up and kick-ass dishes that will rev you up and launch you into the evening. In exurban Utica, on the edge of Starved Rock State Park, Ron brings the tastes of the Cajun Country to the cornfields where you would not expect to find solid gumbo and excellent oysters and alligator. On the near north side the inspired alchemists of the Violet Hour usually start with exquisite extracts of fruits, herbs and who knows what to put together the delicious and dangerous concoctions that amuse and intoxicate us.
Most awards in the food world draw an obvious distinction between fine dining chefs
and everyone else who cooks for a living. But not the LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurant awards, which honor restaurants of every kind and price level-- from fine dining to dives and delis-- where the commitment to quality is palpable and the hand of a dedicated cook with a vision of what their food should be is evident in every bite.
Being noticed by LTHForum's savvy citizen food scouts can lead to attention throughout the broader food world. After LTHForum readers showered attention and an award on an obscure pizza place in Morton Grove, Burt's, its classic deep dish was chosen to symbolize Chicago cuisine on the cover
of the October 2007 issue of Saveur
But it doesn't take outside publicity to draw attention to the Great Neighborhood Restaurants-- thousands of people have downloaded the site's pocket guide PDF
listing all the restaurants with phone and address, for use while traveling all over the city. And we do mean all
over the city—in our book culinary tourism begins close to home - what better way to experience different cultures than exploring different towns and neighborhoods in and around this great city? So whether you are looking for good food in your neighborhood, planning a day trip to a beautiful park and eating on the way, or just looking to explore more of the diverse neighborhoods of Chicago, this year's crop of Great Neighborhood Restaurants offers delicious food, amazing variety and a warm welcome.
The 28 new restaurants honored are listed by type of cuisine below, with a link to the thread in which the restaurant was nominated by an LTHForum user. For the complete list of all 107 LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurants, go here. AMERICANAl's Deli
-- There is beauty to a simple sandwich, made right, as the brothers who run this Evanston institution clearly understand. Try the Brie sandwich and be sure to save room for a cookie.Brown Sack
-- In the no man's land between Logan Square and Humboldt Park, Brown Sack welcomes you home with fresh food made to order and a warm reception. Soups and sandwiches, some old standards and some more adventurous, take center stage.Cajun Connection
-- It may be a day trip from Chicago to Utica and nearby Starved Rock State Park, but you can be sure you will not go hungry. Great cajun classics and a chance to admire a master in at the deep fryer.Captain Porky's
-- Another day trip to a state park, Illinois Beach in Zion this time, is best capped with a visit to this little place with the big servings. Great smoked and fried foods.Jimmy's Red Hots
-- For many, the classic Chicago Hot Dog is an object of reverence, even worship. On the far west side, Jimmy's is a temple for those faithful. We never argue about where to find the best dot dog, lest blood be spilled, but Jimmy's is a great hot dog and a Chicago classic.Moon's Sandwich Shop
-- A dingy exterior on a changing block on the near west side does not hint of the timeless mastery of the grill work being done inside. Hearty, delicious breakfasts and lunches are the specialty.Myron & Phil's
-- In a world of change, there remain certain constants. This Lincolnwood steakhouse has been providing that constancy for over 30 years. Fine dining, continental style that your Bubbie would enjoy, and probably has enjoyed if she is from around here. Have a cocktail, relax, enjoy the chicken liver and a steak!Paramount Room
-- More than just pub food, this River West spot offers a wide range of uniformly excellent comfort foodand good beer and drinks, in a lively setting.Poochie's
-- Come for the hot dogs and hamburgers, but stay for the fried salami sandwich. A Skokie classic still going strong, proving every day that fast food can be great food.Prairie Grass Cafe
-- Head up to Northbrook for a "casual meal in the kitchen of one of America's best chefs." Great ingredients prepared to highlight their flavor and quality. Simply delicious.Top Notch Beef Burgers
-- If you fondly remember the classic hamburger of the 50's, served with fries and a milk shake, these south side spots in Beverly and Oak Lawn are for you. Nothing nouveau or overblown here, no way.BAKERYMekato's Columbian Bakery and Cafe
-- Crisp, cheesy, light bunuelos are the main draw for this north side spot, but the consistent high quality makes it worthwhile to try everything.New York Bagel & Bialy
-- Go to Lincolnwood, pick up some bagels and cream cheese, 24/7. Enjoy!CARIBBEANHabana Libre
-- West Town Cuban spot offers great food and drink, day or night.Papa's Cache Sabroso
-- Humboldt Park storefront is a taste of Puerto Rico, from the paintings on the walls to the perfect roast chicken with garlic, and the yuca and all the other fixings.CENTRAL ASIANChaihanna
-- Is this the only Uzbeki place in Chicago? Bright and friendly restaurant in Buffalo Grove, featuring pickled vegetables and watermelon, grilled meats and more.CHINESEDouble Li
-- Basic Chinatown storefront specializes in food that will kick you in the pants, in the best way. Mainly Szechwan, and the best stuff is very complex and very spicy.Spring World
-- Yunnanese and Szechwan delights at great prices in the Chinatown Mall. Lots to explore.DRINKThe Violet Hour
-- More than a bar, this near north side spot features delicious and creative concoctions sure to make an hour or three pass enjoyably.EASTERN EUROPEANSmak Tak
-- This Polish gem in Jefferson Park is able to stand out in a city full of Polish food by paying attention to what is truly important - crispy potato pancakes, fluffy pierogi and pork cutlets prepared the way your doting grandmother should have done in a perfect world.INDIANUru-Swati
-- Vegetarian spot on Devon offers flavor and variety sufficient to convince the most dedicated carnivore that meat really is optional.ITALIANa tavola
-- Like eating at a friend's, if your friend had a quiet West Town storefront and was a great Italian cook. Don't miss the gnocchi.MEXICANMaxwell Street Market
-- A great selection of Mexican street food and all the tube socks you want, every Sunday just south of the Loop.Mixteco Grill
-- Inventive, upscale Mexican food in north Lakeview.MIDDLE EASTERNSahara Kabob
-- Far north side spot specializing in Assyrian and Middle Eastern food. Prices are rock bottom, as you would expect in a place that started as a hot dog stand, but the food is great by any measure.PIZZAMarie's Pizza
-- Ageless bar and restaurant serving great thin crust pizza on the northwest side. Eat it hot and fresh!Vito & Nick's
-- A south side institution and paragon of the Chicago "cracker crust" pizza style.SPANISHAvec
-- Offering small plates and wine at communal tables in the west Loop. It does not hurt to have one of Chicago's best chefs helping out, either. Probably more pan-Mediterranean than Spanish, but just eat, drink, and don't worry.
* * *Why Great Neighborhood Restaurant
Chicago is a city of great neighborhoods, made distinctive by history, ethnic mix, and vibrant street life and culture. The Great Neighborhood Restaurant awards honor restaurants all over the Chicagoland area which contribute to their neighborhoods' and the city's character by offering outstanding food, an authentic experience of their ethnic culture, and/or a welcoming (or in some cases, belovedly cranky) atmosphere for guests. In a world of generic dining experiences, these are the ones we remember.
Restaurants are nominated by registered members of LTHForum.com, the Chicago-based culinary chat site, and ratified by a group of member volunteers and moderators, based on the degree of discussion and community-wide enthusiasm evidenced on the site. Each restaurant receives a certificate similar to the one shown above, highlighting (in quotes from the board) some of what makes it special-- and in many cases, recommending specific dishes to try.
Thanks to the volunteers who do a lot of work for the GNRs - including Ramon, SteveZ, Ronnie Suburban, Mhays, Santander and GWiv. Special thanks to the moderators and members of LTHForum whose contributions, support and, guidance make the GNRs what they are.
for the GNRsAbout LTHForum.com
LTHForum is a chat board based in Chicago and devoted primarily to exploring this great food city, but with discussions ranging worldwide and on every subject relating to food. With over 5000 registered members and some 200,000 posts (the equivalent to a couple of long shelves of books, fortunately searchable!), it's by far the widest-ranging and most learned source for information on Chicago's cuisine scene. Membership is free and open to all who are willing to share what they know-- and taste.