Eating America: The Best Food in Chicago, Part 1: Budget Restaurants

Consider this the food blogger's guide to Chicago. As I say on my About Page, being a GastroGnome is not about sitting idly on the front lawn of culinary cottages. Each year I tell my stories of trips to Beijing, Hanoi, and Mexico, but sometimes I leave out my favorite places right here in the U.S. No more! This is the latest installment of my 'Eating America' series, featuring the best eating around our fine nation. In my few trips to Chicago, I’ve mostly had the chance to eat at only a few places while passing through the city on the way to Brett’s family’s place out in the burbs. … [Read more...]

Cinco de Mango: Mango Ice Cream

A tweet from former Seattleite and pro pastry chef Dana Cree intrigued me: "if you buy coconut cream as well as milk you can make ice cream w/o any thickeners. 20% cream, 55% milk. 25% sugar + salt tt" That was in September. It was cold. I didn't make any ice cream. I filed the tweet away for a sunny day. On Saturday, that day arrived. I bought the three beautiful champagne mangoes to flavor the ice cream. Or rather, the frozen dessert: without milk, cream, or eggs, it's barely ice cream. Of course, not being able to leave well enough alone, I reduced the sugar a little, since the mango … [Read more...]

Beyond the Torta: Exploring Mexico’s Sandwiches

Thinking the Mexican sandwich is limited to the widely known torta is like medieval belief the earth is flat. Not only is it dead wrong, there are whole other worlds to explore. Proving that once again, someone got there before us, Mexican sandwiches have expanded to fillings and techniques that leave our proud American sandwiches trailing in the evolutionary chain. The Torta At an enclosed street cart called “Tortas al Fuego,” on a corner in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, a father and his daughter griddle up a typical version of Mexico’s best-known sandwich. The torta is simple and … [Read more...]

Altura Takes Itself Just Seriously Enough

It was a coincidence that Altura received a semi-finalist nomination for a James Beard Foundation award the day we had reservations. It made it all the more surprising that tables around us sat empty for hours as we ate, despite my needing to book two weeks out to get a reasonable time slot. After the level of service and cuisine we witnessed, I can't help but wonder (hope!) if it was purposeful--to relax the kitchen and the waitstaff workload--so that the diner's experience is impeccable. If not, perhaps we were just fortunate that nobody read the nominations and tried to jump on the … [Read more...]

My Year in Food, 2011

Normal is not what I do best. Thus my end-of-year top-ten list will be anything but. For starters, it's not ten items. Instead, this is a peek inside my brain, where cooking and reading and small creatures in the night all crawl about, mingling and mixing into a delightful stew of tasty tidbits. It's December, and while I'm more likely to look forward to the next year than backwards on the last, here's a few things that stuck in my maw, reminding me why the life of good eating is so wonderful. Best non-cookbook: Grant Achatz's Life, on the Line This is not the best written book ever, … [Read more...]

Pambazo Lessons from an Abuela

Among the oddities of my childhood were an avocado green washer and dryer in the kitchen of our house, a mild prodigy brother, and a constant parade of exchange students from as far away as New Caledonia. 25 years later and I still have no idea where New Caledonia is. I do know where San Juan del Rio, Mexico is. It's a small town two hours north of Mexico City, from where hailed many of our exchange students. One of them has become a life long family friend, and on our recent trip to Mexico, his mother taught us how to make a Mexican sandwich called a Pambazo. This is the third time … [Read more...]

Where to Eat Mexican Food in the I-5 Corridor: Bellingham, WA to Salem, OR

From the Canadian border straight south to Salem, Oregon, there is Mexican food to be found right off the highway. Food, which, even if not dead-on authentic, beats the ever-loving grandma jeans, diner cleanliness and canned mushroom soup off any other road food you'll encounter. As might be expected, the food gets better the further south you go, which of course makes me want to commit to continuing this series with an episode 2: Salem to Sacramento. If only I had occasion to ever be in Sacramento. Do things happen in Sacramento? Regardless of the eventfulness of California's capitol, there … [Read more...]

Feasting like a Princess in Queens

"But where in New York can one find a woman with grace, elegance, taste and culture? A woman suitable for a king?" "Queens!" If anyone else grew up in a household with two brothers and only basic cable, you too have probably seen Coming to America over a thousand times and when the New York City borough of Queens is mentioned, this line is all that you can think of. No? Just me? Again? Alright, this is enough already. Seriously though, we did a food excavation of Queens on our most recent trip to New York. We had overlooked the boroughs on our last … [Read more...]

Restaurants and Eating in Cabo San Lucas

I recently was offered the opportunity to go to Cabo San Lucas—you can read more about it at The Everywhereist. It was awesome, but I was not as wealthy as most of the people that vacation there. In fact, I probably brought less money to spend on myself than most people brought to spend on their dog over the course of their vacation. Luckily, if there is one thing I can do well in life, it is seek out the most delicious and affordable food anywhere. So I hit the ground running when I landed, starting with finding an affordable and delicious beverage. This is how I found Victor at the … [Read more...]

My own Mexican Renaissance: El Mestizo and Taqueria Latinos

I had Mexican food twice this week, without having to drive. Within the last few months, it would appear that there is a new food group moving into the neighborhood, and I for one am here to support it. We had actually been to El Mestizo once when it first opened. It's a brick and mortar store in what had been a pizza restaurant for many years, then briefly an Italian place. The taco truck, Taqueria Latinos II, I had not noticed until the minute we ate their food. El Mestizo has been open for a few months. When we went before we thought it had potential, but nothing terrific. After reading … [Read more...]