As of August 20, the city has mandated that everyone wear facial coverings while indoors. For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.
Hakka Noodles at Tasting India Monday Night Foodball pop-up
For the first seven Mondays of this NFL season, a series of Instagram chefs are emerging from the grid to bring dinner to the Kedzie Inn in Irving Park in a pop-up series, called — what else? — Monday Night Foodball — curated by Mike Sula of the Reader. This week’s entry was called “Foodball Goes to Mumbai,” and prepared by Jasmine Sheth of Tasting India. The menu included addictive Mumbai chakna (a snack mix), and a divine masala chai bread pudding, but the highlight was the vegetable hakka noodles. An Indo-Chinese specialty, hakka noodles are typically thin, flat, and stir fried; Sheth mixed hers with peppers and onions and I’m not sure what else to create something spicy and crispy and slurpy all at once. Sheth says that this is one of her favorite things that she makes, and it’s very easy to see why: a single order, it turned out, was not nearly enough. Kedzie Inn, Irving Park — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Axis shoulder bisque at Meet Your Meat pop-up
Pop-ups are a gamble, which is part of their appeal. Even veteran chefs can be thrown by a new environment, pace, or set of ingredients as they juggle the plethora of moving parts that make up any dining experience. Add in a live butchering demonstration where (gloved) patrons can feel up a side of axis deer and nearly anything could happen. Despite all the possible chaotic outcomes, chef Eve Studnicka (Funeral Potatoes) and Texas-based wild game butcher Kriss Abigail (Buckwild Babes) took on that hairy challenge with Meet Your Meat: Where the Wild Things Are, a seven-course “hedonistic dream feast” at underground dining club Saint Emeric.
Seven courses is a feat — especially for a chef like Studnicka, with no experience on the line — yet every thoughtful submission brought out deep and delicate flavor in each part of the deer, from heart to backstrap. The dish made the biggest impression was a surprise contender: a soup course starring axis shoulder gently laid in a bowl of deep, sumptuous bisque of massaman and pumpkin topped with tangy pools of citrus melon chili oil. Smooth and fragrant, it gave a respectful nod to Thai tom yum and served as a decadent pillow for the axis. Chicago may still be enjoying summery temperatures but this bowl of bisque foretells a fantastic soup season. Saint Emeric, Logan Square — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Lumache at Adalina
Adalina isn’t for the timid as the second-floor dining room is routinely packed in River North. The only true signs of the pandemic are the masks staff wear as the restaurant provides a pre-pandemic nostalgia factor with a loud dining room and chic decor. With sceney restaurants like this, especially off State Street, it would be understandable to dismiss the restaurant’s food. That would be a grave mistake as chef Soo Ahn’s pastas are attention grabbing and unique. Ahn’s playful style is hardly traditional, but it’s captivating and fun. Though the “pesto” campanelle is a fan favorite, but the zestier lumache with a mix of Maine lobster and red king crab is the real highlight. The jumbo shells grab onto the Calabrian-chile spiked red sauce and the giant chunks of seafood are delightful. While the loud dining room isn’t conducive to conversation, sitting at a table in silence with a plate of these noodles provides more than enough entertainment. 912 N. State Street, River North — Ashok Selvam, editor.
Nihari Momo at Wazwan pop-up
Chicago’s dumpling game has made great strides in the past few years with an abundance of new entries popping up from all over the world. One of the more intriguing options appeared at the end of August in Wicker Park, thanks to South Asian street food specialist Wazwan. Wazwan, which is also a delivery-only restaurant, has taken over a space west of Division and Ashland for a month-long residency. They’re serving beef nihari momos, and the consistency will remind eaters of tortellini. These bundles are a little more chewy versus that the pillowy bites from the traditional Nepalese item. The chew brings a nice burst of flavor from the beef stuffed inside the noodle with hints of cilantro, garlic, ginger and a special spice mix (nihari is a type of South Asian stew utilizing several different spices; it’s about more than “curry”). The Wazwan crew debuted a similar item earlier this summer at a pop-up at Bar Sotano. As they prepare to open their new Ukrainian Village restaurant, Aman, expect more momo goodness in the future. The pop-up extends through September 30. 1742 W. Division Street, Wicker Park — Ashok Selvam, editor.
Tacos de Camerones y Queso at Mercado del Sol, Concord, California
Note: Deputy Editor Aimee Levitt writes about a dish she enjoyed while visiting California.
In the glossy tourist magazines one can pick up at airports to read on the rental car shuttle and then immediately discard, Concord, California, about half an hour east of Berkeley, advertises itself as a destination for taco lovers. Given that these tourist magazines are essentially ad copy, Concord’s claim to taco glory initially seemed dubious, but it’s hard to argue with a Taco Trail that is 39 stops long, especially since every stop is a local establishment: there is not a single Taco Bell or Chipotle to be found on the list. Mercado del Sol is the westernmost stop on Monument Avenue and the very first taqueria a visitor will encounter after a drive in from the East Bay. The tacos de camerones y queso were a weekend special, though the lightly grilled shrimp and fresh-made tortillas are always available. The cheese, however, did make it special. It appeared in two manifestations: melted chihuahua cheese inside and crispy frico outside. Refried beans are usually an afterthought, but these were savory and delicious. If Mercado del Sol is any indication of what the rest of the Concord Taco Trail is like, in a just world the town would be jam-packed every weekend. 1450 Monument Avenue, Concord, California — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor
Chef’s board at Lardon
A good cheese and charcuterie board evokes a frenzied, wide-eyed delight in eyeing a decadent spread arranged like an open jewel box. The team at newish salumeria and cafe Lardon is acutely aware of this “wow” effect, which is apparent with their artful chef’s board that prizes both substance and style. The simple plank features a menagerie of textures; thinly sliced rounds of peppery finocchiona, rich shards of Hook’s Triple Play (“the first cheese that made me cry,” a server divulged), and a dollop of smooth truffled lardo. These are couched among various breads, fruit jams, salty olives, plus a glistening hunk of honeycomb oozing with golden syrup. Balance those flavors with a bottle of 2020 Mixtape White, a funky table wine from California-based Amplify Wineries. 2200 N. California Avenue, Logan Square — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Tara no misoyaki at Omakase Yume
Watching chef Sangtae Park’s deft, methodical movements behind the counter at Michelin-starred Omakase Yume, it’s easy to become hypnotized by the series of perfectly-formed, jewel-like nigiri he places before each patron. They all have their own winning features, from luscious otoro to firm kampachi. But after each glamorous entry has taken its turn, it’s the humble tara no misoyaki — two delicate pieces of miso-broiled black cod laid atop a small mound of rice — that surpasses the visceral pleasures of good food to plumb something deeper: nostalgia, memory, comfort, home. High-end Japanese dining prior to the pandemic was fast becoming a status symbol for the ultra-wealthy, and Park does offer luxe specials like caviar dusted in gold leaf ($45 each). But when the fanfare quiets and the Instagram “likes” have slowed, his reverent rendition of a simple classic grounds the experience with heart. 651 W. Washington Boulevard, West Loop — Naomi Waxman, reporter
Duck carnitas taco at Taqueria Chingón
Taqueria Chingón sold out the first day it opened last December, and not much has changed since then. Diners have to show up early to get a crack at the daily specials, which disappear by late afternoon. However, if one is willing to dine Sun City-style, like showing up for dinner at 4:45 p.m., one can nab a seat on the patio and eat these remarkably delicious tacos while they’re still hot. The duck carnitas taco contains slivers of crispy duck meat mixed with crispier chicharrons, their richness cut by a puree of dates, a spicy habanero and sunchoke salsa, and a bright burst of cara cara orange, all piled on a tortilla that’s straight off the comel. It’s a perfect mix of crispy, salty, spicy, and surprisingly sweet. 2236 N. Western, Logan Square — Aimee Levitt, deputy editor