Sky Full of Bacon


All Right Neighborhood Restaurants: #38 Paradise Sauna, #39 Mio Bento, #40 La Cabana de Don Luis

I could take this moment to salute the record time in which a restaurant went from being one of 50 Places Not Mentioned on LTHForum to an LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurant… but the work of a food adventurer is not to rest on laurels, but to press ever onward, ceaselessly expanding the world of food knowledge.

These are three neighborhood places (not necessarily in my neighborhood, but at least on routes I travel fairly frequently, so they feel like neighborhood places to me). How far should you travel to try them? Not very, I’d say. Find their equivalent in your neighborhood, I’d say. Still, I don’t dismiss them, either, and in fact I’ve already been back to one.

Paradise Sauna

I’m surprised that this place never got an LTH review, as its sushi-sauna combo is not only unique but has had its fans over the years, as I noted a couple of years back. Chefs are always being asked where they go to eat besides their own places, and being competitive, they rarely name a competitor. Typically, they either go regular-guy (Grant Achatz’s love for Potbelly), or… they say sushi. Sushi seems to be the neutral ground, the Switzerland cuisine for chefs.

And one place I noticed that they named often was Paradise Sauna; the sybaritic appeal for chefs of raw fish, sake and gettin’ nekkid and steamy (plus late, chef-friendly hours to facilitate the above) is obvious enough.

For that same reason, Michael Morowitz informed me that he had never been able to convince his wife of the virtues of fish being sliced a few feet from people getting rubdowns. So he and I went and sampled… only the restaurant side. What may be going on in the other part of the place, we have no idea, but what’s going on on the sushi side is an okay, fairly plain sushi restaurant. We had some sashimi which was pretty good, a nicely hot and somewhat too large spider roll and a pretty mediocre roll with drab, lifeless white fish draped across the top, which we didn’t finish. Prices were reasonable, the atmosphere was exactly what you’d expect. A neighborhood place, nothing more— at least on this side of the door.

Paradise Sauna
2910 W Montrose Ave
Chicago, IL 60618-1404
(773) 588-3304

Mio Bento

A tiny Japanese (or Korean-Japanese) cafe hidden in a generic-monster condo building on a strip of Irving Park near Western that no one walks… hard to imagine the commercial prospects for that, and it’s been pretty empty at lunch, so I’m hoping they do more takeout business in the evening from their deli cases. This is pretty standard stuff— udon with the taste of a commercial broth, small inexpensive sushi rolls with too much ponzu sauce squirted over them— but hey, if I was in Japan, there’d be 15 places like this on my block, no better* and no worse, so I’m happy to have one, get my healthy seaweed salad or my udon with some fresh tempura vegetables in it. Welcome to the neighborhood Mio Bento.

* Of course, objectively they’d be better because they’d be in Japan where they could get better stuff to start with, but relatively speaking, there’d be a pack they’d all be in the middle of, where Mio Bento is in the middle of a pack of one.

Mio Bento
2245 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60618-3840
(773) 539-2500

La Cabana de Don Luis

Normally, this has the kind of Mexican compound name that says “stay away” to me, see my rules and “Los Dos Sombreros de Señor Guacamole,” and the window saying “Authentic Mexican Food” was another warning: authentic Mexican restaurants don’t say “Authentic Mexican Restaurant,” they say “Menudo Fines de Semana.”

But I gave it a shot. It’s a friendly family-run place. I wasn’t wild about the red and the lettuce-based green salsa, but you can at least say they were hot, and bringing out a plate of beans to dip in was a hit with the boys. One son had a steak burrito, and the steak seemed pretty decent. I had cochinita pibil, just because I was surprised to see it on the menu. I don’t think it was slow-roasted in banana leaves in the ground, but at least it was stewed in a pot with achiote paste and orange, and was plenty hot. It won’t give Xoco a run for its money, but it wasn’t a bad rendition. Maybe they make something else that’s not merely better than you expect, but better than you’ve had elsewhere.

I could wish the TV wasn’t blaring (and they changed it to English-language news for us, meaning my kids got a full dose of swine flu hysteria and Fenger High beating deaths), but all in all, a decent family run Mexican place. A neighborhood place.

La Cabana de Don Luis
5157 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60625-2520
(773) 271-5176

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4 Responses to “All Right Neighborhood Restaurants: #38 Paradise Sauna, #39 Mio Bento, #40 La Cabana de Don Luis”

  1. Michael Morowitz Says:

    Nigiri is definitely the way to go at Paradise. The rolls just felt sloppy and imbalanced. The nigiri, especially for the price, wasn’t bad at all.

  2. Rico & Julie Says:

    Thanks for stopping into Mio Bento & posting about us on your blog. There’s a bunch of other dishes that will be rolling out as we continue to grow. If you want to sample the goods earlier on (and maybe give us your input)let us know.

    By the way, the udon broth is made from scratch daily 🙂

  3. Sky Full of Bacon » Blog Archive » Mio Culpa Says:

    […] I went to a new Japanese restaurant in my neighborhood, Mio Bento, a few weeks back.  I liked it okay for what it seemed to be, basically mall Japanese in a new condo building, but the setting and the emphasis on takeout led me to put it in a certain class.  And so one assumption I made was that the udon started with a commercial stock or base product— it had the one-dimensionally meaty taste of beef bouillon.  Using a shortcut product like that seems like the kind of thing a place doing mainly takeout business in a condo building would do.  So I said so on this blog. […]

  4. Julie Says:

    Hey Michael.

    Thanks for coming in the other day. It was nice to meet you. I have a quick question / favor. Could I get a copy of the picture of the seaweed salad? I like how the picture came out. I am collecting some pictures to frame along the walls and would like to frame that one. If you could please email me at the above stated email. Thank you. See you soon.

    Julie
    Mio Bento