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But Seriously… My Serious Eating Guide

UPDATE: Helen at MenuPages has been blogging this deathmatch but Serious Eats actually responds in a shockingly reasonable way.  That’s no way to run a feud, guys!  Walter Winchell and Ben Bernie didn’t become famous by shaking hands and saying “Good game!”  (I realize you’ve probably never heard of at least one of those guys, but trust me, they were famous once.)  There’s somewhat more nasty fun to be had in the comments below.  

I will quibble a little with the idea that any list like this can be “authoritative”; I think any list like this is worthwhile only in that it gives you a strong selection of places to try for yourself, but the question of best can never be settled, should never, except personally.  That’s why the LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurant awards don’t pick the best Thai restaurant in Chicago, they give awards to four different ones (I think) which each represent a very high level of achievement above the pack.  I know which of those I think the best is, I named it below, but all that is is my choice.  So, we’ll look forward to what Serious Eats’ Chicago guy picks across the board… and we’ll maintain our private opinion that there would have been a lot more slagging on the idea of deep dish if we hadn’t called them on it in advance.  Take that, Winchell!

*  *  *

Ed Levine is a smart guy who loves New York pizza and food generally, and has a blog called Serious Eats which (MenuPages informs us) now intends to provide a guide to essential eating experiences in major cities. (You can see New York’s here.)

The problem is, Ed Levine hates Chicago pizza. No, perhaps it would be fairer to say Ed Levine has a blind spot for Chicago pizza. As in, Ed Levine, looking at a map of the United States, would not see anything between Brooklyn and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, basically.

So Ed Levine writing about essential Chicago foods is going to be sort of like Sean Penn’s guide to Great Republican Secretaries of Defense. There are many things I would like to hear from Ed Levine, but I can’t see how this list is going to be anything other than tired old rehashings of tired old New York-Chicago rivalries. Anyway, in advance of Levine’s list, I’ll use his categories for New York (don’t know if his list will use the same ones, but whatever) and offer a non-jaundiced local’s alternative set. If anybody else wants to play the game, do so in comments, I’ll be happy to see your list too.

Best Pizza: deep dish, Art of Pizza spinach. Thin, Vito & Nick’s sausage.
Best Burger: Top Notch Beefburger in Beverly.
Best Ice Cream: Scooter’s.
Best Late Night Eats: I dunno, I don’t eat out late. Kuma’s, since they didn’t make the burger spot?
Best Bar Food: Avec, in a walk.
Best Date Night: Surely this category says more about you than about the restaurant scene, depending on how you determine what makes an ideal date night, but I’m going to say that the most romantic place I can think of, good food in a great building, is North Pond Cafe. If you want energy and scene, though, you’ll want something else entirely.
Best Japanese Food: Katsu.
Best Cocktails: Just to be difficult, I’m going to skip the obvious choice (Violet Hour) and plug the surprisingly great natural-organicky cocktails at Crust (though it’s not much of a bar).
Best Market: Again, what do you want precisely? I suppose I’ll say Paulina Meat Market, a Germanic place being quintessentially Chicagoish.
Must Eat Before Leaving City:
see Best Pizza.
Best Bagel: Ironically, NY Bagel & Bialy on Touhy. Or go have an apple fritter at Old-Fashioned Donuts.
Best Eating With a View: Long time since I ate with a view I paid much attention to. North Pond again? Mercat a la Planxa? (Though I’m not convinced you actually get that view from most of the tables; it’s best when you walk in.) Tank Noodle?
Best Chinese: Sun Wah! Well, for that style, anyway.
Best Old School [Chicago] Landmark: We’re kinda shy on those any more, there really isn’t a Peter Luger of Chicago (yeah, Gene & Georgetti, I did remember you and I still stand by it). Manny’s?
Best Deli: Manny’s. Gee, that was obvious.
Best Streetside Bargain Lunch: Humboldt Park vans.
Best Fancy-Pants Bargain Lunch: huh?  (EDIT: My wife suggests Trotter’s To Go, where she eats soup for lunch practically every day.  Makes sense to me.)
Best Brunch Without the Wait: Go early, sucker. Over Easy Cafe.
Best Bargain Italian Food: I’m not convinced there is one.
Best Barbecue: Uncle John’s.

I guess New York doesn’t have a Best Indian place. Too bad, Ed, maybe next time you can skip pizza you don’t like, and eat at Khan BBQ. Then have Best Thai at TAC (there’s something I have, if not before leaving city, certainly after spending any length of time in a Thai-deprived zone), and Best Mexican at Maxwell Street on Sunday morning. (I have to say, a New York list that’s focused so much on burgers, Italian and old school fancy pants dining seems a little fusty to me. That’s just not the food that keeps me prowling this burg. Here’s hoping Chicago isn’t forced to follow New York’s categories exactly, and can shine on its own in a few specific areas.)

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7 Responses to “But Seriously… My Serious Eating Guide”

  1. raphael Says:

    http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2008/08/chicago-food-writer-to-ed-levine-bring-it.html

  2. dp Says:

    get your facts right before you publish some ignorant trash talking like this again

  3. Michael Gebert Says:

    “get your facts right before you publish some ignorant trash talking like this again”

    We have a New Yorker in the house!

    I assume our friend is referring to the statement on Serious Eats today that the lists will be by people in those cities. (The original article sorta vaguely says there would be input from locals, though I still took it to mean Ed Levine would be writing or at least strongly directing the guides– as he may well be for all I know.)

  4. Loren Greenman Says:

    I think Manny’s food is horribly disappointing. In my opinion, the delis in the North ‘burbs (Max and Benny’s, Max’s, and I’ve never been to Kaufman’s but I’ve heard it’s the best of all) are much better. Manny’s has an interesting atmosphere, but subpar deli fare. And although I’m a born-and-raised Chicagoan, there is just no comparison between any of these delis and 2nd Ave. in NY.

  5. Michael Gebert Says:

    Kaufman’s is excellent, but it’s not a sit-down place; I was taking deli to mean restaurant, which of course, may not necessarily be the intention. Pitting items head to head, the corned beef, rye bread and pickles at Kaufman’s, among other things, are probably the best in the city (or area; it’s in Skokie). That said, I love Manny’s for (very salty but in my opinion very good) pastrami, some great old things like Roumanian skirt steak (I’ll link an LTHForum post on that below), and the atmosphere which is one of a kind– it’s one of the great crossroads of the city where pols, cops, tourists and old-timers meet on equal terms.

    http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=16812

  6. Sky Full of Bacon » Blog Archive » Serious Eats Taps Mike (hmmhmm)-t To Pick Chicago’s Best Says:

    […] with my earlier challenge not to go all New York-snooty on us and mock pizzas as thick as Stephen King novels, Serious Eats […]

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