Tuesday, January 17, 2006

LTHForum.com Announces Great Neighborhood Restaurants Part II

Press release below. Its hard to have a list of top restaurants based on a variety of eaters. Passionate eaters may disagree greatly on places. I have a range of opinions on the places listed below, some I love, a few I could live without. Still, what I like about the Great Neighborhood restaurant Program (or GNR in the lingo) is that it encapsulates not the best places in town, but places that inspire, places that are special and unique. It's a great list.

For more information, contact:
David Dickson (630) 399-9172, ddickson@rmcis.com
Gary Wiviott, (773) 282-3277


Chicago, January 17, 2006 - LTHForum, the Chicago-based culinary society, has announced winners in its semi-annual Great Neighborhood Restaurants program.

Winners represent an eclectic mix taking in everything from the most minimalist hot dog stand in town to the most exotic one, from a Japanese restaurant dishing up spiritual experiences in a Korean neighborhood to one dishing up homey Japanese comfort food in Lincolnwood.

Only 17 out of Chicagoland's nearly 15,000 restaurants received the award in this round of nominations. Previously, 26 other restaurants received the award. Awards are based on multiple visits by some of LTHForum's more than 1,700 registered users.

Said program administrator David Dickson, "We have two primary objectives in doing this. We want be a tool for consumers to find good and adventurous places to eat, and we want to help support deserving restaurants that many might not otherwise have discovered." He pointed out that LTHForum is an all-volunteer organization, with no financial interest in any of the awardees.

The winners, in alphabetical order, are:

Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlán - specialty Mexican - 1322 West 18th St., Chicago
Cafe Salamera - Peruvian, primarily sandwiches - 6653 N. Clark St., Chicago
Candlelite - thin-crust pizza - 7452 N. Western Ave., Chicago
Cunis Candies - ice cream - 1030 E. 162nd St., South Holland
The Elephant - Thai - 5348 W. Devon Ave., Chicago
Gene and Jude's - traditional hot dogs - 2720 River Rd., River Grove
Honey 1 - barbeque - 2241 N. Western Ave., Chicago
Hot Doug's - non-traditional hot dogs - 3324 N. California Ave., Chicago
Johnnie's - Chicago Italian Beef - 7500 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park
La Quebrada - Mexican - 4859 W. Roosevelt in Cicero, 723 S. Broadway in Aurora, and at 3818 W. 63rd St., 2906 W. Cermak, and 5100 S. California, all in Chicago
Lula Café - eclectic - 2537 N. Kedzie Blvd., Chicago
Matsumoto - Kaiseki (chef's choice, multi-course) upscale Japanese - 3800 West Lawrence Ave., Chicago [Note: At press time, Matusmoto appears to be on vacation for the month of January.]
Nhu Hoa - Vietnamese/Cambodian/Laotian - 1020 W. Argyle St., Chicago
Renga-Tei - traditional Japanese - 3956 W Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood
Semiramis - Middle Eastern/Lebanese - 4639 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago
Sweets & Savories - contemporary - 1534 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago
Tre Kronor - Swedish - 3258 W. Foster Ave., Chicago

Each restaurant was nominated by one of the over 1,700 registered members of LTHForum.com, the Chicago-based culinary chat site, and ratified by the moderators of the board based on the degree of discussion and community-wide enthusiasm from the food-obsessed participants on the site.

Sample comments leading to the awards included:
Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlán - "I like just about everything about this place: the un-assuming exterior, the kind and generous folks who run it, and the absolutely knockout quality of their birria, whether in tacos or broth... I have to say it is honestly my new favorite food. I had it about a week ago and I am constantly thinking about going again... What could be better on a snow-bound day than moist roasted goat served with goat consommé, garnished with chiles de arbol, onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime?"

Cafe Salamera - "I got back from Salamera about an hour ago and I'm already looking forward to my next trip back. This place is phenomenal. The beef empanada (filled with beef, olive, raisin, egg) had a beautiful crispy crust and moist, tasty filling. The fried pork sandwich with onions and sweet potato was amazing. Soft bread, slight taste of lime and cilantro. I put a little of the hot sauce on to make it perfect. This might be the best sandwich I have ever had."

Candlelite - "I am a long time fan of the old Candlelite, and I am happy to say that their pizza is as good as it has ever been... Excellent, wonderful, delicious. (Think I like the place?) Crisp thin crust, fresh, flavorful ingredients, real chopped garlic-important as my 'standard' pizza is sausage, garlic and onion-served hot and crisp in a casual, family friendly, bar atmosphere... The garlic fries are outstanding, the atmosphere is nice, and the rest of the food is pretty good, too."

Cunis - "A little taste of heaven... This old-style ice cream parlor in South Holland is always a sure bet if you have a taste for fresh, homemade ice cream. Their seasonal peach sundae is worth a drive and their fresh chocolates and candies are delicious... What makes a Cunis sundae great is dark chocolate hot fudge made with all the candy-maker's art... It's about the best salted pecans imaginable, and the nuts alone elevate their sundae above the rest. But also the fudge, dark and intense and winey, almost like liquid Valrhona."

The Elephant - "If you had an aunt from Thailand, this food is what she would serve if you stopped at her house for dinner... The owner, an accomplished home cook, always felt the desire to own a restaurant and in just a couple of months she is really hitting her stride. The Elephant's larb is consistently good, very herbal with a nice hit of ground toasted rice. Papaya salad is quite good as well, hand cut, nice crunch, good flavor and, if you desire, spicy hotness... The perfect ethnic restaurant: family run, well-executed food, friendly and welcoming."

Gene and Jude's - "I'm a born and bred Chicagoan and I think I've eaten at some good hot dog stands over the years, but none has been more consistently good than Gene's & Jude's... It's not trying to be anything but a hot dog stand. The young staff is friendly and efficient. The hot dogs have a great snap and a good flavor. The buns are properly steamed. The fries are real, and it's great watching them cut up the potatoes on their handy dandy manual french fry cutter... The relish provides the note of necessary sweetness that makes this hot dog a total taste symphony."

Honey 1 - "Robert Adams is a man in tune with his BBQ pit... The perfect marriage of wood smoke and pork with just the right amount of chew, toothsome, but never tough, moist flavorful meat... They also nail what I consider the perfect hot link for me. Nice and smokey, slightly dried texture with a decent crunch, and not overpowering with the seasonings... I relax here in the glow of digesting my dinner of Honey 1 tips, hot links and a couple of ribs and ponder why I, of all people, should be so blessed to have this holy of holies now basically in my backyard."

Hot Doug's - "I had, I'm almost embarrassed to admit, my first Hot Doug's experience today, and it was a true revelation... The beauty of Hot Doug's is in the offerings beyond hot dogs: the thuringer, andouille, the specials, the duck fries, and, of course, the atmosphere and ever-engaging Doug... The best damned sausage I've ever gotten at a hot dog shop. It was so good, I took a day off work and went back the next day to sample the duck fat fries... Hot Doug's is like a fine little wine shop, selecting and showcasing rare and unusual examples from the prime sausage regions."

Johnnie's - "Johnnie's has some kind of black magic in their small stand that produces Italian beef with everything just right... We tasted five beefs in one day and what struck me was the overwhelming superiority of Johnnie's. The chocolaty-brown meat (tender and full of flavor), the sauce (good notes of garlic and oregano, and not greasy), the crisp and hot giardiniera... Johnnie's grills stellar sausages on hardwood coals. Not only do these taste great, they make Johnnie's, on most days, the best smelling restaurant in Cook County."

La Quebrada - "I have not found a better tortilla in Chicago than the ones La Quebrada makes, large and thick... La Quebrada makes some exceptional sauces, the curry scented salsa India (no joke), the house warm molcajete, with roasted tomatoes and chiles and the extra spicy, one dimensional, but one brutally great dimension arbol... From the outside it looks like nothing special, certainly one of any of thousands of Mexican places around Chicago. Inside, they make the effort to make things better. Guacamole, salsas, pico de gallo are not difficult things to make, yet Quebrada coaxes the most out of these things."

Lula Café - "One of my favorite restaurants, a place that is not only a part of its neighborhood, but a creative factor in helping shape that neighborhood... The key point that impresses about Lula is that their commitment to fresh, local, and organic is very taste-able, tangible, and real. Oftentimes lip-service is paid to these words on menus and the qualities can be lost in the preparation... Lula is a no BS-bistro that chooses to highlight natural flavors. They're creative without being destructive, showing a deep respect for their ingredients."

Matsumoto - "A dinner here borders on a spiritual experience... This is a chef [Seijiro Matsumoto] who embraces his art passionately. Matsumoto provides a level of dining that demands the attention of every chef, every gourmet, and anyone who thinks about food... It's going to be extremely difficult to enjoy eating at my usual sushi haunts after eating fish of this quality. Matsumoto's ability to capture the essence of the combinations of flavors and textures was total... This was one of the great meals of my life."

Nhu Hoa - "Perhaps the only restaurant in Chicago offering Laotian and Cambodian cuisine. Those dishes, like the Vietnamese offerings, shine... It is my go-to on Argyle when I am not interested in pho. I've only had the 7 courses of beef once, but I've had the bowls of cold noodles with vegetables, meats, egg rolls, etc. many times. Likewise, I've had the papaya salad a lot, as it's one of the gosh darn best versions in town. Julie is a wonderful and warm host... The 7 (really 8) courses of beef is one of the best deals in town, even if you skip the 8th course."

Renga-Tei - "It's Japanese comfort food. Nothing fancy. Just plain good... Love the soups, tonkatsu, tempura and many of the appetizers, especially the gom-ae and agedashi tofu. I also like the Japanese Myron and Phil's feel that comes from the Japanese waitstaff and the many multi-generational tables of Japanese customers... To me, Renga-Tei is just like a neighborhood corner diner, except this neighborhood and corner are Japanese. There's a casual, everyday, family environment about the place that makes you feel at home."

Semiramis - "A casual, relaxing place with a touch more class than the other joints on the Kedzie strip... We tried batinjan moutabbal, highly smokey with a bit of eggplant back (bitter), the ultra luscious green beans (with the olive oil surely playing a co-starring role), and a meat schwarma sammy. The meat itself off the spit was very well spiced and delicious on its own, but with all the add-ins, even better... The two tables in the window would be a very nice place to while away the afternoon drinking Arabic coffee with cardamom, munching olives and pickled turnip."

Sweets & Savories - "A very friendly and well-run place, totally 'tude-free, maybe even the folks who mob Rose Angelis a few blocks away will discover it eventually... I really admire this place because they work very hard to please their customers versus other places where the passion isn't apparent... Hands down, the best Kobe beef burger (or burger in general) that I, or my friends, ever had... The tasting menu is, in my opinion, the absolute best bang for the buck in the city."

Tre Kronor - "Cute as a button without overdoing the rustic Swedish thing, down to the actual accented blonde waitresses... I've had few better breakfasts in recent memory. My smoked salmon eggs benedict was perfect, simply perfect, fluffy poached eggs, freshly-made real hollandaise, potato cubes that for once were crisped up and cooked all the way through.... Genuinely pleasant staff all seemed to be moving quickly, efficiently, and very much trying to keep people happy."

LTHforum is a Chicago-based internet chat site and impromptu dining society which has quickly grown to become an influential fixture on the Chicago dining scene, widely read by journalists and chefs eager to know what's new and what regular diners are saying about the city's restaurants. Participants, while not ignoring the city's high-profile restaurants, are particularly adept at finding small, out-of-the-way eateries that many Chicagoans may not be familiar with.

Registered members discuss everything from restaurants to recipes, focusing on Chicago but taking in destinations as far afield as Montreal, Paris, and Xi'an China. Discussions also cover cooking techniques, local sources for unique foodstuffs, and, occasional silliness, such as a recent discussion about the atmosphere on Planet Mongo when visited by Flash Gordon. The site's web address is www.lthforum.com.

Previous winners, arranged by cuisine, were:

Barbara Ann's, 7617 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago - South side BBQ joint serving excellent ribs and arguably the city's best hot links.

Chuck's Southern Comforts Café, 5557 W. 79th St., Burbank - South suburban Burbank's best restaurant by a country mile, a Frontera alum dishing up high-class comfort food.

Manny's, 1141 S. Jefferson St., Chicago - Cafeteria serving old school Jewish deli classics to a democratic crowd ranging from machers to meshugas.

Moto, 945 W. Fulton St., Chicago - "Scientific" food at the far end of the cutting edge, by a chef who entered our virtual neighborhood to debate his cuisine with us.

White Palace Grill, 1159 S. Canal St., Chicago - Roosevelt Avenue 24-hour hash-slinging joint catering to a colorful mix of late night and early crowds.

Ed's Potsticker House, 3139 S. Halsted St., Chicago - Northern and northeastern Chinese restaurant off the beaten path in Bridgeport.

Fabulous Noodles, 4663 Old Tavern Rd., Lisle - Chinatown-quality authentic Chinese in a Lisle mini-mall.

"Little" Three Happiness, 209 W. Cermak Rd., Chicago - Outstanding Chinatown hole-in-the-wall (from which LTHForum takes its name).

Lao Sze Chuan, 2172 S. Archer Ave., Chicago - Chinatown Mall restaurant serving seemingly endless menu of Western Chinese specialties.

Moon Palace, 216 W. Cermak Rd., Chicago - Upscale Chinatown restaurant serving Shanghainese food to those who know how to dig and beg for it.

Cafeteria Marianao, 2246 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago - A little slice of Miami in a busy, ramshackle stand offering Cuban sandwiches and coffee.

Klas, 5734 W. Cermak Rd., Cicero - Capone-era Mittel-European fantasy Czech restaurant

Laschet's Inn, 2119 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago - Authentic German food, beer and gemütlichkeit in the old German St. Ben's neighborhood.

Podhalanka, 1549 W. Division Ave., Chicago - A hearty Polish working-man's spot, easily overlooked on fast-gentrifying Division Street.

Al's No. 1 Italian Beef, 1079 W. Taylor St., Chicago - Taylor Street stand serving classic Chicago Italian beef and charcoal-grilled sausage.

Freddy's Pizza, 1600 S. 61st Ave., Cicero - Cicero deli offering housemade Italian-American dinners, sausages, pizzas and breads.

Ristorante Agostino, 2817 N. Harlem Ave., Chicago- Family Italian restaurant on west side Harlem Avenue "Little Italy."

Riviera Foods, 3220 N Harlem Ave., Chicago - West side Italian deli offering outstanding housemade sausages and sandwiches, including the "Will Special" (named for LTHForum member "Your Pal Will").

Sabatino's, 4441 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago - Sinatra-era Italian-American fine dining restaurant serving Chicago classics like Chicken Vesuvio.

Katsu, 2651 W. Peterson Ave., Chicago - On an obscure stretch of Peterson, pristinely fresh and beautifully prepared sushi, sashimi and cooked dishes.

Amanecer Tapatio, 573 Collins St., Joliet - Could the best and most authentic Mexican restaurant in the Chicagoland area be this tiny, very friendly storefront in Joliet?

Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, 445 N. Clark St., Chicago - Rick Bayless' River North restaurants, which pioneered authentic, upscale Mexican food in America and helped bridge the gap between Chicago's ethnic and expense-account food cultures.

Taqueria la Oaxaqueña, 3382 N. Milwaukee Ave. and 6113 W. Diversey Ave. Chicago - Pair of fine family Mexican restaurants serving outstanding freshly-made versions of classics like chicken mole.

City Noor, 4714-B N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago - Excellent Palestinian restaurant related to an adjacent meat market on the Kedzie middle eastern strip.

Spoon, 4608 N. Western Ave., Chicago - Lincoln Square Thai restaurant famous for "secret menu" of brightly authentic Thai dishes.

TAC Quick, 3930 N. Sheridan Rd., Chicago - Chic Uptown Thai spot serving eye-opening authentic grilled meats and Thai curries.

Tank Noodle (Pho Xe Tang), 4955 N. Broadway St., Chicago - Bright and welcoming Argyle Street spot serving excellent versions of Vietnamese soups such as pho and entrees.


For more information, contact:
David Dickson (630) 399-9172
Gary Wiviott, (773) 282-3277

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