Local Flavor: Maza Restaurant

You find something new every day. In my case, I found a restaurant that was three blocks away from my apartment that I had never noticed before: Maza.

My (half eaten) Kellaya dish

This Lebanese restaurant, located on Ashland, is the type of place that have been passing on almost a weekly basis for four years and never really noticing. However, when my brother chose to go there for his birthday after seeing it in Chicago magazine, I was intrigued. I had never had Lebanese food before, so I was eager to give it a shot.

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Chicago Italian: Two Great “Clubs” To Try Out

Growing up, I had a great Italian grandmother and (half) Italian mother that infused in me a love of the culture and given me an unwaveringly curious outlook about everything Italian. I want to learn the language, try all types of Italian food, and eventually, visit the country itself. There are some great restaurants and cultural institutions in Chicago to check out, and until I get a pasta maker and start experimenting with making my own, I have to get my fix elsewhere.

Its hard to pick favorites with Italian food, because almost every place I’ve been to here in Chicago has been great, but there are two that I’ve been to fairly recently that I want to point out, not only because they have similar names, but because they also had superior food and drink: Club Lago on Superior and Club Lucky in Bucktown.

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Bar Forza: New to Lincoln Park

Living in Lincoln Park, I find it especially interesting when there is a new restaurant right in my neighborhood, especially one that is affordable and unique. There’s where Forza comes into play.

Popping up on Lincoln where the Spread previously was, Forza is an italian-themed bistro, featuring fresh flowers on the tables, a Vespa-type scooter in the restaurant, and a classy yet affordable atmosphere for a classy, affordable night out. Now, I’ve been to Forza twice, and both times I’ve been impressed with the care and attention that they give their customers. The owner walks from table to table, making sure each customer is satisfied, and sometimes even giving away free drink coupons.

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Tre Kronor: Chicago’s Leading Swedish

I will be the first to say that the thought of Swedish food has never been a particularly appealing one. I’ve always thought of Scandinavian food as dry and fishy, and that thought was always reinforced by my Norwegian grandpa eating fish for nearly every meal. I am a spice lover, so I feared that, going to Tre Kronor, the food would be a bit bland for my particular taste palate. However, my experience was very different than I imagined when I visited there recently.

Troll mural at Tre Kronor

Tre Kronor, located in the diverse neighborhood of Albany Park, is owned by the Swedish Larry Anderson and Norwegian Patty Rasmussen. The couple took over the bistro seventeen years ago and made the Swedish diner into the current Tre Kronor. The restaurant is fairly small and homey, and fills up quickly, so reservations are recommended. Most of the wait staff speak either Swedish or Norwegian, which thrilled my grandpa, whose first language was Norwegian. There were murals of myths and trolls covering the walls, and the typical “Guy was here” spray, to indicate that Guy Fiori from the Food Network ate there (eye roll at that).

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BIG and littles Restaurant: Fast Food Gourmet

BIG and little’s restaurant, located in River North, has recently become a lunchtime favorite of mine and my co-worker. This small local joint, specializing in seafood, was established by two friends (hence the big and littles), one of which, Tony, was a contestant of Hell’s Kitchen. This joint feels local, with fast-food type service, but much better quality food. In 2010, they won the Chicago Tribune’s Eater of the Year Award, and since have relocated to a bigger joint, with the same communal and personal feel to the restaurant.

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My first experience here was on the first day of a new internship, when my boss took us here for lunch. We ended up ordering one of almost everything (way more than we could eat!), which included tilapia tacos, shrimp pokeys, some kind of oyster sandwich special (I can’t remember the name; the special switch weekly), on top of truffle and sweet potato fries. The truffle fries were a real highlight: fries topped with truffle salt made for a sweet treat that I could eat all day long.

I came here once again with my co-worker, and due to budget constraints, was able to only get the shrimp tacos and my beloved truffle fries. Note: BIG and little’s is not super cheap, with the average entree being at eight dollars a pop, but you get what you pay for: quality food. The service was as good as ever, and I once again had a wonderful eating experience.

BIG and littles specializes in seafood, but they also feature more traditional options such as hot dogs, and a variety of burgers. The specials change all the time, so it is worth it to keep checking this restaurant out over and over. BIG and littles is accessible off the brown line Chicago stop, on Orleans street.

-Lisa

Chicago Restaurant Gems Worth Trying

In honor of Sibling’s Day (which was sometime last week), I’m going to dedicate this post to Chicago restaurants that my brother has found. For a few years now, he’s been dragging my (sometimes grumbling) family along all over the city to try restaurants and cuisines that were previously unfamiliar to us. Here are a few of the highlights from our culinary adventures around the city:

Arya Bhavan

Located in West Roger’s Park on Devon St., Arya Bhavan is a vegetarian Indian restaurant. They also offer a buffet for $10.99. I’m sad to say that since this was my first experience with Indian food, I have no idea what I ate. However, I will say this about the service: very great, very personal. The staff member directed us to the best foods to eat, told us what pairings go with which, and saved my heat-sensitive mother from overly spicy dishes. I haven’t been back since, but I have heard that it only serves vegan dishes now.

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The Purple Pig: Heavenly Grub, Great Atmosphere

This weekend, my friends are I were craving tapas, so after a quick google search and some positive Yelp reviews, we decided on The Purple Pig on Michigan Ave. A foodie at heart, but undeniably can’t afford to be, I was excited to try this restaurant and see what all the online buzz was about.

A little background: Jimmy Bannos Jr., the chef of the Purple Pig, is a fourth generation restauranteer, with family roots going back generations. He learned the art of cooking from his father, who was the chef at Heaven on Seven at Wabash Ave. The Purple Pig is a “wine, swine, and cheese” bar, with an extensive selection of wines and cheeses. Continue reading