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What I miss about Chicago

A Okrent | Feb 16, 200408:34 PM

I used to post to this board a bit until I moved to New Jersey last summer. I'm going back to Chicago for a visit in a few days, and my list of cravings-to-be-satisfied that can only be fulfilled chicago-style is, I believe, a worthy post for all of you who might need reminding of how lucky you are to live there.

Mexican food. Can be gotten anywhere in the states, but no city beats Chicago for sheer variety--not only of regional cuisines, but of dining atmosphere. You have the complete range from upscale to down-n-dirty with exceptional experiences at all levels. And be especially grateful for Oaxacan--not easy to find around here. Fortunately I happen to have landed in closest place to NYC (including the burroughs) that has the real deal in Oaxacan. I do not take it for granted.

Paprikash Restaurant. I love Hungarian food. Consider yourselves blessed to have access to it there. Not easy to find anywhere. By some weird chance the town I landed in also has the only authentic Hungarian in the area.

Merkt's cheese. Oh man. I can't wait to get to Buffalo Joe's for those cheddar chips. If you know of other Merkt's users let me know.

Romanian kosher salami. Rogers Park. There's no shortage of kosher salami around here, but Hebrew National seems to have a lock on the joint. Not garlicky enough. Please, hie thee to the Romanian and keep that place alive. Have their salami and their smoked turkey and ponder your good fortune.

Duck fat fries at Hot Doug's. There's nothing like fries cooked in real animal fat. I went on a mission last weekend (two hours of travel time) for Belgian fries with mayo. They were pretty good, pretty authentic. But as the door to the storage room swung open I got a peek at the huge boxes labeled "liquid shortening" and realized what was missing and how I must get duck fat fries soon. I hope he's still doing this. If not, I blame you for not ordering them.

Mustard fried catfish at BJ's on Stoney Island. With mac 'n' cheese and sweet potato fries. I might be able to find this here, but I miss it all the same.

Greektown. I never realized how special it was. For me, Greektown was always a bit boring. Most of the stuff you can get there you can also get at any diner in the metro area. But now that I've tasted truly horrible tsatsiki sauce, I realize that Greeks only run the greasy spoon racket in Chicago. Appreciate it!

This isn't about a general competition between regions. I'm set as far as Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Italian go. And frankly, not to start another war, I prefer the east coast pizza style. But in an age where the Home Depot and the Petco trick you into thinking every place in America is the same, it's nice to know that it ain't.

Also, notice how my cravings are cheap ones. I found that the fine dining experience IS pretty much the same from place to place. Rare tuna, rack of lamb, X crusted Y, can always be had. Some of it better, some of it worse, but I never CRAVE it or miss it.

This is my lesson to you. From one who now knows how good she had it.

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