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Restaurants & Bars 10

My day of two lunches: International Mall and RICHardson's Hamburger Heaven

Mike G | Sep 23, 200203:56 PM

So I was thinking it was fate-- Vital Info tells me about International Mall (in the thread below) the night before I have to take my car in to the dealer in farflung Elmhurst. Well, what else is there to do but plan a post-new-fuel-pump trip to International Mall a few miles south of the dealership for BBQ pig ears or something, right?

But fate has a funny way of surprising us. As I'm driving down York suddenly I see an ancient hamburger stand, similar to Bob's at the Evanston line, and I realize that the last time I saw it was when I bought the car two years before and, unlike that time, it's open. So I had to try it.

RICHardson's Hamburger Heaven is probably famous to Elmhurstians, but I don't recall seeing it mentioned here. The burger is in the style that we might call Son of 30s-Style Hamburger-- that is, the same small patty, but (like a Big Boy or its shameless imitation the Big Mac) placed on a doubledecker bun with a sweeter-flavored sauce. In this case it was ketchup and a Dijon mayo-type sauce. The magical effects of the paper wrapper on hot cheese, burger and bun worked their effects, and the whole came together in a gloppy salty-sweet-cheesy-greasy gestalt that conjured up for me an unbroken line of honest hamburger preparation going all the way back to some immigrant named Otto or Axel who, first confronted with a wimpy white bread bun in his adopted new land, conceived the idea of ennobling it with a hand-patted patty, onion and good German mustard, wrapping the result in that day's Deutsche-Amerikaner Allgemeine Post and leaving the imprint of old German script lettering, Silly Putty-like, on the soft spongy bun as if to say, ja, you, America, will leave your imprint on me, but I, also, will leave an imprint on you, so that someday your favorite food will honor my beloved village, my heimat, Hamburg.

The fries weren't bad either.

I considered a shake although this morning was a bit cold for that and, of course, I had to save room for pig ears. So I don't know if they pull off a burger-shake-fries trifecta, but I did notice an old Mixmaster in that bright antiseptic 50s green and asked them if they still used it. The curtness of the response suggested either that I offended them with the question, or that they're sick of fending off antique collectors....

Anyway, so onward I went to International Mall for my real lunch. To be honest, I found it a bit depressing. Thinking it would be somewhat like Chinatown Square or whatever the Archer mall is called, which is truly a world of wonders (with a few horrors tossed in) and an out-of-Chicago experience, it was more like the cafeteria area at Mitsuwa Plaza, which I find the least interesting part there (although the pastries are growing on me). In fact, it was a bit too much like the cafeteria in any rundown suburban office building. Maybe when it's bustling with people (whenever that would be), it has a livelier and less depressing air.

At Yu Tan (which seems to be the name of at least two of the stalls) I ordered, more or less randomly, salted fish and aromatic beef. (I believe aromatic pig ears is what Rob said he had.) The latter conjured up some vision of beef in a strange and marvelous pungent sauce; the reality proved to be cold slices of some part I would normally only use in soup, in a sauce with a very slight flavor. Chilled to just above freezing, surely the least appetizing way to eat beef with visible gristle and veins, it was a one bite dish.

My salted fish, which I imagined as a pretty assortment of golden cubes betraying no sign of their origin, proved to be an entire fried perch or something resting on chopped cabbage and staring up at me balefully. Once I got over being startled, it, thankfully, made up for the beef disaster-- simple but delectable. Don't know how you'd pick the flakey meat off with chopsticks, though, without shredding it completely.

I have to say, there wasn't so much here that I'd go back unless I had someone with me who could give me some hints to improve my ordering average. That said, Dihon Market next to the cafeteria area is definitely worth a trip-- you could look at can labels (Fungus With Pineapple! Peking Vegetarian Roast Duck!) and be entertained for hours.

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