The Kellogg Student’s Food Guide to Impressing Your Friends in Chicago

Visits in ChicagoWhether you are visiting friends, or have friends / family visiting you in Chicago, I have done the work (food, dessert, hang out) so you can have a place to recommend and go.

As a big fan of sites like The Wirecutter, which chooses the very best item in a product category (ex. what is the best TV for me?), I wanted to create a similar guide for Kellogg students traveling into Chicago.

All the places below are those that I have personally eaten at over the last year (vast vast majority over the summer of 2015). There is also at special bonus Hanging Out guide at the very end of this post.

Some things to keep in mind: I am no food expert, and for the most part, I cannot tell good food apart. To me, it’s all just good. However, I will try my best to pick winners (denoted in bold, the first place mentioned in any category) in each category, though I likely have biases towards food that just tastes different and stands out to me. In terms of what to actually order at each, I will make notes when I remember something noteworthy, but for the most part, refer back to Yelp or explore!

How I chose places: I researched information from (mostly) Yelp, friend referrals, The Chicago Reader, and TripAdvisor, as well as guides like the Thrillist and just…Google search for “best of…”. Everything place here will be $25 per person or less unless explicitly mentioned. I preferred going to places that were less than $15 per person ($$ on Yelp).

Meals

BBQ / Ribs / Brisket

Smoque BBQ is the considered the best (including by Kellogg MMM and BBQ expert KJ Plank) by the general public. In addition, it’s cheaper than most places but conversely, it is not easy to reach by public transportation. I like the ribs here a lot, but not the brisket so much. Blackwood BBQ, on the other hand, offers tremendous brisket for a great price – you can even pick the fat level of the meat (I choose maximum), but that is all they sell. The location I visited in the Loop is only open for lunch, but there is another location that is open for dinner. Ha (my wife)’s favorite place in the category is Blackwood. Chicago Q sells all the BBQ meats you expect but is a bit expensive and the venue is a bit on the fancy side. Green Street Smoked Meats is a solid BBQ place in the West Randolph area, and while it has solid brisket, it is not the best option for any specific item. Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern (Old Town) is my wild card. It is actually quite famous and has a long history in Chicago. It does not look particularly fancy, and is where where Two Face shoots Officer Wurtz in The Dark Knight. Ha and I enjoyed our ribs (great sauce) at the bar and it was great thinking about that scene just a few feet away.

Breakfast

Wildberry Pancakes and Café is definitely our favorite for pancakes. It’s next to Millenium Park on Randolph, and if you try to get there after 9AM on a weekend, you will definitely wait over an hour (no reservations allowed). I really liked the Fat Elvis Waffles (peanut butter, er.. butter and banana) at Little Goat in West Randolph and the The Local Chicago is more of a standard, but good quality place that is a block away from the John Hancock Center.

Burgers / Hot Dogs

There are many burger options in Chicago, and adding an egg on top seems like the cultural must-have for any burger nowadays. If you want a true expert’s opinion, do ask Ray Su of Kellogg MMM, but my favorite is bopNGrill. People seem to love Au Cheval in West Randolph, and I have had it twice to confirm my suspicions. The burger there is good, but I think of it as the best possible version of a Big Mac (without the middle layer of bread). If you do go to Au Cheval, remember that the single burger is actually two patties. Ha’s favorite burger is the SmokeShack from Shake Shack in River North (opposite of Eataly). I felt that 25 Degrees’ burger was pretty standard, despite the reviews.

As for Hot Dogs, Chicago-style ones are served all over, but the one that I remember going to for that and its famous Italian Meat sandwich is Portillo’s Hot Dogs & Barnelli’s Salad Bowl. I have learned that I am not a fan of either Chicago-style Hot Dogs or the sandwich. The sandwich is served very wet and is thus, hard to grab onto and eat.

Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for you, I did go to the famous Hot Doug’s before it closed last year.

Chicken Wings

Usually when I see a place crown itself as best something, I think it is BS. However, Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap in Downtown Chicago really does have great wings. I was pleasantly surprised from my waiter’s recommendation. However, both Crisp (Lakeview, shown below) and Dak make excellent Korean-style wings, and you will not be unhappy with any of these three picks.

Chinese / Dim Sum

MingHin Cuisine (Chinatown) is generally considered the best reasonably affordable dim sum in the city; expect a 30 minute wait during peak times on the weekends. Its regular menu is perfectly fine as well. Furama Restaurant (Argyle) is closer to Evanston but not particularly good and despite strong reviews for Sun Wah Bar-B-Que (also Argyle), I did not like it at all (Ha disagrees). Lao Sze Chuan on Michigan Ave is the same place that exists in Evanston – great Sze Chuan (approved by Kellogg MMM and Sze Chuan / Sichuan province native Daniel Xu) cuisine.

Diner

Do people ever say, “I really want diner food today?” I am not sure, but Dove’s Luncheonette (the Fried Chicken is fantastic – it’s more like a fried chicken steak than a KFC bucket piece) is a great option in Wicker Park. The previously mentioned Little Goat is a good option as well.

Fried Chicken

I love fried chicken. There are plenty of places to get it, but I am actually fond of supermarket fried chicken, such as at Jewel Osco. 8 pieces for 7.99. But for a real establishment, check out The Roost Carolina Kitchen in Irving Park. There is also the Harold’s Chicken Shack chain throughout the Chicago area, which Derrick Rose loves. I have heard quality is inconsistent by location, which happens with any fast-food chain. The one I went to was just okay.

For those in Evanston who never venture outside the Downtown area, make sure to check out Chicken Shack before you leave Kellogg.

Indian / Nepalese

Cumin in Wicker Park has great food, but I also liked Ghareeb Nawaz. The former option is great for a night out, while the latter is great for no-frills, very cheap food. Bombay Wraps is a solid, fast-food style option in Downtown.

Italian

Picking Eataly Chicago in Downtown (opposite Shake Shack) is a bit of a cheat. It has a number of places within to choose from. While he preferred the NYC location, Italian (and Kellogg Exchange Student from IE Business School) Valerio Patrizi vouches for Eataly’s authenticity. For more of a sit-down restaurant, Ha and I enjoyed Quartino, which is also Downtown.

Japanese / Ramen / Other

Go to Wasabi in Logan Square if you like some serious Ramen. Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ in Downtown is a great option for cook-it-yourself BBQ, but gets quite expensive for dinner. Ha and I took advantage of its lunch deal.

Japanese / Sushi

While not a sit-down place, Osaka Sushi Express & Fresh Fruit Smoothies is Ha’s pick – it has the best cost / quality value proposition and is located near Grant Park, Downtown. For more of a true social dinner experience, Sunda in Downtown is a great alternative, but will get pricey. Ha and I could only do the lunch special there. Kabuki Japanese Restaurant in Lincoln Park was just ok for me, but is BYOB (Bring Your Own Beer).

Korean

Gogi is the winner in this category by default (although I guess I could have included Dak and Crisp from the chicken wings section), but it is an excellent choice for Korean BBQ, having tried it myself and with it frequently visited by my Kellogg KWESTIE Jihyung Kim.

Mexican / Tacos / Burritos

L’ Patron Tacos is my favorite Taco place in the city – its taste really stood out for me. La Pasadita is a Chicago tradition and was well regarded in Five Thirty Eight’s Best Burrito in the United States competition, but I wasn’t a big fan – I felt the burrito was a bit salty. Ha loves Big & Little’s Restaurant (Belmont) for its fusion tacos and soft-shell crab Po’Boy (below), and also likes Taco Joint, especially for its Chile Mango Margarita.

Middle Eastern / Mediterranean

Sultan’s Market (Wicker Park) is fantastic and cheap; Alhambra Palace, however on West Randolph, is the opposite – students went there during our first week at Kellogg, CIM Week.

Other

Here are some other places that I cannot quite categorize, but want to mention anyway, good and bad. The ones I recommend are in BOLD.

  • Beatrix – a good “American” restaurant. I do not know how else to describe the food, but very solid.
  • Bruges Brothers – despite the commotion and long lines over its Duck Fat fries during Taste of Chicago, I was not particularly impressed.
  • Dia De Los Tamales – tried a tamales during Taste of Chicago, nothing special.
  • Feed (Southern) – great roasted chicken.
  • Cafecito (Cuban Sandwiches, Downtown)
  • The Purple Pig – this place is very, very, popular, but I think it’s overrated and a bit expensive ($30 per person before drinks). Everyone loves the bone marrow here, but I suspect that these are people who did not grow up eating much bone marrow. I did, however, thus $15 for a bit of bone marrow seems excessive.
  • Garrett Popcorn Shops – shops are all over Downtown, very good popcorn, a Chicago treat!
  • Pierogi Heaven (Polish, Downtown) – Ha really liked this. I am more neutral but would give it another try.
  • Chick-fil-A / McDonald’s – I do not think I need to comment much on these. You likely have an opinion already.

Pizza

Although we seem to be in the minority on this, Giordano’s is both Ha and my favorite deep dish pizza. You do not need to go to Chicago for this, of course, as both Giordano’s and Lou Malnatti’s have locations in Evanston. The Art of Pizza is another good option, and for thin crust pizza, Ha and I are big fans of Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza, which again, has a location in Evanston.

Thai

Kellogg friends Nancy Lee and Matt Shin introduced us to Aroy Thai Restaurant and even after trying out other city favorites in Opart Thai House Restaurant and Sticky Rice, I feel Aroy Thai to be the best.

Vietnamese

I should know Vietnamese food well, having grown up in a Vietnamese household and spending over 7 years as an adult in the country, but I cannot really recommend any specific Vietnamese place for Pho. They are all pretty similar to me, and not necessarily better or as good as anything in Vietnam or in Vietnamese-dense areas like San Jose. That said, I really like Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi) and che (dessert dish) at Ba Le Bakery. Other places I have tried for various dishes include:  Little Vietnam, Le’s Pho, Tank Noodle Restaurant (Tank is the most well known place, with a great corner location), Little Vietnam, New Asia, Pho Viet, and Nha Hang Viet Nam. Ha is a Pho-elite, able to break down how different Pho broths are made and feels that most of the Pho’s in Chicago have too much MSG.

Desserts / Sweets

Cupcakes

Molly’s Cupcakes in Lincoln Park is definitely the favorite in the city, while Ha LOVES the Passion Passion Passion cupcake at More Cupcakes (Downtown). We enjoyed Ms Tittle‘s Cupcakes at The Taste of Chicago, and Sprinkles Cupcakes is known for its cupcake ATM machine, but is not unique to Chicago.

Donuts

Finding the best donuts became my personal passion over the summer, with Do-Rite Donuts & Chicken winning as my personal pick. Do-Rite also makes a highly regarded fried chicken sandwich. Glazed & Infused Doughnuts / Glazed & Infused Doughnuts and The Doughnut Vault are great options that I liked, but The Doughnut Vault almost always runs out before 12PM. Stan’s Donuts & Coffee is a popular stop around Chicago, but I did not like it as much as the others.

Ice Cream / Other Desserts

I liked the unique flavors at Black Dog Gelato (ex. Goat cheese cashew caramel), but Mindy’s Hot Chocolate is where to go if you are “MBA rich” and really want to have high-end dessert. Worth trying at least once. Other good options are Margie’s Candies / Margie’s Candies (there’s two) and Lickity Split Frozen Custard.

Hanging Out

This is a bonus section, as after all, after you eat, there should be something to do! I am not a big bar or club person, thus this section is a bit weak, but I do want to mention two places that I enjoyed, beer arcades, where you can play games and have a drink (without the juvenile experience at Dave and Buster’s).

Both Logan Arcade and Headquarters Beercade River North are highly recommended. Logan Arcade has Killer Queen, of which less than 10 machines exist in the world. It’s a 5 on 5 (required, not optional) team battle game that is hard to describe but easy to pick up. Only .25 cents to play and the community around the game is great. I came with a bunch of friends (not quite 5), and the other players were generous about teaching us the game and letting us play for free. It is very addictive.

Beercade, on the other hand, is Downtown and most of its arcade and pinball games are free. Thus, you can buy a drink and just relax and play whatever you want. Ha loves Pinball and can handle very little alcohol, thus she became a very cheap date here.

If you have questions about any of these places or would like to add your own recommendations, let me know in the comments below. Otherwise, enjoy and I hope this guide helps!

Cronut Accomplished! [New York City, Food]

Waiting in line for Cronuts!

Somehow, even someone who has lived in Vietnam the last seven years knows about Cronuts, the mix of donut and croissant into one supposedly amazing piece of sugary delight. Thus, when I had a chance to spend two days in New York City (first visit as an adult), I put that on my To Do list.

And now accomplished.

Since demand is so high, the bakery recommends that people get to the bakery by 7AM (it opens at 8AM) on weekdays, which receive less traffic. After waking up at 6AM, I got on the D train from Brooklyn and got to the Dominique Ansel Bakery (at 189 Spring St, New York, NY 10012) at 7:15 AM. At that point the line was already around the corner, so I had fears I would wait a few hours and be deprived. Before the shop opened, a bakery employee gave (photo above) everyone in line a small hot chocolate, a very nice gesture. Once the bakery opens, you’re not simply just handed cronuts, so the line actually moves really slowly. People are ordering and eating, and I actually made my order at 9:45 AM. On this day, it would probably would have been ok to arrive around 8AM and still have gotten cronuts – when I finished eating after 10AM, there were still people in line.

Waiting in line from 7:15 AM for Cronuts.

For $17 plus taxes and tremendous feelings of gluttony, I got:

1 Cronut

1 DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann)

1 Waffogato

I only picked the other two things because I had seen them mentioned favorably on Yelp before going. The Bakery certainly isn’t cheap, but I decided to just do it. I had to eat a broccoli-spinach-tomato-egg salad for lunch afterwards to somewhat offset my guilt (I will probably need a week or two to truly offset it).

Waffogato

Waffogato

First in the mouth was the Waffagato, an ice cream waffle (it seemed like a waffle made of ice cream) with coffee. It is good, and unique, at least from my limited experience. It costs $7.

DKA - Dominique’s Kouign Amann

DKA - Dominique’s Kouign Amann

Next was the DAK. Do you like croissants? Do you like buttered sugar toast (I used to make these as a kid)? If so, you will like this, because that is what it is: a buttered-sugar croissant. $5. I love it.

Cronut!

Cronut!

Finally, the cronut, which comes in its own fancy packaging and is also $5 (I bought another for a friend who could not make it).

Cronut!

Cronut!

The cronut was a bit much for me. Perhaps I should have eaten it first, but I think my feelings would be the same. Eating half would have been enough for me and it feels very heavy. Like the other two items, it is definitely good, but it didn’t surprise me as much as the DAK did. If I were to order anything again in the future, it would definitely be the DAK.

If you’ve been to the Dominique Ansel Bakery, let me know if you agree with my thoughts!

Discovering Your Six Pack and Losing 25 Pounds [Body]

Starting college, I was 140 pounds. However, after a couple years, I finally realized that eating a whole pizza and other things for dinner every day wasn’t quite in the recommended daily 2,000 calorie maximum for students when I noticed I had ballooned to 160 pounds. As a teenager, I used to eat super sized double quarter pounder meals at McDonald’s and think to myself, “that was a solid meal”. Not an insane meal, a solid one.

Knowing my friends, who were all pretty skinny at the time, this was what it was like to be American in the mid-1990’s.

A year ago, I was about 170 pounds. I am 5’6 (167 cm). I wore medium-sized shirts and size 33 pants.  I had given up on losing weight, I just wanted to be fit. I don’t think I was ever fat or obese – I just had a good body frame for holding (mostly down low) weight. Even when I was doing intense 2 hour basketball sessions in the Vietnamese heat multiple times per week, I never lost any weight.

After I read Timothy Ferriss’ Four Hour Body last year, I began to understand why. In general, Ferriss talks about how carbohydrates and not fat (from meat) are the key to storing fat in the body. Consuming no carbs meant your body could not store fat. Based on the advice in the book, I decided to change my diet to see what could happen. Essentially, it’s the load-up-on-meats-and-vegetables while avoiding-all-rice-and-bread diet, or the Atkins diet. I also avoid sauces and dressings whenever possible to avoid extra filler calories.

Today, one year later, I am 65kg (143 pounds). This is what I looked like a couple of years ago versus now:

I never thought I could have a 6 pack, but today’s it’s pretty much there. I’m no Ryan Reynolds, but I almost feel like we have a common bond (other than an initial love but now dislike for Scarlett Johansson). I am down to a size 30.5 waist, size small shirt, and a big need to make money to buy new clothes.

I highly suggest reading the Four Hour Body to learn more (or can just research online) – Ferriss does a good job of answering detailed questions and complaints that people may think of against doing this. As a side note, Ferris  also recommends loading up on green tea extract and a number of compounds that is now called the PAGG stack. While both may help in overall health, they are also fairly expensive. I don’t think they are necessary for the weight loss (I tried the PAGG stack for a couple of months and I don’t feel the results were different).

The major changes in my diet, massive reductions in the following:

  1. Drinks: no juices, no soda, nothing with sugar. The only things I drink normally are teas (preferably green tea), plain water, and vegetable juices (with no added sugar). I do have the occasional beer and wine should be ok. Beer is not that high in carbs (generally 12G per can) with 150 calories, especially compared to soda (35G carbs, 200 calories), but if you drink a lot of beer, it really adds up – each beer makes up roughly 8% of your daily caloric intake. I do not drink diet sodas either – this somewhat relates to consuming “real food”, discussed more below. Besides, there is research that suggests drinking diet sodas gives people the false security that they can eat more, so these people actually end up being worse off than drinking normal soda.
  2. Processed Grains: rice, bread, cookies, cake, etc. If I do eat these, I try to get wheat bread when possible. Bacon and eggs for breakfast, no cereals.
  3. Manufactured Foods: I avoid these almost completely, including frozen foods (even vegetables) and boxed foods. I am against these types of foods (though they are amazingly delicious) for long term health (I believe in eating real food over stored or processed food to avoid long term health issues).

Vegetables: I really like Spinach and Broccoli, as I find them easy to eat and they are highly nutritious. Eat a ton of these or whatever vegetables you can handle.

Meats: Load up! For overall health, eat organic when possible. In Vietnam, however, organic meats were not easy to come by.

Snacks / Junk Food / Fast Food can usually be grouped in one of the three things above. Nuts, while healthy for you, are incredibly energy and carb-dense. I avoid fruit as well, though I am not really sure fruit is a problem. Fruit contains high amounts of glucose (sugar), but when is the last time you saw someone become fat because they ate too much fruit? As I understand, fructose (almost always in manufactured foods) is the real issue in fat building (it’s also an issue in cholesterol, according to The Great Cholesterol Myth)

To make what might seem like big changes in your diet, I suggest take things slowly. First, don’t expect to lose a ton of weight quickly. Be patient, give it a few months. Don’t scale yourself constantly. I didn’t weigh myself for 8 months. As my friend Jimmy recommends, do look at yourself in the mirror – as you begin to lose weight, you will want that positive reinforcement of seeing your body shape change.

Start with just one of the diet changes and reduce. If you drink one soda per day for example, just drink one per week. The other times, drink water. If you eat two bowls of rice per day, begin to maximize yourself to one. If 3 beers a night, first reduce to 2 for one month, then reduce to one afterwards. You don’t need to take extreme measures – if you do something you cannot maintain or enjoy, you will only give up later. As you get used to scaling back, try to scale a little further. If you scaled back your beer consumption successfully for a month, now also eat less bread and rice, for example.

Log what you change in your diet and mark each time you do it. For example, if you only want to drink one soda per week, note each time you drink a soda. I made an Excel sheet with a cell for every day. In that day, I write everything I eat or drink. If I eat something bad, I highlight it. I update and review the list every day, so that if in a particular week I have been highlighting too many items, it helps reinforce that I cannot break my rules again.

This may seem silly, but it really does help – you will have that reminder in the back of your mind to lay off, especially as you see yourself change in the mirror.

In case you feel you will sacrificing (what, no ice cream cake!?) too much, Ferriss’ schedule does prescribe a cheat day, in which you can eat whatever you want all day one time a week. In general, however, I still eat rice and other things I love from time to time, I just cut back and keep track so that I don’t fall into bad habits.

If you find yourself getting hungry, you just need to eat more. More meat! Eat baby carrots in between meals!

In addition to diet changes, I still work out, and my suggestion is to pick something you can do at least 5 times per week. Even if it’s just walking the dog for 20 minutes, stick to what you know you can do rather than overpromising yourself. Anything beyond that is a bonus. For example, I hate lifting weights, so I don’t bother vowing to do it. I absolutely hate running. If you live in a city in which you walk a lot already, perhaps add seven minutes of circuit training five days per week.

My workout, each of these done 5 times per week:

  • 50 pushups (I cannot do these straight, I usually do 30-15-15 getting a few minutes rest between each set. It’s a bit lazy, I know)
  • 50 squats (done straight)
  • 1.2 KM Swimming (about .7 miles, I feel I swim at a fairly fast pace, but definitely not a sprinting pace. This is 30 laps in a standard 20 meter lap pool)
  • 8 Minute Abs (see YouTube for the video).

The swimming is done for overall fitness rather than weight loss. I have heard many people say that losing weight is all about diet, and it’s true. I have not been swimming much this year due to travel, and I am still able to retain my weight and body shape as long my diet stays intact. I don’t play basketball anymore, but would like to pick it up again later this spring.

Based on my experience, losing weight is not as much a sacrifice as people often imagine. You can do it too! Best of luck!

A Grand Opening Preview of McDonald’s Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City

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Yesterday, Ha and I had the opportunity to eat at the first McDonalds in Vietnam. It’s not open to the public yet, and won’t be until February 8th. But from what I’ve seen, it’s absolutely worth checking out, whether you’re a McDonalds / fast food fan or not. The location is in District (Quan) 1, 2-6 Bis Dien Bien Phu, Puong Da Kao (Ward) in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

It’s complete with McDonalds staple, the drive-through, a first in Vietnam. I didn’t get to try the motorbike drive-through, but I want to. Maybe that sounds weird, but as an American living in Vietnam, I can tell you that McDonalds is completely different from any other restaurant, fast food or otherwise, in Vietnam right now. If you live in Vietnam, it will feel completely misplaced, and that’s a good thing. From the sheer size of the restaurant (don’t worry about parking space) to its great wifi (inside joke for my friend Hai Do) to its children’s playground to its prominent arches sign that you will see from very far away, you feel like you’re in an amusement park in the middle of the city.

Ha and I tried a good number of items, a few of which I’ve never had at any McDonalds. In total, we had:

  1. McRoyal with Cheese (Quarter Pounder – remember Pulp Fiction?)
  2. McPork (not sure if these exists in the USA, it’s not a McRib)
  3. McFlurry
  4. French Fries (they are the same ones you know and love)
  5. Apple Pie
  6. Ice Cream Cone (priced at 10K VND, about $.50)
  7. Chicken Wings (I don’t think they are the same as Mighty Wings in the USA, but they are excellent nonetheless)

Yes, that’s a lot of food and we could not finish everything. Everything was excellently delicious however, and the entire experience was very polished.

h

I can’t wait until I can pick up a Happy Meal toy. But in the mean time, I picked up an adult “toy”, the awesome McDonald’s Vietnam t-shirt shown above. You can pick up your own once it opens. They’re also selling nice travel mugs, a special grand opening pin (got one of those as well; you can see it, albeit not clearly at the bottom of my shirt), and two other shirt options. And because these items are unique to Vietnam, not generic McDonald’s, they make excellent Vietnam souvenirs and gifts if you’re traveling through. (I especially like the French Fry pocket holder shirt, ask about that one)

Get more info on McDonald’s and the Grand Opening through its Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/McDonaldsVN