Take, for example, the home cooking at Nelly's Saloon in Avondale, on the Northwest Side. Romanian ex-pats gather everyday over cups of coffee and hearty bowls of tripe or meatball soup - all of which arrive with sturdy, homemade bread, sour cream and hot peppers. There are vegetables here, often pickled and stuffed with cabbage, but there are also plenty of mititei - the grilled, beefy sausages - as well as grilled pork steak, chicken schnitzel and even fried cheese.. all of which come with either mashed or fried potatoes. Desserts are truly unique, including a custardy cake and delicate-but-sweet crepes.
Just a mile away, another homage to Romanian food recently opened in the form of the Little Bucharest Bistro, run by Branko Podrumedic and his wife, who does most of the cooking.
"Romanian food is the real food, homemade food, it's kind of like all Eastern European food. Like the stuffed cabbage," said Little Bucharest Bistro owner Brando Podrumedic.
Taking a nod from the Mediterranean, salata de vineta is a refreshing plate of tomatoes, cukes and eggplant spread, garnished with feta cheese; the creamy spread is great for schmearing on their thick, dense, homemade bread. Beef sausage is another popular, yet safe route to go..
"The mittetei, it's a Romanian handmade sausage, and they are with lots of garlic," said Podrumedic.
Their modern interpretation of goulash is exemplary: braised short ribs are nestled into a rich tomato ragout; scattered over mashed potatoes, of course.
"It's a very contemporary, one-of-a-kind in the city of Chicago; it is with short ribs goulash - they are braised short ribs and it's cooking 24 hours," Podrumedic said.
And stuffed cabbage gets an unlikely partner, in the form of homemade polenta - a side dish Branko recalls from his childhood. Here, it's amped up with sour cream and feta cheese.
"When I was a little boy in the village, my mama would not have money for wheat, because was more money to make bread; we'd eat polenta - like it or don't," said Podrumedic.
And here's a little inside information about Little Bucharest: traditionally they're only open for dinner but, Branko and his wife are always here so if you come during the day they will be happy to serve you lunch too.
Little Bucharest also has traditional, live music on the weekends.
3256 N. Elston Ave.
Little Bucharest Bistro
3661 N. Elston Ave.