There are so many dishes to be thankful for this year. Why not start off with something simple, like the carefully-constructed Cuban sandwiches at Cafecito in the South Loop? Located next to a youth hostel, the Cubano is the star here: roasted pork shoulder is sliced thin, then griddled some more with a homemade mojo of sour oranges and garlic. Cured ham mingles with Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, all sandwiched between sturdy loaves that are pressed in a grill until the inside is gooey warm and the outside crisp.
Another great place for sandwiches is in Oak Brook, at the Labriola Cafe and Bakery. The retail outpost of the Alsip-based bakery offers up hearty salads, homemade sandwiches on signature bread and even stellar pizzas from a wood-burning oven. Turnover is one of the keys to their freshness.
"With our bread, starting from about eight in the morning until about four in the afternoon, it's coming out in little segments all day long. So, if you come in and buy a baguette, you know it's not more than an hour or two old always," said the cafe's Richard Labriola.
High turnover is another factor at Birria Zaragoza, a tiny restaurant in Archer Heights on Chicago's Southwest Side. The tortillas are made throughout the day, and the baby goat - or cabrito - is steamed, roasted with mole, then chopped to order either on a plate or in a taco. It is served with sides of cilantro and salsa. It seems like every customer has their own way of devouring it.
"They're very creative people, you know. Some folks grab it; they place it in a taco. Others roll up the tortilla, eat the tortilla, grab the rib with one hand. So, it's a quite interesting difference," said Juan Zaragoza.
In North Chicago, near the Great Lakes Naval Training facility, Big Ed's Barbeque has been one of the biggest surprises of the year-- not only their incredibly moist pulled pork, smoked brisket and dry-rubbed ribs, but their desserts, too, from a chocolate bumpy cake to a ridiculously good pound cake.
And as long as we're talking about dessert, why not head out to Bolingbrook, where the Andy's Custard chain opened its only location in Illinois? Thick custard combined with locally made toppings means the 1950s throwback is doing things the right way.
"Our frozen custard is made each and every hour. More than likely, it's made fresh probably every 30 to 45 minutes. That's one thing, the fresher it is, the more creamy it tastes," said Andy Kuntz of Andy's Custard.
There are a lot of delicious places to be thankful for in Chicago, and clearly not all of them are in the city. Want to know what I'm most thankful for this year? By eating in moderation, I've been able to keep most of it off.
26 E. Congress Pkwy.
LaBriola Cafe and Bakery
3021 Butterfield Rd., Oak Brook
4852 S. Pulaski Rd.
Big Ed's BBQ
2501 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., North Chicago
260 S. Weber Rd., Bolingbrook