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Grandma J's - Chicago, IL

In the past 5 years I've lived in Chicago, I've never really had a favorite breakfast/brunch spot, that is until I discovered Grandma J's a few months back.  There's plenty of good/borderline great places to get breakfast/brunch in Chicago, but Grandma J's has the total package, at least for yours truly.

First, and most importantly is the food, particularly the Fried Chicken & Waffle Fritters.  That's some pretty serious s*** right there.  The 3 incredibly large and delicious fritters would be enough to fill up most folks, and I'd rather have those than any other pastry imaginable (is it even technically a pastry?  anyway, I digress...).  But the main attraction is the fried chicken.  I am pretty sure that's the best fried chicken I've had in Chicago.  It's the real deal, mainly because it is just so incredibly juicy.  That's the key to great fried chicken if you ask me (juiciness) and Grandma J's has it in spades.  Fantastic flavor, it rivals my favorite fried chicken place in the US of A (Hard Knox in SF).  And, as an added bonus, they provide this country-gravy flavored dipping sauce for the side of chips they give you, which, being a big fan of chicken-fried steak, makes me very happy.  It's the trifecta of gluttony for me, and it's oh so GD delicious.  

But it's not all about the fried chicken, as The Works (2 cage free poached eggs on top of potato hash with cheddar cheese marinated mushrooms , crispy kale, bacon and fried tomato in a bowl comes with toast,house made jam) is also quite delectable in it's own right.  It's the closet thing I've found to Eggs in a Tasty Nest which is an epic dish served by Pork Store Cafe in SF.   They also have many other items that sound perhaps equally delicious, like a Pork Belly Bennie, Duck Eggs and Ham, Steak and Eggs, Shrimp and Grits...you get it...this place does not F around.

And to top it all off, this place has a cozy eclectic vibe to it that make it unique and quirky.  Old school random antiquish furniture/chairs/etc.  Pictures of classic beautiful women from generations passed.  Board games and toys for my daughter to enjoy...and it's got a counter (I don't like breakfast places that don't have a counter).  The staff suits the vibe of the place and they're all warm and accommodating without a trace of pretentiousness to boot.   Cool people.

And it's BYOB.

And they do occasional burlesque shows.

So there you have it.

For this guy right here, Grandma J's is the total package in every conceivable way and then some.  Pretty much perfect for yours truly.

9.0/10

Casa Yari - Chicago, IL

I'm a big fan of Casa Yari, especially considering that I live right across the street.  But Casa Yari offers much more than just convenience for yours truly, but also genuinely unique and tasty dishes to boot.  We typically always get their Relleno De Avocate to start, which is a half-stuffed avocado topped with shredded pork.  Always hits the spot.  On the entree side, we have tried the Pastelon (plantain lasagna), Mofongo (garlicky mashed mound of plantains), Parilla De Pollo (marinated chicken with tangy sauce), and Bistek Empanizado (breaded steak), all of which were very good.  They also have numerous other latin-fusion options to offer as well, but the aforementioned entrees are those that we have tried to date.  I'm pretty confident you will be satisfied or impressed with practically anything that arrives at your table from the kitchen.

Another plus of this restaurant is the service (very nice waiter) and the laid-back vibe of the restaurant.  We always bring our 1 year old daughter and we feel right at home (especially considering it's usually not crowded yet around 6:00, but nonetheless).  Did I mention it's BYOB too?  Because it is, so yet another plus for Casa Yari.  Although I am partial to Rinconcito Cubano, it's hard to argue that Casa Yari isn't the best restaurant on that blossoming stretch of Fullerton between Kedzie and Kimball.  Check it out, you'll be happy you did.

8.0/10

Paprika - Chicago, IL

This is my favorite Indian restaurant in Chicago.  Both their Palak Ghoast and Murgh Dhanshak are 2 of my favorite dishes to eat anywhere in the city (and not just talking about Indian food).  You also can't go wrong with their Chicken Vindaloo or Coconut Chicken curry either.  Their garlic naan and meat samosas always hit the spot too.  And it's BYOB, so we typically pick up a growler of Daisy Cutter at Half Acre about a mile away on our way to Paprika.

So the food gets 5 stars, but the ambiance gets 3 unfortunately.  The service used to be downright horrible at times, mainly because they were understaffed, but they have gotten a lot better (they actually have more than 2 people working there now).  It is a bit of a cramped space, but they do their best to give it some atmosphere with some dim lighting, etc.  A nicely presented space, but it's just a bit small.  And it also tends to get a bit drafty in there at times, which really seems unnecessary.  Just turn up the heat for Christ's sake.

Anyway, those are just a few minor gripes, but the quality of the food here more than makes up for it.  I've yet to explore the restaurants up on Devon, but when a place makes dishes as great as Paprika does, there's really no reason for me to stray from it's deliciousness

8.5/10

Parts and Labor - Chicago, IL

I'd like to preface this review by saying that just because I'm giving this place 3 stars, doesn't mean that it isn't any good.  It is, in every since of the rating "A-OK" in the grand scheme of things.  Out of all the burger places I've frequented over the years, it certainly does not stand out, but if you just want a pretty good bacon cheeseburger and fries, chances are you will be satisfied with what Parts and Labor has to offer.

As you probably already know, they do the double-thin patty thing, which kind of recalls Five Guys (and I don't mean that in a bad way).  This is kind of like eating Five Guys in a, pardon the term "hipper" setting.  Ever want to enjoy a good beer and decent music while eating a slightly above average burger?  Why there's certainly nothing wrong with that, so come to Parts and Labor.  If you want to eat an epic burger that will blow your mind, go to Kumas, and if you want to eat something of equal quality but less indulgent, go to Leadbelly in Portage Park, or maybe Bad Apple in North-Center (although BA is over-rated in my book).

So you probably get the point...if you're in the hood and need a cheeseburger and a frothy beverage to wash it down, come here.  It's like the burger-version of Parson's: a cool spot, relatively inexpensive, and the food will likely hit the spot, but just don't expect it to blow your mind.

7.0/10

Fork - Chicago, IL

I'm pretty surprised Fork doesn't have a solid 4-star rating on here, but to each their own I suppose.

I for one am definitely a fan, particularly of their Sunday brunch.  They just so happen to have my favorite brunch entree in all of Chicago, so get ready: Fried chicken and waffles.  

That's right.  

If I could have any brunch entree at any restaurant in all of Chicago, I would pick Fork's fried chicken and waffles.  Personally, it's the best fried chicken I've had in Chicago.  And yes, I've had Longman & Eagle's fried chicken and waffles and it is simply not as good.  Fork's fried-chicken is incredibly juicy and the crust is nice and thick and moist, probably due to their buttermilk batter.  I love it, it's great.  The waffles are fine (hard to get excited about waffles personally) but the fried chicken is the show stopper.  Absolutely fantastic.

As for dinner, Fork is also a quality choice.  They have a nice eclectic variety of options, which kind of have the whole farm-to-table thing going on, which is cute, but also typically delicious.  Can't go wrong with good old-fashioned burger either, and Fork's burgers, while nothing amazing, will almost always hit the spot.

Lastly, they've got a more than solid craft brew selection, and they offer beer flights which I always enjoy.  Service is fine.  

So while Fork may not be a super-amazing restaurant, it is certainly a good, solid option.  I would say that their brunch is great, largely due to their delectable fried-chicken, so you really can't go wrong at Fork for brunch.  One of the best brunch options in the city in my book, and a very good restaurant overall.

8.5/10

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