Late Nite Funky Tacos: Velvet Taco, Chicago

26 Sep

Maybe it’s 2 AM and after several rounds of cocktails, your stomach is growling. Or perhaps date night at a fancy but overpriced River North restaurant didn’t fill you up. Not to worry, the Texas transplant, Velvet Taco, saves the night. They’re open til at least midnight each night, and until 4 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.


Ironically, the velvet cake is probably the least appetizing thing there (and slightly out of place save for the restaurant’s name). Stick with the tacos, which you order individually.


Everything is yummy, seriously. You can’t go wrong! Here’s the delish fish taco:


This is casual and funky fast food, people. Don’t expect authentic Mexican here, but do expect awesome combinations of ingredients inspired by different cuisines, like Indian tikka chicken, Israeli couscous, Southern shrimp and grits, and Cuban pork. Have I made you hungry yet?

Velvet tacos

Info: Velvet Taco, 1110 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60610, USA

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Battle of the Brunches, Part II: Bongo Room

22 Aug

Last week, I kicked off the Battle of the Brunches in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, and showed off the good eats at Big Jones. This week: does Bongo Room have what it takes to beat Big Jones?

Right when we entered the restaurant, the Bongo Room impressed me with its bright space and modern look. The Andersonville location is the second Bongo Room restaurant in the city, and it’s quite new. There’s a nice patio out back too, though we chose to sit indoors (as my pasty and pale husband worried he’d burn to a crisp).

We kicked off our meal with coffee (okay) and a cappuccino – which unfortunately, was rather bitter, and came in a pretty small cup – sorry, a mug with the trendy “crinkle” look can’t make up for this.  I even had to add some sugar to the drink, which I never do with my cappuccinos! Okay, so we were off to a slow start in this battle…IMG_20150613_124646901

I had the chorizo potato and avocado omelet – it was very yummy (how can you go wrong with chorizo and avocado?), and served with a side of yet more potatoes – something different could have upped this dish, especially since the potatoes were rather bland on their own. IMG_20150613_125700660

Hubby had the beef tenderloin and cremini mushroom Benedict. The generous portion of beef was very nicely cooked, and the eggs were perfectly poached. However, the side of potatoes was like mine – looked good but tasted bland.IMG_20150613_125648629

I was initially excited to try Bongo Room because of the photos of creative and over-the-top pancakes and French toast plates I had seen online. So Hubby and I finished our meal with an order of chocolate French toast. We asked for the French toast to come later, after our savory dishes. I was only halfway through my omelet when the French toast arrived (sigh).

Slices of chocolatey bread were sliced thick (yay!), but there was only a hint of egg batter on each slice (boo). It was as if we were simply eating warm slices of chocolate bread. The dish was very filling, as the toast was surrounded by a ridiculously large amount of thick maple cream. At least you won’t go home hungry…

French toast

We had barely begun digging into the French toast when the check came. “Whenever you’re ready,” quipped the waitress. Did she open her eyes? We still had a giant plate of unfinished food in front of us. No, we were not ready!

Overall, Bongo Room’s food looked much better than it tasted – while the presentation was great, most things were underseasoned. Service was so-so and rushed at times. Bongo Room, you seriously need to up your game.

So, you’ve probably caught on already, that the Bongo Room has lost this Andersonville Battle of the Brunches. With good-looking but average-tasting food, and below-average service, our experience at the Bongo Room felt overpriced. There will be no return trip to this joint!

Info: Bongo Room, 5022 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640 USA

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Battle of the Brunches, Part I: Big Jones, Chicago

16 Aug

Andersonville is home to so many great restaurants offering weekend brunch. Where to begin? My husband and I tried two different places, on two consecutive weekends. This is Big Jones versus Bongo Room, head to head! Let’s check out Big Jones first.

Our meal kicked off with some complimentary beignets. They were okay – just fried dough really, a bit bready. The powdered sugar helped make them tastier.


Complimentary beignets

Hubby ordered the Bayou Teche, a very flavourful  omelette with meaty crawfish, cream cheese, and andouille sausage. Both our entrees came with a choice of grits or hashed potatoes (which we picked, they were crispy just how we like them.)

Bayou Teche

Bayou Teche


I ordered the Eggs New Orleans – Crab cakes stuffed in a popover (reminded me of Yorkshire pudding), topped with perfectly poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. This was honestly the best interpretation of a crab cake benny I’ve ever had.

Eggs New Orleans

Eggs New Orleans

We both liked our entrees so much, we came back a second time and ordered the exact same thing!

Big Jones has a good selection of loose-leaf teas, served in a beautiful glass pot:


Bloody Mary Jones

Hubby got the Bloody Mary Jones. On a separate visit, I tried the Morning Dove brunch cocktail – the fresh grapefruit juice pulled me in. It was okay, but nothing spectacular. The Intelligensia coffee however, is spectacular, so I’ll stick to coffee in the future.

We shared the buckwheat banana pancakes at the end of our meal. We asked our server to make sure the pancakes arrived after our savory plates were done, and he happily obliged. The pancakes were fluffy and delish, served with crunchy pecans and caramel sauce.

Buckwheat banana pancakes

Buckwheat banana pancakes

Everything about this meal was fantastic – the food, the atmosphere and the service. I would recommend making reservations however – on our second visit, we were treated like second-class patrons since we had not made a reservation. What was supposed to be a 10 minute wait for a table turned into a 35 minute wait, and left a bitter taste in my mouth. Maybe this is an opening for another restaurant to  stake claim as Andersonville’s top brunch spot?…

Info: Big Jones, 5347 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640 USA

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Royal (Beet) Hummus

9 Aug

It’s picnic season! This pink hummus is a little detour from ordinary hummus. Its colour comes from red beets; the light beet flavour puts a nice twist on your typical, everyday hummus. You can make this hummus in just a few minutes using canned beets and garlic powder – makes for a fast and simple picnic treat. Or, turn this into a fancy appetizer component by roasting fresh beets and garlic.

Royal beet hummus

Royal beet hummus



  • 1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained; reserve some of the liquid
  • 1 can (15 oz.) sliced beets OR 1 lb fresh beets
  • 3 Tbsp tahini
  • 1 Tbsp liquid from garbanzo beans
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 ¼ tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp garlic powder OR 4 cloves roasted garlic
  • salt, pepper to taste



  1. Fancy Method: Roast garlic and beets in oven. Then peel beets. 
    Easy Method:
    Open can of sliced beets and drain liquid. Find the garlic powder in your pantry.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth.
  3. Serve with bread, crackers, vegetable sticks, or as part of a salad….this list goes on!

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