The number 13 has gotten a bad rap through the years, but the Pineda clan is attempting to turn that around. Thirteen members of the Pineda family run Thirteen Asian Tapas + Bar, with four crafting meals in the kitchen while Gary Pineda leads the pack as general manager. All of their recipes are sourced from Filipino culinary traditions, themselves a fusion of Asian and Latin influences, as evidenced by dishes such as soy-sauce-infused adobo chicken and the roasted and fried lechon, or pork, topped with achara, a traditional pickled papaya garnish.
The kitchen calls on overseas recipes in selections such as pancit, a traditional Filipino birthday dish comprised of thin rice noodles sautéed with cabbage, carrots, and meat that diners unwrap to reveal a miniature band of singing party guests. On some nights, live jazz fills the intimate dining room, where purple walls and exposed brick surround a bar that begets nine specialty martinis that mirror the cuisine's manifold influences with flavors of ginger, mint, tequila, and imported Philippine gin.
Peru is the cradle of modern cuisine—a fact that Ay Ay Picante's owners, Don Jaime Bardales and Doña Chamuca Bardales, haven't forgotten. Native to the nation are now-common staples such as potatoes, corn, tomatoes, avocados, and chilies—all of which blend with traditional spices throughout the Peruvian chefs' extensive board of fare. The signature ceviche, for instance, marinates tilapia in lime juice and rocoto chilies. A marinade of fish sauce similarly enlivens the grilled shrimp and salmon kabobs. But the global influence of Andean cooking makes itself known in the fried-rice dishes, which bring out the flavors of peruvian peppers and mushrooms with a dollop of soy sauce and garlic. This blend of customary and contemporary has garnered respectful nods from both WTTW's Check, Please! and ABC7's "Hungry Hound".
History doesn't just influence the menu at Ay Ay Picante. It also influences the very walls of the dining room. As diners sip BYOB beverages, they can examine pre-Columbian murals from the Peruvian Nazca culture. These hark back to the giant images the Nazca created in the desert sand, which can only be seen when flying in an airplane or soaring between a human cannon and a landing pad.
Don't be fooled by the name?City Newsstand isn't some small corner operation selling a few magazines and some gum. In fact, it claims to be the largest magazine store in all of Chicago, and, maybe, one of the largest in the country. It all started more than 25 years ago when a young man named Joe Angelastri bought an old bookstore and converted it entirely to newspapers and magazines. Today, it occupies two locations (the original and a sister location in Evanston), each boasting 200 linear feet of magazine racks?roughly 10 times the number of racks owned by most drug stores. Titles cover a wide range of topics and interests and include Pitchfork Review, In Touch, and Chicago Football, among many, many, many others. One other feature that sets City Newsstand apart from the corner stand? It also boasts a quaint cafe where patrons can come to delve into their purchases with a cup of joe and a pair of rubber gloves to prevent paper cuts.
The Chicago Sun Times has described Al Dente's founder, chef Javier Perez, as "the James Brown of the kitchen, which is to say he might just be the hardest-working dude in chow business." Perez did not earn this moniker overnight, however. In 1990, after moving to Chicago from Mexico City, he got his first job in the restaurant business as a dishwasher at Tuttaposto, under the James-Beard-Award-winning chef Tony Mantuano. After cutting his culinary teeth on fresh Italian dishes and moving up through the kitchen ranks, he then went on to hone his cooking skills in the kitchens of high-profile Chicago restaurants including MK Restaurant and Michelin-starred Spiaggia, finally rising to sous chef at Cibo Matto at the Wit.
Since co-founding Al Dente with his wife of 23 years, Maria, Perez has not rested on his hard-earned culinary laurels. Instead, he continues to experiment with seasonal ingredients when crafting his rotating menu of Italian, French, and Mexican inspired cuisine. Perez adds a twist to traditional spaghetti with his wild-boar ragout and brings out the savory, fresh flavors of watermelon with feta cheese, parsley, mint, and citrus vinaigrette.
Avocado-hued walls and brown-linen napkins create an earthy atmosphere in the dining room to complement the fresh produce featured in the dishes. Alternatively, patrons may opt to sip bottles of wine toted from home on the outdoor patio.
As a high-school student working at a local pizzeria, John Schnatter often pondered how he would do things differently if he owned such a business himself. After graduating from college in 1983, he got his chance, knocking down the broom closet in his father’s tavern to create his own pizza-delivery business. Since then Papa John’s has grown to 3,500 restaurants in 50 states and 29 countries. At each location, cooks cover the signature hand-tossed crusts, made with high-protein flour and clear, filtered water, with tomato sauce from vine-ripened California tomatoes, then pile on locally sourced ingredients such as green peppers and onions. The emphasis on fresh ingredients extends to the 100% mozzarella cheese, beef, and pork, which are never artificially inflated with fillers or undeserved compliments.
In addition to delivering pizzas, Papa John’s reaches out to the community with charity involvement, including partnering with the Boy Scouts of America and Junior Achievement to teach US students about entrepreneurship and the best method of capturing a wild roma tomato.
Hearty helpings of pancakes, omelets, and skillets top the tables at West River Café, a corner diner with a casual, wood-paneled atmosphere and classic menu. Even though it's a breakfast-all-day kind of place, the kitchen also churns out supper fare including meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, giant salads, and charbroiled prime beef burgers.