To Yes Asia Cafe owners Nancy and Tiger Huynh, their business in America is the end of a long journey that began with their families' attempts to escape to the US from Vietnam. Despite multiple tries each year, Nancy's family was always turned back. "There were scary moments," she writes on the café's website, "and I'm glad it's over." Tiger's family was luckier, drifting into a safe harbor after seven days in a tiny boat.
Today at Yes Asia Cafe, both Huynhs celebrate the cuisine of their childhoods with a menu of traditional pan-Asian and Vietnamese dishes. Like a poorly calibrated compass, banh mi sandwiches fuse East and West, stuffing crusty french bread rolls with fillings such as curry chicken and cured pork. Succulent morsels of barbecue pork and grilled beef mingle with cilantro, mint, pickled veggies, and peanuts in rice and noodle bowls. And an impressive drink menu cleanses palates with jasmine teas and jackfruit smoothies.
As Ed n Joe's approaches its 50th birthday, the back kitchen chefs continue to toss the same classic thin-crusted creations and deep-dish delights that made the restaurant beloved in its infancy. Baked in a deck oven, the signature pizzas satiate hunger in inventive ways, such as with the taco pizza, topped in spicy salsa beef and mozzarella and then dusted heartily in crushed tortilla chips, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, and cheddar and crowned with sour cream and salsa ($16.85 for a small). For a tangy twist, try the barbecue-chicken pizza, served Hawaiian style with grilled chicken, Mancuso mozzarella, red onion, and sliced pineapple ($14.35 for a small). Beyond circular chewables, Ed n Joe's menu boasts a bounty of house favorites such as garnished chicken vesuvio ($16.95), portobello strip steak ($20.95), baked mostaccioli ($14.45), and items conceived by crayons on the kids' menu.
Mario Dovalina and Edwin Ptak established the original Pepe's Mexican Restaurant in 1967 in order to satisfy diners craving authentic Mexican dishes. With more than 40 locations in the Chicagoland area and northwestern Indiana and traditional eats that are sold across the United States and even in Mexico, Pepe's appeases a wide audience with its hearty options. Appetizers such as chips and fresh guacamole made daily or chili con queso ready bellies for veggie burritos bursting with seasonal vegetables. Flat-screen TVs broadcasting sports games or ballerina-wrestling matches dot the spacious walls at many of the chain’s casual eateries, keeping diners in their seats long after their shrimp, pork, or vegetable fajitas are finished.
Isabella Café’s passionate chef crafts a menu of meatballs, pastas, and other classic Italian fare as well as culinary curveballs of his own creation. Forks can follow a trail of angel hair pasta ($13.95) past veal-meatball boulders and lakes of marinara to reach a secret stash of creamy goat cheese or unearth savory duck and cream cheese buried in stuffed portobello mushrooms ($6.25) by pirates short of suitable treasure chests. Law-abiding molars can also pat down a stuffed chicken breast ($16.95) smuggling brandy cream sauce past Prohibition-era border patrols. For dessert, the kitchen-favorite chocolate coconut torte ($5.95) negotiates a chocolate sauce-smothered resolution to meals held hostage by indecision.
The grill gurus at Charleyhorse Restaurant sizzle a menu of sandwiches, entrees, and burgers within sports-centric dining digs. Wax handlebar mustaches over plates of Rollie cheese fingers carved from 40-pound blocks of mozzarella and cheddar cheese before they’re served with a side of marinara sauce ($9). Buffalo shrimp wraps brim with grilled shrimp, tomatoes, and cheddar jack cheese ($9.87), and burgers such as the Smarty Jones, piled high with bacon, cheddar cheese, and fried egg ($9.69), can power patrons through a marathon session of viewing marathon blooper videos. Large appetites may sample entrees such as the pot roast with beef, potatoes, carrots, and onions ($11.95), or nosh on Charleyhorse's malty basket of Carlton fish ‘n’ chips ($10.37).