Al’s Char House ~ La Grange, IL

 Chicago, IL, Side Trip Mini Reviews, Travel  Comments Off on Al’s Char House ~ La Grange, IL
Aug 212011

Cuisine: American,  Chops, Chicken, Steaks, Fish,
Location: La Grange, IL
Address: 32 South La Grange Rd  La Grange, IL 60525 (708)354-6255
Links: Al’s Char-House Website * Al’s Char House on Facebook

Atmosphere: Al’s Char House is located on the lower level of the same building that houses Casa Margarita. One step inside the restaurant and you are reminded of Texas, from the long-horn skulls mounted on the wall to the giant size of the one-page menu (nearly big enough to cover the table!)

There are a few different seating areas around the restaurant, a combo of booths and tables.  Pictured below is one of the sunken dining areas.

There is also a nice bar area.

Menu: Burgers, Steaks, Salmon, Shrimp, Catfish, Kabobs, Ribs, Chicken

What we ordered:  We started with the complimentary bread.  This was a very dark bread that was sweet and had raisins inside of it, served with a sweet whipped butter.

Our server brought us a giant bowl of salad, served family-style.

I was debating between a burger and the steak sandwich but went with the Steak Sandwich despite the hefty $15 price tag.  Once I saw the giant sandwich they brought me as well as the fact it came with salad and bread, I decided it was worth every bite.  This sandwich had an entire steak on a giant bun, topped with mushrooms, tomatoes, lettuce and mozzarella cheese.  When I say huge, that really is an understatement.  I was literally full after 1/4 of this sandwich and had to eat it with fork and knife.  The bun was toasted with garlic butter and just delicious, the steak was tender and cooked medium. Yum!

One of my companions ordered the Mushroom Swiss Burger, which was also enormous, 1 lb of beef served on a giant toasted bun.  Came with fried potato wedges.

Another companion ordered the Bleu Cheese Burger with Bacon, another colossal burger.

When you first walk into Al’s you can see a giant display case showing the various cuts of beef they offer. The size of these cuts are very impressive!

Service: Our visit to Al’s Char House was on a weekend during lunch and it was not very busy.  We had decent service but our server wasn’t always available when we needed her and we often had to wait several minutes before we saw her again.  The food took some time to be served but it was hot and prepared as expected.

Overall Impression: The size of the portions are ridiculously huge and a great value, I will definitely head back to Al’s Char House when I am in the area again.

Harry’s Sports Bar ~ Countryside, IL

 Chicago, IL, Side Trip Mini Reviews, Travel  Comments Off on Harry’s Sports Bar ~ Countryside, IL
Aug 212011

Cuisine: American
Restaurant Features: Games, Flat Screen TVs, On-Site Parking, Party Room
Location: Countryside, IL
Address: 9901West 55th Street, Countryside, IL 60525 (708) 354-3333
Links:  Harry’s Sports Bar Website * Harry’s Sports Bar on Facebook
Atmosphere: Harry’s is a fun, energetic sports bar that also happens to serve really good food.  There are tons of TVs hanging around the entire bar, which happens to be quite big.  There is a big party room in the back complete with comfy sofas and additional TVs.

The bar itself is located in the middle of the building with seating on all four sides.  Beyond the bar is a big dance floor.

Menu: Pizzas, Burgers, Salads, Sandwiches, Wings, Wraps

What we ordered: I was out with a group to see a UFC Fight that was showing at Harry’s.  We started with a round of Irish Car Bombs. Have you heard of these or tried these before? You get half a pint of Guinness and a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream to drop into the beer as soon as you’re ready to take the shot.  Pretty good!

We had already eaten dinner for the night, but late in the evening we started getting hungry again and ordered a platter of 20 Buffalo Wings for $10.95.  These wings were not only big they were fried crispy brown and then drenched in a spicy buffalo sauce.  Yum!

One of my companions ordered this Philly Steak Sandwich, with tender slices of grilled sirloin topped with sauteed onions, green peppers, and mozzarella cheese.  Came with a huge pile of curly fries for just $6.95.  No kidding!

Service: The people at Harry’s were very accommodating.  We had a big party and they managed to get us a decent table near a bunch of TVs.  Our server was great and drinks and food were both taken care of quickly.

Overall Impression: Great place to get a good bite to eat for very cheap prices, perfect for groups of people.  This is also a great place to go to catch any local sporting event or Pay-per-View events such as UFC ($5 at door)

Aug 212011

Cuisine: American, Irish
Restaurant Features: Patio, Party Room
Location: Brookfield, IL
Address: 8869 Burlington Brookfield, IL 708.485.8787
Links: Irish Times Website * Irish Times on Facebook

Atmosphere: Irish Times is a fun little pub located in the quiet suburb of Brookfield.  There are wooden tables throughout the restaurant as well as seating at the bar.  The restaurant isn’t very big but it is cozy.

The lower bar area is also a  popular place to hang out and grab a beer.

What we ordered: Many of us started with traditional Irish beers or a combo, such as this Black & Tan (Half & Half)  with Guinness and Bass Pale Ale.

I have long been a fan of Reuben sandwiches however I have become very selective when ordering them, depending on the quality of the corned beef that is used.  I prefer real corned beef brisket over processed, deli-style variety.  I noticed that Irish Times had Corned Beef and Cabbage on the menu, so I thought I would be safe ordering a Reuben but the corned beef wasn’t what I was expecting.  Everything else about the sandwich was very good…. the sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, dressing and toasted bread.  It came with a big serving of fries.

At least six people in our party ordered the Fish N Chips which was a huge hit with everyone.  Each order came with two large pieces of battered, fried cod and a heaping pile of fries.

One of my companions ordered a French Dip, which looked really good.

Service:  We had a  party of 10-12 so we were seated in a private room in the restaurant.  It was nice to have our own space but we also didn’t see our server often, therefore we often had to wait for drink and food requests.  As expected with a big group, it also took some time for our food and drinks.

Overall Impression: If you’re hungry for Fish N Chips, you can’t go wrong with Irish Times.

Maple Tree Family Restaurant ~ Elmhurst, IL

 Chicago, IL, Side Trip Mini Reviews, Travel  Comments Off on Maple Tree Family Restaurant ~ Elmhurst, IL
Aug 202011

Cuisine: American, Breakfast
Locations: Elmhurst, IL
Address: 671 W. North Ave., Elmhurst, IL 60126
Hours: Sun-Wed 5am-3pm  Thurs-Sat 5am-8:30pm
Links: Maple Tree Website * Maple Tree Restaurant on Facebook

Atmosphere: Like the name suggests, Maple Tree Family Restaurant is a family-friendly restaurant.  It is well-lit from the many windows and has a number of wooden tables as well as a few booths.

Menu:  A variety of Egg Dishes, Breakfast Skillets, French Toast, Waffles, Pancakes, Sandwiches, Burgers, Salads

What we ordered:  It was early afternoon at the time of our visit but we all wanted breakfast.  Lucky for us the Maple Tree Family Restaurant serves breakfast all day.  I ordered the South of the Border skillet with scrambled eggs.  Delightful! The dish started with crispy shredded hashbrowns, then sauteed green peppers, onions, and chorizo. then topped with cheddar cheese and scrambled eggs.  It also came with salsa and sour cream.  My breakfast was delicious, it had tons of flavor and was an extremely big portion.

My skillet came with the choice of toast or pancakes. I got the pancakes but I was honestly too full to have more than a bite.  That one bite was pretty good ;)

My companion ate the Irish Benny.  This dish was a combination of Corned Beef Hash topped with traditional Eggs Benedict (eggs cooked over easy then drenched in Hollandaise sauce), served with shredded hashbrowns on the side.

Service: We had great service at Maple Tree Family Restaurant.  The server was very friendly and the food was prepared fairly fast.  The server was also nice to let us know ahead of time that there were no free refills on the orange juice.
Overall Impression:  Great place to have breakfast with fast, friendly service.
Maple Tree Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Aug 192011

Cuisine: Breakfast, Burgers, Sandwiches
Restaurant Features: Counter Service
Location: There are several Billy Goat Taverns around the Chicago area, Find Yours Here.
Address:  (Navy Pier) 700 E. Grand Ave Chicago, IL 60611 (312) 670-8789
Links: Billy Goat Tavern Website * Billy Goat Tavern on Facebook

Atmosphere: The Navy Pier location offers counter service. A large menu board is displayed directly over the grill area, next to the counter where you order.

In addition to having outdoor seating overlooking Navy Pier, inside the restaurant there are wooden tables, as well as the Bar.

Menu: Burgers, Hot Dogs, Sandwiches

What we ordered: I ordered the Ribeye Sandwich, a thinly cut ribeye that was grilled then tossed on a big bun. I wasn’t very thrilled with it.  The steak wasn’t very tender and all the fat was still included (I usually love ribeye but I always remove all fat) and it wasn’t seasoned at all.  Sauteed onions and horseradish would have made it much better, but neither were available.  I would’ve loved fries with it, but those weren’t available either.  Only potato chips.

My companions all ate Burgers, including this Triple Burger. Each of the three patties are very, very thin like fast food burgers but it definitely tasted better than the fare at fast food chains.  It wasn’t a gourmet burger by any means but it was pretty good; fresh and made-to-order.

Service: There wasn’t a line when we visited the Billy Goat Tavern at Navy Pier, so we were able to order immediately.  Food was ready for us to pick up in about 6-7 minutes.

Overall Impression:  There was nothing fancy about Billy Goat Tavern but the prices were inexpensive and the food was prepared quickly.  Definitely a step above most fast-food joints.

Billy Goat Tavern on Urbanspoon

Aug 192011

Cuisine: American, Chicago-Style, Hot Dogs
Locations: Many locations located all over the Chicago area.  Find yours here
Address: 100 W. Ontario Chicago IL 60654 ( 312) 587-8910
Links: Portillo’s Website * Portillo’s on Facebook

Atmosphere: The Downtown location of Portillo’s is combined with Barnelli’s Pasta Bowl in a 2-level space kitty-corner from the Hard Rock Cafe.  Seating areas are available on both levels.

Menu: A variety of Hot Dogs, Burgers, Chicken and Beef Sandwiches, and Salads

What we ordered: I ordered the Chicago Dog, as did nearly everyone in my party.  The Chicago Dog starts with one of Portillo’s famous natural casing beef weiners, then topped with a pickle spear, sliced tomato, mini pickled pepper, mustard and chopped onions. It was served on a standard poppy seed bun that didn’t hold up too well.  I personally think these dogs would fare better on a more substantial bun, but overall it was a good dog.

Under no circumstances should you ever put ketchup on a Chicago Dog!

One of my companions ordered a Chili Cheese Dog, which they thought was really good.  It had plenty of chili and cheese, onions and mustard, served on the poppy seed bun.

Service: Our visit was at lunch time on a Friday and it was very busy.  This Portillo’s location offered counter service, it took about 10-15 minutes of waiting in line to order, then another 15 minutes until our food was ready.

Overall Impression: It was highly recommended by many people that I try Portillo’s, so i made a point of it.  Given all the hype, I had high expectations.  I thought the Chicago Dog I good as far as the classic combo of toppings but it didn’t stand out against any other hot dog I have had, in fact the wiener itself was rather ordinary.  There were several food items that I saw others order that looked really good (like the Italian Beef), I would like to try something else next time I visit,
Portillo's Hot Dogs (Chicago) on Urbanspoon

Casa Margarita ~ La Grange, IL

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Aug 132011

Cuisine: Mexican
Location: La Grange, IL
Address: 32 S. La Grange Rd. La Grange, IL 60525 (708) 354-CASA
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am   Sun 12pm
Links: Casa Margarita Website

Atmosphere: The La Grange location of Casa Margarita is a colorful and festive restaurant, made to look like a Mexican Village overlooking the ocean.

What we ordered: I started with a frozen Mango Margarita, sweet and delicious!

One of my companions ordered a Mai Thai, also delicious.

They brought us complimentary Chips and Salsa with our drinks.

Our group ordered the Queso Fundido to share. This is one of my favorite appetizers and I will order it whenever I see it offered.  A bowl of Chihuahua cheese was baked until melted and bubbly then topped with chorizo.  It is served with warm flour tortillas for making your own little taquito con queso. Excellente!

I wanted to try a selection of foods so I ordered one of the Combo Plates.  This came with a Pork Tamale, Beef Enchilada and Fish Taco.  Everything was very ordinary but I liked the fish taco the most.  The fish taco isn’t something that Casa Margarita typically offers but since they have Mahi Mahi on the menu, our server asked the cooks if they would make a fish taco and they said “no problemo”.  The beans and rice were both decent.

A couple of my companions ordered the Carne Asada. This was a big hit. The beef was tender and juicy.

Another companion ordered the Enchiladas.  I am not sure which type of meat these contained but they were smothered with Ranchero Sauce and Chihuahua cheese.

One of my companions ordered the Chicken Mole.  It is my opinion that mole is an acquired taste and not all moles are created equally.  The version at Casa Margarita has an intense flavor, made with a mix of chiles, mole and cocoa.  I don’t think my companion was the biggest fan :(

Another companion ordered Tacos, served on doubled-up corn tortillas.  Topped with lettuce, tomato and Chihuahua cheese.

For dessert they brought us complimentary Sopapillas, fried triangles made from flour tortillas, then topped with cinnamon and sugar.  These were also drizzled with chocolate sauce.  Delicious!

Service: Our server, Alejandro, was great.  We had a party of 8 and he made sure all of our needs were met.
Overall Impression: The food was okay, nothing bad about it, just nothing exciting about it either.  The Queso Fundido is really good, as are the Margaritas.  Great service.

Casa Margarita on Urbanspoon

Mitsuwa Japanese Marketplace ~ Chicago, IL

 Chicago, IL, Side Trip Mini Reviews, Travel  Comments Off on Mitsuwa Japanese Marketplace ~ Chicago, IL
Aug 132011

Cuisine: Japanese
Location: Chicago, IL
Address: 100 E. Algonquin Road    Arlington Hts., IL 60005 (847) 956-6699
Links: Mitsuwa Website * Mitsuwa on Facebook

Atmosphere: Mitsuwa is a HUGE, huge building just off I-90 and Arlington Heights Road.  It is the largest Japanese Market in the United States, with just about everything Japanese you could ever hope to find in a grocery store outside of Japan.  At the back corner of the building there is a Food Court with at least 5 Japanese Restaurants.  Each of them offers counter-service where they give you a number and call it when your order is ready.   You need not know Japanese to eat or order, because all of the menus include a photo of the food item.

My companions and I ate at this one with the blue-tiled roof, where they sold various rice and noodle bowls.

I ordered the Pork Cutlet, which was breaded and fried and served atop a bowl of white rice, with a steamed egg on top.  It also came with a cup of Miso Soup.  Very simple yet filling dish.  I loved the combo of tastes and textures.

My companion ordered Shrimp Tempura, which came with Tempura-battered veggies and shrimp, served over a bowl of white rice with a cup of miso soup.  Very good!

Another companion tried the Chicken Katsu, which is a chicken breast breaded with panko and then deep fried.  It was served with a dark sauce for dipping.  The chicken came atop a bed of cabbage with a small scoop of a “mashed”  potato salad on the side, as well as a small serving of miso soup.

We also tried the Soba Noodles with Beef.  The beef was thinly sliced (like sukiyaki beef) and tasted great, but I wasn’t a big fan of the noodles or the broth, both were kind of boring.

I also bought some sushi from the large selection of pre-packaged sushi in the sushi-case at Mitsuwa.

I tried spicy tuna and spicy salmon rolls.  Both very good!

Overall Impression: If you enjoy Japanese cooking or dining, Mitsuwa is like a dream-come-true.  The Chicago location is very impressive and bound to offer you whatever Japanese market items you are looking for.  Stop by the next time you’re near Chicago!
Mitsuwa Marketplace on Urbanspoon