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Roadfood of the Day: Las Maravillas - Chicago, IL
Posted on Thursday, October 9, 2014

Carne Asada Burrito

In the foreground, my favorite item at Las Maravillas - the steak (carne asada) burrito.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 5:37 AM

We were directed to Dr. Ho's by Ronald and Peggie Turner of Turner's Ham House up in Fulks Run. These two, whose culinary cred is impeccable (Turner hams cannot be beat), told us that Dr. Ho serves the best pizza for miles around. While we haven't tried a lot of Virginia pizzerias, we can attest that these pies are pretty darn wonderful. They have a thin, flavorful crust that is a balance of crunch and chew, and the toppings we've sampled are first-rate, from meatballs to locally made andouille sausage. The combo you don't want to miss is called "Bellissima," a gloss on the traditional margherita pizza that also includes arugula, lemon vinaigrette, and thin shavings of country ham from – where else? – Turner's Ham House. It is a bewitching combo, the ham a Virginia analog of fine prosciutto di Parma.

Pizza is just one portion of a menu from which we have relished crispy grits-n-greens, which is spinach, salsa, and red quinoa accompanied by flavorful triangles of crisp-edged grits cakes. We also unequivocally recommend the pickled okra and country ham salad, spicy fried calamari with sesame ginger vinaigrette, and a roasted sweet potato salad. High on the list of items to be tried: a burger of local beef stuffed with sharp cheddar cheese, parmesan risotto fritters with butternut squash/apple puree, and a mango tart topped with lemon-honey cream cheese, fig jam, and caramel.

Every dessert I've had is impressive, foremost among them a huge chocolate-cookie caramel ice cream sandwich drizzled with chocolate sauce for which a fork is necessary. At the other end of the spectrum is a dessert that is simple, and utterly perfect: hot milk cake. This is a home-cooking classic, so straightforward that it rarely appears on restaurant menus and is often referred to, even in vintage cookbooks, as "old fashioned" hot milk cake. Made right, as it is here, and crowned with uncomplicated buttercream frosting, it is not even a little extravagant. It is moist, eggy, and ingenuous – a mother's-hug Dixie classic.

Dr. Ho's is a big, airy place designed to look like a converted old garage. It has a lively semi-open kitchen, exposed heat ducts, vintage signs on the wall, bare tables and unupholstered chairs and booth benches.
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Posted on Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lamb Burger

This lamb burger more than holds its own against burgers made from beef.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 5:59 AM

We were tipped off to El Indio by Arizona food expert Randy Spalding, who recommended the green chili. It is magnificent – a swirl of flavor that is hot with a sour twist that teases taste buds, nothing like chili that is cloddish and hammering. We didn't know what exactly gave it such a distinctive flavor, but Randy wrote that he and his partner, Jim, "discussed the El Indio green chile mystery and decided to investigate. Jim nailed the 'sour' taste's source right away, but we later had it confirmed with our friendly waiter. Tomatillos are what gives the chile verde it's distinct taste. Tomatillos, green chile, some jalapeño, garlic, and onion, are combined in a liquadora (blender) and processed for the sauce. I'm imagining the pork is cooked separately and then mixed on the stove. Heaven!" Amen to that.

Randy also suggested we try the Aztec quesadilla, which is a broad flour tortilla sandwich that encases melted white cheese and shreds of carne asada, with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. Another wonderful dish.

Meals start with tortilla chips and a ramekin of purplish Botana bean dip that is porky and flowery-spiced. Rich as it is, it is easy to keep eating until the meal arrives. Cool horchata is thin and refreshing, generously spiked with cinnamon.

All sorts of topopos are available. They are not the more typical tower of food, but rather a meaty salad presented in a tortilla bowl. The main ingredient can be shredded beef, red chili beef, green chili pork, grilled steak, or chicken; it is accompanied by beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and sour cream. The tortilla bowl is thick but frail, freshly fried, and breaks easily into pieces for shoveling up all the goodies it holds.

For dessert, house-made flan is a good bet. Cheesecake and arroz con leche are less impressive.

El Indio is a big, airy place decorated in Incan kitsch: stormy, bodice-ripping pictures of Indian musclemen and maidens along with handsome crockery and green plants. At the door, a wooden Indian stands with a sign around its neck inviting customers to seat themselves.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 4:58 AM


After a kitchen fire back in 2010, Doe's reopened with newly refurbished dining areas that lack all the tumbledown character of the way it used to be. But the steaks remain some of the best anywhere. Porterhouses, T-bones, and ribeyes are served family-style by weight. Family-style means that the cut of your choice comes hot from the kitchen already sliced, along with tongs for everyone to hoist their own from the serving plate. Are you stumped as to whether you need a three-pound porterhouse or a six-pound sirloin? No problem. The menu advises, "If you are a new customer at Doe's and wish assistance ordering, our experienced staff will be glad to help you." In fact, we want to mention that the staff at Doe's is amazingly friendly and obliging, even those times when the place is mobbed, as it is on weekend nights.

Along with succulent, charred-edge slabs of beef come skillet-cooked French fries. And before the arrival of the meat you get a bowl of memorable marinated salad slick with garlicky, lemony, olive-oil dressing. There are serious appetizers, too; and we highly recommend them for those of limitless appetite. Fried or broiled shrimp are available by the half dozen; and Doe's hot tamales with chili are legendary (but also very, very filling).
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Posted on Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Smoked Cod & Chips

Smoked cod and chips is a salty, smoky lunch. Make sure you'll have beverages handy for the rest of the day.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Monday, October 6, 2014 7:49 AM

To mollusk-loving epicureans, the name Apalachicola has a real twinkle. Deep-cupped oysters, harvested from the fresh/saltwater mix where the Apalachicola River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, are unique for buttery meatiness that sparkles raw, baked, broiled, or fried. In the town of Apalachicola, a great place to savor the bounty is the suitably named Boss Oyster. While the natural harvest has suffered in recent years due to a dearth of freshwater flow, oyster season remains a big deal in this restaurant, which boasts that it owns the only refrigerated oyster boats in the state. So, even if they're not from right here, you can be sure they're fresh. The raw ones I ate in the fall at the beginning of oyster season were spectacularly bright and briny. I ordered a half dozen, but was given eight because three were on the small side.

When the big oysters get fried, each is a great mouthful that is lusciousness incarnate, enveloped in a thick, spicy coat of gold. They're also available steamed or baked, or gilded with Thai chili, wasabi and ginger, or flying fish roe. If you are allergic to oysters, we recommend "Grand Grits" – cheese grits topped with cream sauce, tasso ham, and shrimp so juicy that they are a revelation for those of us accustomed to wooden, pale-flavored ones. The grits theselves are creamy, rich, buttery, and mild, a fine platform for the wonderful shrimp.

Aside from its totally local menu, Boss Oyster is notable for its setting at the water's edge with tables that provide a great view as well as the good, briny scent of Gulf waters. The deck is outfitted with signs warning, "Please do not feed the birds"; and despite wooden scarecrow owls perched along the rail, if you sit at an al fresco picnic table, you can expect an audience of gulls perched on nearby pilings.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Monday, October 6, 2014 5:23 AM

Dixie classics: plump, pink weenies nestled in steamed-soft buns. They are lackluster unadorned, but topped with chili and slaw, these hot dogs are sublime. The chili is thick and meaty, not pepper-hot but just-right spicy to bring out the porky succulence of the tube steak it smothers. Sweet slaw on top completes the flavor and adds a welcome measure of cabbage crunch. It’s a well-nigh perfect package – not the least bit artisan or upscale; in fact, I would call it cheap-tasting – an appraisal meant in the most complementary way. When the craving for one of these well-dressed critters strikes, prime beefsteak will not fill the bill.

If you want even more, have a dump dog. That is the house name for the same wiener in the same bun, dressed not only with chili and slaw but also with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, chopped onion, and shredded cheese. It’s kaleidoscopic and killer-good.

Hamburgers are not second-class citizens of the Hot Dog Café menu. They are large, hand-formed patties, thick enough to be plenty juicy even if they are cooked through. I like mine with nothing but lettuce, tomato, and onion; but of course, cheese, chili, slaw, et. al. also are available

Other than sandwiches of thick-cut, deep-fried bologna, French fries are probably the most interesting item on the menu. Raw, skin-on potatoes are cut one by one on a vintage potato slicer and tossed directly into boiling oil. The result is fries with a full spuddy flavor, albeit lacking the crunch of ones that have been chilled and twice-fried.

The dessert selection is right in front of you at the order counter: cellophane-wrapped wedges of factory-made fruit pie, pecan pie, and Moon Pies. I likely would have skipped this course were it not for a sign on the wall above the counter advertising a “Hot Moon Pie.” It is a simple idea, and a good one. The pie is removed from its wrapper and put into the same steam cabinet used to heat buns. The marshmallow inside the Moon Pie doesn’t quite liquefy, but it softens, as do the cookie layers; and the dark chocolate coat develops an inviting oily sheen.

Roadfood aficionados will love this jolly place with its semi-al fresco dining porch up front and no-nonsense staff of good ol’ country girls inside. You get a number when you place an order and pay, and it is a pleasure to wait and observe the bustle of efficient women cutting and frying potatoes, dressing dogs, flipping burgers, and alternately steaming hot dog buns and Moon Pies.

Note that the phone number of the Hot Dog Café is 439-DOGS.
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Posted on Monday, October 6, 2014

Sunday Night Turkey Dinner, Served Every Night

Don't be fooled by the "culinary confetti" garnish, this is grandma's turkey dinner.
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Posted on Sunday, October 5, 2014

Old Ham

Even though I am a ham lover, the idea of a 64-year old ham holds no appeal. Don't worry though, the ham you eat at Stan's will undoubtedly be much newer.
Rate this place Reviews (6) Learn more about Stan's Restaurant and Country Store...
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