Farmhouse Chicago: A ChiOrganic Girls Review

Whaaa…we found a place that embodies our blog namesake.  River North is hiding a gem of a restaurant, Farmhouse Chicago, right underneath our CTA riding noses, literally.  Farmhouse partners with local Midwestern farms in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin to provide us city slickers with farmtastic vittles.  We were treated to a VIP 5 course tasting event recently to check out new menu creations and learn about Farmhouse’s holistic approach to restaurateur-ing.  The first thing we noticed about Farmhouse was the rustic and cozy decor.  Co-owners, Ferdia Doherty and TJ Callahan, explained that even the furnishings promote local moods with reclaimed art touches from retired Chicago bars and restaurants and salvaged furniture from the south side.

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Chef, Eric Mansavage, detailed each course’s farm connection and ingredient alchemy as we nibbled our way through the Midwest.

Note* No Monicas were hurt during this dinner.  Her vegetarian ideals remained intact as Kate took one for team meat!  Rest assured, Farmhouse has plenty of farmiliar vegetarian options on their everyday menu.

Course 1: Ellis Farms Green Grapes and Ham Market Amuse

First, don’t act like you know what an amuse is…unless you’re a foodie.  Just in case, an amuse is bite-sized hors d’œuvre.  We were amused by this fancy PBJ with on a crostini.  Tasting notes: Crunchy, yummy, grapey, give us moree than bite sized, please!

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Course 2: Green Acres Farm Chilled Melon Soup, Summer Bread Salad, Spiced Yogurt, Crispy Njuda, Mint

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This is like a food dictionary lesson!  Njuda is a spicy spreadable pork sausage, like pig pate, hahaha.  Although we weren’t big fans of the chilled cantaloupe soup (maybe too sweet?), the summer bread salad with crisp radish and tart yogurt tickled the tongue.

Course 3: Grilled Rushing Waters Rainbow Trout, Black Garlic Roasted Tomatillos, Black Bean Relish, Swan Creek Bacon Lardon

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So, normally, seafood fans we are not (as Yoda would say) but hey, the force was strong with this fish.  The skin was on but, shocker, it was actually smoky and delicious with a flavor reminiscent of bacon.  The fish was not “fishy” but freshy.  It was mild with a melty texture.  The black bean relish on its own would have been a crowd pleaser as well.

Course 4: BBQ Short Ribs, Butter Poached Indiana Shrimp, Hazzard Free Farms Pimento Cheese Popcorn Grits, Sweet Corn

Chef, Eric Mansavage, described this cornucopia (aha!) as Farmhouse’s version of surf and turf.  Full disclosure, not a shrimp fan, but the short ribs were tender and surrounded by a delicate moat of popcorn grits.  It’s like going to the movies and bringing a rib in your popcorn box.

Course 5: Peaches and Cream Ice Cream Sandwich, Mick Klug Farm Michigan Marmalade, Milk Jam and Ice Cream, Vanilla Bean Shortcake20150901_193928

If you know the Peaches and Cream song sing along….peaches and creaaam.  Juicy Michigan peaches, peach marmalade that was almost like carmamel-ade, and sweet cream ice cream nestled between 2 pillowy cookies.  Ob-vs we love dessert.  Even Monica could chow down on this soon to be farmous goodie.

Farmhouse owners are expanding their acres with the new Farmbar in Lincoln Park, set to open in October.  They can also subsidize your love of cider as they own Brown Dog Farm and its filled to the bushel with apple, pear, peach and cherry trees.  Can we get a Yum Yum?  We love their down to (the) earth mentality and will definitely root our way back to try their veggie options.

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Are you a Farmhouse Fan?  Tell us your favorite dish!

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Whole Holiday Gift Ideas with Whole Foods

If you’re like most peeps, you have a bevy of holiday partays, gift exchanges and soirees to attend to in the next few weeks.  So what if you need to bring a gift or a tasty treat to your event?  You could make several stops or…you could go to Whole Foods!  Yah we know, for us with low account balances, Whole Foods may seem a bit intimidating.  But we were pleasantly surprised to learn some new developments at Whole Foods this past week at a tour of their River North headquarters.  As we walked from room to room we delighted in the holiday goodies.  In no particular order, here are some Holly Jolly Holiday ideas from Whole Foods.

DIY Gifts

Did you know Whole Foods is a DIY hot spot?  If you have a crafty side, you have all you need to develop a relaxing bath salt, tantalizing sugar scrub, or soothing lip gloss by snooping through Whole Foods’ beauty and bulk section.

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Beauty

On our tour, we created our own Epsom salts by mixing 3 cups of salt with essential oil and flower choices.  We picked the eucalyptus oil (as cold season is on the rampage right now) and calming lavender oil (cuz the holiday traffic is making us pull out our hair.  Then we threw in some bright yellow dried calendula flowers (a relative to chamomile), lavender buds, light pink Himalayan salt, and some crinkly red rose petals.

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Floral

Who says the poinsettia is the only petal you can gift?  The Whole Foods Headquarters arranged a flower bar for guests to create holiday bouquets.  Pluck some deep red and purple buds, add some baby’s breath, and grab a cute mason style jelly jar for presentation.  You can feel charitable about your choice too.  Whole Foods carries fair trade and organic flowers as well as Veriflora Certified flowers (Veriflora certification indicates better working conditions such as no child labor, fair hiring practices, and access to education, healthcare and other needed services).

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Life of the Party

You all know that thing where you’re at a party and everyone is talking around the food set up?  Party food can make or break a soiree.  Stopping by a gathering?  Whole Foods produce, bakery, and cheese departments all offer unique and most talked about treats.  Our favorite cheeses at the gathering were the truffle stuffed camembert (a soft, creamy french cow cheese with a layer of tasty fungus…yes that’s a truffle, weird right?) and a pyramid shaped goat cheese.  In the bakery section, we delighted in gluten free and vegan options like a rice flour crust blackberry pie and the banana hazelnut vegan cupcake from local cupcake purveyor, Swirlz.  And on the non-semi healthy side of things, the gigantic Carol’s cookie was so fresh and chocolately and big enough to feed your whole family.  Or be the angel of the party, bring a fresh fruit tray and rejoice on your savings.  Whole Foods has heard our wallet cries and is now setting out to price their produce on par with competitors like Marianos and Jewel-Osco.

Hosting your own get together?  Lazy it up with Whole Foods catering and wow your guests with gruyere and spinach stuffed mushrooms, ripe guacamole, or ethnic goodies like spanakopita, a greek stuffed phyllo dough appetizer.

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Swirlz Cupcake – Vegan Peppermint Chocolate

Feeling inspired?  Go out there with confidence and shop, dear friends, and impress those peeps with your Whole Foods Holiday swag.

Brunch Bunch at Public House Chicago

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Sigh…there is nothing better than a weekend brunch.  That’s only 1 reason (although a compelling one) why we gleefully accepted an invite from Chicago Food Bloggers to network at Public House, a spot we’ve been clamoring to check out.  We rushed out, delayed as always, to River North to meet blogger pals and try the new morning grub.

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Public House did not disappoint.  The space had rich wood undertones and felt roomy.  Our group was treated to a buffet style breakfast where we could snag whatever breakfast treats we liked.  It was slightly meat and sweets heavy, but the manager gladly accommodated a request for a savory veggie option, a modified meatless breakfast sammich with arugula, scrambled eggs, tomatoes and shaved red onions on a toasted sourdough boulet.

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The presentation of the sweet breakfast options made us drool.  The healthier option, a parfait pint (we got pint sized version of the pint) was layered with fresh berries, greek yogurt and crunchy granola.  The doughnut french toast also featured berries but we found it a little too deep fried for our tastes.  Our top contender, however, was a warm gooey sticky bun with the perfect balance of a soft bun, drizzled vanilla icing and nuts.  Our waitress was kind enough to sneak us another one after the buffet had been ravaged.

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We were happy to stuff our mouths full of sticky bun and listen contently while  our energetic table mates debated about the next hot foodie trends.

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Thanks to Public House for hosting us!  Strawberry Shortcake Pancakes our next on our Public House hit list :).

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Come out of Chi-bernation for these Winter Food Finds

Oh winter…devilishly evil Chicago winter.  You haven’t been able to keep us down…especially with all these events and restaurant openings popping up.  What about you, dear readers?  Have you wound your scarf around you and strapped those snow boots on to take the chill out of winter?  Here are some spots that may make you wanna brave the great white Midwest.

Remember that ol’ Lasalle Power company dance club you used to troll to pick up your future v-day date?  Well now it’s been converted into a brand new Gino’s East.  Chicago’s legendary pizza spot just got classy at its River North location.  Three floors of expansive rustic cozy hangout space will eliminate your wait with your out of town guests as you get your “mangia” on with artichoke pizza, pickle-y sliders and fat stuffed cheese sticks with spinach.  The restaurant proclaims to be  including a brewery opening in several months as well…just in time for Spring!!

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Our next pick is a neighbor to the north, Pizzeria Serio, a  hidden addition to the food scene on Belmont avenue in Lakeview.  WGN’s Chicago Best honored Pizzeria Serio as one of Chicago’s fave pizza.  Check out the video here.  We hopped over snow mounds to meet with the Chicago Food Bloggers and Pizzeria Serio was gracious enough to host our group.  We sampled several tasty starters like a Spinach Salad (baby spinach leaves, red onion, mandarin oranges, goat cheese and walnuts in homemade citrus dressing) and the more traditional Caprese.   For veggie lovers and goat cheese lovers (eww says one of us..the goat cheese hater) try the spinach specialty pizza (EVOO, sea salt, black pepper, fresh garlic, tomatoes, spinach, ricotta and goat cheese sans sauce).  For the more purist pizza crowd, try the wood burned crusty Eat Your Veggies (onions, green peppers, mushrooms and black olives)  and get your 5 a day veg serving…a good excuse to eat mas pizza if we do say so…and we do.

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In a whole other country (this is what it feels like to Chicago residents) is Farmhouse in Evanston.  This tavern makes their own burgers, condiments and soda from scratch with ingredients plucked straight from Midwestern farms.  Even their beverage selection is pulled only from Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.  The majority of interior pieces are reclaimed woods and salvaged materials.  At the kick off to North Shore Restaurant month, going on now, we gobbled down hot beer battered Wisconsin cheese curds with crispy warm centers and fresh Tavern-cut peppery potato chips with homemade ranch-like dipping sauce.  On demand for our next visit is the Old World Grains Burger with Forest Mushroom and Poblano Pepper.  For those of you who don’t venture that far out of our city, there’s also a sister location in River North with a slightly different menu and a two floor space.  Don’t all these pics of yummy food make you wanna trek through your alley to the El?

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A Holly Jolly Holiday Gift Guide

A Chi Organic Girls Holiday Gift Guide

Is it just us or did the holiday season creep up on us like those giant spiders in the new Hobbit movie?  We’ve been feeling the adrenaline of the season, hitting the streets in our snow boots and clicking away with our mouses in a fury of gift giving.  OMGS Christmas is only 4 days a way!  The biggest dilemma we’ve been facing: How to find that one of a kind perfect gift for the foodie, fit fanatic or Chicago adventurer.  Holiday gift guide to the rescue!!

Do you have an artist in your life?  How about Grizzclay by Chuck Borchers, a Deaf artist who has been experimenting with clay for several years now at Lillstreet Art Center.  These one-of-a-kind bowls can make a great centerpiece for a new home or a fancy fruit bowl to liven up a blah kitchen.

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Grizzclay by Chuck Borchers

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Grizzclay by Chuck Borchers

Something for your highly caffeinated friends?  We recommend Bowtruss Coffee Roasters, located in River North and Lakeview.  One of Chicago’s bustling micro-roasters, their bean blends offer complex flavor profiles like cherry or apple undertones.  Read more about our experience at Bowtruss here.

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For foodies, check out recommendations of Chicago food experts (including ours) in the Chicago Food Bloggers Holiday Gift Guide.  For example, We love Vosges Haut-Chocolat, with boutiques located in downtown, Lincoln Park and of all places, O’Hare Airport.  Pick up a custom box of regional truffles (think Mexican coco dusted in chili) or an exotic chocolate bar, like the newly released Coconut Ash and Banana Dark chocolate bar.  For your veggie and vegan peeps, try Chicago Diner with a gift card for a tasty “I can’t believe it’s vegan” shake or have your friends rep their veg style with a Chicago Diner t-shirt.  Click here for more food gift ideas.

Fit Fanatics: For a yoga lover or to help someone get off their asana (haha) and get fit, gift them one week of unlimited classes at  Zen Yoga Garage (plus first-timers automatically get one week free pass with a coupon).  Learn more about this 2013 new hotspot here.

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Zen Yoga Garage

And for a more one-on-one fitness focus, how about some serious calorie crushing sessions with our fave certified personal trainer, Sabri Xhaferi, NASM CPT.  Sabri offers nutritional counseling, myofascial (muscular relaxation) techniques, and one-on-one highly individualized personal training with flexible payment arrangements.  Email sabriCPT@gmail.com and find more background info here.  You can also grab some healthy tips on his Facebook page.

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Sabri Xhaferi, CPT
Photo courtesy Ela Miszczyszyn

Oh and for fun fun fun person in your life: The Chicago donut scene has been rolling (like a rolling pin, get it?) this year.  For the fun chasing type, how about tickets to the first ever batter-y, deep-fried Donut Fest in Chicago on Jan 26th!  Tickets are on sale Monday, Dec 23rd at noon.  For more info  http://donutfest.com

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Glazed & Infused Donuts and Firecakes Donuts

Whew!  It’s time to break our the tape, scissors, and wrapping paper and get these gifts in the sleigh!

What are your recs for Chicago’s best gifts?  Where do you eat, sweat and play?

All we want for Xmas is Pilates bodies!

We have to confess…it’s been almost a week since our last workout and our abs still hurt!  Last Saturday, we kicked another Chi style birthday off right with our next Lululemon “12 Days of OM” event at Superior Pilates.  Before we got started, we shared a nervous conversation with a fellow classmate about the reformers and their semi torturous facades.  Our fears were soon assuaged by Kristen Wolf, our teacher, owner and founder of Superior Pilates as she explained that we wouldn’t tackle the machines until we had the basics down.

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Finally, we snuggled into the mats and tightened our tummies in anticipation.

So what’s the hype about this workout?  Pilates (pronounced puh-LAH-teez) helps build flexibilitymuscle strength, and body awareness and involves the legsabdomenarmships, buttocks and lower back.  This workout strengthens and stretches bulky muscles as well as tones and balances the smaller muscle groups.   Need more info?  Click here on Wikipedia.

During our 1 hour class, Kristen worked out every part of the body.  We tried our hand at the more traditional moves like “the hundred” exercise and adventured into some new territory with the use of spring-and-pulley apparatus that pushed our triceps and calves to the sculpting limits.

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The small class size allowed Kristen to give personal attention to each student.  After we had exhausted every muscle fiber, we chatted it up with Kristen about her journey into pilates.  Kristen suffered whiplash from a car accident and began pilates as a tool for rehabilitation.  She ended up loving it so much that she followed up with professional pilates training and eventually purchased the cozy and sunny studio space.

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At the end of our class, Molly from Lululemon raffled off a sweet black tank with watercolor style flowers…and guess who won?  The bday girl!!

Hurry up and get in on the holiday fun at the next 12 Days of OM or take the Pilates Plunge with Kristen at Superior Pilates.

Tis’ the Season for a Restaurant Preview: Seasons 52 River North

You know how sometimes divine providence throws you a foodie bone?  A light shone down on us last Monday when we received a mysterious email invite to a restaurant preview for Seasons 52.  We immediately got the googlin’ fever and checked out the scope of the restaurant.  River North, eh?  Must be semi-fancy.  Then came the menu snooping and the what to wear conversations.

As two small town bloggers in a big town, we didn’t quite know what to expect from our first media reception.  The first thing we noticed was that we had accidentally matched our outfits.  Ok, bright side, we are a more united front in our navy and white striped twinsie clothes.

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John State is Seasons 52 Executive Chef Partner

The second thing we noticed was the atmosphere.  Seasons 52, just a ferris wheel away from Navy Pier, sets out to be a casual wine and piano bar with seasonal rotating entree elements.  There was definitely mood lighting when we arrived and the pianist was crooning a little Dawson’s Creek like ditty as we walked to the reception area.  The restaurant layout features open spaces, a circular bar area, Frank Lloyd Wright inspired design and *highlight* a chef’s table where you can spy on and get served by the executive chef of the restaurant…oh the pressure for those line cooks as you scrutinize their every chop!

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What we ate: We started off with two flatbreads.  The crust was noticeably buttery and crisp (but not microwave pizza rock solid) which was a nice balance.  The ripe plum tomato and mozzarella flatbread with basil was not unique but satisfying.  The Sonoma goat cheese flatbread was more intriguing with luscious chunks of roasted garlic, a trio of mushrooms (black trumpet, portobello and oyster), spinach and scallions.  Kate HATES goat cheese, yet it was mild enough that she actually didn’t spit the flatbread into her napkin and admittedly, enjoyed it.

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Sonoma Goat Cheese Trio Mushroms (top right) and Ripe Plum Tomato (bottom right)

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Spicy Chipotle Shrimp (left) and Piedmontese Beef & Black Bean Chili (bottom right)

Next, came an only made for us goat cheese stuffed ravioli with chive aioli and shaved root veggies on top.  The staff was kind enough to treat us due to the rest of the samples being meaty (short ribby and chipotle pineapple shrimpy to be exact).  Marty, the most knowledgeable server in the history of mankind aka the Aristotle of waiter-ing, explained that two key attractive features of this new joint.

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Seasons 52 – Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli (harvest vegetables, black mushrooms, roasted onion jus)

1) They have a gazillion menus to serve your (and our) picky friends.  That means your vegan, vegetarian, T-Rexian, salt-free, and gluten hating peeps can all eat dinner in one spot.  REMARKABLE!

2) Certain menu items and pieces of entrees change with the seasons to produce peak flavor.  For example, mushrooms, root vegetables, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, and other fall goodies appear in fall only.  As a contrast, items like berries, melons and cucumbers would find their way back to you in summer.

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Seasons 52 menu includes gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free, sodium-friendly and garlic-free

Finally, the epic portion of our evening was about 8 baby parfait desserts to choose from.  We split them to avoid the old “pants splitting at a restaurant” dilemma.  One surprise favorite was a creamy key lime parfait and of course, good ol’ pumpkin  was right in season.  Seasons 52 also offers a fresh fruit parfait for your more health conscious self.  We met famed Ask.com health blogger, Nina Cherie, at the reception and she modeled appropriate dessert choosing.  *Sigh* P.S. She’s awesome!

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Seasons 52 – Mini Indulgence includes Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse, Key Lime Pie, Mocha Macchiato, Pecan Pie with Vanilla Mousse, Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Snap Crust, Belgian Chocolate Rocky Road, Raspberry Chocolate Chip Cannoli and Market Fresh Fruit

Any “eh ok” things?: Seasons 52 is in River North.  Parking, meh, might wanna take the red line el train..oh wait! VENTRA (fist shaking).

What we LOVED the most: The service!  All the staff were not just aware of their craft but were interesting, friendly people.  We had a long conversation with the super attentive and yoga loving server, Kelly as she toured us around the restaurant, refilled our drinks non stop and encouraged us to take free dessert home.  Need we say more?

Seasons 52 opened October 17th for all.  Go get your own review on and tell us what you think!

Taco-Tastic: A Soft Shell recap of National Taco Day

Friday October 4th…a day that will live in infamy… a day to gorge on (dare we say it) one of the best hand held foods known to (wo)man: the taco.  Take that, fried food on a stick!  Below is a smattering of some of the most tantalizing taco trends in the Chi area.

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Taco Joint – Panela Taco (Black Bean salsa, grilled panela cheese, mushrooms with creamy guajillo salsa and arugula!) and Grapefruit Margarita!

Taco Joint won our hearts again with their National Taco Day deals.  The brand new River North hotspot has a wealth of wealthy people watching.  Read more details in our previous post about it’s sister spot, located in Lincoln Park.  Mon cheated with another friend and enjoyed the $2 dollar panela, black bean, mushroom and arugula tacos with a refreshing grapefruit margarita and some twitter # provided free guac on National Taco Day.  (Kate: Sad faced 😦 but will persevere)

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West town hides our prime birthday celebration spot, De Cero, on the restaurant row strip of Randolph Street.  De Cero’s Tacos De Rajas, tickle our taco fancy, with mildly sweet green peppers, cojita cheese, cilantro and crema.  For the salsa aficionados, De Cero boasts a range of flavors, from the tart pickled jalapeño to the spiccccy habanero mango.  Bring your friends along as you can order paired taco trays so that everyone can delight in the taco variety.

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De Cero – Rajas Taco, Guajillo Black Bean Taco and more!!

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Latin Asian fusion restaurant, Saucy Porka, puts a twist on the taco (theirs’ is called a baco) with a bao bun base as the taco shell.  We hounded them at the recent food truck rally for their crispy ginger tofu baco with crisp Asian slaw and can’t wait to take over their downtown location to experience their Tostones, curry sweet potato fries, and Ho Chi Minh tofu sammich.

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Saucy Porka – Soy Ginger Tofu Baco

Vegans and T Rexs alike can rejoice in the Baja tofu tacos at the little Logan Square gem, Ground Control.  The lightly fried tofu is topped with pickled red onion, crunchy cabbage, black sesame and a vegan Baja sauce that tastes a little ranchy.  Sweet potato tacos also grace the menu with sautéed kale, firm mushrooms, and a not too hot chili tomato sauce.

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Ground Control – Smothered Sweet Potato Tacos

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Ground Control – Baja Tacos

We are drooling at the thought of partaking in the taco goodness of Antique Taco or Ay Chiwowa as we’ve heard taco-tastic reviews…ooh do we feel a Taco-Tastic review, part II coming soon?

Dearest readers, where do you go to get your taco fix?  We got a fever and the only prescription is…more cow bell…oops, we mean tacos!