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August 4, 1999


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Meat And Potato City Offers Spicy Delicacies From Ethiopia, Thailand And the Subcontinent

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A P Kamath in Chicago

Once upon a time, eating out in Chicago meant imbibing huge portions of meat dishes, accompanied by boiled or mashed potatoes.

But things began to change at the beginning of the century as the number of East European immigrants began to rise, so Chicago had varieties of sausages and dumplings served in its eateries.

The pizza, now almost a staple diet in America but a relative newcomer in the second decade of the century, caught on, popularized by the American soldiers who had developed a passion for it while being stationed in Italy during World War I.

Soon Chicago would become famous as the pizza capital of the world and the inventor of the deep pocketed pan pizza, popularized by Pizzeria Uno, which is more of a pie than a pizza with traditional topping. The Cajun cooking and Mexican restaurants also added spice to the Chicago cuisine.

Then, in the 1960s, with the steady arrival of immigrants from the Subcontinent, Chicago was introduced to the spiciest cuisine.

Today, there are more than 50 restaurants in greater Chicago that serve food from the Indian subcontinent. Chicago has long ceased to be the meat and potato city or the "Hog Butcher for the World," as Carl Sandburg called it seven decades ago.

Chicago also has a Tibetan restaurant. Some of the better reviewed restaurants are listed below. Also included in the list is a Milwaukee restaurant and a restaurant across the state border in Indiana that are popular with the folks in Chicago. And keeping in mind that many Indians indeed enjoy spicy food in other cuisine, we also list a few Thai and Ethiopian restaurants. At the latter, using hands is a traditional way of enjoying the spicy cuisine. The food comes on a heap of sour flat breads -- very much like the dosas -- called Injeras. This is an exercise in communal eating. You tear a small part of Injera, and dig into not only what you have ordered but also the items ordered by other members in your party The restaurants reviewed by Zagat are marked ZR.

Addis Ababa(Wrigleyville). Considered by many to be one of the best non-American restaurants in Chicago, the Ethiopian eatery offers a welcome change for the lovers of spicy food who want to taste something different from Indian or Thai fare. Roasted lentils, garlicky chicken are some of the favorites.

3521 North Clark Street, Near Addison Avenue, Wrigleyville; (773) 929-9383.

Arun's (Irving Park). Many food critics as well as Fodor's call it one of the best Thai restaurants in America. Open for dinner only. Rice dumplings, and red snapper in a tamarind sauce are a big hit here.

4156 N Kedzie Avenue, between Irving Park Road and Montrose Road; (773) 539-1909.

Bukhara (Downtown/Loop) ZR. A no-nonsense restaurant, makes no great claims, so can't be disappointing. Zagat Review noted "warm decor" and a glass window into the kitchen make it "nice to watch" the chefs work at this "decent" but "nothing extraordinary" River North Indian with a "serviceable buffet at lunch."

2 E Ontario St (State St), Chicago, (312) 943-0188.

Dancing Ganesha (Milwaukee), ZR. Food for the eyes and food for the stomach: An off-beat restaurant that offers eclectic Indian food and art work. The name itself should say something about the place. Zagat Review said: 'Don't look for undistinguished buffets and Far East knickknacks at this rule-bending East Indian whose modestly priced regional fare is prepared by two female chefs; its contemporary good looks rely on rotating artwork by local and Chicago artists.'

1692-94 N Van Buren St (Brady St), Milwaukee, WI, 53202-2018 (414) 220-0202.

Gaylord India (Downtown/Loop). Fodor's Guide praises its "sultan-worthy feast." And Zagat notes that it is a "favorite" among area workers who enjoy "the best Indian buffet in town" at lunch and à la carte dinner creations that are "richer, subtler and more varied" than the competition.

678 N Clark St (Huron St), Chicago, (312) 664-1700.

Indian Garden (City Northwest, Downtown/Loop, Suburban Northwest), ZR. It is a big hit at all the three locations, a favorite with mainstream diners. As Zagat pointed out fans praise these Indian "standouts", with Streeterville residents particularly delighted to have a "much-needed ethnic" nearby. Many eaters find the lunch buffet one of the best treats in Chicago. Fodor's praises it for "creativity" and "a healthful orientation," and adds it has distinguished itself from many other Indian restaurants because of those factors.

855 E Schaumburg Rd (Plum Grove Ave), Schaumburg, IL 60194-3654 (773) 338-2929.

247 E Ontario St, 2nd fl (bet Fairbanks Ct & Michigan Ave), Chicago, (773) 338-2929.

2548 W Devon Ave (Rockwell Ave), Chicago, (773) 338-2929

Jaipur Palace (Downtown/Loop), ZR. The restaurant set in an elegant room receives high praise for its buffet spread; but late evening diners either find it an above average Indian restaurant or nothing special.

22 E Hubbard St (State St), Chicago, (312) 595-0911.

Klay Oven (Downtown/Loop) ZR. Not for those who are on a budget diet but free-spenders have lauded it for its "awesome" lunch buffet, and well-prepared food served by knowledgeable waiters. Zagat calls it one of "Chicago's best and its only haute Indian restaurant", adding it is "well worth the splurge"

414 N Orleans St (Hubbard St), Chicago, (312) 527-3999.

Mama Desta's Red Sea. Considered by many among the best Ethiopian restaurants in the Midwest. Like in other Ethiopian restaurants, here too, you use hands to tear the sour flat bread called Injera and use it to scoop up spicy vegetarian, fish and meat dishes. Doro Wat, a spicy chicken stew is popular. Hearty servings, says Fodor's Guide, offering a friendly warning: Come hungry.

3216 North Clark Street, Near Belmont Avenue, Wrigleyville, (773) 935-7561.

Moti Mahal (City Northwest, Diversey to Howard Bounded by I-90/94 to the West), ZR. The restaurants situated in the North Side and Wrigleyville are rather plain but frequent diners vote for them with their stomachs. ZR found out that they do have "consistently good food" and a lunch buffet that "can't be beat"; "heavenly naans" and "the best chicken tikka masala" are on hand to neutralize swipes at the "dive" decor.

1031-35 W Belmont Ave (Kenmore Ave), Chicago, (773) 262-2080.

2525 W Devon Ave (Western Ave), Chicago, (773) 262-2080.

Siam Café (Uptown). Don't be put off by the external appearance. Once you step into the restaurant, you will find it far bigger than you might have imagined it to be. One of the best bargains for your dollars in Chicago. Also, the food tends to be far more spicier than many other Thai restaurants.

4712 North Sheridian Road, Near Lawrence Dr, Uptown, (773) 769-6602.

Standard India (Diversey to Howard Bounded by I-90/94 to the West), ZR. The decor may be unappetizing but Zagat voters recommend "bargain-priced buffets" at lunch and dinner.

917 W Belmont Ave (Clark St), Chicago, (773) 929-1123.

Taj Mahal (Suburban Southwest), ZR. This little-known suburban southwest Indian restaurant may make a bigger splash now that it has a liquor license (wine and beer only); the few surveyors who've visited find it "excellent", Zagat notes, appreciate its budget-friendly lunch and dinner menus and say "too bad it's so far out."

14812 S La Grange Rd (bet 148th & 149th Sts), Orland Park, (708) 5800.

Tandoor (Indiana), ZR. Less than a hour's drive from Chicago center. Sophisticated Schererville Indian restaurant in a shopping center offering "an incredible bargain," Zagat notes; Daily lunch buffet; while "unexciting" to some, it's "essential" to others since it's "the only restaurant of its type in the area."

1535 Hwy 41 (30th St), Schererville, IN, 46375 (219) 865-9511.

Tibet (Lakeview). Mildly spiced dumplings and chicken curries. Casual atmosphere, the restaurant is not for those who are in a hurry. Average waiting time is about 20 minutes. Look around, you might find Richard Gere, the Hollywood star who has embraced Buddhism, dining -- with a large picture of the Dalai Lama looking down on the actor.

3913 N Sheridan Road, near Irving Park Road, (773) 261-6666.

Tiffin (City Northwest), ZR. Not a well-known restaurant till the other day, it is winning raves from Zagat surveyors who call it a "terrific, upscale setting"; they praise its "excellent" food, including a "wonderful cheap lunch buffet", and "attentive "service" with "extra touches" make this operation a "favorite."

2536 W Devon Ave (3 blocks west of Western Ave), Chicago, (773) 338-2143.

Udupi Palace, (City Northwest), ZR. Americans have some difficulty in accepting the palace part of the title, since this is a simple and elegant restaurant but once you are in, a treat of vegetarian dishes awaits. ZR says "ignore the decor [and] focus on the samosas" and "heavenly dosai".

2543 W Devon Ave (3 blocks west of Western Ave), Chicago, (773) 338-2152.

Viceroy of India (City Northwest, Suburban West). ZR. The venerable food guide Zagat notes that these Devon corridor and West Suburban restaurants receive plaudits for "spicy yet flavorful food", including "tandoori that kicks butt"; aggressiveness aside, these are "reliably good" spots that differ little from their nearby competitors, but please most patrons.

2520 W Devon Ave (bet California & Western Aves), Chicago, (630) 627-4411.

19 W 555 Roosevelt Rd (Highland Ave), Lombard, IL, (630) 627-4411.

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