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Round-the-World Breakfasts

Morning meals like they make them over there.
Tuesday May 15, 2007.     By Michael Foreman
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Any foodie knows that our fair city has become a mecca of sumptuous international cuisines, yet some of us still find it hard to stray out of our comfort zones. Sure, we might grab some sushi at lunch or tapas for dinner, but we're probably least adventurous when comes to the most important meal of the day. So if your idea of a traditional ethnic breakfast involves French toast or Belgian waffles, dust off your passport, put on your pith helmet and read on.

Pho at Tank Noodle (Pho Xe Tang)
Call this steaming beef noodle soup known as pho (pronounced "fuh," not "foe") the Vietnamese answer to menudo. Rice noodles and beef submerged in a slow-cooked broth are served with fresh basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, jalapenos and a wedge of lime. Tank Noodle in Uptown (Pho Xe Tang in the mother tongue) dishes up nine different varieties, including tasty combinations of brisket, well-done flank, meatball, soft tendon and bible tripe. Though popular in the morning, pho is available here any time of day. Grab a bowl for $5.95-$6.95, and wash it down with a refreshing fruit smoothie for $3.50.

Blynais at Healthy Food Lithuanian Restaurant
Many folks poke fun at the name of this longstanding Bridgeport favorite, claiming that "healthy" refers to the portions here (or your size after eating them) and not any obvious medical benefit from its food. Jokes aside, hungry diners clamor for the sweet blynais ($6.50-$7.50), cheese-filled pancakes topped with your choice of strawberries, blueberries, peaches, bananas, cinnamon apples or cranberries. Others swear by the kugeli ($6.95), a dense, baked-then-fried pudding made from grated potatoes and bacon bits and finished with a side of sour cream. Savor both while surrounded by genuine art and artifacts from the old country.

Irish Breakfast at Johnny O'Hagan's
This hearty plate probably comes closest to a typical American breakfast, but with some notable differences. You'll recognize sausage, bacon rashers, eggs, fried potatoes and toast, alongside bachelor's beans (baked beans to you and me), black pudding (blood sausage), white pudding (like black minus the blood) and a slice of grilled tomato. It's as authentic an Irish "fry up" as you'll see this side of the pond, which comes as no surprise, knowing that the pub's handcrafted bar was flown in from the Emerald Isle. Gorge on a full portion for $9.95, or grab a half for $6.95.

Halwa Puri at Tahoora Sweets and Bakery
Devon's Tahoora whips up confections so sought-after that folks regularly ship them back to family in Bombay. But come Saturday and Sunday mornings, crowds mob the spacious bakery to grab a tray of savory halwa puri. For a paltry $3.50, that tray comes loaded with three puffy puris (fried Indian pancakes), curried chickpeas, spicy potatoes, raita (a cool yogurt sauce), a sinus-clearing hot pickle and halwa, a sticky, semi-sweet semolina pudding. Wind down your colorful trip to the subcontinent with a cup of falooda, an exquisite blend of milk and pistachio ice cream poured over vermicelli noodles and sprinkled with basil seeds ($3).

Chilaquiles at Cuatro
Chilaquiles are reputedly a cure for la cruda, or hangover to us gringos, but don't wait till you've tied one on to taste this classic Mexican staple. The chic Nuevo Latino spot Cuatro serves its version once a week at Sunday brunch: crispy tortilla chips doused in a fire-roasted tomatillo sauce, capped with creme fraiche, fresco cheese and a pinto bean sauce. Toss in two eggs how you like 'em and your choice of grilled adobado chicken ($10) or prime ribeye slices ($12), and you'll forget every lackluster breakfast burrito you've ever choked down. Then order a $4 glass of forbidden fruit sangria, and finish off la cruda once and for all.


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