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Unusual Suspects

The best food spots you haven't heard of.
Sunday Mar 04, 2007.     By Michael Nagrant
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Just when you've found the perfect, under-wraps eatery, Check, Please! or some intrepid reporter invades your joint. Rest assured, you don't have to endure long waits to get great grub. For every media buzz-happy locale there are four or five spots that retain their "hidden-gem" status. Here are a few of our favorite unusual suspects.

Trade your Vito & Nicks thin-crust for Candlelite Chicago's
Candlelite is so far north you'll feel like you're halfway to the North Pole, and a bite of its cracker-thin pizza crust is like Christmas morning for your mouth. The formerly film noir-style spot temporarily closed in 2004, but, thanks to a crop of regulars, reopened with an updated brick, dark wood and plasma screen-filled interior. The only old-school elements remaining include a neon martini glass sign and the signature pizza, which packs a saltine-like crunch and comes with fresh toppings like hand-chopped garlic and spicy sausage. While the savory pie is Candelite's thing, the garlic fries, served with a dash of red wine vinegar, will have you popping spuds like a madman.

Bypass Potbelly for a Loop lunch at Goodwin's
Located in the historic Lake Franklin complex, Goodwin's resides in one of the oldest post-Chicago fire buildings in the Loop. Propietor Mike Shepard, a calm presence in the center of the Loop lunchtime storm, serves up California- and Southwestern-inspired soups, sandwiches and garlicky guacamole. Find torpedo-size wraps stuffed with mesquite-roasted chicken breast, provolone and pico de gallo, and fat sandwiches like the Brighton, with Boars Head turkey breast, cranberry dressing and cream cheese…it's like portable Thanksgiving on thick slices of multigrain. Yep, it's all that and a bag of chips (which Goodwin's gives out for free along with a side of salsa).

Sidestep Semiramis for a Middle Eastern feast at Shiraz
Glass-tiled, carousel-style columns, carved wooden idols and baroque crystal chandeliers make for a cabaret-meets-French-bistro vibe at this Middle Eastern eatery. The expected endless supply of baba ganoush, kabobs and Jerusalem salad (dubbed Shirazi salad here) are quite exceptional. But Persian specialties like tadig (pan-caramelized rice topped with a savory stew), ash-e-reshteh (a creamy noodle soup infused with mint and a zing of lime) and fessenjena (thin chicken coated in a sweet and sour pomegranate walnut sauce) elevate this place above your average hummus and hookah spot. Don't miss the koobideh, a mix of ground beef, lamb and veal, which looks like a huge slab of Persian-spiced ribs.

Give India House a break by hitting up Khan BBQ Restaurant
If you're looking for the path to tandoori greatness but hoping to step away from Devon (a place that's close our heart), check out Khan BBQ Restaurant. You'll find yourself rubbing elbows with cabbies and bearded Muslims chowing down on chicken boti, a crispy, charred meat streaked with neon green, crushed pepper. Seekh kababs (skewered round cylinders of ground beef, onion and coriander) offer a crunchy outside and moist inside while karai gosht (a thick brown curry of braised lamb shank) comes rich and creamy, bathed in ghee, the traditional brown clarified butter used in Punjabi cuisine. Entrees cost a rock-bottom $6.50, and daal (a creamy concoction of spicy golden lentils) tacks a mere $3.50 to your total. Sop up every last morsel with blistered, caramelized naan.

More spots where you won't have to wait in line:

Skip Heaven on Seven and head to Lagniappe for a little of the big easy. If Lula Cafe is packed, the Caribbean and Puerto Rican fare at Winds Cafe will hit the spot.
Tired of Lalo's and Taqueria Moran? Try Taqueria La Ley for some pineapple-flecked pork tacos al pastor.
Skip Joy Yee's Noodles and Lao Sze Chuan and head over to Spring World for Chinese delights.


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