The Dish: Vegan Portobello, Sausage Burger at Native Foods in Chicago

Vegan portobello sausage burger

Resident Foodies say: If you like vegan food, you will absolutely love the vegan fare at Native Foods in Chicago. It tastes so good, you can’t even tell it is vegan food.

Our favorite dish is the vegan portobello, sausage burger. You can select the side, and tonight we chose the irresistible sweet potato fries with chipotle dipping sauce. Chef Tanya describes the dish on the menu: “Juicy grilled portobellos, our homemade Native Sausage Seitan, caramelized onions, pomodoro, sweet roasted garlic, creamy pumpkin seed pesto and mayo.” The portobello is the star of the sandwich. And the sweet potato fries are sweet and savory, a delectable combination.

This weekend, Native Foods will have a special item–drunken tofu banh mi sandwiches! Can’t wait.

The Dish: Balena’s black squid ink pasta (Tagliolini Nero), with crab, sea urchin, chile; and heritage polenta with tomato sauce and Dante

heritage polenta with tomato sauce and Dante

Arugula with Dante

Resident Foodies say: We tried out the new restaurant Balena (meaning whale), the next in the line of Boka group restaurants. The restaurant has a rustic, but chic decor, with open beams and modern lighting in a spacious room that combines a bar and dining area with a very open feeling.

Chef Chris Pandel has put together an impressive menu of homemade Italian pastas and pizza, which are meant to be shared. We tried the black squid ink pasta (Tagliolini Nero), with crab and sea urchin. Gotta love black pasta, especially when homemade! The crab and sea urchin were delicious, too. The dish was a winner, although didn’t need the basil.

Perhaps even more yummy was the Heritage Polenta with butter, Dante cheese, and tomato sauce. Putting tomato sauce on polenta is a match made in heaven–providing a tasty comfort food that is downright irresistible. The arugula salad to start the meal was also pretty amazing. Our only other quibble is that the basket of “Peter’s bread” (Walnut Bread, Ramp Crostini, Roast Garlic Semolina, Lemon Pepper Challah) that is homemade and heavily touted by the server was not complimentary. What other Italian restaurant charges $5.00 for bread?

Bottom line: Balena is even better than the hype. We loved it.

Bar Toma pizza in Chicago

Resident Foodies say: We hit up Chef Tony Mantuano‘s new Bar Toma, a hop, skip, and a jump away from his renowned Spiaggia restaurant on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. Bar Toma is known for its small Italian fare, plus wood oven pizzas.

Yesterday, we ordered the Smoke and Cure pizza–Vermont artisan pepperoni, mozzarella, and smoked garlic. The crust is thick at the edge, but thin inside. The wood burning oven gives the crust a great texture and nice char. We really enjoyed it and would definitely come back again.

The atmosphere at Bar Toma is warm and inviting–and the layout is pretty spacious for a bar in this area. We had no trouble getting seats at the bar on Thursday night, and, although we had reservations for a table, there did not appear to be a long wait.

The Dish: St. Patrick’s Day cupcake

Resident Foodies say: March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, the occasion when everyone is Irish for a day. In Chicago, the City dyes the river green and holds its annual parade at noon, probably the biggest in the country. This year the Chicago river will be dyed green at 10 a.m. and the parade will start at noon.

Although green beer is usually the beverage of choice, we are opting for a tall glass of milk and this decadent chocolate cupcake, with buttery frosting, topped with chocolate and green-dyed sprinkles and, of course, a shamrock. The cake is mouth-watering moist, with just the right amount of chocolate to savor. Partaking of this delectable creation is not for the faint of heart. It’s gooey, chocolatey, and so unbelievably good. Erin go bragh!

The Dish: Panera Bread pecan roll

Resident Foodies say: Panera Bread is one of our favorite “fast food” places. Their bread is yummy, and their stock is on a tear these days. Today we picked up this glazed pecan roll, baked to perfection.

What we like most: The color of the bread matches perfectly the color of the pecans. This is an incredible feat–no doubt the result of much testing and perfecting in the oven. The combination of pecans and soft bread gives the roll an incredible texture, softness with a nice crunch. And who can forget the sugary glaze that coats the roll–and, afterwards, your hands–with guilt-laden gooeyness.