Pho 777

1063-65 West Argyle,
Chicago IL 60640
773-561-9909

Additional Comments: Closed on Tuesdays

When in Chicago, people think of having Deep Dish Pizza, or Italian  Beef  Sandwiches, or dine in one of the many fine restaurants Chicago has to offer. For us, all we wanted was a bowl of hot Pho. I guess travelling in a foreign land and eating food that is so far removed from your culture makes you really crave some simple comfort foods. Noodle soups are a huge part of our culture, and this was the one thing we craved more than anything else. Our first meal in Chicago was hence a very unlikely one – Pho in Pho 777, a little restaurant in Little Vietnam.

This wasn’t our first choice of restaurant in Little Vietnam. Our host, SY wanted to bring us to Tank, a restaurant she had eaten at. Sadly, it was closed, and it was only a couple of days later that we realized that it had, (excuse the pun), Tanked. Turns out they had failed a health inspection and was forced to close down.

But back to Pho 777. All 3 of us had the Special Pho, which was a bowl of pho noodles with lots of different cuts and variations of beef – tripe, beef balls, sliced beef etc. The broth was very tasty and the noodles were perfectly cooked. This was a very satisfying bowl of Pho. Our one and only complaint would be that they didn’t have any fried calamari on the menu!!! Our all-time favourite Vietnamese restaurant, Viet in London serves this wonderful out of this world fried calamari, and we so wanted to have some form of that dish, but alas, they don’t serve it at Pho 777. (Now, obviously, we’re really nitpicking here…)

Service: 5.5/10
Food: 7/10

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Wimpy’s Grill

On the corner of Hillsborough Road and Hicks Street
(919) 286-4380
http://www.wimpysgrillnc.com/

Wimpy’s is a small little take away almost in the middle of nowhere, in a town that’s quite in the middle of nowhere itself. They specialize in old fashioned style hot dogs and hamburgers, and one of their burgers, the Garbage Burger, was featured on one episode of Man vs Food. The Garbage Burger is a burger monstrosity, with more beef and cheese and toppings and thus, fats, than one should ever consume in a week, which sounds just perfect if you ask me.

 

We didn’t order the Garbage Burger, going for a far more sensible option, and built our own burger. We had a cheeseburger with some classic toppings like onions, lettuce, and of course, bacon. The burger was absolutely delicious. There was nothing wimpy about the burger. The beef patty was nicely marinated and it was a beautiful, sloppy creation. I could eat this all day if I had unlimited calories to spare.

We got for ourselves a small side of French Fries, and they were one of the best fries we’ve ever had. Clearly, they don’t conform to our modern day expectations of the way healthier food should be prepared, since they probably use animal fat to fry their fries in, but oh boy were they tasty.

This place is extremely popular among locals, and among students at Duke University. You’ll definitely need a car to get there, and a very good reason to be in the neighborhood in the first place, but when you do, you’ll definitely be blown away by their awesome burgers and fries.

Service: NA
Food: 7/10

Nosh

2812 Erwin Rd, 
Durham, NC 27705
(919) 383-4747

When we told our friends we were going to Duke University to visit a friend, and would be staying there for 4 days, their first reactions were ‘but there’s nothing to do in Duke!!’ Yeah, we know, there’s absolutely nothing in Duke, but that’s not the point. We really wanted to visit a friend of A’s, who’s in Duke starting on her Masters, and we just wanted to chill out and relax for a while after soaking up the sun in Orlando.

They were all right. There is nothing to do in Duke. Absolutely nothing. The Duke chapel is quite pretty, but that just takes you half an hour at a stretch to visit. There’s a large-ish gift shop for Duke memorabilia, but that too takes not more than half an hour. We managed to entertain ourselves for a full day going shopping in their mall (which was absolutely empty because we went on a weekday so it was lovely being able to shop without throngs of crazy shoppers). 4 days in Duke is quite plenty to see everything, and that’s putting it mildly. However, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in Duke, mostly due to the wonderful company we had. A’s friend CM was a great host, driving us around to explore the area, and introducing us to her friends, who were a really nice bunch of people to hang out with. We know she’s in good hands while she spends the rest of the academic year in a foreign land.

One of the places they brought us to was Nosh (nORsh is how we would say it, nAHsh as the Americans would). This is a cool little café that serves simple bites like sandwiches, breakfast items, and soups. We ordered our food and managed to find a table to sit the 6 of us. All around the dining room are a variety of games for customers to play with while they wait for their food. (Very good idea in fact, it frees up to kitchen to take their time with orders, so food can be prepared in a less stressful environment.) We took the scrabble set, and played Speed Scrabble! The game works like scrabble, but instead of all players working on one board, each player has his own board, and the first to use all their tiles to form words wins. It was a blast!

 

Back to the food. K had a breakfast burrito with eggs, cheese, and a side of potatoes. This was quite filling, very tasty, and the hint of curry in the potatoes was very nice. There were some egg shells embedded in the burrito unfortunately, which isn’t the most pleasant thing to bite into. They’re a pain to remove once you’ve bitten into them.

 

A had buttermilk pancakes. They were HUGE. Each pancake was the size of her face, and they were so thick and filling that one pancake would have been more than enough for her. Luckily, they were quite good. The pancakes were light and fluffy, but one still wonders how anyone would be able to finish a large stack of these things, as they start to become quite one-dimensional (read: boring) after a while. Bring me some bacon!!

Service: NA
Food: 6.5/10

Bubba Gump

Bubba Gump is famous for shrimp, and has built itself around the movie Forrest Gump. It’s a very casual, friendly place for some wonderful shrimp dishes, and is found in many cities across the USA.

 

We ordered a bucket of Cajun shrimp to share. These shrimps come with the shell on, but are so yummy and fresh that we really didn’t bother peeling them very much (but that’s just us, you should probably peel them if you don’t like eating prawn shells). There’s a little heat in the sauce, which adds a ton of excitement to the dish. There’s also the garlic sauce available, and we love that too (a little too salty though).

 

One of the things that caught K’s eye was Gumbo, which is a rich soup served with rice. It’s apparently a southern classic, and K first heard about it when Carla prepared it on Top Chef. It’s not the most amazing soup we’ve had, in fact, it doesn’t even come close, and we’re probably not going to ever have it again.

 

In all we went to Bubba Gump for lunch a couple of times. One of the things A always orders is the Scampi, which is a linguine dish with shrimp, in a butter sauce with tomatoes and capers. The sauce isn’t too rich, but if you do the sensible thing and ask for a lighter sauce (so they use less butter in the cooking) it tastes even better. Yes, you Americans should think about your health a lot more; plus, more butter doesn’t always equate to more taste. It’s a very simple dish, but is done so well. The shrimp are always perfectly cooked and remain moist and juicy, and the pasta is also cooked very well. A isn’t a fan of capers, but they add a little saltiness to the dish, and go so well with the shrimp. A slice of garlic bread is served with the scampi. K loves the garlic bread at Bubba Gump, because not only does it have garlic on the toast, there’s a nice amount of cheese on it as well. (It should come as no surprise that A, on the other hand, hates the garlic bread.)

 

One of the mains that K tried was this dish that’s basically a bucketful of assorted seafood. The lobster claw was quite disappointing – especially so since we just came from Boston, where we had awesomely fresh lobster at Quincy Market, and the most fantastic lobster dish in Atlantic Fish Company, the best restaurant in Boston. There was no way the lobster at Bubba Gump could ever impress us, so it’s really not their fault. The other assorted seafood like fried shrimp was all decent, but not the best way to showcase the seafood, as the batter was quite thick.

 

One thing on their menu that’s worth trying is the Shrimp Po Boy. This is on the sandwich section, and is basically a lot of shrimp loaded into a roll. This comes with some fries (very yummy) and coleslaw (average), and tastes awesome. It doesn’t come with any sauce, but somehow the juiciness of the shrimp ensures that the sandwich doesn’t taste too dry.

Since the concept of Bubba Gump is based around the movie Forrest Gump, sometimes the servers will come around and quiz you on your knowledge of the movie. Some of the questions we got were “Which actor played the role of Forrest?”, “Momma used to say ‘Life is like ___’”, “What was Forrest’s favourite drink?” and “Stupid is _____”. Even though K watched the movie ages ago, amazingly, he could answer most of the questions thrown at him!

Service: 7.5/10
Food: 7/10

Fish Bones

First up, let’s say that as compared to other restaurants in USA we’ve been to, service is a bit of a mess here. The servers are a little scatterbrained and slow, and maybe it was our location, but they hardly swung by our table at all, and we really struggled to get their attention throughout our meal. Judging by the numerous awards they’ve put up on their walls around the reception area, you’d expect much better service.

 

Portions here are the largest that we’ve ever seen in the whole of USA. Our starter of garlic bread was 5 massive slices of bread, served on an enormous plate. Unfortunately, there was hardly any garlic in their garlic bread. The slices weren’t even buttered well. Our other starter of bbq sauce prawns was puzzling. The prawns were stone cold, and served with bbq sauce on the sides. After struggling to get the attention of one of the servers, we asked if they’d mixed up our order, but they said that they hadn’t – their bbq sauce prawns were just that: cold prawns with bbq sauce. The prawns weren’t that much of a hit – there was a weird seasoning going on, and the bbq sauce was very necessary to distract us from that strange seasoning. This was a very dodgy start to the meal.

Fish Bones prides themselves on their excellent fish, and aged steaks, so that was what we ordered.

 

While we waited for our mains, we were served the accompaniments to our main courses – a portion of salad large enough to be a meal for one, and a whole loaf of bread, large enough for an entire family of 4. The salad was slightly overdressed, and since A hates olives, she barely touched hers. The size of the accompaniments was just shocking, and I doubt anyone would be able to finish an entire meal as it was presented to us.

 

A’s main was the catch of the day, a grilled seabass, served with some rice and vegetables. The fish was cooked quite nicely – it was fresh, moist and tender. Seabass is that kind of oily fish that retains its moisture well, so it would be quite shocking to be served a dry seabass. What was shocking about this seabass though, was that the skin was very poorly cooked. Firstly, there were many scales left on the fish skin, and it was chewy and rubbery. Perhaps Americans don’t eat the skin of their fishes, but we still find it such a shame that such a wonderful part of the fish was neglected.

 

K’s main was a steak, with a baked potato. We realize that it may not look so in the photograph, but that was the single largest portion of baked potato we have ever seen, and the size of that steak was also staggering. It would honestly have been enough for 2 people, that steak. Having said that, the steak was cooked perfectly. It was absolutely, hands down, the best steak K’s had in a very long time. It was moist on the inside, and there was a nice amount of caramalised fat on the edge to give it more flavour and texture. The seasoning was also spot on.

We left Fish Bones, after a very inconsistent meal, incredibly full. We both agreed that the steak was awesome, awesome, awesome, but they were let down by their handling of the fish. Plus, starters weren’t great. Overall, the whole place needs a revamp, and they should stop resting on their laurels. The décor is incredibly dated, the seats are falling apart and uncomfortable, and service needs to be kicked up a few notches. Till then, stick to the steaks when you’re there, and ask to be seated in a brighter area in the restaurant where they might be more likely to spot you frantically waving about at them.

Service: 6/10
Food: 6/10 for the fish, 8/10 for the steak, 7/10 overall

Thai Thani

The Thai government seems very intent on ensuring the quality of Thai food outside Thailand. There’s a website with a list of Thai restaurants in London run by some government agency, and they’ve given star ratings to the restaurants on that list. (Incidently, our favourite Thai restaurant in London, Addie’s Thai Café, got a 5 star rating by that website!) Thai Thani has also been given the same stamp of approval by the Thai government, (actually, we’re not sure if it’s awarded by the Thai government, but whoever it is, it’s definitely something very official sounding) and was something we were looking forward to going to when we were in Orlando.

 

We first went there for a very late lunch, so the restaurant was almost empty. Having eaten practically nothing the entire day, we ordered, surprise surprise, a lot of food. First up were the fried calamari, very tasty, but had too much batter for us to properly taste the calamari. The other starter we ordered was stuffed chicken wings. These were superb. The stuffing was juicy and meaty, and the Thai sweet chili dip was awesome. The Tom Yum soup was also one of the best we’ve had, and overflowing with mushrooms.

 

We loved the Pad Kee Mao at Addie’s Thai Café in London, so this was definitely one main we wanted to have in Thai Thani. The version here is very tasty, but a little underwhelming as compared to the whack-in-your-face strong, bold flavours of the Pad Kee Mao we’ve grown to love in Addie’s. There wasn’t a lot of heat as well, but perhaps we should have emphasized more strongly to the kitchen that we wanted our food ass-kickingly hot.

 

The final dish we ordered was the Weeping Tiger, another dish we order all the time at Addie’s. This version wasn’t served in a sizzling hot plate, but there was a staggeringly huge amount of beef on the plate it was quite a shock to our (by now quite full) system. The beef was very nicely cooked, but we really missed the sizzling plate that we’ve gotten used to having this dish served in.

Overall we were very happy with this meal. Food in Orlando isn’t very interesting, as the city is geared almost entirely for tourists. We’re not sure if any people actually live in Orlando, as it just seems like housing=hotels all around us. We were in Universal Studios a couple of days later, and we actually, believe it or not, walked nearly the entire length of International Drive down south, back to Thai Thani for dinner. It took us probably about 2 and a half hours, and was quite unnecessary, since there’s a direct bus that will cover that same distance in under half an hour, but we wanted some exercise before another feast, so we took the long and tiring way.

This time round, we made sure to ask if our server was Thai, and emphasized that we were familiar with Thai cuisine and flavours, and wanted her to tell the kitchen to prepare our food in the way the Thais have it. Our second meal there turned out to be as memorable, if not more memorable than our first. So make sure, if you find yourself at Thai Thani, to not hold back, and demand for the full, most authentic experience, and sit back and enjoy the meal.

Service: 7.5/10
Food: 7/10

Bulgogi Brothers

Address: Myeongdong
Directions: From the catholic cathedral in Myeongdong, head down the slope towards the main shopping area of Myeongdong. Bulgogi Brothers will be on your right just at the bottom of the slope.

Bulgogi Brothers is a very popular place for barbecue. They use electric heating, and serve their food in a posh-ish restaurant, so it’s quite the choice for dating couples. In fact, their beef patties come in heart shapes!

They only serve beef in Bulgogi Brothers, and since beef is kind of considered a more atas meat as compared to pork, prices there are accordingly more expensive than at other more traditional places. The quality of the beef is excellent. Every thing is very well cut and marinated, and the side dishes are pretty good, though refills don’t seem possible (or maybe it was just because we were too shy to ask).

We ordered a Yukhwei (probably the wrong spelling) on top of our assorted cuts of barbecueable beef. Yukhwei is a beef tartare with sweet pear which we fell in love with when we first tried it in Koba, so this was one of the things we wanted to try in Korea. The version at Bulgogi Brothers is fantastic. The dish is a little sweet, from the pear and the sauce. The beef is icy cold, and the pear and cucumber slices give the dish a crisp, clean taste. It was a lovely and refreshing dish.

Service: 7/10
Food: 7/10