One of the joys of living in Chicago is the simple fact that there is no dearth of good restaurants. For those who love authentic ethnic foods, Chicago offers a panoply of cuisines, from Peruvian, Argentinian, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Polish, Croatian, Greek, Swedish, German, Turkish and more. Sean and I had not visited Argyle Street together, and it was an adventure to finally try some new items while also revisiting some old standbys.
Usually when I’ve been in the Argyle Street area, it has either been to a Chinese Herb shop, a Chinese Bakery or to the grocery stores in the area, while running errands. It was nice to be able to browse a little.
Our first stop was lunch. I’ve heard very good things about Sun Wah BBQ from friends and an uncle who had eaten there. I used to see their BBQ ducks hanging from the window when they were on Argyle, and my mother used to stop in to buy Char Siu (BBQ pork). They have since moved to a large, spacious and updated space on Broadway. For as long as it is available, The Chicago Tribune
has an excellent article about the restaurant.
We arrived at around 11:00 AM and you can see from this photo that the area is spacious. This only accounted for about 30% of the floor space, as most people were seated away from the windows and towards the back. By the time we left, the place was fairly packed, which was not bad for a Wednesday lunch crowd.
We ordered the Beijing Duck Dinner, an incredible value that included a whole duck, duck fried rice, duck soup, bao (for the duck), and a fresh raspberry sorbet, all for $32.
The duck is delivered on a cutting board, and the server will slice the duck in front of you. He slices most of the duck off of the carcass and places the pieces, including skin, on the plate. Soon after, the waiter or waitress brings the bao (bun), hoisin sauce (plum sauce), and vegetables, and you can make yourself a duck “sandwich” — it is almost like a taco except it uses bao.
Our lunch was fabulous, and hands down the best duck either of us has ever had. Even better, despite only a $16 tab for each of us for all this food (sorry, I forgot to get a photo of the generous portions of duck fried rice), we still had enough to take home for a second meal, so essentially we had a complete meal for four people at $8 per person.
From outside you can see the cooks working on the duck.
We needed to feed the meter, and stopped into one of the gift shops, where I am still thinking about this jacket that I saw with the Mandarin collar. It was lovely and in my favorite colors but I decided not to buy it.
We went on a search for my preserved plums. I buy these every so many years or so, and of course I can never remember the name of it. The first grocery store we went into was Broadway Supermarket at 4879 N. Broadway. We walked up and down the aisles to no avail. I ended up asking someone about them, he looked in the same aisle we had just been in and concluded they didn’t have the plums I was looking for.
We did find some interesting teas.
Still plum-less, we walked north on Broadway and ended up at Tai Nam. We quickly found my plums. These are seasoned with licorice and orange peel, and are moist, not hard and dried, and they contain the pit. I bought 3 bags. The bags look large, but each piece is triple wrapped so there are actually less plums in the bag than seems apparent. Tai Nam was very busy, and in general there was an air of people bustling about doing their shopping.
Incidentally, for anyone who ever had these plums and is thinking, “Now I know where to go buy them!” — don’t go rushing out quite yet. After I had finished this blog article, I decided to do some research on the plum brand. What prompted me to do this was that I know for a fact that the plums I’ve had like this in the past were not this brand. I was trying to get information on the different brands of this type of plum, when I found out that the Texas Department of Health Services issued a warning not to eat certain brands of imported dried plums due to elevated levels of lead. And yes, right there on that list was this particular brand of dried plum. You can see this memorandum issued in October of 2009 by clicking this link. I must have eaten about 5 or 6 of them. Since they are quite tasty, I’m lucky I hadn’t eaten more.
Another stop was for a Ba Le. We went to Ba Le Sandwiches, on North Broadway and Argyle. I purchased a BBQ pork ba le. The sandwich was as good as I had heard they are. Mine had BBQ pork, cilantro, lemongrass, and hot peppers. Although Vietnamese, it was like Thai food meets the French Baguette. This very substantial sandwich was only $3.25.
Another item I picked up there was the Khoa Mi, a dessert made of sticky rice, red bean, coconut milk and bananas, and wrapped in a banana leaf.
Next was the Chiu Quon Bakery. I’ve gone to both the bakery in Chinatown South, and this one, and their baked goods still looked great and the place was busy. This is a melon cookie that I picked up. When I was an undergrad, I used to have an addiction to these melon cakes (Lo pau bam). I still laugh about the story one of my friends told me about the melon they were growing in their back yard. At one point, it looked like a watermelon, and a kid trespassed and stole the melon, running down the street with it. He took a wintermelon, which needs to be cooked to be used. We were all amused at what a surprise this kid got when he cut open his bounty and had no idea what he ended up with.
I While at Chiu Quon, I also picked up Char Siu Bao, both the baked one and the steamed type. These are buns with cooked, seasoned BBQ pork inside.
This being Chicago, our last stop was over to an Austrian Cafe and Bakery, Julius Meinl. What is there not to love about a city that can transport you from parts of Asia to an Austrian Cafe, a short car ride away, to Lincoln and Montrose?
Sean ordered tea and the Chocolate Decadence.
I ordered a mocha espresso latte and a passion fruit tart.
We enjoyed the dinner at Sun Wah BBQ so much that we both look forward to returning there. It’s too bad that so often, a person’s only experience with duck is a greasy mess, which understandably leaves them with no desire to try duck again. I’ve had duck at people’s homes, I’ve prepared it myself, and I’ve had it at several restaurants. I have to say that Sun Wah’s duck is the without a doubt, the best I’ve had.
Sun Wah BBQ
closed on Thursday
5039 N. Broadway
Tai Nam Food Market
4925 N Broadway
Ba Le Sandwiches
5014 N Broadway
Chiu Quon Bakery
1127 W Argyle Street