It’s too cold. All you want to do is eat everything and sleep. And maybe go see Lady Bird. But Thanksgiving beckons, and you have to put actual pants on to visit family. The silver lining to traveling from Chicago is that you’ll always have some tasty bites to get you through the journey.
Flying Bite: O’Hare smells like stale farts. The only time the smell dissipates is when you have steaming hot food attacking your olfactory senses. Thank goodness for Rick Bayless’ storefronts in Terminal 1 and 3 to provide the ammo against the subtle stench of recycled air. Tortas Frontera’s menu is a parsed-down version of Xoco’s, with even the Xoco margarita available at the bar. Tortas, agua fresca, and guacamole are all readily available, and for those who don’t want a torta at all, tortas can be ordered without bread.
Now some may be morally offended with a torta being served sans bread. But honestly, the breadless sandwiches are way less messy to eat than the full torta. No sauce splattering on your carry-on from the bottom of your sandwich when you’re eating with a fork! Tortilla strips act as a replacement for bread, but there aren’t nearly enough to impede you inhaling your meal the same way that chewing the dense bread would (though, there are more tortilla chips than veggies in the bowl, so don’t expect a salad). And you will definitely need to inhale your meal, because the wait time between ordering your food and receiving it is not short, and you will probably have to eat and run at the same time to not miss boarding if you don’t want your seat mate to plot your murder for stanking up the whole row with tantalizing Mexican food for every minute of a 212-minute flight.
That being said, the rush is absolutely worth it. The flavors, the freshness, the quality of Rick Bayless establishments is what makes Bayless a household name in Chicago cuisine. Flying is already (ironically) the pits, so you might as well make a pit stop at the best food stand at O’Hare to make the trip a little better.
Train Bite: Buzzed on beer, but knowing I had an hour until the Metra stopped at my suburban hideaway, I was on the prowl in Union Station for something salty. I make my way to Gold Coast Dogs and right under “FRIES” reads “TAMALE.” $2.22 later, and I had myself a plastic wrapped thing-ma-bob. It looked like a longer, thinner version of a Twinkie. The filling is a meat mush that did hit the craving for something sodium-heavy, and it was a happy little snack for this Metra commuter. You’ll definitely need to add to your order if you’re taking the Amtrak for a further destination than the suburbs of Chicago. Better than an actual Gold Coast Dog? Guess you have to find out for yourself, especially since I didn’t snap a picture before taking the three bites necessary to polish off the thing.
When-you-have-given-up-on-visiting-family-and-instead-choose-to-spend-money-on-a-nice-dinner Bite: I’m not good at a lot of things: riding a bike, not ending my sentences in prepositions, and many more, but what I am most ashamed of is being unable to cook pasta. Boiling water isn’t difficult. Putting pasta in boiling water isn’t difficult. But somehow, some way, something goes wrong. I’ve resigned from trying, and luckily with Monteverde in town, I don’t have to go far for delicious pasta.
The ravioli comes out as a single huge dumpling over perfectly sautéed mushrooms. When you split it, the richest green goo comes out. The subtleness of the mushrooms is a foil to the saltiness of the ravioli, and the umami flavor is dense.
The arancini is highly recommended, but that’s just a general piece of advice in life—always order something fried. Monteverde’s version is obviously good as anything fried is, but what makes it great is the paired velvety sauce beneath the arancini.
The arrabbiata combines crunch and smooth sauce in one dish. There’s not much I can say about this dish except it was my favorite. Order it.
The fish dish was a sleeper hit. Filled with artichoke hearts and potatoes, the dish is hearty, but pales in comparison with the in-house-made pasta dishes. It was only when I was going through leftovers that I noticed how the sour broth brought a new dimension to the fish.
Don’t go to Monteverde if you’re not going to get dessert. That would be such a wasted opportunity. Just don’t do it. Our harvest sundae was not overpoweringly sweet and had multiple levels of texture and flavor, all the while without being pretentious.
For the quality of food being put out, Monteverde is not expensive. It’s about $15-$20 a plate, and our waitress succeeded in up selling, so we ordered five dishes that were good but also led to leftovers for a few days. For a pair of people though, two to three dishes is plenty of food, and the price tag would be the same as going out to eat at Ruby Tuesdays.
O’Hare T1 Gate B11, T3 K4, T5 M12
Every day, 5:30am-9pm for domestic terminals and 10am-9pm for international travelers
Gold Coast Dogs (or at least the one I went to)
225 Canal St, Chicago, IL 60606
Follow the scent of Auntie Anne’s pretzels, and bam, you’re there.
1020 W. Madison St.
T-F 5-10:30pm, Saturday 11:30am-10:30pm, Sunday 11:30am-9pm