Monday, April 23, 2018

RC's Grill

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
Mexican Diner Food in Melrose Park

It's time to add Mexican diner food into the many genre's of Mexican cuisine that are out there. Mexican Diner food is pretty common in Chicagoland and my guess is everywhere else where there's a heavy Mexican population. I'm not talking about places like Dove's. I'm referring to blue collar breakfast spots that feature all the regular menu items you see on a diner menu as well as Mexican options. Nothing too crazy as far as the food just stuff like tacos, burritos, chilaquiles and so forth. Today's stop is a great example of the type of place I'm talking about. It's called RC's Grill and it sits in the bowels of Melrose Park. I'd never heard of it until I was driving but the signs caught my eye.

Locals Favorite in Melrose Park, IL

The mention of tortas and flautas was intriguing enough to stop in one morning when I was fighting jet lag after a trip to Europe. It was the crack of dawn but RC's was up and running as it's almost always open with the exception of a few hours each day. RC's is interesting in that the employees who fit the description of an all night diner waitress perfectly, are all white. Yet almost all of the clientele on my two visits were black. So I'm not sure where the Mexican portion of the menu comes in but it's quite possible it's from the owner (RC?) himself. I always like to try specialties of the house at whatever type of restaurant I'm at. RC's lets their customers know they have a couple specials worth trying.

a peek inside 

Both the torta and flautas are pictured in a sign above the grill and that's what I was there for. They make mention that both the sandwich and also the rolled tacos are specialties from the city of Jerez which is a city in Zacatecas. Lot's of the city's Mexican population comes from Zacatecas so no surprise. My first trip in I was told the flautas weren't ready so I tried the torta. This was one of those times when them not having what you wanted was an actual good thing. This torta was the real deal.

Pork Sirloin Torta Sandwich at RC's Grill 

This sandwich had two thin yet juicy patties of pork that were lightly fried on the flattop. Whatever oil it was they were fried in it really gave the pork some great flavor. Toppings were raw onion, tomato, pickled jalapenos, and avocado. The bread was fresh and crunchy. The sum of it all together made for one of the better tortas I've tried in the Chicagoland area. A great sandwich and a deal at just $5.95.

The insides 

Since they mention the flautas with the torta I had to go back and try them which I eventually did. Unfortunately they weren't as big of a hit as the sandwich. Flautas are little rolled tacos that are fried and lots of the time they fry them ahead and that's not something I'm fond of. Because they're rolled so small they dont lose much crispness but they also dont have that fresh out of the fryer crunch. These came loaded with lettuce, tomato, and cotija cheese which is common but the pickled carrots were way too mushy and they were missing the pickled jalapenos in the picture. Just not my style.

Flautas Estilo Jerez at RC's Grill 

Of course I had to try a taco too. The tacos at almost all of these diners with Mexican portions to the menu are most always made the way they do them here. That's with lettuce, tomato, and cheese. I dont prefer my tacos this way but I can enjoy one now and then. These weren't the best but they weren't bad either. Just a nice option to have if you're in the area and starving at 5:30 in the morning.

Steak Taco at RC's Grill 

RC's Grill
145 N 25th Ave
Melrose Park, IL 60160
(708) 865-2800

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Biscuit Man

-Weekend Brunchin'

One thing I'll always love about Chicago is our never ending choices in restaurants. Even for someone like me it's truly a pipe dream to think you could try them all. So with that there are spots that don't shoot onto my radar immediately. Take Biscuit Man for example. After learning about it through Nick Kindelsperger at the Trib I forgot about it only to have google refresh my memory when I recently went searching for Biscuits & Gravy. The Biscuit Man is a restaurant within a bar called The Long Room.

Locals Favorite in Lakeview

The Long Room sits on Irving Park road just West of Ashland. It's feature as you might guess is the long bar that extends from front to back. Right in the middle to the left of where you entered sits Biscuit Man. It's helmed by Chef Zeeshan Shah who hails from Albany Park in Chicago. According to the restaurants website making biscuits is a passion of Chef Shah. Since Biscuit Man is it's own thing you walk up to their window where you place your order and pay before finding a table to wait. Should be easy to find a table bc as mentioned the bar is long and has lots of seats. When we think biscuits we usually associate them with breakfast but Biscuit Man does more than morning food.

Fried Chicken Biscuit at Biscuit Man

The wife got a white meat fried chicken biscuit that they let you add stuff onto. Pickles and aioli were the additions. This was a good chicken biscuit though maybe not good enough to dethrone the current Chicago Chicken Biscuit Champ at The Roost. Though that doesn't mean Biscuit Man aint worth your time. He most definitely is. In my opinion the reason to visit is the biscuit and gravy. I didn't forget the "s" in biscuits. It's one big housemade biscuit. Which definitely passes the fluffy test. It's topped with a wonderful gravy (choice of bacon/mushroom) and comes with the option to add an egg which is the right thing to do. Man I'll tell you this was good enough to be loved below the Mason Dixon line. It tasted more like something I'd find in Nashville than Chicago. It was indeed a winner.

Biscuit and (Bacon) Gravy at Biscuit Man

The Biscuit Man
1612 W Irving Park Rd #3
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 665-8210
Website

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Art's Drive-In

-The Sammy's of Chi

I'd wondered about Art's Drive-In, the restaurant adjacent to Stanley's, for a long time before trying it. I also waited a long time to post about it bc my visit here came at least 3 maybe 4/5 years ago. Since my visit they recently celebrated an anniversary that was either something like 50 or 75 years. Impressive bc I think if I asked 10 Chicagoan's I know whether or not they've ever been to Art's 9.5 out of 10 would say no. But if you asked them if they've ever been to Stanley's Fruits across the street 8 or 9 out of 10 would say yes. Art's is the definition of old school. I remember lots of spots like Art's growing up. Most of which are long gone. Like the rest of them did Art's opens extra early (5am).

Locals Favorite at North and Elston

Aside from the fact I'm pretty much interested in trying everywhere at least once it was the proclaim of having the best steak sandwich that really intrigued me. I love a good steak sandwich though they're not easy to find. To me the best cut of beef for a steak sandwich is probably skirt steak and Art's grills up an 8 ounce piece for their steak sandwich. Granted it was years ago this is the type of place that doesn't change much so I'm confident in saying it was a tasty steak sandwich. I do remember it being a tad bit chewy but that was bc it was a pretty thick piece of meat. It came marinated in a typical Greek sauce that really comes out when the fire hits it. Not a bad choice if going to or from Stanley's Fruits and you need something quick to consume that's not fast food.

 Steak Sandwich at Art's Drive-In

Art's Drive-In
1333 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60642
(773) 489-0099

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Spice Room

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Indian Cuisine in Logan Square

If there's one cuisine the city of Chicago is lacking in - Indian food might be it. Pretty much every single memorable Indian meal I've had has come in a place other than Chicago. In fact the best Indian food I've ever had came in the Vietnamese vacation town of Hoi An. That said there's been a few openings of late that have improved the city of Chicago's game when it comes to Indian food.

Locals Favorite in Logan Square 

The Spice Room opened up shop last year on Armitage in Logan Square. I remember hearing somewhere that the owners behind it are the same family behind Rangoli on North ave. Not surprising as Rangoli is widely regarded by many as the city's best Indian restaurant. Just like Rangoli the dining room at The Spice Room has been packed. I think you can attribute part of that to the fact it's a BYOB and the area it's in really likes it BYOB's. The other thing that can contribute to it always being packed is the fresh food they're making. One thing I have noticed in my 3 or 4 visits to Spice Room is the freshness of the food itself. Specifically the curry sauces and samosas seen below.

Samosas at Spice Room

Speaking of things Chicago doesn't have the samosa is high on my list. Lot's of cities and suburbs have spots that specialize in samosas but Chicago doesn't have anything like that. That said the ones at The Spice Room are damn tasty to the point where it brought back memories of the ones I ate that made me love the dish in the first place. The "Indian empanadas" were definitely fried to order with a nice smooth and also spicy potato mix waiting inside. Onto the curries. They're pretty damn good. Not good enough to make me forget memorable curries I've had outside of Chicago but good enough to go back for more when the hankering hits. The spicy options are legitimately spicy. Make sure to order some of their fresh garlic naan for dipping. All in all I'm happy to have SR near me.

Curries at The Spice Room

The Spice Room
2906 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 360-8689
Website

Friday, April 13, 2018

Rice N Bread

-Grubbing in Chicago  
Korean Diner Food in Wrigleyville

Baseball is back! My Cubs are once again looking like contenders (I dont care about the slow start). What's looking a bit different these days is Wrigleyville. Lots of new buildings and with them new businesses. If you watched any type of local news this past week I'm sure you saw all the change. It's not the end of the world for me as money is what you need to win and the Ricketts family seems to be stacking cash these days. As long as they stay winning then who the hell cares if people from Iowa like to make a vacation of a weekend at Wrigley. The change started happening long before the Ricketts arrived anyways. Long gone is Yum Yum Donuts and Hamburger King is only a shell of it's former self. But at least in the case of HK you can still get a little piece of it at Rice N Bread.

Locals Favorite in Wrigleyville 

For those unaware Hamburger King was the name of the business where Rice N Bread now exists. The owners of Rice N Bread bought the business from Hamburger King's owner Sonia a couple years ago. Part of the deal was that Sonia would stay on for about six months and help the family ease into their new venture. With that they kept a few of the classics that made HK a legend in the area. I still go here mainly for those items. Stuff like Akutagawa as well as rice and gravy. But when the family took over they added an almost entirely new menu with a bunch of Korean favorites. To learn more about the dishes from Hamburger King that they kept on the menu click HERE. Today's post features a few of the new dishes that I've enjoyed since they took over. Items like Dolsat Bi Bim Bop below.

Dolsot Bi Bim Bop at Rice N Bread 

To get a gauge on any Korean restaurants food start with the bi bim bop. Extra points for places cooking it in a Dolsot aka stone bowl. This allows the rice on the bottom to get nice and crispy and that to me is the deal breaker between a good and great bi bim bop. Other items I've liked include the spicy don galbi which are marinated pork ribs with a similar eating style to Italian neckbone gravy.

 Spoicy DonGalbi (pork ribs) at Rice N Bread 

On Thursday they have a bacon kimchi fried rice special. It's the inspiration for one of my signature dishes that I've kind of created over the last couple years. The first time I tried this dish at Rice N Bread it was about as good as any fried rice I'd ever tried. Unfortunately a second visit for it wasn't nearly as good. From my own experiences in coming up with the perfect recipe it tasted like they cooked the kimchi too long on the second try. Hopefully that was just a one off. In the end this is one of the only places I would recommend going for food before or after the game as most of the bars and newer spots push nothing but inflated prices on average goods. If you want a taste of Old Wrigley stop at Rice n Bread for Akutagawa and then go sip Old Style at Nisei Lounge a few doors down.

Bacon Kimchi Fried Rice at Rice N Bread

Rice N Bread
3435 N Sheffield Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 281-4452
Website

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Bistro 6050

-Grubbing in Chicago
Empanadas on Irving Park

It's not exactly in the city center but I'm surprised I haven't heard more about this fun little neighborhood space. It's called Bistro 6050 and it's owned by a really nice Filipino lady. Bistro 6050 has the feel of an old school soda fountain but it's only been open about a year and while they do have dessert drinks they're not like the ones our parents enjoyed way back when. They make smoothies, shakes, and bubble teas as well as empanadas and also both sweet and savory crepes.

Newly Opened on Irving Park

We visited on a Friday night and there was a really nice vibe going on inside. We saw what looked to be a few regulars (maybe family members) as well as a child's birthday party and a group of 20 something girls out for the night. Needless to say there was a bit of a wait for some empanadas.

Empanada Flavor Guide 

The empanadas are baked which is why you can expect a little bit of a wait. The flavor combinations represent much more than just the Philippines. As you can see up above you can try empanadas of all sorts. The best way to try a few is get the 3 for $7 deal they offer. So far I've been able to try the Barbacoa, Pulled Porky, and also the creamy chicken. The barbacoa has flavors of Latin America while the pulled pork is spiced with Filipino flavors and the creamy yellow chicken is due to the use of yellow Aji Peppers which are prevalent in Peruvian coking. I'm not the biggest sweets guy but the crepes were loved by the group of ladies I mentioned that were dining in. In today's food world so many spots are backed with big dollars and they all end up feeling the same. Not so here where it feels like a little bit of a blast from the past with it's true mom and pop feel. Go check them out.

Empanadas at Bistro 6050

Bistro 6050
6050 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60634
(312) 883-6050

Monday, April 9, 2018

Tipico Chicken

-Grubbing in Chicago
More Dominican Fried Chicken

Is this the year of Dominican Fried Chicken? Probably not but I have another spot worth checking out. Tipico Chicken opened some time in the last four months. It's bright yellow awning caught my eye one day while driving down Fullerton. The fact that it was a chicken restaurant made me want to check it out. Not just that but it was a spot featuring the foods of both the DR and Honduras.

Newly Opened in Hermosa

I'll tell you what 2018 might be and that's the year of the female-led kitchen. Like so many other spots I've featured this year Tipico Chicken is run by a team of ladies. The leader of whom is from the Dominican Republic. The menu features favorites from the DR as well as some popular snacks in Honduras such as rolled tacos. Fried chicken from both countries is offered. Since I was talking to the Dominican lady we went with the Dominican fried chicken also known as pica de pollo. Like everywhere else in the Caribbean the people of the DR like to fry their chicken hard. This results in an extra crispy breading which was the first thing you notice with this chicken. It's about as crispy as it can get which means the meat suffers a bit but when paired with their excellent black beans and rice this was a helluva lunch that was about as filling as any recent meal I've had. The question I'm sure some are asking is it on the level of the pica de pollo at Morena's? Not quite but still delicious.

Pica de Pollo at Tipico Chicken 

Always on the prowl for new to me things I can try I saw something called "yaroa" that caught my eye. I did a quick google search and came to learn this is a popular street snack in the Dominican. Not much different than salchipapas this popular snack is made using french fries as the base and then on top of them goes ground beef, sauces, and maybe some cheese. I read that in some cases the base is fried plantains and sometimes yucca. I'm guessing that much like salchipapas everyone makes them a bit differently. Tipico Chicken puts mayo, ketchup, mustard on top of theirs. This is like the Caribbean version of chili cheese fries. I could enjoy a plate of Yaroa late night after some beers.

Yaroa at Tipico Chicken

Tipico Chicken
4419 N Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 799-8807

Monday, March 26, 2018

Eastern European Food in NE Ohio

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring NE Ohio's Eastern European Culture

Today's report is quite a few years in the making. It's spans over at least three different trips to the NE Ohio area during the last five or so years. During these trips there's been something that's always stood out as far as Eastern European food goes. Cuisines from countries like Poland, Hungary, and Serbia can be found in NE Ohio towns like Toledo, Parma, and Cleveland. It's quite interesting if you ask me. These restaurants and bakeries are holdovers from when Northeast Ohio was a hotbed for immigrants looking for work. Most of them found it in the areas steel mills, canals, and other forms of blue collar jobs. As always with immigrants come their recipes. Many of which live on today.
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Tony Packo's

Toledo, OH

Here we have the most famous restaurant in Toledo. Tony Packo's and their Hungarian sausages are synonymous with the city. What started out as a small hot dog shop during the Great Depression in 1932 has spawned into a mini empire with multiple locations including a spot at the city's popular minor league baseball stadium. You can even buy Tony Packo's signature sausages at grocery stores in this region. The famous "Hungarian Hot Dog" as they're called are a Tony Packo original recipe. There's no Hungarian Hot Dog Tour to embark on in this region. The inside of the original is part tavern and part sit-down. As you might imagine they're a popular place for the family on Sunday's.

a peek inside at the bar

This being my first visit I was required to try the signature Packo Dog and I found it to be quite tasty. The spicy sliced sausage is stellar and so is the spicy meat sauce on top. The latter of which I thought was good enough to warrant buying a DIY jar of it to take home. When I opened it one winter I followed the directions precisely and added two pounds of beef and some tomatoes and ended up with a huge bowl of sweet slop. I guess they're not giving that secret recipe out to everyone after all.

Hungarian Hot Dog at Packo's

The menu boasts other Hungarian favorites and I decided to take an order stuffed cabbage to go. Beef and pork combined with rice and seasonings, hand-rolled in cabbage, thats simmered in sour cream and tomato sauce. Served with their tender paprika dumplings and gravy it made for a pretty good meal spread out over two days. After just one visit it was easy to see why this place is loved locally.

Stuffed Cabbage
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 Little Polish Diner 

Parma, OH

Our next stop takes us the Cleveland suburb of Parma. It's the city's largest suburb and a great place to go get a taste of Old Ohio. There's both a Ukrainian Village and a Polish Village too. The Little Polish Diner is exactly what it's name implies. It's a spot I got tipped off on by the fine folks at Roadfood. The type of place I love exploring while on the road. They say this is the place to go in Parma for a taste of Poland and after one trip in I can back this fact up. I tried a plate of Pyzy which consisted of six fluffy potato dumplings filled with meat and sauteed in bacon and onion. Yum! Served on the side was a creamy cucumber salad that I didn't think I'd like but I loved. Great little place.

Pyzy at Little Polish Diner 
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Belgrade Gardens

Barberton, OH

In my opinion one of the country's most interesting regional eats can be found in the town of Barberton which is about 15 minutes southwest of Akron. In this little town of 25,000+ the fried chicken is king. It's called Barberton style fried chicken or Serbian fried chicken and it can be found at a handful of old school spots in town. Belgrade Gardens is where it all began. Started by two Serbian immigrants forced to sell their farm during the Great Depression they then opened Belgrade Gardens and began serving their now famous fried chicken. It's a distinct style that I think is best described as Shake & Bake style as far as the thick unseasoned crust goes. Though this isn't baked but rather fried in lard. The meat is really juicy as they've perfected the fry job over the years. Also distinct is the fact they serve the chicken back (top piece in the pic) in your order. Dinners come with a vinegar-based cole slaw as well as a unique rice and tomato sauce side that's seasoned with hot peppers called "hot sauce" and fresh cut french fries. I really enjoyed both the atmosphere and food.

Fried Chicken Dinner at Belgrade Gardens
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Kuhar's Carryout

Mentor, OH

Out in the Cleveland area there's a couple places that remind me of old school spots in Madison, WI that I used to frequent. Places where they run a catering operation that doubles as a takeout joint with the menu switching up daily. Kuhar's is in a suburb called Mentor which is about20 minutes north up the lake. You wouldn't guess it was a restaurant without the carryouts in it's name. This place has been a part of the area for more than 40 years. If you grew up around here you probably went to a party catered by Kuhar's at some point. They have a menu that changes each day and it features popular Hungarian-American dishes like goulash over buttered noodles. it's the prettiest looking dish but comfort food rarely photographs well so whatever. I wish I had a place to carry this out in Chicago.

Goulash (Saturday special) at Kuhar's Carry-Out's
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Kiedrowski's Bakery

Amherst, OH

Approaching their 30th year in business this small polish bakery in a strip mall in a Cleveland suburb is a popular spot with the locals. It was named "best Bakery in America" in a poll conducted by Baking Buyer Magazine back in 2011. That might not mean much but I can vouch for the place. They pack alot of house baked goods on site. Most of which looked like something I would like. The most popular of which is the Snoogle. "Accidents can be disastrous in a bakery, but the 'snoogle accident' was a welcome one for Kiedrowski's! Late one evening at the bakery, Tim was preparing ladylocks and Terri was working on a batch of cheese danish. With leftover ingredients, these two happy bakers set out to create something new. A little bit of this, a little of that, and voila, the Snoogle was born! These sweet cream-filled confections have become Kiedrowski's biggest seller. It is not unusual for the bakery to sell 40 dozen Snoogles daily, and upwards of 100 dozen every weekend."

Snoogles (Signature Dish) at Kiedrowski's Bakery
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Lydia's Hungarian Strudel Shop 

Parma Heights, OH

There's a handful of bakeries in the Parma area and a couple of them feature Hungarian strudels. I tried to go to two of them but one was randomly closed. Good thing Lydia's was not other wise I would never know I have a love for Hungarian style strudel. The original location of Lydia's opened in 1938 in an area that had a predominately Hungarian and Romanian population. Today they;re a fifth generation family business that hasn't changed a thing as far as recipes. I got a half dozen of their hand stretched made from scratch strudels. I got different flavors like cherry, apricot, and even prune but it was the cheese which she recommended that blew me away. If I'm ever near here again it's a must I stop and get a bakers dozen. These are the treats I never knew I needed so much.

Hungarian Strudels at Lydia's Bakery
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Tony Packo's
1902 Front St
Toledo, OH 43605
(419) 691-1953

Little Polish Diner
5772 Ridge Rd
Parma, OH 44129
(440) 842-8212

Belgrade Gardens
401 E State St
Barberton, OH 44203
(330) 745-0113

Kuhar's Carryouts
8030 Broadmoor Rd
Mentor, OH 44060 Hours:
(440) 951-1000

Kiedrowski's Bakery
2267 E. Cooper Foster Park Road
Amherst, OH 44001
(440) 282-2700

Lydia's Hungarian Strudel Shop
6230 Stumph Rd
Parma Heights, OH 44130
(440) 885-2600

Friday, March 23, 2018

Evanston Grill

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
Korean Diner Food in Evanston

There's a cool article on Al's Deli in Evanston that's been floating around my Social Media feed this week. I've featured Al's before but that Takeout article reminded me I've never given my thoughts on Evanston Grill. Another one of the city's most beloved spots. A place that generations have ate at.

Locals Favorite in Evanston, IL

I have pretty much zero affiliation with Evanston. I didn't go to Northwestern but I did go to Loyola Academy for a couple years and it brought me through Evanston often. As the purple line was my way home. I remember when I first learned of Bi Bim Bop after seeing the ad on Evanston Grill's window announcing they served it. Evanston Grill is a Korean owned diner where the mother and son are always in-house. It's the last of a dying breed. To my knowledge there's only three Korean owned diners left in the Chicago area as well as one Vietnamese owned spot. Evanston Grill caters to a city that's mostly vanilla so you can expect all the breakfast classics as well as a few Korean favorites.

a peek inside 

I can't say I'm a regular here but I can proclaim my love for it. Every time I stop by which is maybe every other year I'm reminded just how classic of an establishment this is. It just wreaks of old school feels. I'm sure that pretty much everyone that lives in Evanston or went to school at Northwestern has an opinion on this place and I'm sure most of them are good. Personally I love the bi bim bop here as much as anywhere. They make a pretty traditional style with a handful of different thinly sliced veggies resting on the bottom with a big scoop of rice on top as well as a fried egg and lots of sliced beef. It doesn't come in a dolsat bowl which is it's biggest weakness but the beef is it's strength. I love how they chop it down really finely and season it just right. Kimchi is free upon request. Bc the son runs this spot with his mother it may have a couple decades left but you never know for sure.

Bi Bim Bop at Evanston Grill

Evanston Grill
1047 Chicago Ave # B
Evanston, IL 60202
(847) 328-3339

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Captain B's

-The Shrimp Shacks of Chi

It's been a while since I featured a Chicago style shrimp shack on here. They are no doubt an endangered species but the good news is the old school spots seem to be sticking around. Places like Captain B's which has two locations out west. One in the city and the other in Bellwood.

Locals Favorite on the West Side

Captain B labels themselves a Chicago style shrimp shack and that they are. What does that mean? Well they're old school for one. But on top of that to me anyway it also means thickly breaded shrimp with a crisp cornmeal-like coating. This is the style of fried shrimp I grew up on over at Goose Island. I admit it's not as pleasing to me as the lightly breaded shrimps you find in other regions but it's a taste of childhood. It's home. B's makes prototypical Chicago style shrimp. One tip I can give as far as ordering is always get the jumbos with this style as the shrimp to breading ratio is much better.

Fried Shrimp at Captain B's 

Captain B's
5641 W Roosevelt Rd
Chicago, IL 60804
(708) 656-8700

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