A few months ago, Chicago restaurant guru Jerry Kleiner took us on a tour of some off-the-radar restaurants that don't exactly register in the Zagat survey. In typical Kleiner fashion, the tour veered off from the original plan, and he ended up improvising.
Since we were already in Southeast Chicago, he couldn't help spontaneously turning onto 95th Street in the shadow of the bridge connecting Illinois to Indiana. That's where we found Calumet Fisheries (3259 E. 95th St.), one of the few smokehouses left in Illinois.
From the outside it appears to be nothing much more than a tiny shack, but the food is far from shabby. If it swims, they smoke it, and the chunks of catfish and trout on display will make your mouth water. The fish is marinated overnight in brine and smoked using natural wood.
"They have phenomenal stuff. We've been coming here for years," Kleiner says. "We drive out here for Sunday breakfast sometimes."
There's plenty of places to get Mexican food in Chicago, but Kleiner puts his stamp of approval on Mexican Inn (9510 S. Ewing Ave.).
Only two things need to be said here -- fried tacos. The deep fried taco shells are filled with your choice of meat, lettuce, tomato and cheese. Kleiner suggests keeping the hot sauce close by and giving your taco a squirt before each bite.
"It's the sweetness of the sauce along with the meat and everything else. It's a flawless piece," Kleiner said.
And even if you're not a soda drinker, Kleiner says you can't leave Mexican Inn without drinking an old-school Coca-Cola -- with plenty of ice.
The fried chicken is pretty good at Hienie's (10359 S. Torrence Ave.), but Kleiner makes regular stops here for the sauce used to slather it with. His girlfriend, Marisa Molinaro, turned him onto it several years ago.
"I used to buy big gallons of this in college and we would squirt it on everything," Molinaro said.