Think back to what you were doing 10, even 20, years ago. Do you remember eating out? Do you remember where? And is your former favorite place still there? It's a pretty good bet that it isn't.
The life of a restaurant is not unlike a shooting star, burning brightly and then disappearing. Rare is the restaurant that is like a comet, finding its orbit with a steady glow that gets periodic attention as it makes its way around that orbit.
Ours is a business that requires constant attention to detail. The changing tastes of the public, new design elements, gentrifying neighborhoods and the economy all demand flexibility and a lot of energy to stay current. It is, after all, the only retail situation where someone comes in and has to give you his/her money! No one wanders around and says, "just looking" or "do you have that burger in blue?"
New restaurants open all the time, in every neighborhood, and knowing what goes into that dream, I wish them all well and reach out whenever I can to offer my help.
Then there are the old timers (like me) who have figured out how to stay alive--even thrive--in this fickle business. We have re-invented ourselves, changed our menus, maintained our spaces, kept hiring and training staff and weathered every storm. We are a tenacious bunch and the fact that we're still here, still feeding people, is the proof.
Here is my list of 10 Chicago favorites over 10 years old.
1. Trattoria #10 at 10 North Dearborn Street
This beautiful place has been serving delicious, thoughtful Italian food since 1988! Is there better hand-made ravioli in Chicago? I think not. So take the elevator down one floor and step up to the divine experience Dan Rosenthal has created. I'm happy when I'm here.
2. Yoshi's at 3257 North Halsted Street
Yoshi, with movie-star good looks, and his enchanting wife Nobuko, opened in 1982 as a fine dining restaurant. He had the savvy to keep is finger on the pulse of the neighborhood and changed to a casual upscale menu in 1995. I feel very cared for here.
3. Erwin Cafe at 2925 North Halsted Street
Erwin opened Café Metropolis in 1983 and gathered a huge fan base that followed him to his current location in 1993. This comfortable neighborhood place with delicious stepped-up-comfort food, is filled with regulars. I wish my mother had cooked like Erwin.
4. Crofton on Wells at 535 North Wells Street
Suzy Crofton is one of the hardest working women in any kitchen. About to celebrate her 11th anniversary, she works passionately, turns out beautiful and delicious food and does it every day. I'm lucky to be in her company.
5. Manny's Coffee Shop and Deli at 1141 South Jefferson
Want to have a chat with your Alderman or even the Mayor over serious deli sandwiches? Hang out at the best hang out in town that opened its fabled doors in 1942! I feel like I'm at my Aunt Suzie's house when I eat here.
6. Café Selmarie at 4729 North Lincoln
Birgit and Jeanne have been baking and cooking since opening day in 1983 and the Grand Mere cake is the same today as it was the first time I had it 25 years ago! I feel like I'm home when I eat here.
7. Kamahachi at 1400 North Wells
Kamahachi was opened in 1967 by Marion Konishi and is still being run by the women of the Konishi family. The clean and clear flavors, freshest fish and subdued service make this a neighborhood favorite. I feel healthier when I eat here.
8. Café 28 at 1800 West Irving Park Road
Opened in 1996 and serving Mexican/Cuban/Central American dishes packed with Latino love from Berta, the mother you wish you had. You will understand the wait for a table on weekend nights. I feel like I'm on vacation when I eat here.
9. Edna's at 3175 West Madison Street
Edna's has been serving authentic southern cooking under the watchful eye of Edna Stewart herself ever since 1966. Some people think my fried chicken is as good as hers. I hope so! It's like I was born in the South when I eat here.
10. Wing Hoe at 5536 North Sheridan Road
Opened in 1977 and run by Hannah Li. If you like "old fashioned" Cantonese cooking and food that comes to table in 6 minutes, this is for you. It's what gets delivered to me on Sunday nights after a big day at Ina's when I'm starving and there's nothing left to eat. And my doorman always calls up and says, "Ina, this is a sorry state of affairs ..." You're right, JJ, except it's just what I need. I'm back in Brooklyn in the 50's when I eat here.
As you see, some are way over 10 and all are independent, owner/operated places that deserve our applause, patronage and sincere wishes that we'll be eating there 10 years from now.
There's a sign in front of a rural eatery in the South that resonates with me right now. It says: EAT ... OR WE'LL BOTH STARVE!