[Avli Estiatorio in Winnetka, an LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurant. | Brian Valentin~Sun-Times Media]
"Deliciousness and character."
That, according to LTHForum.com, is what makes a great neighborhood restaurant, in this city of neighborhoods.
The chat site for food lovers on Tuesday announced its sixth annual list of Great Neighborhood Restaurants. There are 19 in all, which, in typical LTHForum fashion, skew towards the hole-in-the-wall taquerias (Carniceria y Taqueria Tierra Caliente, 1402 N. Ashland), mom-and-pop Thai (Aroy Thai, 4654 N. Damen) and out-of-the-way lunch counters (Mr. D's Shish-Kabobs, 6656 W Diversey).
Which might make two other picks -- Xoco and the Purple Pig, owned by two of Chicago's most recognizable chefs, Rick Bayless and Jimmy Bannos, respectively -- a little surprising to some, says LTHForum moderator Ron Kaplan.
"Typically, our results have always been a little more offbeat," Kaplan says.
The group's verdict on the Purple Pig, 500 N. Michigan: "Yeah, yeah, it's a bit of a celebrity spot, but it delivers. And not just the pork products -- the vegetables are delicious, too. Really, we wanted to hate it, but it is too good."
LTHForum doesn't limit its search to within the city limits. Avli Estiatorio, a Greek restaurant in Winnetka; Kabul House, a BYO-Afghan joint in Skokie; Zenwich in Elmhurst, serving Asian-inspired sandwiches, and Lincoln's O in Highland, Ind., a "trip back in sandwich time," also made the list.
Edzo's Burger Shop in Evanston, another suburban pick, embodies the GNR spirit, Kaplan says. At Edzo's, you can have your burger grilled or griddled, and choose from 10 milkshake flavors and as many fry options, including "old fries," which are overcooked -- on purpose -- so they're crunchy.
Owner Eddie Lakin is "completely woven into the fabric of LTH," Kaplan says. "Before he even opened the place, he started a thread on the forum, soliciting advice, getting information on places that grind their own beef and do fresh-cut fries."
"It's a big deal," Lakin says. "I love the GNRs because I use them as a customer as well . . . They have good taste, the LTHers."
Since 2009, LTHForum also has recognized food-related shops and businesses. The two getting a nod this year: Three Floyd's Brewery in Munster, Ind. and Ream's Elburn Market in Elburn. ("His brats are the best," Kaplan says.)
LTHForum will hold an awards dinner on April 11 at Sun Wah BBQ, 5039 N. Broadway -- naturally, another Great Neighborhood Restaurant.
For the full list of 2011 GNRs, click here.