Publican Quality Meats
Everything Paul Kahan touches usually turns to dripping delicious fatty pork, but here, it’s the lamb meatball sandwich (since replaced with lamb and, yep, pork belly sausage) and the battleship-sized tuna muffaletta that win the day. A hearty honorable mention to JP Graziano for its Italian subs, including the truffle mustard balsamic vinaigrette-soaked Mr. G sub.
Publican Quality Meats, 825 West Fulton Market, (312)445-8977, publicanqualitymeats.com
Audience choice: Bari, 1120 West Grand, (312)666-0730, bariitaliansubs.com
Best of Chicago 2012
Rick Bayless deserves an honorable mention for bringing local and sustainable inputs to the masses and the city’s best hot chocolate at Xoco, but Kahan’s tacos at Big Star are a game changer. Like Hot Doug’s sausages or Alinea’s custom serveware, they are the best in show.
1531 North Damen
Xoco, 449 North Clark
Tacos de Panza at Big Star
From the taco ladies hand-patting masa balls for fresh tortillas to the spray-painted Spanish phrases on the building, everything about Big Star seems like an exploitative rip-off of Chicago’s corner taquerias by a bunch of white dudes: aka Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia and Terry Alexander. But what you realize while chowing down on scintillating mouth-coating pork belly slathered in tangy tomatillo guajillo salsa and a snow of salty fluffy queso fresco is that the corner taqueria itself is a rip-off. For as purveyors of over-steamed grayish mystery meats wrapped in a taco shell as big as your head, none of them has ever produced anything this tasty.
1531 North Damen
Best of Chicago 2010
Not usually in the fine-dining repertoire but more in the realm of unusual cold cuts that remind us of that van scene in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” head cheese is actually pretty damn good if prepared properly. Count on Blackbird and Avec owner Paul Kahan to serve up some delicious mystery meat at his latest critically acclaimed hot spot, The Publican. Served as a part of the charcuterie plate alongside pork pie, country terrine, Morteau sausage, pickles and mustards, the thinly sliced creation tastes smooth and smoky, nicely complemented by a piece of grilled artisan bread.
845 West Fulton Market
Best of Chicago 2009
Audiophile Chef Paul Kahan blew the décor budget on personal high-end stereo equipment and a hot crate of rare vinyl; They wanted to make sure Alderman Joe Moore had no plans to urge a city council legislative ban of pork products; In an effort to keep it real, INS refused to issue work visas to the proposed team of Belgian monks the restaurant team hoped to lock in the basement of Blackbird to make the house beer.
Best of Chicago 2008
With its austere interior, you may think as you look into Blackbird from the sidewalk on Randolph Street: Theater. You may think: pretentious. But when the room fills with diners and your table fills with plates of chef Paul Kahan’s precise, aromatic American cuisine, you will think: Ummmmmmm. The Zen worked on your palate comes at a reasonable price as well, unlike all too many of Chicago’s most honored and/or hyped eateries.
619 West Randolph (312)715-0708
Best of Chicago 2002