Billy's Old World Pizza
308 S. Eighth St., Suite E, 630-3400
It's hard for me to compare Billy's stuffed deep-dish to "the real thing"; first, because I've never eaten in Chicago; but second, and more importantly, because there's no such thing. The so-called authenticity of regional food is mostly subjective, though, of course, there are certain characteristics common to specific dishes.
Like, these pies are usually involved. And, weighing in at roughly five pounds, Billy's 14-inch, stone-baked Old World Special ($24.50) definitely is. It took long enough to bake that we had time to run to the store with our full grocery list after ordering to-go. After an airlift to the car, it instantly filled the space with intense smells of bread dough and tomato sauce. Then, cutting into the two-inch-thick monster with a steak knife, we found unevenly spread, but delicious, layers of cheese, fragrant ground sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. Loved the firm, understated crust. — Bryce Crawford
BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse
5150 N. Nevada Ave., 268-0505, bjsbrewhouse.com
After our first BJ's visits in fall 2010, we reluctantly confessed how "damn good" the newbie was, considering it was just the latest outpost of a massive, Calif.-based chain. Despite one of our reporters nearly getting tossed from an election-night party in 2011, simply for being a journalist, a recent happy hour visit showed staff warmth.
Four Thai shrimp lettuce wraps ($8.95/HH) dipped into a ginger soy sauce delivered spicy, sticky-sweet delight. Each came with a trio of charred, juicy prawns nested in Napa cabbage leaves with cilantro, toasted coconut flakes and mango-mint salsa for herby freshness. A new Brewmaster's Reserve Imperial Red Ale ($4.50/HH, 10 ounces) — brewed in Boulder at 9-percent ABV as a "hoppier derivative of BJ's award-winning Jeremiah Red Irish Red Ale" — stands with the finest of our local craft beers, a four-hop, six-malt infusion adding ample aromatic and flavor complexity. — Matthew Schniper
320 N. Circle Drive, 634-9945
Open since 1966, the Bean Bandit comes off like the cousin of Lakewood's almost-famous Casa Bonita — all that's missing is the cliff diver and Black Bart's Cave. Dig the fountain, fake palm trees, faux balconies with undulating clay roofs, and that certain yellow lighting that makes you uncertain what time it is. The service, however, is multitudes more personal than at the South Park-immortalized spot 70 miles north, with our server fixing a mixed-up check with grace, good humor and speed.
As for the food, it too was mixed. If you dig that thicker, Pueblo-style, gravy-ish green chili ($7.25), then this is the spot, though the pork chunks were often on the dry-and-chewy side, and the tortillas were only soft at the center. Though rocking great refried beans and Spanish-style rice, the beef taco and chicken enchilada plate ($7.25) felt similarly uninspired, full of slightly "off" flavors and yellow cheese. — Bryce Crawford