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Books for Cooks: Three Chicago-centric books for food lovers

Food Lovers' Guide Chicago by Jennifer Olvera

Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago by Jennifer Olvera

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Updated: September 20, 2011 12:28AM

Chicago’s rich and varied food scene and the people who make it so get the love they deserve in three books now in stores.

Food Lovers Guide to Chicago (Globe Pequot Press, $15.95) by Chicago writer Jennifer Olvera, a contributor to this section, is as comprehensive as eating guides get. The compact paperback covers restaurants in Chicago, the suburbs and a little beyond, as well as bars, specialty markets, purveyors, farms, cooking schools and food festivals. Food trucks get a nod in a sidebar, as do Chicago-born eats (mother-in-law sandwich, jibarito). There are even a handful of recipes from chefs.

Food-obsessed Chicagoans might appreciate the book more than outsiders for its inclusion of below-the-radar establishments that do things right. You won’t find Pupuseria el Salvador on 106th Street or old-school Vito and Nick’s on South Pulaski in Fodor’s.

Restaurants are grouped geographically (North, Near North, Mid City, Near South and South). You still might be a little lost, even if know your neighborhoods; Greektown restaurants, for example, are considered “Near South,” while Little Italy and University Village, just a skip away, are lumped into the “South Side.” Tabs or maps to better delineate between chapters would have been helpful.

But thumbing through the book, even natives are bound to come across plenty of places, and foods, to add to their bucket list.

The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook (Voyageur Press, $30) by Chicago journalist-turned-pastry-practitioner Heather Lalley is a big, lushly photographed love letter to local food.

It is, appropriately, divided into seasons. Within each chapter are stories of Chicago chefs and the farmers with whom they have a special kinship. There’s Chilam Balam chef Chuy Valencia, a devoted customer of Tracey Vowell and Kathe Roybal of Three Sisters Garden, who calls their huitlacoche “off the hook,” and Tim Burton of Burton’s Maplewood Farm, who innocently referred to chef Paul Kahan’s Blackbird restaurant as “Blackberry” the first time they met.

Some of the recipes from each featured chef are just too busy for the home cook, but the streamlined ones (which include some from a few farmers themselves) do exactly they’re supposed to — showcase the farmers’ best.

Time Out Chicago’s Heather Shouse went on the road to research food trucks, and came back with an exhaustive portrait, packed into 200 pages, of the mobile food movement across the nation. Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels (Ten Speed Press, $20) tells the stories of the people cooking behind the wheels and the inventive eats that belie their humble environs.

The rub: Chicago is but a blip in the book, but for good reason — actual cooking on trucks in Chicago still isn’t allowed (food must be pre-packaged and ready to eat). Two of the four local trucks Shouse gives props to, All Fired Up and Happy Bodega, appear to be grounded. But Gaztro-Wagon and Hummingbird Kitchen are still going strong (the latter in Evanston, which does allow on-truck cooking), as well as about a dozen others.

Vacationing street food fans should take this book with them if they’re hitting any of the cities she profiles, as she offers maps for designated food truck spots in some cities and must-try menu items.

For cooks, the book includes recipes from these food truck chefs, offering a taste of what Chicagoans can’t quite have. At least not yet.

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