Suburbia can't catch a break. The lifelong urbanite's scorn of the sprawling cultural wasteland is palpable, and suburban-born, restless, creative types going back to Hemingway can't wait to escape. Can we get over these biases? At least in terms of food? Look outside the edges of any major metropolitan area—say, the San Gabriel Valley to the east of LA, or Annandale southwest of D.C.—and you'll find concentrations of highly specialized ethnic cuisines or chef-driven, farm-to-table outliers, tucked into highway strip malls or bucolic hamlets. You could spend a year eating Chinese in Richmond, B.C., 25 minutes south of Vancouver, and not put a dent in the choices (though a tourism organization is offering a food blogger an apartment, 50 grand, and a gym membership to try).
It's true here too. For the food obsessive who pores over census data to find hunting grounds for Uzbek manti or handmade Duranganese flour tortillas, the suburbs are a gold mine for ethnic foods made by and for folks who've either moved out of the city or skipped it altogether. There's competitively good Chinese and Indian to the west of us, superior Korean, Japanese, Central Asian, and Eastern European to the north and northwest, and the best middle eastern food outside of Detroit to the south—not to mention well-preserved, old-school drive-ins, supper clubs, neighborhood taverns, and diners. (OK, Hoosiers might bristle at the characterization of Hammond, Highland, and Munster as suburbs. So sue us).
We've eaten at and written about plenty of these over the years, and no doubt you're familiar with a few, especially nationally recognized spots like Vie, Edzo's, and Burt's Place. But we've never compiled an essential guide to eating in the suburbs, places you should make a point of taking a long drive or Metra ride to get to. So here it is. The list is by no means complete. It barely scratches the surface, and there's always more to discover. But what it does contain are the essential destinations that makes it worth leaving the safety and comfort of the Big City and venturing into the wilds of suburbia.
An Uzbek teahouse, pizza that's graced the cover of Saveur, and Exhibit A in the case that the best Korean no longer exists in the city
Middle Eastern soul food, an artist at work in a rib house, and pierogies made by mom well into the wee hours
Back-to-back Michelin stars, a hot dog like a Cezanne, and Bohemian cuisine consumed by the likes of Al Capone and George H.W. Bush
Where to shop for tsukemono, smoked Russian meats, Lyle's Black Treacle, and crayfish from Armenia's Lake Sevan