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Tao Ran Ju mini-review

Even Chinatown’s staunchest fans (we are among them) have to admit there’s a certain predictability to its restaurants. So when a newcomer does things differently, we notice. Tao Ran Ju, the lively BYO, is well worth noticing. If you’re up for a hot pot (there’s a built-in heating element at each setting), start by choosing a broth ($2), then select from a list of individually priced mix-ins. We were happy with our Chinese sausage, spinach, and golden needle mushrooms, but you’ll also see delicacies such as goose intestine and ox tripe on the list. This is also the only place in town we know of that offers soup dumplings—not soup with dumplings in it, but dumplings with soup in them. (Ask your server, as they’re not well described on the menu.) We got a kick out of the shredded pancake ($5.95), pan-fried bao ($6.95 for four), chive pockets ($1.95 for two), and two grilled items—spicy mushrooms and a terrific skewered quail, well seasoned with cumin. Customize any dish with condiments from the self-serve array in the rear of the restaurant. For dessert, no fortune cookies: Try sticky rice balls with sweet black sesame filling instead. 2002 S. Wentworth Ave.; 312-808-1111.

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