Fill up on belly busters without busting your wallet at this Northwest Side food truck
The only place in town specializing in the food of Uzbekistan — a Central Asian nation with a largely Turkic population that used to be part of the Soviet Union — serves alluringly inexpensive items bearing locally unusual titles. As I recently discovered, though, most of the operation’s menu preparations are linguistic and culinary cousins of better-known dishes that are no more exotic than shish kebabs and empanadas.
My research into these matters began in the gravel parking lot outside Romashka Euro Deli on the Northwest Side. There, I was greeted by the come-hither scent of meat searing over hardwood coals and the sight of a gleaming red food truck.
The area to the right of the mobile eatery’s service window was decorated with a collage of curled-up food photographs. A small chalkboard menu on which most items were priced at $5 and less was on the left.
Exiting my vehicle to join a smattering of customers, I saw a man at the front of the loosely formed line receive a bursting-at-the-seams plastic bag of goodies. The dude excitedly screamed “Spasibo!” — which means “thank you” and is one of the few Russian words I know — and then raced to the passenger side of a nearby car and tapped on the window.
Gaining the attention of a female occupant, the guy handed her the bag and then began a rapid and impressive series of up-and-down squats performed while rolling his arms and smiling like mad. Welcome to Red Square Grill.Do your own dance of joy when you get a new takeout dining review delivered direct to your inbox each Monday: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Open Thursday through Sunday from noon to late afternoon, Red Square Grill sells consistently good, scratch-made Uzbek and Russian fare at bargain-basement prices. In fact, only two dishes reach double-digit-dollar costs, and each is a steal.
One is Plov ($10), which sounds and tastes like pilaf and is often called the national dish of Uzbekistan. Red Square’s version is enormous and delicious: loads of flavorful rice sprinkled with chickpeas, peppercorns and grated carrots topped with hunks of lusty, pot roast-type beef and served with sliced tomatoes, onions and English cucumbers.
I might've liked the other $10 entree — Lagman — even more. It’s the same kind of beef, plus sliced garlic and house-made noodles (Red Square produces several doughs, reflecting wheat’s prominence in Uzbekistan) in a rich, drinkable broth topped with herbs and filled with chopped veggies such as green beans, potatoes, celery and onions.
The food truck offers unbeatable deals on kebabs, too. Called Shashlik ($5 per order), they’re knobs of succulent, smoky meat — lamb, chicken and kefta-like beef logs are available on the days that Red Square fires up its grill (phone ahead) — served with raw onions and good rice.
Irresistible house-made savory pastries served with zippy salsa are Red Square staples. The lineup includes two fried delights: Pirozhki ($3), which sound like pierogi for a reason and are large, pillowy pockets with stretchy, doughnut-like exteriors with fillings such as spiced mashed potatoes, sauteed cabbage or onion-accented ground beef; and Cheburek ($3), turnover-like crescents (related to boreks) filled with super juicy, just-cooked-through seasoned ground beef or chicken.
The lovely baked Samsa ($4) wedges are a must. These flaky, multi-layered, crispy, golden-brown pastries arrive speckled with sesame seeds and packed with beef or chopped chicken enriched with cheese (my favorite). While clearly related to Indian samosas, their moniker initially made me think about the identically named protagonist of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis."
After chatting with Red Square’s chef/proprietor Ray (“just Ray!”), though, the great author that popped to mind was that chronicler of fatalistic and bemused proud Russians, Anton Chekhov. Because through a wry smile on a so-busy-orders-were-backed-up day, hard-working Ray nonetheless openly expressed skepticism over Red Square’s future due to a narrow “90 percent Russian” customer base. Here’s hoping his delicious and inexpensive food finds a wider audience soon.