I love Taco Burrito King.

Taco Burrito King is a small, local Mexican food chain. They don’t have Taco Burrito King in Montana, New Jersey, Alabama, Oregon, Russia, Taiwan, Brazil, Qatar, or anywhere besides the Chicago metropolitan area. Why are they so special, though? There are perhaps ninety bazillion Mexican restaurants in this part of Illinois.

Niles TBK photo taken by Jasmine Sassack for patch.com.

Foremost among the reasons I love them is the fact that they are vegetarian-friendly, but they still maintain a certain level of authenticity. Most Mexican restaurants that serve sopes or hand-made tortillas also put lard into everything or are likely to put chicharrones on something but not list it as an ingredient on the menu. I don’t need (or want!) lengua tacos, bowl of menudo, “my abuela is in the back with a molcajete” authenticity. I just want good vegetarian Mexican food that’s more Mexican than Chipotle.

But wait! It gets better! TBK has two locations that are open 24 hours a day. Before TBK, I had to go to Taco Bell if I wanted a burrito at 2 AM. That means I didn’t eat burritos at 2 AM, becauseI do not go to Taco Bell. Neither should you.

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If your taco requires anti-caking agent, something is wrong.

I am still not done. The chain also takes measures to decrease its impact on the environment. For example, they use permeable pavers in one of their parking lots, offer customers recycled paper napkins, and have two locations with solar thermal heating.

Oh, did I mention they are a family owned and (to an extent) operated business? They are! Did I mention monthly and daily specials? They have them! I don’t just mean fish tacos for lent. Please! That’s for trifling bitches. During Lent, they had fish tacos and chiles rellenos! Yes, fast food chiles rellenos!

I took this photo to commemorate the delicious chiles rellenos that I ate.

I took this photo to commemorate the delicious chiles rellenos that I ate.

Lest I forget, yes, the food is DELICIOUS…and they cater.

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I love Rogert Ebert.

Roger Ebert died last week. The internet probably doesn’t need one more navel-gazing reflection upon this great man, but I’m the kind of woman who goes to see midnight showings of The Big Lebowski at The Music Box, so fuck it, dude. Let’s go bowling.

In high school, I briefly entertained film school aspirations and wanted to be a cinematographer. Well, that never happened, but the dream was because of Roger Ebert. I read a review of his praising Sidney Lumet as a great director, so I went out to Blockbuster for DVDs and the book store for Lumet’s book. This is how I learned that everything you see or hear in a film is (or should be) intentional; for a purpose. Somebody is controlling not just what you see, but how you see. Mind blown!

Even before that, Ebert had opened my eyes with his writing. Having heard from somebody  that Being John Malkovich was his pick for 1999’s best movie, I begged my mother to take me to see it even though I was aware there might be “sexual situations,” something I would pretty much rather die than sit through with her. Ebert’s review in the paper caught my attention, and her suggestion (Toy Story 2) was not my speed. I had never seen anything like it. My parents typically favored moralistic action films and summer blockbusters, so it literally changed the way I thought about movies.

I did go on to take actual film classes. Here, too, Ebert changed everything, because he was not just a critic but a gateway for the average moviegoer to experience and understand film theory. He introduced me to the theory of multiple audiences, as discussed in A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood CinemaSeveral times, I went online and read his old reviews or flipped through his books to find references to ideas and critics I could use to understand something when the material in class was unclear; I ended up quoting him alongside Laura Mulvey in a theory class. I probably learned as much from him in those classes as from my professors.

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As I remember him, in a photo from his blog.

 

For perspective, I grew up in the Chicago television market at a time when Siskel and Ebert’s show ran multiple times per week. It was what I watched after Saturday morning cartoons. (He later wrote, “If “Siskel & Ebert & Roeper” had any utility at all, it was in exposing viewers, many of them still children, to the notion that it was permitted to have opinions, and expected that you should explain them.”) There was never not Ebert. He was never not talking about movies. Realizing as a young adult that he was secretly a clever genius was like discovering the meaning of life inside the prize packet in a box of Cracker Jacks. Who knew? Well, everyone, pretty much, but it was astounding to me. Then I learned that he wasn’t just on TV, but he was also a journalist–possibly one of the best journalists of his time.

Talking of him as just a critic or journalist still doesn’t cover it all. He was an amazing writer whose work includes local history and travel writing in addition to a cookbook and his memoir. Later in life, his excellent blog showcased his engaging writing style and witty humor with posts on religion, philosophy, politics, and fascinating bits of random local flavor. His film festival, which is still happening this year, also deserves mention. Then there’s the way Roger Ebert lived his life.

Other critics, even those with whom he had disagreements, loved and respected him. This is because he always conducted himself with integrity and furthermore didn’t believe you must demonize somebody who you believe is wrong. Every week on At The Movies, viewers saw friendly (if heated) disagreements and respectful (though passionate) debates. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert frequently disagreed, but you got the feeling they might still get a drink together after the show and exchange birthday cards every year. If you haven’t noticed, that sort of thing is pretty rare on television these days. Youtube has a great stash of segments if you haven’t watched the show yourself. It also has a clip of the time Siskel and Ebert appeared on Sesame Street (further proof that Ebert was a great man). Don’t forget his inspirational and courageous battle with cancer, of course. On top of all this, he championed minority film honestly, genuinely, and unpaternalistically, sometimes drawing criticism in the process and bucked critical trends by taking genre films seriously. (“When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you’re not asking if it’s any good compared to Mystic River, you’re asking if it’s any good compared to The Punisher. And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if Superman is four, then Hellboy is three and The Punisher is two. In the same way, if American Beauty gets four stars, then The United States of Leland clocks in at about two.”)

His criticism was truly constructive.

If you have read this far and consider it possibly the most boring blog post ever, here’s a reward–some hilarious quotes from negative Ebert reviews.

On Kazaam:As for Shaquille O’Neal, given his own three wishes the next time, he should go for a script, a director and an interesting character.”

On Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys.”

On Battlefield Earth: Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way. Some movies run off the rails. This one is like the train crash in The Fugitive. I watched it in mounting gloom, realizing I was witnessing something historic, a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies.”

On The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: “Of Taylor Lautner’s musculature, and particularly his abs, much has been written. Yes, he has a great build, but I remind you that an abdominal six-pack must be five seconds’ work for a shape-shifter. More impressive is the ability of both Edward and Jacob to regard Bella with penetrating gazes from ‘neath really dope eyebrows. When my eyebrows get like Edward’s, the barber trims them and never even asks me first.”

On Freddy Got Fingered: “This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”

On Baby Geniuses: “The movie involves a genius baby named Sly, who escapes from the lab and tries to organize fellow babies in revolt. The nauseating sight of little Sly on a disco floor, dressed in the white suit from ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and dancing to ‘Stayin’ Alive’, had me pawing under my seat for the bag my Subway Gardenburger came in, in case I felt the sudden need to recycle it.”

I love Northerly Island.

Northerly Island is actually a peninsula, created as part of the Burnham Plan of Chicago. You can reach it by following the road past the sculpture garden outside of Adler Planetarium. It was once the site of Meigs Field, but the second Mayor Daley controversially sent bulldozers to the runways of that small airport in 2003. Some claim it was a horrible abuse of power. Others claim it was a good security move. Aviation aficionados miss having a lakefront airport; 99 Percenters decry having a whole peninsula dedicated for wealthy executives to fly their private planes to work. In any case, there is no airport there now.

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The foaming at the mouth that occurs when some Chicagoans discuss Meigs Field evokes this promotional image for the film “Cujo.”

Instead, there is a gorgeous expanse of restored prairie and bird habitat, along with a field house where you can learn about nature, and an outpost of Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation focusing on helping migrating birds who strike the windows of downtown skyscrapers. The Charter One Pavilion, a concert venue now slated for expansion, will host bands like Phish and Ben Folds Five this summer.

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A view from the “island” courtesy of the Chicago Park District.

In the summer, 12th Street Beach is one of the less crowded beaches in the city because of its secluded location. There is open water swimming here, rather than the limited-depth swimming at other beaches. You can also enjoy public restrooms that are a bit cleaner than at some other beaches and skip long lines at the concession stand. There is typically only one  lifeguard, so be aware of your little swimmers. Amusingly, there is no 12th Street here (it’s now called Roosevelt Road).

In spring and fall, this is an excellent place to birdwatch. In particular, many Purple Martins nest here, and you may see some warblers passing through who are only in the Chicago area for a few weeks or even days per year.

In the winter, Northerly Island has hosted dog sled demonstrations and the Polar Adventure Days.  You can rent snowshoes or cross country skis in snowy weather, as well.

There is also talk of building an artificial reef off the shore here, providing habitat for struggling Lake Michigan fish. This is just one of many ecology-minded projects under discussion for Northerly Island, keeping true to Burnham’s motto, “Make no small plans.” I, for one, am eager to see what actually comes to fruition.