Odyssey: Counter Intelligence

We found five spots where fast-food speed and slow-food deliciousness (and table service) happily coexist

Fast-casual restaurants combine the velocity and low overhead of takeout with the pleasure of table service. You order at a counter; you sit; your meal is brought; you eat. Lately we’ve seen the m.o. applied in a surprising number of new places with seriously good food—the chic Urbanbelly (named in May as one of our 22 best new restaurants) being a case in point.

We found five more spots where fast-food speed and slow-food deliciousness (and table service) happily coexist

CAFÉ BELLA
3311 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-292-5040
VIBE: Sleek, smart, arty
MENU: Tapas, salads, sandwiches, desserts, coffees; special dinner entrées Friday to Sunday
WE LOVE: Grilled seviche ($8.25); spinach soup ($3/cup, $5/bowl); Caribbean chicken sandwich with pasta primavera salad ($5.95); choco flan ($3.50); caffè latte ($2.55)
EXTRA CREDIT: Up-there execution, courtesy of chef Cesar Casas, a former saucier at Ambria; most desserts are made by Nadia Velazquez, assistant pastry chef at Naha.

EPIC BURGER
517 S. State St.; 312-913-1373
VIBE: Young, loud, earnest but fun
MENU: Sandwiches, fries, shakes, smoothies
WE LOVE: Epic burger with Cheddar ($6.88); turkey burger with horseradish Havarti ($6.88); fresh-cut fries ($1.99); four-berry smoothie ($4.89)
EXTRA CREDIT: Proximity to South Loop colleges makes this feel like a dorm dining hall, but with better food and less adult supervision.

90 MILES CUBAN CAFÉ
3101 N. Clybourn Ave.; 773-248-2822
VIBE: Viva Havana!
MENU: Omelet sandwiches; pressed sandwiches; dinner plates with meat, tofu, or vegetables plus rice, black beans, sweet plantains; coffee; pastries; tropical drinks
WE LOVE: Cubano sandwich (ham, pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, $6.50); roast pork dinner ($9.95); mango shake ($3.50)
EXTRA CREDIT: Get-up-and-dance music; walls covered with pages from vintage Cuban magazines and newspapers. (At presstime, a second location was slated to open on May 19th at 2540 West Armitage Avenue, 773-227-2822.)

MIZRAHI GRILL
215 Skokie Valley Rd., Highland Park; 847-831-1400
VIBE: Congenial, unceremonious, kosher
MENU: Israeli appetizers, salads, entrées, pita sandwiches
WE LOVE: Grandma’s kubeh ($6.50); falafel sandwich ($6); grilled chicken breast sandwich ($10); brownie ($2.50)
EXTRA CREDIT: In addition to protein, pita sandwiches come stuffed with cabbage salad, pickles, and “chips” (french fries), as well as the usual tomato, cuke, onion, and tahini, with even more options available.

CHICKPEA
2018 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-384-9930
VIBE: Hipster Palestinian
MENU: Middle Eastern appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and entrées, plus daily Mama’s specials
WE LOVE: Kibbeh with yogurt, cucumber, and mint salad ($3); trio of salads (tabouleh, salatat tahini, fattoush, $9); laham ma hummus ($8); falafel plate ($6); waraq dawali (stuffed grape leaves, $10)
EXTRA CREDIT: Owner’s mother (and cook) Amni Suqi patrols the room, inquiring whether diners are enjoying their meals. Eclectic décor includes Arabic posters for Death Wish 3, Superman, and other American movies.

 

Photography: Anna Knott

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