1414 N. Milwaukee, Wicker Park. 773-342-1414
Indian, Nepalese. The soul of this sharp-looking and fragrant spot lies in the Himalayas, where the Nepalese food is compellingly rustic and Chinese influences blend into Indian flavors. Well-seasoned chicken momos (steamed dumplings) are a must, savory with tomato-cashew sauce, as is the robust boneless goat meat, given a zesty Nepalese turn in the tandoor oven. Traditional Indian dishes also delight, from chicken tikka masala to lamb Madras in coconut-curry sauce. The signature dum biryani is opulent with spice-marinated chicken, lamb, and shrimp in basmati rice. Good cocktails and wines.
L Tue–Sun, D nightly. Wheelchair accessible. $$
1401 N. Ashland, Wicker Park. 773-687-9977
Contemporary. Edward Kim’s Ruxbin follow-up is a festive take on a night market in an undefined (purposely) Asian city. The compact space melds with the bustling-market theme and lends itself to a family-style dining vibe. Here, those hoping to venture beyond the neighborhood’s legion of sports bars are rewarded with the novel flavors of crab brain fried rice with Chinese sausage and coconut and an inspired reinterpretation of the Hangtown Fry, consisting of a hoisin-topped omelet dotted with pickled mushrooms and fried oysters, resting on a pancake of fried noodles. Exotic cocktails incorporate ingredients such as malört and dashi (a Japanese fish stock) bitters.
D Mon–Sat. Outdoor dining, high noise level. $$
2152 N. Damen, Bucktown. 773-862-5555
Contemporary. Chris Pandel’s endlessly inventive pastas, which might include a breezy Pernod-glazed fennel chitarra one day and a rich bucatini with tomato-braised duck liver and kidney sugo the next, star at this seasonal-minded storefront. Sip a selection from the well-curated wine list and graze on canny salads and vegetable starters, but don’t be surprised if the entrée list proves a bit small and redundant. Some flavors, especially dill, seem to show up too often; the roasted chicken, however, simply patted with salt and pepper, more than lives up to its fame as one of the best birds in town. Engaging servers help cautious diners make the most of the bold menu. Desserts tend to be a bit on the sweet side.
D nightly. Br Sat, Sun. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, outdoor dining, high noise level. $$
Belden-Stratford, 2300 N. Lincoln Park West, Lincoln Park. 773-868-0002
Contemporary seafood. With L2O set to close after service on December 31, now is the time to appreciate Matthew Kirkley’s talent with the wonders of the ocean. The $225 14-course tasting menu playfully focuses on the craggy seacoast. Imagine mousse-like parsley-mussel tarts served over a glass bowl coupled with seashells; crisp rye bread fritters filled with a creamy blend of briny periwinkles and smoky Jamón Ibérico; and immaculately fresh slices of abalone dressed in a broth made from the fish’s own juices and bits of black truffle. Although the $140 four-course menu isn’t as impressive, Kirkley’s skill with shellfish proves mesmerizing. An often-daring wine list and first-rate service make L2O a one-of-a-kind haute cuisine odyssey.
D Thu–Mon. Wheelchair accessible. $$$$
Paris Club Bistro & Bar
159 W. Hubbard, River North. 312-595-0800
French. Once a beacon for young revelers seeking bubbly cocktails and Parisian-inspired small plates, Paris Club now caters to a more mature dining set, offering traditional French fare with a splash of Old World sophistication. The smallish dining room—flush with dark woods, ornate chandeliers, and enough shadows to conjure up an appealing air of mystery—provides an ideal backdrop for Doug Psaltis’s throwback menu. The best strategy? Order the richest stuff: truffled scrambled eggs with lobster, a mouthwateringly tender roasted lamb shank, or the house-smoked côtes de porc with peas and bacon. But save some room for a footlong éclair filled with coffee custard or the boozy baba cake, which is drenched tableside with your choice of three different rums.
D nightly. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, high noise level, will seat past 11 p.m. (Wed–Sat). $$$