Bill Kim (Le Lan) is on a mission to modernize noodles and dumplings. In early July, he and his wife, Yvonne Cadiz-Kim (Takashi, Daniel), plan to open Urban Belly, a BYO with communal tables, an open kitchen, WiFi, and a jazzed-up menu. "At other places, it’s the old way of eating," says Kim. "We’re going to change with the times and try to make it hipper." That means creations such as Asian squash dumplings with orange and passion fruit vinaigrette—but he’s quick to remind us that it’s still a neighborhood restaurant. "That’s what we want," he says. So do we, Bill. 3053 N. California Ave.; 773-583-0500. –Sarah Desprat
Photography: Tyllie Barbosa; Food Styling: Christina Zerkis
Just a few nibbles of the Roma-style square pizza served at this homey little parlor and we’re smitten. The freshness, delicate touch, and judicious balance of ingredients are all key, but it’s the crust that seals the deal. Rich, slightly chewy, but still crisp—and neither too thick nor too thin—it’s so divine that we battle over corner slices. We fall hard for patate e rosmarino pie, a rosemary-scented, potato-laden gem ($19 for an 18-inch; easily feeds three to four), but if a potato-pizza partnership doesn’t sound quite kosher, check out the fresh-tomato-and-basil-studded Margherita, or create your own combo from a lineup of nearly two dozen ingredients. Owners and pals Giovanni Carzedda, Massimiliano Agostini, and Marco Schiavoni aim to please. "We’re small," says Carzedda, who mans the kitchen, "and can’t afford much help, so everyone does everything from waiting on tables to washing glasses." Don’t count on speedy service but do plan on soothing minestrone, crunchy bruschetta zipped with loads of chopped tomato and garlic, and imported spaghetti cloaked in a creamy, dreamy pesto sauce ($9.95). Desserts are made in-house, with the vanilla bean-spiked panna cotta offering a smooth, gratifyingly light finale. BYO. 5019 N. Western Ave.; 773-561-8499. –Jill Rohde
Most restaurant wine lists are designed with one goal in mind: to separate you from your money. "A lot of restaurants see the wine program as a profit center," says Gabriel’s wine guy, Robert Bansberg, who says a triple-wholesale markup is standard in white-tablecloth spots. But with so many restaurants posting their lists online, and so many wine reviews scattered across the Web, a little Googling is all it takes to avoid getting gouged. Seek out these five bottles, all of which come in far below the standard markup—before the restaurants offering them wise up. Pax’s ripe, fruit-driven syrahs don’t come cheap, but at Bank Lane Bistro (670 N. Bank Ln., Lake Forest; 847-234-8802), the 2005 Sonoma County Cuvée Christine is only $62. A leading Bandol producer, Château Pradeaux crafts tannic, earthy, not-for-everyone Mourvèdres. But time has tamed the 1994 Cuvée La Rose Folle, now full of tobacco notes and just $40 at Carlos’ (429 Temple Ave., Highland Park; 847-432-0770). Copperblue (580 E. Illinois St.; 312-527-1200), whose list is as well chosen as it is remarkably cheap, offers the fat, honeyed 2005 Roussanne from Northern Rhône star Yves Cuilleron for $39. Good Bordeaux for $30? Beer-centric Hopleaf (5148 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9851) has it in the form of 2002 Château Roque Le Mayne Côtes de Castillon, a plush-yet-structured merlot. Once Excessive Markup Central, the list at Shikago (190 S. LaSalle St.; 312-781-7300) now boasts outstanding deals. Witness the 2003 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot, which stays balanced and elegant despite its generous oak. It’ll set you back a mere $40. –Nathaniel Zimmer
Photography: Blackbox Studios, Inc.