Jackson Park Bar and Grill
The promises that Jason Paskewitz has been dangling for more than a year at his River North masterwork include prime aged beef; a prix fixe vegetarian menu; an 80-seat piano lounge; and an enclosed glass wine cellar big enough for 5,000 bottles. “I’m not messing around,” says Paskewitz (J.P. Chicago, Wave). “No teeny portions, no small plates, none of that.” Manhattan’s Gotham Bar and Grill was the blueprint for the restaurant, whose name and décor—timber ceilings, padded walls—were inspired by the 1893 world’s fair. “It looks like we pulled it right out of the Columbian Exposition,” he boasts. Knowing Paskewitz, we half expect to see a descendant of Little Egypt dancing the hootchy-kootchy in the private winetasting room. 444 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-644-7200. –Jeff Ruby

Photography: Tyllie Barbosa; Food Styling: Christina Zerkis




Spotlighting two cuisines comes naturally to sibs Aracelia Rodriguez and Frank Aguilera, who run Albany Park’s Borincuba, a friendly, no-frills BYO where all the grub—as well as the name—reflects their dual Puerto Rican-Cuban heritage. “We cook food that we grew up on,” says Aguilera: That means hearty, soulful Carib chow. Order at the counter, and start with empanadas, flaky-crusted and plump with red pepper-dotted ground beef ($1.25), and lightly fried rellenos de papa—creamy, addictive mashed potato balls studded with olives and ground beef ($1.25). The toasty Cuban sandwich filled with lechón (house slow-roasted pork), ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard ($5.95) is a must. Or check out the tropical jibarita, a version of the Chicago-born steak sandwich that substitutes deep-fried ripe plantain for bread. Be sure to request it paired with another Puerto Rican fave, arroz con gandules, achiote-tinted rice with musky pigeon peas. There’s plenty of non-sandwich fare, too, including steaks, pork chops, and a homey, tomato-sparked beef and potato stew (carne con papa; $8.95). There’s no glitz in this storefront spot, but glitz is overrated, anyway. 3424 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-866-2822. –Jill Rohde



Thai Urban Kitchen

Its location in the Ogilvie Transportation Center is odd, its cavernous dining room is uncozy, and even the name of the place—Thai Urban Kitchen—seems miscalculated, given the many Japanese offerings. But the biggest surprise of all is the sophisticated dinner fare. Chef Paul Chantharaviraooj’s sashimi “trio carpaccio” is fresh and elegant; his fried calamari pair perfectly with ginger-avocado sauce. Entrées include sautéed halibut with chervil polenta, and a grilled hanger steak with truffled taro purée and tarragon curry sauce. Whoa! All this and more, just a short trot from a train-station food court. 500 W. Madison St.; 888-955-5885. –Joanne Trestrail



Agave Bar & Grill
Quick: Which tequila is made for after-dinner sipping—anejo, blanco, or reposado? If your answer is a blank stare, it’s time to pay a visit to this Lake View nook, where the extensive tequila list features helpful tasting notes. Once you arrive, you’ll discover Agave is, if anything, more grill than bar. Spinach, cheese, and mushroom empanadas sit in smoky tomatillo sauce edged with tangy Fresno pepper coulis. Skirt steak is unusually tender, and the tres leches cake packs a boozy punch. When the dining’s done, order a 33. Anejo, that is. 3115 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-404-1800. –Nathaniel Zimmer 

Photography: Kendall Karmanian