Amelia’s Bar & Grill
4559 S Halsted. Canaryville. 773-538-8200
Mexican. Amid a sea of vacant lots stands Amelia’s, where Eusebio Garcia prepares upscale Mexican food with—aptly—unexpected touches. The quesadilla de huitlacoche carries a zingy citrus flavor, and caramelized green papaya and mango accompany the salmón al carbón entrée. The robust roasted chicken breast comes with a ton of oyster mushrooms and a rich sauce. Solid desserts, affordable wine list.
L Mon–Fri, D daily. Br Sat, Sun. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO ($5 corkage per bottle). $
Ann Sather •
909 W Belmont. Lake View. 773-348-2378
Diner food. It’s all about the cinnamon rolls—dense yet soft, drowning in a sugary glaze. (See annsather.com for all locations.)
B & L daily. Free dinner parking, wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO. ¢
ATK Andy’s Thai Kitchen
946 W. Wellington. Lake View. 773-549-7821
Thai. In this tiny spot under the el, expect fine renditions of familiar dishes but also many delightful offbeat options: Think crispy onchoy and seriously spicy yum woon sen talay.
L & D daily. BYO, will seat past 11 p.m. (Fri) ¢
800 W Randolph. West Loop. 312-929-4580
American. Abandon your diet and plunge fork-first into the unapologetically heavy grub at Brendan Sodikoff’s chic diner-style charmer. Servers—arguably the city’s best—ably suggest craft brews to complement the downright droolworthy fried bologna sandwich or perhaps garlicky mashed potatoes to supplement the juiciest and most humongous pork porterhouse imaginable. A cheeseburger? Go for broke and add a fried egg on top.
L Mon–Fri, D nightly. Br Sat, Sun. Wheelchair accessible, BYO (you must share one glass with another table), high noise level, will seat past 11 p.m. $$
Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf
218 W Kinzie. River North. 312-624-8154
American, steaks. Sure, the rib eye is delicious at Brendan Sodikoff’s sexy bi-level spot. But the true stunners are found outside the menu’s steak section. A gigantic meatball nested among chewy hand-cut noodles is simplicity perfected; ditto the lemony roast chicken and the prime rib sandwich that drips with smoky Monterey Jack. Augment your meal with the city’s best old fashioned and a wedge of velvety chocolate cream pie.
D nightly. Wheelchair accessible, BYO (you must share one glass with another table), will seat past 11 p.m. (Fri, Sat). $$$$
1400 W Randolph. West Loop. 312-563-1010
Pan-Asian. Our bellies already crave Bill Kim’s (UrbanBelly, Belly Shack) fare, and his warehouse-chic barbecue concept just deepens the desire. Whether you snag a tabletop grill for a DIY experience or relax and let Kim and crew work their magic from the kitchen, start with the golf-ball-size crispy tofu, move on to the succulent tea-smoked duck medallions, and finish with the textural delights of the seafood hot pot. UrbanBelly shares BellyQ’s address but has its own entrance and phone number (773-583-0500).
L Mon–Sat, D nightly. Br Sun. Free parking (lunch and brunch only), wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO (Sun only), outdoor dining. $
1912 N. Western. Logan Square. 773-252-1414
Asian-Latin. Bill Kim’s ode to Korean street food—by way of Puerto Rico—offers great quality for little money. Korean barbecue beef and quinoa ssam salads cover almost every table.
L & D Tue–Sun. Wheelchair accessible, BYO. ¢
1039 N. Western. Ukrainian Village. 773-395-2483
American. Adjoining the Empty Bottle, this amiably hip hangout possesses some serious cooking chops. Garlic-scented roast chicken is a treat; ditto the pan-seared seafood.
B, L & D daily. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO, high noise level, will seat past 11 p.m. ¢
3023 N. Broadway. Lake View. 773-296-6901
Mexican. The ingenious small plates, particularly the honey-pasilla pork ribs and the scallops in sweet corn sauce, help you forgive the basement locale and no weekend rezzies. Cash only.
D Tue–Sat. Child friendly, BYO, high noise level. $
2466 W. Armitage. Logan Square. 773-697-4597
Mexican. Jorge Miranda kicks ass with grilled chicken, shrimp, or steak piled into a molcajete along with cactus and a spirited arbol tomatillo salsa. Give the feisty shrimp seviche a nibble.
D nightly. Child friendly, BYO, outdoor dining, high noise level. $$
354 W Hubbard. River North. 312-988-0078
American brasserie. With red leather seating, crystal chandeliers, and more woodwork than a British country manor, Brendan Sodikoff’s retro brasserie positively glows with sepia tones. The space feels historical without being antiquated. Ditto for the menu, which reads like a page from the Eisenhower administration—chicken liver, broiled salmon, blackened steak—but the dishes are rich, complex, and assured. The mussels and marrow starter soaks crunchy toast in a white wine broth, while a seemingly simple cauliflower salad gets notched up with crisp apples and aged white cheddar. Try the gribiche-dressed schnitzel and juicy roast chicken, which bring the pleasures of the past to life. Great sides, including knishes and potato pancakes, plus a dandy selection of pies and cakes, add extra smiles.
B, L & D daily. Br Sat, Sun. Wheelchair accessible, BYO. (you must share one glass with another table) $$
2419 W. 14th. Douglas Park. 312-226-8144
Progressive. Cloaked in the shadows along a dreary stretch of 14th Street, Phillip Foss’s cramped but convivial BYO hideaway offers all the curb appeal of a Prohibition speakeasy. Fear not. Inside, Foss fans out 24 seats around a tiny open kitchen, creating an interactive dinner party where guests can chat with chefs as they prepare the multicourse tasting menu of the night. A global array of ingredients fused with an iconoclastic spirit makes for a unique evening. Think bite-size pearls of oysters wrapped in wagyu beef, kohlrabi kimchi, and garlic; squid stuffed with pork sausage and served over coconut curry; and a deconstructed pecan pie paired with puréed carrots roasted under coffee grounds. Despite some drawbacks—including set dinner times and a blaring soundtrack—the energy of the room and the inventiveness of the cuisine help make up for the hefty price tag.
D Tue–Sat. Wheelchair accessible, BYO, high noise level. $$$$
230 W Kinzie. River North. 312-464-9544
Contemporary American. Brendan Sodikoff’s debut project mixes gilt and shadows, but ace servers keep things light, steering you through the menu of notched-up comfort food. Splurge on the blatantly hearty meat dishes, such as a delicious 20- to 25-ounce rib eye. Intriguing cocktails and impeccably curated beer list. Fudgy brownies satisfy with simplicity.
D nightly. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO (you must share one glass with another table), outdoor dining, high noise level, will seat past 11 p.m. (Fri, Sat). $$$
2656 W. Lawrence. Lincoln Square. 773-942-7547
Contemporary American. At Chris Nugent’s 34-seat upscale storefront, every dish of the $135 prix fixe menu is beautiful, from chestnut soup with white alba mushrooms to a chocolate ganache enfolding hazelnut nougatine.
D Wed–Sat. Free dinner parking, wheelchair accessible, BYO. $$$$
2557 W Chicago. Humboldt Park. 773-278-5776
Sushi/Japanese. Sit-down restaurants don’t come much cozier or more charming. Twin-bro chefs Melvin and Carlo Vizconde put out superb sushi, sashimi, kushiyaki, and maki of every description, as well as elegant tonkatsu shiso age, memorable unagi poppers, and much more. A multicourse tasting menu is $50.
D Thu–Tue. Wheelchair accessible, BYO ($5 corkage). $$
222 E Ontario. Streeterville. 312-649-9010
French. The gilded vibe at this Richie Rich throwback extends to Roland Liccioni’s four-course prix fixe menu, which bursts with sumptuous flavors. Highlights include a magnificent Kobe beef filet with trumpet royale mushrooms and shallot sauce and an arctic char with a maitake mushroom, resting on forbidden rice and a sauce of yellow tomato and lemongrass. The wine list is impressive, the staff completely affable. Prix fixe options: three courses, $65 (before 5:30 p.m.); four courses, $115; five courses, $130.
D Tue–Sat. BYO (Thu only). $$$$
505 Main, Evanston. 847-864-3435
Seafood. Mark Grosz puts haute cuisine moves—and prices—on fine sea fare in his perennially popular and recently renovated Spanish-style haven. Expect delicate amuses and intermezzo sorbets to frame precisely cooked fish and shellfish garnished with freshly picked produce in complex, if occasionally overwrought, presentations. Succulent lobster figures in both chowdery Michigan corn soup and a salad of heirloom tomato, avocado, and buffalo mozzarella dappled with caviar. Port reduction makes an ideal sauce for snowy Alaskan halibut with basil mashed potatoes and local vegetables. Among dessert platter stars: pot de crème with caramel and Valrhona chocolate. Vast award-winning wine list.
D Mon–Sat. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO (Mon only), outdoor dining. $$$$
Pho Xe Tang
4953 N. Broadway. Uptown. 773-878-2253
Vietnamese. Ignore the charmless room and focus on dishes such as the catfish hot pot and, of course, the pho, so deeply flavorful you’ll swear it has curative powers. The fabulous coconut chicken curry comes with a banh mi roll.
B, L & D Thu–Tue. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO. ¢
Pleasant House Bakery •
964 W 31st. Bridgeport. 773-523-7437
British. The most aptly named restaurant in Chicago, this enthusiastic little countertop BYO does only a few things—gravy chips, homemade sodas, and pies, both sweet and savory—and it does them all incredibly well.
L & D daily. Br Sun. Wheelchair accessible, BYO, outdoor dining. ¢
Prairie Grass Cafe
601 Skokie, Northbrook. 847-205-4433
Contemporary American. George Bumbaris and Sarah Stegner deliver stylish comfort food at their perennially packed gem. Pâté with Cognac-marinated prunes and Italian sausage with basil rémoulade, balsamic reduction, and grilled vegetables are what this place is all about. Whatever you do, save room for a piece of Mom’s seasonal pie, perhaps blueberry in a heavenly crust.
L Mon–Fri, D nightly. Br Sat, Sun. Free dinner parking, wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO (Mon only). $$
64 Green Bay, Winnetka. 847-441-3100
French. The elegant retreat, with cream tablecloths and meticulous service, reminds you of just how enjoyable—and rich—formal French dining can be. Complete with sweetbread appetizers, Dijon-style short ribs, and yellowtail snapper with cauliflower purée, the menu is a tribute to French fare of yore. First-rate wine list. Three prix fixe menus ($49.50, $58, $75).
D Tue–Sun. Free dinner parking, wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO (Tue only). $$$$
851 N. Ashland. West Town. 312-624-8509
Contemporary American. This tiny candlelit room has a solid following and long lines. But the playful look and clever spins (shrimp and grits becomes seafood in tomato-tarragon shrimp bisque on a polenta cake) make the wait worthwhile.
D Tue–Sun. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO. $$$
1466 N. Ashland. Wicker Park. 773-252-1466
Contemporary. Michael Carlson turns out brilliant food at this unlikely BYO. For example, ravioli filled with quail egg yolk, truffle, and buffalo to start and candied sweetbreads and parsnip custard to end. $115 prix fixe.
D Tue–Sat. BYO, high noise level. $$$$
Shokran Moroccan Restaurant
4027 W. Irving Park. Old Irving Park. 773-427-9130
Moroccan. This friendly gem offers a kitschy-cozy setting for couscous, kebabs, tagines, and—best of all—bastila, a sweet-savory phyllo pastry filled with shredded chicken and crushed almonds. Cash only.
D Wed–Mon. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO. $
Smoque BBQ •
3800 N Pulaski. Irving Park. 773-545-7427
Barbecue. After bursting on the scene in 2006, this bare-bones smokehouse still smolders. The brisket, the pulled pork, and the St. Louis ribs live up to the hype. BYO and get in line.
L & D Tue–Sun. Free dinner parking (limited), wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO, outdoor dining. $
4608 N. Western. Lincoln Square. 773-769-1173
Thai. The façade and decor at this retreat, along with the low prices, belie the excellence of the food. A massive portion of boat noodles ($9) easily feeds two, and spice levels don’t get bossy.
L & D daily. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO. ¢
Thai Pastry Restaurant
4925 N. Broadway. Uptown. 773-784-5399
Thai. The menu at this unassuming spot covers more than 100 well-known dishes. Steamed dumplings, kicky salads, and satisfying noodle-centric entrées deliver the goods; curries can be as tongue-tingling as you like.
L Mon–Fri, D nightly. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO, will seat past 11 p.m. (Fri, Sat) ¢
780 Village Center, Burr Ridge. 630-654-1616
Contemporary American. A topaz-tinted beacon for suburbanites seeking approachable fine dining, this elegant spot boasts a big, happy following. Fragrant lobster bisque or grilled Spanish calamari with garbanzo beans and chorizo vinaigrette makes an enticing starter, while juicy lamb chops in currant sauce with parsnip purée is a terrific entrée choice. Snag the scrumptious chocolate lava cake to end.
L Mon–Fri, D nightly. Free dinner parking, wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO (Sun, Mon only), outdoor dining. $$$
Tub Tim Thai
4927 Oakton, Skokie. 847-675-8424
Thai. One of the ultimate budget-friendly Thai spots in the northern suburbs. Ignore the dated decor and the brisk service because the food consistently shines: buttery pad thai, aromatic shrimp fried rice, and specialties such as garlic prawns with crispy basil leaves in lime sauce and stir-fried pad woon sen cellophane noodles. Fried bananas with coconut ice cream to finish.
L & D Mon–Sat. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO ($3 corkage). ¢
4471 Lawn, Western Springs. 708-246-2082
Contemporary American. No one has mastered the time-honored farmhouse arts of making jams, canning, and pickling like Paul Virant. Pickled kumquats. Preserved-tomato aïolis. Milk jams. Vie offers flavors you’ve never tasted before on a menu that moves fearlessly from lamb bacon served atop mint-infused spring peas to wood-fired lobster tails with braised pasta. It’s as tasty (and tasteful) a celebration of rural Midwestern flavors as you’re likely to find.
D Mon–Sat. Free dinner parking, wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO (Tue only, for parties of 1–6). $$$$
1732 N Halsted. Lincoln Park. 312-266-1199
Italian. Plays come and go along this theatre strip, but the curtain never falls on Paul LoDuca’s trusty trattoria or menu faves such as crispy polenta con funghi, juicy grilled hen, and creamy panna cotta. Free corkage if the vintage you bring in is at least 10 years old.
D Tue–Sun. Br Sun. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, BYO, outdoor dining. $$