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. $$$$
1252 N. Wells. Old Town. 312-988-7811
Mexican. Priscila Satkoff’s subtle yet self-assured interpretations of Mexican classics don’t shine quite as brightly as they did when the restaurant first opened in 1995. By now, some of her offerings feel a bit familiar—think tamales, seviche, guacamole, tostadas—but the time and care she puts into her entrées still produce artistically plated delights, including a smoky-sweet pork tenderloin glazed with a tomato chipotle spread and a juicy bone-in pork chop set in a coffee-like Oaxacan ancho chile mole. The tequila list remains impressive, not to mention servers who educate while they entertain.
D nightly. Br Sun. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, outdoor dining. $$$
111 N. Carpenter. West Loop. 312-421-2800
French. Such deals: half-price wine on Mondays, dollar oysters at the bar on Fridays. Tuesday’s bargain is best of all, especially in this spendy part of town—any appetizer, entrée, and dessert for $27.50. Bistro standards such as brandade, tarte flambé, and poached salmon with leeks are successful, but more ambitious fare can disappoint. Braised short rib was both fatty and tough on a recent visit, and a rabbit ragoût on pappardelle was more about mushrooms than lapin. Presentations can be slapdash; a sweet exception is the delicate Grand Marnier soufflé, which arrives piping hot and camera-ready. All French wines.
L Mon–Fri, D Mon–Sat. Br Sun. Wheelchair accessible, high noise level. $$
325 W. Huron. River North. 312-664-2727
Latin American. Pan-Latin’s day has come and gone, but Nacional 27 soldiers on, slinging Mojitos and tiny tacos (with crispy shells!) like it’s 1998. At 11 p.m. on the weekends, dancers descend. Until then, you can feast on a handsome hunk of short rib in ancho chili sauce or fork-tender suckling pig over mashed boniato. Giggle at the mini tacos if you like, but you’ll gobble them up all the same. Finish with a tres leches cake, and you might ask yourself why that marvelous confection has yet to make the jump to mainstream ubiquity. Who’s ahead of the curve now?
D Mon–Sat. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, outdoor dining, high noise level, will seat past 11 p.m. (Fri, Sat). $$
464 N. Halsted. West Town. 312-421-0077
Italian. Homemade pastas, high-quality ingredients, and technical proficiency continue to roll out of Tony Priolo’s kitchen to convivial customers in the hip dining room (and on the fab patio in summer). The menu’s most successful dishes bring new angles to classics, such as an earthy fettuccine with ratatouille-like roasted veggies and just-gamy-enough lamb meatballs. Watch for a tagliolini with pheasant ragu. The sweetly perfumed saffron-honey panna cotta might be the “little dream” the restaurant’s name refers to.
L Mon–Fri, D nightly. Free parking (lunch only), wheelchair accessible, child friendly, outdoor dining, high noise level. $$$