Two most frequently asked questions of a restaurant reviewer:
1. How often do you eat out?
2. What’s your favorite restaurant?
1. All the time. It’s an ugly job, but someone has to do it.
2. For what cuisine, what price, what occasion?
Yes, I try all the new places in town, and I keep tabs on the restaurants that have already earned a place in Chicago’s dining listings. When I’m working, I’m eating, but I’m still working. I’m taking notes on the décor, the service, the value, the flavors, the vibe. I distill the experience, share with colleagues (who engage in the same work), and together we come up with the most thoughtful, considered, and responsible restaurant recommendations possible.
But sometimes, a girl just wants to kick back and have dinner—no thinking, no notes, and no photos required. And just like “civilian” diners, I have my go-tos, too.
Love the lemon pancakes for weekend brunch and the skirt steak for dinner. If I’m in a salad mood, it’s the Enlightened Caesar. 519 N. Clark St., 312-284-1377; 671 N. St. Clair, 312-642-0001
My no-brainer for dinner when I’m going to a play at the Belmont Theater. Give me the Belmont Ave. Seafood Salad every time. Fills me up but doesn’t weigh me down (ideal before sitting through a play). 1258 W. Belmont Ave., 773-281-6000
I’m lost without their sizzling rice soup, scrambled eggs with shrimp (it’s not on the menu, but I know to ask for it), and spicy eggplant at least once a month. 216 W. Cermak Rd.; 312-225-4081
If you really need to find me, check out the back room at Pizano’s, but please don’t bother me while I’m eating my way through a cheese pizza. I stick to plain cheese because I can’t get enough of the pastrylike crust. 864 N. State St., 312-751-1766
Anyone who follows me online, on Twitter, or in print knows of my affection for the Gruntburger. 2056 N. Lincoln Park West, 773-929-5363
I call this retro red sauce joint the Cheers of Streeterville. 201 E. Grand Ave., 312-410-9900
And my late-night drive-thru cravings
Portillo’s for an M.O.T. That’s a dog with mustard, onion, and tomatoes. I always get fries, and I always put the bag in the back seat of the car so I won’t break into it before I get home. 100 W. Ontario St., 312-587-8910
Ditto for the Italian beef sandwich at Al’s Beef. Double-dipped in the gravy (or “wet”) and loaded with sweet peppers. Is there any other way? 169 W. Ontario St., 312-943-3222