In one word – Comforting
Location – 218 W Kinzie (Kinzie and Wells)
Food – I had no idea what to expect from Bavette’s (you know, other than bar and beef) and ended up being pleasantly surprised. The cuisine is ideal for the onset of winter – rich comfort food. I ended up having the burger, which was the perfect size for this hungry gal. I added a side of pomme frite because I was on a calorie binge. Did I stop there? Of course not. I topped off the meal with creamed spinach that had bleu cheese and caramelized onions. Did I have indigestion after that decadent meal? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. Would I come back? In an instant.
Drink –The place feels like a 20’s speakeasy. The drink list fit the environment perfectly. I ended up going for the French 75, which was large, tasty and lasted me through the entire meal.
Service – Our server was chatty, and she provided good recommendations on the food and drink front.
Scene – This is where the restaurant really flourishes. When I sat down in our round booth, I actually felt like I was taken to another time period. The restaurant is decorated like a 20’s speakeasy. Everything in the restaurant aligns with that theme, from the seats to the bartender’s outfits. It’s a really fun experience.
Occasion – The occasion set for Bavette’s is vast. I could see this as a fun date spot or a good place with the girls or the guys. I’m considering having my next birthday party here.
Price – I spent $48 with tax and tip. The cost per calorie made this a bargain.
If you like, try…Gilt (same owner)
In one word – Reassuring
Location – 2723 N. Clark (Clark and Diversey)
Food – The Peasantry bills itself as “elevated street food” – everything you could get from a food truck, just much more gourmet. We started with the pigs in a blanket, which was actually chorizo wrapped in dough served on a bed of white beans and bacon. Excellent, but note that the spicy chorizo is an overpowering element. We then had the reconstructed poutine. I asked why it was reconstructed; we were told it was because the duck confit was separate from the gravy. Anyway, served on a bed of waffle fries, it was unhealthy and delicious. We then finished off with the pork belly gyro. Less like a gyro and more like pork belly on a crispy crepe (which is a compliment).
Drink – They have a craft beer and wine list, but I was fine with their house selection ($6.50 / glass, perfection).
Service – So nice to us! We had lots of questions and asked of all their recommendations. I trusted all the opinions of our servers. They were honest and genuinely wanted to ensure we were happy with the meal.
Scene – The vibe of the restaurant is laid back, though the patrons near us were stereotypical Lincoln Park. Not ideal, but reminded me that I am a smart woman and should feel grateful for that fact. No offense if you live in Lincoln Park.
Occasion – Come here to meet up with friends or for a first date.
Price – We split the meal in half and it came to $37. For the amount we had to eat plus wine, I was impressed with the value.
If you like, try…the Gage
In one word – Indulgent
Location – 644 N. Orleans (Orleans & Erie)
Food – True to its name, you can get any and all brunch options at Brunch. I had a hard time making a decision, but ended up getting an appetizer of seared blueberry muffin tops to start (because every brunch requires an appetizer course) and then went on to the Tower of Power. Yes, I fell for the allure of the name and the description (two scrambled eggs with vanilla bean, maple glazed bacon, zucchini with white cheddar and tarragon pesto aioli served with Brunch potatoes). I made it through about a third of the dish. It’s so filling – not sure I would choose it again. Next time, I’m going to follow my heart and get the red velvet pancakes.
Drink – Intelligensia coffee. I was happy.
Service – I asked a lot of questions of our server, and he was super patient with me and made sure all my requests were accommodated.
Scene – Overall, it’s pretty low key in here. My only issue was that the 2 top tables were far too close to each other. I noticed that the girl at the table next to me had to plug one of her ears in order to hear her eating companion speak (because obviously I wasn’t going to make it easier for her by lowering my voice). Spreading out the tables a bit would make a world of difference.
Occasion – Come here for your normal brunch occasion. It’s super casual in here, but since the tables are close, do us a favor and shower first.
Price – $20.72 for my entree, coffee and a small orange juice. That worked for me.
If you like, try – Orange, Yolk
In one word – Customized
Location – 666 W Diversey Parkway (Diversey & Clark)
Food – This is a classy diner option in Lincoln Park, where you can customized your burger to your high maintenance needs. Once seated, you fill out a card where you state your chosen protein, cheese and toppings. Making these decisions gave me the same stress I feel when picking out my stirfry at Flat Top Grill. For some reason, whether or not add roasted garlic aioli feels like the decision that could alter the course of my life. However, I got lucky and made a good decision this time – 1/3 lb of turkey with swiss cheese, grilled onions, avocado, tomato and ginger soy glaze. And sweet potato fries. Do yourself a favor and order the sweet potato fries.
Drink – They have normal diner beverages, including floats.
Service – Essentially you need someone to take the sheet of paper that you fill out and deliver it to the kitchen and then come back in a reasonable amount of time with your order. All systems were go, and I found no fault in the service.
Scene – It’s feels like a futuristic diner in here. I appreciated the cleanliness of the establishment, sometimes a characteristic lacking in a diner…Very casual. Come here during the day in your best hoodie.
Occasion – I wouldn’t say this is a destination, but if you find yourself in this area, it’s worth room in your stomach.
Price – $19.12 for a burger, soda and sharing sweet potato fries. Yeah, it was expensive, but I didn’t have buyer’s remorse.
If you like, try – DMK Burger Bar
In one word – Patience
Location – 401 1/2 N. Franklin (Franklin and Kinzie)
Food – I had read so much hype about the Doughnut Vault, I had to try it myself. To obtain a doughnut from the Doughnut Vault, you stand in a long line that weaves from Franklin onto Kinzie for minimum 45 minutes (my wait on a Saturday was 65 minutes). And when you finally are able to enter the vault, which can fit 5 people max, you can order a selection of doughnuts. When I finally got in the special birthday cake doughnut was sold out (mega FAIL), so I tried the chestnut and the chocolate glazed doughnuts. Beware, these doughnuts are giant. I truly believe that a normal sized human being should/can only have half a doughnut (unless feeling sick from overindulging in sugar is your thing). The doughnuts were special. Whether it was worth the wait is debatable, but I think everyone should have the Doughnut Vault at least once.
Drink – You can get Metropolis Coffee here, which tasted great to me after my long uncaffeinated wait.
Service – You really only interact with the cashier for about a minute. But, she was fast, so I was appreciative. It’s cash only, so leave the plastic at home.
Scene – So much of the experience is the wait. When you stand in line for that long, you are forced to become friendly with your neighboring fellow patrons (whether you want to or not). So, it became a very social, community experience. We learned about where our neighbors were from, what they liked and didn’t like about living in the city and which doughnuts they were going to buy. Misanthropes, you’ve been warn.
Occasion – I dragged my friend with me to stand in line for over an hour. She was not pleased. Find a patient person to go with.
Price – $10 for 3 doughnuts and a coffee.
If you like, try – Krispy Kreme?
In one word – Sociable
Location – 5260 N. Clark (Clark and Berwyn)
Food – I had a bunch of friends getting together, so I thought that Lady Gregory’s would be the ideal venue to catch up over food and drinks. We started with Goat Cheese, Basil, Tomato Flat Bread (ah-maze) and then the sweet potato fries, which frankly weren’t that awesome (go to Hopleaf for their curry fries instead). I wasn’t super hungry after that, so I had Cavolo Nero soup, which had white beans and kale. Loved loved loved it. And, it was a very generous portion. My eating partners had the portobello mushroom sandwich (got good reviews), the Gastro Burger (which is like eating 3 burgers at once) and the macaroni & cheese (which looked like a heart attack on a plate…in a good way).
Drink – This place prides itself on its beer and whiskey selection. The whiskey list alone is an entire book.
Service – Our server was named Laura, and she was fantastic. The group I was with was energetic and sociable, and she indulged us in conversation and quality recommendation.
Scene – Like Branch 27, Lady Gregory’s is modeled after a library. The library vibe wasn’t too strong where we were sitting, but it did feel like a social English pub (which I liked). The place was full despite it being a Wednesday night during the holidays. And, I appreciated that they allowed us to sit despite not all of our party being present when our table was ready.
Occasion – This is a fun place to catch up with friends, no matter the size of your group.
Price – I spent $37 for my soup, my share of appetizers, 2 beers and a generous tip (because Laura was really exceptional).
If you like, try – Wilde (same owner), Duke of Perth
In one word – Gourmet
Location – 615 N. State (State and Ontario)
Food – I am always open to gourmet chefs opening affordable spots for us less-fancy folks (see – Rick Bayless and all his jazz at Macy’s and Xoco). Graham Elliot did the same with this little sandwich spot on State. I opted for the vegetarian option on the menu, the Portobello Gyro, which had these great marinated portobello mushrooms with tomatoes, cucumber, tzatiki and feta cheese. All of it was served on a great pita. It was the most messy sandwich I’ve eaten in a while, but I thought it was totally worth it. My eating partner had the same and came to the same satisfied conclusion. I was full, but not too full after lunch. They also had popcorn and soft serve ice cream, which I plan to indulge in at some point.
Drink – I didn’t try them, but they make their own sodas here and have exotic-sounding flavors like vanilla kola.
Service – There is no table service. You order at a register and the cashier puts your order into a fancy iPad (how modern of them!). It took them about 5 minutes to make our sandwich. Works for me.
Scene – When I came, there were many families of tourists. The eating experience is fast, so they shouldn’t bother you too much. Worst comes to worst, take your food to go.
Occasion – When your parents come to the city and you need a lunch break as you are shopping on Michigan and State, come here.
Price – With tax, my sandwich was $8.88.
If you like, try – Xoco, Hannah’s Bretzel
In one word – Lackluster
Location – 205 N. Peoria (Peoria and Lake)
Food – So I’m going to be frank, I was really not impressed by Meze. The food was just adaquate. Let’s start with the best, which were the bacon wrapped dates. Obvi, you can’t really mess those up (unless they’re cold). And, ours were piping hot, so I was happy. The rest of the meal was just “eh.” We had the Goat Cheese and Tomato Tart, which felt like a Trader Joe’s frozen appetizer to me. Not impressed. Then we had the Grilled Baby Lambchops with Red Pepper Puree. I felt like it was defrosted and then served. Maybe it wasn’t, but it felt like it was and that’s what counts to me. Finally we had the Greek Pomme Frites. They are french fries. How do you mess them up? They were soggy and I didn’t think that the feta cheese enhanced the dish (I can’t believe I just said that).
Drink – I had the Pinot Noir, which I actually liked. I wish I had written the name down so I can get it on my next trip to Trader Joe’s (ha.).
Service – My favorite moment during the meal was when our server asked us if we needed more time to decide what we wanted to order and when we said yes, he responded with “Ok, I’ll come back in 3 minutes.” Even though he was precise at the beginning, it later became impossible to get his attention for the rest of the meal. I had to resort to waving my arms over my head to get his attention (which I’m not above doing).
Scene – When we came it was empty, like really empty. But, I blame that on going during the holidays when most seem to be out of town. If it were to be filled, I would imagine that this would be a place to dress to impress.
Occasion – You could come here with friends or on a date…that is if you were to come here at all (aw snap, GB).
Price – My portion of the meal was $53 with tax and tip. So not worth it.
If you like, try – Cafe Ba-ba-reeba, Cafe Iberico, Emilios, really any other tapas place
In one word – Unwelcome
Location – 3023 N. Broadway (Broadway and Wellington)
Food – Given that head chef and co-owner, Chuy Valencia, is on this season of Top Chef, my eating partners and I had to go check out what the hype was about. Note: They serve their food on small plates, so despite the extensive list of food that follows, we weren’t porkers during the meal. We started with the guacamole. There was nothing truly unusual about the execution, but they executed well. We then had the young green salad, which was served with jicama, oranges, avocado (they didn’t skimp!) and candied pepitas. Those pepitas were an awesome alternative to the candied pecans you usually see in a salad. Then we had the shitake mushroom empanadas. This was probably my least favorite item – I wanted it to be more substantial, but that was tough to do with just a veggie filling. After that, we had chicken flautas, which were served in this flavorful chipotle sauce. This was my favorite dish of the night – highly recommend. We finished dinner with the mahi mahi special of the day. It was a substantial piece of fish and was served with blue potatoes (love) and brussel sprouts (also love). Impressed with the dish, but liked the flautas more. Now time for dessert (no judgment please): We picked the chocolate mousse which had a spice goat cheese center and was served with marshmallow sauce. My eating partners exhibited restraint when eating this treat. But, not me! I pushed through despite the richness of the dish. No regrets!
Drink – It’s BYOB here, cost saver!
Service – This is where I have my beef. I made a reservation and happened to be 10 minutes late (LSD traffic is OOC these days!). Our server was giving my eating partners (who were on time) a hard time about it. He made it very clear that they need to turn over tables fast – not the way to make your guests feel welcome. On the menu, it advises you to “eat it and beat it” and dictates a 2 beer maximum…for a BYOB place. What is this? Ed Debevics? I get that they want manage their tables, but you can’t do it at the expense of the customer experience. Honestly I felt unwelcome during the entire meal. Not cool.
Scene – The restaurant itself is very vibrant and filled with energy. That being said, the vibe of the place is super casual.
Occasion – There were a few larger groups seated and the rest of the tables were filled with 2-4 people. The space itself is not that big, so it’s probably better to come with a small group. Because of their need to turn tables, I wouldn’t come here for a leisurely date. Come when you want to experience good food in the most efficient way.
Dress – Don’t bother with the fancy dress, keep it comfortable and casual.
Price – Cheap! All that food was $25 per person including tax and tip. #BYOBswinning
If you like, try…Anywhere in Pilsen, Adobo Grill, Salpicon
In one word – Overdelivered
Location – 2119 S. Halsted (21st and Halsted)
Food – OMG, I am so into Nightwood. I came upon several recommendations from friends around town and was not disappointed. My eating partner and I started with the roasted Japanese sweet potatoes served with breadcrumbs, parsley, capers and aioli. You know when you take a bite of something and then do a double take because there is a party in your mouth. Well, that happened for both of us. If you come here, I insist you have this as an appetizer. For entrees, my eating partner when for the spit-roasted half chicken served with mashed potates, rapini and gravy. The portion was huge and he was really happy with the execution. I went for the farfalle served with venison and mint. It was a small dish that was super filling – the venison was ground, so the sauce was more a slightly creamy ragu. I was closed to licking my plate clean. We were so full, so we skipped dessert. Next time, I will ensure I plan my meal better so I can indulge in sweetness.
Drink – We each started with a cocktail. I had the Wuthering Heights – Broker’s gin, earl grey tea, Cocchi Americano, egg white, rosemary and orange bitters. It felt like fall – felt like apple cider meets egg nog. Absolutely loved it. My eating partner had New Amsterdam – Buffalo Trace bourbon, Averna amaro, tawny port, brandied cherries and Nightwood bitters. He is a real bourbon lover and was raving about his drink.
Service – By now, you should know that I have a love for unpretentious, yet helpful service at a restaurant. Our server at Nightwood was perfect. She was this adorable hipster who didn’t push us through our meal and offered (really spot on) recommendations when we were ordering.
Occasion – I think you can come here for anything. Dinner with friends, a date, a birthday meal. I hear Nightwood has an excellent brunch, too.
Scene – So Pilsen is turning into the new Logan Square. The restaurant was hopping and was filled with those yuppie hipsters (you know what I’m talking about, they bathe but still wear plaid). The vibe of the restaurant is energetic. Awesome exposed brick, a beautiful bar, this AMAZING outdoor patio with a fireplace where you can wait for your table. I thought that that the tables were a bit close together. I had to suffer through listening to my neighbors say mean things about the University of Chicago (my alma mater) and could not interject my opinion.
Dress – Wear something that shows off your personality. There is no need to dress up. But, if you had an occasion to look nice, no one would look twice.
Price – I spent $46 and felt like it was a good value.
If you like, try…Lula (who also own Nightwood), Longman & Eagle, Publican