Location – 51 W. Hubbard (Dearborn and Hubbard)
In one word – Manic
Food – By going at lunch, I ensured that I could focus on the food and that there was not a wait. I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to approach the menu: They have sushi and tacos and sandwiches. It was a bit manic for my taste. After interrogating our server about her favorite dishes, I settled on the Crispy Baja Fish Sandwich. Fish sandwiches are always risky; you run the chance of the overfried or old fillet. I was pleasantly surprised, the fish with its cornmeal crush was crispy but not oily. The jicama adds a cooling aspect to the meal. My eating partner chose the Sonoma salad (spinach, grapefruit, avocado, walnuts, sunflower seeds and cranberries) – it’s huge, totally shareable.
Drink – So this place can turn into a scene, but not at noon on a Tuesday. We kept it clean and ordered diet Cokes all around.
Service – The server indulged in my Q&A session when I felt overwhelmed by the menu. Points for that. She did seem to forget our table when we wanted to take care of the check. Not ideal when you have lunch hour clientele trying to get back for a 1 pm meeting…
Scene – With that Rockit vibe, you feel hip without the place being inaccessible to the average person.
Dress – You ought to show some effort when you come here. Jeans are fine, but spray a little extra Febreeze on them this time.
Cost – With an entree, soft drink, tax and tip, you can have a $22 lunch. No cheap, but you’ll be full when you leave.
If you like, try…Rockit, Sushi Samba Rio
Location – 2162 S. Archer (Archer and Cermak)
In one word – Omnivore
Food – Wanting to try out a new dim sum location, we ventured beyond Phoenix and Happy Chef and tried Shui Wah. Overall my eating partners and I were impressed. However, here’s the general tip for Shui Wah, if you have any eating restrictions, beware. The pork dumplings have shrimp, the chive dumplings have pork…you get the idea. My favorite selections were the pork and egg congee (it’s a Chinese take on Cream of Wheat), the lotus paste buns (sweet and super filling) and the steamed egg-yolk cream roll (best Chinese dessert I’ve had).
Drink – We chose the Jasmine tea, and I proceeded to drink 12 cups of it.
Service – Lucky for me, one of my eating partners spoke Cantonese, which definitely made ordering more efficient. It was a bit difficult to get the wait staff’s attention when we needed anything, but given how cheap the meal was, it’s hard to complain about that.
Scene – We were the only non-Chinese folks in the restaurant, which I took as a good sign. I always assume that in that situation, the food is more authentic and less Americanized. Also, we came on a Monday morning and it was pretty packed. I’d imagine that you’d have to wait to get in on the weekends.
Dress – Dim sum is really casual, so there’s no need to dress up.
Cost – For 8 dim sum dishes (enough to heartily fill 3 people), we each paid $11. Definitely a great deal!
If you like, try…Phoenix, Happy Chef
Location – 2723 N. Clark (Clark and Diversey) or 1055 W. Argyle (Winthrop and Argyle)
In one word – Pho
Food – I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the expert on Vietnamese cuisine. Luckily my eating partners knew what they were talking about and guided me well. I started with the Bo Lui, which are beef skewers covered with soy sauce, honey, lemongrass and sesame seeds. I dug them. For my main, I chose Pho Ga, which is a rice noodle soup with chicken. Post meal, I learned that the proper way to eat Pho is to go for the substantial items (meat, noodles, etc.) first. Only after you’ve taken on the big items do you drink the broth. I was a fool and got sucked in by the broth (it’s so tasty!). As a result, like a novice, I filled up too fast and not on the hearty stuff. I took the rest home, so I’ll practice my Pho eating skills again tomorrow.
Drink – They’ve got bubble teas here. I went for a glass of wine, a pinot noir, which was actually pretty good.
Service – We had a little confusion regarding a Thai iced tea over. But, the mishap was taken care of quickly and quietly. Other than that, service was good.
Scene – It was more chic than I expected. The place has a very warm, rich feel to it.
Dress – However, don’t feel like you need to dress to the nines. Everyone was really casual, jeans and sweaters work just fine.
Cost – We split our bill, and I paid $20. All in all, a decent deal.
If you like, try…Pho 777 (haven’t been myself, but my eating partners recommended it)
Location – 1136 W. Chicago and 543 W. Diversey
In one word – Substantial
Food – I decided to check out the new Lincoln Park Sushi X outpost and was very impressed. I’m a sucker for tempura flakes, so I had the Honey Roll (with Albacore). It was exactly what I was looking for, crunchy, slightly sweet and filing. Then I moved on to a few Avocado Rolls. My eating partner and I marvelled over the fact that the avocado pieces in each roll were really substantial. Lots of avocado means that I’m a happy patron. My eating partner had the Unagi Roll and the Godzilla Roll. The Godzilla Roll seems to be the must-have at Sushi X.
Drink – It’s BYOB right now, which is an ideal cost saver.
Service – The service wasn’t bad, but our server definitely was more of a Lincoln Park trixie than a sushi afficianado. With time though, I think she could become an expert on the cuisine. I liked that we walked in at 8 pm on a Saturday night with no reservations and didn’t have to wait for a table.
Scene – So the Lincoln Park Sushi X is much less intimidating than the one on Chicago Avenue. It still has that dark, techno vibe, but it’s much bigger and brighter.
Dress – There was a mix of outfits. Some ladies were dressed to the nines, perhaps starting here before tearing up…Lincoln Park. Everyone else was more casual. The vibe at the Lincoln Park restaurant is much less trendy than its Ukranian Village sister.
Cost – With tax and tip, I paid $20. For filling sushi, that’s cheap!
If you like, try…Butterfly
Location – 2172 S. Archer Ave. (New Chinatown Mall)
In one word – Tony’s
Food – So this place serves up authentic Szechwan cuisine and overall it’s good. My favorite, by far, was Tony’s chicken. It’s kind of like Sweet and Sour Chicken, except crispier, spicier and not served with that goopy sauce. They have an overwhelming menu (it’s pages and pages). Your best bet is to go with someone who knows a lot about the cuisine and can make informed ordering decisions. Otherwise, it’s a total crap shoot on what you’ll get. Another time I came, I went upstairs to eat hot pot (kind of like Chinese fondue in a way). That was a fun, interactive experience. At the end of the meal, you get your fortune cookie. For the first time in my life, I played the lotto numbers on the back of my fortune…but I didn’t win.
Drink – It’s unclear on whether beer is an option or not here. We tried to order it and were told it’s only served by the case. I didn’t really know what to make of that. You’re better up loading up on the tea that they serve you at the table.
Service – I don’t know of a place in Chinatown that has exceptional service. With that in mind, this place wasn’t THAT bad. I mean, you may not get all of your questions about the menu answered, but you will get your food. Isn’t that all can ask for?
Scene – It’s your standard Chinese restaurant scene. No frills, no one to impress, just good food to eat. It’s fine to come here with a group. There are plenty of large tables here.
Cost – You can get away with paying $20 for an entree and an appetizer.
If you like, try…Happy Chef, Joy Yee’s
Location – 72o N. State (State and Superior)
In one word – Molten
Food – We decided to come to Roy’s for the Restaurant Week Dinner Menu ($31.95 for a three course prix fixe menu). Roy’s has Hawaiian cuisine, so come here for fish, steak and cake. The appetizer was a sampler of chicken spring rolls (flavorful, nice cream sauce accompanying it), pork ribs and coconut crusted shrimp. All in all, a nice way to start the meal. There were three main entree options. I chose the Tender Braised Honey Mustard Short Rib. I’m not big on red meat, but I enjoyed this very much. The meat was pretty succulent, and it was served with mashed potatoes and some random veggies. I only finished half of the entree because I wanted to save myself for dessert. My eating partners opted for the Blue Crab Dynamite Crusted Skate (but they were out of skate, so they offered a substitute fish which worked just fine) and a Shrimp/Gnocchi entree (that eating partner polished that off, so I have no wonder on what she thought). Then it came time for dessert. I’ve been to Roy’s before, and I decided to come back solely because of the molten chocolate cake. To say it’s divine is an understatement. You have to try it to believe it.
Drink – We ordered this great (cheap) bottle of pinot blanc from Alsace. Awesome pick!
Service – Our server knew what he was doing. He recited the menu highlights like a pro and made us feel confident with our selection. While a bit cocky, I liked him.
Scene – The lights were dim and the Wallflowers were humming softly in the background. Obviously this could be a place to take a date. I saw a lot of groups, like 6 or more people.
Dress – The place is a little formal, but I still got away with wearing jeans there on a Tuesday night. If you came on the weekend, I think you’d be expected to try a bit harder.
Cost – Because it was Restaurant Week, our three course meal was $31.95. Adding tax, tip and wine, our total was $56 each. It didn’t feel as cheap as Restaurant Week is supposed to be, but I’m over it. For reference, Roy’s has a $35 prix fixe menu throughout the year.
If you like, try…Vong’s Thai Kitchen
Location – 1156 W. Grand (Grand and Racine)
In one word – Cheap!
Food – Because of a raving recommendation from a GB reader, I had kind of high expectations for Butterfly. I was not disappointed! The menu is filled with both Japanese and Thai options. One eating partner went the Thai route ordering the Chicken Pad Thai. She seemed to be really happy with it. Our only comment was that it would have been helpful to have red pepper at the table to amp up the spice. My other eating partner and I shared a few rolls, the avocado roll and crunchy spicy tuna roll. We also shared the Rama Noodles (peanut noodles) with both tofu and chicken. This was such comfort food, I loved it! An order of salmon nigiri was also ordered at the table, which looked really fresh. After our meal, our server brought out dessert on the house. It was piece of cheesecake, which likely was straight out of the Sara Lee box. But, who am I to complain? It was free!
Drink – The place is BYOB with no corkage fee. This helps keep the cost cheap!
Service – I was nervous about the service from the reviews I had read on Yelp prior to going. The service wasn’t amazing, but it don’t have any genuine complaints. When I walked in, they didn’t have our reservation written down, but they were still able to seat me immediately. When you give me free cheesecake for no reason, any possible issues are forgiven.
Scene – For such a bargain eat, the feel of the place is pretty trendy. There’s low lights (a party sitting down the way from us pulled out a flashlight to read the menu) and orange accents. My only issue with the decor was this one random silver squid-looking piece hanging from the ceiling. My eating partners and I thought it was kind of distracting. Come here with some girl friends or on a date. I saw a group here for a birthday dinner too.
Dress – My gut is that on the weekends, the patrons look pretty cute, particularly if they’re there on dates. I wore jeans and Pumas and still felt okay, but again I would feel comfortable in a sweatsuit at Trotter’s…
Cost – This was the best part. For the rolls and entrees, I had to pay$11 (we split the tab in thirds). I feel like this is the best bang for my buck in West Town.
If you like, try…Oysy, Mirai, Bistro Pacifico
Location – 901-3 W. Armitage (Fremont and Armitage)
In one word – Pan-Asian
Food – If you can’t decide between Chinese and Japanese, come to ShineMorida. My eating partner and I stuck to the Japanese cuisine. We started with the house salad, which is served with a nice ginger dressing. After that, we shared three rolls. My favorite was the mango salmon maki. We also had the honey tempura tuna maki and the vegetable maki. I was satisfied.
Drink – There was a drink list, but I hydrated with water.
Service – We had good service – our server was nice, our order was correct, the water glasses stayed full. Works for me.
Occasion – The restaurant was filled with dates and friends catching up. The vibe was pretty low-key.
Dress – I came here for a Sunday night dinner. My sweater and jeans combo worked perfectly fine.
Cost – For my share of the meal, I put down $26. Not cheap, but you expect to pay that much for sushi.
If you like, try…Mizu Yakitori and Sushi Lounge
Location – 4832 N. Broadway (Broadway and Lawrence)
In one word – Winner
Food – I have been wanting to try the Indian cuisine at Marigold for a while as a result of several recommendations from fellow eaters. Finally the day arrived! Surveying the menu, I saw all Indian standards with little modern twists added to spice up the dishes. A couple of the options stood out. For example, one of the specials was an pear stuffed with paneer (cheese), which was then put in the oven for a carmelized effect. My eating partner finished it so fast that I didn’t even have to ask her what she thought. The proof was the licked clean plate. I started with lamb kofta (Indian lamb meatballs) – very impressive. Then I had the murg makhani (chicken with a creamy tomato sauce). I found it cleaner and less greasy than the typical makhanis you get on Devon. My eating partner had the vegetarian thali (a hodge podge of vegetarian dishes). She seemed to really relish in the chili-flavored corn. We then went further and indulged in a ginger creme brulee. I wasn’t hungry, more curious for a bite. It was a standard creme brulee, but with the ginger, it had even more flavor.
Drink – We were just going to get a glass of wine, but then we saw the cocktail list. We got caught up with the idea of Limca (an Indian soda) and cucumber essence in our drinks, so we ordered the Limca-tini and the Rangpuraana. My eating partner and I learned a lesson – if you’re not a cocktail drinker, even Limca won’t help you. When we could only take two sips our drinks, our waiter took pity on us, relieved us of the glasses and didn’t charge us. That was very nice of him. We instead ordered a glass of the A to Z pinot noir (me) and the Garnacha (eating partner). That sufficed just fine with the spicy meal.
Service – Our server, Neil, was great and made us feel at home. He was jovial and knowledgeable about the menu. He advised us well (with the exception of the cocktails). At the end of the meal, it felt like we had a new friend in Neil.
Occasion – Being in Uptown, the vibe is hip and still casual. There seemed to be a lot of double dates here. I wore a cotton dress with leggings (and thought I looked cute). My eating partner wore her good jeans with a fun sweater. Guys were dressed in jeans, fun t-shirts and stylish caps. I made a note to myself to bring my parents here. I think they’ll like the down-to-earth/innovative combination of the place.
Cost – Three courses, plus wine, tax and tip brought us to $51 each. Was it worth it? I think so, particularly because we were treating it as a special occasion spot. It was my eating partner’s birthday.
If you like, try…Green Zebra, Flo
Location – 175 W. Jackson (Van Buren and Financial), 835 N. Michigan (Water Tower) and 1 W. Wacker (Lake and State)
In one word – Bun-elicious
Foo d – As I was surveying my latest credit card bill, I realized there was an alarming trend – six purchases from WowBao in one month! Obviously I have an addiction. You might be familiar with the Wow Bao’s concept, the Chinese bun (meat inside a doughy bun). I know initially it sounds weird – meat in a steamed bun, but I beg you, don’t judge it until you try it. If you aren’t feeling bun-ny, try one of their rice bowls. I turn to the teriayaki chicken rice bowl but have also heard good things about the kung pao chicken rice bowl and the vegetable rice bowl. Ready for dessert? Order the coconut custard bao (bun). I have yet to have something there that I do not like and find that it is perfect for lunch when I’m at work. I’m really curious about the Breakfast Bao. If anyone has tried it, please let me know your thoughts.
Drink – If you like real ginger, try their ginger ale. I love it because it makes you feel energized without any caffeine. You can also order a pomegranate ginger ale, but that felt a little too Jamba Juice for me.
Service – This is essentially a healthy fast food spot. Their attempts to create efficient lines sometimes backfire, but I forgive them. If your wait for food is long, they’ll offer you a free drink. I feel good about places that give you free stuff…I mean, show they appreciate you as a customer.
Dress – Looks don’t matter at Wow Bao. Wear whatever you want. However, here’s what to expect of your fellow patrons. If you’re in the Loop locations, you’ll see the working crowd – suits, button-down shirts and skirts. At the Water Tower location, it’s all shoppers (many of them from out of town). Look for teenyboppers wearing sweatshirts, tight jeans and Uggs.
Cost – I usually get a rice bowl and a dessert bao, which I save for the afternoon. Total cost is about $7.50. That’s average if you’re looking for lunch in the Loop.
If you like, try…the bakeries of Chinatown, Big Bowl (one guy developed the recipes for both Wow Bao and Big Bowl)