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
Location – 1300 N. Milwaukee (Milwaukee and Paulina) and 3031 W. 111th Street (111th and Whipple)
In one word – Idealistic
Food – The premise of Veggie Bite is fast-service organic vegan food. It’s a tall order for a restaurant. My overall reaction was that the place was nice in theory, struggles in practice. The menu is filled with your usual fast food options – burger, chili dogs, Philly cheese steak, but there’s no meat or dairy in the food. My eating partner and I both went for the Supreme Wrap on the cashier’s recommendation. It was a wrap filled with seitan “chix-free nuggets,” tomatoes, cucumbers and a cucumber dressing (which tasted more like a light ranch dressing). It was filling but not fulfilling. The “chix-free nuggets” didn’t taste all that fresh to me, and there was too much sauce in the wrap.
Drink – You can get smoothies here as well as juices. I picked up some mango nectar juice, which I enjoyed.
Service – Order at the counter and then the food will be brought to your table. I appreciated that the cashier was forthright about his opinion when I asked what was the best item on the menu. Given that vegan fast food is pretty new in Chicago, it was nice to have someone give guidance on what to order.
Scene – Expect the last few hipsters remaining in Wicker Park to frequent this place. I was a little alarmed by the establishment’s decor. I was staring at posters of helpless animals with captions like “Mercy.” It was sort of like eating at an anti-animal cruelty booth while in my college student union.
Dress – You can put on the urban hipster garb or just wear what you’re already wearing. It really doesn’t matter.
Cost – For my wrap and mango drink, I spent $8.28. I guess it’s pretty reasonable given that the wrap was just a little smaller than a Chipotle burrito in size.
If you like, try…Soul Vegetarian, Karyn’s Cooked
Location – 1640 W. 18th Street (18th and Ashland)
In one word – Friendly
Food – I was really excited to visit Mundial as I had received so many recommendations to go there. Mundial changes their menu (which I loved), so my experienced eating partner had as new of a menu as I did. We started with the empanadas. I liked that the dough was really flakey! For my main, I got the squash ravioli. It was served with a coconut cream sauce, probably not the healthiest choice…but those are the sacrificies I make in order to report on good food! We then ordered two desserts – both full of cream and sugar. My favorite was actually the ice cream recommended to us by our server.
Drink – The place is BYOB. As you know, I’m a real fan of BYOB, it’s the easiest way to keep costs down in a meal.
Service – I think by the end of the meal, we were good friends with our server. She took pleasure in the fact that we enjoyed the meal. It was really refreshing to be in a place where the staff felt responsible for whether or not their customers had a good experience.
Scene – I thought it was going to be a lot more trendy than it was. On a Thursday night, the place was filled with 30 and 40-somethings. I noticed that the floor was linoleum, which gives the restaurant a more casual vibe.
Dress – No need to dress up, especially going into summer. You’d be fine in jeans and a nice shirt (for both men and women)
Cost – We ordered a lot and I tipped really well, as a result, it was $39/person. However, I think you don’t have to order as much and could eat for $30.
If you like, try…May Street Cafe
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 – 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 – 1333 E. 57th Street (57th and Kimbark) and 1460 E. 53rd Street (53rd and Blackstone)
In one word – Clean
Food – Come to Noodles for pan-Asian cuisine. It’s my comfort food locale when I’m in Hyde Park. I had the spicy curry noodles. True to its name, it was spicy. My eating partner had the egg drop soup and the Vietnamese spring rolls. I always like Noodles, but I’m not going to tell you it’s the end-all-be-all. If you are in the neighborhood and don’t feel like a burger at the Med, try it.
Drink – 57th Street in Hyde Park is a dry street, so you have to BYOB.
Service – There’s not all that much to comment on at Noodles. We got our meal quickly and the eating utensils were clean. That’s good enough for me.
Occasion – You will see a lot of families and college students dining at Noodles. The feel is very casual, similar to Penny’s Noodle Shop.
Dress – You’re sitting next to students from the University of Chicago. I can guarantee you’ll be better dressed than them, no matter what you’re wearing.
Cost – We paid $9 each including tip. That felt reasonable to me.
If you like, try…Penny’s Noodle Shop
Location – 2548 W. Devon (Devon and Maplewood)
In one word – Chutneys
Food – You’ll get South Indian fare (vegetarian). The speciality of South Indian cuisine is the masala dosa (a crepe of sorts with seasoned potatoes). If you want to go with my favorite, get the paper masala dosa, even thinner and crispier. Beware, dosas are giant here. While I didn’t think that the dosas were that amazing (compared to its neighbor, Udapi Palace), the chutneys were notable. You are offered tamarind, mint and coconut chutneys in addition to sambar. All seemed fresh and were flavorful. We also ordered the appetizer sampler. I was not impressed by their offering of vadas (fried veggies) and samosas (potatoes in fried dough).
Drink – It’s BYOB. But often I like to order a mango lassi (thin mango milk shake). It compliments a paper masala dosa perfectly.
Service – This was a problem here. Many of the glasses and silverware weren’t clean. Then, we ordered a second appetizer platter, and the waiter made it seem like it was a big hassle. I’m sorry we’re ordering more food, which equals more money for your restaurant. My apologies.
Occasion – It’s pretty casual here. We saw dates and groups of friends dining after shopping along Devon Avenue.
Dress – You can wear pretty much anything. We came straight from work and were perfectly fine.
Cost – We each paid $11. That’s kind of amazing.
If you like, try…Udapi Palace
Location – 2308 W. Leland Ave (Leland and Lincoln)
In one word – Bargain
Food – Roseded has the best low-budget Thai food I’ve had in a long time. My favorite of the night was the Rama Noodles, peanut curry sauce over noodles. I may have been licking the bowl clean. We also had the ginger tofu and pad thai. Here’s what my eating partners and I decided we liked most about Roseded – The food seemed fresh and authentic (though I’m sure someone of Thai descent might disagree about the authenticity, but whatever). For example, the pad thai was not overly fried and didn’t have that processed orange color and unnatural sweet taste. I would definitely come back.
Drink – It’s BYOB. This totally helps you save on cost.
Service – The place is a neighborhood hole in the wall. You get good service, but nothing to remember.
Occasion – Everyone in the restaurant was having dinner with friends. The feel of the place is uber-casual. It lends itself to occasions where you want to sit for a while and catch up over a good meal.
Dress – I saw sweatshirts and jeans. Save your evening wear for somewhere else.
Cost – Yeah, I paid $8 for my portion of 3 shared entrees. This included tip. And I was full. Best deal ever!
If you like, try…Panang, Garlic and Chili Healthy Thai
Location – 1406 W. Belmont (Belmont and Southport)
In one word – Cute
Food – If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love Neapolitan pizza. As a result, I was super excited about coming here. My eating partner and I shared one of the pizzas on special – it was abianca pizza with Italian sausage, carmelized onions, roasted red peppers and mozzerella. Delicioso! I truly enjoyed it and devoured my half of the pie. Then we decided to indulge in the gelato. I got mint chip and my eating partner got the chocolate hazelnut. It had been a while since I had good gelato , so I was worried I’d be disappointed. No worries people, it was fantastic. My eating partner lived in Rome for a while, so when she gave the thumbs up on it, I knew it was quality. The big question: Was it better than Spacca Napoli in Lincoln Square? The answer: No, however the food is still well worth trying.
Drink – BYOB so you’ll save on cost. There is a $5 corkage fee.
Service – I’m a fan of places where the owner and/or chef interacts with the clientele. Here, the owner is running around taking orders, busing tables, basically making sure your experience is excellent. At no point did I feel neglected by the staff during our meal. And we weren’t rushed to leave either.
Occasion – I saw a lot of families and twosomes (either dates or friend get-togethers). I wouldn’t come here with a big group because the space of the restaurant is small.
Dress – It’s a local Lakeview establishment, so you have a wide range of clothing options that you can get away with. I came straight from work and was fine. You also have children in their end of summer shorts. No one looked twice.
Cost – We paid $15 each for a shared pizza and two gelati. The BYOB aspect helps you save on cost.
If you like, try…Frasca, Spacca Napoli
Location – 3124 N. Broadway
In one word – Space-agey
Food – If Ping Pong is too crowded, this is a decent substitute. We started with the Crispy Ginger Calamari. It’s served with this creamy avocado and green onion sauce. I really enjoyed it just because they were interesting flavors to place with the calamari. For my entree I had the sesame tofu. After my bad experience at Niu, I was a bit nervous. However, the tofu used at Sura is really firm and delicious. The dish was a bit spicy, so I got a free sinus cleaning. My eating partner had the pad thai and was really happy with it.
Drink – They don’t have their liquor license yet. Right now it’s BYOB. When they get the license, it might be fun to go to their bar. They have these giant bucket seats near the bar that hang from the ceiling. We partook in sodas and teas. I ordered the tea because it was so unbelievably cold in the restaurant. I needed ways to stay warm.
Service – For a new restaurant, they did quite well with service. Nothing bad to report.
Occasion – This place is good for dates or friend get-togethers. Overall, the restaurant looks like a mix between a club and a spaceship, which honestly, I kind of liked: lots of white furniture, space-age seats, low lighting, low-key techno music (yes, it exists).
Dress – Because it’s in Lakeview, there isn’t a need to get overly dressed up. But, if you want to try out that new dress, you wouldn’t be out of place wearing it here. Beware of the cold temperature, wear layers.
Cost – I paid $20 for a shared appetizer, an entree, a Diet coke and a pot of tea. All in all, a bargain.
If you like, try…Ping Pong