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Alfresco Guide 2008

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Bright skies, sunshine you can feel in your bones—the days of summer are finally here, and with them comes the hankering to eat outdoors, whether in a garden courtyard, on a glittering riverfront terrace, or on a see-and-be-seen rooftop patio. For our annual Alfresco guide we've combed our listings to find some 50 great spots for outdoor dining (and drinking, of course).

Our selections were culled from the more than 4,000 restaurants, bars, and lounges in the Reader Restaurant Finder, our searchable online database. Restaurants in the database can be rated by more than 3,800 Raters, who feed us information and comments on their dining experiences. Reviews are written by Reader staff and contributors and (where noted) Raters.

For many more suggestions than we could fit here, see our expanded Alfresco dining guide online at chicagoreader.com/alfresco08; for the complete database and information on how to become a Reader Restaurant Rater go to chicagoreader.com/restaurantfinder. And for more on food and drink, see the Food Chain at blogs.chicagoreader.com/food. —Kate Schmidt, restaurants editor

Adobo Grill2005 W. Division | 773-252-9990

F 8.5 | S 7 | A 7.3 | $$$ (6 reports)Dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr The sister location of Old Town's Adobo Grill is all dark reds, Mexican folk art, and paintings of loteria cards, but the night I was there a steady backbeat of cell-phone conversations threatened to kill the ambience. The food, though, was for the most part great. The justifiably famous guacamole was chunky, spicy, and bright; ceviche, cool and tart, was also delicious. Grilled lamb chops, a special, were caramelized on the outside and rosy pink on the inside, and they tasted even better than they looked. I could spend all night with Adobo's incomparable margaritas—and the next morning with cafe de olla (coffee with cinnamon, orange peel, and brown sugar), served at the excellent Sunday brunch. The sidewalk cafe offers great people watching. —Chip Dudley

Amphora7547 N. Clark | 773-262-5767

$$Mediterranean, Small Plates | Lunch: Sunday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

At Amphora the purportedly pan-Mediterranean menu includes Caesar salad and shrimp de Jonghe, a dish that originated in the exotic port city of Chicago. But the food helps overcome these incongruities. Crispy flatbreads, large enough to make a meal, come with sunny ingredients like goat cheese, olives, and fresh mozzarella. Salt cod cakes were clean tasting and delicately crisped, reflecting quality ingredients and a capable hand in the kitchen. A braised lamb shank was big and meaty, but befitting the Mediterranean focus there are many seafood dishes and enough vegetarian entrees—including pasta, soups, and spanakopita—to satisfy those who don't eat things with eyes or mothers. The full bar has a good selection of wines, over half available by the glass and many in carafes (for a reasonable $16), and a small-plates menu is served till the wee hours. Out back there's a fenced-in patio with seating for about 70 where you'd never think you were in a grocery store parking lot. —David Hammond

Angels & Mariachis1721 W. Division | 773-227-7772

$Bar/Lounge, Mexican/Southwestern | Lunch: Saturday-Sunday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2

The decorations at this new two-story "taco bar & rock cantina"—bull's' heads, lucha libre masks, Mexican novena candles, murals, photos, more—are so overwhelming that it's hard to look away long enough to focus on the menu. And it takes some focus to decide what to order, when ten varieties of tacos vie for space with soups and salads, molletes, queso fundido, tortas, and flautas as well as standards like guacamole and quesadillas. The selection of tequilas, available in flights of blanco, reposado, and añnejo as well as in single shots and a variety of margaritas, is respectable, as is the list of Mexican beers. There are also machines (the kind 7-Eleven uses for Slurpees) for frozen margaritas and frozen sangria. The patio seats 50 and can get pretty raucous. —Julia Thiel

Avenue M695 N. Milwaukee | 312-243-1133

$$$Dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, Friday till 2

Avenue M, a sleek steak house from the owners of clubs like Transit and Circus, is much more than a see-and-be-seen spot. Sure, the interior is stunning, with modernist wood accents and an upstairs lounge. Same goes for the lush patio, surrounded by ivy-covered walls. But under chef Mariano Aguirre, the place cooks as good as it looks, artfully balancing steak-house standards with French, Italian, and Asian influences. Appetizers include a beet carpaccio with spicy greens and grilled shrimp with arugula as well as maki, sashimi, and raw options, and while my friend pooh-poohed a sprinkling of sea salt on the oysters, I liked how it complemented the sweet shellfish and fresh grated horseradish. Seasonal house-made pastas include lump crabmeat ravioli with asparagus and a red pepper sauce. But save room for some meat: from filet mignon to strips to a veal chop and an impressive rack of Colorado lamb. —Heather Kenny

Bistro Campagne4518 N. Lincoln | 773-271-6100

F 8.2 | S 7.7 | A 8.4 | $$$ (24 reports)Dinner: seven days

There's nothing groundbreaking here, but Bistro Campagne is still a reliable choice for classic French fare. The kitchen places a premium on organic ingredients; even the wine list has several bottles from sustainably farmed vineyards. The menu offers bistro standards such as French onion soup and mussels; entrees include steak frites and rotating preparations of lamb and duck. Escargots, delivered spitting hot, are prepared with a garlic-Pernod butter and a liberal dusting of bread crumbs for a sort of "snails casino" effect. Roast chicken, crispy on the outside and juicy within, was served over a bed of rich mushroom ragout and topped with a crazy blossom of fried onion. For dessert there's a creamy creme brulee, pot au chocolat, house-made ice cream and sorbet, or perhaps a seasonal tart. The cozy, Prairie-inflected dining rooms are comfortable, and garden seating for around 30 remains inviting. —Martha Bayne

La Bocca Della Verita4618 N. Lincoln | 773-784-6222

F 7.6 | S 7.5 | A 6.2 | $$$ (22 reports)Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

The decor at this reasonably priced Italian restaurant is homey rather than hip—and that's what its fans love about it. La Bocca is simply a casual place to get a very good Italian meal. We took the waiter's recommendation and ordered the special chicken dish of the night—lightly breaded and served with a refreshing blend of arugula and vegetables—and the duck-stuffed ravioli in a savory tomato cream sauce; both were excellent. But there's a lot more to try: close to 20 appetizers including celery-apple and fennel salads, homemade pastas, and entrees such as a whole branzino. An pleasant sidewalk cafe provides extra seating in warm weather. —Rachel Klein, Rater

Boka1729 N. Halsted | 312-337-6070

F 9.1 | S 8.4 | A 8.7 | $$$ (28 reports)Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr Giuseppe Tentori, a nine-year veteran of Charlie Trotter's, took over the reins at a revamped Boka last spring, offering a menu with a few startling if enjoyable items. Scallop-stuffed squid with baby spinach, spicy pineapple, and black tapioca was one of the weirdest-looking plates I've set eyes on in a while, but really tasty and fun to eat. A salad of luscious raw big-eye tuna, mizuna, grapefruit, and capers was a pretty interesting combination of flavors as well, but it was sumptuous veal cheeks, topped with a dollop of excellent house-made mustard, that won the day. Service was deft, knowledgeable, and unruffled despite the packed house on a Friday. Out back is a large, luxurious patio with both open-air and tented seating. —Mike Sula

Bonsoiree Cafe & Delicacies2728 W. Armitage | 773-486-7511

F 8.9 | S 7.6 | A 6.8 | $$ (5 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Friday | Closed Monday, Saturday | Open late: Friday till 11 | BYO

This smart BYOB spot started life as a casual deli and cafe, and still does double duty as a catering kitchen, but owners Shin Thompson and Kurt Chenier hit their stride last year when they spiffed the place up a bit and introduced three-course prix fixe dinners. Now that's available only on Tuesdays for $30; on other nights of the week the five- and seven-course tasting menus are $50 ($40 on Sundays) and $70, respectively. The eclectically influenced contemporary American menu showcases clean, streamlined, seasonal flavors, with spring offerings ranging from Kampachi tartare with home-pickled ginger to a hominy crepe with red curried lentils to a veal medallion and pastry duo with an artichoke croquette. On Saturdays the restaurant offers a $55 five-course "underground dinner" with seatings at 6 and 8 PM; to get an invite, sign up at bon-soiree.com. On Sundays not just the price but the menu is fixe. The off-street patio with wrought-iron tables and a trellis is refreshingly peaceful. —Martha Bayne

Brasserie Ruhlmann500 W. Superior | 312-494-1900

$$$$Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch

With its gleaming dark paneling and plush red velvet drapes, chairs, and banquettes, Brasserie Ruhlmann makes a great first impression. The problem is that the food and service aren't special enough to justify the prices. We were momentarily buoyed by plump snails swimming in garlic butter under individual caps of flaky puff pastry, only to be dismayed by a tarte savoyarde that resembled a shrunken softish-crust pizza. A cod fillet with shellfish didn't impress us either, except for the single deliciously sweet sea scallop. Gratineed onion soup that could have been made from the classic recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking also ranked high, as did the hazelnut cream puff with poached pear. With bottles of red wine starting at $90, the $22 carafe of house pinot noir wasn't a bad buy. The French-cafe-style patio has a full bar and seating for 120. —Anne Spiselman

Cafe fresco1202 W. Grand | 312-733-6378

$$Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Monday-Saturday till 1, Sunday till midnight

It looks like a corner bar, with its high tables and subdued nautical theme, but Cafe Fresco lives up to its name, offering a mostly Italian menu better than you'll find at many neighborhood spots. We started with a signature dish, grilled calamari served with spinach, roasted red peppers, olives, and a few sticks of feta in balsamic—unusual, maybe, but in a good way. In addition to bar fare like chicken wings and burgers, there's a lineup of midprice entrees, but we were drawn to the pastas, several of which can be ordered with whole-wheat noodles. Gemelli Baronese was spiked with slices of prosciutto and mushrooms and some deliciously sweet peas, all in a rich garlic-Romano sauce. There's a decent beer selection and a small but potable wine list; cocktails, shaken up at our table, were even better. In warmer weather the enclosed back garden patio—lined with ivy-covered walls, one painted with a trompe l'oeuil of the cafe—beckons. —Kate Schmidt

Chaise Lounge1840 W. North | 773-342-1840

$$$Lunch, dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2

Under new chef Cary Taylor, a veteran of Blackbird, Ambria, and Avenues, the menu at Chaise Lounge leans more toward American shores for inspiration than the Continent: out with the frisee, in with the Waldorf salad. Maybe I'm just jaded, but for the most part the fare lacked that ineffable quality that sets off the pleasure centers in your lizard brain. I was so thrown by a thick layer of solid fat covering the slice of slow-cooked pork in an appetizer that I almost sent it back—until I discovered that it tasted delicious combined with the actual meat hiding below. Beef short ribs could have used a little more of that lardy goodness. Toasted barley, an accompaniment to rack of lamb, was a welcome change from potatoes or rice, but instead of delivering a sharp nutty flavor it reminded me of nothing so much as pearl couscous. However, we found ourselves dueling with forks over dessert, banana bread pudding with caramelized walnuts and sour cherries. And even nitpicky critics can't argue with a huge outdoor patio and a rooftop lounge. —Heather Kenny

The Chicago Firehouse1401 S. Michigan | 312-786-1401

$$$Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days

This sprawling three-story restaurant in a 1905 firehouse retains some of the building's original character with fire poles, tin ceiling, and firebrick walls. Dishes tend to be hearty—starters include seared sirloin, French onion soup, and prosciutto rolled with cream cheese and asparagus. Main courses take their cue from home cooking—pot roast, panfried rainbow trout, barbecued pork chops. The leafy outdoor patio seats 70. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Chief O'Neill's3471 N. Elston | 773-583-3066

$Breakfast, Lunch: Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

This northwest-side pub named after Francis O'Neill, Chicago's first Irish police chief (and a champion of Irish music) carries on his efforts, hosting regular music jams. The entire bar—chairs, tables, bar fittings—and most of the staff was imported from Ireland, and the kitchen dishes up traditional fare—Galway Bay mussels, cheddar cheese soup with Guinness, fish-and-chips, bangers and mash—a popular Sunday brunch, and now breakfast on Saturday. The huge, festive outdoor beer garden seats 200. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Chocolate Grape2113 W. Division | 773-772-3990

$Bar/Lounge, American Contemporary/Regional| Breakfast: Sunday; Lunch, dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Sunday brunch | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, Thursday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

Chocolate Grape doesn't really serve massive platters of chocolate-covered grapes . . . just so you know. What it does serve is an eclectic mix of savories, sweets, and wines. The menu offers moderately priced sandwiches and salads ($8.75-$10.75), many incorporating chocolate—for example, the Signature Grape salad, which comes with a teasing peach-white chocolate vinaigrette. The Wicker Parker Veggie, currently the only vegetarian-friendly sandwich, stuffs slabs of eggplant, zucchini, and portobello into a pita. There are about 50 bottles on the wine list, which suggests pairings, and 30 available by the glass—the minicupcake flight we tried might have benefited from some. Perhaps a bit oddly for a wine bar, there's a kids' menu featuring mac 'n' cheese, PB&J, and chicken strips. Each comes with fresh fruit, Terra chips, or something called dino fries—little pancakes with smiley faces on them. The atmosphere is relaxed and elegant, with club-size wooden tables, vintage golden couches, and antiques spread around the intimate space. The "Truffle Box" room in the back can be reserved for private parties, and there's sidewalk seating for 45. —Kelly McClure

La Cocina de Frida5403 N. Clark | 773-271-1907

$$Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

At La Cocina de Frida, an unabashed shrine to Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, it might prove just a little challenging to enjoy dinner beneath multiple visages of one of the scariest-prettiest artists of the 20th century. The food, however, will not challenge. Complimentary salsa, served warm, is tasty though unlikely to satisfy heat-seeking chile heads. Tamales are quite moist and flavorful, and at $2 a pop, you could make a meal of them. If you're not a fiend for authenticity, you might enjoy the enchiladas stuffed with carnitas or vegetables, slathered in a reasonably complex mole negro, or the pork chops in thinly fruity mole manchamanteles. The large back patio seats 100. —David Hammond

Cooper's—A Neighborhood Eatery1232 W. Belmont | 773-929-2667

$$Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Craig Fass and Mandy Franklin, the owners of Menagerie, retooled their restaurant into a considerably more casual place with the same commitment to fresh, seasonal fare. A few Menagerie-era dishes remain on the menu, such as a roasted beet salad with goat cheese and a duck confit mac 'n' cheese, but now equal billing is given to panini-style sandwiches and exotic pizzas. The vegetable panini was stuffed to the gills with arugula, mushrooms, red pepper, and goat cheese, but the proportions were perfect, and the thin, crispy fries were some of the best I've ever had. For many the real draw of Cooper's will be the selection of more than 90 beers from around the world. The large, airy off-street patio sits about 50. —Heather Kenny

Corosh1072 N. Milwaukee | 773-235-0600

$$Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1, other nights till midnight

On a weekend night the garden courtyard at Corosh was a great place to be: large, nicely decorated, and hidden away from the Milwaukee Avenue noise. We quickly settled on the garlic cream sauce mussels and prosciutto with melon as starters and the seafood risotto and lobster ravioli as entrees; secondi include several grilled meats and a couple Vesuvio preparations. The late-night menu offers more-standard bar fare, and there's a brunch buffet on Sundays. —Torbjörn Törnqvist, Rater

La Creperie2845 N. Clark | 773-528-9050

F 6.7 | S 7.3 | A 7.0 | $ (8 reports)French | Lunch: Tuesday-Friday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Saturday & Sunday brunch| Closed Monday | Open late: Tuesday-Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only | Vegetarian friendly

This cozy family-run hideaway, easy to miss in the bustle of Clark and Diversey, has been satisfying budget-conscious diners for more than 35 years. The fare is mostly crepes—with seafood or ratatouille for dinner, banana liqueur, Grand Marnier, or Nutella for dessert, and scrambled eggs for brunch—but the menu also offers other casual French favorites such as onion soup gratinee and steak frites. Raters like the large, colorful garden patio, the friendly and uncontrived atmosphere, and the live music offered most Thursdays. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Crust2056 W. Division | 773-235-5511

F 7.7 | S 7.4 | A 7.7 | $$ (7 reports)Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight | Reservations not accepted

Chef Michael Altenberg's casual flatbread-pizza joint, the city's first certified organic restaurant, is a sleek modern dining hall with bright orange molded plastic chairs and trippy Formica tables; the spacious tented back patio and sidewalk cafe add seats for another 130. The pizzas—er, flatbreads—have an airy, chewy, well-proofed crust and are topped with everything from savory silver dollars of pepperoni to a Greek mix of artichokes, olives, and feta to a take on an Alsatian Flammkuchen (caramelized onion, bacon, and caraway seeds with a bechamel sauce). All, meat included, tastes shockingly fresh; the baby greens in my Sun Salad (a tasty mix of greens and seaweed in a plum-miso dressing) had to have had their lives cut short that same day. The bar offers a short but respectable wine and beer list that is mostly organic, plus a selection of cocktails with infused organic vodka. —Martha Bayne

DeLaCosta465 E. Illinois | 312-464-1700

F 7.8 | S 7.6 | A 9.2 | $$$$ (5 reports)Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

If you can get past the aggressive hipness of DeLaCosta—with its icky-sweet signature "poptails," loungey see-and-be-seen "solarium," and curtained cabanas for private dining—you'll find a very good restaurant. For his first Chicago venture, celebrated chef and James Beard-award winner Douglas Rodriguez combines Spanish, South American, Caribbean, and occasionally Asian flavors that inject new life into the nuevo Latino trend. For me, the most intriguing dish was an appetizer of rum-cured marlin tacos, which somehow tricked my taste buds into sensing cocoa flavors, an unusual but not unwelcome sensation. A half-dozen different types of ceviche feature sashimi-like pieces of superfresh fish lolling among such exotic ingredients as Thai chile, Kaffir, and galangal leche. While you could happily make a meal from various tapas and appetizers, we couldn't resist the bone-in rib eye, which proved that under chef de cuisine Adam Schop the kitchen handles meat as deftly as seafood. There's a large, luxe patio overlooking the river. —Heather Kenny

Duke of Perth2913 N. Clark | 773-477-1741

$Bar/Lounge, English/Irish/Scottish | Lunch: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2 | Reservations not accepted

Long-standing Lakeview pub best known for its selection of beers and Scotch whiskeys (over 90 of the latter). The Scottish-themed menu includes fish-and-chips (all you can eat for $9.50 Wednesdays and Fridays), shepherd's pie, and vegetarian options such as leek pie and salads. The decor is classic pub style, full of Scottish antiques and alcohol-related paraphernalia, and the cozy garden patio is a pleasant place to while away an evening. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Enoteca Roma2146 W. Division | 773-342-1011

F 8.5 | S 6.8 | A 6.8 | $ (5 reports)Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, other nights till 11

This laid-back wine bar is an extension of Letizia's Natural Bakery, a fixture since 1998, and shares its charming back garden seating. It offers Letizia's standard menu plus more than a dozen varieties of bruschetta, pizzas, dinner salads, and a number of meat, cheese, bread, and olive combinations in the tradition of rustic Roman cuisine. Larger plates include pork shoulder, lamb chops, eggplant parmigiana, and lasagna, but the Salamini Flight alone—salami and a trio of saucisson, served with grainy mustard, roasted red peppers, and Italian bread—is enough for a light meal or ample snack for two. —Susannah J. Felts

Feed2803 W. Chicago | 773-489-4600

F 8.0 | S 8.8 | A 8.4 | $ (5 reports)Breakfast: Monday-Friday; Lunch, dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Reservations not accepted | Cash only| BYO

rrr Feed is the project of Donna Knezek, one of the original owners of Leo's Lunchroom and a founder of Bite. It's a shack with a chalkboard menu that begins 1/4 chicken, 1/2 chicken, whole chicken. Needless to say, get the chicken: salty and succulent, it has the golden crackle of skin that makes rotisserie bird so viscerally satisfying. Knezek has been cooking in Chicago for around two decades, but at Feed she originally pared down her menu to the point of parody: chicken, burger, Caesar salad, a daily special, and a dozen sides. Now she's relented some, adding a pulled pork and a barbecued chicken sandwich to the offerings; brunch items might include pulled pork hash and green tomato eggs Benedict. For dessert there's pie and fluffy, creamy banana pudding served in a Styrofoam cup, with Nilla Wafers throughout. Feed is BYOB but the sweet tea's superb, and there's a corner store with a decent beer selection a few blocks to the east. Enter the serene, nicely decorated brick patio from California Avenue. —Nicholas Day

The Fifty/502047 W. Division | 773-489-5050

$$Bar/Lounge, American | Lunch: friday-Sunday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2 | Reservations not accepted

This sports bar/lounge/restaurant does a little of everything, but the three levels help to keep the space from feeling like it's having an identity crisis. The basement level is loungier than the first floor, which is dominated by the bar and plasma-screen TVs and has a sportscast piped into the bathrooms; the top floor is the most restauranty. All the specialty cocktails incorporate beer, though generally not enough that you actually taste it—it seems more like a gimmick than an attempt to improve the drinks. The menu is mostly basics like sandwiches, steaks, and appetizers, with a couple vegetarian choices, and as such it's pretty successful. "Slider" versions of hamburgers, pulled pork, and a couple other sandwiches are nice options, as are the variety of fries and mac 'n' cheese toppings. The kitchen's open till 1 AM, and there's sidewalk seating for 70. —Julia Thiel

Fiorentino's Cucina Italiana2901 N. Ashland | 773-244-3026

$$$Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Fiorentino's is truly a family-run restaurant: Signora Fiorentino rushed to greet us when we walked in, stopped by frequently, and saw us to the door as we were leaving. Sicilian, she's dreamed up a menu that tends toward seafood and dishes that show a restrained hand when it comes to sauce and spices, and by Jove the mussels were probably the best I've had in Chicago. Stuffed gnocchi, not traditional but in every way marvelous, were soft and lush, delicately filled with ricotta and splashed with tomato cream sauce. Spiedini alla griglia, a signature dish, is char-grilled filet mignon simply and flavorfully topped off with lemon, garlic, and olive oil. Tiramisu, that old standard, is extraordinarily light, reflecting the kitchen's gentle touch. The pleasant terra-cotta side patio is planted with flowers, fresh herbs, and ivy. —David Hammond

Flatwater321 N. Clark | 312-644-0283

$$Lunch, dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2

The flower-bedecked riverfront terrace is the main selling point of this trendy spot, with its view of suspiciously teal river water, a few shiny high-rise wedges, and of course the occasional tour boat. The lunch menu offers standards—salads, sandwiches, burgers—perked up with Asian-influenced preparations. The dinner menu's broadened with a range of meat-based entrees and a few standout dishes, like the tagliatelle with tiger shrimp in a creamy pesto sauce. Watch out: wines by the bottle can be pricey, and there's no list. —Susannah J. Felts

Fonda del Mar3749 W. Fullerton | 773-489-3748

F 7.7 | S 7.3 | A 7.0 | $$$ (6 reports)Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

To kick things off at this restaurant from veterans of Topolobampo and Mia Francesca, fish tacos are tasty, and the shrimp ceviche is a knockout. Soups are spiced with a light hand: caldo siete mares ("seven seas soup") is a chile-kissed tomato broth with just a few select slices of seafood. Whole tilapia gets the mojo de ajo treatment; lamb chops in a mole negro were expertly grilled. Of special note on my last visit was a roasted pork loin served in a fruity mole manchamanteles. Out back is a find: a patio decorated with a flower-filled half a boat. —David Hammond

Fulton's on the River315 N. LaSalle | 312-822-0100

$$$$Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Monday-Saturday till 11

The lower-level dining room at this Levy Restaurants endeavor is spacious and elegantly understated, with handsome decor and an adult-contemporary soundtrack. We were planning on sticking to seafood until we saw the platter of U.S. prime steaks, one of Fulton's specialties. Another is oysters: the restaurant typically offers 12, and there's a small sampler plate that features 6. We moaned and murmured with pleasure over our main courses—a New York strip and a whole Maine lobster—but prudently stopped halfway to save room for dessert: key lime icebox pie with a graham cracker crust. Seating on the 120-seat riverfront patio is first come, first served. —Kathie Bergquist

Garden Cafe1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe | 847-835-3040

$$American Contemporary/Regional, Vegetarian/Healthy | Breakfast, Lunch: seven days

Like the Chicago Botanic Garden that surrounds them, the Garden Cafe and adjoining Garden Grill mix the exotic and the native. At the cafe there's a quattro fromaggio pizza, but also a summer salad with mixed greens, Michigan cherries, heirloom tomatoes, and golden raisins. A nice blend of tangy and sweet, the salad comes topped with free-range chicken or wild salmon. The Grill features a sandwich with fire-roasted zucchini and red peppers, goat cheese, and arugula, but further down the menu board are a midwestern-style burger and brats. Wash them down with an airplane-size bottle of Sutter Home—or a glass of Organic Valley milk from Wisconsin. There's a children's menu, and the outdoor seating is idyllic but for the view of the parking lot. —Edward McClelland

Garden Restaurant111 S. Michigan | 312-553-9675

$$American Contemporary/Regional, Small Plates| Lunch: seven days; Dinner: Thursday-Friday

Under executive chef Brian Williams, formerly of New York's Tribeca Grill and Gramercy Tavern, the restaurant in the Art Institute's stately courtyard is now offering a seasonal menu of globally influenced contemporary American. Starters might include crab cakes with rhubarb chutney or spicy chipotle shrimp over avocado puree; entrees an organic chicken breast with chickpea or a generously portioned salad with grilled lamb. Desserts range from decadent if standard (chocolate pots de creme) to light and refreshing (lemon panna cotta), and more than 15 wines are available by the glass. On Thursday and Friday evenings a small-plates menu is offered; there's live music, and museum admission is free after 5 PM. —Laura Young

Green Dolphin Street2200 N. Ashland | 773-395-0066

F 8.2 | S 6.7 | A 7.3 | $$$$ (6 reports)Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday

This large, elegant restaurant and jazz club in an unlikely industrial location dishes up prime steaks and seafood. You can make a night of it here: the bar is huge, and there's no cover in the club for diners. The outdoor garden patio overlooking the river is a romantic and attractive seating option, and any part of the establishment—the patio, the small Green Room dining room, or the club—can accommodate private parties. —Laura Levy Shatkin

The Handlebar2311 W. North | 773-384-9546

F 8.3 | S 7.4 | A 7.6 | $ (21 reports)Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, other nights till midnight | Reservations not accepted

rrr A cyclist hangout, this is a theme restaurant that doesn't feel precious. The food is cheap and vegetarian friendly: most entrees are under $10, and the only meat option is fish. The chefs don't do anything flashy, but they do a little bit of everything and do it well—the samosas with tamarind chutney, for example, are on par with any you'd find on Devon. The kitchen also does a bang-up job with comfort food: seitan and tofu sandwiches come with a variety of sides including a respectable vegetarian version of collard greens and a totally addictive smoked Gouda mac 'n' cheese I'll crave on my deathbed. Dining on the large, comfortable patio is like sitting in someone's backyard. —David Wilcox

Japonais600 W. Chicago | 312-822-9600

F 8.5 | S 8.0 | A 9.2 | $$$ (31 reports)Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days

The menu at Miae Lim's Franco-Japanese venture duplicates many of the standout dishes at her previous spots, Mirai Sushi and the now closed Ohba. It's a perfect marriage. Kobe beef carpaccio is sliced thin as paper, fanned out, and topped with crunchy fried garlic, daikon greens, and a dark soy-ginger sauce; chef Gene Kato's maple-leaf-smoked duck is served moo shu style, with pancakes, hoisin sauce, scallions, and a mango chutney. Along with cocktails and a long sake list there's an impressive wine list divided into sensible categories and featuring many reasonably priced, rarely seen options that work well with the cuisine. The adjacent lounge has late-night hours and serves cocktails, specialty rolls, and a few appetizers. The urbane patio overlooks the river and features cabanas for parties of two and four. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Juicy Wine Company694 N. Milwaukee | 312-492-6620

$$Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, Friday till 2, Monday-Thursday till 1 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

A "retail plus" wine bar from Rodney Alex (formerly of Wicker Park's Taste), Juicy offers five "cheese experiences," a selection of cured meats, and even a butter "experience" that pairs three artisanal butters with various sea salts. Charcuterie includes salumi made by Seattle-based Armandino Batali (Mario's pop). Wines served in-house are marked up a flat $15 over the retail price, making even the swankier bottles, like a seriously complicated 1994 Davis Family Russian River pinot noir, relatively accessible. Downstairs the wood-trimmed, minimalist space is split between a wine wall and deli case in the front and a low-key seating area of tables and banquettes in the rear. Upstairs is a bar and lounge with a DJ booth and a new rooftop patio. The staff is casual and helpful. —Martha Bayne

Jury's4337 N. Lincoln | 773-935-2255

$$Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Every hot and happening restaurant row should have one old-school place still chugging along, and that's the function Jury's serves on this stretch of Lincoln. With its white-tablecloth interior and supper club menu, the place clearly aims for more sophistication than the other taverns along the strip, though its main claim to fame is still its hamburger, which won a best-burger-in-da-city contest some years back. For once one of those things got it right: this is a terrific example of the classic bar burger, a half-pound slab of quality beef seared to a steaklike char and accompanied by nothing more exotic than Grey Poupon and a manly mound of steak fries. Not surprisingly, the same char crust turns up on the steaks themselves, which rank among the city's best in their midrange price class. Otherwise the menu is the usual middle-American fare: baby back ribs, pasta, and fish dishes, all calibrated to the tastes of a mostly older audience. There's a patio in back, and a small sidewalk cafe where canine companions are welcome. —Mike Gebert

Lutz Continental Cafe & Pastry Shop2458 W. Montrose | 773-478-7785

$$Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days

Raters who've eaten at this European dining room with adjoining pastry shop strongly advise leaving room for dessert. "Go there with the idea that you're going to splurge," says one; another recommends skipping the entree and bingeing on pastry and the unique ice cream drinks or Viennese coffee. Now renovated, the dining room and lovely back garden retain their old-world flavor, and the lunch offerings—classic sandwiches, quiche, goulash soups, and crepes—are worth every pfennig. —Holly Greenhagen

Moody's Pub5910 N. Broadway | 773-275-2696

F 5.3 | S 4.9 | A 7.4 | $ (7 reports)Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 2, other nights till 1 | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

A good place to grab a burger and beer for lunch, dinner, or a late-night snack. The menu is small, its centerpiece a burger that's been called the best in town (it's also been called the most overrated). The beer selection is limited, but the margaritas and sangria are outstanding. In summer the large flower-filled garden is the place to sit. —Ellen Joy, Rater

Plymouth Restaurant & Bar327 S. Plymouth | 312-362-1212

$$Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | saturday & sunday brunch| Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, other nights till 11

Longtime Chicagoans may remember some of the vanished State Street diners—places like the Ferris Wheel and the Court Restaurant where one could get a decent, no-frills meal amid comfortable surroundings. The Plymouth is a throwback to these vintage spots. The only differences are positive ones: a pages-long menu and a large rooftop patio with a wonderful view of the Loop. Foodwise, there are the usual egg skillets and pancake/French toast breakfast choices, burgers and sandwiches for lunch, and several dinner entrees including the classic chopped steak with grilled onions. —Rob Christopher

Prosecco710 N. Wells | 312-951-9500

$$$$Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Thursday-Saturday till 11

Prosecco is the sort of top-heavy place where phalanxes of handsome managers in dark suits do a lot of glad-handing while the lone guy bringing out the food is practically running. That top-heavy philosophy applies equally to the kitchen, which seems to operate under the rule of thumb "when in doubt, add butter—and truffles." Orechiette tartufate was a devastatingly rich plate of pasta tossed with wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and a whole lot of black truffle cream and white truffle oil. At first bite (or three) delicious, it was so damn rich that it quickly lost its charm. Seared diver scallops, caramelized to a crisp, came on a puddle of vanilla-scented prosecco reduction reminiscent of vanilla yogurt. They were, again, so rich—and so salty—I barely made it through half. We had better luck with a Cornish game hen, whose stuffing of porcini, sausage, chestnuts, and black truffles delivered enough smoky, nutty flavor to give the dish structure. We shared the pasta and an appetizer, a trio of white tuna, ahi tuna, and salmon crudo—only the citrusy salmon really sang. And though we steered clear of the filet mignon and the gold-leaf-dusted risotto, the bill still came to more than $200. The patio is delightfully decorated with lanterns, lots of wrought iron and greenery, and a Persian carpet. —Martha Bayne

Puck's at the MCA220 E. Chicago | 312-397-4034

F 7.6 | S 7.2 | A 7.2 | $$ (5 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday | Sunday brunch | Closed Monday

The dining room at the MCA is flooded with natural light from the 30-foot wall of windows that looks out on the sculpture garden. The fare is light and flavorful: for example, the famous chinoise chicken salad originated by Wolfgang Puck. Sandwiches include a sirloin burger with Vermont cheddar and garlic aioli, a smoked turkey Reuben with Havarti, and a barbecued salmon BLT with herb aioli. Puck's signature wood-grilled pizzas are topped with everything from prosciutto and roasted red peppers to smoked shrimp with sun-dried tomatoes, leeks, and cilantro. In summer the outdoor patio may be the best afternoon seat in town. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Resi's Bierstube2034 W. Irving Park | 773-472-1749

$$Dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

Regulars like this German beer parlor for the filling traditional fare—classics like schnitzel, sausages with sauerkraut, goulash, and potato pancakes. But the real draw is the beer: 15 on tap and more than 100 bottled. In warm weather the charming tree-lined outdoor patio is lantern lit, with picnic tables for seating, and the atmosphere is generally mellow and cheerful. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Room 212100 S. Wabash | 312-328-1198

$$$Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Jerry Kleiner (Red Light, Marché, Opera, etc) knows how to razzle-dazzle 'em. In this case the backstory involves a Prohibition-era warehouse owned by Al Capone, Eliot Ness's first bust, and an escape passage ending in a door labeled "Room 21." The renovation channels an old bordello: velvet drapes, alligator-pattern banquettes, clusters of hanging lamp shades, huge potted palms. (There's also a lovely walled garden that's less noisy than the earsplitting dining room.) Kleiner's chutzpah extends to a $44 rib eye, but he's also savvy enough to offer a $14 bacon cheeseburger with Nueske's bacon. As for the food, my meal was mixed. Crab cakes tasted mostly of rice, and entrees arrived lukewarm, but the steak Diane was perfectly cooked, coated with subtle cognac sauce, and served with a mountain of crisp salted fries. Other entrees include a filet Oscar and herb-crusted rack of lamb; for dessert there's red velvet cake or made-to-order cinnamon doughnuts. —Anne Spiselman

Rose Angelis1314 W. Wrightwood | 773-296-0081

F 8.7 | S 8.0 | A 7.7 | $$ (7 reports)Lunch: Tuesday-Friday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

rrr This Lincoln Park storefront is a perennial Rater favorite. The four adjoining rooms feel intimate even when they're crowded, and the reasonably priced entrees are so large that doggie bags are the norm. The bruschetta is a rustic version with chunks of tomato; pizzas have a nice thin crust, and most entrees are classic pasta dishes like linguine with seafood in tomato sauce and a massive eggplant parmigiana in a sweet red sauce. More ambitious are the delicate duck-filled tortelloni and a portobello ripiene. The two outdoor patios are flower filled and sheltered from the street. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Shochu3313 N. Clark | 773-348-3313

$$Dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2

A loungey, modern small-plates restaurant, Shochu boasts a heavily Asian-influenced menu by Josh Hansen of Deleece but is really about its namesake booze. On offer are four varieties by ten imported labels, all served neat or on the rocks at $4 to $10 a glass or in $9 cocktails like the Shione (barley), whose generous dollop of muddled blackberries kept me from knocking it straight back. The drinks are a far cry from the staple "sours" on the menu at traditional Japanese izakaya (casual bars that offer bites of everything from sashimi to french fries), but Shochu's service style is more or less the same. From the raw menu we tried a small mound of chopped ono, avocado, scallion, and chile on a rice-paper bed; it looked doused in peanut sauce but to my relief had the refreshing citrus taste of ceviche. The grilled skewers came three to a plate, and while the shrimp and pear, the bacon-wrapped dates, the shiitake, tomato, and onion all lacked the nice smoky flavor lent by a good charcoal, the avocado wasabi spared the shrimp from just OK-dom, the "Japanese ranch" revived the dates, and the sambal salt saved the day. —Irma Nuñez

Sixteen401 N. Wabash | 312-588-8030

$$$$$Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Every critic who steps off the elevators on the Trump Tower's 16th floor is going to have the pin already pulled from his grenade, braced for any hint of the Donald's trademark vulgarity. But though the prohibitive prices and cheesy tunes piped through the sound system raised my hackles, the food at Sixteen is bewitching—it certainly confirms the reputation of globe-trotting chef Frank Brunacci. Here he offers at least one signature dish from his past, a vanilla-scented crab salad in a cylinder of rock melon: with the briny crab, the sweet melon, and the acidic pineapple dressing it makes for a novel harmony of clear flavors—unrestrained, sure, but not obnoxious. That goes for many of Brunacci's presentations, from a lamb loin perched atop "forbidden" black rice to duck "Percik," a take on Malaysian roast duck splashed with a currylike cumin-and-carrot jus. There's the expected accumulation of little details that ought to convince big spenders their money is well spent here; a staircase of French macarons, caramels, nougats, and other sweets, for example, comes free with coffee. And then there's the spectacular view, smack in the middle of one of the greatest architectural airspaces on the planet. The patio allows you to take it in alfresco. —Mike Sula

Tallulah4539 N. Lincoln | 773-942-7585

$$$Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Sunday brunch | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Troy Graves, formerly of Meritage, throws his lot in with the tenants of Lincoln Square's burgeoning restaurant row in the spot where She She withered away. It's a dark, loud, cramped space, but this is ameliorated in warmer weather, when the airy patio, which seats 80, is accessible. Graves's seasonal East-West-influenced menu has also lightened up. I liked some of the bold-for-this-neighborhood inclusions like pork belly, plopped atop gingery-sweet but not unaggressive kimchi, and the spicy lobster deviled eggs were really good, their richness offset by crunchy roe. A chocolate-peanut pot de creme was sheer clumsy richness—a huge vat of cocoa-flavored Skippiness. Still, I have hope for attractive-looking dishes like harissa prawns with mint couscous—I'll certainly give Tallulah another look. —Mike Sula

Trattoria Isabella217 N. Jefferson | 312-207-1900

$$Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

This new West Loop Italian restaurant mirrors its increasingly condo-ridden neighborhood—shiny, handsome, and seemingly soulless. As Tom Jones wailed over the sound system, white-shirted waiters and bussers hovered; friendly but bumptious, over the course of the meal they gave us spotted water glasses, salad forks with an entree, and piled on our courses until the spacious booth table was completely overtaken by large white plates and bowls. Large rather than, say, delicious certainly seems to be the byword in the kitchen. Our choices from the menu of standard-issue offerings—a Caesar salad, grilled octopus overwhelmed by balsamic, spaghetti carbonara rich with cream rather than creamy with eggs—were, well, standard issue. The meal wrapped up with more Tom Jones, and unless you're a fan, I suggest the only reason to come here is the side patio and bar—god forbid he's piped out there. —Kate Schmidt

Twisted Spoke501 N. Ogden | 312-666-1500

F 7.2 | S 6.8 | A 6.8 | $ (5 reports)Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, Monday-Friday till 2, Sunday till midnight | Reservations not accepted

"Eat, Drink, Ride" is the motto at this casual joint at the corner of Grand and Ogden, but most people are just eating and drinking. The menu offers bar munchies, burgers, and a dozen or so huge sandwiches, all of which are served with equally huge handfuls of crispy fries. Up the stairs is a rooftop patio that's surprisingly airy for a biker bar, no matter how ersatz. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Volo Restaurant Wine Bar2008 W. Roscoe | 773-348-4600

F 7.5 | S 7.8 | A 7.1 | $$ (9 reports)Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, other nights till midnight

Talented executive chef Stephen Dunne executes a constantly changing menu of small plates: sweet, plump mussels steamed in white wine and butter and flecked with parsley, spicy-sweet steak tartare made with Kobe beef and topped with shards of sesame flatbread. Wine from an impressive global list comes by the glass, carafe, flight, or bottle, and the large outdoor dining area is pretty as a picture. —Laura Levy Shatkin

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