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Best suburban Chicago restaurants: West

Back-to-back Michelin stars, a hot dog like a Cezanne, and Bohemian cuisine consumed by the likes of Al Capone and George H.W. Bush


Autre Monde | $$$

6727 W. Roosevelt
Berwyn, IL

This neighborhoody pan-Mediterranean bistro could easily be a subject of one of those "Why Berwyn?" billboards that have popped up all over Chicago to convince potential home buyers of the charms of New Svengoolieland. The four principals behind Autre Monde all worked under Tony Mantuano in various restaurants. Former Spiaggia wine steward John Aranza's nerdtastic horrorbilia decorates the bright, inviting Berwyn storefront with a long communal table running down the front and a spacious bar in the back. And the menu from Beth Partridge and Dan Pancake (ex-Cafe Spiaggia and Spiaggia, respectively) is certainly Mantuano-esque, most tellingly in a trio of ruddy handmade pastas, such as a generous tangle of tagliatelle with rock shrimp and bay scallops, a creamy sweet-pea puree that perfumes the entire dining room when it leaves the kitchen, or a voluptuous Taylor Street-style red sauce that blankets four fat pork-and-spinach-stuffed throw pillows. This is simple food, simply prepared, and when a server promises that plates are shareable, it's true—from a crock of fatty pork rillettes and pickled Rainier cherries to a pair of long crostini topped with white bean puree and thick, fresh-cured sardine fillets. Three flatbreads in particular take up quite a bit of surface area, but their crusts are light and wafer thin. Ingredients are high-quality, some of them coming from Partridge and Pancake's Ohio farm, others from the backyard greenhouse the team built. —Mike Sula

Fabulous Noodles | $$

4663 Old Tavern Road
Lisle, IL 630-305-8868

The chef at Taiwanese-owned Fabulous Noodles prepares amazingly good renditions of Cantonese classics like beef with bitter melon over wok-blistered chow fun noodles or lo bak go, panfried turnip cake studded with nuggets of crispy cured pork. Yet he also has the chops to switch gears and deliver a rock-solid version of northern-style vegetarian chicken (marinated tofu skin rolled and filled with bamboo shoots and shiitakes) or Hong Kong-style wonton noodle soup, as well as chop suey and kung pao. The former co-owners execute an almost identical menu equally well at Noodles Delight (853 E. Nerge, Roselle, 630-307-1010, —Rob Lopata

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Gene & Jude's | $

2720 River Road
River Grove, IL

A Gene & Jude's hot dog, like a Cezanne, represents the apotheosis of a form, inessentials stripped away, almost the platonic ideal of the hot dog. No tomato, and you don't dare ask for ketchup. What you get at this middle-American icon is a perfectly warmed wiener with world-class snap, nestled in a steamed bun and layered with mustard, relish, onion, sport peppers (if you want 'em), and fries. That's right: the fries, fresh cut with a hand-operated mechanism straight out of the Eisenhower administration, are laid gently on top of the dog, creating a steamy union of dog and fry that miraculously benefits both. There's always a long line of hungry hot-dog freaks, and it's always standing room only in this bright yellow-lit room, lined with a white wooden shelf bearing industrial-strength saltshakers (made of glass jars with holes hand-punched in the top). The locals consider this stand a national treasure, and when you bite into one of Gene & Jude's franks, you'll see why. Don't be shy about ordering more than one: I've seen big guys order a six-pack to go (which usually means no further than the truck). —David Hammond

Johnnie's Beef | $

7500 W. North
Elmwood Park, IL

Nobody goes to Johnnie's for anything but the Italian beef sandwich, which is so ambrosial you will soon cease to eat it anywhere else, because bad Italian beef shortens your life by blocking your arteries, and you want to live longer so you can eat more at Johnnie's. This somehow makes sense when you're there. The homemade Italian ice isn't bad either. —Peter Sagal

Katy's Dumpling House | $$

665 N. Cass,
Westmont, IL

The name would suggest that dumplings are the draw here, but it's the fresh homemade noodles that instantly turn unsuspecting diners into fervent members of the cult of Katy's. There are two untranslated menus plastered on the wall of this suburban strip-mall storefront. The first lists daily specials like spicy beef tendon and cold pork stomach, which can be found in the refrigerator case (or as I like to call it, the chilled organ grab bag); the second lists frozen dumplings—pork and fennel, beef and scallion, fish stuffed—available to go. Personally I can't be bothered with such exotica when I have noodles on the brain, and fortunately the dine-in menu is translated. Stir-fried noodles with dry chile offers the perfect introduction: meat, seafood, and vegetables with a healthy dose of dried red chiles, served atop of a big nest of the fresh noodles. Szechuan cold noodles are just as good, the slow burn of the Szechuan-peppercorn-spiked shredded pork prevailing over the shredded cucumber that attempts to cool the palate. If you must have something other than noodles, the chewy pancake with shredded pork may be the only worthy substitute—even though it's cut to look like a noodle. There's a second location at 790 Royal Saint George, Naperville (630-416-1188). —Kristina Meyer

Klas | $$

5734 W. Cermak
Cicero, IL

For more than 85 years, Klas has served hearty Bohemian cuisine to customers who have included Al Capone and George H.W. Bush. It's one of the best dining bargains in the Chicago area: most of the reasonably priced dinners come with a medium-dark Bohemian rye, homemade soup, a main course, spaetzle or dumplings, dessert (most often a cakelike kolacky filled with fruit or poppy seeds), and coffee. The Wiener schnitzel a la Holstein is topped with two fried eggs, anchovies, and capers, and it's a superb combination of flavors and textures. Some meat dishes, such as sauerbraten, are drenched in sauces that tend to be a little heavy and sweet. There's a pocket bar attached to the restaurant (described on the menu as a "14th century wine and tap room") that offers a full selection of domestic and Czech beers (including draft Staropramen and Radegast), as well as wine and mixed drinks. After eating, take a tour of this castlelike building: there's a pleasant walled garden, the Dr. Zhivago Room on the second floor is decorated with colorful murals depicting scenes from Russian history, and a long band-rehearsal space has smaller side rooms that hark back to a time when the restaurant accommodated the world's oldest profession. —David Hammond

Marion Street Cheese Market Cafe | $$

100 S. Marion
Oak Park, IL

Marion Street Cheese Market Cafe lays out exquisite cheeses, meats, and local produce, done up as small plates and entrees—but not too done up. The cafe specializes in noninterventionist cuisine, manipulating its plates minimally and setting them forth in ways that foreground the undiluted goodness of artisanal chow. Wine and beer flights are well paired with cheese and charcuterie, affording tiny tastes of many good things, which is what this cafe is all about. Don't come here expecting a bellyful; instead, seek to sample simple dishes like ham and swiss arancini or bison carpaccio, sip a tasty beverage or two, and leave feeling very satisfied but not stuffed. Sounds sensible, doesn't it? —David Hammond

Priscilla's Ultimate Soulfood | $

4330 W. Roosevelt
Hillside, IL

Surprisingly cheery for a former Sizzler with a view of a Jewish cemetery, Priscilla's cafeteria-style meat and two hits the soul food highlights. Fried chicken's a study in textural point/counterpoint, crisp skin giving way to moist, yielding, interior flesh so juicy you run the risk of ruining your shirt. Tender greens are the perfect accompaniment, their bitterness rounded out by little cubes of cured pork. Less successful are the slightly undercooked baked beans, bland mac 'n' cheese, and acidic spaghetti, but sweet potatoes aren't bad, and mashed potatoes are fantastic, rich, creamy, and doused with silky-smooth house-made gravy. Bread pudding isn't coma-inducingly sweet, and pecan pie is pleasant. The vinegary hot sauce on each table round out a soul-satisfying experience. —Gary Wiviott

La Quebrada | $$

4859 W. Roosevelt
Cicero, IL

You'd expect a restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Guerrero, on the Pacific coast, to have some decent seafood, and La Quebrada does—especially the shrimp cocktails and ceviche. But when I go to this tiny joint in a dilapidated industrial zone, I want the goat barbacoa and fresh tortillas. La Quebrada's rendition of this dish is exceptional, featuring meaty hunks, perfectly cooked to a slightly pink center, served with cilantro, onion, and guacamole. On the side is a bowl of frijoles de la hoya, plump pinto beans in a mild broth. Handmade tortillas are pliant and absorbent, providing a perfect platform for piling on meat and vegetables soaked with the house molcajete (salsa ground and served in a mortar). Cornmeal also finds its way into other selections on the menu, among them huaraches, which are a vegetarian's nightmare/carnivore's dream come true, topped with a selection of tasty animals including marinated pork, chicken, regular steak, and dried steak (cesina). —David Hammond

Sam's Rasoi | $$

2321 N. Mannheim
Melrose Park, IL

Like Glenview's Royal Malabar catering, Sam's Rasoi is dingy and dark and not particularly designed for eating in. But on any given day the ownership is happy to seat you and bring out a sampler of whatever's going on in the kitchen: frequently uncommon vegetarian food from the northern Indian state of Gujarat, but also other northern, southern, and Indo-Chinese fusion dishes. There's no telling what you might get. A recent visit yielded a hot yogurt soup (not unlike Jordanian mensef), fried okra bound in chickpea flour, a dark brown and powerfully spiced channa masala, pickled carrots and peppers with an unidentifiable but deliciously musky spice profile, northern Indian palak paneer, a stew of eggplant and peas, pappadum, paratha, and a gulab jamun and salty glass of buttermilk to finish things off, all for a very reasonable $17 per head. There's a spiffier, more full-service outlet in Schaumburg, but the element of surprise there is limited. —Mike Sula

Vie | $$$$

4471 Lawn
Western Springs, IL

Located in Western Springs (well within the known universe, 30 minutes from the Loop), Vie is a restaurant on a kind of a mission, and part of that mission is educational (the menu has a glossary). After working at places like Blackbird (an influence reflected in Vie's elegant black-white-silver interior design), chef Paul Virant struck out on his own, getting the town's very first liquor license—and, more recently, earning a Michelin star two years running. Virant and his staff "put by" a larder of vegetables and herbs for use during the winter and early spring, and pickles play a supporting role in many presentations, providing a pleasantly tart counterpoint to rich meats and cheeses. Clearly, seasonality reigns; the current menu features "smoke pork braised ramps" with the scallops, "pickled ramps" in the chicken noodle soup, and "wood-grilled ramps" with the walleye pike. Virant has even managed to bring a taste of the suburbs to the city (through his successful partnership with the Boka Group at Perennial Virant) and to your bookshelf (with his new cookbook The Preservation Kitchen.) —David Hammond

Xni-Pec | $$

3755 Grand
Brookfield, IL

Relocated from a desolate stretch in Cicero to a busy corner in Brookfield, Xni-Pec aims to enlighten patrons about Yucatecan cuisine while avoiding, in the words of owner Antonio Contreras, becoming "more a museum than a restaurant." That's a concern because Xni-Pec studiously avoids offering many Mexican standards, instead aiming to open eyes to the Mayan-influenced culinary canon. You can get a bowl of guac, sure, but servers always go out of their way to explain the ancestry behind their more distinctive dishes, and the focus is on authentic chow. Contreras and his mother handle the cooking (several dishes are designated "mom's recipe"), and other family members handle service. Cochinita pibil, slow-roasted pork, is a prerequisite for those new to the cuisine; tikin xic is a beautifully prepared fish seasoned with achiote and sour orange, then steamed with vegetables in a banana leaf. Papadzules, tortillas soaked in pumpkin seed sauce, filled with chopped egg, and draped with tomato salsa, are a lightweight dish with lots of flavor. Other plates you won't find at most other Chicago Mexican spots include pan de cazon, a stack of tacos filled with black beans and baby shark, and Mama Contreras's mole rojo with a proprietary paste of chiles, almonds, and a wisp of cocoa. When you visit, be sure to ask if they're serving any off-menu specials; we inquired and were rewarded with capirotada, a traditional Lenten bread pudding, full of raisins and memorably delicious. —David Hammond

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