Alfresco! | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

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Alfresco!

Our annual, invaluable guide to outdoor dining

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M. Henry

5707 N. Clark | 773- 561-1600

$

AMERICAN, BREAKFAST | BREAKFAST, LUNCH: TUESDAY-SATURDAY | SUNDAY BRUNCH | CLOSED MONDAY | BYO | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

This charming cafe from partners Michael Moorman and Jorge Aviles offers an eclectic selection of breakfast, brunch, and lunch dishes featuring natural ingredients and house-baked breads. There's a turkey sandwich with walnut pesto and cranberry sauce, a miso-glazed veggie burger, a Jamaican jerk chicken sandwich, a veggie Dagwood, and five others, along with nourishing "peasant bowls" with beans, noodles, organic rice, and veggies. Breakfast and brunch entrees include a dish called Vegan Epiphany, organic tofu scrambled with red and green peppers, onions, and yuba (a baconlike soy product), and Dulce Banana Rumba, thick-cut brioche French toast with warm bananas, rum, golden raisins, and pecans. Prices are reasonable, and the staff is friendly and eager to accommodate. An attached patisserie offers breads, focaccia and other savories, and an array of tempting-looking treats for takeout; outside is a fancifully decorated patio. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Market

1113 W. Randolph | 312-929-4787

$$$

BAR/LOUNGE, AMERICAN, PIZZA | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2

This sprawling sports bar's ownership includes White Sox GM Kenny Williams, and the corny menu shows it: appetizers are the "Starting Line Up" and "MVPs" "most valuable pizzas." Market says its aim is to provide traditional American food with a twist, and the result is innovations like seasoned wings tossed in buffalo sauce with blue cheese potato skins (the dish is called Idaho vs. Buffalo) and a bizarre appetizer of dumplings stuffed with chicken and pepper jack cheese, then rolled in barbecue sauce and chives. The "MVPs" include a chicken Vesuvio pizza complete with peas, and the South-Side Slugger is a half-pound cheddar burger topped with smoked ham, "angry onions," and a fried egg. There's a short list of entrees in the $20-$30 range, but most people head here for the extensive outdoor seating, which includes a beer garden, a rooftop patio, and a sidewalk cafe. —Kate Schmidt

May Street Cafe

1146 W. Cermak | 312-421-4442

$$

MEXICAN, GLOBAL/FUSION/ECLECTIC | DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED MONDAY | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11

On a dismal industrial stretch of Cermak, the bright, tropical-toned facade of May Street Cafe jumps out like a red-hot tamale. There are other surprises in the cuisine, like a not-bad alligator appetizer with a nutty, sage-based mojo criollo. Michoacan-style mole was more hot than sweet, with pasilla and ancho chiles and just a touch of chocolate, and the chiles rellenos also packed a lot of peppery punch. Double-cream Brie and pear quesadillas were inspired; served with sweet crema and chipotle ketchup and listed as an appetizer, they would also be a rich, sweet way to end the meal. The covered garden terrace seats about 60. —David Hammond

Moody's Pub

5910 N. Broadway | 773-275-2696

$

BAR/LOUNGE, AMERICAN, BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 2, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 1 | cash only | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

A good place to grab a burger and beer for lunch, dinner, or a late-night snack, even on Sundays. The menu is small, its centerpiece a burger that's been called the best in town (it's also been called the most overrated). Also available are fries, steak and chicken breast sandwiches, a dinner salad, and fried cod, shrimp, and chicken. The beer selection is limited, but the margaritas and sangria are outstanding. In summer the large garden is the place to sit. —Ellen Joy

Nightwood

2119 S. Halsted | 312-526-3385

$$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL | DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: MONDAY-SATURDAY TILL 11

At Nightwood, the Pilsen venture from the Lula talent trust of Jason Hammel, Amalea Tshilds, and chef Jason Vincent, the vibe is minimalist but polished, from the open kitchen and floor-to-ceiling windows to the clean cubism of the outdoor patio. The simple yet sophisticated seasonal food mirrors the elegant surroundings. Some standouts on my visits were delicate grilled Wisconsin trout, half a juicy roast chicken complemented by peppery mustard greens, devastating pork belly, and a duck potpie whose rich flavors were teased out with a restrained, confident hand. Appetizers included a nicely balanced arugula and steak salad with flavorful roasted beets and a terrific duo of silken, miso-cured pork tenderloin and savory shank. There's a roster of creative house cocktails and craft beers, though Pabst Blue Ribbon ("Wisconsin, lager") also makes the cut. The wine list is weighted toward sustainable and/or biodynamic small producers and, like the menu and the restaurant design, demonstrates an abundance of taste, consideration, and savvy planning. —Martha Bayne

90 Miles Cuban Cafe

2540 W. Armitage | 773-227-2822

$

CUBAN | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | BYO | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

The second outpost of Alberto and Christine Gonzalez's Cuban cafe has table seating and a charming outdoor dining area in addition to a counter, but it retains the warmth of the tiny original on Clybourn. Sandwiches include innovations like one with tofu in Creole sauce alongside traditionals like a medianoche, lechon, and Cubano. A special of masas de puerco consisted of delicious deep-fried pork chunks smeared with mojo and served with rings of white onion. The crispy tostones and a savory goat cheese empanada were pleasing as well. There's Latin music on the sound system, and the space is decorated with wallpaper showcasing vintage Cuban posters; service is crack. —Kate Schmidt

NoMi

800 N. Michigan | 312-239-4030

$$$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL, FRENCH, BAR/LOUNGE | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS

This swank restaurant on the seventh floor of the Park Hyatt pulls out all the stops, from a temperature-controlled wine cellar entrance to windows with a knockout view of Michigan Avenue. Under executive chef Christophe David appetizers include a range of sushi platters and rolls and seasonal dishes such as morels and white asparagus with smoked ham. Main courses on the changing menu also show seasonal influences, with offerings like diver scallops with smoked eel agnolotti and a scallop-thyme jus. In the garden patio and lounge a smaller menu of tapas, sushi, sandwiches, and salads is served. The garden seats about 50 people. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Old Oak Tap

2109 W. Chicago | 773-772-0406

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL | LUNCH: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2 | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

At the Old Oak Tap, a barstaurant from the owners of the Continental and Darkroom, the 1,500-square-foot front patio is frequently jammed, with every third diner bouncing a baby between sips of Saison DuPont. The menu, created with consulting chef John Manion (Mas), is full of spiffed-up bar standards like sweet-and-spicy sriracha wings, roasted beet and goat cheese salad, and sandwiches stuffed with tilapia or five-spice pork belly. And I mean stuffed: the lump crabmeat club was an ungainly mound of crab salad with four inches of fresh ciabatta on either side and finished with chunks of bacon and avocado. Deep-fried rock shrimp glazed with chipotle aioli and a rib eye salad with romaine and avocado proved more navigable, but underneath the spicy mayo the shrimp seemed oddly flavorless. The craft beer list showcases a lot of predictable crowd-pleasers—Stone IPA, Bell's Oberon, Half Acre Daisy Cutter—but also a couple intriguing curveballs like the Magic Hat #9 Pale Ale, a light, fruity, strangely pleasant brew I'd never tried before and liked a lot by the fourth sip. —Martha Bayne

The Orbit Room

2959 N. California | 773-588-8540

$

bar/lounge, american | Lunch: friday-sunday; dinner seven days | open late: MONDAY-FRIDAY TILL 2, SATURDAY TILL 3, SUNDAY TILL MIDNIGHT

In addition to bar staples like nachos, wings, and burgers, this friendly Avondale watering hole offers French onion soup, P.E.I. mussels, a Cubano sandwich, and hand-tossed pizza. There's a nice selection of draft beers, including locally brewed Metropolitan, and a respectable list of specialty cocktails, if that's your thing. The attractive outdoor patio is done up tiki style. —Kate Schmidt

Las Palmas

1835 W. North | 773-289-4991

$$$

MEXICAN | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT

This branch of the local Las Palmas chain is more sophisticated than the others in the city. Appetizers include empanadas, arepas, ceviches, and guacamole prepared tableside. The traditional steak taco entree was smoky and good, topped with queso añejo and chipotle jam; other large plates include pan-roasted mahi-mahi over purple-potato puree and lamb shank braised in banana leaves. A jumbo margarita easily carried me through my meal—that and the strolling guitarist and pleasant weather on the charming back patio. —Kathie Bergquist

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