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Alfresco!

Our annual, invaluable guide to outdoor dining

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SushiSamba Rio

504 N. Wells | 312-595-2300

$$$$

South American | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | open late: saturday till 2, Tuesday-Thursday till 1, sunday-monday till midnight

This branch of a chain with locations in New York and Miami serves a dizzying combination of Japanese, Brazilian, and Peruvian food—the 20-seat sushi bar alone is a whirlwind of activity. The cuisine reflects what's typically available in big cities in Brazil and Peru, where thanks to turn-of-the-century Japanese immigration it's as easy to find edamame as churrasco, the traditional Brazilian barbecue platter. The wine list includes several little-known varietals like Spanish Xarello and Italian Arneis; there are also dozens of sake varieties, plus martinis, mojitos, and caipirinhas. Ten sidewalk tables comprise the restaurant's outdoor seating. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Tapas Barcelona

1615 Chicago, Evanston | 847-866-9900

$$

TAPAS/SPANISH | LUNCH: MONDAY-SATURDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11

The patio of this Evanston restaurant fills up quickly, possibly a bigger draw than the decent if unspectacular fare. This isn't the place for the unexpected or unusual, but the traditional is sometimes executed very well. The Spanish omelet, for instance, was near perfect; bacon-wrapped dates sitting in a pool of bell pepper sauce had my companion practically drooling. Other options—like the thin grilled scallops—were not so good. Duck sausage was better, rich and satisfying, but the side of mushroom ragu was oddly bereft of mushrooms. Fortunately, there's a full list of specialty cocktails, not to mention a decent beer and wine menu. —Chip Dudley

Taxim

1558 N. Milwaukee | 773-252-1558

$$$

GREEK | LUNCH: SATURDAY-SUNDAY; DINNER: SUNDAY-MONDAY, WEDNESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED TUESDAY | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11

At Taxim chef-owner David Schneider has raised the bar for what passes as serious, interesting regional Greek food. Humble seasonal ingredients shine in simple, wonderful dishes like fresh-shelled favas with yogurt and lamb confit. Pomegranate-glazed duck gyros are an updated nod to street food, dressed in a thin, unstrained house-made yogurt that's deployed with amazing results in a number of dishes, from sauteed baby eggplant to a brawny minced goat kebab, as well as on its own for dessert, accented with some tart candied kumquats. The selection of hot and cold mezzes and large plates—which also includes supersweet roasted peppers, capers, and kefalograviera cheese and a phyllo-clad goat feta and ramp pie—apparently just hints at Schneider's repertoire, said to include hundreds of recipes from Greece and Asia Minor. The all-Greek wine list is affordable and interesting; add to that a weekend yogurt bar and sidewalk cafe. —Mike Sula

Tepatulco

2558 N. Halsted | 773-472-7419

$$

MEXICAN | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11

Tepatulco opened under the peripatetic Geno Bahena; perhaps predictably, he's since taken off, but the menu retains many of his favorites, and the outdoor patio, which seats 200, remains popular. On my last visit camarones aguachiles verdes, a Sinaloan version of shrimp lightly "cooked" in lime marinade, was delicately flavored, and the sopes de chapulines—little masa cups stuffed with black beans, cheese, and grasshopper bits described on the menu as "succulent"was an accessible dish for one with bug parts. Salmon was grilled and deliciously dressed in a green pumpkin-seed-based mole. Simple but satisfying chicken Milanesa was a meaty capon breast with peppery pickled red onion—complemented by the menu's one Mexican red wine as well as margaritas, shaken tableside. —David Hammond

The Terrace at Trump

401 N. Wabash | 312-588-8600

$$$

BAR/LOUNGE, AMERICAN | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT TILL 11 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Million-dollar views of the Wrigley Building and the Chicago River are the main reason to check out the Terrace at Trump—but not the only one. The thoughtfully designed space, accented by burbling fountains and stands of prairie grass, offers a welcome variety of seating options, among them comfy couches, large round tables, cocktail tables for couples, a communal table, and a small bar. And thanks to a no-standing-room policy, the place doesn't get packed. Frank Brunacci, executive chef of Sixteen, oversees the compact menu, which is predictably sophisticated and expensive. The downside of controlled access is that the wait for seating outdoors can stretch into hours. The way to avoid it: go around 2:30, when the doors open, and relax over a late lunch. —Anne Spiselman

Terzo Piano

159 E. Monroe | 312-443-8650

$$$

ITALIAN | LUNCH: SEVEN DAYS; DINNER: THURSDAY 

A diverse crowd turns up here for lunch (dinner is Thursdays only), drawn by everything from the star power of chef-partner Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia) to the views, though the best vista of Millennium Park—from the north end of the terrace—can't be enjoyed from any of the tables. The one-page menu is lavish about listing the midwestern sources of ingredients in the mostly Italian-inspired dishes. But frankly, I don't care if the piccolo lamb burger on the uno, due, tre burgers started life at Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms in Wisconsin, since it ended up an overdone, overspiced, dry puck of meat unredeemed by Indiana's Capriole goat cheese or ketchup made from McWethy Farms tomatoes. Colorful pizzasize flatbreads headed for other tables made me wish I'd ordered one. I might return for desserts like espresso doughnut holes with a mini glass of cherry soda and zeppole (fig-filled pastries) with vin cotto and dark-chocolate ice cream, but given that lunch for two cost more than $100, the food—and service—should have been better. —Anne Spiselman

Trattoria Isabella

217 N. Jefferson | 312-207-1900

$$$

italian | lunch: monday-friday; dinner: seven days | open late: friday & saturday till 11

This 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 with a flourish, salad forks with an entree, and piled on our courses until the spacious booth table was completely overtaken by large white plates and bowls. Our choices from the menu of standard-issue offerings—a Caesar salad, bland grilled octopus overwhelmed by balsamic vinegar, spaghetti carbonara—were, well, standard issue. I suggest the only reason to come here is the handsome side patio—god forbid Tom Jones is piped out there too. —Kate Schmidt

Tre Kronor

3258 W. Foster | 773-267-9888

$$

SWEDISH | BREAKFAST, LUNCH: SEVEN DAYS; DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | BYO

Every morning the kitchen at Tre Kronor turns out their legendary Danish, cinnamon rolls, and a number of cheese-filled omelets. Most of the foods are Scandinavian, though there's one quisling burger on the lunch menu; other offerings include quiche and Norwegian meatballs on limpa bread. Tre Kronor's herring, made in-house, is a superbly moist and meaty version, and Swedish meatballs here are light, delicate, and deliciously dressed with sweet-tart lingonberry sauce. In line with the robust Viking tradition, you won't find a salad here without cheese or bacon or both; the menu is full of the kind of fortifying food you'd want to eat before heading out to herd reindeer or invade your southern neighbors. There's outdoor seating under a canopy of trees. —David Hammond

Twisted Spoke

501 N. Ogden | 312-666-1500

$

BAR/LOUNGE, AMERICAN, BURGERS | Lunch: monay-friday; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | saturday & sunday BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, SUNDAY-FRIDAY TILL 2 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

"Eat, Drink, Ride" is the motto at this casual joint at the corner of Grand and Ogden. The place is decorated to look like a biker hangout, with several hogs half-buried nose down in the dirt outside, an industrial metal interior, and a rust-covered facade. The menu offers bar munchies, burgers, and a dozen or so huge sandwiches—barbecued chicken and pulled pork, a grilled portobello—all of which are served with equally huge handfuls of crispy fries; there are also wings, gumbo, and chicken tacos with pico de gallo. Saturday nights after midnight the Spoke offers "Smut 'n Eggs"—breakfast and old stag movies. 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 Bar

2008 W. Roscoe | 773-348-4600

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, SMALL PLATES, CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL | DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 2, MONDAY-THURSDAY TILL MIDNIGHT

Talented executive chef Stephen Dunne executes a constantly changing menu of small plates like sweet, plump mussels steamed in white wine and butter and flecked with parsley or spicy-sweet steak tartare made with Kobe beef and topped with shards of sesame flatbread. There's an artisanal cheese plate offered every night—it changes frequently but might include French favorites like Epoisses, Valencay, and Sainte-Maure or domestic selections like Humboldt Fog and Point Reyes blue. 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

Zed 451

739 N. Clark | 312-266-6691

$$$$$

South American | Dinner: seven days | sunday brunch | open late: friday & saturday till 11 | Sunday Brunch

The Orlando investment firm that snapped up Sal & Carvao three years ago must have known there were enough knickered "gauchos" scampering around River North's Brazilian-themed feeding factories to occupy a flattened rain forest. But it also knew that the all-you-can-eat-meat-on-a-blade concept still has juice, especially if marketed to Sex and the City wannabes who don't care as much about eating as about being seen in the right place eating. I was no fan of Sal & Carvao, but I don't remember feeling as blatantly manipulated there as at its replacement, Zed 451. The game began the instant we approached the host stand and were directed into a holding pattern in the bar, where we were free to order weak pours at stiff prices before finally being permitted to feed at one of several long-available tables. In the dining room, the Brazil-on-Disney shtick and the simple, reasonably palatable flame-roasted meats have been replaced with white-coated "chefs" who table-shave a less beef-centric variety of proteins gussied up with global-fusiony marinades and accents, such as bricks of Parmesan-crusted pork loin, citrus salmon, and mango mahimahi. The "Harvest-Table" is laden with salads and vegetable dishes in enough sugary dressings to accommodate heroin withdrawal, and if the trio of "artisan cheeses" was any less industrial than supermarket deli-case varieties, I'll go bag groceries at Jewel. That doesn't keep people away from the rooftop lounge, though. —Mike Sula

Zella

1983 N. Clybourn | 773-549-2910

$$$

BAR/LOUNGE, AMERICAN | lunch: saturday-sunday; DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | closed monDAY | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, THURSDAY & FRIDAY TILL 2, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 11 | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

This restaurant at the busy corner of Clybourn and Racine is more bar than restaurant. The front room's been gussied up with a dozen tables, white tablecloths, and candles. The menu is mostly bar appetizers like chicken wings, spinach dip, and quesadillas. Salads, pizza, and burgers and sandwiches—including a steak sandwich with caramelized onions and blue cheese and a buffalo chicken wrap—make up the rest of the menu. The back room opens onto a spacious bi-level beer garden, which is a real draw in warm weather. —Laura Levy Shatkin

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