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Holiday Havens

Twenty-three restaurants convenient to the Mag Mile and State Street

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Argo Tea Cafe16 W. Randolph | 312-553-1551

$Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Tuesday-Saturday till 11 | Reservations not accepted

Even though it's hard to justify spending $4 on a cup of tea, Argo is easily becoming an addiction. The tea they use really is premium quality, and they froth the tea lattes up just right, with the perfect balance of sweetness. My new winter favorite is the ChocoMint Tea. Don't be put off by the ingredients (tea, mint syrup, and hot cocoa)—it's not nearly as thick as you might fear, and so refreshing. My old standbys are the Earl Grey Vanilla Creme Latte and the Hibiscus Steamer. The Mate Latte is all right—an interesting change if you want to go a more "natural" route or try something different. —Rebecca Gordon, Rater

Atwood Cafe1 W. Washington | 312-368-1900

F 7.9 | S 6.9 | A 8.9 | $$$$ (19 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Breakfast: Monday-Saturday; Lunch, dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch

Just off the handsomely ornamented lobby of the Hotel Burnham, this dramatic room has oversize windows on two sides; floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains, massive baroque chandeliers and wall sconces, and crimson-and-black walls give it a regal yet comfortable air. Chef Heather Terhune's menu is mostly American: grilled filet mignon, Gunthorp Farms organic chicken breast with sour cream mashed potatoes, and a pork chop, also from Gunthorp Farms, with grilled apples for dinner; burgers, including veggie, turkey, and lamb versions, at lunch. Breakfast sticks to the basics: omelets, oatmeal, waffles, and the like. Through December 30 a holiday tea is available every afternoon between 2 and 4 PM; it's $22 for adults, $17 for children under 12. Laura Levy Shatkin

Bandera535 N. Michigan | 312-644-3524

F 7.6 | S 8.0 | A 8.2 | $$ (10 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Fridays & Saturdays till 11

Perched on a second floor with wide windows overlooking Michigan Avenue, Bandera swanks it up every night with a three-piece jazz band providing mellow background music for food that can be pretty good if you don't mind a sugar buzz. "#1 Tuna Poke" is plump sashimi cubes, shrimp, and avocado with tortilla chips in a sugary sauce. The "hacked" chicken salad features the bird, greens, and tortilla strips—again in a sugary sauce. This slightly Hispanic, assertively sweet trend continues throughout: barbecued sea bass was lightly grilled and kissed with something sweet; grilled salmon, though a fine slice of sea creature, was painted in a brownish sugar glaze. Even the corn bread—overflowing a cast-iron pan, crumbly and crunchy with jalapenos—was caramelized with the element of sweetness evident in most dishes we had. Surprisingly, the dessert menu is quite limited. David Hammond

Bistro 110110 E. Pearson | 312-266-3110

F 7.2 | S 6.4 | A 7.1 | $$$ (14 reports)French | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Thursday-Saturday till 11

Michigan Avenue shoppers and workers alike line up here to enjoy simple Americanized bistro favorites, roasted dishes from an oak-fired oven, and famous melt-in-your-mouth heads of roasted garlic served with bread. Whimsical pastel murals cover the entire back wall; the bar is spacious and comfortable. A New Orleans-style jazz band entertains at brunch every Sunday. Laura Levy Shatkin

Cafe des Architectes20 E. Chestnut | 312-324-4000

$$$French, Mediterranean | Breakfast, Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: every night Till 11

Walk into this chic cafe just off the lobby of the Sofitel hotel and you could easily think you're in Paris (where the chain is based) or Milan. Pierre-Yves Rochon's stunning decor features 5-foot-tall light fixtures suspended from 50-foot vaulted ceilings, brilliant red banquettes, and backlit translucent bar walls that change from green to purple. Chef Gilles Arzur aims to dazzle as well, with an innovative French menu that covers meals from breakfast to late-night snack. The midday meal is a treat, and there's the option of ordering a four-plate, 30-minute business lunch for $20.95. Dinner entrees on the seasonal menu include olive-oil-poached escolar, hazelnut-crusted venison with a cacao-celery puree, and a lobster trilogy—lobster tartare with a peach-vanilla oil, lobster-asparagus risotto, and poached lobster with braised salsify and truffle cream. The chef also offers a three-course prix fixe dinner menu for $40; your choice of appetizer (e.g., diver scallops, gravlax, seared quail breast, celery veloute with lobster), an entree (beef tenderloin, duck breast, spicy crusted black cod), and dessert. The recently expanded wine list is now more international in its range. Laura Levy Shatkin

La Cantina71 W. Monroe | 312-332-7005

$$$Italian | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Monday-Saturday till midnight

Cozy means cramped in the casual seafood-oriented tier of the Italian Village restaurant triplex. Four average-size adults, we had to nudge and shimmy ourselves into the booth—not a good fit for what we assumed would be a hearty, belt-loosening home-style Italian feast. After navigating the justly heralded wine list, the size of a phone book, we settled on a good-value premium red. Our introduction into the night's meal was an appetizer of grilled calamari, appealingly charred and served on a bed of spring greens. Salads were the typical family-style restaurant fare—mixed greens with a tomato wedge—but the minestrone looked nice. The veal parmigiana was tender, its breading crunchy but not too crunchy and its tomato sauce bright and fresh tasting. The vegetarians in our party, however, found pickings slim: one ordered what appeared on the menu as cheese tortellini and on the table as cheese ravioli, albeit fluffy, pillowlike ravioli. I ordered off the house-specialty seafood menu, choosing cacciuco, a shellfish soup that even the server couldn't pronounce. Boy, was I sorry. Bland and watery, the broth bore no hint of the fennel promised in the description, and biting into the calamari rings was like gnawing on rubber bands. On the plus side, that premier cru burgundy provided some consolation. —Kathie Bergquist

Cheesecake Factory875 N. Michigan | 312-337-1101

F 7.4 | S 6.9 | A 6.6 | $$ (7 reports)American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 12:30, Monday-Thursday till 11:30, Sunday till 11

There's more than cheesecake here. Pasta, seafood, sandwiches, steaks, and huge salads make the downtown location a busy lunch spot and the Old Orchard one a popular shopping break. Portions are hefty, doggie bags the norm. Many Raters comment on the Dr. Seuss-like decor—all golden, curvy surfaces and elaborate ornamentation. "Like a circus in the womb," says one. Waits range from inconvenient to intolerable. Laura Levy Shatkin

Emerald Loop Bar & Grill216 N. Wabash | 312-263-0200

$$Bar/Lounge, English/Irish/Scottish, American | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, Friday till 2, other nights till 1:30

This pub on the first floor of the historic Jeweler's Building looks unassuming from the outside. But the interior is spacious and well appointed, with plenty of cozy nooks for mellow conversation. As the name would suggest, Emerald Loop bills itself as an Irish pub, and sure enough there are the typical Bennigan's-like gewgaws on the walls. Traditional dishes include shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, and the like. Clearly, though, the kitchen is aiming a little higher. The fish-and-chips were unusual, with a crispy, almost spicy batter. The goat-cheese-and-mushroom quesadillas were a bit drab, but the warm spinach-and-artichoke dip was a hit at our table. And my steak sandwich was among the finest I've ever had: a juicy cut of meat smothered in caramelized onions and blue cheese between thick slices of sourdough—definitely knife-and-fork food. Rob Christopher

Eno505 N. Michigan | 312-321-8738

$$Bar/Lounge, Small Plates | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1, Monday-Thursday till midnight

For a wine bar—not to mention a wine bar specializing, for God's sake, in cheese and chocolate—Eno is blessedly free of frills. In fact, it's downright manly inside this Hotel InterContinental hideaway, with dim lighting, dark wood paneling and red leather walls, and comfy leather-backed bar stools. Wines, cheese, and chocolate are all available a la carte or as flights of three; you can make up your own or pick one from the extensive menu. With the help of a friendly bartender/cheese pusher as refreshingly low-key as the decor I sampled a sinful truffled Gouda and two cave-aged Wisconsin cheeses, one of which—Willi Lehner's Li'l Willi's Big Cheese—was on special that month, and a charter member of the stinky-foot cheese club. Wines range from $9 to $35 a glass, and of the more than 600 available by the bottle, around 50 are under $30. Holiday hours: 1 PM to midnight Monday-Thursday, 1 PM to 1 AM Friday and Saturday, 1 PM to 10 PM Sunday. Martha Bayne

Foodlife835 N. Michigan | 312-335-3663

F 5.8 | S 4.8 | A 5.5 | $ (8 reports)Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Reservations accepted for large groups only | Vegetarian friendly

The mother of all mall food courts, with diverse fare from no fewer than 13 counters, including a Flat Top-like wok station and a World of Wraps. The food is Lettuce Entertain You all the way: consistent, rarely disappointing, but unlikely to knock your socks off. A clever payment system distributes a credit card upon entry, which gets a new swipe with each item you add to your tray. If your eyes are bigger than your wallet, watch out. Laura Levy Shatkin

The Gage24 S. Michigan | 312-372-4243

F 7.9 | S 7.7 | A 8.3 | $$$ (6 reports)Bar/Lounge, English/Irish/Scottish | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2

Across the street from Millennium Park, the Gage draws swarms of tourists and suits alike, and the restored ceiling and decorative tile only amplify the din. But if you can tolerate the noise, you'll find some superb dishes. The extensive drinks list features specialty and vintage cocktails like the Champagne Charlie (champagne and Grand Marnier with a bitters-soaked sugar cube). The one-page menu has surprising breadth without seeming scattershot: there are half a dozen steaks and burgers alongside more unusual offerings like roast saddle of elk, sea bream with oxtail, and caramelized lobster with lemon quinoa. An expertly charred hanger steak had plenty of smoky, juicy flavor, and the accompanying goat cheese grits and cabernet-Stilton butter were heavenly. Save room for dessert: offerings like the sticky toffee cake make a perfect finish. Rob Christopher

Grand Lux Cafe600 N. Michigan | 312-276-2500

F 7.4 | S 7.1 | A 8.7 | $$ (21 reports)Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Breakfast: Saturday, Sunday; Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, Monday-Thursday till 11:30, Sunday till 11 | Reservations not accepted

This global/eclectic place from the owners of the Cheesecake Factory certainly lives up to its name. The vaulted first-floor entryway is dripping with over-the-top details, from the faux gold-leaf swirls on the walls to the various modes of transportation to the second floor: an escalator, an elevator, and a winding staircase. Three massive dining rooms are full of marble, leather, and opulent blown-glass fixtures. Even the 20-plus-foot-long exposed kitchen is trimmed extravagantly. The menu is full of grandiose sandwiches (ahi tuna "grilled 'au poivre' style" on brioche, grilled jumbo shrimp and bacon on country white) and salads that spill off the oversize plates (Asian chicken, southwestern, Manhattan chopped) in addition to entrees like a Jamaican pork tenderloin, Mongolian marinated steak, and a variety of Italian-style pastas. There's also a selection of comfort-food dishes like chicken potpie and pot roast. Of course desserts don't take a backseat here: an assortment of the mother restaurant's infamous cheesecakes is offered along with huge portions of key lime pie, carrot cake, and molten chocolate cake. It's likely to attract Michigan Avenue shoppers, but gourmets might go elsewhere. Laura Levy Shatkin

Heaven on Seven111 N. Wabash | 312-263-6443

F 7.5 | S 6.0 | A 6.3 | $ (6 reports)Cajun | Breakfast, Lunch: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Reservations accepted for large groups only | Cash only

Step off the elevator and get in line: the original location of the local Cajun franchise is hidden in a seventh-floor coffee shop in the Garland Building in the heart of the Loop. Serving just breakfast and lunch (and dinner on the third Friday of the month), it attracts a steady stream of fans who line up in the corridor and sometimes wait as long as 45 minutes for chef-owner Jimmy Bannos's lively, authentic food: consistently good jambalaya, gumbo, and po'boys, plus daily etouffees, pastas, and more. The "Feed Me Jimmy" sampler is a great way to taste the chef's specialties, and diners can spice up dishes at will with the ubiquitous bottles of hot sauce. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Miller's Pub134 S. Wabash | 312-263-4988

F 5.3 | S 6.8 | A 6.4 | $$ (5 reports) Bar/Lounge, American, Barbecue/Ribs | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: every night Till 2

A Loop institution, Miller's claims to be world famous for its Canadian baby back ribs and prime rib of beef; it also serves sandwiches, salads, seafood, Greek and Italian dishes, and even breakfast (but not before 11 AM). The bar has 8 beers on tap and 17 bottled, as well as a good selection of wines and other beverages. "Exactly what you'd expect," one Rater says of the food. "It seems to have gotten better—or at least warmer—since I was last here." Ellen Joy, Rater

Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi111 N. State | 312-781-2939

$Japanese, noodles | Lunch: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

Every detail down to the last filament of nori seems premeditated at Takashi Yagihashi's fancified food-court noodle shop, located on the seventh floor of Macy's on State. Line cooks pump out homey bowls of ramen and giant mounds of fried rice to the masses, but last-second sprinklings of seaweed, ginger, and fried parsnip make the process seem more civilized. Yagihashi's design background manifests itself in the finer details—black wooden trays and hooked soup spoons elevate mall dining to new heights. Service seems well-oiled; someone may even come out to your table to offer you more of the fantastic iced tea or just to ask how things are. Ramen comes in three flavors: miso, shoyu, and shio; the last, a hybrid of the other two, benefits from the ferment of the miso and the subtle richness of the shoyu. Ground pork and toothsome vegetables get mixed in with the standard ramen noodle. House-made tofu, tired fried dumplings, crispy spring rolls, and steamed buns stuffed with smoky braised pork round out the delightfully brief menu. There may be better ramen in the city, but it's unlikely you'll find better eating in a food court. Kristina Meyer

Reagle Beagle160 E. Grand | 312-755-9645

$$Bar/Lounge, American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 2

If Motel Bar attempts to capture the chic side of retro nostalgia, then Reagle Beagle, a new lounge just east of Michigan Avenue, aims straight for schlocky. The space is a meticulously designed homage to the 70s and early 80s (the name is that of the local pub on Three's Company). Sitcoms and vintage commercials play on large-screen TVs, framed glossies of various TV shows hang on the shag-carpeted and bedraped walls, and sofas with throw pillows cluster around a stacked-slate fireplace. The atmosphere naturally extends to the menu, with solid updates of suburban comfort-food favorites like pizza and baked mac 'n' cheese. Signature cocktails include Brady Bunch Punch, which indeed tasted like something Alice and Carol would whip up if they were hitting the sauce. The sauteed onion cups, dainty pastry shells filled with onions and Parmesan, were candy sweet but delightful. Even better was the upside-down potpie, a trio of browned puff pastries stuffed with tender chicken and rosemary-accented veggies in gravy. Also satisfying was the large Turkey Reuben, accompanied by a side of "dipping straws," fried bread sticks tossed with cheese. And if you're still hungry there are plenty of desserts, including a sinful bread-and-butter pudding that probably has a million calories. The suede-upholstered barstools are indecently comfy and there are two party rooms available by reservation. Rarely has tacky been this stylish. Rob Christopher

Rhapsody65 E. Adams | 312-786-9911

F 6.8 | S 5.2 | A 6.8 | $$$ (5 reports)American Contemporary/Regional, French, Bar/Lounge | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

This elegant glass-enclosed dining room behind Symphony Center overlooks a small garden just steps from the el tracks. The seasonal menu under chef Doran Payne is highly eclectic: appetizers might include Peking duck gnocchi with basil-and-hibiscus-infused orange or grilled tiger prawns with Mediterranean olives and a toasted almond vinaigrette. Entrees are similarly adventurous: a grilled sirloin fillet might be served with wilted arugula and a passion fruit demi-glace; pan-seared bluenose grouper with curried quinoa, rapini, shiitake mushrooms, and a mango "nectar." Desserts include the intense Chocolate Symphony (warm chocolate lava cake, chocolate pot de creme, and chocolate sorbet). At lunch the service is casual and the food more American, featuring sandwiches, burgers, and salads. The restaurant stays open until half an hour after the final curtain on concert evenings. Laura Levy Shatkin

Ritz-Carlton Cafe

160 E. Pearson | 312-573-5160

F 8.3 | S 9.0 | A 9.5 | $$$ (5 reports)Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1:30, other nights till 12:30

rrr OK, I admit it. I like hanging out in hotel bars. And here's a favorite hideaway for when you're feeling very rainy-days-and-Mondays. Sneak through the throngs of suburban shoppers dotting the landscape of Water Tower and head back to the elevator for the Ritz. Don't freak out about the cost just yet. Have you got ten bucks? Ten measly bucks will get you a ginormous cup of hot cocoa served with chocolate butter cookies, a mound of cool chocolate mousse studded with flakes of shaved chocolate, and homemade marshmallows that float like life preservers in the perfectly hot, not-too-sweet cocoa. You'll sit in one of the sofas, perhaps, underneath the greenhouse windows, and you'll lean your head back and look up the side of the John Hancock. If you're feeling flush, splurge for the afternoon tea service—a mere $26 for fancy tea, finger sandwiches, pastries, scones, Devonshire cream, lemon curd—or impress a date by bringing her here at night, when it's almost never crowded. Have a delicious chocolate martini, a bite of dessert, or something off the appetizer menu and listen to the live piano music while you wonder what it is about the combination of Greek tilework, 80s upholstery, and the center-stage 70s fountain that makes this place feel like the basement of some distant aunt with too much money and too little taste—but in a good way. Marcia K. Brenner, Rater

Russian Tea Time77 E. Adams | 312-360-0000

F 7.2 | S 8.3 | A 7.7 | $$$ (6 reports)Polish/Russian/Eastern European | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Vegetarian friendly

Raters recommend Russian Tea Time for a unique dining experience in an elegant, old-world atmosphere. One says, "My wife and I spent several weeks in Russia a few months before going to this restaurant and found the food to exceed any dining experiences we had overseas." The menu is huge and inviting, offering a wide array of Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian dishes, from stuffed cabbage and excellent Russian dumplings to food fit for a czar: pheasant, quail, sturgeon, and caviar. There are many vegetarian offerings too. This variety comes with a price—choose wisely or pay a huge tab. Russian Tea Time is very popular with the theater, opera, and symphony crowds, so be sure to book your table well in advance. Ellen Joy, Rater

Sayat Nova157 E. Ohio | 312-644-9159

F 6.7 | S 6.0 | A 7.3 | $$ (6 reports)Mediterranean, Middle Eastern | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Vegetarian friendly

The unassuming facade of this Armenian restaurant is misleading—the interior is cavernous yet cozy, with low ceilings, romantic semiprivate alcoves, funky hanging light fixtures, and interesting artifacts on display. The pleasantly seasoned cuisine makes for an enjoyable casual lunch, and a few Raters rave about the consistency, saying, "We have never had a bad meal at this place" and "Been going for years! It is always good." The jajik, a creamy, refreshing cucumber-yogurt spread, is a Rater favorite, as are the lamb chops, various couscous dishes, and nicely charbroiled kebabs of chicken, beef, and lamb. Laura Levy Shatkin

17 West at the Berghoff17 W. Adams | 312-427-3170

F 7.0 | S 6.6 | A 8.0 | $$$ (8 reports)German/Austrian, American, Bar/Lounge | Lunch, dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

Any restaurant existing in the shadow of the beloved, much mourned Berghoff has got its work cut out for it. And yet if you dined at its successor without any sort of emotional baggage, you might wonder what the fuss was about. At least the charming atmosphere and historic interiors have been largely preserved, with a bit of remodeling that's made the Berghoff Bar more easily accessible from the dining room. Several signature dishes have been retained as well, notably the Wiener schnitzel, knockwurst, and the famous creamed spinach. Among the appetizers, the old-fashioned chicken-spaetzle soup was straightforward but satisfying and the warm potato salad as homey as ever. Unfortunately the new additions to the menu are more lackluster in execution. An exception on my last visit was the herb-roasted chicken accompanied by smoked Gouda polenta fries and pleasantly crisp green beans. Desserts, including holdovers like Black Forest cake and a Yule log, are still wonderful. And though the dining room's prices remain on the steep end of things, sitting at the bar makes you privy to some good happy hour specials on nibbles and drinks. —Rob Christopher

The Village71 W. Monroe | 312-332-7005

$$$Italian | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, Monday-Thursday till 1, Sunday till midnight | Vegetarian friendly

This is a great place to bring out-of-towners. Go upstairs. Fake outdoor Italian village built in the 1940s. This brings joy to all. The food is adequate—huge portions, nothing memorable, nothing bad. In short, the quintessential Chicago joint. It isn't possible to be unhappy while sitting in this restaurant. Literally, no one has ever done it. That's a gift to all the people of Chicago. Oh, don't forget to notice the photos of dead opera stars in the upstairs waiting room. The upstairs bar's nice too. The basement restaurant's frightening—never go there, ever. —Ira Glass

Volare201 E. Grand | 312-410-9900

F 7.2 | S 6.7 | A 6.4 | $$ (6 reports)Italian | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11:30

It's Taylor Street transplanted to east-of-Michigan: lots of gold jewelry and deep necklines, fast-moving waiters, clouds painted on the ceiling, vineyard scenes on the walls, and a menu of warhorses like minestrone, chicken Vesuvio, risotto di mare, and mix-and-match pastas and sauces. Familiar as the formula may be, Raters agree that the cooking is first-rate, which makes this a great alternative to the numerous corporate fakes downtown. Michael Lenehan

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