By Allison Beatrice and Yvonne M. Chan -- Interior Design, 6/17/2009 12:00:00 AM
Roaming the Mart sure works up an appetite. Here's our annual roundup of Chicago's hottest dining spots, organized by cuisine. [$] Expensive. [¢] Moderate.
Ben Pao [¢]
Its name translating as "fireworks," Ben Pao sparks the appetite with a blend of zesty, robust Mongolian; light, crispy Cantonese; simple, wholesome Shanghai; and bold, enticing Szechuan. Best bets include crispy cubes of sesame-coated tofu drizzled with garlic sauce; salty-sweet star anise-braised pork with scallion pancakes for wrapping; and shrimp with wheat noodles and mushrooms in a spicy chili sauce.
52 West Illinois Street; 312-222-1888.
Bistro 110 [¢]
Your meal here will start off with warm French bread and a roasted half bulb of garlic for spreading, the perfect lead-in to a delicious meal from chef Dominique Tougne. Particularly delicious items to order: the artichoke with brie, French onion soup, and ravioli de champignons.110 East Pearson Street; 312-266-3110.
Francesca's on Taylor [¢]
Chef Scott Harris's fourth restaurant mixes Roman cooking with the cuisines of Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. It has an ever-changing menu made from organic ingredients, with dishes such as the beef carpaccio appetizer, pumpkin-filled ravioli, traditional bruschetta, and profiteroles. For celiac sufferers, gluten-free pasta is now available, as are some vegetarian options, making it a well-rounded choice for multiple palates.
1400 West Taylor Street; 312-829-2828.
Newly opened in April, this Greek restaurant features a menu inspired by owner David Schneider's childhood summers spent with family in the rural villages of the Aegean Islands. The elaborate interior includes Byzantine-style light fixtures and an intricately carved plaster ceiling. Representative of the Greek phrase politika kouzina, or "cuisine of the city," the menu changes with the seasons via dishes such as minced goat stuffed inside baby zucchini and eggplant, drizzled in pomegranate reduction and house-made yogurt.1558 North Milwaukee Avenue; 773-252-1558.
Chef Grant Achatz's New American restaurant in Lincoln Park is a fancy, expensive stop offering a choice of either a 12- or 24-course meal. The food is top-notch, with unusual items such as thick, smoked bacon with butterscotch, while the décor can be described as part sci-fi, part modern art.
1723 North Halsted; 312-867-0110.
Branch 27 [¢]
Located in a former branch of the Chicago library, this trendy American bistro provides upscale bar fare. Culinary surprises include the grilled octopus, and the mussels in white wine, garlic, and shallots.
1371 West Chicago Avenue; 312-850-2700.
HB Home Bistro [¢]
Chef Joncarl Lachman's contemporary American menu is comforting, seasonal, and fairly inexpensive, but always a bit of a surprise. The lamb burger, for example, is served with melted brie and presented on a thick pretzel roll with a side of truffle oil fries. Enjoy the cozy interior lined with quotations, or, if you're lucky enough, grab a table on the raised seating section at the front window for a view of the neighborhood. Stop by on Wednesdays for a three-course prix fixe with your choice of items from the a la carte menu for under $30.
3404 North Halsted Street; 773-661-0299.
Respected for his innovation and skill at Nacional 27 for 10 years, chef Randy Zweiban opened Province last October with a menu that's part North American, part South American, part Spanish, and uniquely all his own. The dishes, though aggressively seasoned, are still sophisticated. Choose your ideal portion with entrees available in three sizes or little bites starting at $3 each. LEED-certified, the restaurant uses regenerated woods for its flooring and tabletops, and regenerated leather for its chairs.
161 North Jefferson Street; 312-669-9900.
Meet for A Drink
The Vertigo Sky Lounge [$]
On a 26th-floor perch atop the Dana Hotel, the Vertigo Sky Lounge boasts a fantastic view filled with big-city energy. Mingle outdoors on wooden benches or around the gas fire pit. With a laid-back vibe, the music is kept low and the sophisticated décor is stylishly simple.
2 West Erie Street; 312-202-6060.
Sweet Mandy B's [¢]
For a scrumptious cupcake or double doozie cookie sandwich, visit this old-school sweet shop. Chocolate lovers will adore the mint chocolate brownie or traditional S'more. While you wait for your house-made confection, watch the staff behind the counter whipping up more sweet treats.
1208 West Webster Avenue; 773-244-1174.