Oak Park eating
I am coming to Chicago for the first time this weekend. If we do the Oak Park visit thing is it worth eating there or should we not waste precious eating time and come back to Chicago? If we do eat as a break during the tourist thing where should we go? Open to all styles...
Well, OK- it's across the street from Oak Park, but it's very well worth the trip.
Sparacino Ristorante is a small, intimate place on North Avenue a block east of Harlem. North side of the street.
It's gotten rave reviews from both major newspapers and numerous smaller ones, and they ain't wrong. It seats about 40, with a small, cozy bar and excellent wine list. A big fireplace in the small dining room makes it a neat place to dine on a snowy winter night. (It's just fine in warm weather, too- just no fire.)
I would call it Contemporary Italian or maybe Fusion Italian- no red sauce here! Chef-owner Mark Sparacino is a huge extrovert, in more ways than one. He's about 6'-6" and probably 230 pounds. He will likely give you a bear hug on your first visit.
He has a small but competent kitchen staff, but e brings most dishes out himself and will discuss them at length, if you're so inclined. His sister Stephanie handles FOH, but he is much inclined to schmooze.
Tell him Mike in Burr Ridge sent you.
reading this, it sounds like I'm shilling. Mark is a high-school buddy of my youngest son, but I don't have a piece of the place- honest. We celebrated our latest wedding anniversary there, and were glad we did. We paid full freight, as we always do.
There are a bunch of great new restaurants on Madison in Forest Park, just south of Oak Park. Somebody already mentioned La Piazza and Yum Thai, both of which are in Forest Park, and both of which are excellent.
Back in Oak Park someone already mentioned Cafe le Coq, which I hear is very good (but very small, so getting in may be an issue.) The Marion St. Grill is also good - your basic upscale grilled fish, meats, etc. I ate there a couple years ago and thought it was good. But it has been a couple years, so I can't vouch for the place's current quality.
Grape Leaves is good for Middle Eastern food, Mancini's on Lake Street has good pizza, and I like The Maple Tree for good omelets.
I've lived in Oak Park for the last 15 years and have seen some improvements in the restaurant scene here - but we still have a long way to go!
I grew up in Evanston and I have to agree that Evanston currently has a better restaurant scene than Oak Park - but I disagree about the architecture. Plus since I have a lot of childhood / teenage memories from the place I don't get the same warm and fuzzy feelings amoncada mentioned (but that's another story! :-) )
P.S. Petersen's has great ice cream but the restaurant section is FILTHY. I just go there for carry-out cones. We have an Oberweiss, a Cold Stone Creamery and a Ben & Jerry's store, all of which are just as good as Petersen's and a heck of a lot cleaner.
If a weekend is all you have, then, I would skip Oak Park. I personally enjoy Oak Park. If you do decide to visit, stop by for a tour of the Frank Llyod Wright homes...they're pretty amazing. It's been too long since my last Oak Park visit to be able to give compentent answers regarding they're restaurants. Stop by Petersons for desert...it's been around for years and years and is quite charming. They're ice cream is fantastic as well as many of their homestyle comfort foods.
Additionally, as far as a day trip goes, I would rather visit Evanston than Oak Park. Evanston is really great for it's proximity to downtown and the fact that it's on the Lake, has tons of shops and restaurants, great architecture, and friendly people. It's definitely one of my favorite Chicago suburbs. It has so much charm that it'll definitely give you a warm and fuzzy feeling.
I think there's not too much in Oak Park that you can't get better back in Chicago.
That's not to say oak park is devoid of good food, but very little in/near Oak Park is superior.
However, you won't be horribly far from Elmwood Park, where you can visit one of chicago's best italian beef stands, Johnnie's (all carryout).
Other fine oak park and oak park area dining options:
Cafe le Coq (french)
La Piazza (higher-end italian)
Jimmy's place (lower end italian)
Salerno's (lower end italian)
Nicky's (gyros, burgers, etc, mostly carryout)
Freddy's (mostly pizza, sometimes pasta, sandwiches, it. beef are available, good gelato and italian ice, good bakery)
More I'm sure I've forgotten.
Johnnies Beef - (708) 452-6000 - 7500 W North Ave, Elmwood Park, IL 60707
Hemmingways Bistro - (708) 524-0806 - 211 N Oak Park Ave, Oak Park, IL 60302
Cafe Le Coq - (708) 848-2233 - 734 Lake St, Oak Park, IL 60301
La Piazza, Authentic Italian Cuisine - (708) 366-4010 - 410 Circle Ave, Forest Park, IL 60130
Jimmys Place - (708) 771-7476 - 7411 Madison St, Forest Park, IL 60130
Salernos Pizza & Pasta - (708) 484-6658 - 7111 Roosevelt Rd, Berwyn, IL 60402
Nicky's Drive Through - (708) 484-5550 - 7025 W Roosevelt, Berwyn, IL 60402
Freddys Pizzeria - (708) 863-9289 - 1600 S 61st Ave, Cicero, IL 60804
re: Ed Fisher
re: Ed Fisher
If you come by car, I would highly suggest going the slightly north by northwest to Johnnies. As Ed sez, there is nothing else especially notable to eat IN Oak Park, but this place NEAR Oak Park, is at the pinacle of Chicago italian beef. On a nice spring day, Johnnies may be as good as it gets, chow-wise. It is a sammy is as notable in its own way, as the the Oak Park architecture. For a long winded exposition on what exactly Italian beef is (with Johnnie's address), see link.
Also, if you are in a car, do not skip some of FLW's buildings in next door River Forest, especially the ones on River Oak, just off of Lake. A couple of his most notble ones are there, including the famous house with the tree going thru it.
re: Ed Fisher
I'm going to have to disagree about the Chicago is always better than Oak Park comment. I just bought a house in Oak Park but currently live in Greek town in Chicago and I'd have to say that Papspiro's on Lake is the best Greek food I've had. Also we're huge fans of Thai food and we LOVE The King and I near Lake and Marion, we also frequent Amarind's Thai on North (technically Chicago) and love that as much as any Chicago Thai restaurant.
I recently moved to Oak Park myself and my first 2 weeks here were spent eating at every restaurant in the area. I have to disagree with you on Papaspiro's.. it wasn't bad, but it doesn't even come close to Periyali in Manhattan. The appetizers weren't too bad, but the mousakas was runny and tasted like Spaghetti-Os: cloyingly sweet, complete with that trademark Chef Boyardee scent. I thought that my nose and taste buds were playing tricks on me.. my husband laughed at me, tasted it and then said that I was right.
I tried the King and I two nights ago and I'll probably go back again, but I was disappointed by the lack of spice. When the lady asked if I'd like it "American Spicy" or "Thai spicy"; I chose Thai and while the the spice was non-trivial, I wouldn't characterize it as authentically spicy. Same's true for Khyber Pass in Oak Park: not bad, but not quite authentic.
But I may just be spoiled: no restaurant outside India can top Chowpatti in Edison, NJ (a.k.a. "Little India")! :)
I have lived in Oak Park for 3 years and would have to say that Yum Thai in Forest Park is not just the best Thai restaurant in the area but the best restaurant period -- they definitely do authentic and spicy well and they deliver to Oak Park. You should go there right away, if you haven't already!
Johnnie's is great, as everyone agrees. We also go to Winberie's, at Oak Park and Lake, fairly frequently. Their salads and burgers are good.
Regarding Cafe Le Coq, recommended by several people in this thread, we have given it several chances and decided on our last visit that we wouldn't go back again: their standards are depressingly low; the cooking is sloppy and uneven; and even the bread is bad. It's a total disappointment.