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Dec 1, 2006 05:12 AM


Is there a restaurant in Chicago that compares to Judy Rogers' ZUNI cafe in San Francisco?

Looking for clean, very fresh food that is simply as wonderful as ZUNI, PLEASE HELP ME!

I am struggling with restauants that miss.

Not looking for fancy sauces or tuna tatare but someone that understands food and it's simplicity.

thanks! Leaving on Saturday.

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    1. Okay, the moderators apparently won't allow me to gently tweak the condescension in that post so we'll be drably, drily helpful.

      Where did you eat that you didn't like.

      There isn't a restaurant in Chicago exactly like the one you name but I believe there are at least two or three fairly good ones. Give us some more specific clues what it is you're looking for (or not looking for) and hopefully someone will reply, though no one besides me has as yet.

      1. Wow...I feel your pain MAE. It's just impossible to find somewhere to eat in a city that boasts what is arguably the finest restaurant in America right now and some top notch reasonably priced chow. I struggle with it daily.

        Anyhow, in the spirit of being helpful, please let us know what you didn't like. I doubt there will be a restaurant of that caliber (although I'm not sure, I've never eaten there, just going off your glowing review) that specializes in Cal inspired cuisine in Chicago.

        For fresh, sustainable dining, I would check out Terragusto in Roscoe Village - I'm not sure if you're into italian. Everything is fresh and wonderful. And you can never go wrong with either Salpicon or any of Bayless' restaurants, Frontera or Toplobampo, for haute Mexican.

        There should be ample threads on both places with a quick search on this board. In addition, reviews can be checked out
        at, although I don't take a ton of stock in them as they're not usually posted by chow-ish types.

        1. Haven't been to Zuni Cafe. It sounds wonderful. The following restaurants are not the best that America has to offer but serve tasty eats with fresh simple ingredients for reasonable prices.

          Have you tried Sola on Lincoln Avenue in Lakeveiw? Mostly rave reviews here.

          Lula's Cafe in Logan Square serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for very reasonable prices. Fresh simple ingredients, tasty and well prepared. Best in America?...not quite but, good food for the money.

          Spiaggia Cafe serves excellent contemporary Italian. Again, fresh, simple ingredients. Moderately priced for downtown standards.

          Greek Islands for high quality Greek Eats for reasonable prices in a pleasant Greek Islands decor.

          1. As someone who has dined at Zuni a number of times, and as someone who also loves the place dearly, I will tell you that we don't really have anything like it in Chicago. But, as others here might also suggest, in many ways you can--should you choose--do even better.

            [I am not saying that the following establishments are better, necessarily, but that they are instead some of the very best that Chicago has to offer. ;)]

            If you are looking for a casual atmosphere with seasonally-driven, (largely) locally-sourced products, you might try Lula Cafe in Logan Square--as suggested above--or Hot Chocolate in Wicker Park. As anyone familiar with both establishments can tell you, there is some spirit and comraderie between these two kitchens.



            In a similar vein (seasonally-driven, locally-sourced products) but with a more formal dining program, there is Naha in River North and Blackbird in the West Loop. Naha actually bills itself as Cal/Med-inspired. Blackbird, on the other hand, is largely focused on showing Midwest regional products in their best light, with a French/Modern (MidWestern?) American manner of production. If that appeals, I should say that chef Paul Virant of Vie in Western Springs is more resolutely focused in this regard. Chef Virant works his particular brand of magic by employing the (dying?) kitchen arts of canning, preserving, and pickling to accent his stellar Modern American cuisine. Not coincidentally, Chef Virant formerly worked at Blackbird. ;





            And, one last suggestion, of course, would be Blackbird's sister operation--literally, it's right next door--Avec. Avec is very similar to Suzanne Goin's A.O.C. Wine Bar in Los Angeles, if that rings any bells. And, again, in a town with a food scene which is bereft of sheer coincidence, it should be pointed out that Chef Kahan and Chef Goin are friends. ;



            Good Luck,

            P.S. FWIW, Terragusto, recommended above, reminds me a bit of SF's Delfina or A16, if that means something to you.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Erik M.

              Although I have spent a significant amount of time in SF, I have never eaten at Zuni Cafe (but I have certainly heard of it). After looking at a sample menu and the index of Ms. Rodger's cookbook, Avec was the first place to come to my mind. Of course, while the underlying philosophy may be similar, Chicago is not San Francisco, so expect something more reflective of midwestern sensibilities.

              1. re: Erik M.

                Thank you so much for all of the wonderful tips. My friends own NAHA and I have eaten there several times. I cook for a living and was in town for a couple of weeks working for a client. I had a few spare evenings to myself and was hoping to find a place that served up impeccably fresh food like Judy Rogers can. I will try Avec and Blackbird next...
                Thank you again!

                1. re: Erik M.

                  Funny, I lived around the corner from Delphina, Dolores Park for 10 years. It's a nice place.
                  If you ever get back to SF, try Chez Spencer on 14th and South Van Ness, it's small but really good.