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Nov 12, 2007 07:38 AM

Need 35th Birthday Rec Help from Serious Hounds

It is that time of year again...the birthday for a foodie and her foodie family of 5. what makes it more difficult than usual is that it falls on the Lighting of MI Ave (this Sat)--so, we'd like to stay away from gold Coast, River North, etc. Something further west is preferable (we live in Bucktown), although we will travel for great food.

What we do not want: American/Continental, French, Steakhouse, or Middle Eastern. What we love: Mexican, French Vietnamese, Thai, Spanish, Latin, Sushi. Plus, we want something that is fun but not too loud. Unfortunately, I do not love the Mexican in Pilsen, nor did I love SdM (or Carnivale for Latin). I do really like FdM, but it gets too loud, and it is too bright, with tabels close together. Want great cocktails (or BYO), fun ambience and great food.

Past birthdays include: Blackbird, Japonais, Le Colonial, Mirai, Delacosta.

I have a res at Follia, but I am Italianed-out right now and want something more fun to share lots of different things.

Any thoughts?

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  1. Salpicon on Wells for nuevo Latino.

    Cuatro in the southloop gets favorable reviews

    Venus 820 W. Jackson (medditeranean) for Cypriot and Greek cuisine (Chicago's only restaurant that serves food from Cyprus).

    8 Replies
    1. re: amoncada

      How about one of the tapas places? Small plates, "fun to share". Discussion and recommendations at:

      My first thoughts were along the same lines as amoncada. Although I'm not sure why you say you like Mexican but not the places in Pilsen or Sol de Mexico - that makes it difficult to recommend a Mexican place (which Salpicon really is - or Flamingo's Seafood, which is wonderful - ). Cuatro is a good choice; it's really Latin fusion, rather than strictly Mexican.

      Greek Town is a good suggestion too. You'll find more recommendations at

      Another possibility is Asian fusion, and in particular, Red Light.

      1. re: nsxtasy

        I love Frontera Grill and Fonda Del Mar, but did not have a great meal at SdM--want to try it again, though. Also liked May Street Cafe but it was more fusion than Mexican. Love Nuevo Leon, but does not have atmosphere I want for a birthday celebration. Have never been to Salpicon, but have always wanted to try it.

        Cuatro is great, but I did go there with friends for my birthday a few years back. I like to try to switch it up.

        I would do TAC but it is far and hard to get to with the festivities in town.

        I love tapas but have yet to find a great place here...any thoughts?

        too bad Avec is so loud and hard for parties...

        1. re: ljero

          Yes, that sounds like my reaction to Sol de Mexico; I thought the menu sounded great, and the food was good, but not great. The food at Flamingo's, OTOH, is great. The atmosphere might or might not be what you're looking for; it's a former gyros place, I think, in which the available walls have been painted over with festive murals. The customers are all having a good time enjoying the wonderful food from Chef Jorge. A week ago I had a grilled Chilean sea bass in guava habanero sauce, topped with crushed toasted pumpkin seeds, that was to die for. Maybe that will work for you. (Nothing against Salpicon, which is also quite good.)

          It's been a while since I've eaten tapas but I've enjoyed the times I've been to Cafe Baba-reeba and Emilio's (original Hillside location).

          You mention Avec, but I thought you wanted to avoid American/continental (especially after going to Blackbird previously). If you are open to contemporary American cuisine, we have some great ones and they're suitable for a celebration. one sixtyblue is my absolute favorite, and in addition to Blackbird, I've had astoundingly good meals at Aigre Doux and North Pond. Living in Bucktown, I assume you've been to Spring...? And there are lots more - Custom House, Naha, MK, etc.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            We can agree to disagree on Sol de Mexico and Flamingo's. They are totally different restaurants -- it's like comparing Cafe Spiaggia to Saloon Steakhouse. Sol de Mexico is very authentic Mexican with traditional preparations, mostly meat. Although I have not been to Flamingo's, I can tell that it has only a few non-seafood dishes on the menu (more similar to Fonda del Mar, yet still very different) and the presentations are more creative . . . dare I say fusion. That's not a bad thing at all -- but that's very different from Sol de Mexico. In my opinion, Sol de Mexico serves the very best moles in Chicago, and that's a very good reason to visit (moles are not even on the regular menu at Flamingo's).

            I'd also have to disagree with you about Aigre Doux -- if you go for appetizers or desserts, I think you're ok, but my experience there was only ok, and others have apparently thought even less: I would be surprised if Aigre Doux does not suffer the same fate as its predecessor, Pili Pili.

            1. re: BRB

              You really need to go to Flamingo's in order to discuss it knowledgeably. The specials are a big part of their offerings, and like the regular menu, they have meat dishes as well as seafood offerings. In fact, given the much larger size of their menu, I bet there are more meat choices at Flamingo's than at Sol de Mexico. As for Sol de Mexico, to me, what matters is not who serves the most moles and other sauces, but who serves the best tasting moles and other sauces; the reason I keep recommending Flamingo's is that I believe theirs taste better than SdM, hands down. Go to Flamingo's for dinner and check it out yourself, as you will find absolutely wonderful cuisine, even more delicious in person than it already sounds on the menu. Try it!

              As for Aigre Doux, I had one of the very best meals of this year there, in a year when I have dined at quite a few terrific restaurants. You can read my complete report on my dinner at Aigre Doux (as well as those of others) at (coincidentally, a topic started by the same OP as the current one).

              1. re: nsxtasy

                I am very much looking forward to trying Flamingo's, but my point is that all Mexican food is not the same and the focuses of Flamingo's and Sol de Mexico are clearly very different. I don't need to see the daily specials of the restaurant to understand their focus and background. In any event, Flamingo's own website refers to it as a "Fine Mexican Sea Food Restaurant."

                The same would be true with respect to a comparison of Rosebud versus Merlo on Maple -- everyone would acknowledge that Southern Italian and Northern Italian foods bear only minimal resemblance. Why is this point seemingly less clear when it comes to Mexican food?

                1. re: BRB

                  I realize that they're different. A Mexican restaurant that emphasizes mole is different from a Mexican restaurant that emphasizes seafood. But there are still some similar dishes you can get at either place. Just like you can get some similar dishes at Rosebud and Merlo. And both come up when people ask where to go for Italian food.

                  You can call it apples and oranges if you like. But to me, it's like comparing any restaurant that blows me away with any other restaurant that I thought was just okay. Flamingo's blows me away. Sol de Mexico doesn't.

      2. re: amoncada

        What about Mirai Sushi (2020 W. Division)? If you like sushi, this is definitely the place to go. My friend once saw Morimoto dining there when he was in Chicago promoting his book. And location wise, it is very convenient for you.

        Edit- whoops, didn't see that you had been to Mirai in the past...

        In that case, I LOVED Boka (1729 N. Halsted, when I went last. The service, food, atmosphere... it really blew me away. And they have a great wine list, too.

      3. The only other French Vietnamese place besides Le Colonial that I know of is Pasteur. I haven't been in a long time, but I liked it a lot.

        Pasteur Restaurant
        5525 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL

        3 Replies
        1. re: rubinow

          Pasteur is closed, unfortunately.

            1. re: rubinow

              But Le Colonail is quite good. I was there a couple weeks ago and suprised by how good the food is. I used to trek up to Pasteur every now and then and in retrospect I'm not sure why I didn't go to Le Colonial more often. Prices are a little more, but is a very nice setting, with excellent food and service and for me very convenient.

              BTW, Le Lan started out as a French Vietamese restaurant as well, but from a look at the recent menu, seems to have moved to a kind of Pan-asian French fusion under their new chef.

              Also - anyone remember Work of Art Cafe on Halsted? Its jsut a bakery now, but they had a small (5-10 table) restaurant that used to be open a couple days a week and served excellent French Vietnamese food - all cooked by a tiny little woman in the back. We were there the last day they were open and will always miss it.

        2. Check out Ai Sushi on W Ontario. Very festive atmosphere, very good fish and just enough off the MI ave craziness on Saturday. then you can go next door to Zocalo where they have live music on Saturday and lots of great tequila!

          1. I know you wanted to stay away from the Mich Ave area, but from a sheer foodie stand point, I think you might really enjoy Copperblue. (just judging by the other restaurants you like.) its cozy, quiet and the service is terrific. Food is all mediterranean - influenced by coastal Italy, France, & Spain. Once of the best wine lists for value in the city, IMHO. Valet Parking is available if you're driving or they'd easily get you a cab back to Bucktown.