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Mambo Grill/Frontera/Santorini/something else?

brooklynsfinest Nov 28, 2007 01:05 PM

I'm bringing my vegetarian girlfriend for her first visit to Chicago this weekend and after reviewing the boards, have decided on 1 of the 3 above places to take her out with 2 friends on Friday. They seem like reasonably decent choices for 3 non-vegetarians with ample options for a vegetarian. I'm leaning toward Frontera, but don't want to wait forever for a table Friday night. Are there better options that I'm missing?

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  1. nsxtasy RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 28, 2007 02:06 PM

    If you want Frontera, I suggest calling them at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning when they first start answering the phones. They accept a *limited* number of same-day reservations. Otherwise, you could get stuck with a long wait. And Topolobampo is completely booked.

    Those are reasonable options. There are lots and lots of restaurants but it really depends on what cuisines you would consider, desired neighborhoods (downtown area?), how far the three of you are willing to go to accommodate the vegetarian GF (e.g. Green Zebra has availability for Friday on opentable.com ), etc. I see openings on opentable.com for a lot of great places but they are places that typically have one or two dishes for vegetarians (e.g. one sixtyblue, Naha, Spring, Aigre Doux) and they're a bit above the prices of the three places you mentioned.

    The one other place that I would definitely add to your possible choices, in the same price range and with vegetarian options, is Quartino, for "Italian tapas" - www.quartinochicago.com

    3 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy
      BRB RE: nsxtasy Nov 28, 2007 03:24 PM

      Frontera is a great choice, but I would choose Green Zebra. I think it's a great spot for even meat eaters, even though my last meal there was not as great as previous ones.

      1. re: BRB
        wak RE: BRB Nov 28, 2007 07:10 PM

        I feel like a broken record player saying this, but May Street Market has in my mind the best vegetarian options for a restaurant non-vegetarian restaurant. Its my standby recommendation for the mixed veggie/non-veggie crowd. Sometimes the kitchen seems to get backed up on busy nights, but they may have worked those kinks out by now.

        Of the three you mention though, Mambo Grill is nothing special. Frontera is quite good if you can work around the reservation policy or are willing to wait an hour at the bar. I haven't been to San Torini for a few years, but my recollection is that it was pretty good.

        Green Zebra does nothing for me. Maybe I need to give it a second chance, but I thought the atmosphere was sterile, the service a little affected, and the food, while good, quite pricey for what you got and didn't come close to filling me up. A couple of the dishes were outstanding, but some were laughably small, and some rather bland. I'm all for quality over quantitiy, but it was not the type of quality that appealed to me.

        1. re: wak
          BRB RE: wak Nov 28, 2007 07:15 PM

          I've liked Green Zebra quite a bit on all but one of my visits. That being said, you're not going to get much of an argument out of me when it comes to May Street Market, which I believe is one of the least noticed excellent restaurants in Chicago. And of course they always offer at least a couple of vegetarian entree selections, as well as vegetarian appetizers/salads.

    2. b
      brooklynsfinest RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 28, 2007 08:27 PM

      I called Frontera earlier today and was told they had no available reservations for Friday, but will try again on Friday as suggested. May Street Market looks good, if a little foofy. Green Zebra would've been done if it was just my gal and me- I should mention that I'm trying to get a fun atmosphere in addition to veggie-friendly options, hence the choice of Mambo Grill. If MSM has that, then I'll give it a shot; otherwise, I guess I'll hustle over to Frontera at 5pm.

      7 Replies
      1. re: brooklynsfinest
        BRB RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 29, 2007 04:39 AM

        Green Zebra is a very stylish restaurant and does not compare in the least to the average "vegetarian" restaurant you are probably thinking of. You might want to check out the following link to get an idea about the food: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?...

        1. re: BRB
          brooklynsfinest RE: BRB Nov 29, 2007 05:49 AM

          Ok, Mambo Grill is now definitely out, but my gf expressed an interest in the salad and vegetable selection at Wildfire, knowing that the rest of us are carnivores. Thoughts on Wildfire? I've been to quite a few Chicago steakhouses, but that doesn't seem like a traditional one to me.

          1. re: brooklynsfinest
            nsxtasy RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 29, 2007 06:41 AM

            Wildfire is a traditional steakhouse in every sense of the word - decor, atmosphere, menu, etc. It's quite good. So are many other steakhouses here.

            For comments about the suitability of various steakhouses for an open-minded vegetarian, including a listing of vegetarian options on the website menu at several places including Wildfire, read the discussion at www.chowhound.com/topics/456756

            1. re: brooklynsfinest
              wak RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 29, 2007 07:27 AM

              Wildfire is kind of fun. Its more mid-range steakhouse than some others in town, but priced more reasonably as well. If you want a super steak, you're better off at Dave Burke's or Keefers or Saloon or something in that range, but I've been to Wildfire quite a few times and always enjoy myself. I've had luck with the Romanian Skirt Steak, Ternderloin Tips, chopped salad, and their very tasty chocolate cake.

              That said, May Street Market isn't particularly foofy, and the food is a lot more creative than Wildfire. And the veggie selections are quite good - nice selection of vegetarian appetizers, entrees, and salads along with the carnivore stuff. The Maytag Blue Cheese Cheesecake appetizer is delicious, as are many items.

              1. re: wak
                nsxtasy RE: wak Nov 29, 2007 10:28 AM

                Just to add a note about specific items - I've been to Wildfire numerous times (only once downtown, other times at several of their suburban locations) and I usually order seafood items. They've been fine; not as unusual as you'd find at many seafood restaurants, but fresh seafood nicely prepared.

              2. re: brooklynsfinest
                BRB RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 29, 2007 07:42 AM

                I don't consider Wildfire to be a traditional steakhouse. I think the food is generally good, but if I'm looking for a serious steak, this is not where I'd go. To some extent, and like most Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, they try to be all things to all people . . . lots of choices, nothing that really stands out and with so much on the menu, I don't think they spend enough time perfecting the char on their stakes . . . my opinion. That being said, the food is generally good with many choices, largely meat.

                As for decor, it's also a little less clubby than your usual steakhouse. There's a fireplace, it's a little more sceney, almost trying to have a ski lodge-like feel. Again, trying to appeal to more people than the typical, club-like, steakhouse.

              3. re: BRB
                nsxtasy RE: BRB Nov 29, 2007 06:39 AM

                To get an idea of the food at Green Zebra, you can also view a sample menu on their website at www.greenzebrachicago.com

            2. b
              brooklynsfinest RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 29, 2007 07:58 AM

              Ok, so I think it's a toss-up between Wildfire and Frontera, primarily because of the lower-key, more-fun-potential apparent with each. We'll check out the line early at Frontera, and if it's ridiculous, head over to Wildfire. Thank you all for your help. Two more new questions: if I wanted Chicago pizza and have already been to Giordano's, Uno's and Due, should I do Gino's East, Gulliver's or Lou Malnati's? The boards all seem split on those. And I'm leaning toward Ann Sather for a big breakfast on Saturday, but are there better options closer to the Art Institute and Aquarium? thx

              1 Reply
              1. re: brooklynsfinest
                nsxtasy RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 29, 2007 10:38 AM

                Sounds like a good plan for dinner.

                There are a lot of opinions about Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, and here's mine. The single-crust "pan" pizza that you get at Uno's/Due, Gino's East, Lou Malnati's, and Pizano's is very similar (and excellent) at ALL of these places (and there are some historical/familial reasons for that). You can tell Gino's apart because of it's yellowish crust, but aside from that, I've seen as much variation between pizzas at any one of these places as I have between pizzas from different chains. Since you've been to Uno's and Due, you can expect similar pizza at any of this group. Giordano's pizza is different (but also excellent) because theirs is a double-crust stuffed pizza. So if you liked the pizza at Uno's/Due, go there, or Gino's East, or Lou Malnati's or Pizano's, whichever is most convenient; if you liked it at Giordano's, go there (or Bacino's or Edwardo's, which offer similar stuffed pizza). Gulliver's is far from downtown, and IMO not worth the trip with other good places close by.

                Ann Sather is really not my favorite place for breakfast (although their cinnamon rolls are good). What is? Bongo Room. I LOVE Bongo Room! Their location at the corner of Wabash and Roosevelt is right near Shedd Aquarium. I also like Orange on Harrison, which is maybe 6-7 blocks south of the Art Institute and an equal distance north of Bongo Room. Expect long lines on any Saturday or Sunday at both places, unless you go early. Bongo Room opens at 9:00 on Saturdays/Sundays and you can walk right in at that time; lines typically start forming by 9:30. Orange opens at 8:00; I'm not sure what time they get busy. (There are lots of other places I greatly enjoy for breakfast, notably M. Henry and the Original Pancake House and its Walker Brothers locations, but they are not at all convenient to the Art Institute or the Shedd.)

                Orange on Harrison - http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...
                Bongo Room on Wabash - http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...

              2. b
                brooklynsfinest RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 29, 2007 11:21 AM

                Bongo Room's menu looks great, but should I be concerned about the significant number of people who say it has rude, apathetic servers and is overrated? I deal with plenty of hipster servers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, so I'm used to it, but didn't know if it was a major cause for concern.

                2 Replies
                1. re: brooklynsfinest
                  nsxtasy RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 29, 2007 12:10 PM

                  With most restaurants, especially popular ones, there are always naysayers. You can look through the reviews on most of the various food and entertainment websites, and there are lots of negative reviews about almost every restaurant, including places that many other people post raves about. I think people are far more likely to post something to a website after a negative experience than a positive one (and I have also observed that such posts seem to be more common on other websites than on Chowhound). So take those comments with a grain of salt - not just at Bongo Room, but anyplace.

                  All I can tell you is what I've observed, on several visits to Bongo Room, and by comparison with visits to just about all the popular breakfast places in Chicago, including Orange, M. Henry, Wishbone, Flo, the Original Pancake House (including Walker Brothers), Pannenkoeken Cafe, and Lou Mitchell's. The servers (who tend to be very young at Bongo Room, BTW) have been consistently friendly, helpful, and efficient. For example, it's not stated on the menu, but you can get partial portions of many of their dishes (e.g. one or two pancakes rather than the full portion of three) at a lower cost. How do I know this? Because the servers offered it to me as an ordering suggestion - which is quite the contrary of "apathetic".

                  As for being "overrated", I haven't read reviews so I don't know who's rating it; I just know what I like, and I like the food there. I think the egg dishes are comparable to Orange, and I like the preparations of sweeter items (e.g. pancakes) better at Bongo Room. A month or two ago at Bongo Room I had some blueberry pancakes topped with almond panna cotta cream that I still lust after. (They weren't on the menu when I went back a week ago, but some other tasty things were.) I think sometimes some people just diss a place because it's popular.

                  Of course, it's possible that some other server I did not have is rude and apathetic, or maybe a server was just having a bad day; it's also possible that this is more prevalent at Bongo Room's Wicker Park location (which I have not been to) than at Wabash/Roosevelt. All I can tell you is based on my actual experience in several visits to Wabash/Roosevelt. I really like the food, and the service has been just fine. (And I wouldn't be recommending it if that were not my experience.)


                  1. re: brooklynsfinest
                    BRB RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 29, 2007 12:25 PM

                    Question: "should I be concerned about the significant number of people who say it has rude, apathetic servers and is overrated"?

                    Answer: NO -- Very good food (although some of the sweet breakfast entrees can be a little too sweet) and I've never experienced rude, apathetic service. One note -- Bongo lets you order 1/2 and 1/3 orders of entrees, allowing you to taste many different items.

                  2. b
                    brooklynsfinest RE: brooklynsfinest Nov 29, 2007 01:14 PM

                    Ok, once again, great help, thanks.

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