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May 2, 2008 08:12 AM

If you could have JUST ONE DINNER...

hi, i'll be here for work for just 2 days max. if i could pick one restaurant to eat/drink at under $150 pp... where should I go? I eat everything, but am looking for something Chicago CHounders absolutely love. sorry i can't specify an area I'll be in, but I'm willing to go long distances for good food. thank you in advance.

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  1. There are about nine restaurants in Chicago that stand head and shoulders above all others, in terms of the creativity of their food, the level of service, etc. These are our "top tables", the best places in town. Alinea heads the list, but you can't eat there for $150, assuming that figure includes alcohol, coffee, tax, and tip. (If it doesn't, then go there - the 12-course tasting menu is $140, the 24-course tour is $195. )

    One of the very best is Everest, and unlike most of our top tables, you can eat there for $150, depending on what you order, particularly in the way of alcohol. You can do so even without taking advantage of their pre-theater special (3 courses from a special menu for $50, available 5:00/5:30 every night they're open except Fridays). So that would be my top recommendation if you would like to limit yourself to $150 all-inclusive. Everest specializes in French-Alsatian food, and it's wonderful. They have a spectacular wine list. The service is exquisite, the best I've observed anywhere. And the view, from the 40th Floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange building, looking out on the entire city, is phenomenal.

    Both of the above are pricey (obviously) and also dressy (gentlemen wear jackets, etc). If you'd like to go somewhere where you can dress more casually ("business casual"), and whose price won't push that limit (more like $100/pp), then I have two more recommendations for you...

    One place that always impresses me is one sixtyblue. It's the one place where I can go, and I know that if I order two starters, two mains, and two desserts, all six dishes will just blow me away. And the dining room is nice and spacious, a lovely classic/contemporary setting where you can hear your dining companions (and not the folks at the table next to you), the service is perfect, etc. Just a great place in every way, and consistently so. This is my favorite casual fine dining restaurant in the entire city, with the very best food anywhere near its price range and a great place and space to go to, too. A local treasure.

    Then there's North Pond. I love the place, but for more than the food. Foodwise, it's quite good. James Beard Award-nominated Chef Bruce Sherman likes to plate many of his dishes with several components side by side. So you might order a main and it has as many as four things alongside the item that you ordered. Some of them might be okay to good, while others might blow you away. For example, last fall I ordered a fish main, and the fish itself was good enough, but what I remember most clearly was that one of the items alongside it was a peekytoe crab mousse that was heavenly. So the food maybe doesn't quite reach the level of one sixtyblue consistently, but some of the items are very impressive. It's not exactly quiet, but it's not objectionably noisy either. What I really love about North Pond is the setting and history. It's located in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself,not just the neighborhood of the same name), alongside its namesake pond; the renovated building was formerly the warming shelter for ice skaters on the pond. The city skyline looms over the opposite shore. If you sit in the front room with the floor-to-ceiling windows facing the pond, you have a spectacular view. But even if you sit in the rear room, with the open kitchen along one side, you'll enjoy the view and the special atmosphere. It's just a very special place, and not just because of the food.

    So my recommendation is...
    1. If $150 doesn't include alcohol/tax/tip, Alinea.
    2. If you don't mind being close to that limit and you don't mind dressing up, Everest.
    3. If you want the best food in a more casual setting, under that limit, one sixtyblue.
    4. If you want good food in a wonderful casual setting, North Pond.

    6 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Totally agreed with one sixtyblue, but I also recommend Aigre Doux. Had a very nice dinner there two weeks ago and it was an all-around excellent experience. We went early on Saturday eve and brought my 4 month old niece (she sleeps thru everything still). Restaurant was very accomodating and the waiter was great (Kevin?). Really liked the rabbit, fennel, and bacon pizza and while $28 seems much for a pasta dish, the lobster bucatini was great and loaded with lobster. My sister also really liked the black cod. Dinner for 5 (not including my niece) was about $400 including tip, one round of cocktails, and one bottle of wine. Oh yeah, shared a couple deserts that were very tasty.

      1. re: jbontario

        I agree that Aigre Doux is another excellent choice for more casual fine dining! But how can you discuss it without mentioning their fabulous sticky toffee pudding for dessert? ;)

        We're fortunate to have a nice assortment of casual fine dining restaurants in the city (there are many more in addition to these) and also in the suburbs (where there are also quite a few worthy contenders).

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Wow nsxtasy. Thank you for the super-detailed response. North Pond sounds amazing. If you don't mind, how about casual/wine/beer scene restaurants under $50-$100?

          How is Spring Restaurant?
          For beer, I'm probably going to check out either Map Room, Hop Leaf or Clark St. Alehouse? Anything else you would recommend.

          Thanks again, super-helpful.

          1. re: eatdrinknbmerry

            >> how about casual/wine/beer scene restaurants under $50-$100?

            It depends on what you mean. You've named some of the local beer/gastropub places (also the Gage downtown, ). For wine, most restaurants have wine, some with a wonderful list, but if you're looking for restaurants that are also wine bars, places like Bin 36 ( ) in River North, its sister Bin Wine Cafe ( ) in Wicker Park, and the Stained Glass ( ) in Evanston come to mind. You can find a fairly complete list of wine bars (not necessarily serving food) on Metromix at

            If you're referring to casual restaurants that are less than the $100ish places mentioned above, of course we have restaurants in all price ranges. Some of our less expensive types of restaurants are discussed in the following topics:









            Hot dogs:

            Quintessential Chicago:

            Brunch and Breakfast:

            We also have lots of Indian restaurants on Devon Avenue (6400N) between Western (2400W) and Sacramento (3000W), and Vietnamese restaurants on Argyle (5000W) around the Red Line el stop and Broadway.

            >> How is Spring Restaurant?

            Spring is very good. The menu emphasizes seafood, as you can see on their website at It's from Chef Shawn McClain, who also owns Custom House, which emphasizes meats, and Green Zebra, which is almost entirely vegetarian.

      2. re: nsxtasy

        Hi nsxtasy,

        You said there are nine top restaurants in Chicago but you only mention four. Which are the other five in your opinion?

        1. re: u.of.c. eddie

          Hi Eddie,

          Gee, I figured you would be posting today to your great topic on croissants, in response to the recommendation someone posted there today. ;)

          Actually, only two of the ones I mentioned - Alinea and Everest - are in the "group of nine" I was referring to. (one sixtyblue and North Pond are in the other category I defined, of "casual fine dining".) The other seven splurge places are (more or less in order, except for Avenues, where Curtis Duffy recently took over and I haven't been since then) Charlie Trotter's, tru, NoMI, moto, Schwa, Spiaggia, and Avenues. I think Les Nomades tries to be in this group but I was a bit less impressed with it than the others when I went there a few years ago, so I don't generally include it, although I'm sure some others would. Same thing (on all counts) with Carlos, which is in suburban Highland Park. I'm not sure whether Sixteen, the new place in the Trump hotel, deserves mention in this group, as I haven't been there yet, either. One upcoming opening which I do expect to be this good is L2O, the new Laurent Gras seafood-focused restaurant scheduled to open later this month. I'm planning to go try it but I'm debating how much time to give them to work through any initial startup problems before making my reservation.