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Nov 5, 2008 10:01 AM

Best Chicago Restaurants of 2008- need rec

Coming to Chicago next weekend, looking for a dinner spot for 6. In recent years, we've been to and liked: Tru, mk, Blackbird, Naha, North Pond. Any recommendations for places like this that aren't too stuffy or pricey and are downtown accessible? Thanks in advance.

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  1. That's a nice group! One thing I would mention, though, is that I don't think of TRU as belonging with the others you mention. The others are all business casual in attire, whereas TRU requires jackets for gentlemen (what some would consider a characteristic of "stuffy"). And TRU is considerably more expensive, typically $200-300/person with moderate alcohol, tax, and tip, whereas the others are typically somewhere around $100/person, give or take. TRU is an excellent restaurant and I am not trying to denigrate it; it just doesn't seem to fit with what it sounds like you're looking for. So I'll move on to mid-priced casual fine dining restaurants with contemporary American cuisine.

    My highest recommendation of those you haven't been to is Aigre Doux. Like the others you mentioned, it offers absolutely superb food. It's in River North, right across the street from the Merchandise Mart. I wrote a detailed report on one of my superb dinners there in the discussion at The restaurant's website is

    Custom House is worth considering. It's just south of the Loop. It somewhat emphasizes meat, but there are also plenty of other options too (it is NOT just a steakhouse). It's on ground level with big picture windows facing the sidewalk with people walking by. My last dinner there, I loved my starter and entree (bone-in short rib) but I found the desserts disappointing. While we're discussing Chef Shawn McClain's places, we may as well also add Spring, his seafood-emphasizing restaurant in Wicker Park (2-3 miles from downtown).

    Atwood Cafe, in the middle of the Loop, is another option. I like it as much for the atmosphere as for the food (which is very good too); it too is on the ground floor with people walking by the windows outside. It feels like what it is: a creative restaurant inside a luxury hotel, with a level of service to match.

    I would normally be recommending one sixtyblue ( ), but they recently had a change in chefs, and I have not yet been back under new Chef Michael McDonald. Previous Chef Martial Noguier has moved to the Sofitel where he is running Cafe Des Architectes ( ); I have not yet been there but am hearing great reports.

    Copperblue is a possibility but I have not yet been there.

    So is Crofton on Wells, but I had a horrible service experience there and I don't recommend it for that reason.

    Sweets and Savories is not downtown, but it's not that far (4-5 miles north), in the Lincoln Park neighborhood (but the west end of that neighborhood, rather than the eastern part near North Pond). Very good food and a very nice restaurant, located behind an unlikely, non-descript storefront.

    All of these can generally be described as casual fine dining restaurants featuring "contemporary American/global" cuisine ; I am assuming that's what you're looking for. There are lots of other casual fine dining restaurants that I haven't mentioned because they offer other types of food: Italian, steakhouses, seafood restaurants, and various kinds of upscale ethnic restaurants (single ethnicities as well as combinations like pan-Asian, Latin fusion, and even Indian-Latin). If those types are of interest, here are a few previous discussions which you can check out to get some ideas:

    Italian -
    Steakhouses -
    Seafood -
    Upscale ethnic -


    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      I can highly recommend copperblue! Wine list is terrific and very reasonably priced for the selections.

    2. NoMI in the Park Hyatt is wonderful. also Spiaggia Cafe.

      1. Two newer additions to Chicago not mentioned below:

        Mercat al la Planxa - Wonderful food. Wonderful location. Catalonian Spanish style tapas. For a group of six, with advance notice, they will also prepare a whole spit roasted suckling pig for the table.

        Graham Elliots - one of Chicago's top chef's recently branched out on his own.

        Both a bit more casual in the places you have been to, but of a similar quality. Both have excellent web sites and plenty of other links if you are interested.

        I've been to Crofton on Wells a couple times and feel it is in the same class as the others you mentioned above. Never had any service issues.

        I'll also throw out Schwa although I haven't been there for a while and it's not for everyone. One of the most inspired chefs in the city has a little 10 table BYO non descript store front restaurant that can be near impossible to get resrvations at, but is always a treat. FYI, there is no service to speak of. Its the chefs themselves that answer the door and bring the food to the tables. Also why it's so tough to get reservations (they answer the phone as well...) They don't even have wine glasses (you'll drink win out of tumblers unless you bring yoru own). From a service standpoint, it can be a little disorganzied, but as a point of reference, when Charlie Trotter had a 20th anniversayr celebration last year with some of the top chefs in the world (Thomas Keller, Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, etc), he took them to Schwa for dinner. You can get a better feel for the range of experiences here:

        2 Replies
        1. re: wak

          I would say my top are: Sepia, Schwa, L20 and Graham Elliot.

          1. re: ljero

            L2O is more expensive than the ones mentioned (except TRU). And Schwa is more expensive overall too, although the BYO aspect makes the wine cost a better value.

        2. If you venture 10 minutes north of downtown, Tango Sur, will def, impress. It is near wrigley. However only go if you like steak.

          The atmosphere and prices are both very favorable. It is unbelievable how much great food you get for just a little bit of money. I highly recommend the ricotta stuffed eggplant.

          Very sexy place, very good food.


          4 Replies
          1. re: pkafka

            10 minutes??? I don't think so! At any reasonable hour, figure on 15-20 minutes by cab, and that much or more by CTA Red Line.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              It would definietly be 15-20 minutes by cab. However, the BROWN line gets you to Tango Sur not the Red line. Get off at Southport and walk down for about 10 minutes. The el ride would be about 20-30 minutes from downtown.

              (I guess you could take the Red line to Addison but that would be a much longer walk.)

              1. re: lbs

                Nope. It's exactly the same distance from Tango Sur to the Red Line stop at Addison and to the Brown Line stop at Addison; you walk on Southport 1/4 mile south to Addison and from there you walk either 1/2 mile east to the Red Line at Sheffield or 1/2 mile west to the Brown Line at Lincoln. It's also the exact same distance to the Red Line stop at Sheridan, to which you walk 1/2 mile east on Grace and not quite 1/4 mile north on Sheffield/Sheridan.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Well thanks for the research. I couldn't "see" it in my head from Addison.