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Best and Worst Places I ate at in Chicagoland in 2008

The following are the 10 best places I ate at in Chicagoland this year, some old favorites & some new places for me:

1) Tank Noodle - best meal of the year, love the Pho, and other Vietnamese dishes
2) Sun Wah BBQ - I loved the Chinese BBQ meats(pork, duck, etc.)
3) Cemita's Puebla - found my favorite sandwich in Chicago here - Cemitas Atomica
4) Lao Sze Chuan - many meals, and never a bad dish at either location
5) Renga-Tei(Lincolnwood) - a new favorite as well,
6) Saloon Steakhouse - I had my best steak of the year here, a Dry Aged K.C. Strip
7) Amanacer Tapatio(Joliet) - had the best Mexican food of the year here on a few visits
8) Cajun Connection(Utica) - they knock it out of the park on every visit, the best cajun food around
9) Coalfire - I really enjoy this coal fired New Haven style pizza
10) Fabulous Noodles(Lisle) - never a bad meal at this regualr stop.

The 3 worst meals:

1) Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe(Burbank) - gave this place 2 tries, I wont give them a 3rd. Bad bbq ribs, & the worst steak I had all year. However the Chucks red was good.
2) Giordano's - had another bad round of pizza from this chain.
3) Adobo Grill - the worst Mexican food of the year, however they do have a good tequila selection at this chain.

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  1. Ok in the interest of avoiding work some more today: my top meals/places

    1) Special of duck in mole sauce at Mixecto Grill. Hands down the best thing I ate all year
    2) Al's Italian Beef dipped with sweet and hot peppers, fries with dessert of Mario's lemon Italian Ice. Summer time tradition with my pops. We walk there from work on the fist fine summer day that screams "play hooky"
    3) Manny's potato pancakes and corned beef sandwiches with lots of horseradish......
    4) Spinachi pizza from the Art of Pizza Cafe. My all time favorite of this particular style of pizza.
    5) CB&J from the Hopleaf. Makes it hard to order anything else.
    6) Lobster Bisque at Gibsons. My first time there and while I wasn't completely wowed with the entire meal, I did not yada yada yada the best part.
    7) Calo's thin crust just cheese pizza is my ultimate comfort food and it goes on the list
    8) The fries at Wiener and Still Champions in Evanston. I wasn't enamored with the burger but I wanted to take a swan dive in my fries.
    9) Spinach and cheese pies at The Middle Eastern Bakery
    10) Not really a food but the Bloody Mary's at O'Donovans

    Worst meals:

    1) Skewers - just plain awful all the way around
    2) Spacca Napoli - limp crust and overly salted pizza. Tried it twice and both times were highly disappointed

    -- On my list to try: San Soo Gab San, Con Sabor Cubano, and next time I'm visiting relatives in Streator, Cajun Connection

    -- My best meal of the year was in Guatemala at my sister's village. Fresh killed chicken in a tomato-y broth stew.

    -- My first bites of fried cheese curds at our family spot in Wisconsin make my summer

    5 Replies
    1. re: lbs

      good list,

      On my "to try in 2009 list" is: Hae Woon Dae(Korean BBQ), Publican, Calumet Fisheries, Captain Porky's(Zion), & Paramount Room.

      Streator eh? Cajun Connection would be right in the neighborhood.

      1. re: swsidejim

        Yeah my dad's side of the family grew up in Streator, LaSalle, and Peru so we go to that area quite a bit. We actually passed C.C on a way to a funeral but I didn't think that was quite the time to demand we pull in.

        I also would like to try Mercat a la Planxa and Sweets and Savories. And Hot Dougs just cause I am only two miles away from the place and can finally walk there. (I don't drive so I am totally reliant on my legs/public transporation). Cemitas is on my list once it warms up and getting there is more a fun adventure instead of a frozen limbs adventure

        1. re: lbs

          Im out in Marseilles myself,

          Sweets and Savories interests me, but I kind of have a problem with the fact that they use a food publicist to get alot of the word out on them.

          1. re: swsidejim

            I wouldn't let the publicist thing get to you. I'd be willing to bet that 1 or 2 of your top 10 also use publicists (Saloon and maybe Coalfire). You're passing up some pretty good food not going to Sweets & Savories.

            1. re: jesteinf

              You are probably right, I guess I am naive in thinking good restaurants only need good word of mouth to thrive.

              I will add S&S to my short list for the New Year.

    2. Tee Hee -
      I had a feeling you'd have Puebla and Sun Wah on this list.
      Amanacer Tapatio was kinda surprising. Per your experience, I gotta get over there one of these days. Been meaning to...

      1 Reply
      1. re: gordeaux

        I loved Cemita's, I think about that sandwich almost daily.

        I enjoyed Amanacer Tapatio alot. I need to make a return visit soon myself.

      2. Best:
        Bonsoiree
        Sweets and Savories
        Mercat a la Planxa
        Hog Dougs
        Hopleaf
        Hatchi's Kitchen in Logan Square

        Worst:
        Mythos on Montrose tops the list by far -- Friendly greeting by the owner and then waited forever for bad food. And what kind of Greek restaurant has no lamb on the menu?
        Cafe el Tipatio -- the Margaritas aren't bad, but skip the food
        Luna Caprese on Clybourn -- Mr. CG was in a terrible mood for hours after and couldn't stop complaining about the food and service
        Green Dolphin Street -- terrible excuse for a restaurant. Maybe the music is worth it.
        John's Pizzaria on Western (Mr. CG thinks I shouldn't have included Johns because "what do you expect," but it's array of bad fried frozen foods and mediocre pizza was stunning)

        1. Here are my ten best and ten worst meals of 2008 in the Chicago area.

          THE BEST

          (Within this group, number 1 is best.)

          1. Michael (Winnetka) - I ate there several times and every dish was superb. Foie gras lovers should not miss the sauteed foie gras over foie gras strudel. Also an excellent value.

          2. Chef's Station (Evanston) - Another excellent dinner at this unheralded bistro nestled underneath the train station.

          3. David Burke's Primehouse (Chicago/River North) - Their "American dim sum brunch" on the weekend is a tasting menu on steroids, just wonderful (and unique). Also an excellent value.

          4. one sixtyblue (Chicago/West Loop) - Ate there for Mother's Day brunch, the only brunch they serve all year, before Chef Noguier left. Just wonderful. Am looking forward to trying both Café des Architectes under Chef Noguier and one sixtyblue under Chef McDonald in 2009.

          5. Between (Chicago/Wicker Park) - Ate brunch here twice and loved it both times.

          6. Carlos (Highland Park) - Dined as part of the "Appetite Stimulus Plan" bargain (although they were also offering a similar bargain menu throughout their anniversary month of November). Excellent and also an excellent value.

          7. Mundial Cucina Mestiza (Chicago/Pilsen) - My best Mexican dinner of the year, beating out Mixteco Grill and Fonda del Mar for the honor (although both of those were very good as well). Returned to Flamingo's which seems to have slipped a bit in quality (with formerly-wonderful sauces now blander and served in too-small quantities).

          8. Campagnola (Evanston) - Had a terrific dinner at this small Italian bistro. Also an excellent value.

          9. Carson's (Deerfield) - Still my favorite barbecue ribs in town.

          10. Giordano's and Lou Malnati's (tie) - The best examples of Chicago's delicious deep-dish pizza, each in its own way (Giordano's for the "stuffed" double-crust pizza subcategory, Malnati's for the "pan" single-crust pizza subcategory). I love this stuff every time I go.

          I was very tempted to put Custom House (Chicago/South Loop) on the list; I LOVED their sweetbread appetizer and short ribs main. But the desserts were too big a disappointment for me to include it.

          THE WORST

          With one exception, none of these meals were BAD - i.e., I'm not saying that I just didn't like the food. But all were disappointing in a significant way, sufficient to make the entire experience unsatisfactory. (Within this group, number 1 was my worst meal of the year.)

          1. Moon (Evanston) - Did not like a single dish at this new Chinese-sushi restaurant (formerly called Nine Fish and Restaurant Guan, same chef/owner under all three names).

          2. Honey 1 (Chicago/Wicker Park) - Overly fatty, bland-tasting ribs did not appeal to me. (Smoque would qualify for my ten worst list too, but I ate there two days before the end of 2007, and did not return in 2008.)

          3. Lao Sze Chuan (Chicago/Chinatown) - In 2008 I ate dinner there as part of a pre-arranged group meal. The menu selections were not well thought out; almost all were excessively spicy (note, I LIKE hot food, but not over-the-top hot) and many were stringy/chewy. The food did not appeal and also did not agree with me. :( I've been there on other occasions and, with more variety and care in the menu selections, this place is capable of the best Chinese food in town. But not based on the items that were presented on this particular night.

          4. Blackbird (Chicago/West Loop) - This situation was similar to Lao Sze Chuan, in that this dinner, too, was part of a pre-arranged group meal. The foods served were excellent; however, the portion sizes were tiny, and at the end of the meal I was still hungry. I've been there on other occasions and I know they are capable of great dining experiences. I probably would have loved this dinner if they had served portion sizes three times larger than they did.

          5. Prairie Grass Café (Northbrook) - This is the third or fourth time I've dined there. I keep expecting to like it better than I do. Nothing is bad, but nothing "wows" me in any way (and this is true of many of the places on my "worst" list). The food is just uninspiring to me, about what I would expect from numerous nondescript diners and coffeehouses that I pass by without stopping.

          6. Avec (Chicago/West Loop) - This was a big disappointment for me, because I had heard such great things and I've loved the food at Blackbird, its sister restaurant next door. But I just didn't like the food items I had there, two savories and a sweet. In particular, I love short ribs of beef, but Avec's were fatty and tasteless (quite a contrast with the best short ribs in town, e.g. Custom House).

          7. Takashi (Chicago/Bucktown) - This is a lovely restaurant with an accomplished chef serving an interesting contemporary American/Asian menu. However, at most such restaurants, at least a few of the dishes make me say "WOW! This is DELICIOUS!!!" Here, not a single one. Nothing was bad, but any upscale, fairly expensive restaurant should do better.

          8. Miramar (Highwood) - I've eaten here for lunch and enjoyed it. In 2008 I ate there for Sunday brunch and found it very ordinary and not particularly good.

          9. Yolk (Chicago/South Loop) - I had heard people rave about this as an alternative to the nearby Bongo Room (which I like a lot; it almost made my ten best list). What I found was a very conventional breakfast restaurant with ordinary egg and pancake dishes. Not bad, but not great, and a disappointment.

          10. Hot Chocolate (Chicago/Wicker Park) - Like several other places on this list, this was more a matter of disappointment based on heightened expectations. I ate there for Sunday brunch and had a decent French toast and their namesake beverage. However, I had been told they had a huge variety of exquisite pastries, and they only offered one assortment of quite ordinary cakes.

          I also ate numerous spectacular (and two terrible) meals out of town this year, but this is my Chicago-area list.

          4 Replies
          1. re: nsxtasy

            Don't have time to read a zillion posts right now, but my family did return to one sixtyblue a week or so ago. We'd gone there with out-of-town company in mid-'07 and it was transcendent. Didn't pay attention to the chef change, but our server did discuss it with us willingly and candidly. Wish we'd known. It is still *good* but for that kind of occasion and dollar, it was not the same. a few items like some sauteed wild mushrooms were not right at all. So this is sad and maybe we'll try the Sofitel. Never been to many other places that you rec, and we live way out in McHenry Ct. But it sounds like Carlos is a good next objective for fancy, and there a lot of ideas in this thread that we've never heard of. So that makes for a hopeful 2009.
            Hey, any quick ideas for us and our vegetarian daughter for lunch tomorrow between Crystal Lake and Midway. She flies out late afternoon, so we have flexiblity in the city, but north shore would be a challenge.
            Thanks - that first one sixtyblue experience was just what we wanted to impress the in-laws.

            1. re: billp

              Carlos is very good indeed, but I can think of a few other restaurants I would try first, if you haven't already done so. If you're looking for an expensive dressy place, I would take Everest over Carlos (not to mention even more expensive places like Alinea and Avenues). And if you'd rather spend significantly less money for food that's as good or (IMO) better, go to Michael. Another option, one more convenient to Crystal Lake, is Le Titi de Paris, which is very good as well.

              As for your lunch tomorrow, there appear to be two routes you might be taking from Crystal Lake to Midway: (a) the inbound Northwest Tollway (90) to the inbound Kennedy (90) to the outbound Stevenson (55); or (b) the inbound Northwest Tollway (90) to the inbound 290 to the southbound Tri-State (294) to the inbound Stevenson (55). I have a few recommendations for each route.

              Route (a) - Just past the exit for I-290/IL-53 on the Northwest Tollway is the exit for Arlington Heights Road. I can recommend four places in the vicinity. Yanni's ( www.yannis-restaurant.com ) is right at the exit, just north of it on Arlington Heights Road. They serve Greek cuisine with numerous vegetarian options. If your daughter eats seafood, you can go southeast of there on Algonquin to Flamingo's ( www.flamingosseafood.com ) for Mexican food, but if she doesn't eat seafood, they won't have much for her. Two other options are in downtown Arlington Heights, a mile or two north of the exit on Arlington Heights Road: altThai ( www.altthai.com ), for Thai food, and Fuego ( www.fuegomexgrill.com ), for Mexican food. One last option along this route is NOT near the Arlington Heights Road exit; instead, keep going into the city on the Kennedy, and you can take Kedzie south to Lula ( www.lulacafe.com ), in Logan Square. Lula specializes in local and seasonal foods and always has several vegetarian options. www.lulacafe.com All five of these restaurants are very good, and all are open for lunch.

              Route (b) - (Actually, these recommendations work for *either* route.) If your daughter eats seafood, you can go to the Schaumburg location of Davis Street Fishmarket ( www.davisstreetfishmarket.com ), but they won't have much for her if she doesn't. Another Schaumburg option is Maggiano's ( www.maggianos.com ); I love their salads and they have quite a few other vegetarian options on the menu. Of course, there's always Giordano's ( www.giordanos.com ) for delicious double-crust "stuffed" pizza; they have a location at 63rd and Cicero, just south of the Midway terminal, which would eliminate any anxiety about traffic getting to the airport after lunch. If you go for Giordano's, remember that you can phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

              As always, especially considering the vegetarian constraint, you may want to take a look at the lunch menus these places display on their websites to get a better idea of what they have to offer.

            2. re: nsxtasy

              There are lots of great suggestions here which I'll consider carefully. My husband and I are visiting for our second time in April. Last time, thanks to chowhounds, enjoyed Blackbird, Custom House and onesixtyblue. We both agree we would like to revisit onesixtyblue. Would you be willing to rank order your top 3 of your "best of?" Downtown locations preferred, no specific ethnicity...curious about the following for dinner: Carlos, Between. Thanks

              1. re: racsanfran

                Keep in mind that my list above was confined to places where I ate in 2008 ONLY.

                Since you prefer downtown locations, Carlos ( www.carlos-restaurant.com ) may not the best choice; it's in the suburb of Highland Park, 25 miles north of downtown Chicago. It's very good and worth going if you're in the northern suburbs, but if you're downtown, there are numerous choices that don't require the travel. OTOH Carlos is right across the street from the Highwood Metra stop ( www.metrarail.com ), so it's easy to get there by commuter train from the Loop. However, if I were going to take the train to a restaurant, I'd probably choose Michael ( www.restaurantmichael.com ) over Carlos; Michael is half a block from the Indian Hill Metra stop. But I digress. :)

                Within the city, for contemporary American cuisine in a "casual fine dining" setting (since you enjoyed Blackbird, Custom House, and one sixtyblue), my other top choices would be Aigre Doux ( www.aigredouxchicago.com ) and North Pond ( www.northpondrestaurant.com ). Although I did not eat at either in 2008, both were among my top ten meals in Chicagoland during 2007 (along with Tallgrass, Avenues, one sixtyblue, Vie, and Oceanique).

                You should be aware that a few months ago, executive chef Martial Noguier left one sixtyblue, and the new one is Michael McDonald. The newly revised menus are available on their website at www.onesixtyblue.com Chef Noguier is now at the Sofitel and is running Cafe des Architectes; I've heard that the food is outstanding but they're working on some issues with service (which was never a problem IMO at one sixtyblue). The menu at Cafe des Architectes, which you can view on their website at www.cafedesarchitectes.com , has more of a French emphasis than was the case at one sixtyblue. I plan to try both of these restaurants at the end of next month, and will undoubtedly be posting reports here on Chowhound at that time.

                I have only been to Between for brunch, and it was outstanding on both occasions; I cannot comment on their dinner as I haven't been there for that meal.

                HTH - feel free to ask more questions!

            3. 1)Elephant Thai in Edgebrook--love the chive dumplings and curry dishes. I ate there for the first time in Feb '08 and I have been going back at least once a month
              2)Mercat a La Planxa--I have been there three times, have yet to try the roasted pig...but plan to in '09 with a large group
              3)Sun Wah BBQ--$28 for peking duck/4 course meal that fed 4 people with leftovers? One of the best bargins in the city. Yes, and that was $28 total. Not per person.
              4)Lao Sze Chaun--love the lamb with cumin, the citrus shrimp, the Tony's 3 Chili Chicken, dumplings...I need to get back there soon
              5)Pho 888--wonderful Pho soup. Perfect on a chilly Chicago afternoon
              6)Katsu--little storefront with some of the best sushi in town
              7)Smak-tac--small clean Polish storefront with great perogis and potato pancakes
              8)Burt's pizza in Morton Grove.
              9)Pasta D' Arte--the last meal I had there was perfect from start to end.

              Want to try in '09
              Cajun Connection
              Ed's Potsticker House
              Mexican from Maxwell Street
              San Soo Gab San and/or Hae Woon Dae
              Hot Dougs
              Cemita's Puebla

              1 Reply
              1. re: CorinneM1

                This year, I want to try new cuisines. Any recommendations especially in the Korean BBQ section will be greatly appreciated.