Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >
Jun 13, 2010 02:26 PM

Need to find the "goldilocks" of chicago restaurants

It's my birthday coming up and in my family we have those of us who love food and relish restaurants that are cutting edge, utilize local sustainable food like Blackbird or Schwa. However we also have a couple of "average joes" who don't like prix fix menus and prefer more basic food like steaks. I could choose another steakhouse restaurant, but would like something that is more in the middle or as they fairy tale states "just right". That has great delicious creative food, but also has options that can please a less adventurous palate. We're happy to pay a little more for a special birthday meal, just so everyone ends up happy. Also, we very much value service as it can make or break a meal.

Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I can think of three different ways to approach this: (a) most creative; (b) most steakhouse-like; and (c) in between, which may strike you as "just right", like Goldilocks. So here are some suggestions in each category.

    (a) A lot of the creative restaurants have at least one steak on the menu, for exactly the reason you are looking for one, i.e. many parties have at least one "meat and potatoes" individual who just wants a steak. (This includes Blackbird, although yes they serve marrow alongside it.) And the good restaurants can make an excellent one. So one way to approach your situation is to decide which creative restaurant you'd like to go to - heck, it's YOUR birthday, remember - and see if they have a steak on the menu shown on their website, or phone them to ask. (You can also mention it in the comments when making a reservation on Just to mention one such creative place that would be a nice place to celebrate a birthday - North Pond, which has a charred grassfed flatiron steak on the menu.

    (b) Another approach would be to go to a steakhouse restaurant which has the most creative non-steak offerings, as well as preparing excellent steaks, of course. My nominee for that would be David Burke's Primehouse ( ), which has some very creative and interesting non-steak items on the menu. Another place that falls into this category is Hugo's Frog Bar ( ). Hugo's specializes in seafood, but is a sister restaurant (same ownership) with Gibson's, the steakhouse next door, and they share their kitchen. So you can get excellent fresh seafood, while your dining companions can order steaks that come from Gibson's.

    (c) A third approach would be to go to a non-steakhouse that is perhaps not as creative (and possibly intimidating to your "average joes") as you would like, but has some well-prepared and interesting items on the menu, including at least one steak. Most Italian restaurants and French bistros would fall into this category; most have at least one steak on their menus (again, for the same reason as stated by you). Here are a few of the best:

    Cafe Spiaggia (Mag Mile) -
    Coco Pazzo (River North) -

    French bistros:
    La Sardine (West Loop) -
    Bistro Bordeaux (Evanston) -

    As you can see from their websites, all of these have at least one steak on the menu.

    I don't usually order steak at such restaurants, but the Niman Ranch steak at Bistro Bordeaux was so good when I tasted one ordered by my dining companion, that I ordered it myself on a subsequent visit. It was really good!

    If you'd like to think about a more expensive, more formal (e.g. jackets for gentlemen), high-end restaurant, then I'd recommend Spiaggia, the upscale sister restaurant to Cafe Spiaggia next door. The food is more creative and the service is a notch above these other places, as you would expect from a high-end place. They share the website shown above (click on DINING ROOM for Spiaggia, on CAFE for Cafe Spiaggia). And yes, they have a steak on the menu too.

    You don't mention a desired location (city neighborhood or suburban town) so these are a few of the best such places in the area. If there is a particular area that works best for you, mention it and we can probably come up with some suitable recommendations nearby.

    1. I think this is an issue for a lot of mixed parties.

      As nsxtasy notes you can get a good steak at most creative restaurants in town. A few places pop into mind for me. You don't say what your price point is but if you are talking about Blackbird of Schwa and local steakhouses, these should be fine.

      He mentions North Pond, which I also agree with, but I would also consider Naha, Sepia, and MK. They have wonderfully creative kitchens and superb service. They are 'nice" restaurants, but are comfortable and, IMO, not at all intimidating.

      Perennial, across the street from Lincoln Park (the park, itself) is a little less formal, but very good and easy to find "regular" food.

      Sola falls into the same category, but with a bit of a Hawaiian fusion twist. It's in North Central and bit outside the basic tourist area.

      There are almost certainly others, but these are the first that come to my mind.

      North Pond
      2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

      500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

      1 Reply
      1. re: chicgail

        Yes, those other restaurants recommended by chicgail also fall into the creative category ("alternative (a)" in my description above). One thing North Pond has, that those others don't, is its unique setting in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, rather than the adjacent neighborhood of the same name), facing its namesake pond with the city skyline towering over the opposite shore. It also has Chef-Owner Bruce Sherman, a multiple-time nominee for a James Beard Award for best chef in this region. Of course, there are just about always a lot of excellent restaurants to choose from in Chicago, no matter how you define what you're looking for.

        Perennial, North Pond, and Sola are all north of the downtown neighborhoods with hotels for visitors from out of town. Incidentally, speaking of Sola, its chef-owner Carol Wallack has announced that, shortly after the end of the year, she will be moving Sola from its longtime home in North Center to 340 North Clark Street in River North, as reported in Chicago Magazine's Dish column at

      2. I never hesitate to suggest my favorite Chicago restaurant, Mixteco. Sure it's Latin/Mexican/Caribbean influenced food isn't your first thought of for the "meat and potatos" crowd, but they always serve up some great meat and potatoes as it turns out! Great pork dishes, last time I was there had one of the best wood-fire-grilled pork chops I've ever tasted, served with some wonderful mashed potatoes. Their Cochinita Pibil is a must try, not just for the adventurous, but for anyone who likes well seasoned (achiote and lime or orange juice) and tender pork.

        Then there's the seafood, which is really where this place shines for me, awesome grilled shrimp in varying delectable sauces. The best fish I've had in Chicago, Mahi Mahi, Sea Bass, whatever's fresh that day at the market is what is on their menu.

        Fun and unusual fare is to be found here as well. recently I tried an appetizer made from Huitlacoche, bluish in color fungus that grows on corn. A delicacy in some parts of Mexico and South and Central America. Then there are the various sopes, tamales, soups, ceviche, etc.

        Desserts are decent, nothing extraordinary in my opinion, but hardly a deterrent from making this my favorite restaurant, hands down.

        You might not be thinking Mexican, but trust me, it's a whole other thing here, really a fusion cuisine, which, as you requested, can satisfy the adventurous as well as the picky and uninspired.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Caron Thief

          Mexican is indeed an appealing idea. Our restaurants specializing in creative provincial Mexican cuisine are unusually good, and Mixteco Grill is one of the better ones, although its location may be rather inconvenient for visitors from out of town as well as those traveling by public transportation. Perhaps the prospect of "going to a Mexican restaurant" is less threatening to those "meat and potatoes" folks than a place specializing in contemporary American cuisine, especially since most Mexican restaurants have some form of carne asada (steak!).

          I'd recommend Topolobampo and Frontera Grill as the best and most creative of our Mexican restaurants, although Topo books up way in advance and Frontera accepts only a handful of reservations, leaving most of the dining room available to walk-in traffic, so waits may be common, especially on weekends. Salpicon is another one that's decent and convenient to downtown. And Mixteco Grill is very good indeed, if the location up on the north side isn't too inconvenient. An excellent restaurant that may be a great possibility for non-adventurous eaters is Mexique, in West Town. Mexique's cuisine is a blend of Mexican and French (hence the name, which is the French word for Mexico), with a dash of contemporary American bistro. Thus it doesn't come across as too unusual, yet it's creative (and delicious) enough to satisfy even the most die-hard Chowhound.

        2. I think Keefer's could be a nice possibility for you and your Average Joe's. North Pond, Perennial and mK are also great suggestions by others. Oh, West Town Tavern would be great too.

          West Town Tavern
          1329 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

          North Pond
          2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614