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Oct 14, 2010 11:16 AM

carlos restaurant

don't see much chatter about this highland park original. is it worth the trip from downtown chicago. have been to all the usual suspects, thought i try this. worth the trip?

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  1. I went to Carlos a couple of years ago, and I thought it was excellent. I posted a detailed report about that dinner in the topic on Carlos at As far as whether it is worth the trip from downtown Chicago, I think it is, but there are some other places that may be more so. But I should elaborate on both parts of that statement.

    I do think Carlos is excellent, regardless of whether you are looking for a lengthy tasting menu like the highest-end restaurants in the city, or a few courses ordered a la carte, as I did on that particular occasion. It deserves mention along with city restaurants like Everest, etc. If you have been to Alinea, Everest, Avenues, Charlie Trotter's, TRU, and Spiaggia, and you're looking to try another high-end restaurant rather than repeating those, I would certainly consider Carlos (along with Sanford, up in Milwaukee).

    However, if I had to name the top five suburban restaurants worth traveling from the city for, for those interested in creative high-end cuisine, Carlos would be on the list but wouldn't be the first one I'd name. My top pick would be Michael in Winnetka, where I've had at least three of the best half-dozen dinners I've had in the past few years. Michael isn't exactly like Carlos because it's rather casual (Carlos is the only suburban restaurant that still requires jackets for gentlemen) and because it's strictly a la carte without an extensive degustation menu. But the food - ah, the food! I've posted about several of those dinners at Rounding out my personal top five suburban restaurants worth traveling from the city would be Inovasi in Lake Bluff (thoroughly excellent, and a bargain too), Tallgrass in Lockport, and Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Heights. Also, Michael, Inovasi, and Carlos are all just steps away from stops on Metra's UP North Line, which runs well into the evening.


    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      I've been to both Michael and Carlos a number of times, and I think that either of those two are worth travelling to, but they provide (at least for me) a very different experience.
      As nxstasy mentioned, Carlos is still jacket required. As such, the dining room feels very formal, almost stuffy if you don't go there expecting it. But, the service is excellent, and going there feels like a truly special occasion.
      Michael is also one of my favorite high-end restaurants. From my experience, it's also slightly less expensive, and the set menu is an exceptional value. While the service is also very good, the experience is much more laid-back. The seating entails circular booths and tables across a seemingly larger dining room. Michael himself regularly comes out to greet his guests, so it really feels like a neighborhood joint, if a neighborhood joint served foie gras (though there do appear to be plenty of regulars).

    2. thanks for both very informative posts. i will be in chicago celebrating an anniversary. as of now going to spiaggia, hopefully for a white truffle dinner, L20 for a carte menu(have already had their 12 course tasting menu), avenues, alinea- i know about the chef connection, but think of it as a progressive dinner combination, and for sunday night was thinking of carlos. not many choices on sunday . mk, cafe des architectes. have been to mk several times and thought i'd go to cda for lunch. other than the dinner plans, thought we'd try sol de mexico,xoco,topolobampo(good mexican food is hard to find) spacco napoli and floriole bakery for lunch. love to fit in a good thai place. don't know if micheals' is open sunday, have to check into that. will also look into your other suggestions, thanks again very much

      1. just checked. tallgrass micheal and letiti de paris are open on sunday. PLEASE help me.

        2 Replies
        1. re: kpatick

          Will you be driving? The metra to Winnekta has limited service on Sundays.

          1. re: kpatick

            >> just checked. tallgrass micheal and letiti de paris are open on sunday. PLEASE help me.

            I'm not sure what the question is. All three are consistently excellent. But if I had to pick only one of the three, it would be Michael. Does that help?

            As for Metra (per lbs), if you plan on taking the train, you can check out the schedules at On Sundays (and Saturdays), there are several outbound trains in late afternoon that would set you up nicely for dinner; there's only one for the return back to the city. Le Titi de Paris is not convenient to Metra, and the Metra train to/from Lockport (Tallgrass) does not have evening or weekend service.

            >> thought we'd try sol de mexico,xoco,topolobampo(good mexican food is hard to find)

            Also, I was not impressed with the food at Sol de Mexico, and its location is inconvenient as well. And the food at XOCO isn't all that unusual. If you want to try some creative Mexican places in addition to Topolobampo/Frontera Grill, I recommend one of these places - check out the menus on their websites:

            Mundial Cocina Mestiza (Pilsen) -
            Salpicon (Old Town) -
            Mexique (West Town) -
            Mixteco Grill (Lakeview) -

          2. didn't mean to play jeopardy. yes, it helps greatly. michael is a little closer than carlos so either one will be okay since we'll be driving. thanks also for the mexican recs. sometimes its very difficult getting a feel for what people are really saying when they offer opinions on restaurant meals. you just make an educated guess based on a majority of what's said. but its very helpful to be able to follow someone's previous posts to get an idea of their tastes, both likes and not. you've been very helpful. thx

            1. hey nsxtasy would you describe why you think xoco is common. is it good nonetheless. how about the other mexican restaurants you mentioned other than salpicon, which i have been to, whats your opinion?

              1 Reply
              1. re: kitchenquarterback

                Here's why I recommend Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, rather than XOCO, to visitors from out of town. Rick Bayless describe's XOCO's menu as "Mexican street food". It specializes in tortas (sandwiches) and caldos (soups), and you can find similar dishes in Mexican restaurants in most big cities throughout the United States. Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, and some other restaurants around the Chicago area, offer more creative provincial Mexican cuisine that is not available (or not widespread) in most other American cities, with the exception of Chicago and Los Angeles. In most cases, you can get a good idea of what a restaurant offers by looking at the menu on their website. (I know Mixteco Grill doesn't have a website but you can find its menu on the Menupages website.) IOW it's not that there's anything wrong with XOCO - I've been there and liked it - but it's just not all that unusual. For locals and others who have already been to Topo/Frontera and/or other places offering provincial Mexican cuisine, by all means check out XOCO.

                I've posted detailed reports on meals at many of these Mexican restaurants in the "best Mexican" discussion at Here's an overview of my opinions on them. My two favorites for creative provincial Mexican cuisine are Mundial Cocina Mestiza, in Pilsen, and Mixteco Grill, in Lakeview. In addition to Salpicon, I've also enjoyed excellent meals at Amelia's in Back of the Yards (run by a former owner of Mundial, and very similar), Yolo in Skokie, Fonda del Mar in Logan Square (now renamed Don Diablo, same owners), Fuego in Logan Square, and Salsa 17 in Arlington Heights. I was less thrilled with Chilam Balam in Lakeview and Sol de Mexico on Cicero. Two other restaurants offer a "French spin" on Mexican cuisine: Mexique in West Town, which I really like a lot, and Sabor Saveur in Wicker Park, which I haven't yet tried.