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Feb 12, 2011 09:22 PM

First time in Chicago - recs for good restos that serve a la carte

I'll look on the existing threads for all the good restaurant recommendations so as not to be redundant, but I specifically need help in finding good restaurants that serve a la carte. For sure we will go to Alinea and deal with the prix fixe; however, the rest of the nights during our stay, we would prefer to order off the menu (reason for such is that my hubby and I have some dietary restrictions that it just makes it a pain to try to deal with substitutions, if the restaurant even allows it).

I was looking to eat at Schwa or Bonsoiree but only saw fixed menus. Any comparable (ie, must-go-to) places that offer a la carte?

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

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  1. Even among the very high-end places, most of them offer a la carte ordering as well as their tasting menus. I believe the only restaurants that offer ONLY tasting menus are Alinea, Schwa, Bonsoiree, and Charlie Trotter's (and all of them are happy to accommodate dietary restrictions). That's it. Elsewhere, you will be presented with a menu that includes a la carte ordering (individual courses along with prix fixe options) as well as tasting menus at our other high-end places: Everest, Avenues, NoMI (closed till late May for renovations), Spiaggia, L2O, Carlos, Sixteen, and Ria. TRU offers three-course prix fixe selections as well as tasting menus, so it's like a la carte in the sense that you can choose from a number of items for each course, but not like a la carte in the sense that they don't offer the ability to order only an entree and nothing else. Les Nomades similarly offers multiple selections for each course in their prix fixe menu.

    These are our high-end restaurants, featuring high prices (typically $150-250 per person including alcohol/tax/tip), dressy attire (except Schwa and Bonsoiree), big-name chefs, elaborate preparations, exotic ingredients, and extensive serving staffs. You are likely to have an excellent experience at any of them, although one or another of us has had a bad experience here and there while most report excellent dinners (and I hope we don't need to rehash who's had a bad experience where for the zillionth time - perhaps we can declare a truce on that). Alinea is the only one I would consider a "must go to", though.

    Just below this group are our more casual finer dining restaurants, places where you are also likely to have an excellent meal, but with lower prices (say around $75-110/pp inclusive), less formal attire (either business casual or casual), smaller but still excellent serving staffs, and an emphasis on a la carte ordering. Our best contemporary American restaurants in this group include North Pond, Naha, Sable, Atwood Cafe, MK, Boka, and Perennial. Our best Italian restaurants in this group include Cafe Spiaggia, Cibo Matto, the Florentine, Vivere, Coco Pazzo, and Piccolo Sogno. Again, you are likely to have an excellent meal at any of these places, so I wouldn't necessarily consider any of them a "must go to", but North Pond stands out for its exquisite setting in the park, and I consider Sable a personal favorite for the food as well as being the best bargain in the group (don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!).

    With the exception of Carlos, these are all places within a few miles of downtown, convenient for visitors staying in the hotels in the downtown area. Let us know if you are interested in recommendations in other city neighborhoods and/or the suburbs (and if so, where), as those areas include plenty more excellent places in the "casual finer dining" group. And of course there are even more casual, less expensive places in various ethnic and non-ethnic categories as well, if that's of interest.

    HTH - feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thank you for such great recs! I checked some of their websites, and though some still did not indicate a la carte menus (e.g. Everest & L20), there are plenty that do. I especially would like to try Sable for the reasonable prices and because the restaurant cares so much about sustainability.

    2. I don't know what kind of dietary restrictions you are talking about or how extensive they are, however Schwa is the only one of those places where I would not be comfortable asking for adjustments for special diets. I have had no problem at Alinea, Trotters or Bonsoiree. They were gracious and the substitution was excellent.

      4 Replies
      1. re: chicgail

        When we ate at Schwa they specifically asked about food allergies or restrictions. No one in our party had any, so I cannot comment on their success at accomodating them, but they certainly seemed willing to do so.

        1. re: masha

          I guess they're so idiosyncratic, I was intimidated. Thanks for that.

        2. re: chicgail

          I am a pescetarian and my husband is allergic to shellfish (+ due to ethical reasons, will not eat veal & foie gras). Alinea's website did mention their openness to substitutions, but I know many high-end restaurants with prix fixes prefer not to offer this flexibility (and I can understand it may affect the integrity of the menu).

          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

          1. re: adelly

            Alinea is very gracious about making substitutions for it's customers. I would advise them at the time of the reservations.

            1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614