Your favorite neighborhood spot
I'm in town this weekend and we're looking for a Saturday night dinner spot. I've read lots of recommendations, but I'm looking for more of a locals' experience, rather than "Chicago's best restaurant."
Any suggestions for a funky neighborhood to explore before a good, reasonable meal?
We like a wide variety of foods, but we're from Toronto so there's no special appeal to ethnic specialties (we can get *everything* here). I'm thinking along the lines of Contemporary American, or a really great French bistro or Italian spot. While good food is obviously important, we'd also like a nice vibe/ambiance.
I'm pregnant, so the wine list doesn't matter! (Hubby not much of a drinker.)
Thanks in advance for your help!
My favorite venue in my neighborhood (Lakeview) is Socca. It is a fusion of French and Italian foods and everything I have had there has been well prepared, made with fresh and qualify ingredients and tasty. Most of the servers there are extremely friendly and competent and the venue has a nice ambiance (can get a bit noisy if it is real crowded, which may be the case on a Saturday night; this can be avoided if you dine on the early side). There is a nice neighborhoody vibe to Socca and prices are quite reasonable. It is located on Clark St. about half a mile South of Wrigley Field and a little more than half a mile west of the Lakefront. There are lots of stores and bars along Clark St. (and nearby Halsted St.) to peruse. If you are a baseball fan you could easily walk over to Wrigley Field. You are also in walking distance of the lakefront path and a long (but doable) walk to Lincoln Park.
Bucktown/Wicker Park is another interesting neighborhood to explore and has some good choices (Ripasso for Italian or Mindy's Hot Chocolate for American come to mind).
Chicagoland has some great stretches of specific streets that contain excellent neighborhood restaurants along with places for a drink before or after your meal. Here are some that come to mind:
In West Town, Chicago Avenue east of Ashland has a multitude of places for food and drink. Make a dinner reservation for Mexique, a bistro whose food is contemporary Mexican with a subtle French influence - probably something you won't find at home. www.mexiquechicago.com
In Lakeview, Southport Avenue between Belmont and Irving has lots of places too. Make a dinner reservation for Deleece, a bistro whose food is contemporary American and where I've eaten several of the very best dinners I've had in the past couple of years. www.deleece.com
In the West Loop, there are a TON of drink and food places, on and around Randolph Street. La Sardine on Jefferson is one of our best French bistros. www.lasardine.com In a similar vein, Bucktown has a lot of places around the intersection of Damen and Armitage, where you could eat at Le Bouchon, La Sardine's sister restaurant. www.lebouchonofchicago.com
In Evanston, just north of Chicago, there are a lot of interesting restaurants and stores centered around Main Street and Chicago Avenue. If you're a fan of artisanal Belgian chocolates, you can stop in at Piron before dinner. www.belgchocpiron.com Then dine either at Oceanique, which specializes in somewhat pricey seafood fine dining ( www.oceanique.com ), or at Campagnola, a more moderately priced neighborhood place that makes you feel at home and whose cuisine spans the range from Italian to contemporary American ( www.campagnolarestaurant.com - and if they have bread pudding on the menu, theirs is the best I've had anywhere).
All of these accept reservations over the phone. Mexique, Deleece, and Oceanique also accept reservations on Opentable.com La Sardine also accepts reservations on its own website.
For a really great French bistro you might consider sister restaurants: Le Sardine in the West Loop or Le Bouchon (the smaller of the two) in Bucktown. They're both very authentic and very good.
For Italian, in the same neighborhood is Ripasso, which is good, but I think Antico, just a little bit west of that is very authentic and exceptionally good.
For contemporary American, I am big fan of Browntrout in North Center (a neighborhood in the City) and Perennial Virant and Sprout in Lincoln Park.
The funkiest neighborhood to explore is probably Bucktown/Wicker Park, but for a neighborhood restaurant scene, Andersonville is tough to beat nowadays with:
Anteprima (marvelous Italian with a neighborhood vibe)
Big Jones (traditional American Southern and low country)
Great Lakes (considered by some one of the best pizzas in the USA)
Vincent (Dutch as in Van Gogh)
Hopleaf (Great beer and Belgian food selection)
. . . all within spittin' distance of one another.
A Josef Frank exhibit at the Swedish-American museum also is an attraction for people into design.