By Allison Beatrice and Yvonne M. Chan -- Interior Design, 6/16/2009 12:00:00 AM
Roaming the Mart sure works up an appetite. Here's our annual roundup of Chicago's hottest dining spots, organized by cuisine. [$] Expensive. [¢] Moderate.
Butterfly Sushi & Thai [¢]
It's BYOB with no corkage fee at this Pan Asian outlet. The sushi is top-notch, with a collection of tasty specialty rolls. Looking for something warmer? Try the Thai-escargot and banana duck curry. The décor is reminiscent of its brightly colored namesake, with dazzling orange walls, and banquettes and chairs that alternate between orange and black.
1156 West Grand Avenue; 312-563-5555.
Café Matou [¢]
A staple in the Bucktown area of Chicago, Café Matou has been a neighborhood favorite for years. Try the prix fixe dinner menu Sunday through Thursday, with food that changes daily and is made from the freshest ingredients, some of which come from chef Charlie Socher's garden. The café interior is cozy, with a bright bar and tranquil dining room. The wait staff is notoriously well versed about the menus, and the sommelier always knows the perfect wine to pair with the meal.
1846 North Milwaukee Avenue; 773-384-8911.
312 Chicago [¢]
Offering traditional Italian cuisine with an American twist, 312 Chicago sits in the center of the Chicago Loop providing lovely city views from every window. The space is cozy with seating on two floors and, in warmer weather, outdoors. Choose from a variety of pastas and antipasti, as well as an extensive wine list.
136 North La Salle Street at Randolph; 312-696-2420.
Piccolo Sogno [¢]
Meaning "little dream" in Italian, Piccolo Sogno serves dishes from multiple regions in a big way. Local peaches are tossed with baby arugula, lemon oil, and Laurel Chenel goat cheese; house-made string-cut spaghetti combines with tomatoes from Indiana's Green Acres Farm; and San Marzano tomatoes and Caputo "00" flour give Neapolitan cred to wood-fired pizza. Providing a welcome urban retreat, the spacious and secluded patio with great views of the Loop skyline is among the best in town.
464 North Halsted Street; 312-421-0077.
Fonda del Mar [$]
A nod to traditional Mexican fish houses known as marisquerías, Fonda del Mar specializes in all things aquatic. The inspired seafood dishes are awash in assertive flavors and thoughtful subtleties. But the restaurant's signature dish is from the land: the borrego en mole negro, four petite lamb chops paired with a rich and endlessly layered mole.
3749 West Fullerton Avenue; 773-489-3748.
The Mexican eatery is one of President Obama's favorites—and with good reason. At this fancier big sister to Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill, you can choose from one of the tasting menus or just order individual plates. Customer favorites include the Trio,Trio,Trio ceviche sampler, Sopa Azteca, and corn pudding.
445 North Clark Street; 312-661-1434.
Described as "an American bistro with simple food and lightly modernized classics," Perennial boasts chef Ryan Polis's knack for injecting the essence of summer into his dishes. Surf and turf arrive raw, as a square portion of bigeye tuna sashimi and another square of Angus strip loin carpaccio. Chicken drumsticks get beer-braised onions and blue-cheese foam. Located in Lincoln Park's Park View Hotel, Perennial has perfected the intersection of casual and luxury dining.
1800 North Lincoln Avenue; 312-981-7070.
The Publican [¢]
A self-proclaimed "beer-focused restaurant" started by the team who created Blackbird, the Publican features good beers alongside pork and seafood entrees. Its heavy wooden chairs at the long banquette are reminiscent of a beer hall, and lots of hanging lights give it a cozy feel. The homemade sausages and oysters are to die for, as is the waffle dessert.
837 West Fulton Market; 312-733-9555.
Sticky Rice [¢]
In addition to its northern Thai specialties, Sticky Rice keeps things interesting with tangy new concoctions every couple of weeks. Tried-and-true favorites include house-made spicy fermented pork sausage and khua kae, a stir-fry of chicken, baby corn, eggplant, shredded lime leaves, and roasted rice powder. If you're feeling adventurous, order the omelette with crunchy ant eggs, fried bamboo caterpillars, red chile—infused northern Thai sausages, or pork-blood stew.
4018 North Western Avenue; 773-588-0133.
Mana Food Bar [¢]
Creative, inexpensive vegetarian food meets a minimal, rustic space in this hip neighborhood eatery. Local carpenters and artists furnished the restaurant with fixtures crafted from recycled and reclaimed materials. The meatless menu spans the globe, from mushroom-and-brown-rice sliders to bibimbap to spanakopita, all offered in both small and large portions.
1742 West Division Street; 773-342-1742.