Where have you dined lately? Any recommendations for other Chicago diners out there? Share in the comments section below!
I sing the praises of Scoozi often, I know, but it is extra special in the spring and summer. They have the cutest patio and since the restaurant is tucked away in River North, it makes for the perfect relaxed date night. Shortly after Alex and I moved to Chicago 5 years ago, the Scoozi patio was the scene of one of our first date nights here-- celebrating a new job and our new life together. We recently met up after work for dinner and a glass of wine on the Scoozi patio and the food was as good as always. Scoozi offers tasting trios of their gnocchi and ravioli (so food lovers like me don't have to choose) and right now they are featuring some delicious seasonal options: crab & ricotta ravioli with sweet peppers and a gnocchi with sweet corn & asparagus. I ate every bite.
Prasino's specialty is sustainable dining with options for any kind of eater: vegetarian, vegan, locavore, gluten-free... they do it all. We just like to go for the stylish atmosphere and the simply tasty food. The menu is diverse with everything from sushi to flatbreads to short ribs. Shockingly, Alex and I don't eat sushi but we both love the rolls here. At one time they had a BBQ roll that was delicious. This time around we tried a lava roll that was equally good. Some other meal highlights for us: the lobster avocado appetizer-- lobster meat and mango salsa served in half an avocado, cauliflower gratin-- a side dish that was almost more souffle than gratin and delicious, and a delicious molten chocolate cake served with white coffee gelato. I have also heard Prasino does an amazing brunch. I'm hoping to make it there this summer for brunch on their fabulous patio!
O'Hare International Airport
I know it's a little weird to offer you a review of airport food, but this is not your typical food court meal. Tortas Frontera is the brainchild of Chicago's resident gourmet Mexican food expert Rick Bayless and it is so good. I have dragged Alex to different terminals at ORD to find one at dinnertime. Tortas are pressed sandwiches (think Mexican panini) and everything is made fresh daily and with local ingredients. The sandwiches are good (I really like the Chipotle Chicken), but my favorite thing on the menu is the guacamole bar: fresh chips, homemade guacamole with your choice of toppings like bacon, pepitas, cheese, or peppers. Don't miss it on your next layover!
West Town/River West
TWO is a bit off the beaten path on W. Grand in the up and coming West Town neighborhood, but worth a visit if you're a food lover. They too specialize in seasonal locally sourced ingredients. The atmosphere is like casual farm chic and all of the food is made for sharing, so we got to sample a few things here. We tried a braised beef cheek ravioli and seared scallops, but I think we both agreed that our favorite dishes were the guanciale crostini-- essentially [really good] bacon and onions on toasted bread and the duck fat potato croquettes (right)-- super light and fluffy little dumplings that looked like a tater tot, but were more like a fried mashed potato served with a spicy aioli. This is a great place for a laidback date night or if you're looking to try something a little different from the trendier spots in the West Loop.
A few of my girlfriends and I try to get together every few weeks for a girls dinner and our most recent one was at Mercadito. I've had takeout from here before, but had never eaten in the restaurant before. It's a great spot for a girls night! They have excellent cocktails-- not your run of the mill margaritas-- and a menu that's made for sharing. We sampled some of their guacamole options and my favorite was definitely the elotes-style with a tangy lime flavor and grilled corn mixed in. The tacos come 4 to a plate (perfect for the 4 of us to share) and we tried 3: one with skirt steak, one with lobster, and the third was the unanimous table favorite. The Estilo Baja is a crispy fried fish taco with chipotle aioli and slaw. Mercadito is definitely one of the pricier Mexican restaurants in Chicago, but for a fun experience and creative cocktails I would definitely recommend it. Order a Misty's Sleeve to drink-- it's a great blend of tequila, ginger, hibiscus, valencia orange, and spicy serrano.
I ended up having dinner at Untitled on a whim one weeknight with Kit, Adrian, and our significant others-- what a fabulous place! Untitled is an old fashioned speakeasy right in River North. There's really no street frontage-- just a door-- as the entire space is below ground level. The space itself is huge with multiple rooms for dining, drinking, and even a performance space for burlesque shows. Like many of the restaurants I have profiled in this post, Untitled's menu is all about sharing. The food here is classic American and everything we ate was really delicious-- and we ate a LOT. My favorites of the dishes that we tried that night were the fried pickles with Tobasco aioli, the roasted brussels sprouts with oranges and pecans, and the shrimp and grits. Also, I don't have a photo (probably because we ate it so fast!) but they have this totally amazing bacon cornbread that is a must no matter what else you order when you stop in.
My dinner at Sixteen really warrants its own post, but I'm afraid that would allow me to ramble more than I should. I was here for a work dinner recently and it was like no dining experience I have ever had. This is the signature restaurant at Trump Tower and they have an incredible view of Chicago. We had been before for another business lunch and this was totally different-- eight themed courses intended to highlight the flavors of spring. Our waiter first brought us each a plate with 4 hollowed out eggshells each filled with a different "taste" representing one of the three themed menus we could select: Field (featuring poulty and small game), Pasture (featuring all veal), and Stream (featuring mostly seafood). Our table selected the Stream and then our courses began to arrive, each one plated in a prettier and more interesting way than the next. I honestly have no idea what most of what I ate was, but I do know that I ate a frog leg, chicken mousse, and a snail and that I didn't hate any of them. The flavors of each course were wonderful, but the presentations really just blew me away. If you're someone that eats with their eyes, as they say, then this restaurant is a must try.
I think the highlight of this meal for everyone at our table was the grand finale. They wheeled out a lovely little cart topped with dozens of homemade miniature candies complete with a ferris wheel filled with homemade Cracker Jack-inspired popcorn. It was such a fun way to end a totally unique and entertaining dining experience.