A Squared: Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: River North Edition

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: River North Edition

The River North neighborhood of Chicago is one of the easiest ones in which to discover new or new to you restaurants. It seems like at every corner there is a new building going up or an old space turning over and making room for a new hotspot. Since we have been in Chicago we have always lived right on the outskirts of this neighborhood-- first to the east in Streeterville and now to the west in the West Loop. It's been nice to have a handful of great restaurants right outside my doorstep for the past few years. Here's a few of them that we have visited lately...

Zocalo Distrito Federale
River North

Zocalo is one of our longstanding favorite restaurants in this neighborhood. It's an upscale Mexican restaurant and tequila bar and the perfect place to go when I have a craving for good margaritas and spicy food. I usually switch up my entree order here depending on what I feel like that night, but the one constant for Alex and me is that we always order a guacamole trio to start our meal. It comes with three guacamoles: traditional, fruit, and spicy tomato rojo and is served with tortilla, plantain, and yuca chips. I could just eat this all night! Zocalo also recently revamped their menu for a more upscale vibe (as compared to their casual sister spot Taco Joint).*

Restaurant Beatrix
River North

Beatrix is the newest restaurant by Chicago's famed Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group and, like the majority of the others I have dined at, it was a great experience. Their menu includes trendy dishes from around the food world with a healthier twist. Great concept! We left the restaurant that night feeling like we had a lot to eat, but not feeling like we were weighed down by a super heavy meal. We started with their deviled eggs, which are filled with an egg yolk and potato salad filling. I'm not a huge fan of deviled eggs, but Alex devoured them. We also shared an order of the Kennebec fries, which were super tasty. They are served with garlic mayo and a fried egg on top, a combination that is always great. I ordered the chili & chocolate glazed salmon for an entree and absolutely loved it. The flavor was really bold, but perfect with the rich salmon. They serve it with salsa, a spicy vegetable slaw, and corn tortillas so you can even turn it into tacos if you want. One of my favorite parts of the menu though, is their cocktail selection. Beatrix has an inhouse juice bar where they create interesting fresh juice combinations. They have a handful of cocktails on the menu, but they also offer the option of adding the liquor of your choice to one of their fresh juices. I went that route and ordered a Blueberry & Basil Smash juice with a shot of vodka. It was so fresh and delicious-- I'd love to order it again or create a new combo with one of their other juices. I'd also point out that they have a counter where you can get coffee, juices, and some truly delicious looking pastries to go as well.
Beatrix on Urbanspoon

Hubbard Inn
River North

Hubbard Inn is a cool European-inspired tavern that serves upscale spins on pub food, small plates, and cocktails. The atmosphere of the restaurant is great-- it's dark with large wood tables, vintage inspired light fixtures and decor, and cute little outdoor patio where I recently had lunch with some colleagues. Hubbard Inn is a perfect spot for lunch in River North or for evening cocktails in a location that is both trendy and laidback-- a combo that is tough to find in this neighborhood of sceney bars and restaurants.

The food at Hubbard Inn is always good and one of my favorite things to order there is their spinach salad. It is served with seasonal fruit, fried goat cheese, and bacon vinaigrette. It's a simple salad, but the flavors are so good and it is a really substantial meal.

This last time around my friend and I decided to share two entrees (because how else can you sample multiple dishes without feeling like a little piggy?) and we opted for my signature salad and also the lobster roll. As you know, I am a skeptic when it comes to ordering lobster rolls outside of New England, so I was leery. I was pleasantly surprised by this one! It's more of a lobster salad, but the dressing wasn't too overpowering and the lobster was meaty and chunky. At the recommendation of our waitress, we opted for roasted Brussels sprouts on the side instead of sweet potato fries. They were yummy!
Hubbard Inn on Urbanspoon

Siena Tavern
River North

And last, but not least... Siena Tavern.

Where to begin? I asked Alex to take me here for my birthday dinner since I am a huge fan of Italian food and Top Chef. Siena Tavern is the brainchild of chef Fabio Viviani (of Top Chef fame) and the DineAmic Group, who is behind some of Chicago's hottest bars and restaurants. The restaurant is exactly what I expected it to be: It's loud, energetic, and really well designed like DineAmic's other bars, but the open pizza ovens, wine bar, and wood, brick, and chalkboard elements give it that warm Italian trattoria feel. I'm a fan.

And the food... oh my goodness, the food. We ordered SO much. And it was all SO good!  Let's talk about that.

We ordered a few things to share before our entrees. Normally I wouldn't advise you order so many appetizers for two people, but we there were so many good things to choose from that we had some serious difficulty narrowing it down. One thing you must order here is the Coccoli. They are basically savory donuts served with prosciutto, cheese, and truffle honey. From what I can see online (meaning, every blogger seems to share a photo of this dish), the coccoli definitely appear to be Siena's signature dish. They are a really unexpected combination of flavors and textures, but they work.

Siena Tavern also serves a variety of mozzarella cheeses paired with other ingredients that lend really interesting flavors and textures. We opted for the smoked mozzarella, which they served with local honeycomb, candied walnuts, grilled escarole, and toasts. I loved the smoky cheese with sweet nuts and honey. So delicious.

And seeing how much cheese and bread we had ordered, I also ordered the kale Caesar salad for good measure. So glad I did! It was actually one of the best things I ate there. I really loved it! It was topped with oven dried tomatoes, rosemary focaccia croutons, and the dressing had a delicious lemony flavor-- really perfect with the hearty kale.

Siena Tavern's menu features a variety of main course options: from heartier meat and seafood entrees to fresh pizzas to a selection of homemade pastas. Alex and I were on the same page that night and both opted for pastas-- probably because there were so many that looked so delicious! He ordered the short rib ravioli, which was served with a sweet and savory mushroom sauce. I was torn between a few dishes, but ultimately decided on the spaghetti with jumbo lump crab meat, tomatoes, and chili flakes in a creamy lemon sauce. It was so delicious-- the fresh lemony flavor with rich crab and cream sauce. It was perfect.

Oh, and as if we hadn't eaten enough... we ordered dessert. It was my birthday dinner, after all. Siena Tavern serves a wide selection of homemade gelati. Since we couldn't decide on just one, we ordered three. Of course. We sampled the hazelnut, salted caramel, and maple mascarpone. The salted caramel gelato was far and away my favorite, but they were all delicious-- and I would eat any of them again.
Siena Tavern on Urbanspoon

 *Editor's note: This Tuesday, September 17, 2013 Eater reported the Zocalo has closed its doors.


  1. Zocalo is almost always on Groupon (for future reference).
    And I am dying to go to Sienna Tavern!

    1. Hey Kit, check out my editor's note at the bottom! Apparently Zocalo has just closed. Sad.


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