When in Chicago for business or pleasure, you can't go wrong ordering a hot dog or deep-dish pizza — those are, after all, the Windy City's signature dishes. In all seriousness, diners seeking culinary adventure don't have to look far in Chicago. Restaurants showcasing every imaginable cuisine in high style can be found here.
HOT NEW SPOTS
230 W. Kinzie St.;
In case you're wondering, in French, “aigre” translates to sour, and “doux” means sweet. Open for just a few months, this River North restaurant features French-influenced contemporary American cuisine from a husband-and-wife team, Mohammad Islam and Malika Ameen. Islam, who has worked in the kitchen with top-notch chefs including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, is handling the savory fare, while Ameen, whose credits include Craft and Balthazar in New York, is in charge of sweets. The opening menu included entrees like pan-seared turbot with saffron sauce and slow-baked salmon with a citrus emulsion, plus desserts such as an apple bread pudding with caramelized apples, butterscotch and creme fraiche sauce. For dinner, the top seller is the Colorado rack of lamb, served with truffled grits and a fennel, apple and fava bean salad, for $34. Reservations are encouraged. This restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating.
River East Art Center,
465 E. Illinois St.;
In fashionable Streeterville, this is the place for sizzling contemporary Latin fare, stylishly presented, from hot Miami chef Douglas Rodriguez. The No. 1 entree is churassco de la Costa (Uruguayan tenderloin). Also popular are the ceviches, marinated to order. Other choices include olive oil poached halibut and adobo-rubbed tuna. Entrees start at $25. The restaurant accepts reservations.
695 N. Milwaukee Ave.;
While red meat is definitely the highlight at this contemporary American steakhouse, there's more to the menu than beef. Chilean sea bass is tied with the 8-ounce filet mignon for the No. 1 entree. Complete dinners range from $40 to $60. A restaurant-lounge concept, this establishment offers a big lounge upstairs, while the dining room has space for 100. An outdoor dining area also seats 100. Executive chef Daniel Kelly's menu includes filet mignon, lobster-stuffed chicken breast in lobster cream sauce, and veal and mushroom ravioli in vodka sauce; the bar menu features more casual fare such as the Cuban sandwich and a Kobe beef burger. The restaurant takes reservations.
1729 N. Halsted St.;
This stylish Lincoln Park establishment recently welcomed Giuseppe Tentori, formerly of Charlie Trotter's, as head chef. The signature dish here is the herb dusted halibut with cauliflower fondant, red and yellow cherry tomatoes, fiddlehead ferns & stuffed squid with baby spinach, spicy pineapple and black tapioca. Entrees might include choices like pan-seared salmon, grilled lamb chops or pepper-crusted rib-eye. The wine list is extensive. Typical entrees range from $15 to $25. As a service to diners, this restaurant has a cell phone booth, about the size of a small closet, with comfortable benches. Reservations are recommended.
In the Hotel Blake,
500 S. Dearborn St.;
Shawn McClain, one of the city's top chefs, has his way with meat at this Printer's Row establishment. Previously, McClain worked at Green Zebra, a vegetarian eatery, and Spring, a seafood spot. At Custom House, he prefers to use local and farm-raised products whenever possible. The menu changes often — it may include appetizers like roasted quail, charred sashimi-style sirloin and marinated shrimp. Entrees may include diver sea scallops, beef short ribs and bone-in filet of beef. The average entree ranges from $15 to $25. Reservations are recommended.
2030 S. Wabash Ave.;
Go to this hip Nuevo Latino establishment for dinner but be sure to order a blood orange margarita or one of the other inventive cocktails. As for food, the Costilla estofadas — beer-braised short ribs — are a standout among entrees. Other choices include moqueca do mar, a stew of grouper, shrimp, sea scallops, squid and littleneck clams in a spicy tomato-coconut broth, and chuleta en mole de plantano macho, roasted sugarcane-cured double-cut pork chop with plantain mole, yuca cake and Caribbean-style green beans. There's live jazz and bossa nova seven nights a week. Entrees range from $13 to $32. Reservations are recommended.
FULTON'S ON THE RIVER
315 N. LaSalle St.;
River North's sprawling modern and masculine seafood center offers deluxe outdoor dining on the water as well as multiple indoor eating environments. There's a raw bar, a sushi bar and a number of seafood-driven entrees such as Alaskan crab legs and shellfish pot pie. Meat eaters can choose from among a selection of steaks including bone-in rib eye. Dinner entrees start at $25.
600 W. Chicago Ave.;
This elegant River North establishment combines modern beauty with trendy Japanese cuisine. Alice Van Housen, Chicago editor for the Zagat Survey, described the lower-level lounge as “ultra swanky.” There are two indoor dining rooms, the formal red room with a sushi bar and chef on duty, and the more casual green room complete with fireplace. During warm months, there's outdoor seating offering river views. The No. 1 entree is the lobster teriyaki, $38. Kobe prime rib and rainbow carpaccio (tuna, whitefish, salmon) with sizzling yuzu dressing are also house specialties. Average dinner entrees range from $15 to $25. Reservations are recommended.
2017 S. Wells St., 2nd floor,
Chinatown Square, East Gate;
Located in a two-story mall in Chinatown, this chic and intriguing restaurant serves up gourmet Japanese fare with French and Chinese influences. The most popular entrees are the rack of lamb and wild striped bass. Other choices on the seafood-heavy menu, which changes frequently, may include panko chicken with edamame broth, and Manila clam and sturgeon wrapped with cured salmon and coconut mousse. Prices for complete dinners run from $32 to $35. Entrees range from $15 to $25. A full bar includes a limited but carefully selected offering of wine, chosen to complement the food. A live deejay plays tunes every Friday and Saturday night.
445 North Clark St.;
Rick Bayless' acclaimed tribute to Mexican cooking, this establishment features a menu that changes monthly, but relies on hardwood grilled dishes, rich moles and chile-thickened braises “learned from market and home cooks throughout Mexico.” Frontera Grill offers a rustic take on regional Mexican cooking, while Topolobampo provides the fine dining experience. Average entrees range from $15 to $25. Reservations are accepted.
TRATTORIA NO. 10
10 N. Dearborn St.;
This romantic establishment features contemporary Italian cuisine in an elegant setting that's a welcome respite from its bustling downtown location. The specialties include homemade ravioli, such as asparagus with sun-dried tomato sauce, or butternut and acorn squash with walnut butter sauce. Other specialties include four-grain risotto and osso bucco. A bar buffet offers hot and cold options. Average entrees range from $15 to $25. Reservations are recommended.
LATE NIGHT BITES
POPS FOR CHAMPAGNE
601 N. State St.;
Come hear the music in the downstairs jazz lounge and grab a bite to eat upstairs, not necessarily in that order. This River North spot is a new location for the nationally acclaimed lounge. The main bar area on the street level features an expanded menu of small hot and cold dishes, antipasto, caviar, raw bar and desserts. Average price per dish is about $14. More than 125 champagnes and sparkling wines are featured. Cover charges vary. Reservations are not accepted.
SN consulted Alice Van Housen, Chicago editor for the Zagat Survey, Metromix, an online guide from the Chicago Tribune, restaurant menus posted online and the restaurants themselves for this report. These are only suggestions, not professional reviews. SN did not visit any of the recommended restaurants.