CHAMPCAR/CART: Where to eat in Chicago

There are over 1000 great places to eat in Chicago, lets start with 23....;-) Kika Spiaggia. Italian 980 N. Michigan Ave.Chicago, IL Phone: 312/280-2750 Near North. Sleek, sophisticated, very expensive. Arguably the best Italian restaurant...

There are over 1000 great places to eat in Chicago, lets start with 23....;-) Kika

Spiaggia. Italian 980 N. Michigan Ave.Chicago, IL Phone: 312/280-2750 Near North. Sleek, sophisticated, very expensive. Arguably the best Italian restaurant between the coasts. Here you'll find luxury-level Italian dining that is unsurpassed in the city. Marble-clad columns, stylish table appointments, and shades of pink and teal add up to modern elegance; a three-story bank of windows overlooks Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan. The food, as opulent and complex as its surroundings, includes a veal chop coddled in a luscious vodka-cream sauce and several elaborate filled-pasta dishes. The scholarly wine list is no place for bargain hunters, but there are some remarkable bottles. You can sample Spiaggia's wonders next door at Cafe Spiaggia, a lower-priced, casual sidekick. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Reservations essential. Jacket required. "The very top Italian restaurant in the city, if not the country...." Chicago Magazine . "Award of Excellence" Wine Spectator. "....Four Stars - Chef Paul Bartolotta and his staff are at a pinnacle of culinary excellence...." Chicago Magazine Charlie Trotter's Contemporary 816 W. Armitage Ave. Chicago, IL Phone: 773/248-6228 Lincoln Park and North - This tastefully renovated town house has only 20 closely spaced tables, far too few for the people who would like to eat here. The owner and chef, Charlie Trotter, enjoys an international reputation for his light, experimental dishes. Menus change daily, but past triumphs have included such appetizers as antelope strudel with wild mushrooms and foie-gras ravioli with mango and lemongrass sauce. Dishes are presented in a multicourse, degustation format; choose from the $75 all-vegetable degustation or grand degustations at $90 or more. Naturally, there's an expansive (and expensive) wine list to match the elegant cuisine, but prices are surprisingly fair. The smoke-free dining room is elegant in its simplicity, the better to focus the diner's attention on the world-renowned food. Make reservations at least a month in advance. AE, DC, MC, V. Reservations essential. Closed Sun.-Mon. No lunch. Jacket required. "Food & Wine" - BEST RESTAURANT Ambria French 2300 N. Lincoln Park W Chicago, IL Phone: 773/472-5959 Lincoln Park and North. In a spacious art nouveau atmosphere, Ambria combines a classic haute-cuisine style and atmosphere with contemporary French food--all without flash or bombast. The modestly understated menu dazzles with blackberry-sauced venison, lobster gazpacho, and rosemary-infused lamb loin. A quiet refuge, a serene setting, a civilized dining retreat--Chicago is indeed fortunate to have this restaurant. Even more gratifying is that Ambria, amid its tone and polish, its grand sprays of flowers, its polished hardwood floors and its elegant service, is not the least bit pretentious; this is a restaurant where you can sit in the lap of dining luxury and not be concerned about falling off. The kitchen continues to dazzle us with its original and innovative culinary creations, and here, too, there is no attempt to make much ado about nothing; the ado here is about everything, and everything is conceived thoughtfully and executed elegantly The assortment of cheeses, sherbets, fruits, and pastries is upstaged by the sensational dessert soufflé. Sommelier Bob Bansberg is a treasure. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Reservations essential. Closed Sun. No lunch. Vivere. Italian - 71 W. Monroe St. Chicago, IL Phone: 312/332-7005 Greater Downtown. The fanciest of the Italian Village troika has wild decor, outstanding food and an awe-inspiring Italian wine list. This eye-catching dining room is worth a visit for looks alone: a mesmerizing array of cones and bright colors guarantees an interesting view from every seat. The menu ranges from the traditional (flawless veal tenderloin with porcini-pancetta cream sauce) to the nouvelle (eggplant-and-chocolate dessert), and nearly everything works beautifully. The restaurant also has one of the city's--make that one of the country's--great Italian wine lists. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Closed Sun. No lunch Sat.

Coco Pazzo. Italian- 300 W. Hubbard St.Chicago, IL Phone: 312/836-0900 Near North . A New York import, occupying a chic loft space trimmed with heavy blue curtains and arty flower arrangements, serving hearty Tuscan food in a refined setting. The Chicago branch of a very successful Manhattan restaurant, Coco Pazzo shines with solid, mature, and professional service and a kitchen that focuses on Tuscan cuisine--lusty, aggressively seasoned fare. Grilled game is a particular strength, as are the risotto dishes. AE, DC, MC, V. No lunch weekends. "....Cutting edge Italian in a rustic yet luxuriously appointed loft setting...." Pat Bruno, Chicago Sun Times "....Best Italian Restaurant...." ABC-TV

Bice. Italian 158 E. Ontario St., 312-644-1474. Still an eye-catching, beautiful people place. Pricey, but the food is remarkable. Good starters, at least for now, are beef carpaccio with arugula, Parmesan and hearts of palm; and grilled portobello-mushroom caps wrapped in bacon. Both the bright seafood risotto and the savory mascarpone- and-spinach risotto work nicely. Farfalle with calamari and a rainbow of peppers is a winner. Earning high honors as an entree is tender breaded and -pounded veal. Desserts tend to be more consistent: recommended are the peach tartlet with creme anglaise, bread pudding with a caramel and chocolate sauce, creme br lee and assorted-homemade gelati and sorbets."....an exciting array of flavor-packed dishes shine at this dramatic deco-design restaurant...." Chicago Magazine "....Impeccable yet warmly gracious service...." KEY Magazine

Frontera Grill, Mexican Chicago's culinary history 445 N. Clark St.,Chicago, IL Phone: 312/661-1434However challenging you find the notion that the best Mexican food in America is in a Midwest restaurant run by Anglos, most visitors to Frontera walk away convinced. So do most critics and food professionals, who named owner Rick Bayless the 1995 James Beard Society Chef of the Year in 1995 (and Humanitarian of the Year in 1998). Chef-owner Rick Bayless and his wife, Deann, literally wrote the book ("Authentic Mexican") on Mexican cuisine--and that's what you'll find at this casual café, along with a tile floor, bright colors, and Mexican folk art. The Baylesses learned about regional Mexican cuisine by tramping across Mexico, and they return once a year (with their entire staff) to further their research. The results are uncommonly delicious: try charbroiled catfish Yucatán style (with pickled red onions and jicama salad) or garlicky skewered tenderloin, Aguascalientes style (with poblano peppers, red onion, and bacon). The menu changes frequently, and weekly specials are often the most tempting dishes. Frontera shares its address and kitchen with the more formal Topolobampo. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Closed Sun.-Mon.

Gordon, Chicago's culinary history, 500 N. Clark St. 467-9780 . . You could make a case that Chicago started being taken seriously as a fine-dining city when this witty, sophisticated American restaurant opened in 1976. And Gordon has been among the city's elite dining destinations for the subsequent 22 years. And its place in history was assured when Gordon Sinclair became the first restaurateur in Chicago to ban cellular phones from his dining room... Saturday night is jacket-and-tie night, and there's usually a jazz combo playing -- a few bold customers even dance. Don Yamauchi's food is extraordinary, and service rarely misses a step. The wine list is strong on Chardonnays and Cabernets with good selections by the glass and a few appealing half bottles. Service suits the setting, which is to say it's gracious and professional. There's dancing to a jazz trio Saturday nights. "....an eclectic American menu that is "never less than very good" and never far from the cutting edge...." Zagat Survey. "....It is a restaurant that speaks of self-indulgence and fashion, characteristics manifest in the foods that come from the Gordon kitchen." Sherman Kaplan

The Dining Room, Chicago's culinary history, Ritz-Carlton Chicago, 160 E. Pearson St., 312-266-1000. The lavish dining room, the unfailingly attentive service, the outstanding French-accented cuisine by four-star chef Sarah Stegner -- everything about this place impresses. Break out your fanciest duds, the good jewelry and indulge. - Gracious service and fine food in a beautiful setting make this Ritz-Carlton restaurant a classic. Walnut paneling, tapestry carpeting, and crystal chandeliers grace the room in classic French style. Chef Sarah Stegner's kitchen turns out exemplary French cuisine with nouvelle accents, such as squab breast with roasted garlic sauce and turbot in shellfish broth. Daily specials complement the seasonal menu selections. The Dining Room was considered one of Chicago's finest restaurants even before chef Sarah Stegner was named the James Beard Society's Rising New Star Chef, putting Stegner and her restaurants even more prominently on the map. The Dining Room is more than ready for such scrutiny. Decor is as lavish as a luxury hotel can make it, service is formal but personable and a very clever pianist plays softly nearby. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Reservations essential. No lunch. Jacket and tie.

Signature Room at the 95th, 875 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-787-9596:You can't beat the view from the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center. High views usually equal high prices, and at dinner and Sunday brunch that's pretty much the case. But the $9.50 lunch buffet, served Monday-Saturday, is a bargain "....This restaurant is internationally acclaimed for its exquisite contemporary American cuisine, excellent service and comfortable atmosphere...." Where Magazine "....Breathtaking views, superb service, and, of course, a remarkable cuisine..." Critic's Choice Printer's Row Contemporary, 550 S. Dearborn St.Chicago, IL Phone: 312/461-0780 Greater Downtown - Owner Michael Foley opened this stylish restaurant when the historic, then-dilapidated Printer's Row district was just beginning to show signs of a renaissance. His is now the established institution in what has become an attractive neighborhood of renovated loft buildings and gracious older apartment houses--though prices remain remarkably low. The fresh American regional menu is especially noteworthy for its game meats and seafood: you might try seared scallops with truffle oil, grilled venison with dried cherries and wild rice cake, or grilled peppered duck breast with almond-raisin couscous. A well-chosen, fairly priced wine list is a plus. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Closed Sun. No lunch Sat. Top 10 Loop Restaurants & Top 10 American Restaurants" Pat Bruno, Chicago Sun-Times "....presentations are lovely without being ostentatious, sauces are intense, portions are unexpectedly generous, and intriguing vegetable accompaniments are never repetitious...." Chicago Magazine Everest French, 440 S. LaSalle St., Chicago, IL Phone: 312/663-8920 Greater Downtown . The spectacular view from the 40th floor only adds to the haute cuisine appellation of this delicious restaurant. The small and intimate dining room still works its magic, and the wild-animal murals and leopard-print carpeting have not grown tired. Window tables are always at a premium and add to the drama, though there is hardly a bad seat in the house. As its name suggests, this restaurant reaches extraordinary heights--and not only because it's 40 stories above the ground, with a sweeping view of the city's West Side. Pricewise, the dinner check can be formidable (for most people, this is a major-event destination). Cuisinewise, Everest hits highs that most restaurants can't begin to approach. The creative chef, Jean Joho, takes often-ignored, humble ingredients (particularly favoring foods from his native Alsace) and transforms them into regal, memorable dishes such as risotto with black trumpet mushrooms and quail or pheasant wrapped in savoy cabbage. The dining room is pleasingly neutral, focusing attention on the kitchen's exquisitely arranged plates; oversize tables provide plenty of room, and service is discreet and professional. The wine list has tremendous depth, particularly in its representation of Alsatian vintages. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Reservations essential. Closed Sun.-Mon. Jacket required. "....One of the most exciting & rarified dining experiences at any altitude...." Chicago Magazine AWARD of EXCELLENCE Wine Spectator Morton's of Chicago Steak Houses - 1050 N. State St. Chicago, IL Phone: 312/266-4820 Near North. This is Chicago's best steak house--and that's no idle statement. Excellent service and a very good wine list add to the principal attraction: beautiful, hefty steaks cooked to perfection. White tablecloths, chandeliers, and off-white walls create a classy ambience. It's no place for the budget conscious, but for steak lovers, it's a 16-ounce (or more) taste of heaven. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Reservations essential. No lunch. "....Steak and lobster are the major attractions. All the meat is prime, all the seafood as fresh as the morning air...." Sherman Kaplan. "....This is Chicago's best steakhouse - and that's no idle statement. Excellent service, classy ambience, and a very good wine list add to the principal attraction: beautiful, hefty steaks..." Fodor's Guide

Carlos French - 429 Temple Ave. (26 mi north of downtown Chicago) Highland Park, IL Phone: 847/432-0770 Worth a Special Trip - Owners Carlos and Debbie Nieto warmly welcome guests as if they were entering the Nietos' own home. The intimate dining room is appropriate for impressing clients or the special love in your life, although neighboring tables are within earshot. Wait staff are consummate pros, and understand how to make diners feel at ease This restaurant continues to challenge Le Français for the title of best French restaurant in the area.. Dishes are mainly contemporary French: you might find squab ravioli with garlic sauce or rabbit tournedos with creamed leeks and truffles. Desserts are heavenly. The substantial wine list includes some magnificent vintages, although at eye-popping prices. The main dining room is dark and woody; mismatched antique china plates lend character. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Reservations essential. Closed Tues. No lunch. Jacket required.

Le Français French 269 S. Milwaukee Ave. Wheeling, IL Phone: 847/541-7470 - Worth a Special Trip. The husband-wife team of Roland and Mary Beth Liccioni has Le Français--to many, Chicago's finest restaurant--running beautifully. Roland rules the kitchen, turning out contemporary French creations. His plates are visual masterpieces, and portions are substantial for cuisine this fine. Mary Beth is arguably the city's best pastry chef; her desserts are unparalleled, and her chocolates--now available on a retail basis--are equally superb. A veteran staff inspires confidence and imparts conviviality; intimidation isn't part of the experience. Lunch at Le Français is one of Chicago's great gastronomic events and substantially less expensive than dinner. The country French setting is accented with paintings of the French countryside and antique copper pots and pans hanging here and there. Wheeling is about 30 mi northwest of downtown Chicago. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations essential. Closed Sun. No lunch Sat. and Mon. Jacket required.

Entre Nous $30-$45 French The Fairmont, 200 N. Columbus Dr. Chicago, IL Phone: 312/565-7997 - Greater Downtown - One of the highest-quality hotel dining rooms in the city (inside the Fairmont Hotel), Entre Nous has an understated elegance that's ideal for romantic dining or just a quiet, top-notch business meal. The menu is deceptively simple looking, filled with well-executed classics such as Maine lobster bisque and rack of lamb. The tiered dessert cart is impossible to resist, and the very thorough wine list is reasonably priced, as hotel restaurants go. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Closed Sun. No lunch. Arun's $30-$45 Thai 4156 N. Kedzie Ave. Chicago, IL Phone: 773/539-1909 Lincoln Park and North. This is the finest Thai restaurant in Chicago, and some devotees say it's the finest in the country. Certainly the beauty of presentation and freshness of ingredients are far beyond what storefront Thai restaurants usually attempt. Prices are much higher, as a consequence, but worth every penny. Highlights include intricate golden pastry baskets filled with diced shrimp, corn, and shiitake mushrooms; medallions of veal with ginger-lemongrass sauce; and a delicious hot-and-sour soup. But your best bet is to ask for a degustation dinner and let Arun himself select the dishes. The two-level dining room has lots of natural wood, complemented by Thai art and a small art gallery. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Reservations essential. Closed Mon. No lunch.

Benkay -Japanese Nikko Chicago, 320 N. Dearborn St. (River North) 60610 Phone 836-5490 - Breakfast & Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner nightly. All major cards. $$$$ . The appointments don't come any more lavish than at this luxury hotel restaurant. Of course, this comes at a luxury price; dinner for two in any of the three dining rooms can exceed $150, and $200 tariffs are common. That said, dinner here is a singular experience wherever you sit. The sushi bar is bright and comfortable and from time to time offers an all-you-can-eat package with a limited menu that is a relative bargain. The main dining room, its windows overlooking the Chicago River, is sedate and soothing; here you'll find treats such as sake-steamed duck breast, boiled octopus with spicy-miso paste and perfect sauteed salmon topped with salmon roe and bathed in garlic-butter sauce. The lively and social Benkay-yaki room, its style most familiar to patrons of Benihana of Tokyo, offers all-inclusive dinners featuring steak, chicken, seafood or some combination as main courses. There are also private dining rooms available. The kitchen is best appreciated by those well-versed in Japanese food; the waiters aren't particularly helpful when it comes to recommendations, except to point neophytes toward the obvious basic choices. Which is fine, but do you really want to pay these prices for the basics? Spago $30-$45 Contemporary 520 N. Dearborn St. Chicago, IL Phone: 312/527-3700 Near North - Wolfgang Puck's celebrated California concept has gone over well with Chicagoans, who attend in such numbers that Saturday reservations take at least a month to secure (the noise level is correspondingly high). There are two dining options: the casual grill, open for lunch and dinner daily, featuring such Puck signature dishes as his outstanding meat loaf and gourmet pizzas; and the main dining room, where the menu is more refined--you might find herb-stuffed bass with basil-mashed potatoes or grilled quail over chanterelle risotto. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Reservations essential. No lunch weekends.

Seasons - American Four Seasons Hotel, 120 E. Delaware Pl. (Gold Coast) 60611 Phone280-8800 . Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner daily. All major cards. $$$$ . Only a hotel restaurant could offer the amenities Seasons does--the luxury decor, the outstanding china and stemware, the oversize, generously spaced tables, the spectacular floral displays--and, happily, the creature comforts are matched by some truly spectacular cuisine. Mark Baker, who turned heads running the show at Four Seasons Boston, continues his good work here. His food is regional American with distinct Asian overtones; sometimes those overtones take over completely, as in his kaiseki-style appetizer of fish and shellfish (each in individual lacquered dishes). Then again, he's as likely to fashion a Nantucket lobster stew, pan-roasted lamb with polenta or grilled antelope with gnocchi; this is a hard kitchen to pigeonhole. On the whole, however, this is lighter, leaner eating than you might expect from perusing the menu. And you can blow all those saved calories on one of several luscious, well-nigh-irresistible desserts. There's no sommelier to guide you through Seasons' impressive wine list, but servers are familiar with the offerings and are quick with appropriate suggestions. Les Nomades $30-$45 French 222 E. Ontario St. Chicago, IL Phone: 312/649-9010 Near North. A very formal restaurant, Les Nomades has the same owners as the acclaimed Le Français. Plan on two to three hours of dining, but you're likely to agree that the carefully prepared classic French food, from almond-crusted foie gras to roasted monkfish, is worth the wait--and the significant expense. AE, MC, V. Dinner reservations essential. Closed Sun.-Mon. No lunch. Jacket and tie. Topolobampo $30-$45 Mexican 445 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL Phone: 312/661-1434 Near North. Located alongside Frontera Grill, Topolobampo shares Frontera's kitchen, address, and phone number--and its dedication to quality. Topolobampo is the more expensive room; it has a more stately atmosphere, accepts reservations and, most important, affords the chef the opportunity to experiment with more expensive ingredients. The ever-changing menu showcases game, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and exotic preparations: homemade tortillas with pumpkinseed sauce and pheasant roasted in banana leaves are two examples. Good service and an interesting wine add to the appeal. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Reservations essential. Closed Sun.-Mon. No lunch Sat. Le Bouchon $18-$30 French 1958 N. Damen Ave.Chicago, IL Phone: 773/862-6600 Lincoln Park and North. The French comfort food at this charming 40-seat bistro in Bucktown is in a league of its own. Onion tart has been a signature dish of owner Jean-Claude Poilevey for years; other not-to-be-missed delights are hunter-style rabbit and salade Lyonnaise (mixed greens topped with a creamy vinaigrette and a poached egg). Don't miss the fruit tarts. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Closed Sun. No lunch.

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