Alfresco 

Want a little sun with that? In Chicago in the summer eaters and drinkers spill out-of-doors into beer gardens and backyards, onto rooftop decks, and across riverfront patios. For this annual restaurant guide we've culled from our listings some great spots for alfresco dining and drinking. Many others can be found online in the Reader Restaurant Finder, a database of listings for more than 3,500 Chicago-area restaurants. Restaurants are rated by more than 2,500 Reader Restaurant Raters, who feed us information and comments on their dining experiences. Web ratings are updated daily; print listings reflect the most current information available at press time. Reviews are written by Reader staff and contributors and (where noted) Raters. For complete listings and information on how to become a Reader Restaurant Rater see chicagoreader.com/restaurantfinder.

Look for the Reader's next dining guide October 19.

Adobo Grill

2005 W. Division

773-252-9990

F 8.4 | S 6.8 | A 7.2 | $$$ (5 reports)

Mexican | Dinner: seven days; Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr The second location of the Adobo Grill is all dark reds, Mexican folk art, and paintings of loteria cards, but the night I was there a steady backbeat of cell-phone conversations threatened to kill the ambience. The food, though, was for the most part great. The justifiably famous guacamole was chunky, spicy, and bright; scallop seviche, cool and tart, was also delicious, if a bit difficult to get at in the now-obligatory martini glass. Are you supposed to drink it? Grilled lamb chops, a special, were caramelized on the outside and rosy pink on the inside, and they tasted even better than they looked. Our waiter was charming but agonizingly elusive. Luckily, I could spend all night with Adobo's incomparable margaritas--and the next morning with cafe de ollo (coffee with cinnamon, orange peel, and brown sugar), served at the excellent, undiscovered Sunday brunch. The sidewalk cafe offers great people watching. Chip Dudley

Angel's

5403 N. Clark

773-271-1138

F 6.5 | S 7.6 | A 6.8 | $ (5 reports)

Mexican, American | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Till 11 every night

This cheerful diner is a perfect solution for those moments when nobody can agree on where to eat. The menu is split between traditional American salads and sandwiches and well-executed Mexican food. For brunch, huevos rancheros were second in comfort-food value only to the huge portion of chilaquiles, corn tortillas with scrambled eggs, cheese, and a tangy green sauce that I couldn't stop eating from my friend's plate. On other visits I've noticed that the steak burritos contain tender and not overly seasoned meat. They also serve beer, wine, and margaritas, although the brightly lit atmosphere doesn't really suit boozing it up. The courtyard patio does. Angel's is closing in mid-July and plans a move to a new location, at 5044 N. Clark, in the fall. Kathie Bergquist

Athena

212 S. Halsted

312-655-0000

$$

Greek | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till

midnight, other nights till 11:30

At Athena you'll find old-world fare like loukaniko (homemade sausage), dolmades with bechamel, lamb with artichokes in lemon sauce, and galaktibouriko, a faintly lemon-flavored custard that floats beneath several flaky layers of honey-soaked filo dough. The bright interior is spacious and colorful, but the big draw is the lovely three-level outdoor garden, open spring to fall. Still, that's not what keeps at least one customer coming. A 45-year-old who's been dining here weekly since 1996, when the Tsoukalas family opened Athena, says, "They make you feel comfortable, and that's not true of all these Greek restaurants." Ryan Hubbard

Bad

Dog Tavern

4535 N. Lincoln

773-334-4040

F 7.6 | S 7.5 | A 7.9 | $$$ (21 reports)

American Contemporary/Regional| Lunch: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days; Sunday brunch| Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1, other nights till 11

The global-fusion-meets-contemporary-American menu at this sleek, contemporary room is several cuts above bar food. An order of tempura-style green beans comes with a lime-ginger-soy dipping sauce. There are pizzas with classic toppings, but sandwiches and salads get interesting twists: blackened salmon, for example, comes on a crusty baguette with pickled red onion, bitter greens, and cucumber-dill mayo. Entrees include chicken and feta in a light white wine sauce over a bed of spinach and tequila-and-tamarind-glazed ribs served with macaroni and cheese and black beans. The dozen choices on tap include Strongbow cider and Delirium Tremens, and there's a kick-ass outdoor patio. Laura Levy Shatkin

Bistro Campagne

4518 N. Lincoln

773-271-6100

F 8.3 | S 7.9 | A 8.1 | $$$ (36 reports)

French | Dinner: seven days

rrr There's nothing groundbreaking here, but Bistro Campagne remains a reliable choice for classic French fare. The kitchen places a premium on organic ingredients; even the wine list has several bottles from sustainably farmed vineyards. The menu offers bistro standards such as French onion soup and mussels; entrees include steak frites and rotating preparations of lamb and duck. Escargots, delivered spitting hot, are prepared with a garlic-Pernod butter and a liberal dusting of bread crumbs for a sort of "snails casino" effect. Roast chicken, crispy on the outside and juicy within, was served over a bed of rich mushroom ragout and topped with a crazy blossom of fried onion. For dessert there's a creamy creme brulee, pot au chocolat, house-made ice cream and sorbet, or perhaps a seasonal tart. The cozy, Prairie-inflected dining rooms are comfortable, and garden seating remains inviting though an extension to the restaurant has cut down seating to around 30. Martha Bayne

La Bocca

Della Verita

4618 N. Lincoln

773-784-6222

F 7.7 | S 7.8 | A 6.3 | $$$ (22 reports)

Italian | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr The decor at this reasonably priced Italian restaurant is homey rather than hip--mismatched chairs, fresh flowers, bright lighting--and that's what its fans love about it. La Bocca is simply a casual place to get a very good Italian meal. We took the waiter's recommendation and ordered the special chicken dish of the night--lightly breaded and served with a refreshing blend of arugula and vegetables--and the duck-stuffed ravioli in a savory tomato cream sauce; both were excellent. But there's a lot more to try: close to 20 appetizers including celery-apple and fennel salads, homemade pastas, and entrees such as a whole Dover sole with white wine, lemon, and capers. An appealing sidewalk cafe provides extra seating in warm weather. Rachel Klein, Rater

Boka

1729 N. Halsted

312-337-6070

F 9.2 | S 8.4 | A 8.7 | $$$ (25 reports)

American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 11

rrr Giuseppe Tentori, a nine-year veteran of Charlie Trotter's, took over the reins at a revamped Boka this spring, offering a menu with a few startling if enjoyable items. Scallop-stuffed squid with baby spinach, spicy pineapple, and black tapioca was one of the weirdest-looking plates I've set eyes on this year and texturally freaky too--squishes and pops in every bite--but really tasty and fun to eat. A salad of luscious raw big-eye tuna, mizuna, grapefruit, and capers was a pretty interesting combination of flavors, though the saffron risotto with serrano and arugula took things too far--does anyone ever see flakes of gold leaf on a plate and think, "Mmmm, metal?" But it was sumptuous veal cheeks, topped with a dollop of excellent house-made mustard and served with pureed runner beans and grilled treviso, that won the day. Service was deft, knowledgeable, and unruffled despite the packed house on a Friday. Out back is a large, luxurious patio with both open-air and tented

seating. Mike Sula

The Chicago Firehouse

1401 S. Michigan

312-786-1401

F 7.4 | S 6.4 | A 7.0 | $$$ (5 reports)

American | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days

This sprawling three-story restaurant, formerly a 1905 firehouse, retains some of its original character--fire poles, tin ceiling, firebrick walls. Huge semicircular brass-studded red leather booths line the perimeter of the bar's dining area, while the carpeted main dining room is outfitted with candelabra and fabric-lined walls that give it the feel of a suburban country club; there are also four private party rooms, including one commandeered by the mayor to host President George W. Bush. Dishes tend to be hearty: starters include seared sirloin, French onion soup, and prosciutto rolled with cream cheese and asparagus. Main courses take their cue from home cooking--pot roast, panfried rainbow trout, barbecued pork chops with whipped sweet potatoes. The leafy outdoor patio, which seats 70, is shaded with bright red umbrellas--very presidential. Laura Levy Shatkin

Chief

O'Neill's

3471 N. Elston

773-583-3066

F 7.3 | S 6.8 | A 7.6 | $ (5 reports)

English/Irish/Scottish | Lunch: Saturday; Dinner: seven days; Sunday brunch | Reservations accepted for large groups only

This northwest-side pub named after Francis O'Neill, Chicago's first Irish police chief (and a champion of Irish music) carries on his

efforts, hosting regular music jams. The entire bar--chairs, tables, bar fittings--was imported from Ireland, and the kitchen dishes up traditional fare--Galway Bay mussels, cheddar cheese soup with Guinness, fish-and-chips, bangers and mash--and a popular Sunday brunch. The huge outdoor beer garden seats 200. Laura Levy Shatkin

El Cid

2645 N. Kedzie

773-395-0505

$$

Mexican | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2; other nights till midnight | Reservations accepted for large groups only

A late-night oasis in Logan Square, El Cid produces solid traditional platters that regulars swear by (they swear louder when the management is handing out shots of tequila). For $12.95, the fresh shrimp and octopus salad was packed with seafood, and with some ranchero sauce thrown in for color it tasted really good. There's musica en vivo Wednesday nights, and a large, festive back patio. Ann Sterzinger

Coobah

3423 N. Southport

773-528-2220

F 7.2 | S 6.8 | A 7.4 | $$$ (24 reports)

Latin American | Dinner: seven

days; Saturday & Sunday brunch| Open late: Tuesday, Thursday-Saturday till 1; Sunday-Monday, Wednesday till 11

Coobah serves the nuevo Latino food of excutive chef Jimmy Madla (formerly Veruca Salt's drummer). Appetizers include a Caesar salad sweetened up with creamy sugarcane dressing and a fiery jibarito with jerk chicken; meat-centric entrees feature the chicken Negro Modelo, a Latin take on beer-can chicken. A good choice for late-night dining might be the hand-rolled tamales, $3.25 each and filled with spicy pork or black beans and cheese. The mostly Latin American and Spanish wine list is full of reasonably priced gems, many poured by the glass; there's also an extensive list of mixed drinks. French doors open on to the main dining room in summer, and there's an outdoor patio, often packed. Laura Levy Shatkin

Cooper's--

A Neighbor­hood Eatery

1232 W. Belmont

773-929-2667

$$

American, Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Dinner: seven days | Open late:

Friday & Saturday till 11

At this more casual incarnation of the former Menagerie, owners Craig Fass and Mandy Franklin show the same commitment to fresh, seasonal fare. A few Menagerie-era dishes remain on the menu, such as a mushroom tart--still delicious, with a buttery pastry shell--and grilled flank steak, but now equal billing is given to panini and exotic pizzas like a duck-confit-and-pesto combo. The vegetable panini was stuffed to the gills with arugula, mushrooms, red pepper, and goat cheese, but the proportions were perfect, the red pepper adding a bit of sweetness, and the thin, crispy fries were some of the best I've ever had. For many the real draw of Cooper's will be the selection of more than 90 beers from around the world. On our server's suggestion--"It comes in a can but it's really good"--I tried Wittekerke, a light, fruity white ale from Belgium. Dining on the outdoor terrace is as comfy as sitting on a friendly neighbor's porch. Heather Kenny

Corosh

1072 N. Milwaukee

773-235-0600

$$

Italian | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days; Sunday

brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1, other nights till midnight

On a weekend night the garden courtyard at Corosh was a great place to be: large, nicely decorated, and hidden away from the Milwau­kee Avenue noise. We quickly settled on the garlic cream sauce mussels and prosciutto with melon as starters and the seafood risotto and lobster ravioli as entrees; secondi include several grilled meats and a couple Vesuvio preparations. The quality of the ingredients was very good overall (hammy prosciutto, a flavorful pesto sauce with the ravioli), though the bread was average at best. The late-night menu offers more standard bar fare, and there's a brunch buffet on Sundays. Torbjørn Tørnqvist, Rater

La Creperie

2845 N. Clark

773-528-9050

F 7.0 | S 7.0 | A 6.7 | $ (12 reports)

French | Lunch: Tuesday-Friday;

Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Closed Monday | Open late: Tuesday-Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

This family-run hideaway, easy to miss in the bustle of Clark and Diversey, has been satisfying budget-conscious diners for over 30 years. As you might expect, the fare is mostly crepes--with seafood or ratatouille for dinner, banana liqueur, Grand Marnier, or Nutella for dessert, and scrambled eggs for brunch--but the menu also offers other casual French favorites such as onion soup gratinee and steak frites. Raters like the large, colorful outdoor patio, the friendly and uncontrived atmosphere, and the live music offered most Thursdays. Laura Levy Shatkin

Crust

2056 W. Division

773-235-5511

$$

Pizza | Lunch, dinner: seven days |

Open late: Thursday-Saturday till

midnight | Reservations not accepted

With this casual new flatbread-pizza joint, the city's first certified organic restaurant, chef Michael Altenberg--or more precisely, his design team--seems bound and determined to rescue organic food from every hanging fern and wind chime that ever dogged its reputation. Formerly occupied by Settimana, the huge space has been tranformed into a sleek modern cafeteria with bright orange molded plastic chairs and trippy formica tables; the spacious back patio and sidewalk cafe add seats for another 120. The pizza--er, flatbreads--have an airy, chewy, well-proofed crust and are topped with everything from savory silver dollars of pepperoni to a Greek mix of artichokes, olives, and feta to a take on an Alsatian Flammkuchen (caramelized onion, bacon, and caraway seeds with a bechamel sauce). All, meat included, tastes shockingly fresh; the baby greens in my Sun Salad (a tasty mix of greens and seaweed in a plum-miso dressing) had to have had their lives cut violently short that same day. The bar offers a short but respectable wine and beer lists, plus a selection of cocktails with infused organic vodka. Martha Bayne

Duke of Perth

2913 N. Clark

773-477-1741

F 6.4 | S 6.4 | A 8.0 | $ (5 reports)

English/Irish/Scottish | Lunch: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, other nights till 11 | Reservations not accepted

Long-standing Lakeview pub best known for its selection of beers and Scotch whiskeys (more than 90 of the latter). The Scottish-themed menu includes fish-and-chips (all you can eat for $9.50 Wednesdays and Fridays), shepherd's pie, and vegetarian options such as leek pie and salads. The decor is classic pub style, full of Scottish antiques and alcohol-related paraphernalia, and the garden patio is a pleasant place to while away an evening. Laura Levy Shatkin

Enoteca Roma

2146 W. Division

773-342-1011

F 8.5 | S 6.8 | A 6.8 | $ (5 reports)

Italian, Small Plates | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 11

rrr This laid-back wine bar, or enoteca, is an extension of Letizia's Natural Bakery, a Wicker Park fixture since 1998. Connected to Letizia's cafe and back garden entrance by a short hallway, it offers Letizia's standard menu plus more than 20 varieties of bruschetta, whole pizzas, dinner salads, and a number of meat, cheese, bread, and olive combinations in the tradition of rustic Roman cuisine. Larger plates include a Salamini Flight--salami and a trio of saucisson, served with grainy mustard, roasted red peppers, and Italian bread--and the Antipasto Micki, which includes three slices each of capicola, Genoa salami, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and focaccia, plus a few olives. It's enough for a light meal or ample snack for two. Enoteca Roma's specialty is, of course, wine, served without attitude: says owner-manager Fabio Sorano, "You can get PBR or you can get Pahlmeyer." Susannah Felts

Erie Cafe

536 W. Erie

312-266-2300

$$$$

Italian, Steaks/Lobster | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, other nights till 11:30

Ron Lenzi, formerly of Gene & Georgetti, runs this classic Italian steak house located where Erie meets the river. Arched stone-framed windows and exposed brick walls make for an attractive room; a large outdoor patio offers a view of the river and the skyline. It's a place built for comfort--tables are generously spaced and a long bar creates an ample waiting area. Most menu options are straightforward--shrimp cocktail, mussels marinara, the regular lineup of steaks and chops from beef to lamb to pork, all served in huge portions. In addition there are a dozen or so pasta preparations and old-school specialties such as chicken Vesuvio and garbage salad. Laura Levy Shatkin

Fiddlehead Cafe

4600 N. Lincoln

773-751-1500

F 6.9 | S 7.1 | A 6.0 | $$$ (7 reports)

American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: seven days; Saturday &

Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Under chef Robert Levitt (Del Toro, North Pond) the kitchen at this warm, wine-centric cafe offers a range of global appetizers and spiffed-up bistro standards like the signature three-way steak frites, served with russet, sweet potato, and polenta fries. A new spring menu has ushered in farm-grown seasonal ingredients such as green garlic, asparagus, and ramps; a recent special featured pan-roasted sablefish with organic baby carrots and pistachios. With a wine list of more than 350 bottles plus a couple dozen reds, whites, and bubblies available by the glass or in flights of three, it's hard to go wrong, but you have to first figure out how to interpret the cutesy little icons that indicate traits like "dry," "complex," "berries," or "oaky." Still, to a person the staff at a recent visit was unflaggingly friendly, and a French cheese flight--a nutty, sheeps-milk Ossau-Iraty; a rich, creamy Edel de Cleron by Perrin Vermot; and a devastating co-op-produced bleu d'Auvergne--really soared. There's a sidewalk cafe seating 28. Martha Bayne

Flatwater

321 N. Clark

312-644-0283

$$

American Contemporary/Regional, Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Breakfast: Monday-Friday; Lunch, dinner: seven days; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, Monday-Thursday till 11

The flower-bedecked riverfront terrace is the main selling points of this trendy spot, with its view of suspiciously teal river water, a few shiny high-rise wedges, and of course the occasional tour boat. The lunch menu offers standards--salads, sandwiches, burgers--perked up with Asian-influenced preparations; ahi tuna is served poke style, the steak sandwich gets the teriyaki treatment. The dinner menu's broadened with a range of meat-based entrees and a few standout dishes, like the capellini with tiger shrimp in a creamy pesto sauce. Watch out: wines by the bottle can be pricey, and there's no list. Susannah J. Felts

Fonda del Mar

3749 W. Fullerton

773-489-3748

F 7.2 | S 7.2 | A 6.8 | $$$ (5 reports)

Mexican, Seafood | Lunch: Saturday-sunday; Dinner: seven days; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

To kick things off at this restaurant from veterans of Topo­lobampo and Mia Francesca, tacos estilo ensenada (fish tacos) are tasty, with a clump of whitefish dressed with avocado and cabbage, and the shrimp seviche is a knockout. Soups are spiced with a light hand: caldo siete mares ("seven seas soup") is a chile-kissed tomato broth with just a few select slices of seafood; chileatole del mar brims with seafood, peppers, and corn in a tomatillo-based broth seasoned with epazote. Lamb chops in a mole negro were expertly grilled, and of special note is a roasted pork loin served in a fruity mole manchamanteles. For our salad we shared a small plate of julienned jicama and cucumber accented with orange segments and drizzled with hot sauce and a light vinaigrette. Out back is a find: a relatively undiscovered patio charmingly decorated with a flower-filled half a boat. David Hammond

Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar

3358 N. Paulina

773-248-5222

$$$

Italian, Pizza | Lunch: Saturday-sunday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

At Frasca, another newish place featuring small plates and pizza from a brick oven, you'll find choices such as an olive oil flight, three extra virgins served with semolina bread for $5. From the "Farmer's Table" menu, a selection of cheeses, meats, and bruschetta to mix or match, we selected three tasty bruschetta at $3 each. A pizza with clams, oregano, and garlic was promisingly thin and just barely charred around the edges, though I admit I'll be breathing fire from the garlic for weeks. Frasca's mostly Italian wine list offers a good selection, including red and white flights with choices steering sippers away from your more typical Chiantis and pinot grigios. There's a great side patio with seating for around 50. Kathie Bergquist

Fulton's

on the River

315 N. LaSalle

312-822-0100

$$$$

Seafood, Steaks/Lobster | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven

days | Open late: Monday-Saturday till 11

The lower-level dining room at this Levy Restaurants endeavor is spacious and elegantly understated, with handsome decor and an adult-contemporary soundtrack. We were planning on sticking to seafood until we saw the platter of U.S. prime steaks, one of Fulton's specialties. Another is oysters: the restaurant typically offers 12, and there's a small sampler plate that features 6; our server left the menu so I could read descriptions of each briny little victim as I slurped away. We moaned and murmured with pleasure over our main courses--a New York strip and a whole Maine lobster--but prudently stopped halfway to save room for dessert: key lime icebox pie with a graham cracker crust. Seating on the riverfront patio is first come, first served. Kathie Bergquist

The Gage

24 S. Michigan

312-372-4243

$$$

English/Irish/Scottish | Dinner: seven days; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, other nights till 11

Across the street from Millennium Park, the Gage draws swarms of tourists and suits alike, and the restored tin ceiling only amplifies the din. But if you can tolerate the noise, you'll find some superb dishes. The extensive drinks list features specialty and vintage cocktails like the Champagne Charlie (champagne and Grand Marnier with a bitters-soaked sugar cube). The one-page menu has surprising breadth without seeming scattershot: there are half a dozen steaks and burgers alongside more unusual offerings like roast saddle of elk, sea bream with oxtail, and caramelized lobster with lemon quinoa. An expertly charred hanger steak had plenty of smoky, juicy flavor, and the accompanying goat cheese grits and cabernet-Stilton butter were heavenly. Don't skip the brussels sprouts with bacon and Brie, available a la carte along with several other sides. But do save room for dessert: offerings like the "deconstructed" apple pie (thin pastry served upright in a pint glass with apple ice cream on the side) and chocolate peanut butter cake make a perfect finish. There are just six tables outdoors, but the view and the people watching are prime. Rob Christopher

Galway Arms

2442 N. Clark

773-472-5555

F 7.5 | S 7.3 | A 7.3 | $$$ (8 reports)

English/Irish/Scottish, American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: saturday-Sunday; Dinner: seven days; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, other nights till 11

Two of the three dining rooms in this rambling old brownstone have French doors that open onto a large patio overlooking Clark Street; the walls are paneled and hung with Irish crests. While there are plenty of Irish specialties on the menu--fish-and-chips, shepherd's pie, corned beef and cabbage--the majority of dishes are elegantly plated contemporary fare. A chile-glazed salmon salad is tossed with raspberry vinaigrette, candied walnuts, cucumbers, and shaved beets. A meatless option is the grilled veggie skewers, served over couscous with an onion coulis. It's a nice departure from the usual pub grub, and the patio alone is worth the trip. Laura Levy Shatkin

Garden Restaurant

111 S. Michigan

312-553-9675

$ $

American contemporary/regional, small plates | Lunch: seven days; Dinner: Thursday, Friday

Under executive chef Brian Williams, formerly of New York's Tribeca Grill and Grammercy Tavern, the restaurant in the Art Institute's stately courtyard offers a seasonal menu of globally influenced contemporary American. Starters might include crab cakes with rhubarb chutney or spicy chipotle shrimp over avocado puree; entrees an organic chicken breast with fiddlehead ferns and asparagus or a generously portioned salad with grilled lamb. Desserts range from decadent if standard (flourless chocolate cake) to light and refreshing (lemon panna cotta), and more than 15 wines are available by the glass. On Thursday and Friday evenings a small-plates menu is offered; there's live music, and museum admission is free. Laura Young

Gibsons Steakhouse

1028 N. Rush

312-266-8999

F 8.2 | S 8.9 | A 7.0 | $$$$ (10 reports)

Steaks/Lobster | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Till midnight every night

rrr This flashy, bustling steak house plays host to the Gold Coast singles crowd and heavy hitters on the political scene. Raters love the service, which they call friendly, helpful, and efficient. Most love the food too, which tends toward the old school: prime steaks, London broil, two sizes of filet mignon, lamb and pork chops, shrimp cocktail, grilled lobster tails, double-baked potatoes, garlicky spinach and mushrooms, and the like. Seafood dishes like broiled Norwegian salmon and wood-planked whitefish are fresh and simply prepared and come in big portions. The desserts are almost overwhelming in size; you'll probably have to share your macadamia turtle pie or Essee Kup Cake. The sidewalk cafe bustles with the Viagra set. Laura Levy Shatkin

Green

Dolphin Street

2200 N. Ashland

773-395-0066

F 8.1 | S 6.8 | A 7.4 | $$$$ (8 reports)

Steaks/Lobster | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday

This large, elegant restaurant and jazz club in an unlikely industrial location dishes up prime steaks and seafood. You can make a night of it here: the bar is huge, and there's no cover in the club for diners. The outdoor patio overlooking the river is a romantic and attractive seating option, and any part of the establishment--the patio, the small Green Room dining room, or the club--can accommodate private parties. Laura Levy Shatkin

Gruppo

di Amici

1508 W. Jarvis

773-508-5565

$$

Italian, Pizza | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Tuesday-Saturday till 11

The menu at Gruppo di Amici is rather daring in its spareness: no scads of pasta dishes here. To begin there are restrained antipasti and insalata--panzanella, grilled mixed vegetables, mussels, arancini (stuffed rice balls). We tried the marinated baby octopus with capers, excellent kalamata olives, and lots of diced celery, then shared mixed greens dotted with high-quality provolone. As at so many places these days, the wood-burning Italian oven is where the real action is meant to be. We went with the Capricciosa pizza: mushrooms, prosciutto, artichoke, hard-boiled eggs, and olives with fresh mozzarella. Quite chewy, it was styled so rustically that we wound up bartering the ingredients ("Trade you the artichoke for a hard-boiled egg and a bit more prosciutto"). The nicely chosen wine list offers a refreshing prosecco and some affordable South American pours alongside those from Italy, and the small sidewalk patio is pleasant in warm weather. Kate Schmidt

The Handlebar

2311 W. North

773-384-9546

F 8.4 | S 7.3 | A 7.8 | $ (26 reports)

Global/Fusion/Eclectic, Vegetarian/ Healthy | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1:30, other nights till 11:30 | Reservations not accepted

rrr A cyclist hangout--the bar stools are made from chrome rims, vintage bikes hang from the ceiling, and there are specials for messengers on Mondays--this is a theme restaurant that doesn't feel precious. The food is cheap and vegetarian friendly: most entrees are under $10, and the only meat option is fish. The chefs don't do anything flashy, but they do a little bit of everything and do it well--the samosas with tamarind chutney, for example, are on par with any you'd find on Devon. The kitchen also does a bang-up job with comfort food: the short list of seitan and tofu sandwiches come with a variety of sides including a respectable vegetarian version of southern collard greens and a totally addictive smoked Gouda mac 'n' cheese I'll crave on my deathbed. There's a large, comfortable patio--sitting there is like sitting in someone's backyard. David Wilcox

Heartland Cafe

7000 N. Glenwood

773-465-8005

F 6.6 | S 5.7 | A 6.6 | $ (24 reports)

American, Vegetarian/Healthy | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

"Unfortunately there are not many places to get a really good buffalo burger," quips one Rater. The Heartland, however, serves up a mean one, plus salads, sandwiches, and enough hearty vegetarian entrees to satisfy the pickiest eater, from veggie chili to tofu scrambles, barbecue seitan, and a macrobiotic plate. Fine dining it's not (though specials like steamed artichokes and wild salmon show some aspiration), but it is a north-side sanctuary for hungry bohemians of all stripes, with live music (funk, folk, and jazz) almost every night and a poetry open mike on Wednesday evenings. While service can be erratic, most who

frequent the Heartland know what they're getting into. It also has

a left-leaning general store

and an often-bustling outdoor patio. Martha Bayne

Jane's

1653-55 W. Cortland

773-862-5263

F 7.0 | S 7.6 | A 7.5 | $$ (9 reports)

American Contemporary/

Regional | Dinner: seven days; Saturday & Sunday brunch |

Open late: Friday & Saturday

till 11

Jane's inhabits a cozy converted house in Bucktown. Raters feel at home in the rustic room and find the reasonably priced Cal-American fare innovative, eclectic, and especially friendly to vegetarians. Several starters are intriguing--toast with kalamata pesto, black beans, goat cheese, and tomato-cilantro relish, for example, or a salad of garden vegetables, corn, dried cherries, and blue cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette. Entrees range from burgers (sirloin or garden) to chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella and served in a toscano sauce. The service is top-notch, as is the weekend brunch. One Rater sums it up as "the perfect restaurant to go to for a casual yet finely prepared meal." The charming sidewalk cafe has nine tables. Laura Levy Shatkin

Kitsch'n

River North

600 W. Chicago

312-644-1500

$$

American, Breakfast | Breakfast, Lunch: seven days; Dinner: Monday-Saturday

Kitsch'n River North, in the old Montgomery Ward catalog building next to Japonais and the Motel Bar, is a lot like Kitsch'n on Roscoe--same menu, same cheery decor, same retro theme--but it's about four times as big. The first thing you see when you walk in is a huge waiting area with comfortable couches and chairs and several flat-screen TVs. There are toasters, Magic 8 Balls, and Etch A Sketches on the dining tables, and the camped-up comfort food and novelty drinks--Green Eggs & Ham (scrambled eggs with spinach and ham), fried chicken with waffles, Tang martinis--are cute and moderately priced. The outdoor patio has a distinctly urban feel and seating for 70. Laura Levy Shatkin

Kuma's Corner

2900 W. Belmont

773-604-8769

F 7.8 | S 7.5 | A 8.0 | $$ (5 reports)

American, burgers | Lunch, dinner: seven days; Sunday brunch | Open late: Monday-Saturday till 1, Sunday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

The menu at this gussied-up corner tap has been completely revamped: gone are most of the bistro standards like strip steak and bacon-wrapped scallops. The focus is now squarely on bar food--but finger-lickin' bar food it is. Kuma's serves whopping hunks of juicy, lightly seasoned meat on delicious, chewy pretzel rolls in 16 metal-themed iterations (the Motorhead, the Mastodon, etc), each also available as a chicken sandwich or garden burger. My Iron Maiden burger, topped with a sinus-clearing load of cherry peppers, chipotle mayo, and pepper jack, was filling yet oddly clean-tasting--refreshing, even, for

meat. It was so good I almost forgave the kitchen for running out of avocado. There's also a make-your-own mac 'n' cheese option, appetizers like the mussels cooked in Allagash white ale with garlic and chiles, and an excellent beer list. Next time I'm trying the Slayer: a pile of fries topped with a half-pound burger plus chili, cherry peppers, andouille sausage, onions, jack cheese, "and anger." The backyard patio is great for large parties. Martha Bayne

Lula Cafe

2537 N. Kedzie

773-489-9554

F 8.4 | S 7.1 | A 7.9 | $$ (42 reports)

Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: Sunday-Monday, Wednesday-Saturday; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Closed Tuesday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations not accepted

rrr At this point I've taken dozens of people to Lula Cafe, and I don't say this lightly: it may be the best neighborhood restaurant in Chicago. One side of the menu is dedicated to cheap, surprising, delicious entrees in the $6-$12 range, like the Moroccan tagine: warm cinnamony chickpea stew with chunks of sweet potato over couscous, with fresh greens strewn on top. There's beet bruschetta, and peanut sesame noodles, and a great roast turkey sandwich. Appetizers include a shiitake-spinach quesadilla and vegetarian maki. Then there's a more expensive menu ($12-$24), as if the owners just thought, "What the hell, this'll be fun too." These items change constantly but have included a scallops appetizer that makes vegetarians very sad to be vegetarians, a roast leg of lamb with sherry-braised mission figs and cippolini onions, and an ocean trout served with brandade-stuffed peppers. I brought a friend who's a professional chef in New York, and he stuck around for hours to order nearly everything on the menu. And then we came back the next night. The sidewalk cafe seating helps to absorb the restaurant's overflow, and offers a pleasant view of the boulevard. Ira Glass

May Street Market

1132 W. Grand

312-421-5547

$$$

American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner:

Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

From the sunny hostess to the chatty server to the chef himself--Tru vet Alex Cheswick--everybody at May Street Market exudes goodwill: they even send you out the door with a complimentary little lemon poppy-seed cake. On my last visit chilled shots of a creamy potato veloute drizzled with chive juice--a fancy-pants vichyssoise--were a fine starter. Diced root veggies were separated from a toss of mixed greens by a lusty slice of prosciutto. An entree that paired delicate panfried trout with rich braised short rib was choice, but what topped all was a preposterous dessert: billed as a pomegranate tart, it was essentially an oversize Oreo, chocolate crumb crust and a thick layer of fondant, capped with a quivering crown of pomegranate foam. Served with banana ice cream and a grilled banana slice and speckled with pomegranate seeds, it's ridiculous and ridiculously good. A half-dozen

or so tables shaded by Cinzano umbrellas and surrounded by boxes of flowers and herbs stretch along

the May Street side

of the restaurant. Martha Bayne

Meritage Cafe and Wine Bar

2118 N. Damen

773-235-6434

F 9.0 | S 8.6 | A 8.0 | $$$ (7 reports)

American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: seven days; Sunday brunch

rrr Chef Troy Graves's fusion creations are elegant: escargot and black truffle ravioli with parsnip bisque, for example, or a terrine of mushrooms and smoked pheasant, served with grilled asparagus, red onion, and an artichoke remoulade. Brunch offerings are equally creative--steak and eggs comes with goat cheese grits and a thyme reduction, the Meritage Benedict with poached eggs, shrimp, cappicola, and a lobster hollandaise. For dessert there's an array of decadent treats, from a flight of ice creams and sorbets to tart tatin with apples and kumquats. The room is small and intimate; there's also an inviting outdoor dining

garden. Laura Levy Shatkin

Mon Ami Gabi

2300 N. Lincoln Park West | 773-348-8886

F 7.7 | S 7.1 | A 8.1 | $$$ (18 reports)

French | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

This casual Lincoln Park bistro--a Lettuce Entertain You collaboration with Ambria chef Gabino Sotelino--offers comfort-food classics including steak frites, a bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, and roast chicken "grandmere style," plus a range of starters, salads, and seasonal specials, among them a summer gazpacho with lobster and avocado. Raters appreciate the comfortable atmosphere, the courteous, attentive staff, and the outdoor cafe, which looks out onto the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Laura Levy Shatkin

Moody's Pub

5910 N. Broadway

773-275-2696

F 6.3 | S 6.4 | A 7.8 | $ (9 reports)

American, Burgers | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 12:40 | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

A good place to grab a burger and beer for lunch, dinner, or a late-night snack, even on Sundays. The menu is small, its centerpiece a burger that's been called the best in town (it's also been called the most overrated). Also available are fries, steak and chicken breast sandwiches, a dinner salad, and fried perch, shrimp, and chicken. The beer selection is limited, but the margaritas and sangria pitcher special are outstanding. In summer the large garden is the place to sit; in winter the two fireplaces keep it cozy--not to say smoky and very dark--inside. Good value for hungry (but not too fastidious) people on a budget--plus there's free parking next door. Ellen Joy, Rater

NoMi

800 N. Michigan

312-239-4030

F 8.6 | S 6.3 | A 9.0 | $$$$ (6 reports)

American Contemporary/Regional, japanese | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days

This swank restaurant on the seventh floor of the Park Hyatt pulls out all the stops, from a temperature-controlled wine cellar entrance to sleek 25-foot-long taupe curtains framing windows that overlook Michigan Avenue. Under executive chef Christophe David eclectic appetizers include a range of sushi and sashimi platters and rolls, caviar with creme fraiche, and a diver scallop tart with truffle vinaigrette. Main courses show seasonal and French influences: current offerings include Summerfield Farm lamb with artichokes and Brittany turbot with summer vegetables. The wine list offers a range of affordable New World reds and whites along with some pricier Bordeaux, burgundies, and Rhone wines. And a new addition is the outdoor garden patio, offering a menu of small plates and sushi from 11:30 AM

to 11 PM Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 AM to midnight Friday and Saturday. Laura Levy Shatkin

Oysy

888 S. Michigan

312-922-1127

F 8.5 | S 8.1 | A 7.8 | $$ (22 reports)

Asian, Japanese | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr Designed by local architect Douglas Garofalo, this minimalist South Loop izagaya (Japanese bistro) has two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows. Behind the long sushi bar, chefs in black baseball caps cut fish, roll maki, and greet customers. The menu at Oysy (pronounced oh-EE-she and meaning "delicious") is value conscious, with most nigiri priced under $6 for two pieces and most maki under $7. Ten grilled dishes come in at $10 and under, among them tuna steak with ponzu sauce and spicy radish, Chilean sea bass in garlic-black bean sauce, teriyaki eel, and octopus with miso sauce. Tempura options include soft-shell crab and baby squid and come with homemade soy, sesame, or garlic sauce. An interesting chef's special is the Emerald Maki: sauteed scallops rolled with asparagus, cucumber, green tobiko caviar, and a spicy sauce. At lunch the bento boxes are a good deal; a choice of entree--like perfectly grilled white tuna with a yuzu vinaigrette--comes with several pieces of maki and tiny portions of tofu salad, orange tempura shrimp, and Japanese pickles, all for $12. Service is gracious, and sidewalk seating offers a view of Grant Park. There's a second location at 50 E. Grand. Laura Levy Shatkin

Las Palmas

1835 W. North

773-289-4991

F 8.3 | S 8.4 | A 7.8 | $$$ (10 reports)

Mexican, latin american | Dinner: seven days; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight

At this sophisticated branch of the local chain, appetizers include empanadas potasinas (golden pastries stuffed with Chihuahua cheese and epazote), a seviche trio, and guacamole prepared tableside. The traditional steak taco entree was smoky and good, topped with queso blanco and chipotle jam; enchiladas, served with a choice of fillings and salsas, were stuffed with freshly sauteed button mushrooms. Other tempting options include puerco indigena, a mushroom-stuffed tenderloin served in pumpkin-seed mole; filet mignon in a tomatillo-Roquefort salsa; and a pomegranate-glazed loin of lamb. A jumbo margarita easily carried me through my meal--that and the strolling guitarist and pleasant weather on the charming back patio. Kathie Bergquist

Pegasus

130 S. Halsted

312-226-3377

F 5.6 | S 6.4 | A 6.0 | $$ (5 reports)

Greek | Lunch, dinner: seven

days | Open late: Every night

till 11:30

"Look for the wings," a friend said as I prepared to drive down to Pegasus. Sure enough, the appendages of the winged horse glow in yellow neon on the restaurant's exterior. On a Saturday night at nine my group of 13 was able to walk right in and be seated. Service was speedy--even a little pushy, in fact, but I suppose such a large party does need to have the whip cracked. Everyone enjoyed their dishes, from a fava dip, cheese filo squares, and salads to a gyros platter, Athenian chicken, and arni yuvetsaki (lamb baked in a clay pot with orzolike Rosa Marina pasta and a red wine sauce). We sampled widely from the large menu, which features a good selection of both hot and cold mezedes suitable for small-plate dining. In the warm months Pegasus offers the added attraction of a rooftop patio with a first-class view of the skyline. Susannah J. Felts

Plymouth Restaurant & Bar

327 S. Plymouth

312-362-1212

$$

American | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, other nights till 11

Longtime Chicagoans may remember some of the vanished State Street diners--places like the Ferris Wheel and the Court Restaurant where one could get a decent, no-frills meal amid comfortable surroundings. The Plymouth is a throwback to these vintage spots. The only differences are positive ones: a cheerful and homey space, a pages-long menu, and--best of all--a rooftop patio with a wonderful view of the Loop. Foodwise, there are the usual egg skillets and pancake/French toast breakfast choices, burgers and sandwiches (a hearty Monte Cristo among them) for lunch, and several dinner entrees including the classic chopped steak with grilled onions. To finish things off there are nearly a dozen desserts. The friendly bar area at the basement level is already proving popular with John Marshall Law School students, but you can also order drinks with your meal on the main level. Rob Christopher

Puck's

at the MCA

220 E. Chicago

312-397-4034

F 8.3 | S 7.1 | A 7.1 | $$ (9 reports)

American Contemporary/Regional| Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday; Sunday brunch | Closed Monday

rrr The dining room at the MCA is flooded with natural light from the 30-foot wall of windows that looks out on the sculpture garden. The fare is light and flavorful: the chicken spring rolls are served with a pungent garlic-chile sauce; roasted halibut is served with a white-bean ragout, bacon, and leeks. Sandwiches include a sirloin burger with Vermont cheddar, grilled onions, and garlic aioli, and Wolfgang Puck's signature wood-grilled pizzas are topped with everything from prosciutto and roasted red peppers to smoked shrimp with sun-dried tomatoes, leeks, and cilantro. In summer the extended outdoor patio may be the best afternoon seat in town. Laura Levy Shatkin

Resi's Bierstube

2034 W. Irving Park

773-472-1749

F 6.3 | S 6.8 | A 6.0 | $$ (5 reports)

German/Austrian | Dinner: seven days| Open late: Friday & Saturday till

midnight | Reservations not accepted

Regulars like this German beer parlor for the filling traditional fare--classics like schnitzel, sausages with sauerkraut, goulash, and potato pancakes. But the real draw is the beer. In the 70s manager Richard Stober's father, Herbert, was the first bar owner in town to serve weiss beer, and while the selection has expanded and contracter since then, there are currently 13 beers on tap and more than 60 bottled. In warm weather the tree-lined outdoor patio is lantern lit, with picnic tables for seating, and the atmosphere is generally mellow and cheerful. Laura Levy Shatkin

Rose Angelis

1314 W. Wrightwood

773-296-0081

F 8.2 | S 8.2 | A 7.5 | $$ (13 reports)

Italian | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

rrr This Lincoln Park storefront is a perennial Rater favorite. The three adjoining rooms feel intimate even when they're crowded, and the reasonably priced entrees are so large that doggie bags are the norm. The bruschetta is a rustic version with huge chunks of tomato; pizzas have a nice thin crust, and most entrees are classic Italian fare like linguine with seafood in tomato sauce and a massive eggplant parmigiana in a sweet red sauce. More ambitious are the delicate duck-filled tortelloni (served with spinach, tomato, and melted mozzarella in a cognac reduction) and a portobello ripiene. The two outdoor patios are flower filled and protected from the street. Laura Levy Shatkin

Scylla

1952 N. Damen

773-227-2995

F 9.3 | S 8.6 | A 8.2 | $$ (13 reports)

Mediterranean | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed

Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr Stephanie Izard's Bucktown operation has been getting consistently glowing press since it opened two years ago with a creative, seafood-centric menu. But in the wake of a menu revamp that broadened the focus beyond fish--and knocked the prices down a notch to boot--Scylla is hands-down one of the best restaurants in Chicago. Izard plays with flavor and texture at a jaw-dropping level of sophistication and confidence. An appetizer of grilled baby octopus paired the sweetly chewy tentaclettes with crispy slivers of grilled prosciutto, shockingly green fava beans, and spicy little ramps. My crew of four shared two appetizers (the second grilled calamari stuffed with rich wild boar sausage) and three entrees: gnocchi with clams in a heavenly poblano-truffle broth, seared diver scallops, and rare, tender slices of lamb sirloin served with a new-potato cake, spring onions, artichoke jus, strawberry compote, and a caper vinaigrette. Weird! Delish! Under pastry chef Jessica Oloroso desserts stun as well, like a "fried cream"--fried lemon Venetian cream breaded in brioche and pistachios and served over blueberry compote with creme fraiche. Outdoor deck seating is small but cozy, much like the rest of the restaurant. Martha Bayne

Sheffield's

3258 N. Sheffield

773-281-4989

$$

American, Barbecue/Ribs | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight | Reservations not accepted

The sunny beer garden at this Wrigleyville tavern has always been a draw, but now there's another reason to go to Sheffield's: barbecue. Owner Ric Hess spent months perfecting three house-made sauces (Memphis, Texas, and North Carolina style), and since mid-April he's had his wood-burning Southern Pride smokers cranking. For reasons I will never understand, there aren't many places where you can get a decent pulled pork sandwich in Chicago, but even in the early going the one here was more than respectable, served with properly tangy coleslaw and a properly vinegary (and very tasty) mustard-based sauce. Sides including red-skin potato salad, corn bread, and collards with bacon showed the care being taken in the kitchen, as did a rich clam chowder packed with bacon, potatoes, and mushrooms. The menu has lots of tasty-sounding options--a chile verde with pulled pork, gumbo and a shrimp po'boy--but next up for me, it's the brisket and baby backs, sauce on the side. There are tons of craft brews on tap and by the bottle, and the staff is chipper and superfriendly. Kate Schmidt

Tapas Barcelona

1615 Chicago, Evanston

847-866-9900

F 7.4 | S 7.4 | A 7.1 | $$ (7 reports)

Tapas/Spanish | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

By 6 PM on a Sunday evening every table on the patio of this Evanston restaurant was full, and good cheer prevailed as a table full of professors from Northwestern mingled with assorted locals and a good number of what seemed to be honest-to-God Spaniards. Amid all the fun, there was some decent if unspectacular fare. This isn't the place for the unexpected or unusual, but the traditional is sometimes executed very well. The Spanish omelet, for instance, was near perfect; bacon-wrapped dates sitting in a pool of bell pepper sauce had my companion practically drooling. Other options--like the thin grilled scallops--were not so good. Duck sausage was better, rich and satisfying, but the side of mushroom ragu was oddly bereft of mushrooms. Fortunately, there's a full list of specialty cocktails, not to mention a decent beer and wine menu. Chip Dudley

Tre

Kronor

3258 W. Foster

773-267-9888

F 8.5 | S 7.8 | A 7.3 | $$ (19 reports)

Swedish | Breakfast, Lunch: seven days; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | BYO

rrr Every morning the kitchen at Tre Kronor turns out their legendary Danish, cinnamon rolls, and a number of cheese-filled omelets, each packing enough points to top out your Weight Watchers quota for the day. Most of the foods are of Scandinavian stock, though there's one quisling burger on the lunch menu; other offerings include quiche and Norwegian meatballs on limpa bread. Tre Kronor's herring, made in-house, is a superbly moist and meaty version, and Swedish meatballs here are light, delicate, and deliciously dressed with sweet-tart lingonberry sauce. In line with the robust Viking tradition, you won't find a salad here without cheese or bacon or both; the menu is full of the kind of fortifying food you'd want to eat before heading out to herd reindeer or invade your southern neighbors. There's backyard seating under a canopy of trees. David Hammond

Twisted Spoke

501 N. Ogden

312-666-1500

F 7.1 | S 7.3 | A 7.1 | $ (9 reports)

American, Burgers | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 2, other nights till 1 | Reservations not accepted

"Eat, Drink, Ride" is the motto at this casual joint at the corner of Grand and Ogden, but most people are just eating and drinking. The place is decorated to look like a biker hangout, with several hogs half-buried nose down in the dirt outside, a grimly industrial metal interior, and a rust-covered facade. The menu offers bar munchies, burgers, and a dozen or so huge sandwiches--barbecued chicken, pork butt, a grilled portobello--all of which are served with equally huge handfuls of crispy fries. Saturday nights after midnight the Spoke offers "Smut 'n' Eggs"--breakfast and old stag movies. Up the stairs is a rooftop patio that's surprisingly airy for a biker bar, no matter how ersatz. Laura Levy Shatkin

Volo Restaurant Wine Bar

2008 W. Roscoe

773-348-4600

F 7.5 | S 7.8 | A 7.5 | $$ (8 reports)

American Contemporary/Regional, Small Plates | Dinner: Monday-

Saturday | Closed Sunday

Talented executive chef Stephen Dunne executes a constantly changing menu of small plates: sweet, plump mussels steamed in white wine and butter and flecked with parsley, steak tartare served with crunchy radish sprouts and shards of sesame flatbread. Seared scallops might come with American sturgeon caviar and leeks, a rabbit roulade with wilted spinach and corn puree. There's an artisanal cheese plate offered every night--it changes frequently but might include French favorites like Epoisses, Valencay, and Sainte-Maure or domestic selections like Humbolt Fog and Point Reyes blue. Wine from an impressive global list comes by the glass, carafe flight, or bottle, and the outdoor dining area is pretty as a picture. Laura Levy Shatkin

Wishbone

1001 W. Washington

312-850-2663

F 6.9 | S 7.3 | A 6.4 | $ (11 reports)

Southern/Soul Food | Breakfast, Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday; Saturday & Sunday brunch

The menu rarely changes, but no one seems to mind: Wishbone's combination of fast, reliable, moderately creative preparations, brisk service, and funky decor doesn't need much tinkering. Lunch and dinner feature upscale southern comfort food such as blackened catfish, chicken-fried steak, collard greens, and buttery corn bread muffins. Wishbone packs them in for weekend breakfast with platters of

reasonably priced omelets, eggs Florentine, crab cakes, and the cheesiest grits in town. The "Big Bone," at Washington and Morgan, features a partially covered "urban veranda" with seating for around 100; there's also a Lakeview location (3310 N. Lincoln) and a Wishbone associated with FitzGerald's (6611 W. Roosevelt, Berwyn). Martha Bayne

Zapatista

1307 S. Wabash

312-435-1307

F 7.7 | S 6.8 | A 7.4 | $$ (10 reports)

Mexican | Lunch, dinner: seven days; Saturday & Sunday brunch

An upscale Mexican venture, Zapatista specializes in tequila, offering more than 100 kinds, and has a modest but fairly priced wine list with many South American selections. Guacamole was tangy with lime juice, a good thing in my book; it's prepared tableside and you get to specify the level of heat. Spicy tostaditas are offered with fillings of chicken, ropa vieja, and plantain; a double-cut pork chop is dressed up with a mole manchamanteles and sweet-potato fries. The dessert tamale was bliss, gooey chocolate cake served in a corn husk. The large, umbrella-filled patio has both a restaurant side and a bar side. Kathie Bergquist ¯

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