Restaurants: In the Neighborhood, May 29, 2008 

Twenty restaurants in North Center

In the Neighborhood

Twenty restaurants in North Center

Apart Pizza2205 W. Montrose | 773-588-1550

F 7.9 | S 7.0 | A 5.0 | $ (5 reports)Pizza | Lunch: Sunday, Wednesday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 11

rrr As its amiable Italian owner will tell you, Apart Pizza is so named because in addition to larger pies they sell a bachelor-size personal piece (thus, a part of a pizza) and because, you know, great pizza is from Italy and a lot of great art is too (thus the art). The style here is northern Italian thin crust cooked in a gas-fired oven, with a few dozen topping variations, from the standard to something called the Francese (Brie, ham, and egg). The dough's fresh, the toppings are decent inching toward good on the signature Apart pizza (sausage, mushrooms, and pepperoni), and it's great for pickup or delivery. —Nicholas Day

La Bahia Mariscos4111 N. Lincoln | 773-472-4111

$$Mexican | Breakfast: friday-Sunday; Lunch, dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Hopes were high in the neighborhood for La Bahia. The bright orange awning outside and the fine wooden tables and chairs and tasteful yellow orange paint job inside all seemed to signal a destination Mexican restaurant, not to mention the prices on the window menu—$17 and $14 for the seafood entrees and $14 and $12 just for fajitas. A Sol de Mexico right here in North Center? Sadly, no. Although it boasts of specializing in mariscos and "authentic Mexican cuisine," La Bahia's nothing special. The ceviche's slight, and the fish tacos aren't as good as those served at the (BYO) Los Nopales around the corner up Western. On a recent visit even my 12-year-old daughter expressed dissatisfaction with the relatively bland arrachera skirt steak. So don't go out of your way—and that's coming from someone who lives not a hundred yards from the front door as the sparrow flies. While standing in line at the local currency exchange, I overheard the guy at the window say, "How's that new Mexican restaurant next door?" The Hispanic cashier just shook his head. —Ted Cox

Cafe 281800 W. Irving Park | 773-528-2883

F 7.6 | S 7.0 | A 6.9 | $$ (23 reports)Cuban, Mexican | Lunch: Tuesday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Reservations accepted for large groups only

You could easily drive right past this Cuban-Mexican eatery, inconspicuously located near the Brown Line tracks on Irving Park, but Raters are high on the eclectic food, big portions, and reasonable prices. "One of the best restaurants in the city for the money," says one. "Outstanding food," raves another. Main courses range from a low-key Cuban steak sandwich with plantains, yuca, and black beans and rice to a more haute blackened duck with portobello sauce. Service is prompt and friendly; Raters also praise the coffee and the weekend brunch. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Celtic Crown4301 N. Western | 773-588-1110

$Bar/Lounge, English/Irish/Scottish | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2

Irish pubs are everywhere, yet new ones are constantly cropping up. It's perplexing—when's the last time you heard someone say, "Damn, if only they'd open an Irish pub in my neighborhood, then things would really take off"? But Celtic Crown has carved out a nice little niche for itself in a crowded landscape. There are three bars with distinct personalities, so if you get tired of the action on the main floor (the most sports-bar-like environment) you can just head up- or downstairs and find yourself in a dark, intimate room or a quiet, spacious one with a pool table. The menu lists the usual mix of salads, sandwiches, a few higher-priced dinner options like strip steaks and barbecued ribs, and Guinness-infused edibles. The Reuben had piles of very thin-sliced lean corned beef, sauerkraut, and dressing on great-tasting rye bread. The Crown outdoes most burger suppliers in town simply by serving hamburgers on real buns—ones that don't break down two bites into your meal. The burger I got, cooked medium rare, was stalwart, maintaining its integrity to the very end even though it was loaded down with hickory sauce, ketchup, and a decent amount of burger juice. The fries were not good, but hey, they've also got tater tots and they were perfect. Best of all, prices are reasonable—more so than, say, those at the Grafton a few blocks northeast. —Chip Dudley

Chalkboard4343 N. Lincoln | 773-477-7144

F 8.3 | S 8.3 | A 8.3 | $$$ (7 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Tuesday

rrr Walking into the airy, elegant Chalkboard space, it's hard to believe it was formerly the gloomy Tournesol. But classy as the room is, the menu is decidedly friendly, offering dressed-up versions of classic American comfort food. Daily specials are listed on the restaurant's namesake, a giant chalkboard, but often also on a paper menu that includes chatty asides from chef-owner Gilbert Langlois. The good old combo of grilled cheese and tomato soup (which appears on the appetizer menu as roasted tomato bisque with grilled blue cheese in brioche) was right on: the soup was silky and rich, with added depth from the roasting, the tasty sandwich thoroughly dunkable. The menu changes frequently, but seasonal vegetables featured prominently at my last visit: the chips in the fish-and-chips were made from sunchokes, a pile of Swiss chard accompanied a pink seared duck breast, and tortellini were stuffed with roasted celeriac. The last were handmade by Langlois' mother, and if they seemed a little dense and chewy, well, they had the homespun appeal of lumpy mashed potatoes. —Kathie Bergquist

Cho Sun Ok Restaurant4200 N. Lincoln | 773-549-5555

F 7.2 | S 5.8 | A 6.8 | $ (8 reports)Asian, Korean | Lunch, dinner: seven days

Woo Bok Lee opened his restaurant in 1979, and it stands today as the oldest operating Korean restaurant in the city. People still line up nightly at the door for a table in the tight, smoky room, where the specialties are five varieties of naengmyeon (buckwheat noodles) and "stone pan cooking." The latter (for two or more people) involves gas burners on the table fueling a heavy stone griddle upon which a variety of seasoned meats are seared—octopus, beef, tripe, or a combination. Marinated vegetables and steamed rice (or noodles) are then cooked in the rendered juices, the rice crisps on the pan, and the resulting fabric-penetrating aromas can be whiffed down the block. Originally a North Korean specialty, naengmyeon are served cold and slippery, a bracing refreshment in hot weather, usually in light beef broth garnished with slivered cucumber or radish, hard-boiled egg, mustard, and red pepper paste. I prefer the two "dry" variations served here with hot sauce, one topped with raw, chewy skate. Unfortunately barbecue orders don't include lettuce to wrap the meat, and the varieties of panchan are fewer—and in some cases less aggressively seasoned—than those in other Korean barbecue houses. Perhaps because Cho Sun Ok is so venerable, the crowds forgive it. —Mike Sula

Feed the Beast4300 N. Lincoln | 773-478-9666

$Bar/Lounge, American Contemporary/Regional| Lunch: Saturday-sunday; Dinner: seven days| Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2

This gastropub won me over with its casually innovative spin on old favorites. A perfect example: the United Nations-like nachos, consisting of fried wonton wrappers topped with chorizo, Italian sausage, several kinds of peppers, black olives, tomatoes, and a blend of four cheeses. Other twists include barbecued duck pizza and customizable burgers (your choice of Black Angus beef, ostrich, tuna, or vegetarian). More standard entrees were just as satisfying. The spiciness of the Cajun chicken panini had my companion reaching for her glass of Dead Guy Ale; spaghettini carbonara, rife with bacon and sweet peas, was a decadent delight. The night we went a co-owner circled the dining room greeting people and introducing herself; it's refreshing to find an adventurous corner bar without pretension. —Rob Christopher

Flying Chicken Restaurant3811 N. Lincoln | 773-477-1090

$Latin American | Lunch, dinner: seven days

Luis Montoya serves rotisserie chicken made from his Colombian grandmother's traditional recipe at this bare-bones storefront. Portions range from a quarter chicken (as part of the $5.50 lunch special) to a half-chicken dinner to the family-size serving of one and a half birds. Churrasco (tender strip steak, served with plantain, yuca, potato, and rice), and picada Colombiana—a platter of bite-size bits of pork, sausage, spareribs, yuca, plantains, and a cheese-topped corn cake—are served on a rotating basis. —Ben Dooley

Glunz Bavarian Haus4128 N. Lincoln | 773-472-4287

$$$German/Austrian | Lunch: Thursday-sunday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 2

This fairly high-end German-Austrian restaurant is anchored by alcohol, with 16 beers available on tap, 20 more by the bottle, and a selection of wine drinks including May wine produced by the Glunz family (owners of the Old Town wine store House of Glunz since 1888). The bar's ambience spills over into the dining section and the patio alike. The menu is small but classic: soups, sausages (Thuringer, bratwurst, weisswurst, the last mild and delicious), and entrees of Wiener schnitzel, duck, pork, and roast chicken, all with the proper German accompaniments. The food is a step above other local German restaurants, and on our visit, at least, there was an authentic air to Glunz; maybe it was the cheroot fumes, the pile of hard-drinking men at the front, the occasional blast of oompah music, or the gemütlichkeit of owner Jim Glunz, who came by to see how our meal was. —Elizabeth M. Tamny

House of Wah Sun4319 N. Lincoln | 773-477-0800

$Asian, Chinese | Lunch, dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday

Wah Sun has had a loyal following (including a local alderman who eats here monthly) since 1978, but the restaurant's been especially good since chef-owner Mark Chiang bought it in 2001. His meat and seafood are surprisingly tender, as in a dish of melt-in-your-mouth beef with tomatoes and green pepper in black-bean sauce, or the not-too-greasy chow fun noodles with succulent chunks of all-white-meat chicken, or the Szechuan shrimp with real heat and more plump, tender shrimp than $11.25 usually gets you. The fried rice is excellent—every grain has touched the surface of the wok. The sauces tend toward gloppiness, but the flavors come through bright and clear. Mushroom snobs will be disappointed: canned 'shrooms appear in many dishes. Portions are extraordinarily generous and easily feed two. A full bar includes $5.95 tropical drinks. —Peter Tyksinski

Jury's4337 N. Lincoln | 773-935-2255

$$American, Burgers | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Every hot and happening restaurant row should have one old-school place still chugging along, resistant to all trends, and that's the function Jury's serves on this stretch of Lincoln Avenue just south of Montrose. (The sign, like the clientele, says "Since 1979," though it's actually only been in this location since 1996.) With its white-tablecloth interior and supper club menu, the place clearly aims for more sophistication than the other taverns along this strip, though its main claim to fame is still its hamburger, which won a best-burger-in-da-city contest some years back. For once one of those things got it right: this is a terrific example of the classic bar burger, a half-pound slab of quality beef seared to a steaklike char and accompanied by nothing more exotic than Grey Poupon and a manly mound of steak fries. Not surprisingly, the same char crust turns up on the steaks themselves, which rank among the city's best in their midrange price class. Otherwise the menu is the usual middle-American fare: baby back ribs, pasta, and fish dishes, all calibrated to the tastes of a mostly older audience—a Caesar salad had the absolute minimum hint of garlic and anchovy required to legally qualify as one, and fried calamari, while perfect in texture, was oddly flavorless. Stick with the red meat and Jury's acquits itself well, especially on Monday nights, when entrees are two for the price of one (up to $10). There's a patio in back, and a small sidewalk cafe where canine companions are welcome. —Mike Gebert

Kan Pou4256 N. Western | 773-866-2839

$$Asian, Thai | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | BYO

When Doungpon Morakotjantachote arrived in Chicago a few years ago, she was surprised to find that no one was baking for the local Thai community. So she started making cookies and sweets for one of the local Thai food shops. Now she and her husband have opened a full-fledged restaurant along the Western Avenue Thai strip, but as the name—Thai word for "cloves"—suggests, sweets are still the real point of distinction. Entrees like pad thai and chicken basil are typical Ameri-Thai, sweetened up for the farang palate but freshly made and pleasing. The most novel item is alien-egg-looking sakoo dumplings, little balls of spiced chicken and sweet turnip coated in cassava, the same gummy starch used for tapioca and bubble tea. But the real reward comes at the end of the meal—at the very least you'll want to sample the butter cookies brightly flavored with lemongrass, ginger, and sesame seed, or indulge in a dessert sampler made up of a changing variety of eye-opening tastes and textures involving traditional ingredients such as coconut, custard, and sweetened bean paste. —Mike Gebert

El Llano3941 N. Lincoln | 773-868-1708

$$Latin American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | BYO

The high red ceilings leave plenty of room for the numerous Colombian sculptures, artifacts, and wind chimes affixed to the walls at this steak house. Meat offerings are abundant, from carne asada and churrasco to tongue and brisket. The few fish items are mostly deep-fried, like a whole red snapper seasoned with an interesting combination of spices and set off with a squeeze of lime. Most dishes come with sides of white rice, fried yuca strips, and fried sweet plantains, which, along with menu offerings such as beet turnovers, corn pancakes with cheese, and fried potatoes, could make a meal for vegetarians. The staff is accommodating, although for non-Spanish-speakers communication can be difficult. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Lincoln Restaurant4008 N. Lincoln | 773-248-1820

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

Civil War memorabilia fills the walls and surfaces here, and menu items continue the theme, with egg dishes (this place is best for brunch) named after Confederates and Yankees alike. Portions are huge: "Please do not eat anything for three previous days if you want to have the faintest hope of finishing your breakfast," says one Rater. Though Formica and vinyl are the decorating mainstays—the bar in back reminded one visitor of a Quentin Tarantino movie set—Raters love this diner. "You can tell the owners try hard to make it a nice place," says one. —Holly Greenhagen

Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro3905 N. Lincoln | 773-248-3905

$$$English/Irish/Scottish, Bar/Lounge | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, Tuesday-Thursday till 1, Sunday till midnight

Under executive chef Jeannie Carlson, the menu at this huge bar and restaurant in a rehabbed Lincoln Avenue funeral home is a mix of British Isles standards and creative contemporary Irish bistro fare. An appetizer of lamb sausage was pleasantly light and came on an aromatic cedar plank. My friend's Guinness-and-onion soup arrived in a sizzling hot crock with a bubbling white-cheddar crust; though a bit undersalted it was still savory and satisfying. Her shepherd's pie, served in a similarly blister-inducing piece of crockery, was a hearty mix of ground lamb, carrots, and pearl onions underneath a crown of piped-on mashed potato rosettes. I opted for a relatively exotic plate of grilled sea scallops served with carrots and fingerling potatoes. The whole shebang came drenched in a rich, spicy red broth dotted with kernels of corn and redolent of star anise, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and a spice rack of other flavors that I washed down with a second glass of a refreshing sauvignon blanc. The staff do their darnedest to make you feel at home—our waiter kept promising to buy us shots. —Martha Bayne

O'Donovan's2100 W. Irving Park | 773-478-2100

F 7.0 | S 8.0 | A 6.8 | $$ (5 reports)Bar/Lounge, American, Burgers | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3; other nights till 2 | Reservations not accepted

There was a time when O'Donovan's Monday-night dollar burger attracted people in droves, but since the formula was copied by other pubs and the price went up, crowds are no longer a problem, and at two bucks a pop, these are good, decent bar burgers. The former Schulien's is now an Irish sports bar, but a not-bad one: service is sharp if uneven and the food fine if never extraordinary. On one night we got adventurous and tried the pot stickers—not a success. Otherwise this is a sturdy and reasonable sports bar, and still a bargain for burger lovers. —Ted Cox

Orange Garden1942 W. Irving Park | 773-525-7479

$$Chinese | Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | BYO

Straight from a smoky Chris Ware cartoon, this Cantonese throwback with a striking art deco facade has been around so long that even Paul Yuen, its owner for more than two decades, can't pinpoint its incarnation exactly. Without a trace of irony, the place embraces every Chinese restaurant cliche: Chinese zodiac placemats (I'm a monkey), tea for sale in a glass case under the register, and a pair of shellacked landscape murals on opposing walls. (The mural artist's son is a regular.) The Yuen family has made some changes: the booths, formerly covered in gaudy orange leather, are now jet black, and the once dizzying checkerboard floor has been retiled in a more pacific beige. Given that you must ask for chopsticks and customers still order their fried rice "extra dark," I wasn't expecting much from the kitchen. But execution is solid here. Hot-and-sour soup, though lacking a true vinegar punch, was chock-full of tofu, bamboo shoots, black fungus, and egg. Bite into the stupendous egg rolls and the next table will hear the crunch. Main dishes serve two and hover reasonably around $8. I would put Orange Garden's beef chow fun up against the best in Chicago or NYC's Chinatown. The beef is fork-tender (remember, no chopsticks) and the dish has real wok hay (literally, the "breath of a wok"). Orange peel chicken suffers from too much breading; regardless, it's a pleasing and sticky adult confection with stalks of broccoli that stanch the sugar buzz. Be sure to check out the framed picture hanging behind the register, an undated photo that captures a streetcar in front of the restaurant. Its rumble doesn't seem all that distant here. —Peter Tyksinski

Resi's Bierstube2034 W. Irving Park | 773-472-1749

$$German/Austrian, Bar/Lounge | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

Regulars like this German beer parlor for the filling traditional fare—classics like schnitzel, sausages with sauerkraut, 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 contracted since then, there are currently 13 beers on tap and more than 60 bottled. In warm weather the charming tree-lined outdoor patio is lantern lit, with picnic tables for seating, and the atmosphere is cheerful and mellow. The kitchen stays open till midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Sticky Rice Thai4018 N. Western | 773-588-0133

F 8.7 | S 7.5 | A 6.5 | $ (8 reports)Thai | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Monday-Saturday till 11 | BYO

rrr The first time I went to the northern-Thai-focused Sticky Rice it was by chance. The half-dozen return visits in the next month? Those were intentional. A wonder cabinet of Thai food, Sticky Rice, run by a charming and very patient staff, is endlessly interesting and cheap enough to serve as your substitute kitchen. Their standard English-language menu would be novel enough, with things like deep-fried quail and shrimp on sugarcane, but thanks to a translation of the lengthy Thai-language menu, the options are almost inexhaustible. I've only excavated a tiny quadrant of both, but among the standouts are banana blossom salad, Burmese-style curry, duck curry with lychees, and northern Thai larb (made with ground pork and intestine). The only real problem with Sticky Rice is that it's so hard to relinquish these known pleasures for unknowns. But be bold: you can't spend your whole life eating jellyfish salad, after all. Also, for those interested in real grub: with dishes like fried worms and ant-egg omelet, Sticky Rice is your Chicagoland insect-eating destination. —Nicholas Day

Wild Goose Bar & Grille4265 N. Lincoln | 773-281-7112

$

Bar/lounge, american, burgers | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1, other nights till midnight | Reservations accepted for large groups only

The grub served at this pub is a little above standard bar food in terms of quality and preparation. The french fries are hand cut and the chicken fingers made from scratch. As you might expect for a place with 15 televisions, the Wild Goose has a sporty vibe, and the serving sizes nod to the sports-bar crowd: the chicken focaccia sandwich came with a giant butterflied breast twice the size of the substantial bun—a single tomato slice perched on top looked like a teensy clown hat. Both that and the tuna melt came with mounds of fries and homemade slaw. Other menu items round out typical bar fare—nachos, half-pound burgers, jalapeno poppers, chili, and the like. —Kathie Bergquist

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