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Illinois Restaurants

Hotel Photo
1723 N. Halstead Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 867 0110

Rising star and culinary rocket scientist Grant Achatz (formerly of Trio and Napa's French Laundry) raises the bar on New American cooking at his techno-chic Lincoln Park restaurant. Foodies fly in from everywhere to sample his 12- and 24-course tasting menus; his plates have been known to include squab with huckleberries, sorrel, and peppercorns, and bison with Gruyère, pumpernickel, and wild leeks. Alinea, whose name comes from a typographical symbol meaning "the beginning of a new paragraph," may very well be the start of something new in exhibition cooking.

Open Wednesdays through Sundays 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm.

Big Star
1531 N. Damen Avenue
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 773 235 4039

This Wicker Park crowd-pleaser follows all the rules of a down-home honky-tonk (albeit a fake one). It doesn't take reservations, the decor approximates a dive diner, the music is loud, and it's usually crammed with boys in fedora hats throwing back shots of whiskey and tequila. While you can eat a meal here for under $10, at heart, Big Star is a seriously upscale taqueria that does not mess around when it comes to its food. In fact, it's co-owned by Chicago top chef Paul Kahan. Among the best bites: tacos al pastor stuffed with marinated spit-roasted pork shoulder, grilled pineapple, and cilantro; and tacos de Borrego bursting with braised lamb shoulder, radish, roasted scallion, and queso fresco.—Raphael Kadushin

Hotel Photo
619 W. Randolph Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 715 0708

The neighborhood surrounding it continues to gentrify, but Paul Kahan's Mediterranean-inspired restaurant remains refreshingly simple. The service is friendly and prompt, and the tables are tucked together so tightly that eavesdropping on the well-heeled young professionals who surround you is inevitable. Kahan's specialty is allowing individual tastes to shine, and his best dishes are those made from just a few perfectly prepared regional ingredients—like venison from Minnesota, locally grown cauliflower, and house-smoked trout. Another option is to duck into Avec, Blackbird's slightly dressed-down sibling right across the street. It's noisier, lined with narrow communal tables, and, thanks to its sleek wood walls, looks something like a sauna. But dishes like chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates wrapped in smoked bacon with piquillo pepper–tomato sauce, and crispy duck leg with plums are every bit as good as what you'll find at Blackbird.

Blackbird is open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 11 pm, Saturdays 5:30 pm to 11 pm; closed Sundays..

Avec is open Mondays through Thursdays 3:30 pm to midnight, Fridays and Saturdays 3:30 pm to 1 am, Sundays 3:30 pm to 10 pm.

Café Spiaggia

While the more formal Spiaggia is one of the restaurants that helped turn the Gold Coast into an haute buffet line, its Trumpified dining room (all soaring marble columns and tipsy, tilting topiary sculptures) and stratospheric prices (more than $20 for one wood-roasted sea scallop) mean you have to be in a dressy mood. If you're not, the better option is just across the hall at Café Spiaggia, where the pizzas and pastas come relatively bargain-priced and the walls are painted with frescoes of Renaissance noblemen decked out in pageboys and pillbox hats. If they all seem to be eyeing your dinner, that's no surprise: The prosciutto and arugula pizza flaunts a cracker-thin crust, and a clean toss of pasta, olive oil, poached tuna, and capers makes for one of the best lunches in town.

Open Sundays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 9 pm; Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 9:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 10:30 pm.

Charlie Trotter's

Celebrity chef and local hero Charlie Trotter's shrine to "New American" cooking is still the hottest dining ticket in Chicago. Foodies from all over gladly shell out $145 per person to sample his seven-course tasting menus made with globally available organic ingredients. Plan way ahead for a table at this Lincoln Park town house (three months for weekends). Sample dishes include poached skate wing with red curry, 20-hour braised fennel, razor clams and herb oil, lamb loin with quinoa and black cardamom mole, and organic pears with caramelized endive and burnt-hickory-syrup ice cream. Trotter still tends the stoves, despite his culinary fame (including seven awards from the James Beard Foundation); watch him in action from the Kitchen Table (one of the most coveted spots in the house—it's set right inside the kitchen). And be prepared to linger; dinner here can take up to three hours. Sample the cuisine without the cost at Trotter's to Go.

Seatings Tuesdays through Thursdays from 6 to 6:30 pm and 9 to 9:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 6:30 pm and 8:30 to 9:30 pm.

Custom House

Local favorite Shawn McClain is known for tinkering with tradition. His Spring adds a subtle Asian accent to seafood, and the homely vegetable won a glamorous makeover at his Green Zebra, with dishes like roasted spaghetti squash served with crispy chestnuts and savory yogurt. But it's Custom House that truly earns the title of new wave standard bearer. The Printers' Row kitchen establishes its heartland heart quickly with a wall of Wright-like limestone that's both homespun and chic. The same double-barreled sensibility drives the menu, ­an homage to the sheer glory of meat that includes steak, of course, but also a juicy roasted Berkshire pork chop with an unexpected side of grilled plums, and braised short ribs that are so tender they slide off the bone if you look at them wrong, or right.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 10 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 10:30 pm Saturdays 5 to 10:30 pm, and Sundays 5 to 9 pm.

David Burke's Primehouse
James Hotel
616 N. Rush Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 660 6000

Celebrity chef David Burke's Primehouse (part of the James Hotel) is a playful and more sophisticated interpretation of the classic steak house formula. Translation: You won't find any iceberg lettuce salads or gloppy vegetable side dishes here, but rather crab cakes encased in layers of thin Japanese pretzels and an impressive raw bar. Nor will you find wet-aged steaks, like you do at nearly every classic steak house in town. Every cut here is dry-aged in the restaurant's Himalayan salt–lined drying room, a flavor-enhancing process that gives the meat a subtle mineral flavor. But that's not all. In characteristic headline-making fashion, Burke bought his own 2,500-pound premium Black Angus bull—­named Prime, naturally—­to be the resident stud/progenitor for all the future steaks here. Over-the-top? For sure. Tasty? You bet.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 7 am to 3 pm and 5 to 10:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 7 am to 3 pm and 5 to 11:30 pm, and Sundays 7 am to 3 pm and 5 to 10 pm.

Hotel Photo
440 S. La Salle Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 663 8920

Top-of-the-world views and nosebleed prices match Chef Jean Joho's lofty Alsatian creations at this restaurant on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. Power brokers and foodies alike are drawn to this swank dining room for the slow-braised veal shank with wild chanterelles and Maine lobster in Gewürztraminer butter and ginger. Sharing the spotlight is Everest's 1,400-label wine list managed by sommelier Stephen McGinnis. The seven-course tasting menu is the best way to sample Joho's creations; a three-course pretheater dinner is also available.

Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 5:30 pm to 9 pm, Fridays 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm, Saturdays 5 pm to 10 pm.

Frontera Grill/Topolobampo
445 N. Clark Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 661 1434

Locals and tourists line up for gourmet Mexican fare at these lively River North twins (Topolobampo's the upscale one). Rick and Deann Bayless have been wowing diners with their pioneering new takes on tacos, beans, and sauces since 1987. The dishes, all made with fresh organic ingredients, include made-to-order tortilla chips with two salsas, pato pibil (slow-roasted duck cooked for hours in banana leaves with sour orange and achiote), and arroz a la Tumbada (a brothy Mexican paella of fresh Florida shrimp, Dungeness crab, scallops, and baby octopus simmered with roasted tomato salsa). Don't miss the fabulous raw bar, Saturday brunch, or Topo's $75, five-course tasting menu. A local crowd also gathers for the wide selection of margaritas and Mexican beers. Not surprisingly, the Baylesses have built a mini empire around their award-winning cuisine; you can buy cookbooks, sauces, and more in their on-site stores.

Frontera Grill open Tuesdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:20 pm to 10 pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 pm to 10 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 pm to 11 pm, Saturdays 10:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 pm to 11 pm.

Topolobampo open Tuesdays 11:45 am to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm, Saturdays 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm.

Girl & the Goat
809 W. Randolph Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 492 6262

When Stephanie Izard won season four of Top Chef, the victory was a tribute to her faultless sense of style as well as seamless cooking. Both skills pay off, handsomely, in her big, sexy beast of a restaurant, a Chicago West Loop It girl that distills every current dining trend. The requisite goth-goes-industrial (with a hint of barnyard) dining room is dressed up, or down, with beamed ceilings and the postapocalyptic touch of one charred wall. The clubby crowd finds its match in the endless team of athletic servers sprinting by in black T-shirts, and the menu is an all-things-to-all-hipsters smorgasbord—a scramble of locavore meets esoteric nose-to-tail-and-back-again butchering anchored by a subtle Mediterranean backbeat. Characteristic dishes include roasted cauliflower with pickled peppers and pine nuts, grilled baby octopus in a pistachio-lemon vinaigrette, goat chorizo flatbread, a full complement of innards and crudo, and pork fat doughnuts. While some of these busy plates need editing, the Girl & the Goat itself is already a perfect model of a smart, contemporary brasserie.—Raphael Kadushin

Open Sundays through Thursdays 4:30 to 11 pm and Fridays and Saturdays 4:30 pm to midnight.

Graham Elliot
217 W. Huron Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 624 9975

Perhaps Graham Elliot Bowles's stint at the Peninsula Hotel's relatively formal Avenues restaurant created a pent-up need for culinary whimsy, but whatever the backstory, the chef's eponymous restaurant in River North's Gallery District is playful enough to verge on giddy. Blasting rock music, crayon-colored light fixtures, a clubby bar and lounge, and the exposed bricks and beams of this former printing warehouse set the tone for a menu full of gastronomic gags and puns. Emblematic of the house style (which Bowles dubs "bistronomic") is the foie gras lollipop rolled in watermelon and strawberry Pop Rocks, and a drumstick-size buffalo chicken wing crowned with a foam made from Budweiser. Entrées, such as braised pork with cheddar grits, collard greens, and redeye gravy, are more restrained (some dishes don't need a punch line). Main course prices hover around $30, a price point that tends to draw the expense-account crowd; the fairly reserved demeanor of the business set is at odds with the restaurant's otherwise rowdy vibe. —Raphael Kadushin

Open Mondays through Saturdays 5 to 10:30 pm.

615 N. State Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 265 0434

Graham Elliot's latest project is all about the humble sandwich—and, says admirer Michael White, "bringing his whimsical culinary style to a fast-casual setting." The shop smells like popcorn (in a good way) and has chalkboard bathrooms where self-expression—and toilet humor—are encouraged. Waiters call out orders for pastrami on rye and house-made sodas while Graham, in white-framed glasses, greets customers. It's the most fun you'll have pre-cocktail hour, and that's before you've tried his take on grilled cheese: Wisconsin cheddar, prosciutto, tomato marmalade, and cheese curd on Pullman bread (sandwiches, $10).

Must eat: Beef short rib with baby watercress, shoestring potatoes, and pickled shallots on pretzel bread.

Chef Graham Elliot's favorite new restaurant: Giovanni Passerini's Rino, Paris

Hotel Photo
Harry Caray's
33 W. Kinzie Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 828 0966

Steaks are secondary to sports at this old-timey "clubhouse," named after the Cubs Hall of Fame broadcaster. Only Cooperstown boasts more baseball tchotchkes than this veritable museum of the game, with its own walk of fame out front and four seats from the original Comiskey Park inside. After the 2003 playoffs, the restaurant paid $114,000 for the infamous foul ball that eliminated the Cubs—then blew it up during its 6th Annual Worldwide Toast to Harry Caray. The shards are now displayed in a permanent case. The restaurant actually serves a decent slab of meat. But many fans prefer to kick back with a beer and homemade chips in the 60-foot 6-inch Bar (the distance from pitcher's mound to home plate) and watch a game on one of many big-screen TVs.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 3 pm and 5 pm to 10:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11:30 am to 3 pm and 5 pm to 11 pm, Sundays 11:30 am to 10 pm.

Lou Malnati's
439 N. Wells Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 828 9800

While eating deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza with a fork is an equally novel experience at Gino's East and Giordanos, Chicago's two other famous pizza places, what sets Lou Malnati's apart is the spicy-sweet sauce and sausage. According to local lore, Grandpa Malnati started making pies here in the 1940s, and his family has been guarding his top-secret crust and sausage recipes ever since. It's served the family well: You'll now find more than 24 Lou Malnati's in Chicagoland. Still, there's no need to hop a cab; this centrally located, casual joint, with its red-and-white checkered tablecloths and posters of Ryne Sandberg, is as Chicago as it gets.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11am to 11pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11am to midnight, Sundays noon to 10 pm.

Hotel Photo
945 W. Fulton Market
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 491 0058

It's fairly safe to say that no matter how much of a foodie you are, you'll never have experienced anything quite like what you'll find at Homaro Cantu's austere, intimate restaurant. Cantu practices what is known as molecular gastronomy, a postmodern approach to cooking that is often multisensory. While the menu is constantly changing, and some dishes are prepared in familiar ways, Cantu likes to shoot lasers at vanilla beans to extract their essence and then coat the inside of a wineglass with it. He's also fond of carbonating his fruit salsas by adding CO2 to them under pressure, and freezing everything from artichoke purée to flapjacks in liquid nitrogen. The surprising thing is how delicious his science projects taste, and how popular the place has become with jet-setters, who have been known to fly in just for the opportunity to sample the Pacific bass, which is baked tableside with heirloom tomato broth and served in a futuristic-looking polymer box. Even more startling, perhaps, is how affordable the dining experience is: Five-course tasting meals start at just $70 per person.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 5 pm to 11 pm.

Hotel Photo
The Publican
845 W. Fulton Market
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 733 9555

From the team behind Blackbird and Avec, this Fulton Market District newcomer taps into the prevailing fashion for down-home dining and restaurant patrons' hunger for blue-ribbon meat. The buzzy dining room feels like a cross between a barn and a beer hall, with paintings of torpedo-size pigs overlooking a communal table lined with 100 ladder-back chairs. But there's a lot of pedigree underlying the folksy informality—starting with the expertise of executive chef Paul Kahan and chef de cuisine Brian Huston. Their serious sourcing of organic heartland swine shines in dishes such as potted pork rillettes (a bargain at $12) and sweet, woody pork ribs, while a textbook wood-roasted chicken and smoked trout dressed up with pomegranate and apple exemplify the kitchen's easy way with less manly plates. Supersized like everything else here, the long bar offers up a snaking list of American, English, and Belgian brews to wash it all down. —Raphael Kadushin

Open Mondays through Saturdays 3:30 pm to 2 am, Sundays 10 am to 2 pm.

1466 N. Ashland Avenue
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 773 252 1466

A "schwa" is an unstressed vowel represented by a reversed and inverted letter E, but the restaurant's literary reference is more than a little misleading. From its location on a grimy thoroughfare on the city's northwest side to its decidedly unpretentious ambience, there is nothing fussy about this tiny, 26-seat bistro. For starters, there's no wine list: Like an increasing number of trendy boutique restaurants in town, Schwa is a BYOB joint. Unlike a lot them—BYOB or otherwise—it has Michael Carlson, who was recently voted one of the country's top chefs, in the tiny kitchen. And who cares if the service can be perfunctory and the hip-hop music is often turned up a little too loud? Carlson's artfully displayed entrées—which in the past have included seitan with roasted peanuts, Chinese broccoli, and mushrooms; and sablefish with pineapple, macadamia, taro root, and prosciutto—are so good we'd eat them on the curb in front of the tire shop across the street.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm.

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Table Fifty-Two
52 W. Elm Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 573 4000

Before opening this feverishly anticipated Gold Coast restaurant in a dainty carriage house, Art Smith spent ten years as Oprah's personal chef. Dinner service is like a well-choreographed dinner party: Smith himself plays the congenial host, greeting the local movers and curious civilians seated in the snug dining room. The genteel mood befits the menu of Southern classics, including a textbook buttermilk fried chicken (served Sundays only); shrimp with feathery stone-ground grits; and pan-seared catfish accompanied by crispy okra, bacon-braised collard greens, and more grits (cheese this time). Recognizing there is such a thing as too many grits, Smith wisely offers a few global dishes as well, such as pistachio-crusted chicken breast with lo mein noodles and wood-fired pizza topped with smoked duck. The dessert menu, however, remains firmly rooted in the South—take one bite of the seductive 12-layer Smith family chocolate cake, and you'll understand how Smith won Oprah's favor.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 am to 10 pm, Sundays 10 am to 7 pm; brunch served Sundays only.

1952 N. Damen Avenue
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 773 772 6170

This tranquil Bucktown restaurant, situated in a converted brownstone, is a respite from Chicago's restaurant wars. Neither the decor (vaguely Scandinavian), nor the waitstaff (quietly efficient), nor the crowd of arty foodies detract from chef Takashi Yagihashi's elegant East-meets-West cuisine. Yagihashi stuffs summer rolls to bursting with Gulf shrimp and house-smoked salmon, and adds a rousing dressing made with capers, golden raisins, and mustard. Sliced pork belly is served on pillowy buns; tofu is wrapped around Alaskan halibut and paired with a fricassee of Japanese mushrooms; and the cocoa ginger cake makes for a big, exuberant finish.

Open Tuesdays and Thursdays 5:30 to 10 pm, Fridays 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Saturdays 5 to 10:30 pm, and Sundays 5 to 9:30 pm.

Hotel Photo
676 N. St. Clair Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 202 0001

They don't call Rick Tramonto the "mad scientist" for nothing. Although Tru's chef and owner started his career flipping burgers at Wendy's, his latter-day kitchen wizardry keeps the reservation lines buzzing. And eating here is culinary theater at its best. Be ready to spend the evening ogling too-beautiful-to-eat creations: perhaps Tru's trademark "caviar staircase," a spiral of glass "steps" topped with dollops of multicolored fish eggs; or peekytoe crab with eggplant and honeydew in a green-tomato vinaigrette. The chef's nine-course menu (prepared at his whim) is also full of surprises. Although the dining room is intentionally spare, the better to let you focus on the dishes (as well as pastry chef Gale Gand's yummy confections), the walls are lined with original artwork from Andy Warhol and Maya Lin.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 5:30 pm to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 5 pm to 11 pm.

Wiener's Circle
2622 N. Clark Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 773 477 7444

There are literally hundreds of places in town that serve respectable Chicago-style hot dogs: char-grilled Vienna beef topped with mustard, chopped onions, bright green relish, a sliced tomato, peppers, a pickle spear, and a few dashes of celery salt on a steamed Rosen's poppy-seed bun. But none are tastier, or served by a more shockingly rude staff, than at this beloved shack in Lincoln Park. The service here is reminiscent of Seinfeld's famous soup Nazi—and probably best experienced after a few drinks. It's all in good fun and part of the shtick, but expect to be publicly and mercilessly humiliated if you don't order promptly and decisively.

Open Sundays through Thursdays 11 am to 4 am, Fridays and Saturdays 11am to 5 am.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.