Bucktown/Logan Square
del Toro
Lula Café

May Street Market
Hot Chocolate


Nacional 27
The Pump Room
Victor Hotel
Shanghai Terrace
Jet Vodka Lounge
Rockit Bar & Grill

Amalfi Hotel
Four Seasons Hotel
W Hotel – City Center
Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
Park Hyatt Chicago
Hotel 71

Fonda del Mar
Weiner Circle
Le Bouchon
Opart Thai
Bah Le
La Szechuan

Features on

what to eat & where to stay


A Culinary Lover's Guide to Chicago
By Antoinette Bruno and Heather Sperling
December 2006

Traditionally a top conventioneering town, for decades the culinary landscape of Chicago was one of steakhouses, punctuated by the occasional landmark fine dining establishment. Rick Tramonto, Gale Gand, Charlie Trotter, Sarah Stegner and Paul Kahan were pioneers, whose restaurants attracted serious eaters from across the country and whose kitchens garnered throngs of young talent. But save for this handful of culinary focal points, the scene was sparse. Five years ago, few would have predicted that diners from France and Spain would be traveling to the Midwestern city to experience cutting-edge 24-course degustations, or that Chicago would be the home of vast, dynamic, rapid culinary growth, or that three of its restaurants would be the focus of a global media frenzy. Seemingly overnight, Chicago changed, and became firmly entrenched on the map as a top-flight culinary destination.

The exponential growth of the past three years is made possible by the confluence of factors unique to the city: exceptional restaurant economics, enthusiastic diners, and the simultaneous media buzz generated by Moto, Avenues, and Alinea. Chicago has low rents and relatively low labor costs; combine that with a dining public with a high culinary IQ and you have a city more conducive to opening a restaurant than any other major city in the country. What’s more, diners are trusting and forgiving, a combination that allows for unrivaled creative license; they’ve been conditioned by Homaro Cantu’s edible paper maki, Graham Elliot Bowles’ lamb and altoids, and Grant Achatz’s Miro-like culinary sculptures. According to Alex Stupak, former pastry chef at Alinea, these restaurants helped pave the way for greater understanding and diversity within the Chicago culinary community and its dining clientele.

Chicago’s new culinary identity has also helped the growth of small, casual restaurants, which are blossoming in the outlying neighborhoods of the city. Chef Jason Hammel of Lula Café in Logan Square explains that “experimental restaurants don’t draw imitators, but people who want to do their own thing, and who are inspired by the diversity.” Downtown has become a “place to be” for big restaurateurs, while smaller neighborhoods like Wicker Park and Bucktown are home to high quality, intimate, chef-driven spots.

This is not to say that restaurants don’t face many of the traditional challenges to survival; particularly in Chicago, sourcing local ingredients is an obstacle and will continue to be for some time. The climate is a challenge for farmers and chefs, and though the availability of quality produce, meats, fish and vegetables has certainly increased, along with the number of chefs interested in supporting local farmers and the local economy, the winter months remain quite barren. Hammel estimates that in the summer, 85-90% of Lula Café’s summer menu is local; in the winter this number drops severely, and meat is the one of the only local products that can be consistently sourced. Around 70% of the food at Alinea comes via FedEx, a number that is even greater in the pastry department. According to Stupak, Chicago just doesn’t have the purveyors that New York and San Francisco have. Nor does it have the chefs; pastry is a relatively small field, and the dearth of pastry chefs is felt in a number of the city’s kitchens, both large and small.

As rents and expectations continue to rise, Chicago chefs will inevitably face more and more of the challenges typical of modern, dynamic culinary cities, such as increasingly high overhead, higher rents, and extreme competition. But for the time being, it remains distinctive in the scheme of industry economics, as a major city with great culinary promise and unrivaled opportunity for chefs looking to strike out on their own.

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Bucktown/Logan Square:

1466 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 252-1466

Schwa on

Beet and chocolate amuse at Schwa

Schwa is a chef’s dream: absurdly low rent and labor costs mean this 28-seat restaurant can close Saturday and Sunday, cap the evening at 34 covers, and, most importantly, use any incredible ingredient they can get their hands on. Kitchen and diners are connected in a way rarely seen in American restaurants, with the chefs serving each dish, and patrons walking through the tiny, jam-packed kitchen to get to the bathroom. There’s no wine list and no servers; Chef Michael Carlson prefers to spend his energy – and his money – playing with flavor. A beet, chocolate and bacon amuse is “a logical combination,” and butter-poached lobster pairs with gooseberries and lavender bubbles.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Quail Egg Ravioli with Ricotta, Brown Butter, Sage and Parmagiano Reggiano
  • Nicoise Olive and Strawberry Shortcake
  • Chocolate and Pumpkin with Pie Spiced Pumpkin Ice Cream
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del Toro
1520 North Damen Ave.


Del Toro on

Laminated Skate Wing at del Toro

We’d heard of del Toro from a number of chefs in the area, and within a few bites of Chef Andrew Zimmerman’s dishes, we understood why. Zimmerman’s Spanish small plates spot makes for a great chef hangout because of the fresh, bold flavors that permeate his menu of traditional Spanish dishes updated with local and seasonal ingredients. From addictive garlic and lemon-spiked fried chickpeas to freshly marinated boquerones with avocado and spring onion to duck with marcona almonds and cardamom-scented pear, Zimmerman’s flavors are spot-on.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Fried Chickpeas
  • Escalivada
  • Marinated White Anchovy Montaditos
  • Cocido
  • Crispy Poached Skate with Capers, Raisins and Pine Nuts
  • Galician Almond Cake with Majon Ice Cream
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Lula Café
2537 N. Kedzie Blvd.

Lula Cafe on

Parmigiano Panna Cotta at Lula Cafe

Chefs Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds’ food took us by surprise. We were impressed by the depth of flavor and high culinary talent of this mostly self-taught duo who are serving dishes that knock your socks off. Everything they served showed a strong culinary philosophy and exquisite attention to detail, but there’s absolutely none of the haughtiness sometimes found in this food.
    Recommended Dishes:
    Menu changes daily, but look for
  • The Ocean Trout with Brandade Stuffed Tiny Peppers
  • Parmesan Panna Cotta with Lemon Confit, Mache, Lucques Olives and Guanciale Croutons
  • Rushing Waters Rainbow Trout with Sunchokes and Winter Radishes, Serrano Ham and Saffron Butter
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May Street Market
1132 West Grand Street

An alumnus of Le Francais and Tru, Chef Alex Cheswick’s serves well-executed, seasonally-inspired food true to the ingredients. Tucked in a street west of the city, this small dining room offers big flavors and a focus on local organics.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Maytag Blue Cheesecake, Roasted Venison
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Hot Chocolate
1747 N. Damen Ave.

Hot Chocolate on

Blueberry Coffee Cake with Sweet
Corn Ice Cream Napoleon at Hot Chocolate

Mindy Segal’s sleek café is not just for chocolate lovers; but if you happen to be one, the hot chocolate flight and array of hand crafted chocolate desserts are not to be missed. While dessert steals the show in the dark chocolate dining room, the menu also offers a handful of bold-flavored comfort food entrees and savory breakfast options. What’s more, Mindy is probably one of the most passionate pastry chefs we’ve encountered. She cares about the product she uses and how she uses it. The food community is very important to her, and she is a dynamic leader dedicated to mentoring young chefs.
    Recommended Dishes:
  • Blueberry Coffee Cake, Sweet Corn Ice Cream Napoleon, Corn Nut Tuille, Caramel Corn, Blueberry Merlot Reduction
  • Klug Farm Honeycrisp Apple and Streusel Tartlet with Smokey Apple and Cider Ice Cream
  • Hooks Blue Cheese and Crème Fraîche Cheesecake with Port Wine Poached Comice Pears and Port Wine Caramel
  • Pork Tenderloin, Baby Arugula, Fig & Caramelized Onion Jam
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Lincoln Park:
North Pond

2610 N. Cannon Drive

North Pond on

Heirloom Tomatoes at North Pond

A former shelter for ice skaters now houses North Pond, Bruce Sherman’s local. Organic and seasonal restaurant perched on the edge of the beautiful Lincoln Park lagoon. Sherman was one of the first chefs to promote this philosophy in Chicago, and is a big name in the sustainability movement, both in Chicago and around the country. His wine donation program benefits organizations dedicated to educating and promoting sustainable, organic cuisine.
    Recommended Dishes:
  • Seasonal menu, but look for the Poached Halibut and Farm Egg Eggplant, Egg en Cocotte, Grilled pork with lavender poached pears
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1723 N. Halsted St.

Alinea on

Cucumber takes a new form at Alinea

Alinea is truly a culinary destination. Chef Grant Achatz has taken the food world by storm with his innovative techniques, delicate flavors and playful, engaging presentation. Diners can choose from a 12 or 24-course degustation menu with the latter lasting four to five hours. A long meal, yes, but one in which every bite and transition is specifically crafted to keep the palate excited and engaged. Since its opening in 2005, Alinea has stayed in the spotlight as one of the most forward-thinking restaurants in the country, and one that is changing our understanding of the dining process. When we visited, Alex Stupak completed the experience with his playful and provocative desserts; he’s since relocated to New York to join Wylie Dufresne at wd~50.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Croquette - Smoked Steelhead Roe, Several Garnishes
  • Duck - Mango, Yogurt, Pillow of Lavender Air
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2706 N. Ashland

Fixture has a boisterous bar, good food, friendly service, and a love for foie! Moments before the foie gras ban, Chef Sarah Nelson offered a foie tasting menu celebrating the soon-to-be contraband in all forms: in a wild mushroom tureen, pan-seared with rabbit, in beurre blanc with lobster, topping buffalo sliders, and finally gracing a peach cobbler with its decadent presence. Definitely a girl after our own heart.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Peppered Elk Carpaccio with Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese and Chestnut Honey Dressed Mache
  • Foie gras and Wild Mushroom Terrine with Fried Artichokes
  • Macaroni and Cheese with Bay Scallops and Applewood Bacon
  • Crab and Asparagus Stuffed Artichoke, Bearnaise Sauce
  • Buffalo Sliders, Caramelized Onions, Blue Cheese and Foie Gras Mayonnaise
  • Peach and Foie Gras Cobbler with Vanilla Peach Mousseline
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600 W. Chicago Ave.

Japonais on

Japanese Cheese Puff at Japonais

Within the stylishly industrial space of Japonais, Chef Gene Kato showed Chicago what real home cooked Japanese food is all about. Though he has recently relocated to Vegas, he remains Executive Chef of the restaurant group. His cuisine is traditional, but cleverly updated with local ingredients, global influences, and current techniques. The French and Asian influenced menu offers a wide variety of sushi, entrees, and specialty appetizers like “The Hot Rock”. The lounge is still a trendy destination for fashionistas who spread out on the riverfront patio for cool breezes and sakitinis.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Japanese Cheese Puff, Tofu Shiroanugo, White Freshwater Eel
  • Hiromi Carpaccio with Spicy Mirin Dressing
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Pops for Champagne
601 North State Street (at Ohio)
312-266-pops (7677)

Pops for Champagne on

Crab and Potato Sandwich at Pops for Champagne

Chef Andre Christopher spent two years under Gene Kato at Japonais, and his menu at the newly revamped and relocated Pops for Champagne is a mixture of Italian and Japanese influences. He’s installed a raw bar with sashimi and oysters and a menu of hot and cold small plates that is cross-cultural, bold flavored, and makes for surprising and delightful Champagne pairings. The restaurant and adjacent store hold over 100 varieties of Champagne, and the new location in the heart of ritzy downtown is a hip but cozy space with floor-to-ceiling windows and sparkling tabletops that beg for a group of friends and a bottle of bubbly.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Hamachi with Yuzu Vinaigrette and Lemon Confit
  • Lump Crab and Potato “Sandwich” with Citrus Aioli and Tatsoi
  • Braised Short Ribs with Prosciutto di Parma
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619 W. Randolph St.

The clean contemporary cuisine of Chef Paul Kahan reflects his attention to detail. Kahan’s flair for presentation can’t be missed as plates arrive, borne by diligent and fashionable waitstaff in a sophisticated whitewashed dining room. As one of the first independent Chicago restaurants to gain serious acclaim, Kahan’s restaurant is a culinary landmark that continues to set the standard for modern American cuisine. Rising Star Pastry Chef Tara Lane has since left the restaurant to pursue non-profit work, but two recent additions, Chef de Cuisine Michael Sheerin and Pastry Chef Tim Dahl, are sure to leave their mark.

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615 W. Randolph St.

Avec on

Bacon-Wrapped Dates at Avec

For a more casual dining experience and Mediterranean small plates that make for a great late-night bite, try Blackbird’s sister restaurant. The communal dining tables and warm wood interior create a festive and relaxed atmosphere where Chef Koren Grieveson serves simple and delicious rustic dishes. The restaurant does not take reservations and the wait is standing room only.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Chorizo Stuffed Dates
  • Crostini with Botarga and White Bean Purée
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945 W. Fulton St.

The dining room at Moto on

The dining room at Moto

A peek inside Chef/inventor Homaro Cantu’s subterranean kitchen is like looking into a scientific laboratory, playpen and bomb shelter all at once, complete with gases, a class 4 laser, twisted and magnetized steel utensils, and an ominous flashing red light that illuminates the scene whenever the laser is in use. In the sophisticated, elegant dining room above, dinner is in the form of three degustation menus that, as projections of Moto’s “vision in the post-modern movement,” boldly go where few dishes have gone before. A doughnut transmogrified into a sprinkle-topped, light as air tower of fluff, and a scallop with flourless, egg-less passion fruit noodles and buttered popcorn cream are served by chefs who double as wait staff (staff rotates from the front to the back of the house throughout the year). Its innovative food and service program promises to take diners to the next level of culinary experimentation, and evoke a delighted laugh or two in the process.
    Recommended Dishes:
  • Maple Squash Cake
  • Fish cooked tableside in a polymer box
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676 North St.Claire St.

Tru on

Hot & Cold King Oyster Mushroom at Tru

In any city, as the times change so do the trends, and the old guard can easily find itself outdated. Not so with Tru, Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand's 4-star art gallery of a restaurant that continually reinvents itself and remains a pillar of Chicago fine dining. The latest incarnation is led by consulting chef Laurent Gras of Fifth Floor fame. His dishes are sophisticated, elegant, and worthy of the Gerhart Richters and Sugimotos that adorn the walls. Sommelier Chad Ellegood matches the cuisine with intelligent old world pairings.
    Recommended Dishes:
  • Hot & Cold King Oyster Mushrooms, Caviar
  • Artichoke Soup, Ricotta Gnocchi, Olive Emulsion
  • Parmesan, Ricotta, Mascarpone, Brioche and White Truffles
  • Apple Far Breton
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200 N. Columbus Dr.

Chef Noah Bekofsky’s dishes at Aria reflect an interest in understanding the traditional foods of different world cultures. Aria’s design matches Bekofsky’s fun, eclectic cuisine, with Central and East Asian highlights, including a sleek, illuminated sushi bar.

    Recommended dishes:
  • Lamb Chop Caprese Salad
  • Crispy duck breast with caramelized Endive and Fig Salad
  • Nan with Yellow Lentils and Indian Yogurt
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Charlie Trotter's
816 West Armitage
Chicago, Illinois 60614
773 248-6228

Charlie Trotter's on

Veal Tongue, Cheek and Sweetbread at
Charlie Trotter's 19th Anniversary Dinner

Trotter’s has been one of the most important restaurants in Chicago, and in the country, for nearly 20 years. Charlie Trotter’s kitchen produced three of the country’s most important culinary wunderkinds – Homaro Cantu, Grant Achatz and Graham Elliot Bowles – and continues to set the standard for fine dining. Trotter is one of America’s few culinary giants and one of its greatest culinary leaders; his Culinary Education Foundation is dedicated to supporting careers in the culinary arts. At the helm of the kitchen for over 10 years is the able Matthias Merges, who has helped Charlie Trotter maintain the consistently high standards that he is known for.

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130 S. Green St.

Butter on

Lobster Fricassee at Butter

Chef Ryan Poli and Pastry Chef Kriss Harvey make quite a pair; at the stylish Butter, they’ve hit their groove, serving elegant, inventive dishes whose flavors jump off the artfully-crafted plates. Poli’s dishes are as texturally sound as they are aesthetically pleasing, and his passion for top-notch ingredients and educating diners shines through with his sustainable caviar menu (the only one in the city, as far as we know), and his flight of exotic salts: Hawaiian Black Lava, Himalayan Earth salt and Portugese Cream salt, to name a few.

*Since our visit, Ryan Poli has relocated to Arizona

    Recommended Dishes:
  • House Cured Atlantic Salmon with Yuzu-Chile Vinaigrette
  • Mascarpone Angolotti with Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Chestnut Confit, Celery Root Froth and White Tuffles
  • Lobster Fricassee
  • Mock Risotto of Honey Crisp Apples, Date Puree, Almonds, Bay Leaf Ice Cream
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Le Colonial
927 North Rush St.

Le Colonial on

Lobster Salad at Le Colonial

Designed to evoke the cosmopolitan colonial style of 1920s Southeast Asia (think rattan, palm fronds and mahogany), Le Colonial features fine dining Vietnamese cuisine, with dishes like Cari Tom (shrimp curry with eggplant and basil) and Lobster Salad with Lotus Roulette.

    Recommended Dish:
  • Goi Cuon (fresh spring rolls)
  • Cari Tom
  • Cha Chien Saigon (whole crisp red snapper)
  • Lobster Salad with Lotus Roulette
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Peninsula Hotel
108 E. Superior St.

Avenues on

Lobster with Yuzu Caramel and Cucumber
Noodles at Avenues

The sumptuous dining room of Avenues in The Peninsula is an apt stage for Graham Elliot Bowles’ artful, innovative cuisine. His dishes are decadent paintings on a plate, while his flavors and textures dance on the palate. Prepare to be amazed by this young chef who, at barely 30 years old, is one of the most promising culinary talents in the country – and he has a sense of humor, too. A few classic dishes to appear in reorganized form; notably, caesar salad as romaine hearts wrapped in white anchovies and placed atop a fried crouton oozing melted Parmigiano. Sommelier Michael Muser matches Bowles’ exceptional energy, and brings with it a passion for wine and creative pairings.

    Recommended Dis
  • Lobster, Yuzu Caramel, Cucumber Noodles
  • Risotto, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Truffles
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980 N. Michigan Ave.

Spiaggia on

Marinated Sardines at Spiaggia

Elegant flavors, expert presentation and excellent tastes come together at Spiaggia, one of the nation’s few 4-star Italian restaurants. The Michigan Avenue dining room overlooks the Lake as well as the bustling Magnificent Mile, and while views alone are extraordinary, it’s the cuisine of Chefs Tony Mantuano and Missy Robbins that makes the restaurant a culinary classic. The menu of elegant, updated Italian dishes is a blend of tradition and well-researched innovation.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Marinated Sardines
  • Guinea Hen Wrapped in Pancetta with Umbrian Black Truffle Sauce
  • Ricotta di Bufala Ravioli with Beets and Poppyseeds
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440 W. Randolph St.

The dramatic, 13,500-square-foot space, complete with a Champagne and caviar tower in the center of the dining room, makes a clear statement that N9ne is designed to impress. Chef Jesse Fultineer’s menu offers a wide variety of seafood and steaks, complemented by creative, full-flavored sides. Don’t miss an after dinner drink upstairs in the slick Ghost Bar.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Steaks, Black Cod with White Miso
  • Egg salad on Filo pastry
  • White Asparagus with White Truffle Vinaigrette
  • Double Pork Chop with Boccoli Rabe and White Corn Grits
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4471 Lawn Avenue
Western Springs

Vie on

Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Chestnuts, Fresh
Thyme, Honey and Brown Butter at Vie

Chef Paul Virant makes the drive to Western Springs well worth it with his creative menu and sophisticated dining room. He applies his philosophy of simplicity to best-quality produce; each item on a dish can stand alone, but together they inform one another and create an entirely new level of tasting experience.
    Recommended Dishes:
  • Columbia River Sturgeon with Hen of the Woods and Lobster Mushrooms and Smoked Tomato Mayonnaise
  • House Cured and Smoked Sturgeon, Creamed Beets, Preserved Lemon and Dill
  • Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Chestnuts, Fresh Thyme, Honey and Brown Butter
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Nacional 27
Nacional 27
325 West Huron St.

Nacional 27 on

Hibiscus Margarita at Nacional 27

2005 Rising Star Bar Chef Adam Seger is defining modern mixology, one innovative and artfully-crafted concoction at a time. Seger’s creations stretch the boundaries of cocktail flavor profiles, incorporating new kitchen technologies which have made a natural home at his bar. His dedication to the craft seemingly knows no bounds; most recently he’s been crafting his own bitters, which can be found behind the bar at both Nacional 27 and Osteria Via Stato. At Nacional, together with Executive Chef Randy Zweiban, Seger creates a seasonal culinary-mixology fusion.

    Recommended Drinks:
  • Blackberry Caiparihna
  • Homemade Pims No. 4 and Limeade
  • Heirloom Tomato Mojito
  • Hibiscus Margarita
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The Pump Room on

Martini Apple at the Pump Room

The Pump Room
1301 N. State Parkway
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 266-0360

Bar Chef John Kinder infuses the classic, stodgy Pump Room with spice: sage margaritas, a lemongrass, kaffir lime and bird chile martini, and a D’anjou pear cocktail spiked with fresh nutmeg and a clove tincture, to be precise. He’s thrown the noxious neon Apple Pucker in the trash, and while the old-time crowd occasionally objects to his fresh Martini Apple, his energy and experimentation breath new life into an old-school spot.

*since our last visit, John Kinder has relocated to MK Restaurant

    Recomended Drinks:
  • Sage Margarita
  • Martini Apple
  • Pear-adise Cocktail
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Victor Hotel
311 N. Sangamon St.

Find your way to the end of Sangamon street, and follow the vintage neon sign to an unusual space reminiscent of an art gallery. Shelves of champagne and liquor tower up to the ceiling behind the bar, and hot thirty-somethings sip cocktails while perched on modern furnishings.

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Shanghai Terrace
Peninsula Hotel
108 E. Superior St.

Modeled after a retro Shanghai supper club, the dining room offers Cantonese and Shanghai specialties. Black leather doors reveal a clubby upscale bar, where elegant cocktails are served fireside in the winter and on the terrace during the summer.

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Jet Vodka Lounge on

Cocktails at the Jet Vodka Lounge

Jet Vodka Lounge
1551 N. Sheffield Ave.

Jet has fun with its theme, with sleek white leather banquettes and a flight schedule of vodkas and video projections. A flight of vodkas is served in cylinder shot glasses that sit in the sunken ice coolers at your table.

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Rockit Bar & Grill
22 W. Hubbard St.

Club owner Billy Dec opened this two-story bar and grill two years ago; with exposed beams and brick walls, the décor is a perfect backdrop for Chef James Gottwald’s upscale bar food. The upstairs lounge has pool tables, plasma TVs, and plenty of star-gazing possibilities.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Kobe burger with Truffled French fries
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1622 W. Belmont Ave.

Bungalow offers good cocktails and over twenty wines by the glass, all served in a dark wood, warmly lit lounge space. A fireplace and a neighborhood feel makes this a favorite low-key spot on bustling Belmont Ave. The name refers to one of the city’s dominant housing styles: the Chicago bungalow, a small 1½ -story brick house with a gabled roof that at one time made up nearly 1/3 of the houses in the city.

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The Four Seasons on

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes for
brunch at the Four Season

Four Seasons Hotel
120 East Delaware Place
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 280-8800

One of the more elegant of the downtown hotels, the Four Seasons offers comfortable rooms with personality and expansive views, plus great amenities: an excellent gym, pool, free wireless and a full service spa with creative seasonally-inspired therapies (currently a wild sugarplum mani-pedi, followed by a plum tart and spiced tea). Staff is young and enthusiastic, and Executive Chef Kevin Hickey’s brunches are the stuff brunch legends are made of.

Rooms: 293 rooms, 42 suites
Rates: $305-$480 (standard rooms)
Credit Cards: American Express, Carte Blanche, Visa, Discover, Diners Club, MasterCard

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Amalfi Hotel
20 W. Kinzie St.

Just blocks from Michigan Avenue and the theater district, this fashionable boutique hotel caters to both business travelers and tourists, with its convenient location in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, spacious bedrooms and bathrooms, and free wi-fi. The warmly-decorated red and orange rooms are a great price and the aim is most definitely to please, with “experience designers” there to accommodate guests’ needs, and free breakfast on every floor for those in a hurry to get on with their day.

Rooms: 215
Rates: Double ($209, Queen; $229, King), Suite ($359)
Credit Cards: American Express, Optima, Visa, Discover, Diners Club, MasterCard
What to do: Chicago’s First Lady, located a few blocks away, offers 90 minute tours of the Chicago River and the history behind the city’s famous architectural landmarks. Tours operate from May-November.

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W Hotel - City Center
172 West Adams Street

The W City Center offers everything we’ve come to expect from this stylish hotel chain: sleek, modern décor, a “see and be seen” lobby and lounge, hip meeting spaces, and spacious, comfortable rooms (with fantastic goosedown bedding!). The decor has a glamorous 1940’s feel, the hotel offers several dining and drinking destinations including Restaurant we, which serves up traditional Tuscan fare, and Rande Gerber’s popular Whiskey Blue, known for its excellent views of the city skyline. Unfortunately, wireless Internet is not free.

Rooms: 390
Rates: $289-$359
Credit Cards: American Express, Optima, Visa, Discover, Diners Club, MasterCard
What to Do: Millennium Park is one of the newer tourist attractions, boasting a Frank Gehry-designed outdoor pavilion, interactive fountains, gardens and public art displays like the popular giant metallic bean. Stop by the patio of The Park Grill for a drink, a Kobe Beef Burger, and some people watching.

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Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
20 East Chestnut St.

From the design of the bulding itself, a towering structure of white opaque glass by Parisian architect Jean-Paul Viguier, to the sexy rooms to the location, Sofitel is a gorgeous and convenient place to stay. Rooms are light, airy and modern, with floor to ceiling windows that offer stunning views of the city.

Rooms: 415
Rates: $405-$475
Credit Cards: American Express, Optima, Visa, Discover, Diners Club, MasterCard
What to Do: The hotel is located in the vibrant shopping and nightlife area of Rush Street, a popular boulevard lined with sidewalk cafes perfect for people watching. If shopping isn’t of interest, stroll the shores of Lake Michigan or hit Oak Street Beach for some sun.

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200 N. Columbus Dr.

Designed in a classic contemporary style, this large hotel plays host to travelers, business conventions and extravagant events. Our favorite part was the Lake Shore Athletic Club, located adjacent to the hotel – a great amenity, but you have to pay for it. Fairmont is located in the heart of downtown Chicago and offers an array of conveniences including a Starbucks, a large ballroom, and a great pan-asian restaurant, Aria.

Rooms: 692
Rates: Single ($199-$339), Double ($199-$339), Suite ($600 for one bedroom; grand suites range $1,500-$3,700)
Credit Cards: American Express, Optima, Visa, Discover, Diners Club, MasterCard
What to Do: Grant Park, an original Chicago landmark, hosts festivals almost every week during the summer months. With plenty of live music and food (especially during the famous Taste of Chicago in July), the park offers entertainment, beautiful landscaping and excellent views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline.

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Park Hyatt Chicago
800 North Michigan Ave.

A sleek, modern lobby invites you into this sexy and luxurious hotel, where small details like two-person bathtubs with shutters that open into the bedroom and a bowl of apples in every room make for a truly luxurious experience. It’s not hip and trendy, but undeniably stylish. A sophisticated restaurant, Nomi offers American fine-dining with French accents and a great wine program run by Rising Star Sommelier Fernando Beteta.

Rooms: 203
Rates: $525-$640
Credit Cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard
What to Do: It’s hard to avoid shopping when Michigan Avenue’s stores are right outside your front door. For a bit of culture, two of Chicago’s best-known theatres are only a few blocks away; look to The Looking Glass Theatre for avant-garde adaptations of original stories and Drury Lane Theatre for musicals.

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Hotel 71
71 E. Wacker Drive

When we visited Hotel 71, a smaller hotel owned by a group of former Ritz-Carlton executives, it was still in under renovation, but promising nonetheless. We look forward to revisiting the finished product, which offers stylish rooms at more reasonable prices than some of its bigger named Michigan Avenue counterparts.

Rooms: 454
Rates: $149-$284
Credit Cards: American Express, Visa, Diners Club, MasterCard, Carte Blanche, Checks, JCB

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Chef Andrew Zimmerman gets classic Mexican at Fonda del Mar and modern Indian at the recently opened Marigold.

Chef Andre Christopher loves Weiner Circle in Lincoln Park for a late-night double-charred cheddar dog with cheddar fries and Le Bouchon in Bucktown for a perfect steak frites.

Pastry Chef Kate Neumann goes to Opart Thai on Western for red duck curry.

Chef Michael Carlson gets Korean BBQ from one of the many 24-hour joints on North Western near Foster, and bahn mi sandwiches from the Vietnamese sandwich shop Bah Lei.

Chef Ryan Poli gets flash-fried empress crab at Lao Szechuan with his kitchen after work.

Chef Grant Achatz swears by ham and cheese sandwiches with everything (hold the hot peppers) from Potbelly Sandwich Works.

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