It’d be easy to drive right past the tiny brick building painted blue in Albany Park that houses smalls. smoke shack, unless you have your windows down, in which case you’ll stop, unable to resist the alluring scent. There’s not a bad dish on the menu. There’s not even an okay dish—it’s all great, from standards like beef brisket and fried chicken to specialties like Filipino BBQ pork and curried cauliflower… it’s tough to choose which favorite to order, but once you do, sit next door at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge and have a drink while you wait. Then kick yourself for loving smalls. so much that you can’t help but tell everyone about it, even though you want to keep it your little secret. The wait might get longer, but it’ll always be worth it.
4009 N. Albany, 312.857.4221, smallschicago.com
—Jeffrey Brown, cartoonist (Lit 50)
Best of Chicago 2015
Crabbby Kim’s Bikini Bar
A bachelor party should include some mildly sexist element that might annoy the bride, but no deal breakers. Hustling the groom out of VIP’s Gentlemen’s Club after he barfs under the table is a bit much; Crabbby [sic] Kim’s is just enough. Few straight chicks would care to hang out in a sports bar listening to Buffett, sipping Corona, munching a half-pound hamburger (only $3.50 on Thursdays and Sundays) and surrounded by dudes with mullets who are ogling the shapely barmaid dressed in a skimpy two-piece and high heels. That’s what makes Crabbby Kim’s an ideal place to say goodbye to being single.
3655 North Western
3940 West Lawrence
Best of Chicago 2010
Marie’s Pizza & Liquors
Snaking through the liquor store that connects to the low-ceilinged dining room, you can’t help but admire the live jazz musicians, the vinyl red booths or the way the pearl onions bob near the bottoms of one-ounce martini glasses. Eating excellent thin-crust pizza in Chicago amid wood-paneling and seventies-embossed mirrors is our kind of scenery.
4127 West Lawrence
Best of Chicago 2010
The reliefs at Von Steuben Math and Science Academy
The WPA-era murals featured at Lane Tech and other Chicago Public Schools through The Chicago Mural Preservation Project are widely known. While these works of art vividly depict scenes from American and world history, the artwork at Von Steuben Math and Science Academy seems to be aimed at one particular group—teenaged boys. Nestled along the North Branch of the Chicago River and surrounded by a walkway filled with wildflowers and willow trees, the artwork is a series of reliefs running underneath the cornice of the school building. The first one depicts a football player in an old Knute Rockne-era helmet. The second, a petite young woman covering her breasts with her forearms. The third shows the woman with her forearms opened, exposing her breasts for all to see. Football? Breasts? Is there anything else that a 15-year-old boy could possibly be thinking about?
5039 North Kimball
Best of Chicago 2009
Chicago crosswalk scofflaw program
In early June, a most amazing news report caught our attention: In Albany Park, police officers posing as pedestrians had written more than a hundred warning citations to motorists who violated safe crossing laws. Eureka! You mean Chicago is going to become a civil place for pedestrians? Could this be the solution to the city’s budget problem as the city decides to ticket the thousands of drivers who treat crosswalks as a one-sided game of chicken? Alas, so far we’ve not heard more of it.
Best of Chicago 2008
Arun Sampanthavivat came to Chicago for graduate study at the University of Chicago; he stayed to create America’s finest Thai restaurant, a must-stop on every culinary tour of town. No menu will be presented; instead your waiter will quiz you on your preferences, and then bring you twelve courses prepared accordingly. With a fixed-price of $85, expect to spend more than $100 a head after wine, tips and taxes. But the sensuous decadence and endless flow of dishes will leave your taste buds in a state of euphoric stupor for weeks to follow.
4156 North Kedzie (773)539-1909
Best of Chicago 2002
Prodigal Son Bar and Grill
Maybe it’s just the bar’s proximity to the old Lounge Ax that makes us a little nostalgic when we go there, or maybe it’s just the presence of an underground live music club in sports-bar-saturated Lincoln Park. Either way, if the shows aren’t good, people won’t come, and ever since MP Shows (the entity behind shows at the Fireside Bowl, among others) started booking talent into the Prodigal, the shows have been good, so people have been coming. Everything from doom metal to shoe-gazer indie rock to hip-hop might play at the Prodigal during any given week, and in a town that often suffers for lack of small venues, it’s been a godsend.
2626 North Halsted
(Prodigal Son is closed)
Audience choice: The Abbey Pub
3420 West Grace
Best of Chicago 2002