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Best Costa Rican restaurant

Bucktown, Food & Drink No Comments »

Travel northwest on Milwaukee Avenue to Oakley Street and find Irazu, the city’s predominant Costa Rican eatery. Settle in for signature menu items Palmito salad, yuca fries and fried plantains. For a burst of flavor, ask the server to add their sautéed hot peppers to your dish. Irazu is BYOB, but consider ordering one of their trademark oatmeal shakes. Though they’re open year round thanks to their recent addition of an enclosed outdoor seating area (heated in the winter), plan ahead as they get packed nightly. It’s definitely worth the wait, though.

Irazu, 1865 North Milwaukee, (773)252-5687,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best independent bookstore

Audience Choice, Bucktown, Goods & Services, Lincoln Square No Comments »

The Book Cellar
If no such thing as a bookstore existed and you were left the charge to create it, you’d be hard-pressed to outdo tireless but always-cheerful owner Suzy Takacs’ beloved shop in Lincoln Square. Though it’s only been open since 2004, it’s hard to imagine a Chicago without it. The store is a classic well-stocked indie bookstore, with narrow aisles stuffed to the ceiling with books and staffed by lovers of the written word who are eager to help you find the perfect gift for a nephew who likes to read or the next book you should tackle now that you’ve finished “The Art of Fielding.”  Like the internet, it’s open everyday, with late hours till 10pm five nights a week, but unlike the internet  it includes an in-store cafe that offers beer and wine alongside the usual coffeehouse fare. But perhaps most important of all for literary Chicago, the store is the city’s biggest bookstore supporter of literary events, from important touring authors to virtually every release by a Chicago writer to a bevy of book clubs and even performance-oriented events like Essay Fiesta and The Kates.

The Book Cellar, 4736-38 North Lincoln, (773)293-2665,

Audience choice: Quimby’s, 1854 West North, (773)342-0910,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best new boutique or shop opened in the last year or so

Andersonville, Audience Choice, Bucktown, Goods & Services No Comments »

Edith Hart
Not since Sofia has chic been so… well, chic. Edith Hart stocks cutting-edge brands from foreign locales such as Australia (Bec & Bridge, One Teaspoon, Paper Crown, Wildfox) that you certainly won’t find on Michigan Avenue. Young and trendy with a pulse on the world of fashion, owner Morgan Gutterman stocks her newly renovated store with everything you’ll need to become an overnight fashionista. Best of all? The store’s recently launched web store, ensuring you won’t even need to leave your nest this winter to stock up on blouses, jeans, belts and bags.

Edith Hart, 1917 North Damen, (773)252-3350,

Audience choice: Milk Handmade, 5137 North Clark, (847)833-6309,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best houseplant garden in an art gallery

Bucktown, Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

Roots & Culture
Head south on the Milwaukee Avenue traffic jam toward the Kennedy Expressway and you’ll pass an atrium of oxygen-rich houseplants luring your lungs to clean, quiet air. This is the foyer of Roots & Culture, a haven of potted greens inhabited by two cats, Quintron and Miss Pussycat. After a quick head rub they lead you into the gallery for some fresh art. The houseplant garden is tended by resident Jessica Labatte, and although the gallery used to have a root cellar, these days owner Eric May dreams of installing a sauna.

Roots & Culture, 1034 North Milwaukee,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best critical art project in Chicago this year

Bucktown, Culture & Nightlife, Loop No Comments »

Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project
Bringing together a unique team of prison activists—like Tamms Year Ten and veterans of the movement against police brutality with lawyers from the People’s Law Office who defended torture victims—and a collection of some of Chicago’s best artists, the CTJM is a sprawling illustration of the networked curating that has characterized so many great Chicago projects over the last decade. Announced to the public last March, the project seems to memorialize the 100 African-American men who were tortured by white Chicago police officers under former Commander Jon Burge. More about instigating a conversation than materializing statues, all proposals submitted will be featured in roving city-wide exhibitions or a dedicated website and are currently on view at the Sullivan Galleries through the end of the year.

(CTJM Project) at People’s Law Office, 1180 North Milwaukee,; Sullivan Galleries, 33 South State, 7th floor, through December 21

Best of Chicago 2012

Best place for children of the nineties to reminisce

Bucktown, City Life No Comments »

Milwaukee Avenue between Damen and Division
Miss the good ol’ days of analog video games and boxy blazers? Fear not, everyone born in the mid-to-late eighties! Your fond childhood memories of pop culture are alive and well on that bustling strip of Milwaukee Avenue between Damen and Division.  Start your day with a hearty bowl of Chai-rios (cheerios with a shot of chai) and Super Mario at Wormhole, then stick it to all the torrents and i-thingies in the room by heading over to The Exchange, where you can swap your outdated gaming system for slightly-less outdated things, like CDs. After suiting up in Fresh Prince-era threads at Kokorokoko, head over to the Arcade for beer and, you guessed it, arcade games. A friendly game of Pac-Man? You got it, dude!

Wormhole, 1462 North Milwaukee; The Exchange, 1524 North Milwaukee; Kokorokoko, 1323 North Milwaukee; Emporium Arcade, 1366 North Milwaukee

Best of Chicago 2012

Best breakfast spot for late risers

Bucktown, Food & Drink No Comments »

CornerStone Café
Nestled in the chaotic intersection of Western, Elston and Diversey is a modest little diner-like café. Unlike other establishments serving both breakfast and lunch at all times, CornerStone Café is not what you’d call a greasy spoon. Their corned beef hash certainly isn’t scooped out of a can and they know how to make espresso. The best part is they’re open from 7am to 4pm every day, for those of us who refuse to commence actively participating in society before it’s technically afternoon. Their menu ranges from sweet freshly made crepes to savory gourmet omelettes, such as the asparagus and French gruyere. If hair of the dog is in order, they’ve recently become BYOB.

CornerStone Café, 2753 North Western, (773) 235-1155,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best comic book shop

Audience Choice, Bucktown, Goods & Services, Lakeview No Comments »

Challengers Comics + Conversation
In four years Challengers has cemented its place in Chicago by emphasizing the comic shop as a social center for readers of all ages and interests. With art exhibits, reading groups, signings, parties and more; owners Patrick Brower and W. Dal Bush have defied the idea of comic-book readers as solipsistic misanthropes with grudges against sunlight and girls.

Challengers Comics, 1845 North Western, (773)278-0155,

Audience choice: Chicago Comics, 3244 North Clark, (773)528-1983,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best place to tip the barista by gratuitously exercising your First Amendment rights

Bucktown, Food & Drink No Comments »

Is there something about the ubiquitous American habit of lauding the right-to-one’s-opinion that compels us to relentlessly and outspokenly have one, all the time, about anything and everything? The tip jars at Ipsento, a coffee shop in Bucktown, suggest as much. There are two of them, sitting side-by-side at the register, and each day they are labeled anew with opposing preferential camps: Superman or Batman, Caramel Apples or Candy Corn, Family Matters or Full House. It’s impossible not to stuff a dollar into one or the other. But regardless of which jar gets the majority of the green, at the end of the day, the baristas are the real winners.

Ipsento, 2035 North Western, (773)904-8177,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best art gallery

Audience Choice, Bucktown, Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

Firecat Projects

Formerly the studio of artist Tony Fitzpatrick, Firecat is now a gallery founded by Fitzpatrick and Stan Klein, and recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. In addition to giving one-person shows to deserving local and emerging artists, Firecat has a rare business model in that the gallery takes no commission from sales.

Firecat Projects
2124 North Damen

Audience choice:
Western Exhibitions
119 North Peoria

Best of Chicago 2011