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Best sound art

Culture & Nightlife, Loop No Comments »

Shawn Decker’s “Prairie”
“Prairie” at the Chicago Cultural Center emulated the sounds of a Midwestern prairie—especially its insects—using hundreds of tiny speakers attached to rods, poking up in a field like tall grass. These speakers generated random clicking rhythms according to a computer program. It was simultaneously meditative and surprising, just like nature itself.

Best of Chicago 2013

Best waiter in a pizzeria

Food & Drink, Loop No Comments »

The Chach
It’s an off-night in the off-season, so you venture inside the always-packed Chicago-style pizzeria that has the good fortune to be located just a bean’s throw from Millennium Park. Your waiter, a fit late fiftysomething fellow with a bushy gray mustache who looks like he just stepped off a firetruck, attacks the table with the brisk but friendly demeanor of a server who knows how to keep the folks happy and the tables turning. Your first time here, you ask him what he recommends and he tells you firmly the “Rudy’s Special.” You comply. At the end of your meal, when he’s checking back on you, you ask a small question about the place. And then it happens. Time stands still, or at least your waiter, who goes by “The Chach” does. He tells you everything you want to know and much more. You learn about his life. He learns about yours. He tells you the history of this restaurant, and the Rudy Malnati branch of the legendary pizza family, which owns this small chain. You realize that, for better or worse, you’ve never quite experienced a waiter like this. As you talk, he welcomes you into his “family” and tells you about the customers who always ask to sit in his section, some of whom come from far away to relive the experience. A half hour later, you’ve been “Chachified.”

Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta, 61 East Madison, (312)236-1777,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best place to get your bag lunch

Food & Drink, Loop, River North No Comments »

Protein Bar
The lines might get long at this relatively new local chain, but they run pretty fast. Quinoa galore for the health-conscious crowd, delicious (yes, delicious) salads and highly energizing juices. Cute decor to boot.

Protein Bar, multiple locations, (312)629-3609,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best El station to witness a free musical performance

City Life, Loop No Comments »

Jackson Red Line
No matter what time of day, the Jackson Red Line station is a sure spot to see spontaneous live acts. From rap battles to father-son duets, music is almost always in the air of the underground. Other performances might include a woman hula hooping to Latin music, another might be a woman vaguely resembling Aretha Franklin who sings just as soulfully as the diva. On occasion, the beat of drums—real or improvised via the bottom of a bucket – compete with the roar and rattle of approaching trains clinking along the tracks. Three young men can often be found singing in the tunnel that connects the Blue Line to the Red at Jackson. It’s a fact: Jackson is ridden with rhythms.

Best of Chicago 2012

Best theater production in the last year or so

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife, Loop No Comments »

“The Iceman Cometh,” Goodman Theatre
Sure, the NATO thing was a big deal. But only a few blocks away, another event of enormous international significance was going down. The Goodman Theatre’s  pummeling production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” revelatory in its newfound sense of ensemble, saw audience members from eight countries and forty-six states, and became the most successful production in the Goodman’s eighty-seven-year history. Featuring an all-star team of Chicago talent—Marc Grapey, John Judd, Patrick Andrews—theatergoers were also too thrilled to welcome back old friend Brian Dennehy (with all his craggy brilliance), acquaintance Nathan Lane, and new pal Stephen Ouimette (who ripped our hearts out) onto the Albert stage. On Kevin Depinet’s set right out of a postmodern opera, Robert Falls directed a freakin’ five-hour play with a completely sold-out run. Only in Chicago.

Audience Choice: TIE: “Black Watch”/National Theater of Scotland/Chicago Shakespeare, “Death and Harry Houdini”/The House Theatre, “Follies”/Chicago Shakespeare, “The Hunchback Variations Opera”/Theater Oobleck, “The Jackie Wilson Story”/Black Ensemble Theater, “Jitney”/Court Theatre, “Sweet Bird of Youth”/Goodman and  “Jersey Boys,” “Kinky Boots” and “Wicked,” all Broadway In Chicago

Best of Chicago 2012

Best newish downtown attraction

City Life, Loop No Comments »

Skydeck Ledge
The Skydeck Ledge at the Willis Tower is one of the city’s newest and most unique sightseeing attractions. There are four ledges which extend outward four feet from the building hovering 1,353 feet over street level. The ledges are constructed out of a heavy-duty transparent plexiglass allowing you to step out from inside the Skydeck producing a feeling like you’re walking on air. For those afraid to take the leap, you can still enjoy the already awesome panoramic view of the city.

Skydeck Ledge, 233 South Wacker,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best Italian breakfast

Food & Drink, Loop No Comments »

The Amatriciana al Forno at the Florentine
“Make no little plans,” Daniel Burnham once said. And that goes for breakfast. Working in what is now an upper-floor kitchen in a Burnham-designed building in the financial district, Florentine executive chef Chris Macchia heeds the building designer’s advice—crafting meals you wouldn’t expect to find outside of Italy. Macchia has traveled through Italy extensively during the past ten years or so, taking notes on old-world meals like the Amatriciana al Forno breakfast. This comforting classic plate of sunny side up eggs, spicy tomato sauce and pancetta stuck with us like the enduring Burnham quote. And we felt like a million bucks starting our day off in this historic bank building, Continental & Commercial National Bank, which was renovated in 2010 to the tune of $396 million. It’s now a JW Marriott. Buon Giorno!

The Florentine, 151 West Adams, (312)660-8866,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best place to enjoy a bag lunch by the river

City Life, Loop No Comments »

Vietnam Veterans Memorial (formerly Wabash Plaza)
Your job downtown might suck, but if you can spend your lunchtime at this site you might start considering yourself lucky. Plenty of seating areas right by the river, facing some of the most visually impressive buildings in the city, such as the Marina Towers.

The Riverwalk, Wacker Drive at Wabash

Best of Chicago 2012

Best tamale food truck

Food & Drink, Loop No Comments »

The Tamale Spaceship
Manny Hernandez and his masked, sombrero-ed crew travel the Loop in a truck (they call it their spaceship) full of the best tamale options in town. From the Yucatecan-style roasted pork tamale with tomato-habanero sauce and purple pickled onions to the chicken barbacoa-style tamal topped with Michoacán green peanut mole, the menu is seriously a-maize-ing. Keep track of the spaceship stops through Twitter (@TamaleSpaceship101). A set schedule includes lunch gigs (11:30am-1pm) at Madison and Wacker on Tuesdays; Wabash and Van Buren on Wednesdays; Clinton and Lake on Thursdays; and Dearborn and Monroe on Fridays. Ask about tamale wine pairings. Seriously.

The Tamale Spaceship, (312)909-7009,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best shoe repair

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

Broadway Shoe Repair
No shoe is too far gone to benefit from a little TLC at Broadway Shoe Repair. Studded heel? No problem. Broken zipper? They’ll fix it. Simply drop your downtrodden, broken kicks off here and pick them up within a week, good as new. With a price tag around $10 per pair, your feet will surely thank you and you’ll save a bundle on replacing your favorites.

Broadway Shoe Repair, 3171 North Broadway, (773)472-8800

Audience choice: Shoe Hospital, 318 South Dearborn, (312)922-7518

Best of Chicago 2012