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Best place to drink caipirinha

Food & Drink, Near North 1 Comment »

Fogo de Chao
Caipirinha is a Brazilian cocktail with fresh limes, sugar, ice and cachaça—a national spirit made from sugarcane. While the correct pronunciation may be challenging (Kai-Pee-Reen-Ya), its sweet and refreshing flavor is getting popular in Chicago. We’ve tried many caipirinhas in the city, but Fogo de Chao still does it better. In addition to the traditional recipe with limes, they also have variations with passion fruits, tangerines or strawberries. In any flavor, a strong tasty drink to go with savory meat cuts and an impressive salad bar—that’s the right way to experience the Brazilian way of life.

Fogo de Chao, 661 North LaSalle, (312)932-9330,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best foreign cultural center in Chicago

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife, Lincoln Square, Near North No Comments »

Instituto Cervantes
Foreign cultural centers are under-appreciated assets of a city like Chicago. Often established by the governments of various nations, they serve as a sort of home away from home for the various expats and émigrés who are now living in Chicago. But their offerings to the rest of us risk getting lost in the noise of the city’s larger cultural entities, and that’s unfortunate. In addition to offering classes in the native tongues of whatever nation they serve, they often produce and promote singular cultural activities, from cinema, to literary, to academic forums to visual arts and dance. Instituto Cervantes, which opened a beautiful new space in River North a few years back, has an art gallery that offers a regular rotation of high-quality exhibitions, along with a spacious auditorium in constant use. We’ve caught flamenco performances, classical music, a panel on Spanish graphic novelists and appearances by Granta’s Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists in the space, for example, along with an appearance of Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia at the space’s inauguration in 2009. What’s especially compelling about Cervantes is that, though it is founded and funded by the government of Spain, its mission is the promotion of its language, which means it features the cultures of all Spanish-speaking peoples, including most of Latin America. In a country where the Latino minority is becoming a major part of its identity, Cervantes offers Americans an easy path to increased knowledge and appreciation.

Instituto Cervantes, 31 West Ohio, (312)335-1996,

Audience Choice: DANK-Haus, 4740 North Western, (773)561-9181,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best place for craft cocktails

Audience Choice, Food & Drink, Near North, Wicker Park No Comments »

Sable Kitchen & Bar
It’s tempting to go with Aviary, the liquid outpost from the Alinea team, but with the changing of guard to Charles Joly from Craig Schoettler, it’s still too early to tell what change will bring. At Sable though, head bartender Mike Ryan (Violet Hour, Otom vet) has been steadfast. He trained as a chef and handcrafts bitters, tinctures and infusions with balance and nuance. While he can improvise anything behind the stick, the long and well-curated cocktail list ensures you’ll never be stumped or left wanting when you’re thirsty.

505 North State, (312)755-9704,

Audience choice: Violet Hour, 1520 North Damen, (773)252-1500,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best use of $100 million

City Life, Near North No Comments »

Completing the Chicago Riverwalk
Sure, City Hall has long paid too much attention to the gleaming Loop and too little to struggling neighborhoods. But this proposal, estimated at a $90-$100 million buildout, would be bankrolled by federal transportation dollars and private donations, not city money, so it’s a case of apples-to-oranges. Our river has been tragically abused and neglected over the years. And with sections like the Cove, the RiverTheater and the Swimming Hole, accommodating waterfront cafes, kayak rental, a play fountain, fishing piers, floating gardens and more, the Riverwalk should be pretty frickin’ cool. Anyway there’s no use complaining, because when Rahm sets his mind on a marquee project he usually gets it.

Best of Chicago 2012

Best crowd-sourced event in a museum

Culture & Nightlife, Near North, Pilsen No Comments »

Bring Your Own Beamer at the MCA

BYOB is a potluck for video artists, who contribute to this one-night group show by bringing art and a projector (beamer). Although it first debuted in Chicago at Pilsen’s Kunsthalle New in March, the BYOB event at the MCA in October was meaningful because artists chose the art exhibited in the museum, at least temporarily.

Bring Your Own Beamer

Best of Chicago 2011

Best brunch (non-frou-frou division)

Food & Drink, Near North, South Loop, Streeterville No Comments »


With restaurants featuring Raspberry Oreo Flapjacks (Bongo Room), Sunny Side Duck Egg Hash (Longman & Eagle) and, of course, Frushi (that’s fruit sushi for the uninitiated, at Orange), there are certainly no shortages of destinations in Chicago for the gastro-brunch crowd. When you’re nursing a hangover though, good ol’ fashioned bacon and eggs might sound a little more palatable than, say, Lemon Ricotta pancakes. If that’s the case, might we suggest Yolk—they do all the basics to perfection, with just enough twists (Pot Roast Benedict, Cinnamon Roll French Toast, Nutella Crepes) to keep things a little more interesting than a trip to Golden Nugget. Oh, and keep the Metropolis coffee coming, would you please? It’s been a rough morning.

1120 South Michigan
747 North Wells
355 East Ohio

Best of Chicago 2011

Best facial moment you’ll be thinking about for a month

Goods & Services, Near North No Comments »

Bianca at Center Nails and Dayspa

It’s the hands. Customers have said she owns the “Hands of God.” Soft, acute, personal, professional. If you’ve had fifteen facials this year alone you haven’t had a facial until “God’s hands” have found your face.

Center Nails and Dayspa
818 North State

Best of Chicago 2011

Best place to get in touch with your inner Lemmy

Culture & Nightlife, Near North No Comments »

Metaloake at Blue Frog Bar & Grill

If there’s one main drawback to karaoke (other than, you know, the complete lack of talent of those usually involved, drunken attempts at songs where the singers don’t actually know the words or being subjected to “Don’t Stop Believin’” for the umpteenth time…) it’s the distinct lack of opportunities to perform “Run to the Hills” or “In My Darkest Hour.” Twice a year, those in the know flock from all corners of the city to KJ Mary Mac’s “Metaloake” for the chance to do their best Ozzy, Lemmy or Bruce Dickinson. Warning: attempts to perform any Journey or Neil Diamond might get you stomped.

Blue Frog Bar & Grill
676 North LaSalle

Best of Chicago 2011

Best piano bar

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife, Near North No Comments »

The Zebra Lounge

Once you’re in, you’re in is how it feels at the Zebra Lounge. The liquor license at this sixties-chic piano bar dates Monday, December 5, 1933, the day of the repeal of prohibition, and the “Z” (as it’s known) has been host to eras of cabaret-style speak-easiness. The keys are played seven nights per week by a cast of singer-performers, from around 9pm till close, while an open-armed ensemble of local characters, after-dinner mixers, and a drunk or two blow in and out amid dancing and singing. “It’s your new favorite bar in the middle of the city,” according to regular Kate Feeley. “My parents had their first date here,” she says, “and generations come back for the friendliness, relaxation and fun.” Look for the red lights, like in the old days, to find this oasis off the brights of Division Street.

1220 North State Parkway

Audience choice:
Redhead Piano Bar
16 West Ontario

Best of Chicago 2009