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Best new bar or club opened in the last year or so

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

Three Dots and a Dash
Our region is a tiki hotspot, with several suburban venues like River Grove’s Hala Kahiki serving tropical drinks in a faux-Polynesian atmosphere. However, since the demise of Trader Vic’s a couple years ago, there hasn’t been a true tiki bar within the city limits. Leave it to former Whistler mixologist Paul McGee to make grass mats and carved idols fashionable again. This old-school, upscale watering hole features friendly service and a plethora of ambitious drinks served in mugs shaped like coconuts and skulls. Order the pineapple and coffee-infused A Lonely Island Lost in the Middle of a Foggy Sea, relax to soothing hapa haole music, and escape the harsh realities of Chicago weather.
435 North Clark, (312)610-4220,

AUDIENCE CHOICE: Three Dots and a Dash

Best of Chicago 2013

Best Peruvian restaurant

Audience Choice, Food & Drink, River North No Comments »

We were skeptical when Peruvian hotshot chef Gastón Acurio opened a Chicago outpost in River North of all places. We figured it might go the way of Tony Hu’s Lao 18—an amalgamation that loses much in translation while trying too hard to be sexy. But Acurio means business. Most of the cooks and wait staff are Peruvian and all are knowledgeable and friendly. We were pleasantly shocked by the bursts of flavor in various ceviches, better-than-bibimbap chaufa aeropuerto fried rice and chicha morada, a purple corn, pineapple, cinnamon and cloves drink that trumps any of the cocktails.
118 West Grand, (312)222-9700,

AUDIENCE CHOICE: Machu Picchu, 3856 North Ashland, (773)472-0471,

Best of Chicago 2013

Best salad bar in a Brazilian steakhouse

Food & Drink, River North No Comments »

Fogo de Chao
If you still haven’t been to a Brazilian steakhouse, you don’t know what the true meaning of the word “bounty” is. And you don’t even have to be a carnivore to enjoy the feast: one of the best features is their salad bar. Fogo de Chao offers a wonderful selection of vegetables, cheeses and cured cold cuts—if you want you can just pay for the salad and skip the whole meat extravaganza.

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

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 cheap-chic chain in Chicago

Audience Choice, Goods & Services, River North No Comments »


More upscale than its fast-fashion peers, Zara’s higher price tags are worth it. There aren’t any frenetic fifteen-year-olds here, and they have a remarkably high ratio of “I’d totally wear that!” to “Oh my god, what were they thinking” pieces, while still managing to stay on-trend. Pick up their silk shirts and trousers, $40 ballet flats that won’t wear out any sooner than ones that cost twice as much, and whatever else you need this season—like sheer maxi skirts and color blocking accessories.

700 North Michigan
One West Randolph, Block 37

Audience choice:
22 North State, (312)263-4436
840 North Michigan, (312)640-0060

Best of Chicago 2011

Best gallery showing Chicago artists

Culture & Nightlife, River North No Comments »


Since 1980, Printworks has been exhibiting mostly works on paper by Chicago artists in an intimate setting. Many of the Printworks artists have been showing in Chicago for decades. This level of sustained commitment and support is rare and indispensable.

311 West Superior #105

Best of Chicago 2011

Best cranberry borscht

Food & Drink, River North No Comments »

Zed 451

Beet it! Patrick Quakenbush, Executive Chef at Zed 451, gives beets the boot when he makes his cranberry borscht. He crafts traditional borscht, a hearty Eastern European-inspired soup, giving it Midwest big-city flair with carrots and cranberries. The cranberries bring a tart taste to the soup; carrots add a little sweetness. “A soup with just cranberries would taste really bitter,” Quakenbush explains. “The carrots add a unique sweetness.” He mixes the ingredients together with cream using an immersion blender. He developed the recipe, which was especially pleasing to his general manager, a native of Ukraine, by “playing around” in the kitchen at Zed 451 in River North one day. “I grew up in West Germany. I got a real glimpse of different cultures,” Quakenbush says.

Zed 451
739 North Clark

Best of Chicago 2011

Best mussels

Food & Drink, River North No Comments »

Cyrano’s Bistrot 

This year, a group of mussels fans, Chicago Originals, organized their seventh annual Mussel Festival. Chefs from around the Chicago area flexed their culinary mussels, making recipes like Prince Edward Island Mussels with Gold Tequila Cream (Co Si Na Grill in Andersonville) and Polynesian-influenced Mussels Piña Colada with Fresh Pineapple, Coconut Milk and Key Limes (May St. Café). French chef/restaurant owner Didier Durand worked overtime during the festival, creating a different mussels recipe for each of the two restaurants he owns and operates in the city. At Cyrano’s Café on the River Walk, Durand accented Tony Blair Prince Edward Island Mussels with wine, cream and a duo of brie and Stilton cheeses. But Durand’s even more flavorful recipe, which was offered during the festival at his Cyrano’s Bistrot & Wine Bar in River North, was Mussels a la Moroccan: Dutch Royal Narragansett Bay Mussels with merguez sausage, grilled fennel, tomato, ricard and cream. The Moroccan-style mussels were a favorite during the two-week-long festival.

Cyrano’s Bistrot
546 North Wells

Best of Chicago 2011

Best place to get a decent meal after midnight

Food & Drink, River North No Comments »

Bijan’s Bistro

If you’re out on the town late night and want to sit down for a nice dinner that isn’t a burrito, gyros or pigs in a blanket, there are precious few options. At Bijan’s Bistro on State the kitchen is open till 3am, seven days a week, 365 days a year, serving such upscale fare as Baked Brie, Portabello Mushroom Tartine and Roast Duck a l’orange in a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere. One warning: if you’re out on a Friday or Saturday night, it’s imperative you get there before the 2am bars let out—then all bets are off.

663 North State

Best fish tacos

Audience Choice, Bridgeport, Food & Drink, River North No Comments »

Photo: Kristine Sherred


No other competitor comes close to challenging this plank of corn-tortilla-wrapped golden-fried tilapia, featuring a corn-flake-like crispy crust topped with cool crispy shreds of cabbage drizzled with enough tequila-lime sauce to make Sammy Hagar happy.

300 West 26th

Audience choice:

108 West Kinzie

Best of Chicago 2010