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Best spot to spend a day on deck

Sports & Recreation, Uptown No Comments »

Wilson Skatepark
For longboarders and those with souls as soft as their wheels, a solitary “spot” is anathema; they’re in it for the cruise, man. For those of us for whom the stunt wood is more tool of artistic expression than mere transportation, there is Uptown’s Wilson Skatepark. Here, a giant melon baller has taken to the earth, the smooth rolling cement providing bigger swells than Lake Michigan. Honorable mention to Logan Boulevard, whose under-the-highway location, Crisco-slick surfaces, and janky transitions appeal to skating’s grimier sides.
700 West Wilson (between Clarendon and Marine Drive)

Best of Chicago 2013

Best Ethiopian restaurant

Audience Choice, Edgewater, Food & Drink, Rogers Park, Uptown No Comments »

Sambussa is not a Brazilian dance, but a fried beef, onion and pepper dumpling, Demera’s awesome answer to Indian samosa and Polish pierogi. Throw delicious stewed lemon, ginger and garlic-marinated chicken (doro wot) and berbere-spiced lentils (ye-misir wot) and whatever else you want on Demera’s value-priced Messob platters. Sop it all up with a bit of the excellent sour injera bread and you’ll dispel the myth that Africans only subsist on rice.

Demera, 4801 North Broadway, (773)334-8787,

Audience choice: Ethiopian Diamond, 6120 North Broadway, (773)338-6100; 7537 North Clark, (773)764-2200,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best Camarones a la Diabla

Food & Drink, Uptown No Comments »

La Ciudad Mexican Grill & Café
We were pleasantly surprised by La Ciudad, an uninviting spot in a string of a dozen business storefronts in a little strip mall in Uptown. Don’t let them fool you. In the kitchen here, which is visible from the dining room, they make plenty of anticipated Mexican fare like burritos, tacos and flautas. But home-style recipes like Camarones a la Diabla (a Mexican seafood classic known as “devil’s shrimp,” presumably because of its spicy, red sauce) are also beautifully crafted. Everything is authentic Mexican here, from the food to the quotes celebrated through their website, including the take-away line from the 2001 film “Mexico City”: “I don’t have to find myself, I am fiction.”

La Ciudad, 4515 North Sheridan, (773)728-2887,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best tiny birthday cakes sold at a Thai restaurant

Food & Drink, Uptown No Comments »

Thai Pastry & Restaurant

Sweet and sugary describe the homemade cakes at Thai Pastry. They’re crowned with frosting and flowers, and they’re fabulous. Each miniature birthday cake serves two hungry people, and is decorated with piped-on pastel details. So finish your spring rolls and chicken satay, then indulge in a tiny round cake, in vanilla or coffee flavor. And don’t forget the birthday candles.

Thai Pastry & Restaurant
4925 North Broadway

Best of Chicago 2011

Best jazz club

Culture & Nightlife, Uptown No Comments »

Photo: Isabella Coelho

The Green Mill

With the recent passing of Fred Anderson and retirement of Von Freeman, Chicago lost two great jazz venues, the Velvet Lounge and the New Apartment Lounge, respectively. Fortunately this historic Uptown lounge, once a Capone hangout, is still going strong. Its beautiful Art Deco fixtures provide a classy setting for appearances by some of the biggest names in the biz plus weekly residencies by talented locals like organist Chris Foreman and pianist Patricia Barber. Please respect the club’s policy against talking during performances—Barber has been known to come down from the stage and scream at noisy audience members.

The Green Mill
4802 North Broadway

Audience choice:
Green Mill

Best of Chicago 2011

Best new literary event

Culture & Nightlife, Uptown No Comments »

Chicago Book Expo

This year marked the first Chicago Book Expo. Created by John Rich of the Chicago Writers House Project, the expo gathered publishers and literati alike. A nonprofit fair showcased university presses and self-publishers. The expo included tabling by small presses and magazines, readings sponsored by literary organizations and programming for children. The location made the expo more grandiose: the recently bankrupt Uptown neighborhood Border’s book store. From the ashes rose a celebration of the local lit scene that hopefully will continue to grow.

Best of Chicago 2011

Best place the Stanley Cup might have visited during its Chicago tour, but likely did not, at least not publicly

Audience Choice, Category, Uptown No Comments »

Every dog has its day, they say, and every player and coach gets a day to tour the town with the Cup and its keeper. Where’s it been? It’s been all over the world. And in more barrooms than your average crumpled dollar bill. And surely, say, men’s rooms. Ladies’ rooms. Toilets. After you’ve been handled and passed around that much, surely you wouldn’t be able to hold it, either. Reports have it that the Cup’s lubricant of choice has been the Jager bomb, ponied up at fine establishments across the randy city. As to what other fluids have splashed inside it, some things are better left unthought.

Audience choice:
The Admiral
940 West Lawrence
Others that were mentioned a few times, amused us or seemed especially weird: “The zoo! make some animals pose with it… wearing Blackhawks gear”

Best of Chicago 2010

Best place to picnic

Category, Sports & Recreation, Uptown No Comments »

Montrose Harbor
The blanket doesn’t have to be checkered red and white, but take a wicker basket to Montrose Harbor in temperate months. Designate a few hours. Fish between courses, dig toes into the sand, saunter down the curly-cue boardwalk, frolic amidst the trees, nosh on teensy teacakes, with perhaps the loveliest view of the skyline along the lake. Maybe even sneak a bottle of vino in inconspicuous red Solo cups. Never too crowded, no one’s likely to notice. But don’t tell anyone we said that.

The lakefront between Montrose and Lawrence

Best of Chicago 2010

Best banh mi

Audience Choice, Food & Drink, Lincoln Square, Uptown No Comments »

Nhu Lan

Saigon Sisters’ spiffed-up fillings, including a topnotch duck confit, made a run at the king of all Vietnamese sandwich makers. But the fresh straight-out-of-the-oven buns at Nhu Lan means they retain their crown. Plus, their #10 lemongrass tofu banh mi, which is better than most meat-larded versions of the sandwich, is so good it’ll make a carnivore consider going vegetarian.

2612 West Lawrence

Audience choice:

Ba Le Bakery
5016 North Broadway

Best of Chicago 2010

Best public beach

Audience Choice, Category, Sports & Recreation, Uptown No Comments »

Montrose Beach
All Chicago beaches have their pros and cons but Montrose Beach has a nearly perfect storm of cool attributes. It’s far enough away from Lake Shore Drive that you can’t hear traffic. The vibe is blue-collar and family-friendly, free of the douchebaggery that plagues some other beaches. You can buy tasty Mexican food from the snack bar, elote carts and strolling peddlers on the sand. The water is pristine and kayaks are available for rent. A stroll down the pier provides an awesome skyline view, while the adjacent Magic Hedge nature sanctuary offers bird-watching and gay cruising opportunities. There’s something for everyone.

The lakefront between Montrose and Lawrence

Audience choice:

North Avenue Beach
The lakefront at North Avenue

Best of Chicago 2010