In one word – Customized
Location – 666 W Diversey Parkway (Diversey & Clark)
Food – This is a classy diner option in Lincoln Park, where you can customized your burger to your high maintenance needs. Once seated, you fill out a card where you state your chosen protein, cheese and toppings. Making these decisions gave me the same stress I feel when picking out my stirfry at Flat Top Grill. For some reason, whether or not add roasted garlic aioli feels like the decision that could alter the course of my life. However, I got lucky and made a good decision this time – 1/3 lb of turkey with swiss cheese, grilled onions, avocado, tomato and ginger soy glaze. And sweet potato fries. Do yourself a favor and order the sweet potato fries.
Drink – They have normal diner beverages, including floats.
Service – Essentially you need someone to take the sheet of paper that you fill out and deliver it to the kitchen and then come back in a reasonable amount of time with your order. All systems were go, and I found no fault in the service.
Scene – It’s feels like a futuristic diner in here. I appreciated the cleanliness of the establishment, sometimes a characteristic lacking in a diner…Very casual. Come here during the day in your best hoodie.
Occasion – I wouldn’t say this is a destination, but if you find yourself in this area, it’s worth room in your stomach.
Price – $19.12 for a burger, soda and sharing sweet potato fries. Yeah, it was expensive, but I didn’t have buyer’s remorse.
If you like, try – DMK Burger Bar
Location – 6 E Chestnut St, on the corner of Chestnut and State
In one word – Bustle
Food – Having moved huge masses of people in and out of its doors over the years, Tempo is a Gold Coast/Chicago institution and a well-oiled brunch machine. It’s a good place to take big groups and out-of-town visitors, and while my high school girlfriends were visiting me this weekend Tempo did not disappoint.
Here’s how the production line works. First, you wait for a table. Reservations aren’t accepted for Saturday or Sunday, so unfortunately this prerequisite is part of the Tempo weekend brunch experience. Get there early (before 9:30) or late (after 12) and depending on the size of your party you’re more likely to be looking at a wait that’s 15-20 minutes or less.
Once you’re seated you’ll be faced with a more pleasant challenge: choosing what to order. Their menu is huge and has something for everyone. Try one of their legendary 3 egg omelets served with a thick slice of white or wheat toast, home-made marmalade and crispy, country-fried potatoes ($8-$14). A Tempo omelet is truly a thing of beauty. It is basically an open-faced frittata the size of a Frisbee (I dare you to finish an entire one on your own). Whether you order it with egg-whites-only or not, it is as light and fluffy as a Sarah Palin interview answer, and there’s a huge variety of ingredients to choose from. Between the eight of us, our group sampled the Artemis (artichoke, tomatoes and Swiss), the Veggie (spinach, zucchini, and broccoli), and the State Street (broccoli, ham, mushroom, tomato). If you ever try either the Jamaican omelet (banana, walnut, honey) or the Michigan omelet (apple, cheddar), let me know how it is–I’ve always wanted to try them but can never stray from my usual orders. Our group also tried the Banana-nut Buckwheat Waffle ($12), topped with a heap of banana slices, walnut confetti, and thick maple syrup, and the Eggs Benedict ($12), which had a smooth, tangy hollandaise that had it’s way with everyone (cholesterol schmolesterol). No matter what you order there’s a good chance that even after you stuff yourself, there will still be so much food left over that you’ll leave feeling slightly inadequate.
Drink – Order a smoothie ($4)—we tried the Casablanca, a combo of cantaloupe, strawberry, and fresh orange juice—or you can get just a freshly squeezed glass of juice ($4)—I recommend carrot-apple. Pop, coffee, and specialty coffee drinks are available, but coffee hounds be forewarned—there are no free refills.
Service – The staff here are seasoned pros and they do not mess around. The service is usually impersonal, but very efficient. You’re expected to order quickly, but you can expect your food to arrive just as quickly. Plan ahead, because if you’re going during Sat/Sun brunch rush-hour you will not be seated until your entire party has arrived. They only accept cash, so leave your credit or debit cards at home.
Scene – There’s not much to the decor; Tempo is basically a clean, bright, busy diner. If it’s nice out, try to stick out the wait so you can sit in their great outdoor patio area—you’ll be rewarded with some top-notch people watching. Their clientele runs the gamut—you’ll see tourists, locals, students, families, big groups, couples, Chicago’s finest and more.
Dress – There is no dress code. Tempo is open 24/7 so depending on what time you go, you could wear PJs to sweats to yoga-wear to jeans.
Cost – About $13-$15 per person before tip.
If you like, try… Ann Sathers, Yolk
Written by hungry yuppie
GB Note: Getting a second opinion on KRN from hungry yuppie.
Location- 600 West Chicago at intersection of Chicago and Larrabee
In one word – Average
Food – For weekend brunch, there’s a lot going on at Kitsch’n. They now have two locations; we tried the one in River North. Their three-page menu offers both breakfast and lunch options that add a little artistic license to all the old favs. For example, Coconut Crusted French Toast or Bayou Crab Cake Benedict were two choices that offered you a creative interpretation of a brunch classic. You can also choose between their Wings Three Ways—Buffalo, Thai, and BBQ style—or Mac ‘N Cheese puffs with marinara dipping sauce as fun alternatives to your average bar wings or mozzarella stick appetizers. This twist on comfort food is Kitsch’n’s claim to fame, perhaps best exemplified by their As-Seen-On-TV Green Eggs and Ham—eggs scrambled with fresh basil pesto and served with smoked ham—which Rachael Ray raved about on her “$40 Dollars a Day” show.
Unfortunately, despite the Food Network fanfare and a menu full of creative options, when I went to Kitsch’n last weekend with my Trusty Sidekick and our friend, we were disappointed by our food and found Kitsch’n to be average, at best.
Here’s the breakdown. My Trusty Sidekick got a BBQ Hamburger ($9.50) and our friend ordered a Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($8.99). Both chose a side of Spicy Curly Fries. Unfortunately, they both found that their meat was dry and tough and their curly fries were cold and bland.
I tried the The Kitsch’n Sink Salad ($10.99), which comes with your choice of any four ingredients on top of organic mixed greens. For an $11 salad, the portions were okay—I got a pile of greens with a decent portion of avocados, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, and tomatoes (my four ingredients). My complaint is that it was served completely without ceremony in a stainless steel mixing bowl (were they out of plates?), and, I was disappointed by the lack of creativity. Dear Kitsch’n Chef, given your restaurant’s creative theme and a name like “The Kitsch’n Sink Salad,” it would be nice if the options for this salad were more exotic so that we salad-lovers could enjoy some of your creativity too. For example, I was hoping for something like blue cheese stuffed olives, candied sunflower seeds, grilled portabella slices, even artichoke hearts—but, no dice. If it was only $8 or even $9, instead of $11, it would have been adequate for what it was. But I ended up walking away thinking that I could have made this salad on my own and for a lot less money.
My salad quibbles aside, there was a definitely deal-breaker during our meal—our friend asked for milk for her tea, and when it arrived we were surprised to find that there were either spoiled milk boogers or scrambled egg boogers floating at the top of her pitcher. As you can imagine, it was not appetizing. My Trusty Sidekick and our friend had been fighting the good fight against dry meat until then, but after that we all had to surrender. All in all, if I try Kitsch’n again I would definitely go with one of their breakfast items and leave the lunch menu alone.
Drink – Typical brunch cocktails, or affordable wine choices if you prefer.
Service – Even though we went at prime brunch time (high noon), we were seated immediately. Our waitress was pleasant and prompt. Other than the milk fiasco, the service was satisfactory.
Scene – We sat in Kitsch’n’s outdoor beer garden, which was very relaxing. The tables are well-organized, so you don’t feel like you’re competing with a stranger’s conversation or claim to space. Many of the tables have large patio umbrellas, so it’s nice and shaded. The atmosphere is very casual and low-key. It would a great place to meet friends for brunch, and its very family friendly—take kids if you have them—or—parents when they’re in town.
Dress – Unlike some brunch places in Chicago, the River North Kitsch’n isn’t a hot spot where Friday or Saturday night dress seems to continue on into brunch-wear the next morning, and suddenly everywhere you look you see lots of boobies looking to get their late morning/early afternoon buzz on.
In other words, jeans and a t-shirt are fine.
Cost – Without drinks, it was about $13 per person with tax and tip.
If you like, try- Orange, Yolk, Tempo, Demitasse
Written by hungry yuppie
Location – 1300 N. Milwaukee (Milwaukee and Paulina) and 3031 W. 111th Street (111th and Whipple)
In one word – Idealistic
Food – The premise of Veggie Bite is fast-service organic vegan food. It’s a tall order for a restaurant. My overall reaction was that the place was nice in theory, struggles in practice. The menu is filled with your usual fast food options – burger, chili dogs, Philly cheese steak, but there’s no meat or dairy in the food. My eating partner and I both went for the Supreme Wrap on the cashier’s recommendation. It was a wrap filled with seitan “chix-free nuggets,” tomatoes, cucumbers and a cucumber dressing (which tasted more like a light ranch dressing). It was filling but not fulfilling. The “chix-free nuggets” didn’t taste all that fresh to me, and there was too much sauce in the wrap.
Drink – You can get smoothies here as well as juices. I picked up some mango nectar juice, which I enjoyed.
Service – Order at the counter and then the food will be brought to your table. I appreciated that the cashier was forthright about his opinion when I asked what was the best item on the menu. Given that vegan fast food is pretty new in Chicago, it was nice to have someone give guidance on what to order.
Scene – Expect the last few hipsters remaining in Wicker Park to frequent this place. I was a little alarmed by the establishment’s decor. I was staring at posters of helpless animals with captions like “Mercy.” It was sort of like eating at an anti-animal cruelty booth while in my college student union.
Dress – You can put on the urban hipster garb or just wear what you’re already wearing. It really doesn’t matter.
Cost – For my wrap and mango drink, I spent $8.28. I guess it’s pretty reasonable given that the wrap was just a little smaller than a Chipotle burrito in size.
If you like, try…Soul Vegetarian, Karyn’s Cooked
Today my eating partner and I set forth to determine the impossible; we ventured through the city to find Chicago’s best macaroni and cheese. As my arteries are only so wide, we tested just three locations. I acknowledge that there are more locations to add into the mix, but I really believe that the restaurants below should be included when grouping the best mac in the city.
Contenders: Cafe Selmarie, Stanley’s and Handlebar
Winner of GB Mac and Cheese Crawl: Handlebar
(Smoked Gouda Mac ‘n Cheese)
Location: 2311 W. North Avenue (North and Western)
Cost: $3.50 (side dish price)
- Simplicity: In this case, less is most definitely more. Just macaroni covered with a gouda cream sauce. No breadcrumbs, no baked cheese, just the basics. This dish tasted truly homemade, helping to reiterate the fact that mac and cheese is the epitome of comfort food.
- Cheese: Smoked gouda’s taste is distinct without being overpowering. Handlebar’s gouda sauce resembles an alfredo sauce. Believe it or not, going this route makes the dish feel lighter and fresher than baking the macaroni with cheese.
- Size: It’s a side dish, not a main. I wanted more. It gave me so much love.
Second Place: Cafe Selmarie
4729 N. Lincoln (Lincoln and Lawrence)
(Macaroni and Cheese)
Cost: $9.25 (entree size)
- Complexity of Taste: So this dish uses six cheeses (gruyere, swiss, white cheddar, queso rico, pecorino romano and bleu). You can detect each of those cheese while you’re working your way through the dish. Additionally, they put leeks in. It’s more subtle than an onion, but still provides added flavor.
- Texture: Selmarie bakes bread crumbs on top of each serving, which provides the right amount of crunch. The cheese does that thing where because the cheese is warm, it’s stringy between your mouth and the plate (this is a good thing, think “Cheese-y, Cheese-y from those old Little Caeser ads).
- Bottom of the Dish: The big issue was that there was a milky oil liquid at the bottom of the dish. I understand that’s a by-product of the cheese, but it was kind of gross.
Loser: Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap
(Toasted Macaroni & Cheese)
1970 N. Lincoln (Lincoln and Armitage)
Cost: $8.95 (entree size includes 1 side)
- Portion: It’s big. Like really big.
- Side Dish: The entree comes with a side. As we were at Stanley’s, we chose their famous tater tots and were not disappointed.
- Oil: There’s a whole lot of oil in this dish. When you have macaroni and cheese, you expect your cholesterol to rise a bit, but Stanley’s take on mac and cheese could send you to the ER. The level of oil and grease made the dish almost unappetizing to me. I bet this dish could cure a hangover in seconds.
- Bland: They use just one cheese, cheddar (granted there’s a whole lot of cheddar in the dish). Compared to the cheese profile at Selmarie and Handlebar, the taste was a bit pedestrian.
Location – 2900 W. Belmont (Belmont and Francisco)
In one word – Accoutrement
Food – I had only heard fanatical raves about KC, so I needed to check it out myself. It’s a burger joint, you receive a menu with a page full of different burger options. Unlike Epic Burger, vegetarians are welcome here. You can get any burger option with a beef patty, chicken breast, portabella mushroom patty or chicken tenders. Also, they use pretzel bread buns (which I LOVE!). I was a bit overwhelmed by the options, so I went with my server’s recommendation (all the menu options have a rock theme), the Lair of the Minotaur – Beef patty with caramelized onions, pancetta, brie and bourbon soaked pears. This is apparently a shout-out to the May Street Market burger. One of my eating partners went big and chose the Bongzilla burger – Beef patty with a sausage on top of it (I’m not kidding). My other eating partner took the Motorhead Burger – Portabella burger with goat cheese, Kalamata olives, oregano, tzatziki, onion and tomato. Overall, don’t get me wrong, the dishes were all good. However, it was all about the accoutrement and less about the actual burger. Please don’t read this as a criticism, it’s meant to be an observation. Here’s a little advice, you have the options of choosing chips or fries with your meal. Choose the fries, the chips are super dry.
Drink – They have a healthy selection of beers to choose from. I saw SKA beer, my new favorite Durango, CO brewery, on the list and stuck with that. One of my eating partners chose a beer only to find out that it was raspberry flavored (which was not noted on the menu).
Service – So I was expecting to wait at least 30 minutes for a table for three. However, perhaps by going to KC on a Tuesday night, we found the golden ticket to “no line, no wait.” Plus, we lucked out and got a table in the back outdoor patio (it’s much quieter back there compared to the actual restaurant). When we got to our table, our server sat down with us. She definitely had spunk, one of those girls who starts talking to you as if you’ve been sarcastic friends for years. She had that balance of jadedness without being unpleasant. It’s a winning combination. Every table in her section seemed like they had created a friendship with her when they finished the meal. KC won me over when the manager (at least I think he’s the manager) came around to make sure that the food was satisfactory.
Scene – KC has this heavy metal biker theme. Don’t let that intimidate you. While the ladies room is wallpapered with illustrations of scantily clad ladies, the clientele is diverse and respectable.
Dress – I would wear something that feels comfortable to you. Everyone at the restaurant is so distinct, there isn’t a real dress code.
Cost – For a burger and two beers, I paid $24. For the caliber of the food, I felt like this was affordable.
If you like, try…Epic Burger, Twisted Spoke
Location – 517 S. State (State and Congress)
In one word – Refreshing
Food – Having just finished Omnivore’s Dilemma, I am a bit wary of my food of late. Lucky for me, Epic Burger has arrived in the Loop. EB dubs itself as the place with a more mindful burger. Finally, we have a place to get all natural burgers in Chicago, I am home! When I ordered my junior all-natural beef burger, I was asked if I wanted a wheat bun (yes), if I wanted grilled or raw onions (grilled), what kind of cheese I wanted (Wisconsin cheddar), if I wanted nitrate-free bacon (obvi) and if I wanted a cage-free fried egg on top of the burger (not this time). I finished the burger fast, it was delicious and didn’t leave me with that “I ate too much grease, roll me to my bed” feeling. The fries come with sea salt (sizable portion). If you don’t do the beef, you can get a turkey burger, chicken sandwich or a portabella mushroom sandwich.
Beverages – They have milkshakes and smoothies! A burger and a smoothie, I’m not sure if I could think of a better combo. One of my eating partners tried the Lemon Squeeze; it seemed like it hit the spot.
Service – There’s not all that much to it, you order at the counter and pay. Then they bring your food to you (Corner Bakery style). However, even with that little of interaction, I was impressed. The staff was really courteous.
Scene – It’s a burger joint, so there’s no one to impress here. Given that it’s near the DePaul Loop Campus and Columbia College, you can expect to see students here as well as South Loop locals. All the stuff in the restaurant is eco-friendly: the cups, the plates, the chairs, everything. I appreciate that; you feel like EB is trying to make a difference in the world. And by patronizing it, I have completed my ecological duty for the day.
Dress – Again, you’re seeing students here. Anything more than jeans is too formal.
Cost – You can get a burger, fries and a drink for $10. I think that’s a deal for healthy fast food.
If you like, try…Veggie Bite
Location – 164 E. Grand (Grand and St. Clair) or 120 S. Riverside Plaza (Monroe and Canal)
In one word – Comfort
Food – I have days when all I want to do is seek refuge in a hamburger. I find that solace at Boston Blackie’s. The menu is not too complicated. They have a couple burgers and salads for you to choose. I will order either the cheeseburger or theBlackie’s burger. Yes, I feel a little bit of indigestion after I’m done devouring the meal, but it’s worth it.
Drink – It’s nothing extravagant – just your run of the mill beers and sodas. This just adds to the comforting aspect of the place.
Occasion – I will come to Boston Blackie’s in jeans and a sweatshirt…and I’m amongst the better dressed there. At the River North location, the clientele is a mix between tourists and locals. The overall vibe is very unpretentious and feels like a dark diner.
Cost – I usually drop $20 for my meal. For that satiation, it’s worth it.
If you like, try…PJ Clarke’s, Golden Nugget
Location: 600 W. Chicago
In one word - Approachable
Food – It’s sort of like diner food, but better. They capture the nostalgia of comfort food from yesteryear and serve it all day long. And I love it. Proof: You can have chicken and a waffle, gourmet mini burgers (my favorite!) or coconut crusted waffles.
Drink – They have their specialty drinks, but you really can’t beat the $1 PBRs. Particularly when you consider that the other bars in that neighborhood are at Motel and Japonais…not the cheap drink kind of joints.
Service – Very pleasant, other than that, not much to report.
Occasion – Ideal for brunch/dinner with friends. Large groups would be acceptable here. Maybe if you’ve been dating your special someone for a while, this would be a nice fun spot to try out, too.
Scene – This place is totally interactive. As you wait for your food, play with the Magic 8 ball or other retro toys on your table. Definite icebreaker if your dinner group is awkward.
Dress – Nothing formal is needed for this place. In the morning, brunch wear is acceptable. In the evening, jeans will work just fine.
Cost – Perhaps $15 – 20.
If you liked…, try – Kitsch’n on Roscoe (the sister restaurant, obvi), Nookies
Location: 1112 S. Wabash
In one word – Bad
Food – This place is supposed to be reminiscent of a local New York City diner. While they have got the correct menu – matza ball soup, reubens and malt shakes, the execution is not on par with your local Brooklyn diner. I even went here with real New Yorkers to confirm my suspicion. I have given this place a couple of chances and have yet to like a single thing on the menu.
Drink – I mean, it’s a diner. As long as their soda fountain machines work, they’re doing okay.
Service – One time I was here I had this really rude waitress. I was confused if I was at a new Chicago diner hoping to gain a following or at Ed Debevic’s.
Occasion – If you’re still on board for sub par food, come here for a very casual occasion. Maybe get a quick bite here before a Bears game at Soldier Field (don’t worry you can get a hot dog at the game to redeem the meal you had the diner).
Scene – To their credit, when you walk in, the place does look like a high quality diner. There’s a bar area if you are dining alone or in a hurry.
Dress – Jeans, sweatshirts, the casual attire is totally appropriate here.
Cost – For a simple meal, expect to pay $10 – 15.
If you liked…, try – Sammy’s