Skate at Cibo Matto
Skate at Cibo Matto

Atwood Cafe

1 W. Washington | 312-368-1900



Just off the handsomely ornamented marble lobby of the Hotel Burnham, this dramatic room has oversize windows on two sides; floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains, massive baroque chandeliers and wall sconces, and crimson-and-black walls give it a regal yet comfortable air. New chef Derek Simcik has revamped the menu, which now offers small plates and a short list of snacks for “Atwood After Dark.” Cocktails here are excellent, and Simcik has continued to offer afternoon tea during the holidays. —Laura Levy Shatkin


212 W. Van Buren | 312-408-2365



With its plywood accents on electric-green walls, flame-scorched lunch counters and flat-screen TVs pumping out hip-hop, Benjyehuda vaguely resembles a set from Blade Runner. Nonetheless, the amiable counter folks serving up tasty chow from a menu that melds Israeli and Mexican street food quickly make you at home. If you go with a friend, you can probably sample everything on the limited menu in one visit, though the vast range of condiments allows nearly endless variations. Add Jerusalem salad for minty freshness, baba ghanoush for smoky notes, or the signature hot sauce for a capsaicin rush. Of course, any place seeking street cred must sell fine fries, and Benjyehuda’s are excellent, accompanied by a dipping cup of Merkts spreadable cheddar. Main events are steak, chicken shawarma and falafel. Both meats, minimally spiced, benefit from a peppery blast of salsa; the falafel is delectably crunchy, flecked with parsley, and actually tastes like chickpeas. The cabbage and carrot salads are just fresh vegetables, sliced, minimally dressed, and delicious. Soups, which on our visit included tortilla and a somewhat leaden matzo ball, change regularly. For dessert, there’s churros and nothing else; make sure they’re fresh from the fryer. —David Hammond

Cibo Matto

201 N. State | 312-239-9500


ITALIAN | DINNER: monday-saturday | OPEN LATE: EVERY thursday-saturday TILL 11

The name is Italian for “crazy food,” but I can’t say there’s anything inherently kooky about what’s being served at Cibo Matto, the third restaurant at the Wit Hotel. But compared to State and Lake, its relatively safe and boring downstairs neighbor, it’s pretty remarkable. In fact, Cibo Matto could pass as Spiaggia’s more playful, easygoing younger sibling. Opening chef Todd Stein (now at the Florentine) devised a menu devoted to irreverent upscale Italian with a slight preference for sea creatures. It’s on the pricey side, with most antipasti and pastas ranging from $11 to $16 and entrees hovering around $30. So it helps that many of these dishes have compelling stories a server can sell: the grilled octopus gets simmered with a wine cork; mascarpone creamed spinach was repeatedly and unironically touted by one waiter as “off tha hook.” What’s more, for every marquee item that delivered, I probably enjoyed two unheralded but quietly excellent dishes, beginning with a bowl of peppery bucatini carbonara with cured tomatoes, chiles, and a brilliant orb of duck yolk mixed in at the table—one of the greatest riffs on the classic I’ve ever had. The spaghetti alla chittara was every bit as good in terms of the quality of the noodles, just undercut by slightly overcooked shrimp. Crispy sweetbreads cross sectioned with fried lemon chips, juicy roast chicken exuding gusts of lavender, roasted chicken livers on polenta crisscrossed by slices of crispy duck “bacon,” salty but rich quivering roasted scallops on celery root puree, and crispy seared trout all collectively redeemed the loud, crowded atmosphere. The restaurant’s announcing its new executive chef in January. —Mike Sula

Epic Burger

517 S. State | 312-913-1373



This South Loop quick-service joint promises all-natural burgers and sandwiches, fresh-cut fries fried in oil free of trans fats and seasoned with sea salt, plus extras like cage-free organic eggs, nitrate-free bacon, and Wisconsin-made cheeses. No doubt because of all the hype on the menu, which is printed with “Epic Rules” like “The bun is the beginning and the end,” I was initially a little disappointed with my cheeseburger: the puffy bun completely overwhelmed the thinnish meat patty. I couldn’t much discern the vaunted “Epic sauce” (its ingredients, the counter guy told us, cannot be disclosed), but once I’d applied some Grey Poupon and smooshed the thing down some I was pretty well satisfied—the pickles and grilled onions are a nice touch. My friend felt the same about his turkey burger with horseradish Havarti, though here again the horseradish wasn’t readily detectable. Tasty fries are worlds better than at other fast-food joints and come in a good-size bag, plenty enough for two. The place is well suited to its Columbia College environs, an industrial space with high ceilings hung with designy white lamps of various sizes and shapes, walls painted with bold abstract graphics, bright orange plastic seating made from recycled materials, and, on our visit, two flat-screen TVs showing a Japanese art film with the sound turned down—don’t ask me. —Kate Schmidt


440 S. LaSalle | 312-663-8920

French | Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday


Good-bye, leopard-print carpeting. This fine-dining destination on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange now has a much sleeker look, with black carpeting, black armchairs, and silver sconces in place of the heavy chandeliers. But though the decor may have once seemed dated, chef Jean Joho’s cuisine has never been. On my last visit dinner began with an amuse bouche: a mousse-light brandade, a sip of artichoke soup, and a dab of celery remoulade festooned with a crispy piece of fried fish. The sauce accompanying a smoky-flavored roast lobster bore hints of horseradish, a flavor that came to the fore later in the form of horseradish-crusted grouper. A single scallop served atop a bed of shredded cabbage was dressed in a hauntingly good sauce featuring melfor, an Alsatian honeyed vinegar, with hints of bacon and pleasant bursts of caraway. The crowning dish, a medallion of venison served with tiny portions of spaetzle and red cabbage, was a revelation. This was followed by an impressive selection of artisanal cheeses. Throughout, the wine pairings, which included classic Alsatian offerings such as a Tokay, a Riesling, and a pinot gris as well as a big American zinfandel with the cheese course, were right on the mark. We floated through the desserts on a cloud of bliss right up to our after-dinner coffees, offered with a selection of petits fours. —Kathie Bergquist

The Gage

24 S. Michigan | 312-372-4243



Across the street from Millennium Park, the Gage draws swarms of tourists and suits alike, and the restored ceiling and decorative tile only amplify the din. But if you can tolerate the noise, you’ll find some superb dishes. The extensive drinks list features specialty and vintage cocktails like the Champagne Charlie (champagne and Grand Marnier with a sugar cube soaked in blood orange bitters). The one-page menu has surprising breadth without seeming scattershot: there are half a dozen steaks and burgers alongside more unusual offerings like roast saddle of elk and caramelized lobster with lemon quinoa. Save room for dessert: sweets like the sticky toffee cake make a perfect finish. Brunch offerings include an apple pancake souffle and a traditional Irish breakfast. —Rob Christopher


18 S. Michigan | 312-578-0763



Henri is more than an elegant follow-up to its boisterous neighboring sibling, the Gage. It’s a smart kick in the dangling prairie oysters of gastropubbery: chandeliers, Laguiole knives, velvet walls (with faux gator skin in the bathroom), salt and pepper shakers, ballotines, bouillabaisse, and escargots de Bourgogne? I’m pretty sure owner Billy Lawless wheels in the gray Gold Coast nobility that occasionally collects here on nights when the elevator ride up to Everest would inflame the gout. It does seem like Gage executive chef Dirk Flanigan, abetted by chef de cuisine Chris Cubberly (Delacosta, Brasserie Ruhlmann), stopped a little bit short of the canyon’s edge, with options for killjoys such as a short-rib-topped burger or a pair of pizzas (pissaladiere to you, François) with funky raclette and a crust that beats some of the more recent entries into the wood-fired pizza racket. But listen to your grandpapa: if you want a burger, why don’t you just go to the Gage? Shellfish towers, game of the day, and plats du jour—remember steak au poivre?—are simple and unsullied by pointless reinvention. Dover sole meuniere, the dish that made Julia Child fall in love with France, is a crispy, perfectly browned if fat fillet with a supertart sauce of lemon, butter, and capers; it comes with a side of simple buttered baby vegetables. A wild boar special one night, twin Devils Towers of sinewy, almost beefy meat, also arrived with those buttery carrots and haricot verts. A white-bean cassoulet is as old-school as it gets, with the exception of a garnish of crispy fried kale. But one of the most memorable plates is a lobster and foie gras “Wellington,” reimagined with a juicy plug of good spinach inside and a pastry encasement that felt like it should have been lighter and flakier but through some fortunate accident arrived soft and doughy—as good as the very first bite off the dim sum cart when you haven’t eaten a thing all day. A good way to get your bearings in this new-old-world spot is to start with a drink mixed by Clint Rogers (Graham Elliot, Nightwood, the Gage), a confident and engaging presence behind the bar. He’s developed a winning cocktail program based on reinterpreted classics and, in collaboration with sommelier Shebnem Ince, a few terrific wine-based cocktails—in particular a mai tai with almond-infused grappa subbing for syrupy orgeat. Ince’s largely biodynamic wine list is another smart adaptation to the present. —Mike Sula

Jaffa Bagels

225 N. Michigan | 312-565-1267



In much the same way that Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing slowly changed into 3M, maker of Post-It Notes, Jaffa Bagels has become the city’s preeminent supplier of fresh roast turkey sandwiches. All the dozens of corporate lunchers in line are there to order the lunch special, which is a turkey sandwich, generous soda, and chips. You get your own drink first, then quickly give the line of servers your order, for example: “mixed, dry, sesame.” Which means mixed dark and white meat, without extra juice, on a sesame bun. The second guy in the serving line mans the condiments, which include perfectly executed falafel balls; the cashier bags it and inserts off-brand chips. The sandwich itself is delicious, the platonic ideal of the post-Thanksgiving leftover. By the way, I’ve never seen anyone there order a bagel. There are five additional locations in downtown Chicago. —Peter Sagal

Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi

111 N. State | 312-781-2939



Every detail down to the last filament of nori seems premeditated at Takashi Yagihashi’s fancified food-court noodle shop, located on the seventh floor of Macy’s on State. Line cooks pump out homey bowls of ramen and giant mounds of fried rice to the masses, but last-second sprinklings of seaweed, ginger, and fried parsnip make the process seem more civilized. Yagihashi’s design background manifests itself in the finer details—black wooden trays and hooked soup spoons elevate mall dining to new heights. Ramen comes in three flavors: miso, shoyu, and shio; the last, a hybrid of the other two, benefits from the ferment of the miso and the subtle richness of the shoyu. Ground pork and toothsome vegetables get mixed in with the standard ramen noodle. House-made tofu, fried dumplings, crispy spring rolls, and steamed buns stuffed with smoky braised pork round out the delightfully brief menu. There may be better ramen in the city, but it’s unlikely you’ll find better eating in a food court. —Kristina Meyer


201 N. State | 312-239-9501



From its opening, SRO crowds have been lining up to get onto the glass-walled patio of Roof, the industrial-sleek black-and-gray lounge on the 27th floor of the Wit Hotel. Soul music pulsates insistently as pretty waitresses in short black outfits navigate among booths, living room-like areas, and long communal stone tables bearing cocktails. There’s also a decent selection of bottled beers and mostly European wines by the glass or bottle. Truth to tell, the small plates ($5-$16) are more enticing than they need to be—I loved the salmon crudo, five slices of buttery fish set off by a subtle lemon emulsion, pine nuts, and cured Calabrian chiles. Two tips: arrive around the 3 PM opening time if you want to eat in relative quiet, and if it’s not reserved for a private party, check out “the hangover,” a table for eight on a smaller patio that has the best views in the whole place. —Anne Spiselman

Russian Tea Time

77 E. Adams | 312-360-0000



The menu at this Loop mainstay by the Art Institute is huge and inviting, offering a wide array of Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian dishes, from stuffed cabbage and excellent Russian dumplings to food fit for a czar: pheasant, quail, sturgeon, and caviar. There are many vegetarian offerings too. This variety comes with a price: choose wisely or pay a huge tab. Russian Tea Time is very popular with the theater, opera, and symphony crowds, so be sure to book your table well in advance. —Ellen Joy

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