806 North Rush Street Between Chicago Avenue & Pearson Street Chicago, IL 60611
Long before Rush Street became tourist central, there was Pippin's Tavern. Since 1949, this has been a casual sports bar catering to the after work crowd. Within its cramped, woody interior, you will find a pinball machine, a couple of video games, a juke box and a TV constantly tuned to sports. In terms of food, Pippin's offers free peanuts (the shells litter the floor) and a good size menu of various sandwiches at reasonable prices. For a laid-back escape from the typical Rush Street crowd of tourists and yuppies, you cannot go wrong here.
Climb down the stairs past the bouncer and enter a college bar in the middle of the biggest tourist area in town. Students from nearby Loyola and Northwestern universities have called Streeters Tavern their home for years. Streeters offers a special on a different micro-brew each month. It is also a fine place to hide from family members while they shop across the street at American Girl Place.
Joe's Be-Bop Cafe and Jazz Emporium is loud. It's noisy. It's teeming with kids. It's got kitsch o'plenty. That's right, it's Joe's Be-Bop, where you can chow on Southern food while listening to hot jazz. Dive into Smoked Chicken Quesadillas, Baby Back Ribs, Chicken Pasta and other tex-mex-southern-Italian-whatever-else-you've-got-in-the-pot fare. When the tourist season is over, it draws an interesting crowd. This is also a cool place to take the kids in order to introduce them to a music they might otherwise ignore. The music begins nightly after 6p.
Biggs is located in a beautiful and historically rich mansion, built before the Chicago Fire in 1857 by the wealthy DeKoven family and designed by noted architect Edward Burling. Later, the Biggs family, in the catering business as far back as 1895, bought the house. Today, you can still sense the history of the mansion, as parts of the original remain intact. The menu is impressive, too. Start with Russian Beluga Caviar and move on to Sautéed Medallions of Venison with Lentil Ragout or Roasted Rack of Lamb with Natural Rosemary Jus. The desserts and the champagne and wine list are outstanding as well. The restaurant also offers valet parking. Biggs opens daily at 11am.
Its big brother is the restaurant Coco Pazz0 on Hubbard Street. Many consider Coco Pazzo the best Italian place in Chicago, and big crowds and high prices follow accordingly. Coco Pazzo Café is a smaller, scaled back version of the famed restaurant and features many of the same Tuscan and Northern Italian dishes. Goat cheese with fennel, olives, potatoes and warm crostini ($6.50) is a popular appetizer. Salmon Pan-Fried with sundried tomato tapenade, lentils, wild mushrooms and spinach is a particularly good entrée.
835 North Michigan Avenue Water Tower Place Chicago, IL 60611
After your day of shopping at Water Tower Place, head down to the mezzanine level, walk past the coffee stand and ask to be seated at the Mity Nice Grill. Sure, the photos of children smiling at you are kitschy beyond belief, but, other than that, the theatrical setting and lighting of the restaurant is unusual among mall eateries. A 1940s flavor is intended to pervade the establishment. You will not be fooled, but even so, the food is pretty good. Chow down on grilled flat breads, steak, chicken dishes and salads and save room for dessert.
Turn the corner off of Division Street, step inside P.J. Clarke's, and all of a sudden you are a world away from the hormone-driven scene of the nearby singles bars. The downstairs pub is a casual affair with typical pub food. Upstairs, there is a nice Italian-American restaurant that is supposed to hark back to an earlier time, but mostly it is just the Sinatra music that achieves this desired effect. The prices are right on the money. Most of the customers are the "yuppie" crowd in their 30s who are too grown up for the Division Street nonsense nearby, but still enjoy a night out. Reservation is advisable for the upstairs dining room.
Many people in town, food critics and laymen alike, rank this as the best Italian restaurant in the city. Coco Pazzo has a wonderful menu, mixing a variety of styles and flavors to create Tuscan inspired dishes. The menu changes often to ensure the food is only prepared with the freshest ingredients. Pair you meal with a glass of wine from their impressive collection of over 150 wines. Make your reservation well in advance and dress to impress.
It may not exactly be the bar at the Hotel Ritz, but this comfortable Lincoln Park haunt has a charm that is all its own. The outside of the building has a 1940s feel, and the interior follows this theme with a curvy bar, funky tables and bar stools that are reminiscent of the art deco style. The owner is a Frank Sinatra aficionado, and the walls are home to Sinatra memorabilia. The jukebox is packed with songs from Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., along with some more modern songs as a concession to those not hip enough to swing a little.
Fast food does not get better than this. The standard burgers, hot dogs and fries are served, but all with a quality and panache that is light years away from McDonald's. Please do not ask for ketchup on your hot dog, or the purists who serve your meal will make you regret you did. You can also stop by for a quick breakfast.
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