Nia Mediterranean: We paid a somewhat reasonable price for an 8 course tapas style menu. The food came out way too fast (we weren't even finished with each course before they brought the next one), and several of the items were mediocre at best. Highlights for me were the hummus and arugula salad. They relied really heavily on fat (cheese) and salt to make their dishes "good".
90 Miles Cuban Cafe: A tiny little shack of a place that serves a variety of Cuban sandwiches, sides, shakes, and drinks. Minimal seating. I ordered a vegetarian sandwich with tofu (delicious) and instead of bread they used a fried plantain! I would gladly go here again. You must get the empanada with cheese and fruit sauce. So good!
Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant: Really unique experience, and I thought the food was great. I had a vegetarian combo with a variety of lentils and vegetables, my companion ordered a beef combo (hers came with lentils and cabbage salad). The food is served on a spongy flatbread, and you have no utensils. You rip up flatbread and scoop up your food with it!
Vera is an intimate, chef-driven wine bar offering an exquisite selection of seasonally rotating wines from Spain, Europe, and The Americas, alongside Spanish sharable plates presented simply yet elegantly. In the spirit of enjoying food and wine at the table with others, Vera’s focus is on quality, artisanal products, made and presented with great pride and care. The warm and inviting décor reflects the essence of Spanish hospitality, including a deep commitment to food and family. Run by resta
Perennial Virant, farmhouse chic. I really liked the innovative dishes and flavor pairings unlike any I'd had before. Did not like my fried soft shell crab, but I loved my Gnudi. Which is really fun to say out loud at a table with friends, especially if your friends have been drinking a bit. :)
TO VISIT: Yuzu, sushi and robata grill
Butcher & The Burger - Customize your burgers, choose everything from meat seasoning (i.e. grandma's onion soup or coconut curry honey) to yiur patty (i.e. elk or grass fed bison, etc.). Burger extras include foie gras and black truffle aoili. "A dash of old fashioned butcher shop with a pinch of culinary artistry mixed in."
TO VISIT: Butcher & The Burger, thousands of different burger possibilities (you can mix your beef with shrimp, elk meat, etc)
Lao Sze Chuan: Go with someone who knows their way around a Chinese menu, because this place has a multi-page novel with almost 1000 items on it! It's funny to ask the waitress for a recommendation and hear a response that you should turn to item 615. The couple we went with served their mission in China, and gave it their seal of approval, so I think it's a pretty good place to go for Chinese in Chicago.
Spiaggia: Reviews on Yelp consistently bring up small portion sizes, but I only ordered two plates+dessert (they recommended 3 of course) and I was rather full! We went when the menu was full of truffles, and my gnocchi with ricotta and truffle sauce was perfect. I was a bit nervous about the gelato (I'm a bit of a gelato snob after our time in Italy) but the Nutella one (can't remember the name) was the best hazelnut+chocolate combination I've ever had.
"Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe: The grocer-and-sandwich shop stocks its shelves with gourmet groceries (such as the locally produced Nice Cream in flavors like mango-chile). Other don’t-miss items: sandwiches stacked with high-quality ingredients and obscure-yet-delicious cheeses. Take that, Fox & Obel! 1126 E 47th St (773-538-7372, zhmarketcafe.com)." -- Via TOC
Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe: A good option if you're meeting up with a student at the UofC and you want to have lunch somewhere close to campus. Very small.
Sit Down Cafe & Sushi Bar: It was just okay. If you have friends visiting you in Hyde Park, it's an option in an area that isn't bursting with great dining options.
Avec: We can't stop raving about the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce. This is a small setup, where you sit down and could possibly be joined by other people at the table (see how it is one long strip?) This is so they can maximize the number of people in the restaurant at one time, and also because meeting other people who enjoy good food and asking what they have at their style is awesome. It's made to eat family style, with everyone sharing. When we ordered dessert they brought out our bowl of sorbet, and 4 spoons, and we as a table (married couple, friend, and new friend we just met) dug right in, all sharing out of the same bowl. My mother would have been appalled but we loved it. :)
Pastoral: I ate at the location in the French Market, but I believe the menu is the same as other locations. Great for a light lunch. If you are dining with other people, go to the French market location, as you'll have a variety of options to choose from in case your companions aren't in a Pastoral mood.