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Restaurant Recommendations: Casual

"Casual" covers a somewhat wide range. More affordable. Not exactly a special occasion spot. Quality bar food. Hangover cures. You get the drift.

Stout Barrel House. Great bar food and beer selection.

Lillie's Q. First time I tried tri-tip, which was phenomenal. Fried pickles are amazing. Avoid the cornbread.

The Peasantry. "Elevated street food" from the owners of Franks 'n Dawgs. Cognac barbecue frog legs and chicken and corn pancake gyro were awesome. Would definitely go back to try more.

Chicago patios, rooftops, and beer gardens - a nice list to keep handy.

Paramount Room. Poutine appetizer was good but a bit of overload (next time would probably skip the pulled pork on it) before an incredible burger. Side beet salad was refreshing in comparison to the heavier dishes.

Barn & Company. Need to go back to try straight-up barbecue, but what we had was great. A Southwestern-inspired salad with pulled chicken was good, and a special brisket melt sandwich was amazing: brisket with bacon, bacon-infused barbecue sauce, and cheddar. Fries were so-so; cornbread was good.

Bad Apple. Burgers to rival Kuma's. I had the Edmund Fig-Gerald, which had a porter, fig, and bacon relish, goat cheese, and grilled onions. I ordered it on a pretzel bun and got truffle-seasoned fries. Delicious. Extensive beer list as well.

Big Star. Delicious. Really packed even at 7pm, but they call you, so go to a nearby bar for a drink. Margarita was delicious, not overly sweet. Get the chips, guac, and the salsas. Frijoles charros were okay; a little soupy. I tried the taco de panza (pork belly) and the taco de pescado. Both were phenomenal. The pork belly was crisp on the outside, juicy inside. The fish was fried, which I normally do not like, but it stood up well in this taco. Want to go back to try more!

Bar Toma. Quality Italian fare at an affordable price, right off Michigan Ave. Great shopping meal. Beef skewers were a delicious starter. Pizzas were awesome: had the Uovo e Funghi, Capriole Goat Cheese (my favorite), and the Lorenzo. And while the desserts were great, definitely try the gelato. I tried the balsamic and it was so creamy and flavorful. Want to try the whole burrata and rock shrimp polpette next time.

Demera Ethiopian. Loved the lentil sambussas, anything wat, and the kifka (order it rare - lub lub).

Hopleaf. A warm and cozy interior, great comfort dishes like mussels and frites (sooooo good!), and a huge beer selection make this a perfect winter hideaway.

La Gondola. Went to the new Belmont location. Absolutely delicious Italian. Great crusty bread to start. Grilled octopus appetizer was delicious, very peppery and lemony. Minestrone and salad that come with the meal were just meh, so save room for the entrees. The Rigatoni Boscaiola was fantastic - rigatoni, mushrooms, and hunks of sausage swimming in a rich tomato-cream sauce. The lasagna was also wonderful - a large slab filled with ricotta and sauce, topped with mozzarella and surrounded by a moat of meat sauce (love extra sauce) . Can't wait to eat my leftovers - and go back again.

The Fifty/50. Seriously the best chicken wings EVER. Unbelievable. Also some of the best burgers I have ever had: really creative toppings, and made from good meat. Lastly, the most delicious waffle fries. Can't wait to go back, preferably when hungover.

Cafecito. Rated best Cuban sandwich, but after trying it, I'd pass on that and go for something else. The Ropa Vieja sandwich was delicious, as was their black bean soup and a special Spanish soup they had that day.

Davanti Enoteca. Warm and intimate, perfect for a group or a date. Wine is priced at cost for a more affordable experience. Definitely try some combination of formaggi + salumi. The focacia di recco was one of the best things I have EVER eaten. Crispy pork belly antipasti was delicious. For pasta, the uovo in raviolo san domenico was out of this world, while the paccheri con salsiccia was good but nothing spectacular. If the farro, goat cheese, and hazelnut salad returns, try it. Pass on the pizza della fattoria - pretty bland.

Franks 'N Dawgs. Awesome gourmet sausages without the drama of Hot Doug's line. Always new, creative specials. And the Triple Truffle Fries? OMG.

Franks 'n Dawgs - menu

franksndawgs.com

Lao Beijing. One of the many Tony Hu restaurants in Chinatown. Most have similar, if not the same, menu items, so it doesn't really matter which you go to. However, the smoked tea duck is phenomenal. Totally worth the trip to Chinatown. Lo mein and softshell crab have also always pleased.

Burger Bar. Really delicious burgers with tons of awesome toppings. Great fries with creative dipping sauce options. Milkshakes and mac 'n cheese are also great choices.

Great Lake. Voted best pizza in the nation. While I find that a tough sell, it is pretty good. Blistered, crispy outer crust that is still chewy inside. Fresh, locally sourced toppings. Really hard to get a table - suggest going in to order, then grabbing a drink at a nearby Andersonville bar while waiting for takeout.

Hamburger Mary's. Fun Andersonville spot with very creative burgers. Gouda Morning burger and the Barbara-Q Bacon cheeseburger are both awesome. Also have good brunch sandwiches and burgers (think fried eggs).

Twin Anchors. Best ribs I've ever had - fall-off-the-bone tender. Definitely try the Prohibition sauce.

entrées | Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern

twinanchorsribs.com

DMK Burger Bar. Had the #2 - chili-rubbed onion strings, amish blue, and spicy ketchup. Delicious. Onion strings also great as a side. Truffle cream with the parmesan fries was to die for.

Bistronomic. Affordable bistro cuisine in a cozy, downtown setting. Extensive, affordable wine list as well. Cheese platter with the country pate was a great starter. The Amish chicken and glazed short rib main dishes were awesome. Would like to go back to try some of the medium plates.