Stepping inside Chef Shangri-La's dining room is like entering a distant tropical trading post. Thatched awnings, woven ceilings, and palm fronds flank Polynesian masks and Easter Island statues while scents of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese cuisine waft with Polynesian aromas from mango- and pineapple-covered meats, barbecue char siu, and spicy sichuan stir-fries. Rock walls and fountains line a tucked-away koi pond, and a separate tiki bar urges guests to while away the hours sipping tropical drinks outfitted with tiny umbrellas that belong to tiny British nannies. As guests sup on meals of japanese noodle soup and tropical pua'a pork, the stage area regales diners with live Hawaiian bands every third Saturday of the month and annual music fests and luaus with DJs, dancers, and Polynesian collectables.
As a high-school student working at a local pizzeria, John Schnatter often pondered how he would do things differently if he owned such a business himself. After graduating from college in 1983, he got his chance, knocking down the broom closet in his father’s tavern to create his own pizza-delivery business. Since then Papa John’s has grown to 3,500 restaurants in 50 states and 29 countries. At each location, cooks cover the signature hand-tossed crusts, made with high-protein flour and clear, filtered water, with tomato sauce from vine-ripened California tomatoes, then pile on locally sourced ingredients such as green peppers and onions. The emphasis on fresh ingredients extends to the 100% mozzarella cheese, beef, and pork, which are never artificially inflated with fillers or undeserved compliments. In addition to delivering pizzas, Papa John’s reaches out to the community with charity involvement, including partnering with the Boy Scouts of America and Junior Achievement to teach US students about entrepreneurship and the best method of capturing a wild roma tomato.
Created in 1981 on the back of a few family recipes, Buona’s serves up appetite-satiating italian-beef-based sandwiches and comfort-fare classics. The menu is packed with palate-pleasing favorites such as hot dogs, sandwiches, grilled paninis, and thin-crust pizzas. Try an original Buona beef sandwich ($4.95 for a 7" size) made from a family recipe and served on freshly baked italian bread with natural gravy and beef that arrives tender, lean, and sheepish following an in-house roasting. Larger feasts such as the barbecue baby-back ribs ($9.95 for a half slab) or the grilled salmon cibatta ($7.25) quell the quagmires of even the most sovereign starvations. To keep meals as light as a globetrotting eccentric's hot-air balloon, try one of eight crisp, hand-tossed salads, such as the pesto balsamico, tossed with whole-wheat pasta, pesto, and toasted pine nuts, and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette ($7.25).
With a menu bearing what Examiner.com Chicago called Chicagoland's most indulgent italian chocolate truffle, La Notte Cafe sates classic and contemporary Italian tastes with tempting dishes and an extensive wine list. Italian-born chef Giovanni Matteo Mancini tailors entrées to individual tastes, giving pasta patrons and veal votaries the freedom to add ingredients, substitute sides, and perform calculus equations with complex pasta shapes. Diners can warm up tenacious taste buds for the main event with a creamy polenta La Notte, bedecked with sausage and peas ($9.95), before moving on to the tender veal cutlets of the vitello saltinbocca, with prosciutto, mozzarella, and sage in a white-wine sauce ($22.95). Like a bouquet of roses, the sauce of risotto del mare ($26.95) can be ordered in red or white and is imbued with the aroma of fresh seafood, brimming with shrimp, mussels, clams, and calamari atop italian arborio rice ($26.95). Just as every business deal ends with a chocolate-covered handshake, meals at La Notte meet an ambrosial end with desserts such as the tulip, a chocolate cup filled with liquid tiramisu and strawberries drenched in raspicello liqueur and adorned with chocolate mousse, whipped cream, and velvety ladyfingers ($8).
To find many of the fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs that underscore their Mediterranean menu, Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits' chefs only need to walk a few steps away from the kitchen?to the restaurant's own greenhouse. Although it's hard to get more local than that, many other ingredients are sourced from Cakeridge Farms in the Ohio River Valley, owned by head chefs Dan Pancake and Beth Partridge. Both worked under James Beard Award winner Tony Mantuano in Chicago before perfecting their Mediterranean cooking and wine-bottle-juggling on Spain's Costa Brava.
At Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits, Dan and Beth whip up fresh pasta, flatbreads made to order, and small plates inspired by French, Spanish, and Moroccan cuisine. A lengthy wine and spirits menu makes it easy to pair each dish with an apropos beverage, including small-batch and organic options. Diners can enjoy their meal on the restaurant's three-season patio or inside at tables crafted from fallen ash trees harvested from Cakeridge Farms.
“If we weren’t so stubborn we would have quit a long time ago.” That’s what Brian Mahoney told MySuburbanLife.com’s Adam Rosen, in 2010, shortly after he and childhood pal Gianni Pincente opened Brando’s Beef in the historic depot district of Berwyn. After a lifetime of wanting to yell out gibberish from their own hot-dog stand, and plenty of trials with building codes and repairs, the duo finally opened the doors to their family-friendly eatery. Today, the best buds serve up decadent italian-beef sandwiches and sausages, hot dogs, and fresh-cut fries—all at prices that earned them a nod as a bargain eatery from Chicago's Best. The menu includes other Chicago favorites, such as thick-crust pizzas and fresh-made lasagna. Beyond serving their typical lunches and dinners, the Brando’s crew heads to special events, alleyway meet-ups, and fundraisers with trays of beef, chicken parmesan, and mini subs.