Beyond an ornate blue-and-white exterior, groups of family and friends celebrate any number of occasions over fresh Mexican seafood dishes. As birthday celebrants don sombreros and farmhands feed cogs to the mechanical bull, fork tines prod fresh lobster, fish tacos, and shrimp fajitas. Mariachi bands, DJs, and karaoke crooners also send music notes sailing through the dining room’s archways, as the 60-ounce Margarita Tsunami complements a whole red snapper doused with hot sauce. Meanwhile, live singers, magicians, and colorful cultural acts ensure eyes and ears feast as thoroughly as bellies do, during theme nights and shows that occur every Wednesday though Sunday.
Using all-natural meats, Amish free-range chicken, and produce from Midwestern farmers’ markets, Hemmingway's Bistro serves fresh, flavorful French fare in an attractive, white-tablecloth-laden dining room. Executive Chef Ala's fondness for melt-on-your-tongue seafood makes its mark on the menu—the restaurant imports fish from the East Coast daily. Satiate seafood cravings with the herb-crusted whitefish paired with caper butter ($18.95), or guzzle away at the Dijon salmon with a side of cream lentils ($21.95). The Classic ($36.95) stuffs grumbling stomachs with half a lobster, nine oysters, three shrimp, three clams, six mussels, and two crabs. Before the main course, showcase your magic skills by cutting the baked brie topped with apricot preserves ($11.95) in half with your saw-teeth. Vegetarians can fork in warm goat-cheese petite salad ($7.95) while carnivores sink their teeth into the roasted lamb rack paired with ratatouille ($26.95). Cleanse your esophagus with a glass of '99 Saint Clement syrah ($9 for a glass) or an '06 Campanile pinot grigio ($7 for a glass) from Hemmingway's stockpile of red and white wines.
One of the first things you notice about Tavern on La Grange is how colorful it is: hot pink and indigo lights wash walls in a neon watercolor effect, and the bottles behind the bar are backlit with red and fuchsia. Murals of art deco-style buildings and figures give the room another added pop. Pasta and steak dishes are among the menu's crowning achievements, along with the likes of lobster tail and lamb chops. People fill the restaurant's spacious, kaleidoscopic dining rooms throughout the week to take in bistro-style meals, drinks, or one of the establishment's periodic events. Those evenings are just one part of what the restaurant's owners hope makes Tavern on La Grange "a quality dining experience and community meeting place."
Husband-and-wife duo Alejandro and Diana Guerra strive to bring the Mexican beach restaurant experience to Chicago at their Mexican seafood institution La Palapa. Here, patrons dine on spicy Nayarit-style seafood on an outdoor patio, basking under palapas?thatched palm-leaf umbrellas?with their toes planted in the sand-filled deck. Roving mariachi bands often pop in to serenade tables, and a menacing statue of a shark lords over the beachy scene, hoping to sink its teeth into helpings of seafood paella, spicy garlic calamari, and red snapper. The seafood combo melds shrimp, octopus, mussels, and scallops, and the Palapa shrimp is doused in Alejandro?s grandma?s own secret spice concoction.
This cozy eating establishment offers a menu of fish dishes and Polish classics and a warm, friendly atmosphere. Start with a hot bowl of mushroom soup ($3.95) or an order of potato pancakes, crispy discs of shredded spud that bring the breakfast arts to the dinner table ($4.99). Then, dive into Big Fish's signature dish: grilled red snapper served with asparagus ($18.95 for lunch, $24.99 for dinner). Pierogi pillows filled with cabbage or fluffy cheese and potato are the savoriest resting spots for tired tongues ($6.50–$8.95). Imported options on an extensive drink list include Tyskie and Zywiec. Reservations are required.
Behind the counter at De Pasada, staffers pack the black chalkboard menu with a mélange of burritos, tacos, and classic Mexican entrees. Stone masks, South American décor, and a flat-screen television lurk in the split-level dining area, waiting to catch hungry eyes in a way that Shakespearean food dioramas never could. During warmer months, overhead fans cast breezes on diners when the cool presence of a frosty Jarritos or horchata isn't enough.