A top-5 rating from TripAdvisor.com doesn't happen overnight. Just ask Dave Samber, whose Polo Caf? and Catering Bridgeport U.S.A., a mile west of U.S. Cellular Field, currently ranks among Chicago's most popular restaurants. Since opening in 1990, the restaurant has earned a reputation as an adventurous spot where guests can feast on lamb chops and sandwiches served on warm French baguettes. On weekends, the restaurant also opens its doors early for two signature brunches: Saturday's Bloody Mary Brunch pairs horseradish-dosed bloodies with tasty takes on classics like Polo Caf? favorite Eggs Benedicto XVI and french toast, while Sunday's Gospel Brunch treats diners to a soulful serenade from singers backed by a live organ.
Samber and his dedicated staff share their delicious food served with Chicago hospitality amid the green and white diner's tin ceiling, tufted booths, polo-green tablecloths. The vintage glamour is only interrupted by framed accolades and a colorful 12-foot chalkboard created in 1986 to welcome guests to the historic Bridgeport neighborhood, home to five of Chicago's mayors. The adjacent Old Eagle Room, a repurposed theater built in 1914, accommodates up to 100 banqueters on its main and mezzanine levels. These guests enjoy entertainment from a Rodgers 360 theater organ or a 20-channel audio system after storing cars in free lighted parking lots.
The house specialty carne asada dominates Mexico Steakhouse's selection of recipes honed over 40 years of service. The kitchen concedes to morning cravings with a battery of egg breakfasts and frantic signals with a white napkin, and traditional dishes, such as pork tamales, travel to tables later in the day. A bright-blue awning and a row of arched windows distinguish the brick restaurant, where a jukebox recites an encyclopedic compilation of tunes for diners inside.
Chef Oliver Valenzuela has darkened the doors of many historic kitchens in his 30 years as a chef, from New York's Waldorf Astoria and the New Orleans Hilton to the Palmer House in Chicago. But when it comes down to it, no kitchen compares to his latest one: his own. He and his wife Marcy now man the cutting boards at their brainchild, Oliver's Cafe, where they dream up, test, and serve new American recipes such as the house's cinnamon-braised beef tenderloin.
Their specialties are grilled meats and seafood. They artfully plate dishes such as the seared jumbo scallops served in a salsify leek ragout, roasted red pepper sauce, and a port wine glaze. But their flare for culinary whimsy doesn't stop at the entrees. Chef Oliver also crafts signature desserts such as the cinnamon apple, pineapple, and raisin egg roll served with a scoop of ice cream and tart berries as well as classics such as fudgy brownies. The one thing the couple leaves well enough alone is drinks, which is why they allow customers to bring in BYOB bottles of their favorite wines or free-range well water.
As the mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley was not one to throw around his endorsements lightly. That makes the signed token of praise on May St. Café’s wall even more remarkable. Though Mayor Daley was duly impressed by chef Mario Santiago’s blend of Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Cuban cuisines, he might have been equally taken with Santiago’s personal story. The chef’s ascension through Chicago’s culinary ranks began at his family’s restaurant and continued during his stint at the renowned Graham Room at Chicago’s Civic Opera House, where he served as captain of the kitchen. Today, Santiago draws on more than three decades of experience to craft a veritable quilt of Latin American flavors. One exemplary dish is the French double-cream brie quesadilla, which takes an unexpected turn with winter pear and chipotle sauce fillings. In a similar pairing of sweet and savory, the cinnamon chipotle chicken fajitas balance spicy peppers with a tinge of dessert flavor. For a full-blown dessert, try the homemade white chocolate flan, which can be enjoyed by the spoonful or sculpted into an edible bust of Mayor Daley.
At Chimichurri, chefs marinate succulent cuts of steak and chicken and grill them in the traditional Argentinian churrasco style. Diners can get their steak topped with green and red peppers or a pair of eggs, sunnyside up. The restaurant also serves up pizzas, fresh salads, and entrees made with homemade flat noodle pasta and flavored with pancetta, bacon, and red peppers. Handheld snacks include the milanesa sandwich, which is stuffed with breaded steak and onions, or the choripon??Argentinian sausage seasoned with chimichurri sauce and served on a warm roll. After a spicy meal, you can cool your tastebuds with a scoop of the eatery's housemade gelato.
Carmichael's Chicago Steak House pushes and pulls at its Chicago identity. The restaurant’s menu and décor pay homage to the classic Chicago steak house, an institution as iconic and as dear to the city as the skyscraper, the lakefront, or the rivalry between the North and South Side baseball teams’ mustaches. Twenty-four-ounce porterhouses and marbled and aged tenderloin hark back to the city's past as the country’s foremost meat producer.
Outside on the patio is another story. Mature trees, potted plants, and the occasional strain of live music push against the urban bustle of the West Loop. Carved out of reclaimed warehouses, this outdoor oasis transports diners from the traffic and road construction that descend on the city in summer. Under a red canopy or against the glow of lamplights, these alfresco meals add an air of tranquility and romance rarely experienced without having to stretch on a yoga mat scribbled with sonnets.