House-made cuisine isn't supposed to be flashy, and Mario's Mondo Cafe doesn't try to impress diners with anything beyond an unwavering dedication to Old World flavors. Inspired by generations of family recipes, Chef Mario cobbles together a menu of familiar Italian staples while incorporating local and sustainably sourced ingredients whenever possible. The Chicago Tribune praised the restaurant for its commitments to tradition and unpretentious comfort food, calling the eatery, "a casual, hidden treasure."
Even the decor aims to create a cozy ambiance. Butcher paper covers the tabletops and a single shelf lines the pale orange walls, displaying a variety of homestyle mementos, such as framed pictures and bronzed kickball trophies.
Sudsy drafts gush from foam-flecked taps at The Chubby Bullfrog, a neighborhood watering hole aglow with the flicker of televised Chicago sporting events. Gooey strings of cheese swing elastically, like a jazz clarinetist during his weekly yoga class, from thick slices of pizza studded with sausage or pepperoni. Boisterous cheers echo off the contours of golden pitchers filled with Miller Light, Blue Moon, or seasonal selections from Sam Adams, such as Winter Lager, Summer Ale, and White After Labor Day Stout.
In pubs across Ireland, the craic, which means enjoyable conversation and gossip, is everything. It's the same at The Curragh Irish Pub & Restaurant, with regular live music, Irish dancing, and live streaming of rugby and soccer matches from around the world. The Curragh's menu relies on its Irish ancestry, with traditional dishes such as corned beef and cabbage or chicken boxty. Beers follow suit, with dozens of Irish ales, including Smithwick's and Guinness, on tap. Whiskeys such as Jameson and Bushmills are also poured through tap-like spigots at the wood-paneled bar. In the summery months, The Curragh's patio radiates with warmth and conviviality, often humming with the cheer and snorted laughter of catered parties.
The baristas at The Rock House wouldn’t lavish their attention on any old beans picked out of a wholesale catalogue—they needed a more personal experience with the coffee-growing industry. To guarantee the wholly non-exploitative origins of each cup of java served at their shop, the coffee brewers partnered with growers to develop their very own crops and went the extra mile to ensure quality by roasting all the beans in-house. As the baristas brew single cups with an artisanal pour-over method, customers can sip Sri Lankan teas, sift through rock-’n’-roll-inspired merchandise under the light streaming from naked light bulbs, chandeliers, and disco balls.
There is a huge gap between what parents want to eat and what their kids do. Between picky eating habits and the lure of shiny plastic toys, it can seem impossible to get kids to eat out without having to scarf chicken nuggets yourself. Two Wilmette fathers grew tired of this cycle and the poor quality of food their kids were craving, so they decided to create a restaurant where they, their wives, and their kids could all get an enjoyable meal.
The result was Gilson’s, an American bistro that uses sustainably caught and locally grown ingredients that adults value, and couches it in a friendly atmosphere complete with a children’s menu that accommodates picky eaters without plying them with processed junk food. The bistro reflects its two identities with an outdoor patio and exposed-brick dining room, with a more upscale wine bar that caters to guests wanting to sip international vintages in a more intimate space.
For the adults, chefs specialize in seafood. They accent shrimp and ahi tuna with layers of mango salsa and wasabi mayo to create complex flavor profiles without boiling up a rubik's-cube reduction. House specialties such as the fish tacos and Wyoming bison burgers get pared down to create smaller lunch portions, alongside a selection of organic sandwiches and salads.
The festive displays at Chicago Botanic Garden's Wonderland Express pluck visitors from forests of skyscrapers and tangles of telephone vines and prepare them for the holiday season. Energy-conserving LED lights⎯750,000 of them⎯twinkle in the crisp air of an outdoor magical winter wonderland. Inside, amid the falling of faux snow, tiny model locomotives chug through an elaborate 10,000-square-foot display featuring decorations, holiday trees, botanicals and poinsettias, and more than 80 mini models of Chicago’s famous buildings and landmarks. Designed by holiday wizard Paul Busse, the model-railroad garden combines artistic design, horticulture, and Windy City pride to delight children, parents, grandparents, and estranged snowmen cousins alike.