If Wyatt Earp suddenly found himself in modern-day La Grange, Illinois, he'd likely feel right at home at Al's Char-House. The well-known, Wild-West themed steakhouse that is approaching its 20-year anniversary, presents diners with all the comforts of a home on the range, starting with the wood-trimmed dining room, where walls display cowboy memorabilia ranging from old photographs to cattle skulls. The menu takes inspiration from the old west too, featuring steaks that can range in size from 8 to 56 ounces. Of course, if steaming, lightly charred slabs of filet mignon, bone-in ribeye, and charhouse sirloin don't make your mouth water, Al's also specializes in seafood such as grilled and bourbon-glazed Atlantic salmon, or shrimp served char-grilled with garlic or battered and deep-fried. The vintage-inspired restaurant boasts plenty of modern amenities as well?a large projection TV screens live sporting events near the bar and the crackling fireplace.
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 the Tavern chicken, 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."
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.
Thick cuts of meats and seafood broiled over an open charcoal flame travel to tables around Tom's Steak House's elegant dining room or full bar. Filets, rib eyes, and new york strip steaks are cut fresh every day and carried to linen-clothed tables in charcoal braziers, an oval warmer filled with charcoal to keep the steak at the ideal temperature to warm mouths or soothe neck pain. The menu's myriad selections of fresh seafood, sandwiches, and salads can be paired with fine wines that introduce the robust flavors of fermented grape. Bronze chandeliers and windows inscribed with art-deco patterns loom over booths where bar patrons sip cocktails.
100 South Chop House emulates swanky 1950s supper clubs with ambient jazz, tender steaks, and ambrosial martinis. Diners can fork-spear a filet mignon, rib-eye, or skirt steak, or release the knife gripped between their teeth to slice into coconut-crusted and teriyaki-glazed fish such as mahi mahi, salmon, and sea bass mingling with jalapeño peppers. Burger patties sizzle under mounds of melting white cheddar, spicy blue, or buffalo mozzarella. Meanwhile, chefs simmer sauces such as asiago cream, basil tomato, and garlic white-wine to toss with pastas. Patrons can select glasses of wine from a roster of dozens, including myriad cabernets, merlots, and posh reserve vintages that arrive wearing fedoras and wingtips.
"Did I like it? Do you want to get slapped? I loved it."
That was one diner's response to Ted Brunson, the host of America's Best Bites, when asked about whether or not he enjoyed Las Tablas Colombian Steakhouse's signature dish, the Entrana. This South American take on skirt steak is downright beloved by some Chicagoans. One such guest admitted to living above one of the city's most iconic steakhouses, only to find himself trekking over to Las Tablas whenever he gets a craving for steak. The thinnish strip is scored along its generous length, allowing it to absorb the super-secret eight-spice blend that's rubbed into it?only two people know the recipe. It is then served on a warmed metal plate that rests upon a wooden slab (a "tablas"), as are many of the restaurant's other dishes.
Considering how much they've been through to get to this point?including an uprooting from Colombia in the 1980s and a fire?it's probably a relief for the Suarez family that their recipes are so revered. It also helps that their menu is refreshingly simple, yet flexible. There are a few beef dishes, a few chicken dishes, a few pork dishes, and so on, but guests can also order a combinaciones, which allows them to pair two proteins of their choice. The Entrana and shrimp make a classic match, though options such as baby octopus and pork loin lend themselves to more creative pairings. Vegetarians need not feel left out, either, as there's a veggie platter, 100% meatless napkins, and a paella that blends spiced rice, beans, yuca, plaintains, and potatoes. Those starches reappear throughout the menu, and are served with most entrees.
If you're inspired by the Suarez family's cooking, you can try to recreate the recipes at home with their new product line of sauces and seasonings.