Sam Buca's Restaurant and Bar maintains its dual identities as a traditional Southern Italian restaurant and a casual sports bar with a roster of delectable dishes and a fully stocked bar equipped with HDTVs. In the dining room, patrons settle down to white-clothed tables, where they can admire a centerpiece of luscious olive oil or begin perusing the menu. Land and sea collide in a calamari linguine dish ($15), where linguine noodles mimic their cephalopod prey by entwining white-wine-marinara-sautéed calamari, capers, and black olives. Fresh tilapia italiano ($16) sits demurely beneath white-wine sauce alongside a refreshing guard of green onions and fresh-diced tomatoes; the buttery lemon chicken ($14) makes up for its life of baldness with a coterie of angel hair pasta. Alternatively, diners can opt for a bold filet mignon draped in melted blue cheese and mushrooms ($24) that infuses muscles with enough potent strength to best opponents in gladiator matches and pillow fights. As parties wind down their meals, they can close on a sugary coda with thick homemade cannolis.
Papa's Fresh Foods serenades sweet cravings with a plethora of freshly ovened cupcakes. Like a Chia Pet on its first birthday, single servings of cakey bliss wear slatherings of homemade frosting, from the chocolate overload⎯a chocolate butter cake topped with rich chocolate butter cream and shavings⎯to the tangy key lime, decked out in a tasteful chapeau of cream-cheese frosting. In addition to classic flavors, a variety of less-common fluff fills Papa's cupcakes, breaking tradition in a more edible way than letting the baby carve the Thanksgiving turkey. The peanut-butter butter cream, jelly, and fresh-ground nuts of the peanut-butter-and-jelly cupcake provides a sweet upgrade to the lunch-pail standby, and chocolate ganache outfits the frosting-filled Hostess with the mostess.
Bon a Pit’s menu takes a multipronged approach to appetites, prepping meticulously selected meats smoked in wood-burning ovens alongside fresh seafood and other barbecue fare. Like a staring contest with George Clooney, slabs of barbecued baby back ribs ($13.95 for half, $19.90 for full) smolder slowly in applewood seasonings, and the roasted veggie panini melt ($8.95) finds fresh veggies snuggling atop ciabatta bread beneath blankets of goat and provolone cheese. An inferno of flavorful flames licks the fresh dill atlantic salmon ($15.95), smothered with extra-virgin olive oil and homemade dill sauce beside an island of rice and toasty vegetables. Live musicians serve up blazing ballads alongside the delectable eats, which are enjoyed in a bright orange brick building.
Sixty years has seen Tastee Freez transform from a cozy two-man operation to a gargantuan national franchise, with more than 100 locations decorating the United States like sprinkles. The menu is casual but diverse, ranging from cheeseburgers and corn dogs to frothy shakes and 97% fat-free ice cream, which can be customized with candies and fresh fruit. Patrons may also request one of Tastee's signature Freezees available in flavors such as oreo, butterfinger, and reese's pieces.
In business for 25 years and renowned for its slow-cooked barbecue ribs, the family-owned Nick's Barbecue maintains a culinary stable of more than 100 equally tempting items on its menu. Fall-off-the-bone barbecue baby back ribs cover fingers in a sweet signature sauce, dinner’s perfect complement to stylish sauce-colored outfits ($10.99). The barbecue pulled pork ($7.59) and half-chicken dinner ($7.45) team up tender white meats with three down-home sides, including mac ‘n’ cheese, potato wedges, barbecue baked beans, or mixed veggies. Two items that are as authentically Chicago as a silver bean riding the L train—the italian beef sandwich ($4.69) and the vienna all-beef hot dog ($2.15)—do their city proud as they tame the windiest of appetites.
At Mister Mo's, friendly barkeeps and servers pour frothy brews and dish out delicious pub fare to gatherings of friends amid a convivial sports-bar atmosphere. A generous row of beers on tap emits tingly drinkables such as Blue Moon and Leinenkugel, and walls decorated with jerseys and sports memorabilia remind fans of the Bulls' successful championships and short-lived sitcom of the 1990s. While guests mingle over cocktails, patrons hurl miniature spears at the set of dartboards on the wall or bob their heads along to the live music blaring from the bar's stage.
At Jullianni's, friendly staffers rush mozzarella-strewn pizzas, wings, and nachos to each table and booth in their open dining room, which is furnished with a high ceiling and sleek wood accents. Diners can also sate cravings for subs or idiosyncratic flavors such as crab cakes with banana-pepper tartar.