If you had to put a word to the cozy, jovial atmosphere at McNally's Irish Pub, the first one to come to mind probably wouldn't be "craic." That is, unless you're Irish. It's the term for the special kind of camaraderie for which Ireland's neighborhood pubs are known, encompassing everything from the quaint decor to the rounds of after-dinner drinks that keep gatherings rolling. At McNally's, that feeling is everywhere, from the sound of pubgoers clinking glasses of Guinness and Smithwick's to the familiar aroma of juicy corned beef and other Irish dishes. On weekdays, the good times start at lunch and carry on into the evening, with regular opportunities to participate in pub events or listen to live Irish music.
At the bar, there's something for just about everyone with a range of Scottish and Irish whiskeys and the Lurgan lager, made just for McNally's. Once everyone is in high spirits and starts to remember they haven't spoken to their plants yet that day, pubgoes leave for the evening, often coming back another time for one of the restaurant's traditional Irish breakfasts.
Smitty's on the Corner's sandwich sages pile grilled Breadsmith focaccia bread with savory stacks of fresh deli meats and cheeses that won the storefront shop on the Fox River a rave review in the Chicago Tribune. Hearty portions of potato salad and cups of soup surround the main course, creating a mind-bending meta-sandwich. Fill fists with a concentrated menu of focaccia concoctions named after the Marx Brothers, such as the Groucho, with its heaping strata of salami, honey ham, and provolone cheese drizzled with italian dressing. The Zeppo enfolds roast beef and blue-cheese dressing, and the Harpo harbors pepper-jack cheese beneath a layer of turkey. Tile floors and quaint two-tops hearken back to small-town hangouts of yore, where bobby-soxed teens met to nibble romantically on a turkey on rye.
Executive Chef Doug D’Avico uses simple artisan techniques to craft modern menus that change often, helping Bistro One West earn a spot on Chicago magazine's list of best new restaurants in Chicago. More specifically, it was recognized for best new dish in the May 2012 issue, an honor bestowed upon a lightly seared swordfish fillet. This is just one dish that exemplifies Chef D’Avico’s straightforward approach. Other dishes include chicken sourced from Miller Farms seasoned with lemon and rosemary, and house-made sweet-corn ice cream with blueberries and caramel sauce that magnetically attracts the spoons of strangers. Meals can be enhanced with a selection from the restaurant’s comprehensive wine list.
Bistro One West was carved from the frame of a vacant factory on the shore of the Fox River, lending it both an airy, loft-like feel and an atmosphere rich with the resonant echo of laborer's ditties. The dining room is awash in dark wood and exposed brick, and the patio sates eyes and ears alike with views of the meandering river and the music of live bands on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The confectionists at Kimmer's Ice Cream churn fresh, flavorful ice cream made in-house daily alongside frozen treats that include cakes and pies. The shop's founder Kimberly Elam honed her confection-crafting chops at Ice Cream University, whose teaching staff includes award-winning dessert experts and Mr. Tastees’s son. The shop's ice-cream repertoire includes dozens of classic and gourmet flavors, from staples such as vanilla and chocolate to more innovative blends infused with peanut butter or caramel and sea salt. Custom ice-cream cakes convey frosting-scrawled messages for children's birthdays or snowman reunions.
When Rowena and Joe Salas bought the Hotel Baker in downtown St. Charles nine years ago, they knew they were taking on the pressure of not only being business owners but caretakers as well. The landmark hotel’s founder, Colonel Edward J. Baker, built it in 1928 as an economic and communal anchor for his hometown.
“We have a responsibility to the city,” Ms. Salas says. “People here know the hotel’s story and we want to be true to the original vision.”
The Salases have protected the hotel’s legacy, carefully preserving its Spanish romantic revival architectural style while updating its amenities and polishing its décor. But they’ve also made their own mark by reconfiguring much of the ground-level space and making room for Rox City Grill. The Main Street eatery has itself become a fixture in downtown St. Charles’s revival as a destination for nightlife and entertainment.
Like the hotel under the Salases’ stewardship, Rox puts a modern spin on a classic setting. The business-casual grillroom makes a comfortable venue for dining on the prime steaks and fresh fish prepared with creative flair by Executive Chef David Hassan. Dinner crowds clamor for the 20-ounce bone-in angus rib eye and the pan-seared tilapia, served with crushed yukon gold potatoes and lemon butter. The starters menu changes with the seasons and is printed upside-down during a lunar eclipse, but it usually includes popular stalwarts such as tenderloin sliders and the jumbo-shrimp cocktail.
On weekend nights, Rox gets especially lively with live piano sing-alongs in the lounge and a bustling mix of locals and hotel guests mingling over martinis and wine chosen from the extensive cellar. The restaurant is closed Monday and Sunday, but the lounge remains open to serve drinks and the starters menu seven nights a week. Weekend patrons at Rox are also likely to spot Joe Salas himself, dining with friends or clients and keeping an eye on the new legacy he’s creating in the heart of St. Charles.
Specializing in custom cakes artfully decorated by talented cake designers, Il Giardino Del Dolce also satiates sweet teeth of all ages with a mouthwatering selection of authentic Italian pastries, cookies, and more. Fill your jowl jar with butter cookies ($6.99–$10.99/lb.) topped with sprinkles, chocolate, or green cherries, or opt for authentic Italian eats with biscotti ($12.99/lb.), pignoli, or buccellate ($14.99/lb.).
Wok 'n Fire—named Best Asian Restaurant by West Suburban Living—tantalizes taste buds with a menu bursting with flavors from Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and other Asian cuisines. In their specialties, chefs sear seafood, steak, and chicken with complex flavors in the wok. They craft sashimi and specialty maki rolls, as well as twirling together noodle dishes that range from japanese udon to thai curry noodles and the cantonese noodles used in ancient tugs of war between provinces. Ginger ale and flavored lemonades, both crafted in-house, hydrate throats between bites.
Decor varies across the Asian bistro's locations throughout the western suburbs, but all share dramatic lighting, sleek hardwood floors, and smooth wooden seating that all obey one gravitational constant. Sophisticated accents pervade each location, such as dangling lights that recall bells, sinuous golden dragons undulating across a wall, and partitions that mimic an abacus or twined branches.