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Chicago restaurants herald spring with fresh dishes and outdoor settings



To paraphrase poet Alexander Pope, our hopes for spring are eternal here in the middle of the country as sudden chilly winds toy with our sunniness. We're fairly sure that minimum 65-degree temps are here to stay and even if they're not, scads of robust Chicagoans don sandals and shorts sans shivers. We can explore the outdoors on lush patios and any of the burgeoning rooftops that restaurants and hotels open as the first crocus and daffodils push through the warming earth. Offering the season’s first bounty on the plate and in the glass, a clutch of eateries work overtime via food, location and service to serve the season through all the senses. 

Terraces and rooftops transport diners from the cacophony of the streets to a happy place of great bites and sips. Bucktown's etta fits the prodigious bill. Those preferring their spring dining closer to earth but still outdoors should pencil in stops at The Patio at Cafe Brauer or City Mouse. Le Sud and Piccolo Sogno may have the prettiest outdoor patios in Chicago. Superkhana International offers seasonal menu changes and a lovely patio in a section of Logan Square with decent parking. Porto takes you to seaside Portugal with its food and wine and into a Chicago spring via its atrium and retractable roof. Bandit has a pergola structure on the back patio allowing guests to dine on comfort food alfresco year round.

Chef Spencer Blake does wonders with veggie forward dishes at Clever Rabbit and what could imply spring more than a place called Flora Fauna?  Bring on the ramps, morels, asparagus and fiddlehead ferns! 

 

 


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Dining alfresco may be one of a Chicagoan's favorite things in life besides a Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks or Bears victory. Bandit allows restaurant-goers the option to dine outside in comfort with its fully enclosed pergola on the back patio.The pergola is a 15-foot-wall and ceiling, secluding guests from the cooler temperatures and allowing guests to experience the alfresco atmosphere and sun, sans shivers. On warmer days, the pergola opens its roof, for fresh air. Count on American comfort food using fresh and locally sourced ingredients: the signature burger, The Diplomat, a shareable and pull-apart burger made with hormone-free meat, naturally raised, and locally sourced. Merkts sharp cheddar, savory bacon jam and delicate caramelized onion aioli make it special. Bandit's menu features several lighter dishes like charred spiced carrots, Kung Pao cauliflower and a tuna poke bowl. There are cocktails, beer, wine, bubbles and alcohol-free drinks to wet the pipes.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Spring because: Bandit has a pergola structure on the back patio allowing guests to dine alfresco year round in comfort.

Jacky's expert tip: Bandit offers a prix fixe lunch menu that'll get you in, full and out in an hour.

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Piccolo Sogno, Italian for "little dream," is just that. The first restaurant of partners Tony Priolo and Ciro Longobardo is still satisfying diners after 11 years on the competitive Chicago dining scene. The menu is studded with hand-made seasonal rustic Italian dishes and an impressive all-Italian wine list checks in at over 400 varieties. The River West eatery, with its serene interior and shaded patio, provides an intimate refuge from the noisy city streets. Lucky you - it's open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner seven days a week. The menu is full of incredible dishes from earthy wood roasted oyster mushrooms with house cured pancetta, aged balsamic, radicchio and spinach to ethereal pasta like artichoke tortellini with fava beans and peas. Locals rave about the seafood and wood-fired pizzas.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Spring because: Piccolo Sogno is an excellent Italian restaurant lauded for its fresh rustic fare, outstanding service and one of the most enchanting patios in Chicago.

Jacky's expert tip: Parking is free at lunch and $13 cash at dinner which is a bargain. Or take a taxi to River West - you won't be disappointed.

Read more about Piccolo Sogno →




Indian cuisine may be in a state of renaissance in Chicago and Superkhana International is just another indicator. Expect vivid Indian colors, patterns and palettes amid lime-washed brick and an indoor courtyard supplying lots of natural light. A joint venture of chefs Yoshi Yamada (Lula Cafe, Blackbird), Zeeshan Shah (Old Town Social, The Bristol) and Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe, Marisol), the eatery targets Indian flavors via 18 modern vegetable and non-vegetable dishes that change with the seasons. Try Aloo Gobi Pizza with cauliflower, potato and shallot-pepper confitor the butter chicken supreme, a naan calzone stuffed with butter chicken and mozzarella and amul cheese. Super seasonal veg dishes make it easy to get more greens and chefs incorporate local peas, asparagus and ramps into their modern Indian dishes. Who wouldn't want to try a Bombay Sandwich described as a "Mumbai psychedelic grilled cheese...with many, many things."

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Spring because: Superkhana International offers seasonal menu changes, beautiful patio and a sensual space in a section of Logan Square with decent parking.

Jacky's expert tip: The bright modern eatery has a nice selection of bubbly beverages that pair well with "Indian-ish" food.

Read more about Superkhana International →


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City Mouse is Ace Hotel Chicago's signature eatery offering indoor and outdoor seating every day of the week (natch, it's a hotel restaurant), but also happy hour and late-night menus. Its seasonal fare is inspired by the Midwest and is complemented by craft cocktails, local beers and natural wines. There are healthy options round the clock like smoothies and a roasted cauliflower grain bowl; delightfully greasier choices like a double patty burger and fries; and quite refined dishes - like a spring dish of ricotta gnudi with artichoke, Grana Padano, guanciale, olive and scallions. Items starring fruit and veg are especially creative and flavorful. Daily Happy Hour and snacks in the lounge save some money on food and drinks. Try the Gas Station Sandwich during weekend brunch - hashbrown, egg, cheese, grape jelly, sausage and fruit. Dogs and kids welcome.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Spring because: City Mouse boasts a lively 90-seat patio, perfect for spring and complete with fire pits for cooler nights.

Jacky's expert tip: After a City Mouse meal, climb up to the hotel's rooftop bar, Waydown, for delicious, panoramic, skyline views.

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What could imply spring more than a place called Flora Fauna? Husband-and-wife team of mixologist Liz Pearce and chef Jonathan Meyer offer a global-rustic restaurant in River North inspired by their visits across Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Get your greens and antioxidants under the "flora" side of the menu: crispy fried mushrooms with pineapple rum mustard and jackfruit DanDan with chilled green papaya noodles. Stuff lettuce wraps around an array of choices from fried tofu to roasted halibut and various fried rice option range from roasted cauliflower to butter poached King crab. Try one of the Stone Bowls brimming with seafood, meats or garden items. Fruity cocktails and small batch sakes transport you to exotic locales. The tropical-themed, open loft design and large windows coax natural light year-round so it's sensory overload in spring. Happy hour specials and weekend brunch. too.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Spring because: Flora Fauna's internationally influenced menu and tropical-themed, open loft design give Chicagoans hope for sun and fun.

Jacky's expert tip: Wednesday and Thursday nights DJs add to the atmosphere with world beats and international grooves.

Read more about Flora Fauna →


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West Town


Surely West Town can't be mistaken for the seaside of Galicia, Spain or Portugal, however, your senses can fully enjoy the Atlantic coast at Porto. Fresh, wild caught fish is imported weekly from Portugal and Galicia and dances on Porto's grills and woodburning ovens in three open kitchens. There may not be other spots in the Midwest to try Galician uni and razor clams, house cured sardines with Basque pepper sauce, citrus-cured Spanish mackerel, Portugeuse dumplings and the unique use of fresh seaweed for natural salinity in various dishes. The Porto atrium, complete with a a wood-burning fire grill and a dry ager, opens in spring and a Sunday Family Supper rolls out, too. There's a retractable roof that opens when weather permits. The roster of sherries, Ports and Madeiras is the largest in Chicago and the music serenades with sounds from the African coast to Rio and the Algarve.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Spring because: An authentic taste of the Iberian peninsula, Porto is a one-of-a-kind trip to sunny Galicia and Portugal via wine, seafood, retractable roof and atrium.

Jacky's expert tip: Peruse Porto's wine book for tasting flights that travel along the Iberian peninsula's historic family vineyards.

Read more about Porto →


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West Town


Chef Spencer Blake does wonders with veggie forward dishes that are not bathing in butter and cheese but find oomph with daring spice applications. Expect hyper-local and hyper-seasonal products that he sources for every dish. Most of the menu is wide open to those with food allergies or simple dietary restrictions, too. Count on creative turns on veg: foraged watercress, Miner's lettuce, and nettles; Dutch white asparagus and California baby artichokes; and artichoke paella "socarrat" with green garlic, mint and langoustine, among others. Carnivornes will go for The Fat Rabbit burger (beef patty, Portobello, Swiss, crispy onion, jalapeño and steak aioli) and the new house made bucatini pasta with parsley root, clams, and saffron delights seafood fans. The bar program also adds a dose of veggies and teas in cocktails. Clever Rabbit is a revelation even for previous vegetable haters.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Spring because: Clever Rabbit is the model for conventional dietary wisdom: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

Jacky's expert tip: As soon as the weather cooperates, ask to dine on the outdoor patio.

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When The Patio at Cafe Brauer opens, it's officially spring. Opening date for 2020 is May 1st. A few steps south of the main grounds of Lincoln Park Zoo, Café Brauer is a historic Prairie School-style edifice that overlooks a pond at the park's Nature Boardwalk. You'll witness stunning views of the prairie ecosystem as well as the Chicago skyline. Chef Daniel Kelly from Levy Restaurants shops the nearby Green City Market for fresh produce and other ingredients to make burgers, sandwiches and salads that sing the praises of spring. Options appeal to all ages: pita stuffed with, falafel and hummus; housemade guac and salsa; juicy burgers; and an array of tacos and sandwiches. There's a decent roster of craft beer and frozen cocktails are definitely a few bucks less than what you'll pay at downtown spots. The lack of car traffic is another pastoral plus.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Spring because: Chef shops the nearby Green City Market for fresh produce that makes the menu sing with spring and the pastoral Lincoln Park location is unbeatable.

Jacky's expert tip: The Patio features live music, from indie pop to fiddle music, Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.

Read more about The Patio at Cafe Brauer →




If ramp and green asparagus pizza doesn't get you in the spring mood, check your pulse. You'll savor that and more at etta in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood. Award-winning chef/partner, Danny Grant, fashions a seasonally inspired menu that utilizes its wood-fired hearth in unique ways. The kitchen team starts hand-rolling pasta every day before dawn so your bucatini cacio e pepe may be the best you've tasted. Rack roasted oysters or ricotta pillows are stunning ways to launch then choose from more than a half dozen salad and veggie items to get your greens. Larger format "for the table" items include fire-roasted whole Branzino sprinkled with capers and parsley and wood-fired chicken redolent of lemon, garlic and thyme. Desserts, cocktails and the wine roster are equally inspired. The Green with Envy cocktail (Hendricks, Chareau, pea tendril, basil, matcha, lime) is herbaceous refreshment. Definitely dine on the lovely rooftop terrace.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Spring because: One of the few rooftops in Bucktown, etta's rooftop includes an indoor and outdoor space with a relaxed setting filled with lush greenery.

Jacky's expert tip: Stop in for rooftop brunch weekends and Happy Hour (Mon.-Thu) features $1 rack-roasted oysters and $15 bottomless carafes (per person).

Read more about etta →


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Roscoe Village


April in Paris? Mais oui! Or just take a ride to Roscoe Village's Le Sud. The popular French-Mediterranean spot offers a rooftop patio that transports you to a garden in the south of France. Flowers and herbs scent the air, wine barrel fire pits warm you if there's a sudden Chicago chill and proprietor Sandy Chen shows how a trip to the villages of Provence inspired her decor. A retractable patio roof has been added so guests can dine outside no matter the weather. New events include a French movie night, monthly themed wine tastings, midweek prix fixe menu ($36) and kids eat free Sundays. New executive chef Michael Woodhall's Provencal-influenced food includes roasted beet Napoleon; Salade Nicoise; rabbit stew; steak frites; bouillabaisse; a fabulous burger; and Fettuccine Parisienne. Don't miss Basque cake and house-made ice creams and you'll say, "merci."

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Spring because: Making top food and wine lists in a restaurant crazy town, Le Sud also offers one of the prettiest outdoor patios in Chicago.

Jacky's expert tip: Not keen on French food? Le Sud's burger may be one of the best in the city.

Read more about Le Sud →


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Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky

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