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Great eats and drinks near Chicago's United Center



United Center on the Near West Side hosts the Chicago Blackhawks and Bulls as well as concerts, Disney ice shows, Cirque du Soleil runs and other performances, but for those who want more than concession stand fare, you'll be happy to know that nearby restaurants and bars are proliferating.

Places like Kaiser Tiger, Sausage, Bacon & Beer Bar  and West End Bar & Grill offer shuttle bus service to United Center making them particularly convenient. The sandwiches at Capriotti's are outstanding, the pizza couldn't be any more popular at Bonci and Macello  or try Monteverde for adventurous turns on Italian fare courtesy of a Top Chef chef. Check out Belly Q for bold takes on traditional dishes from Korea, Japan, Vietnam and China, with a definite nod to American comfort food. There's an entire universe of flavor waiting at myriad restaurants along the West Randolph Street corridor.

At CH Distillery, order The Tradition (CH Vodka served Eastern European-style, with rye bread and pickles) and a burger or grilled cheese to get a fine start on the evening without breaking the bank. Parlor Pizza Bar isn't all about pies - stop in after the game for house made waffle cones packed with ice cream, gelato and toppings from Peeps and pretzels to nuts, fruit and cookies. That's right - we're number one! 


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BellyQ features bold takes on traditional dishes and flavors from Korea, Japan, Vietnam and China, with a definite nod to American comfort food. Chef Bill Kim's passion for sourced ingredients and his curiosity for traditions and cultures is evident on every plate. Try savory scallion pancakes, Korean short ribs and tea smoked duck breast. The minimalist space buzzes with an open kitchen, interactive grill tables, karaoke room, lounge and one-of-a-kind interactive cooking programs. Drinks are equally exciting from Japanese whiskey to sake plus sturdy cocktails like Kill Bill with shochu, passion fruit drinking vinegar and Vida mezcal. The Karaoke Den allows guests to belt out tunes using the karaoke player and monitor in the comfort of a private room that features plush, custom-made lounge chairs, side tables, tufted ottoman and acoustically insulated panels.


WestEnd Bar & Grille
Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of WestEnd


WestEnd Bar & Grille is a decent place for pre-game partying for United Center sporting events, particularly Chicago Blackhawks hockey games. Thirty-three plasma TVs broadcast the games throughout the friendly two-level bar. The best seats for sports fans are the leather, TV-equipped booths. It gets crowded on game days, but that's because fans can count on the bar food, including tacos, burritos and burgers and something from the expansive beer menu, filled with craft and locally brewed ales. Feel free to order another if you're hopping on the bar's free and regularly-running shuttle back and forth to the United Center. Brunch is favorite here often offering bottomless Mimosas and a Bloody Mary bar.




Pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci chose Chicago as his first pizzeria location outside of Italy and the throngs are loving his Roman-style pizza cut with scissors and sold by weight. Bonci offers only fresh, natural ingredients primarily imported from Italy and considers "Agriculture as culinary art" so expect ever-changing toppings on the Roman-style crust. You probably won't experience the same pizza twice since options can change hourly and Bonci has more than 1,500 recipes that have emerged from the Italian ovens. Expect a mix of cured meats, cheeses and seasonal produce. Recent choices include hummus and mortadella; spinach, ricotta and anchovy; spicy eggplant; and mushroom, prosciutto crudo, mozzarella, argula. Moisten the pipes with single-serve beer, wine and canned cocktails.


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MAD Social lists every single trendy restaurant item so you barely have to deliberate: there's mac 'n' cheese, poutine, charcuterie, bao buns, chicken and waffles, ceviche and tuna poke, among the lot. Brussels sprouts? Check. Kale? Yep. Octopus? You know it. When you're anxious about making it in time for the puck drop or the opening act to exit the stage, you needn't wrestle over unusual choices. MAD Social must have a algorithm pointing to the most ordered menu items around town so you're bound to find something appealing when you're concerned about making it to the UC on time. Weekend brunch brings some attractive choices like short rib Benedict and salmon toast to the venue that sports a "1900's warehouse" inspired design. Count on $5 drafts for Hawks and Bulls home games and $25 bottomless Mimosas and Bloody Marys from 11am to 2pm Saturday and Sunday.




As your college years proved, it's always time for pizza - including before or after a United Center event. Parlor Pizza Bar has an array of 12-in. Neapolitan-inspired pizzas fired in imported Italian wood-burning ovens. Pious pizza eaters will go the Cheesus, Mary & Joseph while early rock fans may want to order Great Balls of Fire. The Burrata Be Kidding Me is made with fresh mozzarella, imported burrata, home-made lemon vinaigrette and white truffle oil. The Aunt Chilada's Chicken riffs on Mexican. There are apps from hummus and nacho bites to calamari as well as burgers, substantial salads and even a wood roasted half chicken. For a pizza place, the range of desserts may surprise and there's a walk-up counter, Dessert Dealer, where you can pick up sweets to go or sit down. Choose among 14 rotating taps of craft beer, , artisanal wines and fun cocktails.




Kaiser Tiger could be the ideal pre or post United Center destination. The beer garden serves double duty as ice curling rinks in winter with fire pits, hot drinks and s'mores and in the toasty months, the 250-seat beer garden offers games like bocce ball, giant Jenga, bags, ping pong and live music. The meaty menu includes Bacon Grenades - spicy beef and pork meatballs wrapped in bacon, beer battered, and deep fried; poutine; quesadillas. Bavarian pretzels; fresh cut Belgian style fries to dip in to Irish Curry, Cajun Remoulade, Bacon Walnut or other saucy numbers. Tuck into wild boar sausage; smoked kielbasa; spicy Argentinian chorizo; burger or schnitzel sandwich; Shepherd's Pie; salads; or vegan and veg items. Pair your choice with any of the constantly rotating 24 tap craft beers.




Chicago's first distillery (if you don't count what went on in basements in the 1920's) started with vodka and now offers craft cocktails and boozy snow cones with everything from limoncello to mezcal. The food menu, compact and easy to navigate when you have to make a game or a show, updates about three times a year so "Spring Plates" transform sometime in summer and then again when the chill sets in. The rest of the menu (like a great $10 burger and a yummy grilled cheese) remains year round. Winning charcuterie and cheese, served with sourdough, honeycomb and house made giardiniera, may be all you need with a scintillating craft cocktail. Or fill your pre-show belly with comforting options like a stuffed pepper with red beans and rice. gumbo or shrimp and grits.


You can satisfy your hunger at a sandwich shop or dine deliciously at Macello, about a mile from United Center. Scents from the woodburning oven wafts "dove si mangia bene" (where you eat well) in the space that sports an old world charm with custom murals. The back patio is perfect for alfresco dining with a seasonal cocktail, juicy wine, live music and ongoing events. Cuisine at the rustic ristorante is inspired by the dishes of Puglia, Italy - so seafood is especially wonderful. Start with stuffed calamari or baby clams au gratin and move onto fantastic pizzas like the Pugliese version with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, mortadella and burrata. Chops, steak and fish also make a trip through the wood burning ovens so the catch of the day or roasted chicken boast a heady essence. At least a dozen pasta and risotto dishes round out the seriously good menu.




In a food universe saturated with sandwich shops, Capriotti's lands at the top of the heap for a number of reasons. It counts a 40-year tradition of slow-roasting whole, all-natural turkeys in-house, hand shredding them every morning and making meatballs from scratch. Ergo, you have to try any of the turkey sandwiches and a luscious meatball number topped with marinara and provolone. The Capastrami (hot pastrami, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and homemade coleslaw) and the Cheese Steaks, which come in classic, chicken and veggie varieties, are phenomenal, rivaling the popular Philly versions. Hot and cold sandwiches are prepared in various sizes and there are also soups and sizeable salads. Everything is loaded with flavor and very satisfying so you can thumb your nose at the overpriced factory-prepared food offered during a game or concert at the UC.




At the intersection of Texas, Italy and Top Chef, you'll find Monteverde, Chef Sarah Grueneberg's ode to her birth place, wanderlust and the inventiveness that tv viewers witnessed on season 9 of the Bravo show. If you're looking for traditional dishes, you're in luck but there are also adventurous new flavors not usually seen in an Italian kitchen. You may get religion trying handcrafted pasta made fresh daily - either classic Italian pastas or Grueneberg's innovative riffs like wok-fried arrabbiata or tortelli verdi with roasted white miso. Nibble Stuzzichini (snacks), primi piati (before pasta), sizable entrees and dessert. Oma's Green Mountain Salad is full of seasonal crunchy vegetables served with a family dressing recipe with house-made lemon pepper and garlic salt. Try an updated version of Chef's grandmother's dish, Lillian's Stuffed cabbage redolent of mushroom bolognese, a vegetarian choice that is as hearty as any meat dish.


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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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