Phil Vettel, a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, joined Tribune Company (at Suburban Trib) in 1979, and has been The Tribune'’s restaurant critic since 1989. He has a wife and two sons, one or more of whom often accompany Phil on his culinary adventures. He also makes a mean egg-salad sandwich.

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Phil Vettel

Phil Vettel

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51 places to dine alfresco in the city and suburbs (while you still can)

51 places to dine alfresco in the city and suburbs (while you still can)

September 29, 2014

How are you going to get people to eat indoors when there are so many outdoor-dining options in the city and suburbs? Here are some of the best bets for dining under the sun and moon, divided in New, View and Tried-and-True categories.

  • Restaurant review: Parachute ★★★

    September 23, 2014

    For my money, 4-month-old Parachute is the most exciting restaurant to open in Chicago this year. The husband-wife chef team of Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim are working magic in Avondale.

  • Restaurant review: Ceres' Table ★★

    September 16, 2014

    The success of Ceres' Table in its original Uptown location was a culinary mystery. Set across the street from a cemetery and next door to the infamous Lincoln Towing company, Giuseppe Scurato's restaurant sat on a street that literally was the last place any Chicagoan wanted to end up.

  • Restaurant review: Osteria Langhe ★★

    August 26, 2014

    At some point, Chicago's Italian restaurants lost their focus, and I don't mean that in a bad way.

  • Restaurant review: Boltwood, in Evanston ★★

    August 19, 2014

    Brian Huston had no idea that his 2-month-old Evanston restaurant, Boltwood, would be so popular. Or so noisy.

  • Restaurant review: Spiaggia ★★★★

    August 5, 2014

    This is not your father's Spiaggia. It isn't even Obama's Spiaggia.

  • Review: Kinmont ★

    July 30, 2014

    One of the signature dishes at 6-month-old Kinmont is the Fisherman's Stew, a sized-for-two bounty of fish, shellfish and vegetables. It's an unwieldy dish, even a slightly sloppy one — the massive prawns are shell-on — but the cluttered platter represents the best of the day's market, minimally fussed over.

  • Restaurant review: Bottlefork ★★

    July 16, 2014

    What do you get when you put a four-star chef in a one-star concept?

  • Restaurant review: Japonais ★★

    June 24, 2014

    Masaharu Morimoto, aka the Iron Chef, has landed. The chef, who has restaurants in New York, Philadelphia, Florida, California and Hawaii — plus two in India and one in Mexico City — teamed up in February with the folks behind Japonais to add Chicago to his list of conquests.

  • Restaurant review: Old, new find a place at Niche

    June 17, 2014

    The west suburban Geneva restaurant Niche is a couple of months shy of its 8th birthday, but in the eyes of many of its devoted fans, it's a much older restaurant.

  • Phil Vettel on Father's Day dining

    June 12, 2014

    Father's Day is Sunday, and if you haven't figured out what to do for Dear Ol' Dad, Chicago restaurants are eager to assist.

  • Two restaurant is worth a second look

    June 9, 2014

    Deuces are wild at Two restaurant, which gets its name because there are two owners, it's their second restaurant (the now-shuttered Zak's in Hinsdale was the first) and the West Town dining room has a "second life" by way of the reclaimed materials used in its decor.

  • Paying homage, selling innovation at Next

    May 29, 2014

    What you think about Chinese: Modern, the latest iteration by the theme-shifting restaurant Next, may well come down to how you feel about The Coconut.

  • Libertyville's new draws: Milwalky Trace & Shakou

    May 22, 2014

    The last time I was in downtown Libertyville, I was hanging two stars on Tavern in the Town, an ambitious steak-and-seafooder with an impressive wine list. In my view, that was about the only reason to dine on this stretch of Milwaukee Avenue.

  • Taste of Chicago 2014: Turkey legs are back!

    May 15, 2014

    Well, we knew Dominick's wasn't coming back. But plenty of other restaurants and food trucks are gearing up to participate in Taste of Chicago, July 9-13 in Grant Park.

  • Everything old is new again at Boka

    May 15, 2014

    I can't decide if Boka is the best new restaurant, or the most-improved old restaurant, in Chicago.

  • Four stars: Topolobampo is one of Chicago's finest restaurants

    May 8, 2014

    Topolobampo is approaching its 25th birthday (toward the end of the year) looking very much like a restaurant gearing up for 25 more.

  • Local reservation, pay method is just the ticket

    May 1, 2014

    42 Grams is the latest Chicago restaurant to feature prepaid, nonrefundable tickets in place of traditional reservations. The advantage to the customer: Known, up-front costs and little, if anything, to settle up at evening's end. The advantage to the restaurant: reliable customer counts and freedom from the dreaded, profit-devouring no-shows.

  • Dusek's cuisine all over the map, in a good way

    April 23, 2014

    Pilsen might seem like an odd place to open a beverage-focused, gastro-pubby restaurant, but chef Jared Wentworth recalls hearing the same sentiment when he opened Longman & Eagle in Logan Square.

  • How to be mistaken for a restaurant critic

    April 16, 2014

    Jared Wentworth remembers the day that Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guide, strolled into his restaurant — anonymously.

  • Breakfast with Ina Pinkney

    April 9, 2014

    For a retiree, Ina Pinkney doesn't sit around much. Pinkney recently closed her beloved breakfast/lunch spot, Ina's, going out with a grand finale on New Year's Eve, capping a restaurant career that spanned 22 years in three Chicago locations. In the three months since, she has moderated and sat on panels, speaking about women chefs and the restaurant industry in general; joined a memoir-writing group ("some pretty damn accomplished people there," she said, admiringly); made a fistful of TV appearances; lent her name to a charity or two; and tirelessly promoted her one and only cookbook, "Taste Memories: Recipes for Life and Breakfast," which came out late last year.

  • Phil Vettel recommends: Passover dining

    April 9, 2014

    Passover begins at sundown Monday, and of course many of Chicago's restaurants are eager to help. Here are a few options; unless noted otherwise, special dinners are available Monday and Tuesday.

  • Dogs by the decade this year at the ballpark

    April 7, 2014

    Hot dogs at the ballpark are nothing new. But in celebration of Wrigley Field's 100th birthday, some of the park's hot dogs this year will have a radically different look.

  • Shuck and awe at new oyster restaurants

    April 3, 2014

    Chicago's love for oysters dates back to the mid-1800s, when trains from the East Coast made oysters accessible to rich and poor alike. Today, specialists such as GT Fish & Oyster and Shaw's Crab House shuck thousands of oysters each week, and oysters appear on menus from steakhouses to sports bars.

  • Patrick Fahy's star still rising

    April 2, 2014

    Patrick Fahy, three-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation's outstanding pastry chef award (finalist in 2011) is well-known to Chicago dining fans. In the past five years, Fahy has been executive pastry chef at Blackbird, Avec and The Publican; executive pastry chef at Hotel Sofitel Chicago Water Tower and its restaurant, Cafe des Architectes; and pastry chef at four-star Sixteen.

  • Down-to-earth luxury at Travelle

    March 20, 2014

    It has been a brutal three months for Chicago's restaurants. Beyond the Facebook Chiberia photos and scientifically illiterate global warming jokes lies the grim reality that the cold and snow of 2014 have kept Chicagoans in their homes and out of dining rooms.

  • Campus restaurant Waterleaf is a suburban oasis

    March 13, 2014

    There are hidden gems, and then there are hidden gems. Waterleaf restaurant, for instance, isn't a good restaurant where one wouldn't expect to find it; it's a good restaurant tucked away where you'd never think to look for it.

  • Restaurant review: A10

    March 5, 2014

    Hyde Park has plenty of restaurants that are worth your attention. Now there's one that demands it.

  • Topolobampo's '1491' menu posits a much different Mexico

    February 27, 2014

    'There's a saying," says chef extraordinaire Rick Bayless, "that every Mexican recipe begins, 'First you brown the onions and garlic.'"

  • Phil Vettel recommends: Pepper and egg sandwiches

    February 26, 2014

    As a kid growing up Catholic, my meatless-Friday options included canned tuna, grilled cheese, tomato soup and whatever nasty fish my mom would slap in a fry pan.

  • The Boka restaurateurs behind star chefs

    February 19, 2014

    In 10 short years, Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz have gone from being fledgling restaurateurs to being the Chicago restaurateurs everyone wants to work for.

  • Dishes for two on Valentine's Day

    February 12, 2014

    I don't know when "shareable" became attached to "small" in the dining realm, but waiter patter has included the phrase "small, shareable plates" — spoken without a trace of irony — for some years now.

  • Cicchetti has culinary cred to spare

    February 6, 2014

    There was more than one Italian restaurant to debut in December by a veteran restaurateur and a culinary dream team. I wrote about Nico Osteria, in the Gold Coast, a few weeks ago; now let's regard Cicchetti, a Streeterville restaurant that is doing with the flavors of Venezie what Nico is doing with Italian seafood.

  • Chicago Restaurant Week: Carlucci keeps eats reliably good

    February 4, 2014

    The first Carlucci opened in 1984 at Halsted Street and Webster Avenue, and for many years it was one of the most popular Italian restaurants in the city. These days, Carlucci is strictly a west suburban operation (1801 Butterfield Road, Downers Grove, 630-512-0990), operating out of a spacious, tastefully ornate location (there is a Carlucci in Rosemont, which has different ownership).

  • Nobody does Restaurant Week better than Naha

    February 2, 2014

    As we head into the final stretch of Chicago Restaurant Week (which concludes its 14-day run on Thursday), I turn my attention to Naha (500 N. Clark St., 312-321-6242), because if there's a restaurant that handles Restaurant Week better than Naha, I've yet to find it.

  • Chicago Restaurant Week: Junk food platter at Chuck's

    January 31, 2014

    Though he was born in Evanston and famously won an Iron Chef America cooking challenge (in the “Battle Hamburger” episode), Kerry Simon is far better known outside Chicago than here, thanks to his restaurants in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

  • Next takes on the classic steakhouse

    January 29, 2014

    Chicago Steak, the latest iteration of Next restaurant (which changes themes three times a year), is a head scratcher, the first effort by Grant Achatz, Dave Beran and Nick Kokonas to leave me uncertain as to what the trio intended.

  • Vie proves Restaurant Week isn't just for city spots

    January 28, 2014

    One of the nice developments of Chicago Restaurant Week during the past seven years is the increasing number of suburban participants. It’s especially gratifying this year, when the miserable weather is keeping potential diners close to home; the shorter the travel distance, the better.

  • Chicago Restaurant Week: Coco Pazzo

    January 26, 2014

    For more than 20 years, Coco Pazzo (which means "crazy chef") has been one of Chicago's best Italian restaurants. A wide-open converted loft combining exposed timbers and white-linen tables, Coco Pazzo's look perfectly matches chef Federico Comacchio's fine-dining presentations of rustic Tuscan cuisine.

  • Phil Vettel recommends: Chicago Restaurant Week

    January 22, 2014

    Chicago Restaurant Week is back — bigger and extended.

  • Dream team delivers at Nico Osteria

    January 22, 2014

    Few phrases quicken my pulse as reliably as "a new Paul Kahan restaurant." I've been counting the days since I heard that One Off Hospitality (Donnie Madia, Terry Alexander and Kahan, among others) was developing a rustic, seafood-focused Italian restaurant in the heart of the Gold Coast. And everything about Nico Osteria, which opened in early December, has justified that eager anticipation.

  • In the Heart of Chicago, a hub of restaurants and history

    January 18, 2014

    The street appears frozen in time. If you stood at 24th Street and stared south down Oakley Avenue, the view probably doesn't look that different from 30 years ago. This is the heart of the Heart of Chicago neighborhood.

  • Save the Tables 2013: Your table is reserved for New Year's Eve

    December 26, 2013

    New Year's Eve is just six days away. Do you have your dinner reservations yet?

  • Phil Vettel recommends: New Year's Day brunch

    December 26, 2013

    I admit to an irrational fondness for New Year's Day pajama brunches. The idea of showing up for brunch in one's pjs has a certain quirky charm, and when the entire dining room, including staffers, is doing the same — let's just say that one year at Mon Ami Gabi, the one party that innocently showed up in normal attire looked quite abnormal indeed.

  • Get your holiday protein fix at a Chicago steakhouse

    December 19, 2013

    It's getting to be crunch time for holiday shopping, so you can expect massive crowds in our area malls and shop-heavy neighborhoods. Which doesn't concern me, frankly, but dining out after a day of retail madness does.

  • Phil Vettel recommends: Christmas Day dining

    December 18, 2013

    Bowling and movies aside, there's not a lot to do outside the home on Christmas Day. But a good number of restaurants stand ready and willing to serve that day:

  • Beatrix's creative catchall in hotel setting

    December 12, 2013

    Coherence is overrated. That's the conclusion I draw from Beatrix, an agreeable hodgepodge of a restaurant that opened six months ago in River North and has been doing brisk business ever since.

  • Balena's $99 pizza just might be a bargain

    December 11, 2013

    The thing you need to know about the special $99 pizza being offered at Balena (1633 N. Halsted St., 312-867-3888) is that originally it was going to be a $500 pizza.

  • It's all gourd at Kabocha

    December 5, 2013

    My wife took a bite of the scallop-crab motoyaki, one of the specialties at Kabocha, and smiled beatifically.

  • Sea change at Oceanique

    November 21, 2013

    Mark Grosz is old school, and I mean that in the best possible way. He learned his craft by working at top restaurants here and abroad, most notably under Jean Banchet when Banchet and Le Francais were in their prime. And he runs a superb restaurant, a gently gracious dining room that hearkens to a time when people sought restaurants for relaxation, not energy.

  • Phil Vettel recommends: Beaujolais nouveau

    November 20, 2013

    Part harvest festival, part good excuse to drink wine, the annual release of Beaujolais nouveau takes place the third Thursday on November. Beaujolais nouveau is a light, fruity, food-friendly and fun red wine meant to be enjoyed young, and preferably chilled. Beaujolais nouveau shouldn't be taken too seriously and should never be expensive — and that goes for the celebrations as well.

  • Michelin gives, takes away

    November 14, 2013

    Reactions, rants and general observations regarding the Chicago Michelin guide star ratings, which were announced Tuesday.

  • Peruvian decoded at Tanta

    November 13, 2013

    Three-month-old Tanta, in River North, is easily Chicago's most accomplished Peruvian restaurant, elevating the cuisine — a melting pot that claims Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, African and ancient Incan influences — to the level of fine dining.

  • Sushi flies high under the radar at Masaki

    November 6, 2013

    The best sushi restaurant you never heard of sits just east of the Hancock Center, coddles customers in whisper-quiet surroundings and seats all of 22 bodies when full, which it almost never is.

  • Where to eat if you're following the Bears to Green Bay

    October 24, 2013

    GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Chicago Bears pull into town a week from Monday, which means a lot of Bears fans will be heading here as well. And because it takes more than three hours to drive here from Chicago (possibly much longer; Interstate Highway 94 is an under-construction mess north of the state line), it makes sense to make some dining plans, especially if you're not tailgating:

  • 10 more reasons to go south

    October 24, 2013

    In addition to the 10 south suburban restaurants we highlighted, here are another 10 worth your attention.

  • Simple menu excels at Wood

    October 16, 2013

    Wood is a restaurant that delivers more than it promises. The menu lists simple-sounding dishes composed of familiar ingredients, but the excitement starts when the dishes hit the table. The executive chef, Alinea alumnus Ashlee Aubin, abides by the local/seasonal/high-quality-ingredient credo that many chefs profess; he just does it a lot better than most.

  • Chicago Marathon dining

    October 10, 2013

    The Bank of America Chicago Marathon takes place Sunday, and as always, Chicago's restaurants are ready to provide pre-, post- and midrace meal deals and vantage points.

  • Seafood that soars at Juno

    October 9, 2013

    This has been the worst year of Jason Chan's life, and the best.

  • Conveyor brings sushi dishes to you

    October 3, 2013

    If you love sushi but hate waiting for it, Sushi + might be your idea of heaven.

  • New 'Bocuse' menu wins

    October 2, 2013

    "Bocuse d'Or," the latest menu from the ever-changing Next restaurant, takes its inspiration from the biennial culinary competition named for the visionary Paul Bocuse. But the restaurant's tribute is as much to Bocuse the chef as it is to Bocuse the competition.

  • Phil Vettel recommends buffalo chicken wings

    September 26, 2013

    The happy truth about Buffalo (and other style) chicken wings: Respectable to very good wings aren't hard to make. Fry 'em right (that is, until the skin is good and crispy), douse them in sauce (hot sauce, butter and vinegar are the base components of your average Buffalo sauce) and you're all set. This is why virtually every sports bar in the country serves chicken wings; they're easy.

  • Zesty Italians

    September 5, 2013

    Splashy restaurant debuts attract a lot of attention, no surprise there. But today we take a look at two quiet newcomers, low-key neighborhood Italians with impeccable culinary credentials: J. Rocco, which opened in mid-May in River North, and Tre Soldi, which arrived mid-June in Streeterville.

  • Ina Pinkney retiring after 33 years, closing Ina's

    August 28, 2013

    Corporations have exit interviews; chefs never have an exit interview," says Ina Pinkney. "So this is really something for me."

  • Two stars for Fat Rice

    August 22, 2013

    One of the attractions of ethnic dining is the opportunity to immerse oneself, however briefly, however imperfectly, in another culture; to step out of one's comfort zone and revel, for an hour or two, in the unknown. Travel, without the inconvenience of travel.

  • A second look at Elizabeth

    August 8, 2013

    Elizabeth, the restaurant, is not quite a year old, but recent changes by chef/owner Iliana Regan have made the dining experience drastically different. And I like every single change she has made.

  • Lolla's food lineup boasts impressive names

    August 2, 2013

    For a festival in which food is not the primary focus, or even the secondary focus, Lollapalooza puts out a pretty good spread.

  • Glencoe's Guildhall restaurant

    August 1, 2013

    Considering the dearth of full-service dining within the confines of north suburban Glencoe, the new Guildhall restaurant probably didn't have to work very hard to attract an audience. Just about anything would have been an improvement.

  • Three stars for The Lobby

    July 25, 2013

    One great thing about a hotel restaurant named The Lobby is that it's easy to find.

  • Revisiting Everest, Les Nomades

    July 11, 2013

    In the 1998 Zagat Survey Chicago Guide, of the 40 restaurants with the highest food ratings (based on popular opinion), 20 of them were French.

  • A new view of 'cue

    July 4, 2013

    Barbecue still holds a romantic allure. At its heart, you take meat and apply heat via smoke of a wood-burning fire. There's something primordial and attractive about the process. Unlike grilling a steak or frying a pork chop, smoking meats requires patience and instinct. Which is why it's easy to spot a barbecue restaurant, but hard to find one that does it consistently well.

  • Let's take this outside

    June 27, 2013

    The heat of summer 2013 took its sweet time arriving this year, even though summer officially began only last week. But as anyone in Chicago can tell you, the weather doesn't have to be ideal to make outdoor dining appealing.

  • Lillie's Q limited-edition sauce debuts

    June 20, 2013

    There's bourbon barbecue sauce, and then there's the stuff Charlie McKenna of Lillie's Q has whipped up — a limited-edition barbecue sauce whose bourbon accent comes from having spent the last six months aging inside a bourbon barrel. "There are a lot of sauces out there that pour bourbon into them," McKenna says, "but no one has done barrel aging. You get this nice hint of bourbon, instead of the astringent liquor taste. It's an amazing sauce, probably the best barbecue sauce I've ever had." The base of the sauce is Smoky, the most popular sauce at Lillie's Q. Aging took place inside a charred-oak barrel provided by Heaven Hill Distilleries (Bardstown, Ky.), which also produces the private-label Lillie's Q bourbon that the restaurant carries. In fact, the same barrel that produced Lillie's Q bourbon was used to age the barbecue sauce.

  • Dining options near the United Center

    June 20, 2013

    The Stanley Cup Final heads for a crucial Game 5 at the United Center on Saturday. Here are some pregame and game-time dining options near the UC, for those with and without tickets.

  • Branching out

    June 20, 2013

    "I never wanted an empire," says chef Carrie Nahabedian, in a massive understatement. For the past 12 years, she and her cousin, Michael Nahabedian, have been perfectly happy with Naha, one of the best contemporary-American restaurants in Chicago, as their one and only operation. But they say the dream of opening a French restaurant was never far from their minds, and when the stars aligned and a space became available just two blocks north of Naha (Chicago foodies of a certain age might remember it as the original site of Harry's Velvet Room), the Nahabedians jumped, and Brindille — the name refers to a tree branch that supports new growth — was born.

  • Lollapalooza, Taste of Chicago food announced

    June 19, 2013

    Chicagoans got a little preview of this year’s Taste of Chicago (running July 10-14 in Grant Park) when the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events opened eight Taste booths and a cooking demonstration tent during the lunch hours Tuesday in Daley Plaza.

  • Summer Eating List

    June 13, 2013

    Summer is the sweet season for restaurants. Fresh produce is abundant, daylight lasts longer and restaurants are busier and bigger (with the addition of outdoor seats) than at any other time of the year.

  • Four stars for Next's Vegan menu

    May 30, 2013

    Chicago has seen vegetarian restaurants before, and vegetable menus before, but nothing, not even the vegetable tasting menus that Charlie Trotter offered during his long career, compares to the Vegan menu currently featured at Next. In more than 20 courses across four hours, Next dazzles diners with one inventive vegan creation after another.

  • Diners left adrift in a sea of choices

    May 23, 2013

    E+O, a spiffy and spacious restaurant that opened three months ago in Mount Prospect's Randhurst Village mall, has something for everyone, which is the good news and bad news.

  • National Restaurant Association show: Samples, swag draw thousands

    May 21, 2013

    The National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show (or as convention-goers say, "No, not that NRA ...") is the yearly confab of food and hospitality professionals at McCormick Place that began Saturday and ends Tuesday. As national conventions go, this one is unimaginably vast and gobsmackingly specific.

  • Chefs using their noodles

    May 18, 2013

    Eggs, cheese, bacon and black pepper. Those are the components that go into pasta carbonara, a classic Italian dish that's a real crowd pleaser.

  • Phil Vettel: Two stars for Bread & Wine

    May 9, 2013

    To appreciate Bread & Wine, the 16-month-old restaurant in the Irving Park neighborhood, it helps to be less literal and more observant.

  • Significant sequels

    May 2, 2013

    In the last six months, three highly regarded restaurant chef/operators — Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat, Graham Elliot of his eponymous restaurant, and David Flom and Matt Moore of Chicago Cut Steakhouse — have opened sequel restaurants, each a more casual, more affordable version of their high-end originals.

  • A hidden gem, in plain sight

    April 25, 2013

    There are many things I don't understand about the restaurant business. I don't see why small plates are "shareable." I don't get the appeal of communal tables. And I don't understand why Storefront Company isn't crowded all the time.

  • Bring on brunch

    April 18, 2013

    Though Sunday brunch is a year-round option, warm and sunny weather is what brings out the crowds. I can attest to that, having spent most of the last 10 fairly miserable (weatherwise) weekends hitting one brunch after another; I don't think I found a single crowded dining room during all of February and March (Easter excepted), and reservations certainly were no problem. Brunch-friendly temperatures will be with us soon enough, and when they arrive, here are a few brunch spots, old and new, that will be worth checking out. Better still, visit them now, when tables are still easy to secure (Mother's Day excepted).

  • Scouting the gems of San Juan

    April 17, 2013

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — This island offers so many visual treats — gorgeous beaches, rugged hills, beautiful churches and majestic historic forts — that dining becomes a virtual afterthought. A hunk of meat or fish, some sides of mofongo (fried mashed plantains) and mamposteao (rice and beans with other goodies), a stiff rum drink and you're good to go, right?

  • Phil Vettel: Three stars for EL Ideas

    April 11, 2013

     EL Ideas has been playing to full houses since it opened in July 2011. That would be a nice achievement for any operation, but given the quirky experience chef and owner Phillip Foss offers, it's positively miraculous.

  • Phil Vettel: Two stars for Found Kitchen

    April 4, 2013

    The last time I stepped inside an Amy Morton restaurant, it was March 1990, when Morton, daughter of legendary restaurateur Arnie Morton, had a pleasantly quirky Old Town restaurant called Mirador. It was a cute place, decorated with framed mirrors and eclectic artwork, and the food was very good, especially under chef Debbie Gold, now making foodie headlines in Kansas City, Mo.

  • Phil Vettel searches Chicago for great prime rib

    March 21, 2013

    This began, as stories sometimes do, with a reader request. A gentleman asked for recommendations for prime rib. Not steaks, not beef in general, but specifically prime rib. The only condition he imposed was that he didn't want to wait until the weekend to enjoy it. And that complicated things a little.

  • Rabbit hopping onto U.S. menus

    February 21, 2013

    On menus across the country, rabbit dishes are multiplying like — do I have to say it?

  • Naha's Restaurant Week menu tough to top

    February 3, 2013

    Nobody does Restaurant Week like Naha does. Considering that more than 250 restaurants participate, offering multi-course lunches for $22 and dinners for $33 and/or $44, that's no idle statement.

  • Restaurant review: Sixteen

    September 27, 2012

    Can a four-star meal begin with fried smelts and end with a Butterfinger bar? My last dinner at Sixteen says yes.

  • Taste of Chicago: Same as it ever was

    July 11, 2012

    Buoyed by near-perfect weather, Taste of Chicagoreturned to Grant Parkon Wednesday to a substantial lunchtime crowd that looked very much like opening-day Taste crowds from years past.

  • Denver: Drink it all in

    June 26, 2012

    I never thought of Denver as much of a foodie destination, though Frasca, a 30-minute drive away in Boulder, gets heaps of well-deserved praise. But on a weekend trip a few months ago, I encountered a few meals — and a few drinks — that have me eager to return.

  • Rosewood in Rosemont holds its own against the heavy steakhouse hitters

    November 7, 2011

    Who eats: Business types; conventioneers on break from the nearby convention center.

  • Fixed-price lunch at Blackbird great deal

    September 19, 2011

    Who eats: This West Loop dining room pulls in business types, a surprising number of students and the occasional mild-mannered reporter.

  • Virgin America winning a fan in Chicago

    September 2, 2011

    I am no longer a Virgin virgin.

  • Country cousin far from simplistic

    September 1, 2011

    When word went out that Jason Paskewitz and Ryan O'Donnell were planning Rustic House, a sequel to their successful first venture, the sophisticated Gemini Bistro, I figured the pair wanted a simpler follow-up restaurant, something that would let them expand without overexerting themselves.

  • From Paris to sizzling Bangkok

    August 25, 2011

    Next, the shape-shifting restaurant by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (the principals at world-famous Alinea), dazzled diners with its inaugural "Paris 1906" menu. For an encore, the kitchen went about as far afield as possible. To Bangkok, in fact.

  • Fine dining stakes claim in Berwyn

    August 11, 2011

    To corrupt an old saying, the good Lord never closes a condo without opening a bungalow.

  • A Capital lunch plan

    August 8, 2011

    Capital Grille

  • Pub honors its inner Brit

    July 28, 2011

    Owen & Engine is a 10-month-old gastropub with charming British decor, a beer list bulging with British-style ales and a menu that includes dishes such as bangers and mash and hairy taddie. But chef de cuisine Charles Burkhardt would rather not call the place a British pub, thank you.

  • Sam & Harry's Steakhouse offers modest prices amid sumptuous surroundings in northwest suburbs

    July 24, 2011

    Sam & Harry's Steakhouse

  • French, without the accent

    July 14, 2011

    It's impossible for me to view Paris Club, the hip French bistro that opened in River North five months ago, without feeling a sense of loss.

  • Naha is a good way to impress an associate, and it offers a bright room, professional service and possibly the best burger in town

    July 11, 2011


  • Ing's dishes are spot on

    July 7, 2011

    Homaro Cantu is a chef defined and limited by his excesses. At Moto, Cantu's science-based culinary sleight-of-hand never fails to dazzle even the most jaded diner, but when the presentation promises more than the dish's flavor delivers — and in my view that occasionally happens — the letdown is more keenly felt. Especially at the lofty price point that Cantu's food occupies.

  • Benny's Chop House all about the beef

    June 20, 2011

    Benny's Chop House

  • No need to fish for compliments

    June 16, 2011

    Eventually, the restaurant team of Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz will open a restaurant that fails to live up to expectations. Mostly because expectations for this everything-touched-turns-golden duo keep rising.

  • It's all relative

    May 26, 2011

    It would be easy to overlook Fogon, an 8-week-old Mexican restaurant in River West, especially as the space has been home to two or three forgettable restaurants in the last few years.

  • Dishes speak a universal language

    May 12, 2011

    Mexican-French fusion isn't a new concept in Chicago -- Carlos Gaytan does it rather well at Mexique, and even the newly opened Fogon in River West crosses the Atlantic for a dish or two -- but credit chef/owner Yanitzin Sanchez (chef Yanni to her fans) with a very personal and frequently delicious approach.

  • Creativity trumps authenticity

    May 5, 2011

    What started off 17 months ago as a modest banh mi stand inside the West Loop's French Market has become one of the city's most interesting Vietnamese restaurants.

  • The foodie mayor

    April 30, 2011

    He was the city's Foodie Mayor, a big supporter of Chicago's dining scene who put a high value on Chicago's reputation as a world-class restaurant city. And he was instrumental in creating Chicago Gourmet, a sort of foodie version of Taste of Chicago that has grown into one of the most prestigious chef festivals in the country

  • Strategies for getting into super-hot Next

    April 28, 2011

    The good news is that Next, the sequel restaurant by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, is living up to its sky-high expectations.

  • Phil Vettel reviews Next

    April 25, 2011

    I visited Next looking for greatness, and I found it.

  • Stirring advice from a star chef

    April 21, 2011

    Danny Bowien, the chef/owner of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco, has won accolades for his tiny Mission District storefront and last month was named one of San Francisco's rising-star chefs of 2011 by the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • Ria chef gets it right

    April 7, 2011

    Taste, as a jazz musician once noted, is manifested in the notes one declines to play. In that regard, Danny Grant is a taste master.

  • Talk about your flying fish

    March 24, 2011

    One unexpected benefit of enhanced airport security is that airport dining options have never been better. The arrive-early dictum (to allow for screening delays) has resulted in airports full of travelers with time on their hands and the sure knowledge that the airlines have no intention of feeding them.

  • Dinner and a movie

    February 24, 2011

    Man, I wish I'd gotten this assignment two years ago.

  • Gilt a pleasure in a trying location

    September 8, 2010

    If my enthusiasm for Gilt Bar seems a little restrained, well, I vowed that I wouldn't let myself get hurt again.

  • Stephanie Izard: America's sweet tart

    August 26, 2010

    Five years ago, I wrote that chef Stephanie Izard had "a fanaticism for balance that a Wallenda might envy."

  • Food-friendly Philly

    July 3, 2010

    My wife and I were relaxing on a sunny afternoon in Stella, a gleaming-tile pizzeria whose wood-burning oven produces the kind of crusts that would curl the toes of any pizza lover, when the couple at the nearby table asked, "Do you know where you're going to eat tonight?"

  • Prasino gets an A for eco-friendly effort

    April 1, 2010

    Three-month-old Prasino does so many things the right way, you just want to hang medals around the necks of Peggy Maglaris-Kopley, cousin Ted Maglaris and the rest of the family members who brought this west suburban concept to life.

  • Review: Sepia -- 3 stars

    December 3, 2009

    Sepia ***

  • Il Poggiolo gets Jerry Kleiner's signature look in Hinsdale

    November 19, 2009

    Despite a demographic that would make most restaurateurs salivate, Hinsdale has not always been kind to its dining options. Since finally permitting liquor licenses in 2001 (Hinsdale was DuPage County's last bastion of temperance), the town has bid farewell to Salbute, Kafe Kokopelli and Embrace, all of them ambitious concepts.

  • Ottimo creators hope it'll be first of many

    November 12, 2009

    Visiting Osteria Ottimo, a joint venture between Patrick Concannon (of Don Juan's restaurant in Chicago's Edison Park neighborhood) and Scott Harris (of the 20-locations-and-counting Mia Francesca empire), is not unlike attending the out-of-town debut of a Broadway-bound play.

  • Mercadito's cuisine undermined by miscues

    November 5, 2009

    Mercadito is never going to be an outstanding restaurant, but it has the potential to be pretty darn good. The NYC import, which reached the Lake Michigan shore in September, has an intriguing small-plates menu of traditional Mexican and designer Mexican nibbles, gorgeous decor and a cadre of eager-to-please floor personnel.

  • Restaurant review: Mado

    October 29, 2009

    Pig-worshiping foodies -- and they are legion these days -- should consider Mado as their church.

  • Zaidi's offers excellence at the sushi bar, inconsistency elsewhere

    October 15, 2009

    Thoroughly modern in its look, menu and approach to food and wine, Zaidi's is an oasis of independent thought in a chain-dining desert. I hope the locals provide enough support, because this is a place that deserves to live.

  • Review: Taxim -- 1 star

    October 1, 2009

    There's no law that says a Greek restaurant must take up residence on the six-block stretch of Halsted Street known as Greektown, but one could be forgiven for thinking so.So, when a brash newcomer like Taxim sets up shop on the Wicker Park/Bucktown border, far from the cries of "Opaa!" reverberating by Halsted and Adams streets, it has to mean something.

  • Kleiner brings his signature design, and a bit more, to 33 Club

    September 17, 2009

    Jerry Kleiner's newest restaurant, 33 Club, is nothing you haven't seen before and nothing you haven't tasted before.

  • Candy for the eyes, food for the palate

    September 3, 2009

    If someone had suggested to me that this summer's hottest dining location would be at State and Lake Streets, I probably would have administered a field sobriety test.

  • Review: Han 202

    August 20, 2009

    The best dining deal in Chicago can be found, every day, at a tiny Bridgeport storefront called Han 202, where chef/partner Guan Chen offers a five-course menu for $20.No, not $20 per course. Twenty dollars for the whole meal.

  • Restaurant review: Les Nomades

    August 13, 2009

    Six years have passed since my last visit to the magical little house on East Ontario Street. In that time, Chicago's culinary landscape has changed dramatically.

  • Imagine Lula, all grown up. That's Nightwood restaurant

    August 6, 2009

    One is tempted to view 10-week-old Nightwood in terms of 10-year-old Lula, the now-legendary Logan Square restaurant to which Nightwood is the long-awaited sequel.

  • Spanish menu at Eivissa could use a lot less foam

    July 30, 2009

    This is less of a review than it is an intervention: Dudley Nieto, step away from the foam machine.

  • Sweets & Savories restaurant pares prices but not the flavor

    July 16, 2009

    A good number of Chicago restaurants manage to survive without a liquor license, but Sweets & Savories might be the first to turn its back on one.

  • Happy hour ahoy!

    July 9, 2009

    Chicago's various cruise lines ply the waters of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River pretty much year round (until the river freezes over, at least) during the day, evening and even midnight. But when the long nights of summer arrive, an additional option enters the mix: the early evening cocktail cruise.

  • Spunky Italian bistro Agio is making a name for itself

    July 2, 2009

    "Just south of Spunky Dunkers" doesn't sound like the ideal way to describe your restaurant's location, but in the Palatine area, that tells the locals exactly where to find you. "It's a landmark," enthused a colleague who lives in the area. "Out here it's Woodfield, Ikea and Spunky Dunkers."

  • Restaurants, thou shalt heed these tips

    March 5, 2009

    "It's a great time to be a restaurant customer," says Larry Huber, co-owner of Clean Plate Club, which operates six restaurants (including Pete Miller's and Davis Street Fishmarket) in Chicago's suburbs. "It's no longer business as usual. We're zeroing in on customer service, and I see operators all headed in the same direction."