Geja’s Cafe

***** (5 stars)

Geja’s offers excellent fondue, and even better ambiance. If you’re looking for an intimate, romantic place for a Tête à Tête, this is the spot. Be sure to ask for one of the booths, which are more like private little rooms.

The complete dinners here are pretty reasonably priced when you consider everything they include: a smokey cheese fondue appetizer, a French-style green salad, whatever entrée meats/chicken/fish/shellfish you select, and a generous chocolate fondue dessert.

Along the way your waiter will keep everything on fire and at the right temperature–at one point we had four flames going on the table at once, a record, I believe.

The wine list is really the only negative, as the choices are limited to fairly everyday wines at high markups.

Whether you’re in the mood for fondue, or just a romantic evening, this is a good choice.

Geja’s Cafe
340 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 281-9101

Maya Del Sol

*** (3 stars)

A beautiful patio is the highlight of this place. Unfortunately sitting in it means you have to eat their food, which is a mixed blessing at best.

The only particularly good item was the nachos, which were unconventional but good. Each rustic chip was topped with shredded beef, black beens, a little drizzle of cheese, tomatoes, scallions, jalapeños and sour cream.

The fish in the fish tacos was coated with a very strange seasoning that no one at our table liked. And the chilaquiles were a sodden lump, the worst we ever encountered.

Service was friendly and efficient, and as I said, the patio is lovely. My advice: have a sangria and some nachos and call it a day.

Maya Del Sol
144 S Oak Park Ave
Oak Park, IL 60302
(708) 358-9800

Garrett Popcorn Shops

***** (5 stars)

There’s a reason the line is out the door at these local popcorn shops, and it’s called the Chicago Mix. It’s a combination of cheese popcorn and caramel corn, which sounds awful, but somehow is amazing.

The price of a tin is pretty steep, and although they make it impossible to compare the cost per pound by the tin or bag, it appears that the bags are several times more cost effective. So unless you really need a souvenir, buy a jumbo bag for under twenty bucks. It may seem like a lot, but you’ll thank me later.

Garrett Popcorn Shops
625 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(888) 476-7267

The Blanchard

** (2 stars)

I don’t understand what the  hype is about. This is a perfectly average French restaurant with adequate food, a poorly thought out and overpriced wine list, and a deafening ambiance. I have not eaten in such a loud restaurant since Graham Elliot, and at least there it was because of the absurdly loud music. If The Blanchard has music it is not audible over the roar of other diners in this hard-surfaced room, bare of any attempt at acoustic treatment.

Aside from the imperative to escape from the noise as quickly as possible, there is little to make one want to linger anyway. The highly touted “oeuf outhier”turned out to be a rather gritty scrambled egg mixture in a decapitated egg, topped with sour cream, vodka and a dot of caviar. The flavors didn’t really mesh.

Mussels were just adequate, although a companion liked the mussel soup, which was more like saffron soup. The mussel-topped toast it came with was good, though.

The best appetizer was the duck confit, which was flavorful and nicely defatted. Foie gras ganache was also good, and accompanied by nicely charred brioche.

The dover sole and steak frites were straight from central casting–nothing really wrong with them, but nothing to justify $42 for the sole, either. The best entree (and best item of the meal) was the short rib, which combined an interesting combination of Moroccan and Indian spices, and was topped with a delicious mint couscous. This dish would be the only conceivable reason to return.

The biggest problem is the wine list, a medium sized offering of exclusively French wines that are almost all from either weak vintages or mediocre producers. Even so, prices are high. The Puligny-Montrachet and Nuits-Saint-Georges I ordered were two of the worst bottles of those wines I’ve ever had, despite both being close to $200 each. We let most of both bottles. It’s hard to imagine a sommelier ever sampled either of those wines before buying a case from the distributor.

In the end we were disappointed but happy to flee into the peaceful solitude of the evening.

The Blanchard
1935 N Lincoln Park W
Chicago, IL 60614
(872) 829-3971

Burrito Beach

*** (3 stars)

This is a much better place for a fast Mexican counter service lunch that Chipotle or Adobo Grill. The reasons are the more extensive choices, better ingredients and greater preparation options.

For example, In addition to burritos and quesadillas, you can get tacos, with either soft or crispy corn tortilla shells. I had the crispy tacos, and the double layered shells were fresh, crisp and tasty. They were really good with the spicy barbacoa beef.

Orders also come with excellent tortilla chips.

The chicken quesadilla was also good. The only miss was the nachos, which used movie theater cheese glop and got soggy very quickly.

Burrito Beach
19 S La Salle St
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 578-9340
















***** (5 stars)

After being open only a bit more than a month, Oriole is already in contention for best restaurant in Chicago, which also makes it a contender for best in the US.

Nearly every one of our sixteen courses was a home run–so much so that it’s hard to pick standouts. From the first bit of langoustine topped with caviar, each course offered an impressive array of flavors, sometimes merging into a complex whole, and at other times exploding sequentially on the palate revealing one ingredient after another.

The alteration of courses from rich to refreshing and back again kept our palates fresh. Portion sizes were just right, so that we never felt over-stuffed (although we would have happily consumed another six orders of just about anything we were served!)

Rather than attempt to describe individual courses, which change anyway, let me just list those items that topped those I’ve had at the best Michelin-starred restaurants in the world: Sea urchin, foie gras, Alaskan king crab and Japanese A5 Wagyu. Each of these provided a mind-blowing complexity that forced one to stop and consider what was going on in each bite, and each event on the plate. For example the charred lettuce that accompanied the Wagyu was so phenomenal it almost upstaged the Wagyu, which was the best piece of Wagyu I’ve ever tasted.

As with many tasting menus, the last four courses are desserts, and some members of our party don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Let me just say that not one crumb survived. The desserts provided terrific variety, were never cloying, and were paired with wines that had very controlled sugar and acid levels, keeping our palates fresh and interested until the very end.

With only about a dozen tables arranged in ample space, the dining room is stylish yet comfortable. Soothing colors and rough brick walls contrast with retro hanging lamps, and a spotlight on each table shows off the food to its best advantage. A glass wall separates the dining room from the kitchen, although it certainly isn’t needed for noise abatement, as there is no kitchen commotion from the many chefs working their magic.

Service is professional yet welcoming, without the stiff affectations of some top restaurants. We were particularly impressed with our sommelier, whose extensive knowledge and passion for the wines on the tasting fight was matched by his deep understanding of the ingredients in each dish and how they matched his selections.

While Oriole is not inexpensive, it offers an astonishing value given the perfection of the experience.

661 W. Walnut St.
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 877-5339


*** (3 stars)

Latinicity is a couple of concepts in one. It’s essentially a mall food court, except that you use a plastic card to keep track of your purchases at the various counters and then pay on the way out.

But the first thing you come to when you enter is a conventional sit down restaurant. Do not eat there! It offers a limited select of mediocre and over-priced Spanish tapas. You will do better at literally any other tapas restaurant in town.

Beyond it, the food counters offer some interesting selections, though, including ceviche (which is really more of a seafood cocktail) and even sushi.

The best choice is Machefe Taqueria, which serves tacos, burritos and cazuelas in a fashion similar to Chipotle, but with actually good ingredients. The corn tortillas are completely authentic, for example. The pastor was not the best in town, but was decent. And at $3 the tacos are certainly reasonable.

A better deal is the burrito, which is served in a flour tortilla the size of a manhole cover for $7.

An even better deal is the cazuela, which is basically an exploded burrito served with three corn tortillas. The attraction here is that it’s the only way to get the chicken mole, a nice slab of breast meat drenched in a very good dark mole sauce. It’s a lot of food for $8.

There’s plenty of seating in the back, but it’s nicer to set near the exit, which is much quieter.

You can get better Mexican food elsewhere, but if you’re in the area it’s a perfectly acceptable choice.

108 N State St
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 795-4444


***** (5 stars)

Some of the most creative cooking in town is happening in this small, bustling restaurant. While some of it is Korean influenced, it is by no means a Korean restaurant, and the influences range far and wide.

The menu is divided into small plates and main dishes, and everything is designed for sharing. Our server recommended our party of two order two small plates and four main dishes.

Stuffed sesame leaves came wrapped around black rice with a vinegar dipping sauce. A really tasty way to start for just four bucks.

Baked potato bing bread tastes just like a loaded baked potato, especially when dipped in the sour cream butter.

Cured hiramasa (yellowtail) was our least favorite dish. The flavors didn’t really stand out or mesh.

Grilled swordfish was by far our favorite, a stellar combination of flower buds, crunchy greens, ginger, almonds and butter that would have been incredible even without the nicely cooked swordfish. I’m not sure that what we had really matched the description on the menu, but I want more of it!

Chicken with artichokes and mushrooms featured a nicely crisped skin.

We finished with their famous take on dolsot bi bim bop. This is the most Korean dish on the menu, but nearly every ingredient had been substituted with something creative. I wasn’t that anxious to try BBQ tripe and nettles, but they turned out to be great. I highly recommend rolling the dice on this one.

An extensive, eclectic wine list is comprise almost exclusively of wines and varietals you’ve probably never heard of. They’ve been chosen to go well with the food. There are also some nice selections by the glass or carafe, and a few interesting cocktails.

Although the space is crowded and there’s a pulsing soundtrack, it’s still easy to talk. Service is friendly and knowledgeable, and driven by an enthusiasm for the creative food they’re serving.

3500 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 654-1460

The Kerryman

*** (3 stars)

OK, I admit I’m not a huge fan of Irish pubs, but occasionally I’m dragged to one by my wife and discover the food is far above my expectations. This was not one of those times.

A general fogginess from the server about the characters of the beers and Irish spirits available did not bode well. Irish coffee was potable but not stellar, and they were out of the Jameson I ordered.

Sometimes you get decent American bar food in an Irish pub (this even happens in Ireland) so it’s not entirely stupid to order stuff like chili or a quesadilla. The chili was acceptable, the quesadilla about as mediocre as you’d guess.

But what should be really good is fish and chips, and indeed it was beautifully cooked, with a crispy brown batter. Unfortunately it was pretty greasy, and the fish, although tender and flaky had no flavor whatsoever. The accompanying fries were excellent, though.

There was one standout dish, though: the smoked gouda mac and cheese. It was the best thing I’ve ever had in an Irish pub, and the best mac and cheese I’ve had that didn’t involve lobster. This dish might by itself justify a return visit.

The Kerryman
661 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 335-8121

Star of Siam

*** (3 stars)

This is a satisfactory Thai restaurant. It’s not going to change your life, but if you’re in the area and have a hankering for Thai, it’s a fine choice.

Ironically enough, the best dish we had was the Vietnamese spring rolls. They had a nice combination of basil and mint, and were very fresh. It was nice that they had been cut into bite-sized pieces, and they were served with an excellent sweet and chunky peanut sauce topped with scallions and laced with Sriracha.

Massaman curry was also fine, with a nice coconut base and plenty of whole peanuts. There were lots of shrimp in the version I had, and a few chunks of potato and pineapple. No peppers, but instead cherry tomatoes, which seemed an odd choice.

The beef salad had some great flavors, but the beef was really too tough to be appealing, and almost too tough to eat.

Service was very fast and friendly, and the decor is open and interesting.

Star of Siam
11 E Illinois St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 670-0100