Little Goat Diner

Exterior

Interior

Last Word

Okonomiyaki (Pronounced Yum)

Tempura Mashed Potato

One Twisted Sundae (Pretzel ice cream)

**** (4 stars)

Sitting at the counter watching the frenzied chefs in the kitchen cranking out perfect dish after perfect dish is a lot like watching an episode of Top Chef. But it’s also a lot like being in a tile box with 150 people screaming to be heard… because that’s exactly what it is.

Somewhere along the line restaurant designers decided that people wanted to eat in a loud environment because it made them feel like they were in a happening scene. They achieved this by not bothering to hire acoustic engineers. But even an authentic diner doesn’t have that kind of ambiance. It’s a place where you can hear the rattle of cutlery, and the waitress chatting up the regulars. There’s certainly no chance of that here.

But the food is wonderful. Each dish is Stephanie Izard’s take on traditional cuisine, with her own twists. And those twists are exceptional.

Okonomiyaki is a wonderful Japanese breakfast pancake/egg dish with a delicious combination of savory sauces and crunchy bits to add texture.

Tempura fried mashed potatoes are light, with a perfectly crisp and not oily shell.

And One Twisted Sundae is a decadent sweet/salty combination of pretzel ice cream, caramel sauce, and whipped cream.

There are an interesting cocktail menu and a limited selection of beer and wine, but if you want to go authentic you can choose from fountain drinks, shakes and floats.

I guess the service is good. I couldn’t hear well enough to tell.

Little Goat Diner
820 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 888-3455
https://www.yelp.com/biz/little-goat-diner-chicago-4

Howells & Hood

1/2 Bacon cheeseburger

1/2 Ahi chopped salad

Sea bass ceviche

Korean wings

Exterior

**** (4 stars)

This is a really delightful place to sit outside under the forest of umbrellas and enjoy a summer day. The inside is equally expansive, but seems a bit confined compared to the lovely outside space overlooking the plaza.

The menu is eclectic American bistro, with some sports bar touches. The beer list is very well organized and described, with many representatives of all styles, and is claimed to be Chicago’s widest selection.

We started with the Sea bass ceviche, which wasn’t really a ceviche at all, but more like a thickened lime soup with vegetables and some pieces of completely cooked sea bass added at the last minute, rather than raw fish “cooked” by the lime juice. Still, it was good.

We also tried the Korean chicken wings. These had a very crispy, almost crunchy crust, and were slathered with a spicy sweet sauce. Delicious, but thank goodness they came with two wet wipes per person, as my fingernails are still orange!

For entrees we had the kitchen split a burger and salad. The Bacon Cheeseburger was perfectly cooked, juicy, served on a bun with some substance so it didn’t disssolve, just the right accompaniments of lettuce and sliced onion, and with nice crisp bacon. Pretty much a perfect burger.

The Ahi Chopped Salad was also excellent. Despite the name, the tuna is not chopped, but rather coated with togarashi spices, seared rare, and thinly sliced. The rest of the ingredients were indeed chopped: napa cabbage, romaine, bok choy, bell peppers, daikon radish, and green onions. It was finished off with mandarin oranges and crispy wonton strips, and lightly dressed with sesame ginger vinaigrette. Delicious.

Despite the fact it was obviously our server’s first day (and we were possibly his first table) service was excellent. We liked everything we tried, and really enjoyed our entire experience. I’m glad Howells and Hood is close to us, and I wish we’d tried it sooner.

Howells & Hood
435 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 262-5310
http://www.yelp.com/biz/howells-and-hood-chicago

Harold€’s Restaurant

***** (5 stars)

If there is a better omelette on the face of the planet, I have yet to find it. I’ve been going here for thirty years, and even through a change in ownership and expansion into the space next door, the omelettes have remained transcendental.

My favorite is the Special Omelette, which contains bacon, green chilis and sour cream. A mound of hash browns form the base, then come the ingredients, and then a fluffy egg disc the size of a frisbee. Ask for your hash browns well done for the ultimate omelette enjoyment experience.

Harold’s Restaurant
2440 E Thousand Oaks Blvd
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
(805) 230-3147
http://www.yelp.com/biz/harolds-restaurant-thousand-oaks

Village Inn Winter Garden

***** (5 stars)

Wow. Service with a capital S! I’ve been to fine dining restaurants where I haven’t gotten this level of service.

I was always a fan of the Village Inn when they were in Florida in the 90s, and was sad to see them close most locations, so it’s nice to have them back.

This location had only been open a week when I went, and corporate management was still very hands-on, but it was clear that they were looking for extraordinary service personnel, and they found them. Everyone I encountered was extremely into their job.

The interior of the space is light and modern. I particularly liked the “technology bar” where I sat. I had the same thing I used to always have, a breakfast skillet, and it was prepared just the way I wanted.

Coupled with the attentive and friendly service, it was exactly what I’m looking for in a coffee shop breakfast, and I’ll definitely return.

Village Inn Winter Garden
3130 Daniels Rd
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 654-0736
http://www.yelp.com/biz/village-inn-winter-garden-winter-garden

Golden Olympic Restaurant

**** (4 stars)

This IS you father’s diner. Or maybe your grandfather’s. In fact, he may still be eating here.

Golden Olympic is like stepping back into the fifties, in terms of ambiance, service and food. True, there are some Greek (and even a few Asian) items on the menu, but basically it’s a diner.

I went with the Greek theme, since there was a photo of Santorini on the wall, and had the Village Sandwich, which consisted of feta cheese, olives, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions with Tzatziki sauce, rolled in a pita.

Good choice. It was refreshing, tasty and yet light like a salad.

It came with a choice of sides, and to offset the healthfulness of the sandwich I chose onion rings.

Bad choice. They were the kind of onion rings you buy in the frozen food department and bake until they’re crunchy, except these hadn’t made it to crunchy.

Service was pleasant in a detached, 50s waitress kind of way.

This is the first restaurant I’ve been in for a decade that had an FM radio station playing. But it was music from the 70s, so I guess they’re going modern.

All in all a fun trip down memory lane, and a good spot for breakfast or a sandwich.

Golden Olympic Restaurant
1608 Chicago Ave
Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 328-1617
http://www.yelp.com/biz/golden-olympic-restaurant-evanston

Prairie Joes

*** (3 stars)

Prairie Joe’s is all about ambiance. It’s got the stools at the bar, the tubular metal and vinyl booths, the formica tables. Basically, if you always wanted to eat in that diner from Back to the Future, this is it. Sadly, the food is also pretty authentic, which means no better than Denny’s but twice the price. But it’s definitely worth it for the experience.

Interestingly, while most people associate this kind of diner with breakfast, Prairie Joe’s is probably best for other meals, as their dinner items are much more creative, and during the hot months they always have homemade gazpacho. The place is also filled with original art, which is in a variety of eclectic styles. And the staff are genuinely glad to welcome you. A good place to check out before a shopping trip on the surrounding blocks of Central.

Prairie Joes
1921 Central St
Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 491-0391
http://www.yelp.com/biz/prairie-joes-evanston

Peach Valley Café

**** (4 stars)

It’s really hard to find good places for outside in Orlando, and this is a hidden gem. The large outside patio offers a quite, shaded environment for breakfast any time of day. But my favorites are their salads, particularly the ones with salmon or fruit ingredients. Light and refreshing.

Peach Valley Café
5072 Dr. Philips Blvd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 522-2601
http://www.yelp.com/biz/peach-valley-caf%C3%A9-orlando-4