Where to eat in Wicker Park/Bucktown
bin wine café
Sometimes great things come in small packages. That’s the idea behind this cozy storefront by the folks behind BIN 36, where the focus is on wine—36 are offered by the glass—and chef John Caputo’s global cuisine. The dinner menu ranges from plates like seared pork belly with Gruyère and a wild-mushroom ragout and pan-seared pork chops to thin, crispy pizzas and hearty burgers. But nothing stays on this seasonal menu for long, so get ’em before they’re gone. 1559 N Milwaukee Ave between Honore St and North Ave (773-486-2233). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72. Brunch (Sat, Sun), dinner. Average small plate: $13.
Bon Bon Vietnamese Sandwiches
Never has a name so aptly summed up a business. Positioned in the front half of My Gourmet Kitchen, this little sandwich counter does five things, and all of them are Vietnamese-style banh mi. All come on crusty French bread and all come with the standard dress. Where they differ are in the fillings, and for our money, we prefer the tender chicken in gingery caramel and the “char siu” pork, equally tender but with a touch of garlic and hoisin. A few quibbles aside (carrot-daikon relish could be tangier, the pâté lacks oomph, the bread gets soggy from steaming in the foil wrap), it’s a cute idea and a good snack at four bucks. 2333 W North Ave between Claremont and Western Aves (773-278-5800<). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 49 (24hrs), X49, 50, 72. 11am–7:30pm. Average sandwich: $4.
There’s a benefit to eating at the communal tables at this charming, simple restaurant: It makes it easy to scope out chef Chris Pandel’s dishes before committing to ordering them. So if you see somebody swooning over the combination of crisp, acidic fruit and creamy Manchego in the heirloom apple salad; the fried sardines with pickled tomatoes; the thick, juicy burger; or the devastatingly delicious egg-and-ricotta-filled raviolo—well, then, order it. And if you see somebody looking disappointed after eating, say, the blah dill monkey bread, or the oddly sweet “smoky fritters”? Take heed. 2152 N Damen Ave between Shakespeare and Webster Aves (773-862-5555). El: Blue to Western. Bus: 50, 73, 74. Dinner. Average main course: $16.
A decade ago, it was considered daring to venture down the alley into this restaurant’s almost hidden entrance. Now that the neighborhood is fully gentrified, it’s a little harder to snag a table on weekends. What hasn’t changed is the cuisine: simple, seasonal ingredients brought together without too much fuss. Roasted beet salad is incredibly good, with frisée, mâche, toasted almonds, Manchego cheese and a drizzle of truffle oil. Duck breast is moist inside, crisp outside and comes with tasty duck confit ravioli on a bed of caramelized onions, wilted arugula and Asian mushrooms. 1954 W North Ave between Winchester and Damen Aves (773-278-4488). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72. Dinner. Average main course: $24.
A joint venture between the guys behind Lumen and chef Michael Taus, Duchamp has all the elements of a great restaurant: a modern but cozy room, an incomparable patio in the warmer months and an established chef putting out French and American classics. The problem is that the food only lives up to its potential half the time. For every great dish (impossibly tender braised pork shoulder; sweet, spicy and crispy chicken wings) there is a lackluster one (pasty gnocchi; underseasoned fish-and-chips). Thankfully, the rest of the experience tends to outweigh even the most disappointing bites. 2118 N Damen Ave at Charleston St (773-235-6434). El: Blue to Western. Bus: 49 (24hrs), 50, 73. Dinner. Average main course: $17.
The family behind Letizia’s Natural Bakery is also behind this straightforward Italian spot that boasts a wine list that’s playful, varied and built for food. The bruschetta—topped with toothsome ingredients like Brie and honey, cannellini beans and black-olive puree—is the favorite son of the recently extended menu. Popular pastas include the pear ravioli in walnut-cream sauce and the cestino, a baked terrine of green spaghetti with Taleggio cheese, prosciutto and baby peas. For something a bit different, try the polenta served old-world Italian-style: poured onto a slab of marble and topped with items like venison bolognese, four-cheese sauce, or mushrooms and sausage. A scoop or two of gelato serves as the perfect ending, made even better drowned in a shot of espresso from the adjacent sibling Letizia’s. 2146 W Division St between Hoyne Ave and Leavitt St (773-342-1011). El: Blue to Division. Bus: 49 (24hrs), X49, 50, 70. Dinner. Average main course: $8.
Don’t let the name fool you—it’s not just desserts here; the seasonal, savory menu is just as tempting. Chef de cuisine Mark Steuer and pastry chef Mindy Segal are both sticklers for season, so expect signature dishes like the addictive soft pretzels to be supplemented with an ever-changing assortment of plates like brined, bone-in pork chop with housemade sauerkraut and Coho salmon served with duck fat–poached cipollini onions. Segal shines with finales like banana brioche bread pudding and brunch standouts such as duck confit and apple butter croissants. 1747 N Damen Ave at Willow St (773-489-1747). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72, 73. Brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch (Wed–Fri), dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $14.
Never tried Central American food? Here’s your safe entry. It’s simple, authentic, cheap, supercasual and friendly. Start with the hearts of palm salad—huge, tangy stalks on a bed of shredded cabbage that’s been tossed in a lime vinaigrette, along with radishes, cilantro, cucumber, pickled beets and ripe avocado. Another menu standout is the pepito sandwich, a toasted, gooey combo of juicy rib-eye steak, caramelized onions and mild cheese on French bread. Make it a meal by adding a side of perfect white rice, soupy black beans and sweet plantains. Bring a bottle of malbec to match, and end the meal with one of the shakes (oatmeal and tamarind are our favorites). 1865 N Milwaukee Ave between Oakley and Western Aves (773-252-5687). El: Blue to Western. Bus: 49 (24hrs), 56, 73. Lunch, dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $8.
The combination of exemplary ingredients and minimalist preparation is at the heart of every dish here, and most of the time this turns out to be an excellent way to cook. It allows sunchokes, dressed with lemon and parsley, to show off their crunchy earthiness; scallops (prepared crudo-style with grapefruit) to boast their clean, natural sweetness; and housemade beef-shank terrine to exhibit its lingering richness. Extreme simplicity is not without risks, of course—the food is so naked that it can’t hide even the smallest flaws. Luckily, those flaws are few and far between. 1647 N Milwaukee Ave between Caton St and Concord Pl (773-342-2340). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72. Brunch (Sat–Sun), lunch, dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $16.
Mana Food Bar
Susan Thompson and Jill Barron of De Cero have teamed up again for this shoebox-size meatless mecca, where global vegetarian fare is gobbled up by lanky diners lounging under dim lights on chunky wood stools and in dark booths. Two people will spend around $50 to leave full, so to leave both full and satisfied, choose wisely. We recommend sampling among small portions of simple yellow squash “pasta,” asparagus ravioli in spicy tomato sauce and the brown rice-mushroom sliders. Chocolate pot de creme is a great ending, unless you’re looking to drink dessert, in which case go for the cucumber Sakerita. 1742 W Division St between Paulina and Wood Sts (773-342-1742). El: Blue to Division. Bus: 9 (24hrs), 50, 70. Lunch, dinner. Average small plate: $7.
If it looks like a bar, smells like a bar and sounds like a bar, then…you do the math. But two things keep this place from going the route of sports-bar-beer-bong culture: excellent house brews and expertly executed pizzas. The crispy pies hold a lot of weight, so after you choose your pizza style—red, white or New Haven–style “plain” (red sauce, no mozzarella)—start piling on the goat cheese, spinach, meatballs, anchovies and, if you’re really going New Haven–style, clams or mashed potatoes. 1927 W North Ave between Wolcott and Winchester Aves (773-772-4422). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72. Lunch, dinner. Average pizza: $13.50.
Vetted chef Takashi Yagihashi has transformed the former Scylla space into a Zen den showcasing food that deftly combines his Japanese heritage with French training and American ingredients. Flavors are subtle and balanced; presentations are delicate and often beautiful. Dishes range from perfect slices of hamachi topped with tiny dollops of monkfish liver to heartier fare such as a roasted duck breast served alongside glazed pearl onions and a kumquat marmalade. 1952 N Damen Ave between Homer St and Armitage Ave (773-772-6170). El: Blue to Western. Bus: 50 Damen, 73 Armitage. Dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $22.