Restaurants where the best seat is at the bar
Take a seat and eat—but not at a table.
Avec This nationally acclaimed small-plates spot looks like a sauna, has communal seating, doesn’t take reservations and is loud as hell. But it remains the must-eat spot for foodies in the know. Koren Grieveson (a Food & Wine Best New Chef) puts out now-famous dishes such as her fiery chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates and absolutely addictive taleggio-filled foccacia, both of which are best washed down with a carafe from the killer wine list. Still, it’s the seasonal menu items—braised pork shoulder with garlic sausage, summer squash and pesto-tossed pasta—that make the place what it is. These seasonal items come and go quickly, but that’s okay—they’re always replaced with something just as amazing. 615 W Randolph St (312-377-2002). Dinner. Average small plate: $8; average large plate: $17.
The Bedford Scenesters venture into this historic space in the lower level of a former bank to soak up the quirky decor (safe-deposit boxes and other remnants date from the 1920s) and gastropubby food from former HotChocolate chef Mark Steuer. Steuer keeps it simple and seasonal with dishes such as braised chicken with wilted greens in a whole-grain mustard broth, and he sates late-night appetites with classics like grilled cheese on black bread. None of it is especially exciting, and some dishes (gnocchi, burger) are downright flops, but the well-appointed, drinks-only lounge in the original bank vault is a perfect spot to start—or end—the night with a refreshing cocktail. 1612 W Division St (773-235-8800). Dinner (closed Sun). Average cocktail: $9.
bin wine café You could easily make a meal of wine and cheese here, but you may have a hard time resisting going further. Especially in summer, when the sidewalk patio invites lingering over chef John Caputo’s global small plates. Recent dishes include escolar with bacon and Swiss chard with a white wine sauce; a pizza topped with wild mushrooms, garlic and pecorino cheese; and a Asian-inspired crispy duck confit with sweet peas, mushrooms and spring onions in a sherry vinaigrette. No matter the season, gelato is always our preferred ending. 1559 N Milwaukee Ave (773-486-2233). Brunch (Sun), dinner. Average small plate: $10.
Chizakaya Harold Jurado’s izakaya project requires a bit of translation. Where to sit: if by yourself, at the bar; if not, in the back room. What to order: The expansive menu has hits and misses, but crispy pork belly, corn fritters and housemade tofu are must-haves. And finally, what to drink: These small, rich plates are drinking food, so order liberally from the sake, beer and cocktail lists. 3056 N Lincoln Ave (773-697-4725). Lunch, dinner (closed Sun, Mon). Average small plate: $6.
Fish Bar There are some “quirky” touches to David Morton and Michael Kornick’s fish shack (e.g., a cocktail named Negroni Baloney). But the menu is nothing if not straightforward. The fried items all have great flavor (like the fried onions with lemon and jalapeño), but sometimes they arrive soft instead of crisp. Likewise, the sweet and herby lobster roll can get a little chewy in parts. But the cheap beers, slice of pie and items from the plancha (grill)? Simple, perfect and seriously good. 2956 N Sheffield Ave (773-687-8177). Lunch, dinner (closed Mon). Average main course: $7.
Table Fifty-Two Chef Art Smith is behind this spot, which may be small but has a menu that’s full of big-flavored, butter-laden Southern-inspired foods. Three-cheese mac, pistachio-crusted chicken, chili-crusted pork chops with pickled peaches and buttermilk–fried chicken are some of the rib-sticking offerings. And much like his old boss Oprah, Smith leads a feel-good operation—he can sometimes be found walking around the dining room checking on each and every guest. 52 W Elm St (312-573-4000). Brunch (Sun), dinner. Average main course: $28.