Six wine bars that are basically restaurants
bin wine café BIN 36’s little sister in Wicker Park has brought on L2O alum Phil Rubino as chef de cuisine. His three-course prix-fixe “farm menu” offers a value for $25, but after a recent visit, we’re not quite ready to break away from our wine-and-cheese pattern. The lightly smoked trout appetizer is tempting, but a seat at the bar (or outside in summer, when the sidewalk patio invites lingering), a flight of wines and a simple pizza is all we really need. 1559 N Milwaukee Ave (773-486-2233). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72. Brunch (Sat, Sun), dinner. Average small plate: $10.
The Bluebird Tom McDonald of Webster’s Wine Bar didn’t plan for his beer-focused tavern to be such a food destination, but the eats here take center stage. The dinner menu is full of tempting plates such as mussels sautéed in Blanche de Bruxelles white ale and a selection of flatbreads topped with savory ingredients such as roasted vegetables and spiced ground lamb. Charcuterie is always a staple here, and even though this place fancies itself a beer joint, the wine list is nothing to sneeze at. 1749 N Damen Ave (773-486-2473). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72. Dinner. Average small plate: $10.
D.O.C. Wine Bar The most important thing you need to know about this wine bar/small-plates joint (its name is inspired by its sister restaurant, Dunlay’s on Clark, and Italy’s D.O.C. wine laws) is that you seat yourself. In other words, when you see a server carrying a bill folder, follow him and hover over the table until it’s yours. Because with plenty of bottles costing less than 30 bucks, a satisfying snacks list heavy on pizzas, and generous plates of fresh charcuterie and cheese, people tend to linger. 2602 N Clark St (773-883-5101). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs), Red to Fullerton. Bus: 11, 22, 36. Dinner. Average small plate: $10.
The Stained Glass Wine Bar All signs point to wine bar: exposed brick and beams, a wall devoted to wine storage, 250 by the bottle and 32 by the glass. But as our waitress said, “Wine is the gimmick; the food is the selling point.” Case in point: the melt-in-your mouth beef carpaccio surrounding a salad of baby bok choy and greens. Entrée knockouts include a perfectly cooked rack of lamb with mint pesto and filet mignon. 1735 Benson Ave, Evanston (847-864-8600). El: Purple to Davis. Bus: 93, 205, 206, Pace 208, 212, 213. Dinner (closed Tue). Average main course: $25.
Swirl Wine Bar The primary purpose of a wine bar is to drink, of course. But because drinking on an empty stomach is a one-way ticket to drunk-dialing your ex, falling asleep in the bathroom or other drunken drama, we’re thankful this spot puts just as much focus on the food. A pizza topped with caramelized onions and pears goes perfectly with an off-dry riesling (while also creating a base to soak it up). 111 W Hubbard St (312-828-9000). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Merchandise Mart; Red to Grand. Bus: 22, 36, 62, 65. Dinner (Tue–Sat). Average main course: $10.
Volo Owner Jon Young (Kitsch’n on Roscoe, Paramount Room) combines his talents with chef Stephen Dunne at this small-plates wine bar. Dunne’s best dishes are the rich ones: an intense slow-cooked duck confit; roasted veal marrow bones with toast. In the summer months, this place is most well-known for its chic outdoor patio, which houses a few private cabanas. But Dunne’s hearty food and weekday specials like half-price wine on Mondays ensure that even in colder months, the place remains a draw. 2008 W Roscoe St (773-348-4600). El: Brown to Paulina. Bus: 50, 77, 152. Dinner (closed Sun). Average small plate: $8.