Author Archives: lsanfilippo

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performs

Hubbard Street Dance isn’t just about putting on a good contemporary dance show that combines jazz, ballet, and modern dance. It’s also the place where over 300 students come to learn how to move. But if moving to the beat isn’t quite your thing but watching is, then take in a Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company show. Seventeen dancers will take the stage and show off their versatility in a fun performance. Every season brings in a new performance with new moves and stunning choreography, and occasionally the troupe will put on a special festival show.

Mixteco Grill: a flair for gourmet Mexican

Rick Bayless long ago set a precedent for quality, gourmet Mexican food in Chicago. And with its top of the line ingredients and flair for the traditional mixed with modern, Mixteco Grill impresses. Proportions for both appetizers and entrees are sizeable too, so no one will go hungry, whether you try the delicious guacamole (with cucumbers) for starters or the spicy camarones glaseados for your meal. Don’t leave without getting dessert either; their traditional tres leches and flan are absolutely superb. What makes this place even better is not only the friendly wait staff but also that it’s BYOB every night of the week.

Vie Restaurant: A Michelin Rated Restaurant in the Suburbs

Who says gourmet dining is limited to the city? Paul Virant’s Vie restaurant in Western Springs, Illinois proves that quality food knows no bounds. In fact, there’s nothing the chef won’t try. While his menu always offers local food in innovative, beautiful, and delicious dishes, Vie also offers special dinner and weeks. This past August, Vie showcased barbecue and its many forms, from brisket to smoked corn salad. Now that Winter is almost here in Chicago, Vie also offers Sunday Suppers with prix fixe menus (when the Bears aren’t playing). No matter what the time of year, Paul Virant and his team offer amazing dishes, which is why they’ve earned a Michelin star.

Finley Dunnes is a no-frills bar

Finley Dunnes Tavern entices people indoors with their many drink specials. But in this dark, laidback, no-frills bar, it offers more than that. While watching the game — the bar will play just about anything you ask for, if a Chicago team isn’t playing — sit back with one of the many drink specials, either alcohol or beer, while enjoying some free popcorn. When the game isn’t on, choose your tunes at the jukebox and get the party started with a bit of dancing, although there isn’t much room for that. After all, Finley Dunnes is your local watering hole with plenty of places to relax and put your feet up.

Fork: a gourmet but comfortable restaurant

Fork is the kind of place to go when you want gourmet food, but you also want to be in a relaxed, casual environment. While those dining in Fork will be seated in chairs, there’s also the bar — and couches — for the drinking crowd, adding to the overall cozy and welcoming atmosphere of the place. Like many higher end restaurants, the menu is clearly carefully attended to, only focusing on a few dishes — like a heavenly chicken burger — but all are sure to please your palate. Not sure what to get? The servers here are notoriously friendly and helpful, and will lead you in the right direction.

Fork is located at 4600 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL 60625. Phone is 773-751-1500. Visit for more information.

Dark Horse Tap: a neighborhood bar in Wrigleyville

Dark Horse Tap at 3443 N. SheffieldWhile Dark Horse calls itself an English pub, it’s more than that, considering they have $1 Taco Wednesdays, among other non-British food specials. Plus, even when the Wrigleyville crowd at Dark Horse Tap spills outside into the front and back beer garden, patrons can still watch the game — especially the Steelers during football season — thanks to the large open doors and windows.

Another plus to this Wrigleyville Bar? Even though Dark Horse isn’t far from Wrigley Field, just off Clark Street, it has a more relaxed atmosphere than the other bars and clubs you’ll find in the area.

Museum of Contemporary Art thinks outside the box, and onto the plaza

Museum of Contemporary Art in ChicagoArt isn’t meant to be kept inside the box, or on the canvas for that matter. At Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the curators try to put their chosen pieces in context, as much as the sculptures, video, balloon art, and other abstract expressions can be.

The abstract space constantly evolves as new pieces come in and out of the Streeterville location on a regular basis. But one thing is a constant at the MCA: abstract art that helps you look at the world in a very different light. Whether its an art project out on the plaza, or a display inside one of the U.S.’s biggest modern art museums, the Museum of Contemporary Art knows how to push boundaries.

Admission is $12, except on Tuesdays, when it’s free for Illinois residents. MCA is closed on Mondays.

Chemically Imbalanced Comedy is BYOB

Metromix.comDon’t be fooled by Chemically Imbalanced Comedy’s small theater space with only 40 seats. The stage might not be big, but the laughs will be, especially considering the theater is BYOB. Home to a handful of comedy groups, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy puts on a variety of performances, including improv, sketch, stand-up, and plays. On their current run, they’re performing the uber-popular comedy, “The Book of Liz,” penned by Amy and David Sedaris.

When not taking over the stage with their antic, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy also offers improv comedy classes for the masses. They also sell package deals for large groups.

Guthrie’s Tavern is all about the fun and games

Just a couple blocks from Wrigley Field on Addison, Guthrie’s is pretty unassuming compared to other bars in the area. But this small tavern served as big inspiration to the (now cancelled) TBS comedy “My Boys,” where a TV group of friends gathered each week to drink beer and play games.

Real-life friends can still do that at Guthrie’s Tavern. Not only does the bar offer stellar — and well-priced — signature drinks like Pimm and ginger ale, but it also serves up over 50 board games to test your motor skills while you drink. Sip a cocktail and claim it was the Colonel in the living room with the butter knife; it’s all par for the course in this Wrigleyville tavern.

Ride the rails during Chicago ‘L’ Tours

Flickr/Nick KinkaidThe Chicago ‘L’ system has long been the way tourists and locals alike have travelled miles across the city, whether it be to Wrigley Field or downtown for work. Since 1999, there’s also been another use for the elevated tracks: as a way to learn about Chicago’s rich history. hosts tours via the ‘L’ tracks through various institutions, including the Chicago History Museum and the Chicago Architecture Foundation. No matter what the tour or what ‘L’ line your guide will take you on, each tour offers tidbits of history and architecture lessons as you ride the city’s public transportation system. While tour fares typically aren’t expensive (usually around $11-$16, and that includes the ‘L’ pass), be prepared to walk.

Piccolo Sogno is a little dream, especially on the outdoor patio

Situated on the corner of Milwaukee, Grand, and Halsted, you don’t expect to find a beautiful Italian restaurant. But that’s what you’ll get — along with outstanding service, meals, and wine — at Piccolo Sogno. While inside the restaurant is nice, it’s the expansive outdoor patio, where about 75-percent of the seating is, that’ll make you swoon. Surrounded by large trees and sparkling lights at night, patrons can easily enjoy their exquisite but large Italian food portions that use seasonal ingredients. Rather have a lighter dinner? Piccolo Sogno also offers smaller appetizer portions of all their house-made pasta dishes.

Seasons 52 offers seasonal and healthy fresh food

Seasons 52 may be a chain of restaurants, but that doesn’t mean it’s like all the other chains out there. As the restaurant’s name implies, it specializes in seasonal fare so the menu changes as the seasons do. But that’s not all. While the ingredients are absolutely fresh, making the wide-ranging menu delicious, they’re also incredibly healthy. None of the dishes go over 500 calories.

While Seasons 52 may specialize in healthy, seasonal fare, don’t let this deter you from their dessert menu. The restaurant calls their desserts ‘mini indulgences,’ because while they may be decadent, they’re not packed with a ton of calories either.

Old Town Social offers casual elegance

Is it a bar? Or is it a restaurant? Old Town Social, headed by Chef Jared Van Camp, prides itself on being both, all the while maintaining a casual but refined ambiance. The menu reflects this attitude. Offering everything from a cheese platter to housemade hot dogs, Van Camp puts his trademark on every dish that leaves his kitchen.

When Van Camp and his team aren’t sending out food to patrons packed in the restaurant, bar, and outdoor patio, they turn towards their butcher shoppe. There, folks can locally purchase cured meats and sausages.

Old Town Social may look like a bar, but with its high-end but reasonably priced foods, it’s clearly something much more, too.

Jayson Home and Garden: a gardener’s dream

Rarely do we ever see a beautiful garden anywhere in the city but in a park, if we’re lucky, or someone’s back yard. Not so in Lincoln Park’s Jayson Home and Garden. Unlike cookie-cutter gardening stores, like Home Depot, this gardening oasis is an absolute delight to all the senses, particularly in their outdoor garden store. Even though they’ve cut back recently in their floral selection, Jayson Home and Garden offers top-notch plants as well as decor for inside and outside the home. Don’t expect to find wilting perennials here; rather this gardening store draws patrons in with a plethora of blooming flowers, and keeps you there — if only to browse — with unique and beautiful pieces.

Shoreline Sightseeing Cruises: architectural and skyline boat tours

Where did Miss O’Leary’s cow supposedly start the Chicago fire? Learn all that and so much more on Shoreline Sightseeing Cruises, which run about 45 minutes as you travel down the Chicago River. While the architectural and skyline boat tours are a big attraction for tourists, locals can get something out of this too. Enjoy a $5 beer while being regaled with historical tales of the Windy City, all the while relaxing on the boat deck. This isn’t a boring high school history lesson. The entertaining tour guide combines stories about well-known buildings with little-known facts. Architecture still not your cup of tea? Shoreline also organizes and hosts Fireworks cruises during the Summer months. Tickets typically start around $24, depending on what kind of cruise you choose.

Magic tricks and more at Timothy O’Toole’s

In a quiet part of the River North neighborhood, it’s somewhat surprising to discover how hopping Timothy O’Toole’s is. Tucked away at the bottom of a staircase, the spacious Irish sports bar offers more than just drink specials and pub grub. In one corner, there’s a handful of pool tables and video games. But best of all? On Saturday nights, a magician makes his rounds, showing off some card tricks and creating balloon animals for the local crowd, which isn’t made up of just Northwestern students. Even with all these entertainment options, Timothy O’Toole’s motto couldn’t be more true: “Win or lose, we came for the booze.”

Touring the city with a segway

Flickr/tziralisThere’s lots of ways to get around the city, but the segway is the only one that requires a bit of balance. Even so, it’s a fun way to whiz around the city, all the while enjoying the scenery of Millennium Park, Lake Michigan, and all the skyscrapers. Before you zip down the sidewalk, your tour guide – whether its from Chicago Segway Tour or City Segway Tour – will first train you on how to ride the segway. Then hop on and take a tour of the Windy City, as your guide regales you and a small group with tales about what you’re traveling past.

The neighborhood bookstore, After-Words Books

Don’t tell After-Words Books that brick and mortar stores are dying, because this place is doing anything but. While one-fourth of the independent bookstore’s shelves are dedicated to bestselling and new books, the rest of the shelves offer more unique finds, including used and out-of-print titles. In fact, After-Words will buy your books every Thursday starting at 4pm, as long as the books meet some particular requirements, like no dog-eared pages. Even if you don’t have books to sell, stop on in and peruse their inventory of more than 55,000 publications. The bookstore also offers Internet access to customers for an hourly rate. Used book sales are final.

String a Strand in the Southport Corridor

The Southport corridor isn’t just about clothing boutiques. String A Strand joined the neighborhood this Spring and offers a variety of beads, gems, and stones to make–as the store’s name implies–a strand of jewelry. The store first opened on Wells Street in Old Town, and the owners were approached about opening another store on Southport. They jumped at the chance, and now both locations offer individual beads as well as pre-grouped ones for those who want some help making their own. All of the beads come in all shape and sizes, as well as different colors at only 25 cents a piece. String a Strand also sells already-made jewelry.

Lizzie McNeill’s: Not just for St. Patrick’s Day

Lizzie McNeill’s may be a decidedly Irish bar, but it’s location along the Chicago river makes it the perfect spot to hang out in the warmer Chicago months, too. Escape the hubbub of Navy Pier and relax with a local or imported beer on not one, but two patios right on the river. The patios, in fact, just about double the size of the lively night spot that’s actually open at 11:00 a.m. every day of the week. When not enjoying the sunshine, Lizzie McNeill’s offers all the sports games indoors on TV, as well as shuffleboard and board games.

Girl & the Goat: as good as everyone says it is

To get a reservation in the famed Stephanie Izard restaurant, Girl and the Goat, it’s true: you’ll need to call ahead by at least four months. Even for an outdoor alfresco table. But, the wait is worthwhile for this award-winning gourmet food experience.

While Izard’s style is all about fusion cooking, there’s definitely a focus on meat and seafood pairings. And really when Izard mixes two ingredients? Eat them at the same time, because there’s a reason she paired them together. They’re good separate, but amazing together.

Insider’s Tip: That pig face on the menu? It’s incredibly tasty, but don’t expect a swine to be looking at you from across the table.

Pick your own entertainment at Glascott’s

As a neighborhood Irish pub, Glascott’s Saloon isn’t all about the dance music and a DJ. Rather, pick out your own jams on the jukebox TouchTunes and sit back to enjoy a draft or bottled beer at the full-length bar.

Yet Glascott’s isn’t just a place to chill; there’s a pool table in the back room in the sometimes-party room, and a Silver Strike video bowling game, if that strikes your fancy. If you work up an appetite, Glascott’s doesn’t offer any food, but they do let you bring in gyros or any other Greek food from the connecting restaurant, the Athenian Room.

Head over to Germany in Chicago’s Mirabell Restaurant

It’s Oktoberfest all year round in Mirabell Restaurant. From large beer steins decorating the shelves to murals spanning the walls, this lounge and bar is about more than just the atmosphere. The traditional not overly-sour sauerkraut complements all sorts of sausages. The spaetzel and Goulasch soup are just some house favorites–and the latter is quite different from the hearty goulasch meal. And of course, a German restaurant wouldn’t be complete without a large beer menu that features both domestic and German brews.

Insider’s Tip: Print the coupon on the bottom of the Website’s homepage for 50% off one entree.

Carhartt moves into Wicker Park

Carhartt opened in mid-April 2011 at 1518 N. Milwaukee Avenue, launching only its third American storefront. Like the Salt Lake City and Portland locations, the iconic store features classic work wear gear popular with everyone from construction workers to BMX bikers. By offering bib overalls as well as rough-and-ready clothing designs for both men and women, Carhartt seamlessly bridges the gap between fashion and utilitarian consumers.

The company’s style fills every inch of this Wicker Park store, from the tinted concrete floor to the re-purposed local antiques. Carhartt may have a rugged sensibility, but that doesn’t mean it’s not becoming a trend.

Cozy up at Maude’s Liquor Bar

The low-lighting in Maude’s Liquor Bar may make this French-inspired restaurant feel a bit cozy, but the smashes–cocktail drinks–are what will warm you up. The smokey violet is a top-seller and for good reason; the bizarre combination of flowery and liquor flavors are stronger than they taste. All the plates are designed for sharing, and catch that lobster if you can. While its a simple dish, it tastes even better than it looks, especially with those sauces. Even so, don’t pass up the more traditional dishes like the hearty cassoulet that’s sure to fill you up, even when you share.

Viaduct Theater under the overpass

Just as the name implies, Roscoe Village’s Viaduct Theater is tucked away under an overpass on Western. This hidden playhouse’s stage is small, but the productions have a big storylines that take over more than just the stage. From traditional three-act plays to burlesque to live music shows, Viaduct offers a bit of every kind of intimate theater. Currently, the Viaduct is hosting The Voodoo Chalk Circle by The State Theater, among a variety of local bands. Between acts, grab a brewski and then sit back and enjoy the show–or dance, depending on what night it is.

Una Mae’s Freak Boutique: More than just vintage

Una Mae’s Freak Boutique isn’t just about the vintage in great condition, although that’s how the store got it’s start. It also has a contemporary vibe to everything it sells, from men and women’s branded clothing, to books about pictures, to jewelery and accessories, to home decorations like a bike parking metal sign. Una Mae’s fits right into the Wicker Park neighborhood, yet still manages to stand out with it’s eclectic and unique combination of gently used to brand-spanking new items. Can’t make it to the store and share in the ambiance? Everything they sell can now be bought online, too.

Kuma’s Corner serves heavy metal with their burgers

Hipsters must enter through the back, or so the sign says right outside Kuma’s Corner front door. Be prepared; those taunts aren’t the only thing patrons will face. Heavy metal blasts through the speakers as diners partake in the delicious juicy burgers appropriately named after heavy metal bands. If the food doesn’t take all your attention, Kuma’s also entertains with gory slasher flicks or karate movies.

The kitchen may be small, but it serves a mean burger, one sure to please your palate, whether on the summer patio or indoors.

Insider’s Tip: The Hate Beak may not be a burger, but it’s the best buffalo chicken sandwich in Chicago.

Glam up your home with Salvage One historical pieces

Step into Salvage One and step back into history. There’s four floors of treasure here, and this isn’t your grandmother’s yard sale by any means. All the salvaged antiques are organized in some sort of fashion, partially because this beautiful store also hosts weddings on two of its floors (or the garden, if Chicago weather is right). Like what you see dangling from the ceiling? Chances are, those chandeliers are for sale, too. After all, no space goes to waste in Salvage One, including in the garden, which is complete with bathtubs that function as plant holders.

The salvage shop is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

A different Waterhouse Tavern every night

Tucked next to the Paulina brown line el stop, Waterhouse is the local watering hole that changes atmospheres depending on the day of the week. On weeknights, expect a laid-back bar with plenty of specials, from $3 burgers on Monday to ½ price sangria, beers, and well cocktails on Thursday. On Purdue game nights, Waterhouse also offers $5 Bacardi bombs and $5 Purdue 22oz mugs while patrons watch the game. On Fridays and Saturday late-nights, expect more of a club vibe with a dedicated dance floor in the back.

Waterhouse Tavern is the sister bar to Bluelight, Rebel Bar & Grill, as well as Pitchfork.

A bit o’ Irish at Fado Pub

Fado may be a national chain, but it’s also an authentic Irish pub that plays everything from Chicago baseball to English football on its TV screens. In Chicago’s Fado, the perfect pint is always poured on the third and first floor. There’s a second floor, too, but it’s mainly just for eating boxty quesadillas and drinking Guinness and Harp. While an open third floor allows for some great live music on the weekends, the first floor is more private with it’s labyrinth of walls and booths. Yet, no matter where you sit to enjoy your beer and semi-Irish food, there’s sure to be a piece of Irish memorabilia nearby–or a toucan.

La Pasadita: Quality but cheap Mexican

With five locations–three of which are on Ashland Avenue–what’s not to love about these Mexican joints? La Pasadita defines quality, cheap Mexican food in Chicago, whether during lunch break or for those late-night booze-colored hours. Despite the low prices, their steak–whether on a taco or chachos, their version of nachos–really surpasses typical Mexican fare in Wicker Park. Their pico de gallo, too, is fresh and the perfect starter to any meal.

Don’t go expecting anything fancy, but still, good eats are available at all locations. All La Pasaditas are BYOB, but they’ve also got horchata, Jarritos, as well as fresh-squeezed OJ.

Franks ‘N’ Dawgs: encased meat treats

A big reason for the latest trend in the encased meat world, gourmet hot dogs, is Lincoln Park’s Franks ‘N’ Dawgs and its chef, Joe Doren. Many of the menu items are house-made, including the tur-doggin and black sheep sausages. While some menu items aren’t going anywhere, Franks ‘N’ Dawgs also like to mix things up by offering a monthly Iron Dawg competition with dogs designed by local chefs as well as a charitable dog created by an amateur chef.

Franks ‘N’ Dawgs also recently added a lobster dog to its menu, but it’s only available on Fridays.

The sides are also delectable, from elegant truffle fries to a surprisingly good brussel sprout salad.

Be By Baby Boutique offers ecologically responsible toys, clothes, and more

Be By Baby fits right into the West Lakeview/Roscoe Village neighborhood, offering trendy clothing options for the smallest of humans. Socially aware parents, too, have a variety of parenting supplies in this high-end boutique, from baby carriers to cloth diapers. Some products are organic, and many are ecologically responsible.

In addition to selling a variety of popular branded clothing and toy items, Be By Baby also offers classes that reflects the owners’ philosophies of attachment parenting. Classes range from exercise-based, including baby & me Pilates, to new parent lessons about breastfeeding.

Be By Baby is conveniently located near the Paulina el stop.


A secret supper club at Southport Grocery

Don’t let ‘grocery’ in the name deceive. Using some of the items it also retails, Southport Grocery & Cafe creates homemade-like brunch every weekend. The also sell-out spots to their monthly secret supper that takes over the restaurant as well as the super-secret upstairs bakery. With the menu already decided for every patron, the hardest thing anyone will have to choose is: white or red wine?

The secret supper includes three courses, including one dessert, and no one but the chefs and Southport wait staff knows what it is until they sit to eat.

Get in on the secret by joining the Southport Grocery mailing list or liking the store/restaurant on Facebook.


Every Akira boutique different, depending on the neighborhood

After Akira opened in 2002, the trendy clothing/shoe/accessories store exploded across Chicagoland, now boasting 14 stores with plans for more.

While some Akira stores focus only on clothing, others focus only on shoes. Even then, shoppers will encounter different styles depending on the store; for one, the downtown location is more urban and offers sneakers, while the North Avenue shop doesn’t. Akira knows its market, no matter where it sets up shop.

It also knows trendy and mostly affordable fashion, which isn’t any more obvious than at the fashion shows Akira sponsors and organizes to showcase its more than 200 designer brands. Find out when these shows are happening on Akira’s Facebook page.

The inside of Akira's downtown shoe store.

The inside of Akira's downtown shoe store.

Akira Spring Runway 2011

Spacca Napoli: not Chicago’s typical pizza place

Forget Chicago’s famous deep-dish stuffed pizza. Ravenswood’s Spacca Napoli Pizzeria is all about Neapolitan pizza perfectly toasted in a wood-fire oven.

While Spacca is known for its super-thin crust pizza–forget a fork and just roll it up–the Italian eatery also offers a mix of traditional Naples appetizers. Even simple dishes like caprese con bufala are mouth-watering delicious.

Also check for cannoli on your way out. The hostess will occasionally offer the dessert for free.

Insider’s Tip: Just want your pizza to go? Spacca will make it in a jiffy but still offer a sample of Prosecco on the house for while you wait.

Spacca offers the thinnest pizzas available in all of Chicago.

Spacca offers the thinnest pizzas available in all of Chicago.

Hopleaf hops no matter the time of day/night

Even when every seat is taken in Hopleaf, it’s considered a slow night. But when patrons pack inside for the extensive beer list and gourmet restaurant menu, things really get hopping at Hopleaf. Despite the busy bar, the atmosphere is decidedly laid back both on the first and top floors.

When waiting for a table, grab a beer and maybe even a book on the history of beers and liquors. Hopleaf’s small library is appropriate for this tavern, considering it opened 18 years ago, just before the craft beer market exploded. Today, it offers more than 250 beer options.

The tavern opens at 3pm every day of the week, 365 days a year.