- Chicago Restaurant Reviews -
Argo Tea Café - S. Dearborn, corner of Dearborn & Adams
What: Assorted gourmet teas and tea beverages, coffee drinks, pastries and light lunch fare.
Price range: Small Signature Tea blend - $2.95
Located directly across from the Federal Plaza and the Marquette building (look for the giant red Flamingo sculpture), Argo is a serene oasis in the heart of the city. We sampled an Iced Ginger Green Tea which was quite refreshing. A touch of sweetness and the bite of fresh ginger accompanied a mild green tea. A whole wall of bulk tea assortments are yours to choose from in addition to pre-packaged Argo tea blends and the menu items on the board. Modern, spacious and inviting, the café was an ideal spot to step out of the rain, warm up and do a bit of writing. Try the signature drinks and sit at the scenic window bar to watch the city. Beautiful artistic photos were displayed throughout and soft music set a creative energy.
Beware: Argo opens early M-F at 6am, but closes early at 7pm, and Sat. hours are limited to 9-3pm. So head there early to chill out!
Big Bowl Chinese and Thai - 60 E. Ohio Street, just off the Magnificent Mile (Other locations include Minneapolis and Washington D.C.)
What: Vegetarian/Asian food in a casual, yet trendy setting.
Price range: Anywhere from $6 to sit at the bar and have a couple fresh ginger ales to $30 for 2 entrees, appetizer and 2 drinks.
Review: We first stumbled on this place late in the afternoon, too late for lunch, too early for dinner, but decided to try the Hibiscus Lemonade Iced Tea and Pomegranate Fresh Ginger Ale. More like digestive aids, they lifted our spirits and didn’t leave us with a sugary aftertaste. The Ginger Ale is made with fresh ginger in-house and packs a real punch – great before or after any meal. Free unlimited refills on both drinks, served in festive tall glasses. If you’re not hungry, stop for a refreshing break from shopping or exploring the city and have a signature drink.
Part II: Arriving at noon the next day we expected to wait for a table, but were lead immediately to a booth nestled in the center of modern Asian décor. Bustling, but not excessively noisy or rushed, the atmosphere is very pleasant and friendly and the staff were willing to make recommendations or any adjustments needed.
What: Vegetable Pot Stickers, Salmon Pad Thai, Kung Pao Spinach and Tofu (and a couple more of those fabulous tonics!).
The Pad Thai was served with a generous fresh filet of Salmon atop a mound of seasoned flat rice noodles. The dish was dressed with a savory not-too-salty fish sauce, lemongrass, fresh cilantro, green onions and just a touch of red pepper. No condiments necessary – soy sauce would be an assault to the delicate blend of spices and garlic/citrus flavor balanced with a hint of sweetness. Crushed peanuts as a garnish add a crunch to soft noodles. The Salmon filet was melt-in-your-mouth-like-cotton-candy - the hallmark of a fresh and properly prepared fish. The Kung Pao was a bit spicier with whole roasted chilies scattered on the plate. A black bean sauce flavored broad noodles, fresh locally grown spinach and cubes of tofu. Complimented well with fresh greens – beautifully presented. The Pot stickers were divine! Presented with 3 dipping sauces, they were heavenly pillows of flavor. The assorted veggies within were united with a mild garlic spice blend. Creamy, but not heavy, a great representation of what this menu has to offer.
Beware: Fish sauce is used throughout the menu, so if you are a strict vegetarian, ask your waiter to make some adjustments. Picky? Try the veggie bar and fill a bowl with your choice of fresh veggies to be stir-fried.
Eleven City Diner - 1112 S. Wabash, 11th & Wabash, just S. of the Loop
What: Traditional and not-so-traditional Jewish diner fare
Price range: Not-so-puny brunch for 2 around $30
Eleven City French Toast, Potato Knish, Egg Salad Sandwich & Cole Slaw, Cappuccino and Boston Egg Cream, Asparagus Salad….and “a side of guilt”. Not upscale dining in Chicago, but one of my favorite places to feel like a Chicagoan. Eleven City has a HUGE menu of traditional breakfast foods, as well as lunch and dinner items. The French toast is made with Challah (traditional Jewish Sabbath bread), giving it a meaningful density, topped with bananas, strawberries, toasted coconut & just a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Not too sweet, but definitely a treat for breakfast due to its size, still healthier than a doughnut. Although guilt is posted as a menu item in great supply, it is obviously tongue-in-cheek as the atmosphere was friendly and the fresh ingredients leave little room for guilt.
The potato Knish could be a small meal for 1, or a side shared by 2. Filling, but not doughy or pasty, the light flaky sesame filo crust holds lightly seasoned potato. Dip it into the gravy (this is not the healthy part) for a savory, home-cooked garnish.
The Egg Salad was served on rye, wheat or white (go with rye) and was more egg than dressing. Served with cole slaw, it was reminiscent of a lunch Mom might make for you. The old fashioned soda fountain dated before my time and is still serving Cherry Phosphates and Brooklyn Egg Creams. Not something advisable on a regular basis, but a fun treat, especially if it takes you back to the good old days.
Vegetarians and healthy eaters will be pleasantly surprised to find multiple selections listed on the menu, as well as a very flexible staff willing to customize a dish . (There is even “emergency soy milk” kept on hand, and I am told soy ice cream is on the future agenda.) Among the offerings are a simple, but flavorful Tomato Mozzarella Sandwich, Grilled Veggie Sandwich (made with a touch of butter rather than olive oil so the smoky flavor and veggies are not overwhelmed) served on onion ciabatta, a modest mixed Vegetable Stir-Fry with bite-sized grilled tofu and a kicky tomato dipping sauce, and the Cobb Salad – a heaping wooden bowl of cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and mushrooms on a bed of greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette on the side. The salad was exceptionally fresh, sweet and about a day’s worth of veggies! If you’re needing a little protein without the carbs, the Stuffed Tomato is guilt-free stuffed with tuna salad or “anything you want”. Planning on burning a few more calories? Try the Basil Pesto Omelette with Feta and Hash browns or toast. This is a sophisticated-tasting omelette with a nice herbal undertone. Teva’s Latkes are served as a pair with a sidecar of apple sauce and sour cream. Not at all greasy, the potato pancakes hold together when dipped in the sauce. About an inch and a half thick and the diameter of a large pancake, you will want to order these as a side dish to share. There are a lot worse ways to comfort yourself with food. The atmosphere is fun and friendly, with an old school diner charm. You’ll feel like one of the family with the attentive staff and open seating. Not a place to fade into the corner and be forgotten! Now, go call your mother already, will ya’?
Pizzeria Uno - Ohio & N. Wabash Streets, Downtown Chicago; Pizzeria Due, caddy corner from Uno
What: Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
Price range: Small (about 4 large pieces) - $15, Individual - $8
Review: If you’re going to Chicago Deep Dish, here’s what to do: Order a small Spinacolli deep dish, share it with a friend, then take a walking architectural tour of downtown. Guilt free! A handmade crisp, dense crust surrounds surprisingly fresh, crisp broccoli florets and stalks, spinach and an authentic-tasting Mozzarella, all steeped in a chunky tomato sauce. Just the right blend of cheese without overwhelming the herb-seasoned veggies. Uno’s comes highly recommended from locals and regular tourists and it seems the healthiest way to sample a tradition. An affordable lunch for 2 at a Chicago landmark. Add mushrooms for $1 more if you like, or check out a few other veggie options for pizza there.
Place your order as soon as you get online for a table – a pie takes about an hour to cook! This is not fast food, but it’s worth the wait. Very pleasant people and traffic watching from the outdoor patio, or sit inside the cozy, quaint pizzeria while you wait.