A Chicago-style hot dog is a lusciously stacked temple to indigestion: a Vienna Beef frankfurter loaded with mustard, chopped onion, sliced tomato, relish, celery salt, hot peppers, and dill pickles. Eating one of these for lunch means a dinner of Deep Dish is out of the question, unless you have a tub of Maalox holstered to your hip. Luckily, the Windy City’s bustling restaurant scene now competes with its fabled street grub. So in between hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, give your digestive tract a break in one of these notable new restaurants.
Hipster DeLaCosta imports the Nuevo Latino food of celebrity chef Douglas Rodriguez and amps up the club vibe for a see-and-be-seen spot that manages to do a credible job with the food. Menacing mannequins spot the walls and the public lounge area is swathed in gauzy curtains, creating a theatrical atmosphere. You can rent a private “cabana” with bottle service. Foodies won’t be disappointed by a seat at the stylish ceviche bar (don’t miss the hamachi ceviche) or the marlin tacos. The later the hour, the louder and boozier this spot becomes; reserve accordingly. 465 E. Illinois St. 312/464-1700. AE, DC, MC, V. No lunch weekends. $$$-$$$$
The husband-and-wife team behind this stylish spot manages to draw discriminating diners to their less-than-lovely location, behind the mammoth Merchandise Mart. He does the savories, she the sweets. Aigre Doux (which means “sweet and sour”) is at its best during dinner, serving deftly accented dishes like artichoke soup, slow baked salmon with citrus and maple-glazed duck. Attentive service, a selective wine list, and modern decor create a chameleon setting conducive, like the chefs’ marriage, to both business and romance. 230 W. Kinzie St. 312/329-9400. AE, D, DC, MC, V. No lunch weekends. Closed Sunday. $$$
New York celebrity chef David Burke’s local reception was initially cautious. After all, what could a New Yorker teach a Chicagoan about steak? But the restaurant has been embraced for its convivial setting and sense of playfulness, including identifying 207L, the steer responsible for producing the menu’s prime beef. Don’t miss Burke’s innovative cuts, especially the 28-day, dry-aged rib eye and the bone-in filet mignon. Interactive elements include tableside tossed Caesar salads and fill-your-own dessert doughnuts. The best seats are the red leather booths along the walls. 616 N. Rush St. 312/660-6000. AE, D, MC, V. $$$$
Despite Chicago’s renown for deep dish pizza, locals have been swept away recently by the Neapolitan pies spinning out of this bright, 50-seat Ravenswood gem. Finely ground Italian flour, imported buffalo mozzarella, hand-tossed dough and a wood-fired brick oven produce thin pies with a bubbling, chewy crust that diners eat with a fork. Antipasti and desserts like tiramisu round out the short menu. The proprietors shun take-out and turn up the lights a little too high, but the food wins out, accounting for out-the-door waits, even on weekdays. In summer, angle for a table on the pleasant sidewalk patio. 1769 W. Sunnyside. 773/878-2420. AE, MC, V. Closed Monday and Tuesday. $
Chicago storefront dining doesn’t get any better than this Italian find in Roscoe Village. Bring your own wine and sit down in the exposed brick dining room. Dishes are comprised of mostly organic and sustainable ingredients and pastas made fresh by your waiter/chef. The house specializes in family-style service, enabling diners to choose an antipasti, salad, a couple of pastas and entrées to split, making this a nice choice for groups that like to graze. Though it occupies an unlikely corner of Addison Street in Roscoe Village, it’s only about a mile from Wrigley Field and neighbors the Brown Line el stop (requiring a reservation most nights). 1851 W. Addison St. 773/248-2777. AE, D, DC, MC, V. No lunch. Closed Monday. $$
Rockit Bar & Grill
A classic tavern for the club set, Rockit Bar & Grill does bar food with style, pours creative cocktails, and aims to please everyone from celebrity visitors (given wide berth in the upstairs bar) to kids (served Lincoln Log-like stacks of brioche French toast for brunch). The extensive menu spans salads, sandwiches and burgers (try the Kobe version) as well as comfort food entrées like Thanksgiving turkey and pesto cream pasta with salmon. Oprah-famed designer Nate Berkus did the rustic-chic interiors, which include tree-stump cocktail tables and antler chandeliers. After dinner, head upstairs to shoot some pool and check out the singles scene. 22 W. Hubbard St. 312/645-6000. AE, MC, V. $$