Ella Elli

4 Star Restaurant Group (Dunlay’s, Smoke Daddy, Crosby’s Kitchen, Tuco & Blondie, Frasca, The Windsor, Remington’s, D.O.C. Wine Bar) always seemed like an aspirational name. They purvey solid American neighborhood fare like roast chicken, BBQ and burgers, but I’ve never seen 4 Star as a gourmet destination restaurant group. If I was going to see a flick at the Music Box, I’d stop in at Crosby’s Kitchen for the tasty chicken and biscuits, but I wouldn’t make an appointment just to dine. Their newest spot, Ella Elli, seems poised to change that notion

Dungeons, Dragons & Donor Kebab

I was afraid I might get murdered if I played Dungeons & Dragons. My mom, like so many other parents in the late 1980s, got caught up in a moral uproar about the popular role-playing game. She cited news accounts of dungeon masters supposedly committing suicide and murder as a result of playing the game and warned me I should stay away. So when I heard that Dungeons & Dragons influenced DMen Tap, a new Logan Square restaurant from Donermen food truck owners Shawn Podgurski and Phil Naumann, I was a little apprehensive to visit. 

High Dive

After midnight, when the fancy bars have sucked your wallet dry, the classic Chicago corner dive is always there for you.

Chicago Food Delivery

Sometimes you feel like dining in your underwear. After all, Chicago only really has two inhumane climates: frozen and swampy. Spending significant time outside is often an irrational endeavor in our fair city. In fact, I’ve always thought because of the homebound experience of our citizenry, Chicagoans would make great pioneers in the colonization of Mars, where going outside, at least sans space suit, would be certain death.

Ronero

Ronero, a new Latin American/Cuban restaurant in the West Loop, is the kind of place where I’d imagine dictators or Scarface spending a night away from the rigors of managing a cartel. You could easily picture Fidel Castro hunkered down in one of the rattan peacock chairs, smoking a Cohiba and regarding the glass chandeliers while stroking the straggly tendrils of his prodigious beard.

The Gundis

You can take the men out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the men. So it goes with chef Mehmet Yavuz and Mehmet Duzgun, two friends who run Chicago’s new—and only—Kurdish kitchen, The Gundis in Lakeview.

Kitsune

The good news is the restaurant ceiling didn’t fall on my head. When I dine at chef Iliana Regan’s restaurants, weird things happen. When I reviewed Regan’s Elizabeth, I went to the restroom, and when I closed the door, ceiling tiles fell on my head. I didn’t mind. The tiles were soft and I was so buzzed on the foraged pre-fixe meal (and, to be honest, a little too much Hermitage blanc wine), I wouldn’t have felt pain anyway. That night, Regan and her crew were very gracious and apologized for the mishap. Regan and I had a good laugh about this when we spoke last week about her new spot, Kitsune, a Japanese-skewing restaurant in North Center. “I think the bones of this place are much more solid,” she said

The Essentials: Spacca Napoli

Jonathan Goldsmith’s pizza makes grown men cry. A few years ago, the owner of Spacca Napoli in Ravenswood got his mozzarella provider to sit down and try one of his Neapolitan pies. Of the experience, the provider wrote: “When I bit into it, it put tears into my eyes and I couldn’t help it. For the first time, food meant something much more to me than just curbing my appetite. In a fraction of a second, the best memories of my Neapolitan life went through my mind.”

You Can Judge a Chef by a Banana

It’s a swelter of a Friday in July, the kind of evening where the heavy air wrings moisture from human pores like water from a dish towel. Inside the cool Alinea dining room, a table of diners scrapes the remnants of tender nuggets of Dungeness crab wrapped in a blanket of sweet pea puree from their plates.