Essential Chicago Summer Festivals: September 2015 Edition

September in Chicago

September in Chicago

Sad, but true: another Chicago summer, albeit a short one, has flown by. September is typically a gorgeous month in Chicago, one of my favorites. But alas, September signals the end of street festival season and tends to arrive with a bit of melancholy as autumn is ushered in, ultimately giving way to that inevitable Chicago winter. So, for now, we can focus on reveling in the warmth of every last sun-soaked day, in true Chicago-fashion. Below is a guide to September festival fun (aside from the ever-popular music festivals, North Coast Music Festival & Riot Fest) and road map to assist you in making your weekends count.

Chicago Jazz Festival

Who: Jazz appreciators. Music lovers.

What: A Chicago Labor Day tradition of jazz with a remarkable lineup of jazz performances. Food vendors.

Where: The Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington Street & Millennium Park.

When: Thurs., September 3rd {noon- 4:30p @ the Cultural Center, 6:30p- 9:00p @ Millennium Park}; Fri., September 4th- Sun., September 6th {noon- 9:30p @ Millennium Park}.

Why: It’s a truly impressive showcase of jazzy talent from the Chicago scene and around the globe and the largest, gratis jazz festival in the world.

How Much: FREE!

Pro-Tip: If you can’t make the Chicago Jazz Festival, or are just a jazz junkie, don’t miss the Hyde Park Jazz Festival on Saturday, September 26th and Sunday, September 27th at Midway Plaisance Park.

Taste of Polonia

Taste of Polonia, Chicago, IL

Taste of Polonia, Chicago, IL (photo by R_A_L at https://flic.kr/p/5igfgS)

Who: Polish people. Sausage devotees. Polka fiends.

What: Polish food & drink. Nonstop music w/ 4 stages featuring a wide range of genres. Cultural events. Family events. Polka dancing. The largest Polish festival in the US of A.

Where: Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Avenue in Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood.

When: Fri., September 4th {5:00p- 10:30p}; Sat., September 5th & Sun., September 6th {noon- 10:30p}; Mon., September 7th {noon- 10:00p}.

Why: Because what better way to immerse yourself in the Polish culture than via pierogies, kielbasa, and polka in a city that is home to one of the largest Polish populations in the world?

How Much: $7.

German American Fest

Who: Those that value the finer aspects of the German culture (read: sausage and beer).

What: German food and drink. Traditional German song and dance. Bands. German hospitality. Carnival games. A parade on Saturday (at 2:00p).

Where: Lincoln Avenue & Leland Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.

When: Fri., September 11th {5:00p- 11:00p}; Sat., September 12th {noon- 11:00p}; Sun., September 13th {noon- 10:00p}.

Why: To embrace your inner-German and affinity for encased meat and steins of beer.

How Much: Free admission.

Shock Top Oyster Fest

Shock Top Oyster Festival

Shock Top Oyster Festival (photo by Tony at https://flic.kr/p/34anmz)

Who: Bivalve aficionados. Roscoe Village neighborhoodies.

What: Oysters (East Coast Delaware Blue Bay Points & West Coast Purple Mountain). Beer (formerly Guinness, now Shock Top). Live music. Local eats. Arts and crafts vendors.

Where: Damen Avenue & Roscoe Street in Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighborhood.

When: Fri., September 11th {5:00p- 10:00p} & Sat., September 12th {11:00a- 10:00p}.

Why: It is as good an excuse as any to eat oysters, oh, and drink in the street while the weather still permits.

How Much: $7 suggested donation.

Lakeview East Festival of the Arts

Lakeview East Festival of the Arts

Lakeview East Festival of the Arts (photo by Katie Kullen at https://flic.kr/p/d8hzDL)

Who: Art enthusiasts. East Lakeview neighborhoodies. Yuppies.

What: Over 150 juried artists showcasing artwork from paintings and sculptures to photography and jewelry. Two stages featuring live music. Children’s activities. Food and drink.

Where: Broadway Avenue between Belmont Avenue & Hawthorne Place in Chicago’s Lakeview East neighborhood.

When: Sat., September 12th {10:00a- 7:00p w/ music until 10:00p} & Sun., September 13th {10:00a- 6:00p w/ music until 7:00p}.

Why: Because wandering around and checking out art in a cool neighborhood can be fun.

How Much: $5.

Windy City Wine Festival

Buckingham Fountain, Chicago, IL

Buckingham Fountain, Chicago, IL (photo by Grant at https://flic.kr/p/t9GxiX)

Who: Oenophiles. Oenophiles-in-training.

What: Wine tastings. Over 300 wines to sample from all over the world and closer to home. Wine seminars & cooking demos. Tasty food from local Chicago favorites. Live music.

Where: Buckingham Fountain, 500 S. Columbus Drive.

When: Fri., September 11th {4:30p- 10:00p} & Sat., September 12th {2:30p- 8:00p}.

Why: Because WINE.

How Much: Tickets are $35 in advance, $45 at the door (includes a souvenir wine glass, 12 wine tastings, one pint of beer, discounted prices on wine sold).

Renegade Craft Fair

Who: A hip crowd. Artsy types. Creative folks.

Renegade Craft Fair, Chicago, IL

Renegade Craft Fair, Chicago (photo by Nate Burgos at https://flic.kr/p/nLGB4f)

What: Local vendors and artists. Lots of etsy-esque art. Delicious local food and beverage (hello, Dia de los TamalesDönerMenBlack Dog Gelato, Revolution Brewing).

Where: Division Street between Paulina Street and Damen Avenue in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.

When: Sat., September 19th & Sun., September 20th {11:00a- 6:00p}.

Why: This is one of the trendiest, coolest craft fairs around and is filled with glorious, artsy gift ideas.

How Much: Free.

Oktoberfest Chicago

Oktoberfest, Chicago

Oktoberfest, Chicago (photo by heyrocc, https://flic.kr/p/5nH9rx)

Who: Oktoberfest devotees. Beer buffs. Lakeviewers.

What: All-things German with a heavy emphasis on beer, brats and pretzels. A craft beer tasting evening on Friday. Bands. German entertainment. Activities for youngsters.

Where: St. Alphonsus Church at Southport Avenue & Lincoln Avenue in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.

When: Fri., September 25th {5:00p- 10:00p}; Sat., September 26th {11:00a- 10:00p}; Sun., September 27th {11:00a- 7:00p}.

Why: Autumn has officially arrived (signaling the conclusion of festival season), so you may as well embrace it with the Oktoberfest tradition of beer, pretzels, sausage, and merriment.

Berghoff Oktoberfest, Chicago, Illinois

Berghoff Oktoberfest, Chicago (photo by John W. Iwanski at https://flic.kr/p/fQ7FTp)

How Much: $5 suggested donation, $40 for the craft beer tasting night.

Pro-Tip: If you can’t get enough Oktoberfesting, be sure to check out Berghoff Oktoberfest, Wed., September 16th- Fri., September 18th {11:00a- 9:00p} at the John C. Kluczynski Federal Plaza at 230 S. Dearborn St. For a listing of other Illinois Oktoberfests, click here.

Another Perfect Day In Vieques, Puerto Rico

Now that you have settled into this island paradise of Vieques, it’s time for some exploration, you intrepid journeyer! 

(Also, don’t miss my earlier post: A Perfect Day in Vieques!)

Media Luna Beach, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Beaches: The island of Vieques was previously utilized by the U.S. Navy as a bombing range and weapons testing ground. The Navy left the island about 12 years ago, and today a portion of Vieques is home to a national wildlife refuge and picture perfect, remote beaches. These island beaches are open to the public and pristine in their natural, undeveloped form. However, there remains a large area of Vieques which is restricted land and off-limits due to the hazard of contamination and un-exploded munitions.

Many of Vieques’ best beaches are located down a long dirt and gravel road in the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge with a Jeep making for an accessible, albeit bumpy, drive. Each beach is clearly marked with signage and beach hopping between a few different playas makes for a perfect afternoon.

Here are just a few beaches worth the expedition:

Caracus Beach (Red Beach). Playa Caracus was one of my favorites. The beach is generously sized, gorgeous, clean and easily reachable on a paved road (carros publicos, or taxis, even go there). For these reasons, Caracus tends to be busier than some of Vieques’ more secluded beaches located farther into the wildlife refuge The sugar sand is relatively seaweed-free, and the aquamarine water is calm and enticingly swimmable.  As with most Vieques beaches, there are no concessions here, so plan accordingly. On Caracus Beach, you will find a few gazebos that offer a welcome respite from the Caribbean sun, but plan to arrive early in the day to stake your claim.

Pata PrietPata Prieta Beach, Viequesa (Secret Beach). Pata Prieta, or Secret Beach, is more difficult to access than Playa Caracus. As a result, it is more secluded. But truth be told, this beach is really not-so-secret. The proverbial cat is certainly out of the bag about this horseshoe-shaped sliver of paradise. At Pata Prieta, you will find a smaller, cozy beach whose edge is lined with trees making shade relatively easy to come by. Do not expect any amenities whatsoever at this beach, but do expect a more private setting with silky white sand, crystal-clear water and excellent snorkeling that is worth the jarring Jeep ride.

———————————-

La Chiva (formerly known as Blue Beach). As with Pata Prieta, a jeep is a preLa Chiva Beach, Viequesrequisite
for reaching La Chiva which is situated just past Pata Prieta in the wildlife preserve. La Chiva is a vast, largely uninhabited beach that stretches along a large bay. Playa La Chiva also lacks amenities such as concessions and restrooms, but it is an idyllic spot to relax, sunbathe, escape the crowds and maybe even spot a sea turtle. The glimmering, azure water is rife with opportunities to swim, snorkel near the rocks and discover marine life. Squint your eyes and you just may think that you have been transported to a desert island utopia- in the best way possible of course, because chances are your Jeep is parked nearby.

Sol Food food truck is a Vieques institution and rightfully so. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the food truck craze sweeping our nation’s cities had found its way to the island. Conveniently parked at the corner of Route 997 and the entrance to the wildlife preserve, Sol Food is an essential pit stop on your way to or from the beach. (Okay, Sol Food is also worth a detour if you are not headed that direction). Inexpensive sandwiches, empanadas, meat on a stick, and salads are the name of the game at this foodie enclave. To this day, I am still dreaming about the O.M.G.-SO-GOOD empanadas, including one filled with gooey ham and three cheeses, and swoon-worthy carnitas. Trust me: Sol Food is not-to-be-missed.

Travelers World Cafe food truck, parked directly across the street from Sol Food, was an experienceTravelers World Cafe, Vieques in and of itself. The truck was run by affable gents (Chris and Brian) and operated on somewhat of an island schedule. Travelers offered tasty, fresh sodas with flavors including passion fruit, tamarind and guava along with handmade flat bread sandwiches with an emphasis on international street fare. With flat bread fillings ranging from Thai-style chicken and chicken tikka masala to Moroccan beef gyro, Travelers excelled at bringing international flair to Puerto Rico. A visit to Travelers Facebook page shows that they are currently taking a break but may be back up and running soon. Stay tuned…

Exploring Isabel Segunda. Isabel Segunda, or Isabel II, is Vieques’ port town and capital situated on the northern shore of the island. If you chose to ferry over from the big island of Puerto Rico, Isabel II is where you will arrive. This seaside village is home to most of the island’s population and offers a more gritty, local vibe than more tourist-oriented Esperanza. Isabel II also has its share of bars and restaurants and is worth a stroll to take in the beautiful Spanish architecture and local flavor.

Coqui Fire Cafe is a casual, open air Mexican eatery with a serious cult-following. For those who are unfamiliar with coquíes, they are small, singing frogs common to Puerto Rico and the bona fide mascot of Puerto Rico. Coqui Fire also produces popular, local hot sauce with a variety of “sweat factors” and unique flavors such as Piña Colada Mustard and Mango Garlic. Gargantuan burritos, shrimp with mole sauce, carnitas and tangy margaritas are among the many stand-outs at Coqui Fire Cafe. A visit to this hot spot is requirement for any Vieques vacation, just be sure to call ahead for reservations.

Coquí Frog

Coquí Frog [photo by Carlos Javier https://flic.kr/p/nqd2wM%5D

Al’s Mar Azul Bar is a wonderful island dive bar that plays host to a healthy mix of locals and tourists. Mar Azul has a drink list divided into libations for “beginners,” “semi-pros,” and “professionals” alongside a decent food menu. With a deck boasting an enviable view of the Atlantic Ocean and incredibly idyllic sunsets, this is a hangout you can settle into for awhile.

Isla Nena Cafe. [FYI: Vieques is sometimes referred to as “Isla Nena,” or Spanish for “little sister,” as Vieques is often described as the main island’s little sister.] I stumbled upon the somewhat hidden gem of Isla Nena Cafe soon after landing at Vieques’ tiny airport. With time to kill before my traveling companion’s arrival, I followed a sign publicizing “cold beer” up a flight of stairs outside the airport. I then encountered a group of friendly patrons, many of them locals, engaging in lively banter and imbibing outside a trailer-like structure in the airport parking lot. The proprietor, Lyman, a die-hard Green Bay Cheese-head expat and lively character, was pouring the drinks. It could be our shared Midwestern roots, but I found Lyman to be immediately likable and felt right at home. He even served me a traditional Puerto Rican Chichaito shot, a concoction of Puerto Rican white rum and anise liqueur, on the house. After a stiff drink, or two, (try the painkiller) and the discovery of Lyman’s Chinese wife’s seriously to-DIE-for, handmade dumplings (vegetarian or pork), I knew I was in the right place. Don’t miss a drink or bite to eat at this unlikely airport cafe upon either your arrival or departure from Vieques. After all, it is typically safe to assume that a congregation of seasoned locals know something that we don’t.

Essential Chicago Summer Festivals: August 2015 Edition

Chicago Summertime

Believe it or not, Chicago: August is here. The good news is that summer, in all its steamy, sweaty splendor has finally arrived… the bad news is… well, I am not going to even go there.

August is undoubtedly one of the best months of the year in Chicago, so it is imperative to take full advantage of every sunny afternoon and balmy evening. This guide, featuring my selections for the best August festivals, should assist in that endeavor.

Chicago Hot Dog Fest

Chicago Hot Dog

Chicago Hot Dog (photo by Jeremy Keith https://flic.kr/p/2TQzug )

Who: Encased meat junkies.

What: A wide variety of Chicago’s beloved Vienna Beef dogs. Numerous hot dog vendors. Beer. Bands. Children’s activities.

Where: Clark Street & LaSalle Drive at the south end of Lincoln Park (the event is hosted by the Chicago History Museum).

When: Fri., August 7th & Sat., August 8th {11:00a- 9:00p}; Sun., August 9th {11:00a- 8:00p}.

Why: Because you have a serious penchant for meat in tubular form and want to pay homage to one of Chicago’s most iconic eats.

How Much: Free admission.

Northalsted Market Days

Who: A diverse LGBT crowd from all over. A really insane number of humans. Dancing queens. Hedonists.

What: A lot of drinking, dancing, and reveling in the street. Street food vendors. Arts and crafts merchants. Three stages featuring over 40 top musical acts from the area and across the country including Blu Cantrell, En Vogue, Salt-N-Pepa & All-4-One. General debauchery. An excessive amount of skin. Limitless opportunities for people watching.

Where: Halsted Street from Belmont Avenue to Addison Street in Chicago’s Boystown ‘hood.

When: Sat., August 8th & Sun., August 9th {11:00a- 10:00p}.

Why: Because you wouldn’t want to pass up the Midwest’s largest street festival and an absurdly fun time. Read: this fest is FOMO-inducing, folks.

How Much: $10 donation.

Festa Italiana

Chicago's Little Italy

Chicago’s Little Italy (photo by Benjamin Lipsman https://flic.kr/p/9YJF9J )

Who: Italians. Celebrants of Italian culture (and food).

What: All Things Italian. A wine garden. Traditional Italian fare. Three stages of live entertainment. Activities from grape stomping to competitive meatball eating. Carnival rides.

Where: Taylor Street at Ashland Avenue in Chicago’s Little Italy ‘hood.

When: Thurs., August 13th {5:00p- 10:00p}; Fri., August 14th & Sat., August 15th {noon- 11:00p}; Sun., August 16th {noon- 10:00p}.

Why: To experience la dolce vita.

How Much: $5 suggested donation.

Chicago Air & Water Show

Who: Boat enthusiasts. Lakefront locals. Lovers of Chicago summer.

What: You know, that time of the year when you are absolutely convinced that the city of Chicago is under siege via the air? Headliners including the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the Breitling Jet Team. Diving and parachute teams. A ginormous beach and waterfront party.

Where: Chicago’s lakefront from Fullerton Parkway to Oak Street.

When: Sat., August 15th & Sun., August 16th {10:00a- 3:00p}.

Why: Because it is billed as the largest free show of its kind. Also, because our summers are fleeting and this show offers a perfect excuse to chill, picnic, and soak up Chicago’s beautiful lakefront and skyline with complimentary entertainment (okay, if you don’t mind a crowd).

How Much: Free.

Taste of Greektown

Who: Greeks. Grecophiles. Fun seekers.

What: The biggest, fattest annual celebration of Greekness in Chicago. Greek delicacies served up by Greektown’s finest establishments. Greek bands and dancing. Greek booze (ouzo, duh) and vino. A whole lot of Hellenism. Infectious OOOO-PA!

Where: Halsted & Van Buren in Chicago’s Greektown.

When: Sat., August 22nd – Sun., August 23rd {noon- 11:00p}.

Why: Yeah, maybe I should disclose the Greek bias up front. Greekness aside, you would be hard pressed to find an ethnic group who drinks, eats and dances like the Greeks. (In fact, we probably invented all of the aforementioned.)

How Much: Free.

Chicago Food + Wine Festival 

Who: Gastronomes. Oenophiles. Culinary scenesters. Celebrity chef groupies.

What: Artisanal food, wine, beer & spirits. Hob-Knobbing with acclaimed chefs, sommeliers, and winemakers. Cooking demonstrations. Live music.

Where: Chicago’s Lincoln Park.

When: Fri., August 29th – Sun., August 30th.

Why: You really, truly, deeply love delectable food and drink and have to be at foodie ground zero for this festival’s inaugural year.

How Much: You can peruse and purchase tickets here.

A Perfect Day In Vieques, Puerto Rico

Vieques, Puerto Rico

Vieques, Puerto Rico

Vieques is a Puerto Rican island just eight miles off the eastern coast of mainland Puerto Rico. It is a truly magical place. On Vieques, you will find an unhurried, leisurely pace; friendly locals and expats loving life; wild horses; scrumptious cuisine; and exquisitely beautiful beaches.

Below, you can find a guide on where to go and what to do in Vieques, Puerto Rico:

Transportation: Ferries, at $2 per person, serve as the low cost option for reaching Vieques. The ferries depart from Fajardo and land at Vieques’ port town of Isabel Segunda; however, the ferries have a reputation of being a bit unreliable and often fill up quickly. Although more pricey (at around $120-140 per person, one-way), flights are swift and painless from San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU). Or try San Juan’s Isla Grande airport for cheaper flights (around $70 per person, one-way). Two popular flight options are Vieques Air Link and Cape Air.

Cape Air

Cape Air

Where to Stay: Being a relatively small island, Vieques lacks an abundance of lodging options. You’ll find the upscale W Retreat and Spa on the northern part of the island as well as smaller inns and boutique hotels. Undoubtedly, the hippest, most stylish spot to stay is El Blok in Esperanza, an architectural jewel that opened last year and was awarded a Gold LEED certification for its sustainable design. In a short time, El Blok has received countless accolades from the likes of Travel & Leisure Magazine, the New York Times, and Condé Nast Traveler. With an attentive, hospitable staff; reasonable rates; 21 trendy guest rooms; an alluring rooftop overlooking the sea; and a breezy, open air common area with a bar and phenomenal restaurant, El Blok lives up to all the hype.

Getting Around: Vieques offers a taxi service as well as public transportation (referred to as “carros publicos”) which can accommodate up to 10 passengers. However, if you would like to explore the island and some of its renowned, far-flung beaches, a rental car is recommended as many of these areas are only accessibly with a jeep. Vieques Car Rental and Island Car Rental are two popular options.

Esperanza, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Esperanza, Vieques, Puerto Rico

What to Do: After settling in, it’s time to explore the walkable, charming village of Esperanza (“hope” en Español), located on the southern shore of the island. A small strip of bars and restaurants caters to tourist-types and runs along the popular Malecón (or “breakwater”), a picturesque promenade overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The bustling Malecón serves as a popular gathering spot and is prime real estate to eat, drink, people-watch, and peruse the wares of local vendors. If you’re in pursuit of activity on this sleepy island, the Malecón is about as “happening” as it gets.  

The beach in Esperanza is ideal for a swim or a jump off of the pier. Nearby Sun Bay Beach is easily accessible by foot from Esperanza. At Sun Bay, you will find a gorgeous, just-secluded-enough beach, which offers amenities such as refreshments as well as a restroom facility- unlike the rest of Vieques’ beaches.

A Bioluminescent Bay tour is a must-do while visiting Vieques. Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon created by microorganisms, or dinoflagellates, that light up as a defense mechanism. Vieques’ Mosquito Bay was lauded as the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world in 2008 by the Guinness Book of World Records. Be sure to choose the night for your tour according to the lunar calendar, as less moonlight makes it easier to see the bioluminescence. Abe’s Snorkeling & Bio Bay Tours is a popular and recommended choice for a 2 hour bio bay ocean kayak tour and leaves from Sun Bay near Esperanza ($45 per adult). Kayaking in a dark, glittering bay is an unbelievably awe-inspiring adventure, and Vieques Island is one of the only places, if not the best place, in the world to experience it.

Food & Drink: 

Restaurante El Blok. The newly opened restaurant and bar at El Blok hotel is helmed by Jose Enrique, a highly celebrated Puerto Rican chef. Jose Enrique, whose namesake restaurant is located in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, was chosen as both a James Beard semi-finalist and Food & Wine Best New Chef. Restaurante El Blok showcases his elevated Puerto Rican fare in an airy, open space on the main floor of the hotel. The laudable cocktail list features fresh and skillfully crafted libations, including a refreshing vodka ginger drink. The menu features simple, fresh plates that offer a modern spin on traditional favorites. Tangy ceviche; juicy filet mignon; out-of-this-world flash fried eggplant cubes; and fresh fish grilled on a mesquite, wood-fired grill are among the many standouts at Restaurante El Blok. Homemade, fried churros slathered with decadent sauces serve as a winning culmination of a fantastic meal.

Next Course. Next Course is an deliciously eclectic dining option located on Route 201 in the center of Vieques, between Esperanza and Isabel Segunda. Next Course’s menu is a nod to international and Caribbean cuisine and is dubbed “cuisine inspired by travel.” Next Course’s decor contributes to a bohemian feel, and its large patio, complete with softly twinkling lights, provides alfresco dining in a picturesque, whimsical setting. With a varied and diverse fare and plenty of vegetarian-friendly choices, Next Course is sure to offer a dish suitable for a wide-range of palates. From Asian-inspired plates, bacon-wrapped dates, and short ribs to fresh seafood, chicken and waffles, and handcrafted cocktails, Next Course is truly a crowd-pleasing gem on Vieques.

El Quenepo. El Quenepo is a delightful restaurant located on the Malecón in Esperanza. El Quenepo spotlights the best in Puerto Rican and seafood-centric fare with popular dishes such as mofongo, tuna poke, and paella stealing the show. The plates are impeccably prepared and crafted with fresh ingredients and a local flair. With an elegantly designed interior, Quenepo’s vibe is somewhat upscale but simultaneously down-to-earth. El Quenepo is a dining, and wining, experience that is not-to-be-missed.

Mofongo at El Quenepo, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Mofongo at El Quenepo [photo by Matt via https://flic.kr/p/7BwGPp ]

Lazy Jack’s. Lazy Jack’s is a lively bar and restaurant, adjacent to Lazy Jack’s hostel, and situated on the main strip of Esperanza. With a decent beer selection, a belly-warming signature painkiller cocktail and homemade pizza, Lazy Jack’s appeal extends to both tourists and locals. The staff is friendly, and a large patio is an ideal locale for surveying the scene and watching the world go by. If you are looking for nightlife in Esperanza, Lazy Jack’s is one of Vieques’ best options for a good, laid back time.

Cocktails, Lazy Jack's Bar, Vieques

Cocktails, Lazy Jack’s Bar

UP NEXT: Another Perfect Day in Vieques, Puerto Rico

Essential Chicago Summer Festivals: June 2015 Edition

It’s already June. Summer has arrived will, hopefully, arrive soon in Chicago, which means that festival season is in full swing. For Chicagoans and visitors to our fine metropolis, the following is a roundup of my favorite Chicago summer festivals for the month of June. (This is by no means an exhaustive listing of June fests.) Brace yourselves: it’s a busy month.

Lincoln Park Greek Fest

Greek Fest

Greek Fest

Who: Hellenes (Greeks) and Philhellenes (lovers of Greeks and Greek culture).

What: “Food, Fun & Opa!” Greek Food. Greek Sweets. Frappé and Ouzo Lemonade Slushies. Traditional Greek Music and Dancing. Vendors Featuring Greek Goods.

Where: St. George Greek Orthodox Church, 2701 N. Sheffield Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

When: Fri., June 5th {5:00p- 11:00p}; Sat., June 6th {noon- 11:00p}; Sun., June 7th  {noon- 10:00p}.

Why: Because no one eats, drinks, dances, and has fun like the Greeks. Come for the food, beverages, and music and stay to experience the filoxenia (Greek for “hospitality-” direct translation: a “love of strangers”).

How Much: Any donation is accepted.

Printers Row Lit Fest

Who: Bookworms. Literature geeks. Authors.

What: A Whole Lot of Books. Featured Authors. Over 200 Booksellers. Vendors. Performers. Literary Panels and Discussions.

Where: Around Dearborn Street between Congress Parkway & Polk Street in Chicago’s Printers Row neighborhood.

When: Sat., June 6th {10:00a- 10:00p} – Sun., June 7th  {10:00a- 6:00p}.

Why: Bookworms, rejoice: It’s the largest gathering of book enthusiasts in the Midwest!

How Much: Free.

Printer's Row Lit Fest, Chicago, IL

Printer’s Row Lit Fest [photo by Pete via https://flic.kr/p/ce2TKA ]

Pilsen Food Truck Social

Chicago Food Trucks

Chicago Food Trucks

Who: Foodies. Hipsters. Food truck scenesters.

What: More Than 25… wait for it… Food Trucks! Local Revolution Brewery Beer. Live Music Programmed by Empty Bottle & Thalia Hall.

Where: 18th Street & Allport Street in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

When: Sat., June 6th & Sun., June 7th  {11:00a- 10:00p}.

Why: This year, Pilsen plays host to this brand spanking new, inaugural food truck fest which is a prime opportunity to sample the best of what Chicago’s booming food truck scene has to offer.

How Much: $5 suggested donation. A $20 sampler ticket will get social goers 5 samples from any food truck as well as Revolution beer, wine or spirits.

Andersonville Midsommarfest

Iced Glögg, Simon's Tavern, Midsommarfest, Chicago

Iced Glögg, Simon’s Tavern, Midsommarfest, Chicago

Who: A friendly, highly diverse crowd- gay, straight, young, old, singles, groups. Plenty of dogs. Andersonville neighborhoodies. Aficionados of the Swedish culture. 

 What: Swedish culture. A Maypole. Myraid Vendors. An Abundance of Tasty, Local Street Food (from Mediterranean fare to fried twinkies and the ever popular cevapcici). Iced Glögg. Several Stages Hosting Live Music. Blocks of jammed Packed Stores, Bars, and Restaurants.

Where: Clark Street from Foster Ave to Catalpa Ave in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood.

When: Fri., June 12th {5:00p- 10:00p}; Sat., June 13th & Sun. June 14th {11:00a- 10:00p}.

Why: Because it’s one of my favorite summertime Chicago fests and is a reliably good time.

How Much: $10 donation.

Pro-tip: Be sure to stop into one of Chicago’s greatest taverns, IMHO, Simon’s, and order the iced glögg.

Ribfest Chicago

Ribfest, Chicago

Ribfest, Chicago [photo by Steve Stearns via https://flic.kr/p/8a2w6i ]

Who: Carnivores. Messy eaters.

What: BBQ. Ribs. Beer. Bands. Rib-Eating Contests.

Where: The intersection of Lincoln/ Damen/ Irving Park Avenues in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood.

When: Fri., June 12th {5:00p- 10:00p}; Sat., June 13th & Sun. June 14th {noon- 10:00p}.

Why: Because this meaty feeding frenzy has been crowned Chicago Reader’s #1 Food Fest for three years running and has been featured on the Food Network and in USA Today.

How Much: $5 suggested donation.

Chicago Blues Festival

Blues Festival, Chicago

Blues Festival, Chicago

Who: Blues enthusiasts. Music lovers.

What: Headliners Including the Legendary Buddy Guy. Top Blues Performers. Three Stages of Music. Food and Drink Vendors.

Where: Chicago’s Grant Park a.k.a. Chicago’s front yard.

When: Fri., June 12th -Sun. June 14th {11:00a- 9:30p, daily}.

Why: Because why would you miss out on the largest free blues festival on earth hosted by the “Blues Capital of the World?”

How Much: FREE.

Old Town Art Fair

Who: Aesthetes. Artsy folk. Yuppie types.

What: Paintings. Photography. Print Making. Ceramics. Jewelry. Glass. Metal & Stone Work. Mixed Media Art. A Garden Walk. Live Music. A Food Court. Children’s Activities.

Where: Lincoln Ave and Wisconsin Street- Old Town Triangle Historic District in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

When: Sat., June 13th & Sun. June 14th {10:00a- 6:00p}.

Why: It’s one of the leading art fairs in the nation, ranked America’s #2 Best Juried Art Fair.

How Much: $7 donation requested.

Wells Street Art Festival

Wells Street Art Festival, Chicago

Wells Street Art Festival, Chicago [photo by discosour via https://flic.kr/p/hoPZq ]

Who: Old Town neighborhoodies. Artsy folk. Art admirers.

What: A Wide Range of Eclectic Artwork From 200+ Exhibitors. Delicious Neighborhood Cuisine. A Live Music Stage Featuring the Usual Chicago Fest Suspects, 16 Candles & Tripping Billies. Kid-Friendly Activities.

Where: Wells Street between Division Ave & North Ave in Chicago’s Old Town Neighborhood.

When: Sat., June 13th {10:00a- 10:00p} & Sun., June 14th {10:00a- 9:00p}.

Why: Because you dig art. And eating and drinking in the street.

How Much: $7 suggested donation. Pre-purchased, online $60 tickets will cover two gate donations, two beverages, four $5 food tickets and two commemorative cups.

Taste of Randolph Street

Taste of Randolph Street Festival , Chicago

Taste of Randolph Street Festival [photo by ninniane via https://flic.kr/p/f2c8Ef ]

Who: Gourmands. Music junkies.

What: Eats From Chicago’s Acclaimed “Restaurant Row.” Three Stages ft a Music Lineup Including The Dandy Warhols, Letttuce, and Best Coast. Artisans.

Where: 900- 1200 W. Randolph Street in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood.

When: Fri., June 19th {5:00p- 10:00p}; Sat., June 20th – Sun., June 21st {noon- 10:00p}.

Why: Food, food, and more food alongside a respectable slate of bands.

How Much: $10 suggested donation.

Chicago Pride Festival 

Who: LGBT community and their friends.

What: Dancing. Drinking. Fabulous Performers including Estelle Big Freedia & Debbie Gibson. LGBT pride. Art & Crafts Vendors. A Pet Parade on Sunday.

Where: Halsted Street between Addison Street and Grace Street in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood.

When: Sat., June 20th {10:00a- 10:00p} & Sun., June 21st {10:00a- 9:00p}.

Why: It’s the kickoff to one of the best Pride celebrations in the country and a fun way to support the Northalsted Business Alliance.

How Much: $8 donation.

Old St. Pat’s World’s Largest Block Party 

Who: Singles ready to mingle. About 20,000 Festival Attendees.

What: One HUGE Party. Popular Bands Including Headliner Young the Giant.

Where: The Block Party has moved from its former location at Old St. Pat’s to the University of Illinois- Chicago Festival Lot at 1145 S. Morgan Street between Taylor Street & Roosevelt Road in Chicago.

When: Sat., June 27th {5:30p- 11:00p}.

Why: Obviously, so you can say you attended the world’s largest block party in its 32nd year.

How Much: Tickets are $40 in advance, $45 at the door (includes two drink tickets).

Chicago Gay Pride Parade

Who: LGBT community from Chicago and beyond. Friends and supporters of the LGBT community. Around one million humans.

What: One of Largest Celebrations of Pride in the World. Dance Party. Debauchery. Glitter, Feathers, Scantily Clad Humans. An Excessive Number of Floats Featuring Politicians, Government Agencies, Community Groups, Businesses.

Where: The parade commences at Montrose Ave and Broadway Ave in Uptown and winds down Halsted Street and Broadway Ave before concluding at Diversey Parkway and Sheridan Road.

When: Sun. June 28th at noon.

Why: Because it’s the biggest party of the year and is a really, really, ridiculously fun time.

How Much: Free.

Essential Chicago Summer Festivals: May 2015 Edition

Summertime is undeniably the most wonderful time of year to be in Chicago. Chicago is unequivocally a “summer city.” The rooftops, the lakefront, the parks, the beaches, the baseball, the patios, the alfresco dining and libations, the festivals. Okay, it’s true, summer in Chicago can be downright socially exhausting. There is always something to do and somewhere to go. Your friends emerge from the proverbial woodwork after many months of hibernation. You desperately try to take advantage of every ray of sunshine and pleasant day in lieu of the impending, inevitable cold.

North Avenue Beach, Chicago

North Avenue Beach, Chicago

Chicago boasts a dizzying lineup of festivals throughout the year, with over 400 neighborhood festivals. But summertime is prime time for Chicagoans’ favorite warm weather pastime: savoring the sun and fun at a ubiquitous street festival.

The following is a quick and dirty guide to navigating the Chicago festival scene featuring my recommendations. Mark your social calendars accordingly:

Chicago Craft Beer Week

Craft Beer, Local Option, Chicago

Chicago craft beer

Who: Die-hard beer enthusiasts and people who just like good beer.

What: Craft Beer Drinking, Captain Obvious. Find the comprehensive schedule of the craft beer festivities HERE. Social media folks: use #CCBW. Also, download this nifty app.

Where: 300+ locations all over Chicago.

When: Thurs., May 14th {CCBW kicks off at Garfield Park Conservatory with ‘Beer Under Glass‘}  – Sun., May 24th {celebrations conclude with a closing festival at Welles Park}.

Why: Why not?      

Randolph Street Market Festival

Who: Antiquers. Vintage lovers. Bargain hunters. Shopaholics. Foodies. Cool people.

What: A Huge Indoor- Outdoor, European style Market. Chicago’s Famed Antique Market. The Indie Designer Market. Jewelry. Furniture. Global Wares. Epicurean Delights. A Fancy Food Market. A Beer Garden. Live Music.

Where: Plumbers Hall, 1340 W. Washington in Chicago’s West Loop Neighborhood.

When: Sat., May 23rd- Sun., May 24th {Noon- 5:00p}.

Why: Because it’s one of the 10 Best Flea Markets in the United States. Also, because: “8 acres of shopping, eating, drinking, live music, and entertainment.”

How Much: $8 in advance. $10 at the gate.

Pro Tip(s): Cash is king. Dogs are welcome.

Randolph Street Market, Chicago

Randolph Street Market, Chicago [photo by Anuli https://flic.kr/p/nTTzA1%5D

Belmont-Sheffield Music Festival

Belmont-Sheffield Music Festival

Belmont-Sheffield Music Festival [photo by Kanwar Sandhu https://flic.kr/p/c5UG4J%5D

Who: Chicagoans happy that it’s finally summer (almost). “Bro”-ish types. Tribute band devotees.

What: Chicago’s Favorite Regional Tribute Bands. Obligatory Sing-Alongs. Street Food. Food Trucks. Booze. Local Artisans.

Where: N. Sheffield Avenue from Belmont to Roscoe in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.

When: Sat., May 23rd – Sun., May 24th {Noon- 10:00p}.

Why: It’s the 31st anniversary of the unofficial kick off of the unofficial start of summer in Chicago.

How Much: $5 suggested donation.

Pro tip: Have a drink in Sheffield’s beer garden after the fest. They have good beer there.

Maifest Chicago

Maifest, Chicago

Maifest, Chicago

Who: Lincoln Square neighborhoodies; aficionados of German culture; polka fans; beer drinkers.

What: Beer drinking. Sausage and Pretzel Eating. Live Music. Polka. Maypole dancing. German culture. Gemütlichkeit (definition: a space or state of warmth and friendliness).

Where: Lincoln & Leland Avenues in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.

When: Thurs., May 28th {5:00p- 9:30p}; Fri., May 29th {5:00p-11:00p}; Sat., May 30th {Noon-11:00p}; Sun., May 31st {Noon- 10:00p}.                 

Why: Because who doesn’t like celebrating the arrival of spring while immersing themselves in German culture à la drinking from a boot?  

How Much: Free admission!                                                                                                                   

Pro tip: Check out a larger selection of German brews at one of Lincoln Square’s lovable watering holes post-festival. Hüettenbar, Carola’s Hansa Clipper, and the rooftop beer and wine garden at Gene’s Sausage Shop & Delicatessen are sure-fire crowd pleasers.

Do Division Street Fest & Sidewalk Sale

Who: Wicker Park, Ukie Village neighborhoodies; hipsters; lovers of non-stop, live music.

What: An Impressive Music & DJ Lineup. Two Live Music Stages Booked by Beloved Chicago Music Venues- the Empty Bottle and Subterranean. Local Food. Do Fashion Fest {on Hoyne from Division St to Crystal}. Sidewalk Sale {on Division St from Damen to Ashland}. Kid-Friendly Family Fun Fest {on Hoyne b/t Crystal & Potomac and on Crystal b/t Hoyne & Damen. Noon- 6:00p}.

Where: Division Street b/t Damen & Leavitt in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.

When: Fri., May 29th {5:00p-10:00p}; Sat., May 30th {Noon- 10:00p}; Sun., May 31st {Noon- 10:00p}.

Why: Because you are young, hip and love great music and tasty eats… oh, and drinking in the street.

How Much: $5 suggested donation w/ 90% of net proceeds benefiting local nonprofits.

Do Division Street Festival, Chicago

Do Division [photo by msalmi78 https://flic.kr/p/4WgaDh%5D

Lincoln Park Wine Festival

Red wine. [photo by Quinn Dombrowski https://flic.kr/p/73UeSE]

Red wine. [photo by Quinn Dombrowski https://flic.kr/p/73UeSE%5D

Who: Oenophiles. Winos. Vino buffs. Okay, you get the idea.

What: Inaugural Wine Tasting Festival. 80+ Varietals. Live Music. Food. Art. Food-Wine Pairings.

Where: Jonquil Playlot Park, 1001 W. Wrightwood Ave., in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

When: Sat., May 30th – Sun., May 31st {1:00p- 7:00p}.

Why: Because WINE.

How Much: General admission tickets are $60/ day and include entry, 12 tasting tickets, and a souvenir wine glass. VIP admission tickets are $95/ day.

City of Neighborhoods: A Liquid Guide to East Lakeview

East Lakeview, Chicago

East Lakeview, Chicago

The following is the definitive guide to the best local establishments for imbibing and sipping coffee in the East Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. For the best food in the area, don’t miss Chicago Girl Travels Foodie Guide to East Lakeview.

DRYHOP BREWERS (3155 N. Broadway):

DryHop Brewers, Chicago

DryHop Brewers, Chicago

DryHop is a popular microbrewery that satisfied a craft brewery void in East Lakeview when it opened its doors in a former adult shop in 2013. DryHop brews a wide array of innovative, rotating beers with an emphasis on hop-heavy brews, including its flagship Shark v Hipster, a wheat IPA. DryHop’s deliciously crafted beers run the gamut from saisons, pilsners, and light wheat ales to sours, farmhouse ales, stouts, and heavier porters. Beer is available on draft, in flights, and in 32- and 64- ounce growlers for the road. DryHop also excels at creating beer in collaboration with several local breweries and bars. Whether for brunch, dinner or late-night nosh, you can expect elevated bar fare with favorites including poutine, green curry mussels, and an acclaimed burger topped with ancho chile-tomato jam, raw milk cheddar, and pickled sweet onions.

BAR PASTORAL (2947 N. Broadway):

Bar Pastoral, Chicago

Rosé Flight, Bar Pastoral

Bar Pastoral is a oenophile’s nirvana attached to the longstanding, original location of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, a European-inspired emporium of fine wine, artisan cheese, handcrafted bread and quality sandwiches. Bar Pastoral’s bistro atmosphere is cozy and inviting and the perfect spot to while away an evening or weekend afternoon over a luscious glass of wine from a notable, expertly curated list. Or soak up some rays with your vino on the sidewalk patio. Additionally, Bar Pastoral offers a chef-driven menu of delectable small plates, house-made charcuterie, artisan cheeses, and seasonal dinner fare as well as a tempting brunch menu.

FION (426 W. Diversey Pkwy):

Fion, Chicago

Fion, Chicago

An East Lakeview gem located in an intimate, dimly lit space, Fion is a true diamond in the ruff. Fion has been in business for several years and has seemed to remain somewhat under the radar (in stark contrast to neighboring Duffy’s), but it is one of my favorite spots to cozy up and sip a tasty drink. Fion boasts a remarkable wine list, an impressive selection of American microbrews and imports, and skillfully crafted cocktails. Fion employs true mixologists who are proficient at concocting off-the-cuff, inventive cocktails using fresh fruit, herbs and spices. In fact, Fion’s bartenders boast individually formulated cocktail lists with their own signature creations so you can look forward to different options depending on the night and the bartender.

MONSIGNOR MURPHY’S (3019 N. Broadway St):

Monsignor Murphy's, Chicago

Monsignor Murphy’s, Chicago

Located in an old brownstone house, Murphy’s is a classic Chicago neighborhood joint. With a no-frills, homey atmosphere, fresh popcorn, reasonably priced beverages, and incredibly friendly bartenders, Murphy’s is the kind of place that begets regulars. Murphy’s is, in a way, reminiscent of Cheers- you know, a joint where everyone knows your name. Murphy’s also offers serious darts and a trivia night, along with weekly live music. You’ll always feel welcome at Murphy’s whether you are into watching sports, catching up with friends, or hanging out in the full-service back patio on a summer day.

FRIAR TUCK (3010 N. Broadway):

Friar Tuck is a quirky, cash-only dive bar with an entrance that looks like the opening of a large, dark wooden barrel. It is the kind of joint that you will always wonder about until you walk through that bizarre facade. On the inside you will find a jukebox, karaoke, a popcorn machine, basic potables, and a neighborly clientele. Pro-tip: if it’s your birthday, you can expect the unique experience of taking a shot out of an inflatable sheep’s bum.

Friar Tuck, Chicago

Friar Tuck, Chicago

JAKE’S PUB (2932 N. Clark):

Jake’s Bar has ubiquitous Chicago neighborhood corner bar status and has been a popular mainstay since 1933. A cash-only, locals’ hangout, Jake’s is unpretentious and unassuming with a laudable craft and import beer selection and cheap, no-nonsense drinks. Darts, pool, a jukebox, free popcorn and down-to-earth folks contribute to Jake’s charm and low- key vibe. Also, fellow dog-lovers rejoice: this watering hole gets major props for being dog-friendly.

Jake's Pub, Chicago

Jake’s Pub, Chicago

INTELLIGENTSIA (3123 N. Broadway):

Intelligentsia, East Lakeview, Chicago

Intelligentsia, East Lakeview, Chicago

Intelligentsia Coffee is a venerable coffee roasting institution and retailer with its headquarters in Chicago. In East Lakeview, you can sip on Chicago’s favorite coffee at the original, recently renovated, industrial-chic location or on the sidewalk patio. With some of the tastiest coffee and espresso in the city, Intelligentsia roasts and brews direct trade, award winning coffee and offers an assortment of local pastries from Floriole Bakery. Since opening its doors in 1995, Intelligentsia has garnered a cult-following, expanded city-wide, and established locations in Los Angeles and New York City.

BOW TRUSS COFFEE ROASTERS (2934 N. Broadway):

Bow Truss, Chicago

Bow Truss, Chicago

Bow Truss is an independent, artisanal coffee roaster with its initial location and roasting house in East Lakeview. Bow Truss skillfully roasts and brews specialty coffee imported from all over the world and offers an exceptional cold brew. The hip, minimalist location is an ideal spot for a cup of high-quality coffee and conversation, but its lack of wi-fi and public restrooms may deter long stays or those looking for a coffee shop office.

City of Neighborhoods: A Foodie Guide to East Lakeview

East Lakeview, Chicago

As a resident of East Lakeview, or Lakeview East, for seven years, I will always have a soft spot for this vibrant ‘hood. One of the most bustling, densely populated areas of Chicago, my former stomping grounds are located on the North Side between the Lincoln Park and Uptown community areas. East Lakeview is situated between Lake Michigan and Halsted St./Broadway Ave and is bounded by Diversey Avenue and Irving Park Road, to the south and north, respectively.

Belmont Harbor

Belmont Harbor

East Lakeview is blessed with an attractive, prime geographic location for recreation extending along a generous stretch of lake shore trail; scenic Diversey and Belmont Harbors; and a grassy expanse of Lincoln Park that is home to tennis courts and a driving range. High-rise buildings line Lake Shore Drive, while historic gray- and brownstone buildings and three-flat condos are interspersed further inland along well-maintained, tree-lined streets. The ‘hood attracts a fairly younger, “yuppie” demographic and is adjacent to lively Boystown. East Lakeview is a foodie haven, and its robust, main commercial corridors of Broadway, Belmont, Clark, and Halsted are brimming with countless shops, boutiques, diverse restaurants and bars to explore.

Here are my choices for the best establishments fit for foodies:

EAT:

CRISP (2940 N. Broadway):

Crisp, Chicago

Crisp, Chicago

Occupying a small Broadway storefront with communal seating and a BYO policy, Crisp is home to the most divine Korean chicken around. Crisp is perpetually busy with patrons dining in as well as carrying-out. The menu consists of “Buddha bowls” (bibimbap) overflowing with marinated meats and vegetables and Korean burritos, but the indisputable favorites are the Korean fried chicken wings. Forget about any other so-called chicken wings– the Crisp BBQ and Seoul Sassy wings are truly life-changing. The succulent chicken is flawlessly seasoned with the perfect combination of sweet, spicy, and smoky, and Crisp’s signature Atomic and Buddha sauces for dipping make the meal extra finger-lickin’-good.

CHILAM BALAM (3023 N. Broadway):

Chilam Balam, Chicago

Chilam Balam, Chicago

Chilam Balam is located in a snug, subterranean space with a vibrant, colorful, festive atmosphere. Sustainable, seasonal Mexican small plates are the main attraction at this locavore cocina. The menu is filled with inventive, mouthwatering dishes including corn masa memelas, mushroom empanadas, juicy grilled pork ribs, and tasty flautas. Save room for out-of-this-world hibiscus flan. Take note that Chilam Balam is cash only, BYOB, and takes limited reservations (Monsignor Murphy’s bar next door is a convenient spot to bide time until your table is ready).

MFK (432 W. Diversey Pkwy):

MFK is a Spanish, seafood-centric eatery that occupies an intimate, breezy subterranean spot on Diversey Parkway. A relative newcomer to the Chicago restaurant scene, MFK has already received numerous accolades including a spot on GQ Magazine’s list of 25 Best Restaurants of 2015. Rather than conventional Spanish tapas, MFK’s menu is a nod to exquisite, fresh, Spanish-inspired seafood with plates including an unforgettable shrimp and papaya salad, savory boquerones with shaved fennel, buttery octopus, and delectable albondigas atop a white bean puree. A white-focused, nicely curated wine list is the perfect compliment to MFK’s fare. With a cheery, summery vibe evocative of a seaside bistro, you may well forget that you’re still in Chicago. Order a piece of moist, buttery Basque cake (the only dessert on the menu), and your meal will be concluded on a sweet note at this epicurean gem.

CERES’ TABLE (3124 N. Broadway): Ceres’, named for the Roman Goddess of Agriculture, definitively exemplifies the best in elevated, regional Italian fare. Formerly located in Uptown and launched by accomplished Sicilian Chef Giuseppe Scurato, Ceres’ Table is a Bib Gourmand recipient (meaning a Michelin Guide inspector’s choice for a “Favorite for Good Value” or exceptional food for a moderate price) for 4 years running. Ceres’ specializes in heavenly, Italian-inspired small plates made with seasonal ingredients and pours deliciously crafted $10 cocktails and vino from a notable, entirely-Italian wine list. A few stand-out dishes include a fresh, zesty smoked swordfish carpaccio; a tasty orecchiette with braised pork shoulder ragu; and a dessert of decadent salted caramel budino. The perfectly chewy, wood-fired pizzas are also not-to-be-missed. The Calabrese pizza, topped with caramelized onions, calabrian chili and n’duja (a sinfully tasty, spreadable Italian sausage) is positively melt-in-your-mouth good. In keeping with its Bib Gourmand status, Ceres’ also offers attractively priced prix fixe 3 course menus.

SPRITZBURGER (3819 N. Broadway):

SpritzBurger, Chicago

SpritzBurger, Chicago

SpritzBurger emerged as a chef collaboration between Hearty Boys and Chef Gale Gand. (Hearty Boys previously helmed Hearty Restaurant in the same location and still run Hearty Boys Catering.) SpritzBurger is a burger-focused establishment that excels in the art of fun libations, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, crafted with house-made sodas and artisan syrups and seltzers. The menu highlights inventive burgers constructed with everything from beef and fried chicken to lamb, falafel, and spam (yes, spam). SpritzBurger also features a monthly “collision burger,” a collaboration where Spritz teams up with other talented chefs. At this foodie enclave, you can count on gourmet dinner fare, mouthwatering dessert, and a fabulous, sweet and savory Sunday brunch (don’t miss the ricotta doughnut holes) all served in minimalist, industrial environs as well as alfresco in a popular patio.

LA CREPERIE (2845 N. Clark St):

La Crêperie is a beloved Chicago institution. Open since 1972, La Crêperie is billed as the oldest creperie in the United States and, after a brief closure, it reopened in December 2014 to the elation of its loyal patrons. La Crêperie occupies an old farmhouse and offers a cozy, romantic atmosphere with a decidedly Euro vibe together with one of the most charming courtyards in Chicago. The bistro features sumptuous savory and sweet crepes (and brunch crepes) in addition to traditional French favorites such as a Croque Madame, steak frites, and perfect French onion soup. Noteworthy crêpes include Poulet et fromage de chèvre (chicken & goat cheese) and Boeuf bourguignon along with sweeter options like a nectarious nutella with sautéed bananas and a syrupy crème caramel. The tasty fare is accompanied by flavorful French wines, ciders, beer and cocktails that include a French martini and kir royale. La Crêperie is a must-visit destination for all Francophiles.

 Up Next: A Liquid Guide to East Lakeview!

Top Greek Restaurants Around America

As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of Greek cuisine, I am on a perpetual quest to unearth the most delicious Greek food at home and on my travels. My culture has instilled in me a preoccupation with food, and, in true Greek-fashion, it is not uncommon for me to plan my next meal before I have even finished my current meal.

While most Greek restaurants are hard-pressed to compete with my family’s homemade Greek delicacies, the following list contains my selections for some of the best Greek restaurants around the United States, from casual eateries to upscale establishments. Kαλή όρεξη (pronounced ka-LEE OR-ex-ee), or Bon appétit, Grecophiles!

[I would certainly be remiss to not include my Chicago favorites Mythos Greek Taverna, Taxim, Avli Estiatorio, and Athenian Room in this list. To discover these must-try Chicago Greek restaurants, click here!]

NEW YORK: It comes as no surprise that the melting pot of New York City has the largest population of Greeks in America and is a hub of Greek society and food. No other American neighborhood is more synonymous with Greek culture as the bustling Greek enclave of Astoria, Queens. From Astoria to Manhattan, NYC boasts multiple leading Greek establishments. Here are some of my favorites:

**M.P. Taverna, Astoria, Queens: Greek-American restaurateur Michael Psilakis (of beloved Kefi and Fishtag and formerly of Michelin-starred, now shuttered Anthos) is rightfully credited with reinventing Greek cuisine in America. MP Taverna, worth the ride on the N or Q trains, or a detour on the way to La Guardia airport, places a contemporary twist on a traditional Greek taverna. This standout on Ditmars Boulevard offers delectable meze (small plates or appetizers), satisfying entrees, grilled seafood, and sumptious desserts. Weekend brunch is a crowd-pleaser while a diverse selection of artisan drafts and bottles will delight beer-aficionados.

**Taverna Kyclades, Astoria, Queens: Taverna Kyclades is a long-standing Astoria darling corroborated by the lines of eager patrons. Kyclades assembles traditional Greek favorites so skillfully well that it is worth the wait. The atmosphere is evocative of a taverna in Greece, the prices are reasonable, the service on point. The fare, from crisp salads and vegetables to the heavenly seafood, is remarkably fresh. A complimentary dessert of galaktoboureko (pictured below)- creamy custard with layers of flaky phyllo dough drizzled with honey and sprinkled cinnamon- concludes this culinary experience on a sweet note. Note: Taverna Kyclades recently opened an East Village outpost for those reluctant to venture from Manhattan.

**Estiatorio Milos, Midtown West, Manhattan: Estiatorio Milos is the ultimate in elevated Greek dining. Milos has an airy, chic interior and a menu emphasizing exceedingly fresh seafood, flown in daily from the motherland, and attractively displayed on an ice bar. The impressive wine list highlights often overlooked ambrosial Greek wine. Avoid a hefty price tag by checking out Milos’ prix fixe lunch special. FYI: Milos’ empire also extends from its flagship Montreal location to Athens, South Beach, Las Vegas, and London.

**Souvlaki GR, Lower East Side, Manhattan: On my ongoing crusade to uncover authentic souvlaki in the U.S. that measures up to that in Greece, I stumbled upon Souvlaki GR. Also a food truck, Souvlaki GR delivers by serving up Greece’s ubiquitous street food the way it should be, right down to the spot-on tzatziki and french fries. The incredibly charming interior is modeled after a Greek village, and with a souvlaki pita and traditional frappe coffee in hand, you are truly whisked away to the Mediterranean, if only for a moment.

SAN FRANCISCO:

**Kokkari Estiatorio, Financial District, San Francisco: San Francisco, America’s veritable foodie capital, is not particularly well-known for its Greek cuisine. Kokkari, however, is a game-changer. Kokkari’s rustic interior, complete with a stone fireplace roasting chickens and handcrafted pottery, is charming and cozy. The impeccable Greek fare is flawlessly presented and mouthwatering from the gigandes with tomato sauce and herbed feta (pictured below) and roasted chicken to the tsipoura, served whole, and luscious baklava. Kokkari truly serves food fit for the Gods and showcases the best in Greek cooking and hospitality.

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Our nation’s capital has a hot, burgeoning Greek and Mediterranean food scene that has exploded in the past several years. Below are a few leading examples.  

**Zaytinya, Penn Quarter/Chinatown, Washington, DC: Zaytinya was my go-to spot when I lived in DC and undoubtedly a top-notch choice for Mediterranean cuisine. Helmed by one of my favorite chefs José Andrés, Zaytinya meticulously merges the finest Greek, Lebanese and Turkish delicacies into inventive small plates. Zaytinya’s interior is contemporary and trendy, and its glamorous patio is a buzzy scene in warmer months. The menu is expansive and features stunners such as roasted eggplant stuffed with onions, tomatoes and walnuts; seared halloumi cheese; octopus santorini; and heavenly hummus. The cocktails are creative, and the notable Greek- and Turkish-focused wine list is extensive.

**Taverna Cretekou, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia: Nestled amongst the cobblestone streets of historic Old Town Alexandria, Taverna Cretekou is a long-time favorite. The inviting interior and enchanting patio serve as a beacon of time-honored Greek filoxenia (hospitality). The portions are generous, the service is friendly, and the atmosphere is festive, with traditional Greek bouzouki music and dancing weekly. The classic Greek fare includes mezedes, salads, meats, and seafood and is consistently satisfying and flavorful.

**Cava Mezze, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC: Cava Mezze, located on historic Capitol Hill, is an enjoyable, scrumptious addition to the Greek small plate (hence: mezze) scene. The tapas style dining is reminiscent of a traditional Greek taverna, and the well-priced assorted dips, sliders and salads fail to disappoint. Standouts include spicy lamb sliders; halloumi sliders; and the “crazy feta,” whipped aged barrel feta with jalapeno. Cava Mezze also offers trendy craft libations and serves up a fun brunch. Cava has additional locations in Rockville, MD and the Clarendon area of Arlington, VA.

**Greek Deli & Catering, DuPont Circle, Washington, DC: A bona fide DC lunch institution, Greek Deli serves up daily specials to hungry masses that line up outside its tiny, 19th Street storefront. Kostas, the delightful, warm proprietor, serves carry-out-only, homemade Greek deliciousness that rivals your [insert: mother’s/ father’s/yiayia’s/aunt’s] home cooking. The gyro platter, avgolemono (egg lemon) soup, spanakopita, and souvlaki have garnered a cult-following. And don’t let the line deter you, it moves quickly.

FLORIDA: Florida is home to a thriving Greek population, with the largest per capita Greek populace in America located in the quaint fishing town of Tarpon Springs (also dubbed “the sponge capital of the world”). Unsurprisingly, Florida is prime territory for Greek dining establishments. 

**Hellas Restaurant & Bakery, Tarpon Springs, FL: Tarpon Springs’ waterfront is replete with Greek restaurant options, and on the main street of Dodecanese Boulevard, in the heart of it all, you will find Hellas Restaurant & Bakery. Hellas is a favored Greek mainstay that is bustling with activity, particularly in the high season. The blue and white interior is splashy with painted murals of Greece, Greek pillars and statues, and Greek key lined walls. The quintessential Greek fare is reliably delicious, and the menu features Greek combination platters, fresh seafood, and the traditional Greek horiatiki salad served upon a bed of potato salad. Be sure to save room for an after-dinner trip to the adjacent Hellas Bakery for Greek coffee and the most authentic Greek dessert around. Sample the delicately crafted Greek favorites (recommended: melamakarona and kourabiedes cookies, diples, galaktoboureko) and savor the sinful baklava cheesecake.

**Poseidon Greek Restaurant & Outdoor Lounge, Miami Beach, FL: Poseidon brings the Mediterranean to South Beach and has garnered rave reviews since its debut in early 2013. Poseidon is a welcome departure from the overpriced, and underwhelming, tourist traps that crowd South Beach and expertly serves phenomenal Greek cuisine with natural, fresh ingredients. The interior is sleek and modern with Greek touches, but the outdoor patio is really the place to be and offers the perfect vantage point for people-watching on Washington Ave. The meal begins with complimentary crusty bread served with an addicting tomato, feta, olive oil dip. Poseidon’s extensive menu offers noteworthy saganaki dishes (e.g. scallop, calamari, mussels or shrimp saganaki), mouthwatering octopus roasted in lemon and oil, seafood pasta, and delectable grilled, whole fish. A dessert of Greek yogurt or baklava, and an aperitif of ouzo on the rocks, is a perfect finale to the Poseidon experience.

Must-Eat Chicago Pizza (Neapolitan Edition)

Pizza. I love pizza. You love pizza. Everyone loves pizza. Although Chicago is notorious for its deep dish, Chicago-style pizza, I much prefer thin crust pizza. Especially Neapolitan pizza. You know, the pizza that originated in Naples, Italy, the motherland and origin of pizza as we know it today?

True Neapolitan pizza is serious business. There is a learned technique to creating real Neapolitan pizza and groups dedicated to its art, including the True Neapolitan Pizza Association (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, or AVPN). As an illustration, to satisfy the requirements set forth by the AVPN, the pizza must be cooked in a wood-burning oven; be made with specific, certified ingredients, preferably imported from Italy; and must be prepared using proper technique. There is truly nothing that compares to a flawless Neapolitan pizza, with bubbly, lightly charred crust topped with San Marzano tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese- typically mozzarella di Bufala (produced with the milk of water buffaloes). Neapolitan pizza is uncomplicated, but there are few foods more satisfying in their simplicity than a well-crafted, rustic Neapolitan pie. Chicago is home to several appealing options for this delicious pizza. My city-wide favorites are listed below. Is your mouth watering yet? Read on:

Pizzeria da Nella, Lincoln Park:

Pizzeria da Nella, Chicago

Margherita & Diavola Pizza, Pizzeria da Nella

Pizzeria da Nella pays homage to true Neapolitan pizza with glorious pies topped with authentic ingredients, flown in from Italy, atop a perfectly chewy, blistered artisan crust. Helmed by esteemed pizzaioala Nella Grassano, Pizzeria da Nella is sure to momentarily transport your taste buds to Naples. The extensive menu features tried and true, passionately handcrafted Neapolitan pies; numerous antipasti (appetizer) plates and salads; Neapolitan pastas; risottos; meat and fish dishes. Pair a mouth-watering pizza with birra from an impressive Italian craft beer list or with a juicy Italian wine and don’t get too stuffed to try the nectarous, wood-burning nutella pizza. Pizzeria da Nella is top-notch and guaranteed to wow pizza-aficionados.

Spacca Napoli, Ravenswood:

Spacca Napoli, ChicagoSpacca Napoli serves up exceptional, purist Neapolitan pies- with a perfect cheese, sauce, dough proportion- and is a member of the American Delegation of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Perpetually busy, any wait endured at Spacca is well worth it. Aside from traditional Neapolitan pizza cooked to charred perfection, and complemented by an Italian-focused wine and beer list, Spacca boasts delectable antipasti including a superbly creamy burrata, marinated octopus, and caprese con Bufala. A complimentary piece of ambrosial cannoli is a sweet culmination to this delightful Neapolitan experience. Spacca Napoli, with its devotion to the art of authentic Neapolitan pizza, is undoubtedly the gold standard in Chicago.

Coalfire Pizza, West Town:

Coalfire Pizza, Chicago

Pepperoni & Whipped Ricotta, Coalfire Pizza

Coalfire Pizza occupies a cozy storefront on Grand Avenue and provides an unconventional twist on Neapolitan pizza with glorious toppings including whipped ricotta cheese, Calabrese salami, soppressata and fresh basil. The basic Margherita is flavorful while the heavenly honey salami pie is truly sublime. Coalfire’s straightforward menu also consists of salads and calzones and luscious cupcakes à la Chicago Cupcakes alongside a decent wine and beer list. But Coalfire’s inventive pizzas are truly the main attraction and are hands- down among the most enticing pies in Chicago. Update: Coalfire is slated to open a north side Southport corridor location very soon!

Antica Pizzeria, Andersonville:

Antica Pizzeria, Chicago

Antica Pizzeria

Antica Pizzeria is an Andersonville favorite and haven for Neapolitan pizza-connoisseurs, dishing up tasty, wood-fired pies handcrafted with fresh ingredients from Italy. The owner, Mario, a native of Sicily and Spiaggia-vet, is wonderfully skillful in the art of constructing a marvelous pizza in a cozy, welcoming environment. In addition to savory pies, Antica also showcases other Italian favorites in a voluminous menu. While the pastas and entrees shine, the pizzas are the real show stoppers, and Antica Pizzeria is sure to make you feel, deliciously, at home.