Friday, April 27, 2007

Eating out in Oak Park

Food is one of my favorite things, and while I'm blessed with both a mother who gave me confidence in the kitchen and a husband who can cook circles around most people (and he only started dinner duty about a year or so ago), I still love to eat out.

Occasionally I'm asked for restaurant recommendations in and around my home base of Oak Park, Illinois, so here are my most-loved places.

Bar Louie
1122 Lake St., Oak Park
The most recent outpost of this Chicago chain, Bar Louie's only first on my list because of its placement in the alphabet. But it is a go-to place for gluttonous portions of well-prepared bar food, and it's right down the block from the Lake Theatre. I particularly love their fries and anything with wing sauce on it. And my daughter put away most of a trough of gooey, delicious macaroni and cheese.

Buzz Cafe
905 S. Lombard Ave, Oak Park
There probably isn't a more kid-friendly restaurant around. In addition to stocking toys in the back lounge, the Buzz offers healthy, yummy-if-not-gourmet fare and familiar kiddie foods like organic PB&J and Annie's mac & cheese. Live music on Friday evenings and political debates make this coffeehouse a community gathering place.

Blue Max
26 Lathrop Ave., Forest Park
Cute as can button, Blue Max is easy to miss. It looks like a regular house in a residential neighborhood, but this B&B without the bed scores big points for house-roasted coffee, homemade bakery goods and casual meals featuring local and organic ingredients whereever possible. The management is super-nice and Z appreciates the children's corner, which is well-stocked with toys (but closed during the lunch rush).

The Depot American Diner
5840 W. Roosevelt Ave.
A brand-new restaurant, this throwback diner brings back the good old days when menus stated the names of the dishes without any description. I got the BLT. Turns out it was one of the best BLTs of my life, which isn't surprising since everything they serve is house made. The turkey on Josh's open faced sandwich was from a real honest-to-goodness bird, not a smooth, preprepared deli slice. We've got to go there for breakfast next since LTH Forum is abuzz over their homemade doughnuts. The prices are pretty old-fashioned too: dinner for three cost us $21.

Freddy's Pizza
1600 S. 61st Ave., Cicero
It doesn't look like much from the outside, but this tiny Italian deli in Cicero serves up the area's best fresh-baked bread, pizza and gelato, as well as a large assortment of entrees and appetizers that change daily. Much of their business is take-out, but you can grab your meal and eat it in the spartan dining area just next door. Family-run, their hours are not for your convenience, so don't go after 7pm or any time on Sunday.

Jimmy's Place
7411 Madison St., Forest Park
I've been kicking myself for taking so long to discover Jimmy's Place, which I ignored for years as it is surrounded by other good Italian restaurants. But it deserves recognition for fabulous pasta dishes and for being a great value (entrees include a soup or salad). We found the service to be super-friendly and happy to see kids. Jimmy's has a true neighborhood feel; don't be surprised if the owner, Jimmy, shows you to your seat between chatting up the regulars.

La Piazza
If Jimmy's is the Italian place to take your family, La Piazza (just down the Madison strip) is the place to bring a date. Chef Gaetano Di Benedetto serves inventive Sicilian cuisine in a cozy three room restaurant painted with trompe l'oeil murals. I've never been disappointed by their pastas, risottos or desserts. Although they'll accommodate you with a high chair, La Piazza's not the best place to bring little kids. If you can't get a sitter, get take-out.

733 Lake St., Oak Park
Stop here for Greek food as good (or better) than anything you'll find in Greektown. I find some of the dinner entrees a little too heavy, but that could be because I've filled myself up on their delicious mezedes.

7215 West Lake St., River Forest
Another local chain, Pompei keeps us happy with good-quality Italian-American fare in a cafeteria-style setting. Check out their salads, deep dish pizzas and stromboli-style pizza rolls, but don't miss my favorite dish, the 8-finger cavatelli. Z and I can work together to polish off an enormous bowl of the dumpling-noodles. It probably doesn't bear mentioning, but this place was built for families: short wait times, familiar foods and free balloons.

Khyber Pass
1031 Lake St., Oak Park
The only Indian restaurant in the area, but at least it's really good. Live music and dancing (usually by aging Peace Corps types) lends a nice atmosphere to this restaurant were seemingly everyone is getting the buffet.

Sagano Sushi
731 Lake St., Oak Park
It's not the absolute best sushi I've ever had, but it's fresh and it's local (the restaurant, not the fish). A tiny storefront, sleekly decorated in blond woods.

6611 W. Roosevelt Rd, Berwyn
Can I tell you how overjoyed I am that one of my (and Oprah's) favorite restaurants opened a location at FitzGerald's, just 5 minutes from my house? Serving "Southern Reconstruction" foods, Wishbone is rightly renowned for its breakfasts. Get the Red Eggs, two eggs served on top of corn tortillas and covered with black beans, cheese, chili ancho sauce, scallions, sour cream and salsa.

I promise I'll dedicate a future post to my favorite ice cream parlors, but until then, get your fix at Brown Cow, Hole in the Wall Custard and Oberweis.