Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

My thoughts/reviews/critiques of restaurants I eat at!

Restaurant Review: Xoco Bistro

Happy Spring! The past month has been full of job changes, wedding planning and moving! Chris and I moved back up to the North side to the Bucktown neighborhood, and we absolutely love it. One of the best aspects of our new neighborhood is the proximity to a large amount of amazing restaurants. We started trying new restaurants right away and I am excited to share more reviews of these unique restaurants.

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This review is for Rick Bayless’ Xoco Bistro in Wicker Park.




Xoco Bistro is a Mexican restaurant that has a vibrant and lively ambiance. We wanted to sit outside, but unfortunately didn’t want to wait 30 minutes. We settled for sitting at the bar next to the open windows. Our bartender was prompt and attentive. I can’t complain about the service at all.

What we ordered:

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  • Xoco Margarita
  • Naked Guacamole
  • Seasonal Fundido
  • Goat Barbacoa (Saturday’s Special)

 

What we liked:

The sole purpose of our trip was for margaritas, so we obviously ordered the margaritas at Xoco. The Xoco Margarita was very good. The chili lime salt around the rim of the glass was fantastic and really added a great kick to accompany the drink.

Goat Barbacoa. That sandwich was delicious and filled with flavor. The meat was tender and the bread was superbly crunchy. I love a crunchy sandwich, so if you are not into that texture then you probably would not enjoy this as much as I did. The avocado and the salsa paired so well with the meat. It was no wonder that this was the special for the day. Yum.

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Guacamole… it was guacamole, so there is a 99.9% chance I will like it. It was good, but i would order it with a topping next time we go to Xoco.

Not So Much:

Seasonal Fundido. It was greasy, and just resembled a Flubber type blob of cheese with not as much flavor. It was also cold and just did not spread well or really enhance any flavor. I had one bite and didn’t return for another. I really could have just baked some brie with olive oil and thrown some meat in there and I probably would have been happier. Nice try, but just not all there.

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Guacamole. As stated before I love guac but the naked guac was just bland and I guess lives up to it’s name. It’s naked and has large chunks of raw onion atop the guacamole. Add some salt and lime juice and I think it would’ve been great.

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The margarita portion. For $10 I would have rather gone to Pilsen and had unlimited margaritas or a pitcher for $20 between the two of us. $10 is just expensive for a small glass filled with too much ice. It was delicious, but I think we overpaid for some tasty salt and a little bit of liquid.

Overall:

Xoco Bistro was good… but not great. I don’t think we have to return anytime soon. I would return to try something else, but I think this bistro doesn’t live up to the Rick Bayless hype. I really wanted to love Xoco… really I did, but the bland flavors and overpriced drinks leave me wanting more… especially more margarita in my glass.

 


Restaurant Review: Au Cheval

Restaurant Review: Au Cheval

If you’re a fan of burgers then you’ve definitely heard of or tried Au Cheval. This Chicago staple opened in 2010 and is renown for their amazing burgers and insanely long wait times. If you get to this restaurant 30 minutes after they open then expect a wait, if you get there during a dinner rush expect to put your name in and then go get a drink at any of the other restaurants and bars along Randolph’s “Restaurant Row” because you will have an hour and a half to two hours to fill.

Last week, I was on my “funemployment” week aka week between ending my old job and starting at my new job. Chris took a half day at work, so we could go to the Cubs game and have a relaxing afternoon. We had the brilliant idea to get to Au Cheval right as they opened to take advantage of the opportunity to eat lunch without an insane wait time.

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I got to Au Cheval right as they opened at 11:00AM and put our name on the list. Chris was on his way from work, so  they would not seat us until we were both there. He arrived at approximately 11:20AM and we snagged the last two open seats in the restaurant. Yes, 20 minutes after they opened there was now a wait. We were seated at the bar and really did not need to look at the menu. The atmosphere of the restaurant is dark and very dark wood den upscale rustic. The kitchen is open to the bar area and watching the chefs make the patties and french fries will make you beyond hungry.

We immediately ordered two burgers and a side of french fries. I ordered my burger with the aioli on the side and without any extras. Chris ordered his with a fried egg and bacon. I was jealous.

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* Side note: a “single” burger actually is a double and a double is a triple. AKA if you order a single, you’re getting two patties on your sandwich. I was beyond full from my single.

The burgers were absolutely superb. Everything I could’ve asked for. The burgers have a delicious seasoning and are so juicy. The aioli was very good and accompanied the flavors very well. The only thing I did not like was the amount of onions on the bottom bun. I do not like onions and these diced toppings were not to my liking, so I actually took off the bottom bun and continued to eat my burger with only one bun.

Chris’ burger was even more delicious. The egg was amazing and the yolk mixed very well with the juices of the burger and the thick bacon. When I go back I will order mine with egg because it was so good. The fries were also good but not as memorable as the burger.

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I actually am not sure what people order at Au Cheval aside from the burger. It seems to me that if you wait that long for a legendary burger place then you are wasting your money (and appetite) on anything other than a delicious cheeseburger, but to each their own! The salad the girl to my right was eating looked pretty good, so maybe the other dishes at Au Cheval are delicious too.

This place is definitely worth the wait, but if you can get there right as they open then I highly recommend it. I can’t imagine waiting that long for a burger, but that’s because I get hangry from time to time and would probably be scary if i had to wait for dinner for over two hours. I’m also impatient too, so I may be overdramatic about the wait time.

 

Enjoy!

 


Restaurant Review: Dove’s Luncheonette

Restaurant Review: Dove’s Luncheonette

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This past weekend I finally was able to eat at the famed Dove’s Luncheonette. We went there for an early Saturday morning brunch. I was sure to call ahead about the wait time because my first failed attempt to eat at Dove’s was floundered by a 1 hour and 45 minute wait at 11AM. On Saturday we got to Dove’s around 9:20 and there was no wait. Their menu is chalk full of tex-mex type food with a hint of gourmet. The diner style setting and jazz/blues/50’s music playing on the record player really completes the ambiance. It’s a really cool place.

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What we ordered:

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Tamale de Elote con Camerones (Think tamale with shrimp, scrambled eggs and a few veggies)

Red Chile Enchiladas

What we liked:

I have to start this off by saying that I have never left a restaurant as full as I was from Dove’s. That may be a slight exaggeration, but in all honesty it was absolutely delicious.

The tamale was very good. Think a large corn tamale with some sauces, seasoned cooked shrimp (with tail on still) and fluffy scrambled eggs. Yum. It wasn’t spicy at all and the textures and flavors really went very well together. Think shrimp and grits with a Mexican flare. I’m fairly positive between the two of us, we fully cleaned the plate. The tamale is filled with collard greens which add a little southern flare and also a different texture. Collard greens are cooked but mix well with the corn tamale.

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The enchiladas were my favorite. I only ate 1/3 but the hearty sauce made that enough for me. The enchiladas are chalk full and oozing with sauce. I actually made the comment to Chris that I’m glad we didn’t eat there on our first date because this dish will make anyone a sloppy eater. The chicken thigh meat is superb and breaks up the tortilla texture very well. The cheese atop the enchiladas is fresh queso fresco and adds a great bite to the meal. I would definitely order this again.

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Not as great:

The enchiladas were my favorite but if i did order them again I would ask for no onions atop the enchiladas. I personally only like onions if they are cooked and don’t over-exude their onion-y flavor. The enchiladas onions were overpowering and in my opinion did not enhance the dish. I loved the dish enough without the onions.

The wait times. Dove’s does not take reservations, so if you want to eat there then expect a wait or go at 9AM on a weekend or before 6PM on a weeknight. Otherwise go for a walk or get a drink in Wicker Park while you wait.

Overall:

Yum. Dove’s lived up to all of it’s hype. I will definitely go back here again, but only when there is not a ridiculous wait time. I’m very interested in trying their dinner menu. If their brunch menu is that superb then I can only imagine how delicious their dinner menu is. Definitely worth the trip to Wicker Park.

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Restaurant Review: Nana

Wednesday night Chris and I ventured down Halsted Street to Bridgeport to dine at the always delicious Nana. Nana is a unique restaurant that emanates modern rustic decor but maintains a very welcoming presence. Ask about their story, and the waiter/waitress will tell you about how a family bought the restaurant and used reclaimed wood from the original building to craft the tables etc. The walls feature art from local artists which are also available for purchase. It’s a very cool place.

We ate dinner and took advantage of Restaurant Week, but what I really like about Nana is that they give you the option for one person in your party to order off the $33 Restaurant Week limited menu, and the other person to order from the regular menu. Most restaurants won’t be this accommodating, and that’s why I like Nana even more. Wednesdays they feature half priced bottles of wine.. which I am never mad about.

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What we ordered:

I ordered off the Restaurant Week menu and chose the following meal options:

Appetizer: Avocado Fries

Entree: Ancho Chili Braised Short Rib

Dessert: Tres Leches Cake

Chris ordered the Shrimp and Oyster Po’ Boy sandwich with a  side of bacon and brie mashed potatoes

What we liked:

The mashed potatoes were heavenly, and luckily my entree came with a side of mashed potatoes. We devoured these. The mashed potatoes are very rich, so beware of this fact. We were both starving, so we had no problem eating this side dish.

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The Po Boy was massive and amazing. The sandwich is served open faced because there is no possibly way a waiter/waitress could carry the sandwich closed to the table without spilling everywhere. It’s literally overflowing with arugula and seafood. It was flavored perfectly, and the cajun mayo accompanying it makes it taste even better and is not too overpowering. There is a reason that this menu item is highlighted on their menu.

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The spinach accompanying the short rib really brought the entire dish together. Chris didn’t eat as much spinach and thought the short rib was lacking in flavor, but I made my dish into a fork combination of spinach+mashed potatoes+ short rib and I loved it. The short rib falls apart so easily, and is pretty good when mixed with it’s side dishes.

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The dessert. Oh my. Splitting this delectable dessert was difficult. We both devoured our halves and then proceeded to scoop up the vanilla sauce on the plate. The hint of coconut mixed with the sweet flavor of the cake resulted in an amazing flavor combination that was enhanced by the vanilla sauce on the plate. I would order this again or just drive down to Bridgeport for this cake. It’s that good.

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Not as great:

The short rib could fall into this category. If it didn’t have the sides then it would be bland, but with the mashed potatoes and spinach it really turned into a great dish.

The avocado fries were just okay this time. The first time we went to Nana we LOVED the avocado fries and this time around they were okay. I still think they would be worth ordering if you needed an appetizer, but I wouldn’t order them again unless I was at Nana for restaurant week.

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Overall:

Go to Nana. It’s an adorable and delicious restaurant tucked into South Halsted Street. You have so many options and can rest assured knowing that your food is locally sourced and you’re eating in a healthier establishment that really cares about it’s patrons and neighbors. Go on a Wednesday if you like wine because half priced wine bottles are never a bad thing. Also, I’ve heard only amazing things about their brunch. You can’t go wrong at Nana.


Restaurant Review: Cafe Babareeba

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If you are a close friend of mine then this post should come of no surprise to you. I tend to suggest dinners, brunches, drinks etc at Cafe Ba-ba-reeba for almost any occasion. This tapas restaurant is unique and worth the trip up Halsted to Lincoln Park. This past week Chris and I went ice skating in Lincoln Park Zoo and after went back to our old neighborhood to enjoy sangria and tapas at Cafe Ba-ba-reeba.

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Cafe Ba-ba-reeba will almost always require a reservation no matter the time or day. We went around 7:30 on a Wednesday evening and there was a 30-45 minute wait. HOWEVER, as we often frequent Ba-ba-reeba, we know that there are almost always spots available in the bar area or at one of the bars. The back bar in the further back room is our usual favorite spot, but last week this bar was closed. We found a table in the front bar room area and avoided a wait.

Start out with sangria. Trust me. A pitcher will do for your table. We like the passion fruit sangria, but the regular white or red sangrias are delicious too. You can ask your server or bar tender for a taste test if you are unsure of what to order. This comes in handy before you fork over $22 for a pitcher.

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In my experience, shared plates are the way to go at Ba-ba-reeba. Their menu is actually structured for and the plates made for sharing. Order a bunch of tapas and pass them around the table. Here are a few that I suggest:

Bacon wrapped Dates: my #1 favorite dish. YUM

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Goat Cheese Marinara

Chicken and Ham Croquettes

Fried Calamari

Beef Tenderloin with Blue Cheese

You really can’t go wrong with almost any dish here. I have tried a few that are not really to my liking. The only ones I have not liked are the potato based dishes. You make like these, but they were just not my favorite. I also have not tried the paella, but I really want to.

Their brunch is phenomenal, and their bloody mary bar is also exceptional. The next time you are craving tapas, out for dinner or brunch in Lincoln Park, or simply craving delicious sangria… go to Ba-ba-reeba. Just make sure you make a reservation or are prepared to sit at the bar, and be sure to bring your credit card. This place gets pricey pretty quickly.


Restaurant Review: County Barbeque

 

Spoiler alert: I love County BBQ. It’s delicious. This review is a very positive one. I have been to County BBQ several times, and have also had it delivered once. When a few of my friends stated that they have been wanting to try County BBQ, I jumped on the idea and planned our somewhat monthly girls dinner at County BBQ. I know that it’s been less than a week since I went to Green Street Smoked Meats for dinner, but I like barbeque enough that I don’t mind eating it once per week.

The vibe of this restaurant is very hunting cabin in the woods mixed with down home southern. The inside is dark and is a smaller setting. The bar greets you right as you walk in, and to your left are booths and tables adjacent to walls covered with flannel print. The back patio has a lot of seating, but obviously is only open in the warmer months. Summer nights you can find the patio packed with patrons. As at the other DMK owned restaurants, County Barbeque does not take reservations. I have not run into an issue with this yet, but the times I’ve gone here in the summer the place has been packed and could pose for a wait if you go at rush dinner times.

The menu is not extensive, but rather straight forward. The side dish selection is MUCH better than that of Green Street Smoked Meats. I could (any have) make a meal out of just sides. County Barbeque used to have a delicious braised kale side, but it is no longer on their re-conceptualized menu. A few of my favorite sides are the corn pudding and mac and cheese. YUM. Actually their mac and cheese is one of the best that I’ve had in Chicago. Order it with the brisket and top with BBQ sauce… wow.

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For the main courses, I really enjoy their pulled pork sandwich and chopped brisket. One menu item that I will always go for is their chili. I am a big fan of chili, but not as much of beans…and this chili makes me forget there are even beans int he mix. For dinner tonight, I ordered the chili with a side of brisket mac and cheese which i split with my best friend along with some sweet potato fries. I was in heaven. Two girls in our party ordered tacos and I feel like I should note that they both LOVED the tacos. Definitely worth trying.

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Their drink selection is great if you like beer and bourbon. Their wine list is limited, but they do offer other cocktails too.

I highly recommend going to County Barbeque. It’s a small restaurant, but so worth the trip. If you live near Little Italy, and don’t feel like leaving your apartment…order County Barbeque for delivery… How much more could you ask for?


Restaurant Review- Green Street Smoked Meats

Green Street Smoked Meats is a restaurant that I have wanted to try for a while. It’s tucked away in the restaurant filled West Loop, and everyone that has eaten here has given it rave reviews. I am a big fan of barbecue, so I was so ready to gorge on brisket and pulled pork.

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I’ve heard great things about their side dishes…and if people speak highly for a restaurant’s mac & cheese you can almost guarantee that I am going to try it. Their menu is not very extensive and very straight forward

When you walk in you are greeted by intimidating but insanely nice biker bouncers. They explain that where the line is and you then wait in line to order and receive your food via cafeteria style. The seating consists of large wooden tables that can probably fit 12-15 people. There is a giant bar in the center of the space and tubs filled with ice and assorted beers outside the bar. The concept is that you open a tab at the bar, grab whatever beers you want and tell the bartender which tab to put it on and also put your meal on that tab as well.

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We ordered the sliced brisket (sold by the 1/2 lb), pulled pork sandwich, chicken, and pickled veggies. I will start off by saying everything was delicious. The chicken was by far my favorite, and I would definitely order everything I ordered again.

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The only negative things I would say is that their side dish selection was weak. The other girl in our party couldn’t find anything to order and I didn’t think anything sounded very appetizing either. I don’t like mayonnaise so 1/2 of their sides were out, I also don’t like baked beans or pickles. Chris ordered the pickled veggies and I surprised myself by liking the carrots in the side but that was it. The amount of food we ordered was plenty, so sides were not necessary. I would’ve liked having a side of corn bread, collard greens or mac and cheese. We overheard people say that this restaurant has changed their menu since they had been there last, so maybe their side dish selection will change for the better.

Overall I liked Green Street Smoked Meats. I definitely will go here again. Judging by how many people were dining at this restaurant at 6:15 on a Thursday evening, I cannot imagine the immensity of their line on a weekend night. Tip: go early or late or just wait for a weekday…but definitely dine here at some point. It’s worth it.

 


Restaurant Review: Three Aces

Restaurant Review: Three Aces in Little Italy

Meal: Lunch

Chris and I had a standing brunch date on Saturday, so after I did a Bar Method workout, I woke him up and we ventured to our neighborhood’s high-end biker themed restaurant and bar: Three Aces.

I’ve been to Three Aces a few times before, but never for brunch. I have read several articles about Three Aces having one of the best brunches in Little Italy, so I was very excited.

The menu isn’t too overwhelming, but encompasses a large variety of food options. There are the traditional breakfast options such as biscuits and gravy, breakfast pizza and eggs.

We were in more of a lunch mood, so we ordered a margarita pizza and an Ace Burger.

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The pizza was just okay. The crust is thin and a traditional italian crust which I always appreciate but it was mildly cold and very soggy. The excess EVOO didn’t help its case.

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The Basil was wilted and the mozzarella was spread very sparingly. It was just okay. We probably will not order this again. This is not an accurate representation of Three Ace’s pizzas. We have ordered a few pizzas here before and they were all delicious, so maybe the lesson is to order fancier pizzas here to avoid a blah tasting meal.

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Now for the star of the show: the Ace Burger. This is a juicy burger and the cheese compliments the intensely flavored burger perfectly. The burger is served with crispy French fries along with an aioli and bacon jam. I topped my burger with the bacon jam and only ate it with the top portion of the bun. It is such a delicious burger that it could stand alone without a bun completely. We will definitely be ordering this again.

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Overall, our brunch date was more of a lunch date but it was a nice meal. We both regret not each ordering the burger, but that just means that we will need to go back to Three Aces at some point.

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Restaurant Review- Davanti Enoteca

Last night Chris and I went out to dinner to celebrate my belated birthday/go on a nice date. We live in Little Italy which is a cluster of great italian restaurants and unique bars. The decision to go to Davanti was not a difficult one. This restaurant is where Chris and I went on our first date. (awwwww). We haven’t been back since that infamous first date, so we figured this was the perfect occasion. Now as you can all expect, we were both SO nervous for the first date. It didn’t help that Chris was held up at work for an extra 2 hours, so our date that was supposed to start at 7:00pm didn’t start until 9:00pm. Obviously the date went so well, but neither of us can actually remember what we ate. We just can recall that we ordered a bottle of wine and cheese platter.

We went into dinner not knowing what to expect and we ended up being blown away by the array of options to order and delicious dishes which are all made to share. We started with the goat cheese, date and balsamic bruschetta. Very good, also something I would LOVE to try making at home. The cheese base was a ricotta cheese.

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After bruschetta, we ordered a goat cheese and proscuitto ” formaggi + salumi” board. Both cheeses were very good, and they were accompanied by crackers and thinly slices apples. I ended up using the apples as the “base” instead of the crackers. My only issue is that I wish this would have contained more fruit than 3-4 thin apple slices.

We ordered a lobster, tomato pasta. This was cooked al dente and quite good. I don’t think I would go back just for this dish but it was a nice change of pace from the usual red sauce pasta that most restaurants offer.

The best part of the meal was the Prosciutto e Rucola pizza  that we ate last. The crust was incredibly crusty but also fluffy. It was topped with proscuitto, mozzarella, fontina and arugula. Simple but so flavorful. I would go back just for their pizza.

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Overall, the atmosphere was incredible and the food surpassed every expectation we had. Not only was this restaurant perfect for our first date but it was perfect for our umpteenth date as well. I also should note that the wine list is very extensive, and no one can be mad about that. I highly recommend taking a trip to Taylor Street in Little Italy and spending a nice night at Davanti Enoteca.

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http://davantienoteca.com/chicago/

 


Restaurant Review- Parlor Pizza Bar

Last night Chris and I went to dinner at the new and highly anticipated Parlor Pizza Bar. It was opening night so things were very hectic. We had to wait 15 minutes after our reservation time (I think we may have been forgotten but again it was opening night so we wern’t too shocked) but other than that snafu our service was good. We also spotted Nick from the Bachelorette and ladies let me tell you… He appears as arrogant in person as he does on television. The restaurant is huge and the massive patio is promising for summer.

Now for the food, we ordered fried calamari to start and then a Hawaiian pizza (menu name: Hawaii Pie-O) and a spicy chicken jalapeño pizza (menu name: party fowl). We also got a side of brussel sprouts with pancetta. We were starving.

The brussel sprouts came out first which was fine because we were so hungry anyways. They were served in a cast iron ramekin dish and the top layers of the b sprouts were not very flavorful. Once you reached the middle and bottom layers the pancetta was very pungent. It was delicious. I just wish that flavor was carried throughout the entire dish.
The fried calamari was fine. The cocktail sauce served with the calamari was spicy (which we liked) and it also came with a honey mustardy BBQ dipping sauce as well. I’m not 100% sure if we ate most of the calamari because we liked it or because we were starving. Either way, probably won’t go out of my way to order this again.

The Hawaiian pizza was by far the best. The pineapple was delicious and really added flavor to the prosciutto and coconut cheese. I would order this again in a heart beat.
The party fowl pizza was missing something. It was just okay. We asked for sriracha or hot sauce but we never got any so we took that pizza home to flavor and eat as we please. I’m interested to see how this pizza tastes with a little added flavor.

Overall, we liked it. We’ve already talked about going back after they have been open for a while and calm down. It’s a nice addition to the West Loop restaurant scene but also has a River North vibe….
It’s so hard to judge a restaurant on their opening night but I do wish the front desk area would become a bit more organized. It was so unbelievably chaotic that at one point we almost left to go next door to RM Champagne Salon.
I say try this place in a few weeks and definitely try the Hawaiian pizza. If you’re not a fan of the Hawaiian pizza yet, this one will convert you.

Reservations: http://opentable.com/restaurants/parlor-pizza-bar/

Website: www.parlorchicago.com