South Loop Sidewalk Cafes

And to follow up last week’s listing of the unusual open air dining experiences the South Loop has to offer, here’s a rundown of the sidewalk cafes in the neighborhood in alphabetical order (let us know if we have missed any):

Asian Outpost (1315 S. Wabash) is a recent addition (although in space occupied by two other restaurants during the time I’ve lived here) to the South Loop. The restaurant is a celebration of the family’s journey from China to Hawaii and eventually Chicago. The menu is wide ranging and eclectic. (312-662-1100, open for lunch Th-S starting 4-18 and from 5-1030 every day. Dog friendly next year.)

Bar Louie, on Polk at Dearborn (47 W. Polk), is a local chain; their Tuesday $1 burgers are hard to beat. Their menu is generally upscale pub food and they have a lengthy beer list. Their sidewalk café is large and covered, so a nice spot to sit when it’s warm but not dry. (312-347-0000, open M-F 11a-2a, Sat 11a-3a and Sun 10a to 2a.)

Blackies, (755 S. Clark) at the NE corner of Clark and Polk (sidewalk café on Polk), is a Printer’s Row classic. A five generation love affair with the neighborhood by the DeMilio family has established this as one of our traditional stops on any restaurant tour of the South Loop. (312-786-1161, open for breakfast F 730-1030a, S/S 730-130, and lunch and dinner M-Th 11-10 and F-Sun 730-10p. Patio dog friendly.)

Brasserie by LM, located in the Essex Inn (800 S. Michigan) has great views from both its window seating in the bar area, and when the weather is nice, its large, comfortable outdoor space. With a French inspired menu, and nice Sunday brunch selections, it’s a good spot to meet people staying in the loop hotels before heading out to shop or wander Grant Park and environs. I like the Croque Monsieur. They also offer lunch and dinner prix fixe menus (312-431-1788, open 7 am -10pm daily.)

Café Bionda, 1924 S. State, offers Italian food for lunch and dinner. It’s Italian food like your grandma used to make, if you’re lucky enough to be Italian. From calamari to salads to spaghetti and meatball to veal saltimbocca, they do it. Friends and I celebrate our summer birthdays in their sidewalk café. (312-326-9800, open or lunch M-F 11-3, Sat noon-3, dinner Sun-Th 3 to 10, F/S 3-11.)

City Tavern (1416 S. Michigan), across the sidewalk from it’s open French doors you’ll find a sidewalk café. It’s a great spot for weekend brunch and to people watch. I’m still a fan of the flatbreads and poutine, but ‘grown ups’ say their healthier options are good too. (Dog friendly patio.) (312-663-1278, open M-Th 4-12, F 4-1am, Sat 1130-1am, Sun 930-midnight (kitchen closes 2 hours earlier.)

Flo & Santos (1310 S. Wabash), in addition to off street open air dining of last week, has a nice sidewalk café right in front. Still a local fave, but no luck getting my friend’s pizza on the menu yet. (312-566-9817. Dog friendly.)

Gioco (1312 S. Wabash) is a long time South Loop restaurant. Known for fine Italian food and a nice wine list, it takes al fresco dining to nicer heights than some places. Housed in an 1890 building, the Gioco space once hosted gangsters, and has many of the old architectural elements still intact. I actually had rabbit from their menu once and it was fabulous (no, it was not the Easter bunny). They also have plenty of vegetarian friendly options. (312-939-3870, M-F 11:30-230 lunch/M-Th 5-10, F/S 5-1030 and Sun 5-9. Patio dining dog friendly.)

Hackneys, 733 S. Dearborn, is a long standing Chicago tradition, with its start in the northern suburbs. Their burgers are something to write home about. They also have an ever changing line up of brews on tap. But you can’t go without at least trying their French fried onions, ranked in the top 3 in the nation. (312-461-1116, open M,T,W,Sun 11 to 10, Th/Sat 11-1030 and F 11-1130. Patio dog friendly.)

Kai, 1355 S. State, has a large sidewalk café. Since their outdoor space is not right against the street it’s many times larger than your usual option and can easily accommodate large groups of friends. New to the neighborhood, Kai offers a wide assortment of sushi and sashimi, as well as numerous rolls. I’ve not been there yet, but my friends say it’s delish. BYOB. (312-583-0567, open 11am-9pm.)

Kasey’s Tavern, 701 S. Dearborn, claims to be Chicago’s second oldest tavern. Their beer list is at least as long as their history. They are also true Chicago sports fans, so you can probably find your favorite team playing on one of their tvs. (312-427-7992, open Sun-F 11a-2a, Sat 11a-3a.)

Kurah is on the NE corner of Michigan and 14th and has outdoor seating on the 14th street side. Although I love their little upstairs dining area because it gives a bird’s eye view of the restaurant, in nice weather I prefer their outdoor dining area. They call their food Mediterranean tapas, but it has a slightly different twist than you’re probably expecting. The flavors are a fusion of flavors I was pleasantly surprised by. Be warned, when they say shared plates, they mean necessary to share; the portions are generous on that portion of the menu. Their produce and meats are organic. (312-624-8611, open M-Th 4-10, F/S 11-11 and Sun 11-9.)

La Cantina (1911 S. Michigan) offers Mexican food, mojitos and margaritas (amongst other things) and is another South Loop veteran. With 150 some-odd tequilas to choose from, you may never get up from your table. And can you really go wrong with flaming queso panela? I don’t think so. (312-842-1911)

Little Branch Cafe (1251 S. Prairie Avenue) has a patio that’s actually divided from the street by some nice landscaping and a sidewalk, so its peaceful and relaxing. Their brunch items are delicious and sitting outside on the quiet side street is a perfect start to the weekend. The huevos rancheros, when offered, sell out quickly, they are that good. My favorite Panini is the Prosciutto and fig jam. My mouth is watering thinking of it. (312-360-0101, open M/T 7 am-5pm, W-F 7am to 9 pm, S/S8 am-7pm. Dog friendly outdoor space.)

Overflow Coffee Bar (NW corner of 16th and State) is introducing their sidewalk café this year. Whether you’re getting your caffeine addiction treated or in for one of their healthy lunch options (the Jane Addams is my favorite), you can sit and enjoy it in the sun now. Overflow’s products are fair/direct trade, and their interior features local artists’ works and a fair trade gift shop. (1550 S. State, 312-772-2356, open M-F 7a-9p, Sat 8a-9p and Sun 8-6, dog friendly sidewalk dining.)

The Scout, 1301 S. Wabash, has a nice outdoor space on the SE corner of 13th and Wabash. The inside has plenty of sports events on, and if you choose your outdoor seat right, you can catch a game and catch some rays. Their grilled cheese sandwiches are always yummy (although I don’t know anyone who single-handedly can eat the whole foot long). (312-705-0595, open M-Th 3-2am, Fri 2-2, Sat 10-3 and Sun 10-2a. Patio not dog friendly.)

S.R.O, 610 S. Dearborn, offers burgers, sandwiches and salads. They offer a kid friendly environment and healthy options as well. (312-360-1776, open 11-9.)

Square One on the SW corner of Michigan and 14th is known for its wine selection and handcrafted specialty cocktails (love, love, love Le Chiffre). They offer a menu of finger foods, especially artisanal cheeses and meats, to snack on while enjoying their libations. The sidewalk café is on the 14th street side and has awnings to offer some shade and a tad quieter place to relax after work or on a weekend afternoon (and into the evening). (847-414-3699, open M-W 4-12, Th/F 4-1, Sat 4-2 and Sun noon-1am (NFL games). Dog friendly patio.)

Tapas Valencia, (1530 S. State), offers a taste of Spain on State Street. Who doesn’t love bacon wrapped dates and patatas bravas? Their Jamon Serrano and Quesos Espanoles are also favorites. Although their $2/3 tapas aren’t offered on the sidewalk, they are not to be missed when you sit at the bar. They also have daily drink specials. (312-842-4444, open Sun 1030-3.)

Waffles (1400 S. Michigan), offers breakfast food until mid-afternoon. But not your traditional breakfast food; think waffles with delectable savory toppings—my favorite is the braised short rib with Wisconsin cheddar or sinful sweet toppings—mexican chocolate—rich and not cloyingly sweet. Good coffee with communal seating inside. Get there early for the best seats. I heard through the grapevine that they recently introduced Wonuts—a combination of waffles and donuts. Let us know what you think of them. (312-854-8572, open 8am-2pm and 4pm-8pm.)

Weathermark Tavern (1503 S. Michigan) has a west facing (to catch the setting sun) sidewalk cafe. This nautical themed dining/drinking/game watching spot serves burgers, salads, skewers, wings and some of the best sweet potato fries I know of. They are a local hot spot for White Sox games and sailing events. Known for their rum stock, Weathermark Tavern offers family friendly dining and is a place all my out-of-town family knows well. I’m often there for the burger and a beer Monday special or Friday night All You Can Eat Fish Fry (Cruzan rum infused batter, yum). (Dog friendly outdoor space.) (312-588-0230, open M-F 1030-2, Sat 1030-3, Sun 1030-midnight.)

Zapatista, 1307 S. Wabash, also has a covered sidewalk café—in two parts, one for the restaurant and one for the bar. You can get full service at both, and I like the bar side because I like hightops. They have empanadas, ceviche and daily entrée and drink specials as well, so it’s a great happy hour spot. (312-435-1307, open M-Th 1130-10, F 1130-midnight, Sat 1030-midnight and Sun 1030-9. Patio not dog friendly, but I’ve seen folks sit by the edge and have their dog lay right outside the railing.)
Next week we start our actual restaurant reviews. Let us know what restaurants you want reviewed.

GSLA Gastronomist