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Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts Entertainment Chicago Illinois
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Virtual L: Damen (Brown)

Get all the benefits of small-town living, accessible by public transit.
Friday Jan 08, 2010.     By Centerstage Chicago Staff
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Not far from the main drag of Lincoln Square, where there always seems to be something happening, you'll find a more low-key, almost small-town feel, where all types of folks gather with little regard for seeing and being seen. Read on and you'll see what we're talking about.

Best of the nightlife
Gio's Sports Bar & Grill

Every night features a drink special at this neighborhood tavern, but we recommend Saturday nights the most, because of karaoke. Host Chris Golding keeps the fun going between wannabe singers, and the crowd represents a cross-section of Chicago, including hipsters, older regulars, the queer crowd and more. Even vegetarians will feel at home here, with selections including a hummus plate, quesadillas, a veggie wrap, a veggie burger and a Caprese salad on the menu.

Good for groups
Caro Mio

Planning an outing for some unadventurous eaters? This cozy Italian spot could be just what you're looking for. Menu choices include all the usual suspects - traditional antipasti, risotto, pasta, chicken, meat, seafood - plus a few less conventional options for the explorers in the group. Not only that, but it's BYOB, so you can keep costs down while still having a good time. Just make sure to make reservations (only accepted for groups of six or more), as the storefront spot is actually pretty small.

Cheap eats
Budacki's Drive-In

A trip to Budacki's isn't quite a toast to your health, but who can resist the Maxwell Street Polish, deep fried on a piece of French bread with all the fixings? Handmade milkshakes, award-winning pommes frites and a slew of other fatty goodies await you at this family-owned burger and dog shack just north of the L. Combo meals start at $3.50, and nothing costs more than seven dollars. Budacki's almost captures that small-town feel, with families dining on nearby picnic tables and kids running around with ice cream in hand (in the summertime, of course).

Where to chill
The Perfect Cup

This independent, neighborhood gathering spot encourages you to take a breath on route to the L during your morning commute. Owner Anne Nuqui Merritt and a handful of her cousins are on site daily to get to know the customers, and to offer up sustenance like Anne's Special (espresso, coffee, chocolate and steamed half and half), chocolate and butterscotch chip scones from Little Miss Muffin, soup and sandwich combos and more. Find a seat on the few cushy couches or chairs in the back area; otherwise, there are a dozen tables from which to choose. There are also more than 16 outlets for you to plug in and do your work.

In-the-know spot
Sabor a Cuba

At this simple, BYOB Cuban restaurant in Ravenswood, making the Famoso Sandwich Cubano is a precise art. Garlicky roast pork, ham, dill pickles and Swiss cheese are piled atop Cuban buttered bread while cold. The sandwich is then grilled in a sandwich press, called a plancha, until the bread is crisp, the cheese melted and the meats warm and savory. The usual standbys of lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise are eschewed in favor of yellow mustard, all for a mere $4.50. Sabor a Cuba has a menu that extends far beyond sandwiches, however, and each waiter is happy to provide a different favorite. Occupying a corner spot, the window-lined restaurant is sunny and cheery, made more so by the two-toned pink walls and Cuban artwork. Dark wood furniture, plenty of fresh flowers, and pink tablecloths and candles on each table add to the intimate, low-key ambience (try not to hold the restaurant's plastic pink flamingos against it).

Need more help getting around? Use our Virtual L to find places by train stop or by neighborhood.


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