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Stairway to Culinary Heaven

First may not be the worst but second is the best at these two-floor restaurants.
Monday Dec 03, 2007.     By Kate Schwartz
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

photo: Clifton Henri; pictured: sushi chef at Tsunami
"Do you want to come upstairs?" takes on a sexy new meaning at these two-story restaurants. While it's no secret that all of them offer tables just through the threshold, their sets of stairs are oftentimes the road less traveled. Head up to the second floor to find a chair by the fire, a seat at the bar, or a table that's a little less squashed among all the others.

El Cid 2
The downstairs still pleasantly reeks of taqueria: big plastic booths, messy tabletops, plenty of tortilla chips. But upstairs is an utterly date-worthy location: Exposed brick tastefully tacked with colorful La Loteria images, an in-action fireplace, a sizeable bar. Though the menu, served late-night, isn't rock-bottom cheap—modest-size margaritas run $9 and a octopus-topped tostada appetizer will cost you about $6; it makes for the most tasteful Mexican-theme evening you can have west of Western. And yep, you can still get a taco al pastor. Get a seat by the window if you can.

Mirai Sushi
Though it's probably smartest to take whatever table you can snag at this legendary (in sushi years) spot, requesting a table in the upstairs lounge is the way to go. Inconspicuous stairs in the rear take you to the second floor, which overlooks Division and boasts one heck of a sleek bar. Sure, you'll fork over $12 for a sake-tinged martini, but you can be sure it'll be a well-poured one. Diners occasionally whine about the noise level and often complain about the bill, though the credit-card mourning comes paired with a "one bite of fatty tuna and it was totally worth it" attitude.

Mia Francesca
It may not be identical to your Italian grandma's living room—what with the giant bar and all—but the second floor of Mia Francesca is pretty darn inviting. A small number of white cloth-topped tables sit near the windows, providing a slightly roomier eating area than that of the always teeming downstairs. But even if you're not dining on mushroom-topped pollo con polenta upstairs, you can still lounge, glass of Prosecco in hand: Grab a seat along the bar, or, better yet, inch up to the Oriental rug and squeeze your way on to one of the brown leather couches.

If you remember one phrase as you head to this Gold Coast sushi spot, it should be "Tsunami Tower." Take the stairs to the second, ahem, towering floor, where a plush red velvet couch, fireplace and mini-bar awaits. The mostly two-top tables make this swank restaurant a wise choice for chopsticks and courting. Start with a round of lycheetinis, which come complete with speared lychees, and end with the Tsunami Tower, a signature dessert that stuffs a chocolate-coconut crisp tower with vanilla ice cream, berries and chocolate mousse. As if you needed to elevate this sushi experience.

Adobo Grill (Old Town)
If the made-tableside guacamole doesn't give you wings, just head to the right and take the stairs to the second floor to reach a whole other Mexican art-filled level. But if you're tempted to sample the tequila at the first-floor bar on the way, don't; you'll have your own smaller spot to order an ADOBOpolitan, made with Tequila Oro Azul Blanco, pomegranate juice and Citronage liqueur. Like many of the second-floor locales, it's not quite as zoo-like up here, making it a good place to request seating if you want to eat your chocolate tamale a little more undisturbed.


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