NFT Chicago River West / West Town

River West / West Town

Food distribution centers and wholesalers, warehouses, and loading docks rub shoulders with an alternative gallery scene, trendy restaurants, and hot clubs in the transitional 'hood. Once a transit abyss, a shiny new el station just opened up smack dab in the middle of both scenes. Loft-style warehouses-turned event (read: weddings $$$) spaces abound.

River West restaurants continue to build celebrity status. Foodies fight for coveted tickets to NEXT, recent winner of the prestigious James Beard award for Best New Restaurant. Meanwhile, Top Chef fans ogle as Girl and the Goat owner Stephanie Izard expedites food. Down the road, Union Park annually hosts Lolla's more chill, indie counterpart, Pitchfork Music Festival.


This Neighborhood Featured in...
Beer: English for Beer.

By Jill Jaracz
Beer: It may be the world's most popular alcoholic beverage but that doesn't mean you have to be democratic about it. From cask-conditioned to microbrewed, let Jill Jaracz show you a whole new world of fermented yeast.

Raw Fish Round Up

By Josannah Birman
Sushi: So sexy! Isn't it? That's what Josannah Birman would have us believe. From her intrepid reporting on fresh kill dishes and Mexican chefs, sushi springs forth as the fish-and-rice Oriental aggregation you always wanted but were too afraid to ask for. Have it fresh off a sleek tabletop, a naked woman or dehydrated into edible paper sheets. Sushi: So versatile.


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Hoosier Mama Pie Company
When I brought home an 8-inch pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company, my husband asked me, "Where's yours?" Needless to say, we split the sinfully rich chocolate cream pie because it's so decadent that you can only eat a little at a time. That's not true for all of the pies at Hoosier Mama--some of them are just a little too easy to eat, like the light maple pecan or the tart lemon meringue. Pastry chef Paula Haney whips out different flavors you may not have heard of, including a Hoosier sugar cream pie. Savory pies make the menu too, like a filling pork apple sage pie, chicken pot pie, and quiches (and if you really love pie, there's nothing better than having pie for both dinner and dessert). Consider the cupcake fad over--once you've had a slice of this, you'll realize it's all about pie now!

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Stanley's Kitchen & Tap on Racine
Stanley's is a fun joint all year round, but during summer this is one fun place to hang out. Their outdoor area is huge, with several cornhole platforms (or bags, if that's what you prefer to call it) set up for playing. They also have a fussball table and sometimes even have a dunk tank going. Add a full bar, table service, and plenty of patio seating, and you've got everything you need for a great summer day--even have plenty of room for parking! If you prefer air conditioning, step inside to the Rt. 66-themed Southern-style restaurant and bar, where you can start with the trailer fries (potatoes + cheese + bacon + ranch dip = heaven), tuck into a plate of fried chicken or a juicy burger, and finish it off with a slice of Kentucky Pie. Stanley's has a sister location in Lincoln Park with the same great food and a fine bourbon list.

Posted By:  Nina Williams
Photo:  Nina Williams

Hoosier Mama Pie Company
This super cute pie place located in the Ukranian Village area on Chicago Avenue is a find. There are several delicious pies to choose from including brownie, strawberry rhubarb, and the American classic apple pie. They aren't cheap though. An 8" pie will run you about nine dollars, while a slice will cost you about four. There are other pastries available as well like muffins. Just a word of caution: the space is really small. There are three little tables set on the side, but it can get pretty crowded, so it's good idea to grab your treats and jet.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

The Tasting Room
At the western edge of Restaurant Row on Randolph Street you'll find The Tasting Room/Randolph Wine Cellars, a real gem of a place. Let's start with The Tasting Room. It's an elegant place to enjoy a great glass of wine and a small plate, flatbread, or fondue. If you're stomach's rumbling, they serve entrees, so you can make a full night of it. Grab a seat on the second floor if you can, because the view of the skyline is amazing. Get to know the sommeliers too. They're friendly and love trying to pair wines with people. Not only that, they're more than happy to give recommendations via e-mail if you need the perfect wine for a special occasion. Pop next door to the shop, and you'll find a nice selection of vino, some craft beer, and spirits. You can even order your booze online and pick it up at the store. That kind of service makes this tiny boutique extra-special, and it should definitely be on your list of places to check out.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Five Star Bar
Maybe you come to Five Star Bar for the tasty food (hand-cut fries!). Maybe you come for the pool table or back room decked out with a stripper pole. But you're definitely coming here for the bourbon. This bar is a whiskey lover's dream, with nearly 100 bourbons, whiskeys, and scotches on the menu. You say you don't know anything about bourbon? Well, you're in luck, because this Saturday January 31, Five Star has its first Whiskey University course from 4-6 PM. Led by Whiskey Professor Steve Cole from Beam Global Spirits & Wine, each month's class will look at various aspects of whiskey and feature a tasting of different brands. This session explores bourbon, with information on how it's made, how to read a bourbon label, and samples of four different bourbons. The class costs only $10 ($5 for industry professionals). Space is limited, so call to reserve your spot.

Posted By:  Tatyana Zaprudskaya
Photo:  Tatyana Zaprudskaya

Flirty Girl Fitness
Are you fit to strip? Flirty Girl Fitness wants to know. When you walk into this women's-only gym your x-chromosome is in overdrive: think pink (everything, including weights, equipment, and towels), blaring pop music (Britney Spears reigns here), and of course the Sex and the City-esque bar serving both health and alcoholic drinks. Venture a few steps forward and each of the 3 studios will be filled with sexy femmes burning off calories in one of hundreds of classes ranging from xxx naughty to the more conventional. Vixens can try pole, chair, or lap dancing and stripping, while the shyer ladies can opt for hip hop, belly dancing, specialized cardio classes (its all about the abs and booty), or yoga. To put a cherry on top of this delicious pink sundae, they also have a spa where you can get a pedi and a mani to pamper yourself after a rewarding workout! The one downside: class prices are pretty steep, so look at their various pricing options (annual membership, class packages, or drop-in classes), and pick the most cost-efficient option for your schedule.

Posted By:  Nina Williams
Photo:  Nina Williams

one sixtyblue
While at One Sixtyblue, opt for a cheese flight, a salad cleverly hidden by a fried wonton-like dome, and the duck. The exterior, although fun and playful is not an accurate representation of what one would expect upon walking inside this near north spot. There is an aura of sophistication without pretentiousness, which is especially noticeable in the dining room. Dim, romantic lighting shines upon the space, which is dipped in rich mocha brown tones. The staff is extremely attentive without being the slightest bit overbearing. It is very quiet to the point where you may have to whisper while you converse, but it is a beautiful dining experience overall.

Posted By:  Kristen Orser
Photo:  Kristen Orser

RR #1 Chicago
RR #1 Chicago has been my go-to place for gift giving for well over a year. I've gotten wedding gifts and hilarious gifts (not that those aren’t the same)--a lighter where the flame comes from a pig's behind or a glow in the dark Virgin Mary. They have a pretty stellar collection of 1920's novelettes with titles like The Witch that Married the Billionaire or Someone's Walking Over my Grave. They also have tea sets, jewelry, and a modern apothecary. The employees are awesome. Once a Mexican family came in saying they had malo suerte and the cashier ran around looking for sage as a remedy for bad luck. I walked out of here empty-handed once and immediately regretted it enough to go back and buy the oil panting of John Wayne.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

Graziano’s is one of those family-owned wholesale grocers in the West Loop that sells mainly to restaurants and manufacturers, but they’ll also sell to the public. It’s one of my favorite places to buy spices, pasta, and dried beans in bulk, but now I love them because they’ve recently introduced Italian sub sandwiches for lunch. For under seven bucks you can get a huge, delicious sandwich made with the finest ingredients. They pile fine meats and chunks of fresh mozzarella onto fresh Italian bread and top it off with red wine vinegar and oregano. Even the veggie sandwich is different than most regular sub shops. Instead of your basic lettuce, mushrooms, and cheese, Graziano’s vegetarian offering is marinated eggplant and roasted red pepper, along with fresh mozzarella and spices. No matter what you order, you’ll be glad that your sandwich is about a foot long because you may not be able to put it down.

Posted By:  Elissa Pociask
Photo:  Elissa Pociask

Cafe Aorta
The Holy Grail of the socially acceptable breakfast milkshake rests humbly in Pilsen's Cafe Aorta. Owner, Papi Perez will whip up some deceptively healthy blend of oatmeal and fruit while you take a gander at the Cuban and soul food-inspired menu. Try fueling your intellectual coffee banter with the spicy hobo skillet, or a slice of homemade sweet potato pie. Cafe Aorta has a treat for every palate and creed, from mac 'n' cheese to tofu meatballs; from carrot juice to Kool Aid. Whether he's pureeing his signature hot sauce, helping the local artists network, or inventing a new way to trick people into eating wheatgrass, Papi is on a constant quest to become the Mother Theresa of coffee shops.

Posted By:  Brian J Solem
Photo:  Brian J Solem

All Rise Gallery
Even if the proliferation of strollers and high-end boutiques littering the sidewalks of Wicker Park suggests otherwise, the neighborhood's heritage as an artist's haven is still celebrated today. Lisa Flores, owner of All Rise Gallery, can attest to this: her space on Milwaukee plays host to a variety of local and international artists, with each piece hovering well under $2,000. Although the gallery's walls are on constant rotation (with a major spring show in the works), her current collection boasts meticulous urban nighttime charcoals by Ian Etter, screen-printed mash-ups by Montreal artist Jason Cantoro, and elegant, eloquent woodcuts of phrases like “I’m really sorry” by Sighn. Flores's dog is a fixture at her well-attended opening parties; the two also host hostel space in the back part of the massive space. Before your blowout at Art and Science or dinner at Spring, why not drop in and pay homage to the thing that brought armies of well-moneyed marrieds to the neighborhood in the first place?

Posted By:  Ceda Xiong
Photo:  Ceda Xiong

Maybe it’s because we visited in the dead of winter, but the location of spankin’ new Connoisseur could not be a more welcome oasis on a dead stretch of Grand Avenue. The frosted glass windows conceal a simply decorated interior that is both chic and casual. They’re not breaking any new boundaries here, but the idea is timelessly appealing: small plates in a chic environment with a carefully curated wine list. Their opening night served samples from their flavor-packed crab etouffée, a creamy mango desert and a Moorish chicken that was homey and exotic at the same time. Our adorable art-school waiter didn’t hurt the profile of Connoisseur either. Adding to the lounge-like feel of this restaurant, the DJ from every major event in Chicago (the dreadlocked wonder of the MCA Friday parties) was spinning in a corner.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

694 Wine & Spirits
Ah, vino. So much fun to drink when you’re out, but boy, can it get expensive. Enter Juicy Wine Company, where their markup is only $15 a bottle. That’s the perfect excuse to grab some friends and head to this xxx spot, where you can relax either in the cozy street level space or the upstairs lounge. The wine list is long and varied, although if you only want a glass, there’s only a handful to choose from. However, in response to some negative feedback on local message boards, Juicy started offering a $5 mystery glass. You never know what you’ll get, though they will tell you if it’s red or white. Juicy also offers some fantastic munchies. The substantial cheese list and selection of cured meats are winners, but the real treat is the salt and butter flight: Three types of artisanal salts paired with three gourmet butters. Served with bread, it’s simply magnificent.

Posted By:  Jill Jaracz
Photo:  Jill Jaracz

The Matchbox
Billed as “Chicago’s most intimate bar,” the owners of the Matchbox mean that—literally. At its widest, the bar is about ten feet, and it narrows as you go farther back. That means that when the joint is packed wall-to-wall (and that’s often), you’re drinking with maybe twenty-five people. Can’t get past the crowd at the front door? Walk around to the side and try to squeeze in there. Once you manage to get in, treat yourself to one of the finest cocktails you’ll find anywhere. The bartenders are masters of mixing a fine martini, and you’d do well to try a pineapple gimlet made with house-infused vodka. Other homemade infusions line the bar, but they also stock a wide variety of other liquors and have a nice beer list as well. If it’s simply too claustrophobic for you, wait until summer when the patio opens and their capacity doubles.

Posted By:  Nina Williams
Photo:  Nina Williams

Twisted Spoke
When you walk into the Twisted Spoke, you’ll immediately be greeted by a rotating skeleton riding an old school motorcycle. But don’t be scarred, this laidback bar has the sweetest little rooftop deck this side of Chicago. Go for the biker brunch and stay for a Bloody Mary accompanied by a single beer chaser. Everything on their menu is incredibly tasty, especially the Elvis toast which is exactly like French toast, but served with yes, you guessed it, peanut butter and bananas. And their sloppy eggs are the perfect hangover cure, tortillas filled with a mix of Sloppy Joe and eggs…you’ll feel better in no time! But even if you don’t go for brunch, this is a good place to go with friends for lunch or dinner. They have plenty of options including Portobello and falafel sandwiches and BBQ Kobe Brisket.

Posted By:  Laura Rotz
Photo:  Laura Rotz

There are many great things about having Mexican friends: they always bring great chips and salsa to parties, they can speak Spanish (which is often helpful during adventures to new neighborhoods in Chicago), and, not least of all, they find great Mexican restaurants that I never would have noticed. My Mexican friend recently introduced me to Hacienda Tecalitlan for her birthday dinner. The food, while expensive (upwards of $20 per meal), was very good but wasn’t even the best part; it was the atmosphere that proved to be the most exciting. Housed in a faux Mexican courtyard, the place was empty when we got there, so our waiter was overly attentive. He did magic tricks and puzzles for us while we waited, and even offered us free rounds of drinks if we could figure them out. Unfortunately for him, we had an engineer at the table; fortunately for us, that meant free beers and a free flaming shot for the birthday girl.

Posted By:  Tamara Matthews
Photo:  Tamara Matthews

Bring your bartering skills! If not, you’ll be like me and spend too much on some ceremonial mask from the Guerrero region of Mexico just because the vendor says the piece speaks to you. (It was telling me, “Hey! This is a great photo-op.”) This market is really the best of every antique shop/garage sale/thrift shop/vintage resale experience you could have, and it’s all in one place. Always wanted an Archie Bunker’s grandson doll? Find it here! How about a Louis Vuitton baby rocker? Step right up and offer a price! Or an Art Deco boomerang-shaped coffee table? It’s here too. There have been some changes to the market this year. It will be on Saturdays instead of Sundays and you won’t find the stalls clogging up Randolph Street—everything is either inside Plumber’s Hall or in the parking lot. What hasn’t changed? Endless treasures to browse over and, if you have the cash, take home and enjoy.

Posted By:  Eric Kroh
Photo:  Eric Kroh

What’s up with plantains? They look like bananas, but they don’t act like bananas. You can’t eat them raw (unless they’re very, very ripe), but man, do they taste good when they’re fried. Fried plantains are reason enough to go to Habana Libre—the yellow fruit adorns almost every dish, and it can be ordered on the side as well—but other dishes are phenomenal as well. The garlic & lemon fried chicken was especially satisfying, and a similar pork dish produced equally appealing results. The restaurant is BYO; said Bs can be procured from Rothschild Liquor down the street, but don’t expect much, and don’t expect to use their facilities. As one sign there proclaimed, “We won’t open no bathroom no more.”

Posted By:  Bathsheba Birman
Photo:  Sean Williams

Redmoon Theater Co
Renowned for their large-scale outdoor spectacles from annual Halloween celebrations in Logan Square to a floating production in Jackson Park Lagoon, Redmoon goes mini with an urban fairy tale presented in a toy theater. Written by prolific boy wonder Joe Meno and directed by Frank Maugeri, the story depicts the friendship between a young girl who understands the language of birds and retired wrestler Bruno the Brave. When the birds mysteriously disappear, the duo works to save their city from the effects of being without song. Marrying whimsy and ingenuity in typical Redmoon fashion, the show is narrated by puppeteers and features teensy handcrafted puppets, sets, and props while the action is projected live above the stage to create an animated cartoon for the audience. Performances run through April 8 at 7:30 pm Thursday-Sunday with matinees at 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $15-$30. A promotion with the League of Chicago Theatres at 6:30 pm on March 22 includes a reception and discussion with the cast.

Posted By:  Garin Pirnia
Photo:  Garin Pirnia

Situated in the non-descript West Loop district near Union Park, Cobra Lounge’s illuminated neon sign announces there is life in the area after all. Having just opened in March, Cobra has slowly added live bands and djs to accompany their vast alcohol selection. They offer daily specials including the quintessential $2 PBR. On Fridays, Cobra cooks up a free Mexican happy hour buffet. On Thursdays, denizens munch on 25 cent wings. This isn’t a sports bar, though, so no TVs are mounted on the wall. This place is about unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll. Recently, Cobra hosted a couple of eye opening events such as the Onion sponsored Halloween party featuring strippers from the local Admiral Theatre festooning the two bar areas. Earlier in the summer, they celebrated the release of Snakes on a Plane giving away movie inspired memorabilia. How apropos. Looks can be deceiving just like the cobra itself at Cobra Lounge. From the exterior, Cobra looks like a misplaced bar in a rather industrial neighborhood. One would expect tattooed bikers ready to pounce inside, but a mix of clientele occupies the dimly lit establishment. It’s where Wicker Park goes to escape Wicker Park.

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Restaurants (44)
Nightlife (17)
Shopping (23)
Landmarks (4)