Lauren Viera

Correspondent

  • Chicago, Illinois, USA

Lauren Viera is a correspondent who lives in Chicago and covers the city for Forbes Travel Guide. Viera contributes articles on spirits, travel and lifestyle to Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Crain’s Chicago Business, Imbibe, MensJournal.com and others. She was a senior editor on the launch staff of Time Out Chicago, and was a staff writer on the travel desk of the Chicago Tribune. A native Californian, Viera has lived in Chicago for a decade and chronicles her love of horticulture and cocktail culture on her blog, The Glass & Garden.

  • On July 1, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best markets in Chicago?

    Perhaps Chicago’s best known high-end market is Fox & Obel, specializing in artisan baked goods, rare preserves and treats, and incredible produce, as well as an impressive prepared-foods section. There’s a bistro here, too, serving a full menu of items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

    I’m also a fan of the Mariano’s chain, which is more of a full-service grocery store, but with impressive prepared-foods and deli sections. The downtown location, adjacent to Millennium Park, is a popular stop for picnickers heading to al fresco concerts in the park.

    With four locations in the city, The Goddess and Grocer is a popular specialty market worth popping into for local provisions and treats. I love that there’s always a selection of Vosges Haut Chocolat, a must-eat souvenir.
  • On July 1, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best places for breakfast in Chicago?

    Chicago is a brunch town, with nearly every restaurant worth its salt offering late-morning options on Sunday, or both weekend days. Breakfast, on the other hand, is more rare, but there are plenty of recommendable options.

    One of my favorites is Lula Café in Logan Square, which has been a popular neighborhood restaurant for more than a decade. There are a half-dozen standard entrees on the menu and a half-dozen more specials that rotate daily. Bin 36, best known for its wine-paired dinner entrees, is a solid River North option for both business professionals and tourists staying in this hotel-heavy ’hood. Ann Sather’s quartet of Swedish-inspired restaurants open early for breakfast every day of the week, and the sweet smell of cinnamon rolls beckons visitors from outside the doors. Rick Bayless’s Xoco is another River North option, serving modern-flaired Mexican breakfast (tortas, empanads) until 10 a.m.
  • On July 1, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    Where is the best Chicago nightlife?

    Chicago is a big enough city that there are multiple neighborhoods with great nightlife. It all depends on what you’re in the mood for, how much you’re willing to spend, and how late you want to stay out.

    If you’re going all out, River North is the city’s best club-centric destination. Home to popular bottle-service destinations such as Studio Paris, this is the it neighborhood to see and be seen. Countless bars and lounges ring this neighborhood that comes to life at night, and many stay open until 2 a.m. on weekdays, and 3 a.m. Saturdays.

    Personally, I’d much rather bar-hop in Wicker Park, Chicago’s one-time artists’ neighborhood that’s now home to some of the best cocktails and bar-bites in town. There’s always a good time to be had at rowdy Big Star, located in the heart of this hip neighborhood, and just across the street is The Violet Hour, a demure, hushed haven for excellent drinks in the dark.

    Sports fans usually gravitate toward Wrigleyville to celebrate post-game at destinations such as John Barleycorn and the Cubby Bear. Fair warning: If you’re a White Sox fan, you’re bound to be outnumbered in this party zone in the shadow of Wrigley Field.
  • On July 1, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    Where are the best places to hear live music in Chicago?

    As the home of Chess Records, the famous mid-century R&B and blues label that had a partnership with Memphis’ Sun Studio, Chicago has a long history with southern-rooted music. But meanwhile it’s developed an eclectic style all its own, thanks to thriving scenes fostering everything from jazz to metal. As someone who plays in a local band, I’m always impressed with how many active musicians there are in Chicago, and how many places there are to catch live music on any given night of the week.

    My go-to is the Empty Bottle in the Ukrainian Village in the West Town neighborhood. Established more than two decades ago, it’s a small rock club with a world-class reputation for debuting up-and-coming artists, and it’s one of the best venues to hear successful local bands, and is especially popular on Free Mondays.

    For jazz, the Green Mill is an iconic classic. Anchoring the Uptown neighborhood, this small room plays host to everything from be-bop to poetry slams, and there’s something on nearly every night of the week. Prepare for crowds on weekend nights.

    Another great club-sized venue is Schubas, in the Southport Corridor of Lincoln Park. This is one of the best-sounding rooms in town, and hosts an exciting cross-section of talent, from internationally touring indie rock acts to burgeoning local songwriters and DJs. There’s a great pub and restaurant here, too.

    Perhaps Chicago’s best known large concert venue is The Metro, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. America’s most famous rock bands have all made stops here, from Nirvana to the Smashing Pumpkins, and the two-story space continues to host must-sees on a nightly basis.

    For those who enjoy intimate concerts with room to sit and enjoy a cocktail, check the calendar at the luxe Mayne Stage. A century-old building previously known as the Morse Theatre, the venue was rebranded in 2008 and now features top-of-the-line sound and lighting, sight-lines and amenities such as plush booth cabaret seating.
  • On July 1, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What is Chicago’s cultural scene like?

    In a word, diverse. Like a lot of other American cities, Chicago was founded by several bands of immigrants, which is visible in pockets of the modern city such as Pilsen (Mexican-American), Andersonville (Norwegian-American), Jefferson Park (Polish-American), Lincoln Square (German-American), and dozens of others. This diversity accounts for an incredible calendar of celebrations, a number of unique museums and historical sites and, my favorite benefit, an incredible array of cuisine. It’s possible to sample traditional dishes from India, Poland, Mexico, Vietnam and Norway, all within a few miles’ radius on the North Side. And depending on what neighborhood you’re hanging out in, you’ll see signs in Chinese or Spanish, Polish or Czech. Chicago is a cultural melting pot in the best sense of the term.
  • On June 14, 2013
    Quia Querisma is now following Lauren Viera
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are Chicago’s hottest restaurants?

    The list is long but varied both in cuisine and location—good news if you’re interested in trying a few on your next visit.

    At the top is Grace, perhaps the most anticipated opening of the past year. At Grace’s helm is chef-owner Curtis Duffy, whose resume reads like a punch card of the top restaurants in Chicago’s culinary history (Charlie Trotter’s, Trio, Alinea, Avenues), and who has since risen to recognition as one of the top chefs in the country.

    Selling itself as “new gatherer” cuisine (everything is foraged, whether from forests or farms or really good provisioners elsewhere), Elizabeth opened last fall and has been met with fondness among the local dining elite. Reservations are handled via a ticket system—the same one used by Grant Achatz’s nonpareil restaurants Next and Alinea—and dining experiences are staged based on the number of desired courses.

    Brindille (pronounced brawn-DEE) is the follow-up to renown chef and restaurateur Carrie Nahabedian’s Naha, which over its decade in business has not faltered with Chicago’s increasingly discerning tastes. In the same neighborhood is Nahabedian’s just-opened French bistro, a sexy yet refined addition to the white-tablecloth dining scene.

    Chicago is no longer wanting for Macau cuisine thanks to Fat Rice. A blend of its owners’ heritage—Chinese and Portuguese, the same cultures celebrated in this special far-eastern region—Fat Rice was the sleeper hit of last fall’s new-openings season, and has become a destination dining room on a busy corner in Logan Square.

    A kind of a sequel to chef Ryan Poli’s Tavernita, the Gold Coast’s Little Market Brasserie is the new go-to for casual bistro fare in a neighborhood overrun with white tablecloths and lounges. Deviled eggs and charged cocktails—housemade sodas mixable with spirits of your choice—present win-win choices.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best steakhouses in Chicago?

    One of the newest on the scene is on my list of favorite restaurants: Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, from local restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff. Opened last year, Bavette’s pays homage to the best elements of classic steakhouses—from the personable service at your table to the wood paneling behind your booth—and embellishes it within a handsome, dimly lit den of fine dining. Service is thorough but casual, and on the plates are killer steaks and chops, plus an incredible wedge salad and cocktails worth the trip alone.

    Perhaps Chicago’s best-loved steakhouse is Gene & Georgetti in River North. Founded in 1941, it’s a classic room—rosewood paneling, red and white tablecloths, leather bar stools lining the long wooden bar—but doesn’t feel dated, thanks to its owners’ care for keeping diners interested.

    One of seven David Burke–owned restaurants across the country, David Burke’s Primehouse is a modern interpretation of a classic American steakhouse. Seven years in, it recently underwent a massive renovation which refreshed and expanded its bar--a great spot to settle in for a long, enjoyable meal beyond the cozy dining room. In addition to classics (filet mignon, aged ribeye) are a handful of modern additions, like wagyu beef sashimi and tempura veggies.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best Italian restaurants in Chicago?

    Taylor Street serves as Chicago’s modest Little Italy (it’s small, but charming), and one of the best restaurants on the block is Davanti Enoteca. Its roots tied to a much larger Italian chain local to Chicagoland, the Francesca’s Restaurants group. In fact, Davanti is located kitty-corner from Francesca’s on Taylor, also recommended, but Davanti is more fun, with an emphasis on pizza and pasta, and everything that makes Italian food delicious.

    The newest Italian kid on the block is Siena Tavern, the giant River North restaurant from Top Chef contestant Fabio Viviani. With a massive bar and deep dining room, Siena Tavern is designed to pack in the crowds and does so on a nightly basis, only in part because of its location. The bigger draw is the food, all of which is quite good, consumed in a fun, modern atmosphere.

    Also in River North is RPM Italian, named for its partners—among them Bill and Giuliana Rancic—who have a three-tiered stake in this sleek black-and-white dining room. With a packed reservations book, the vibe is see-and-be-seen (especially at the long, central bar), and the generous menu (nearly 70 items) has a focus on housemade pasta and risotto.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best steakhouses in Chicago?

    One of the newest on the scene is on my list of favorite restaurants: Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, from local restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff. Opened last year, Bavette’s pays homage to the best elements of classic steakhouses—from the personable service at your table to the wood paneling behind your booth—and embellishes it within a handsome, dimly lit den of fine dining. Service is thorough but casual, and on the plates are killer steaks and chops, plus an incredible wedge salad and cocktails worth the trip alone.

    Perhaps Chicago’s best-loved steakhouse is Gene & Georgetti in River North. Founded in 1941, it’s a classic room—rosewood paneling, red and white tablecloths, leather bar stools lining the long wooden bar—but doesn’t feel dated, thanks to its owners’ care for keeping diners interested.

    One of seven David Burke–owned restaurants across the country, David Burke’s Primehouse is a modern interpretation of a classic American steakhouse. Seven years in, it recently underwent a massive renovation, resulting in a TK AESTHETIC in which to settle in for a long, heavy meal. In addition to classics (filet mignon, aged ribeye) are a handful of modern additions, like wagyu beef sashimi and tempura veggies.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best Chicago restaurants for wine?

    One of the best restaurants for wine is also among one of the most talked about. The Boarding House, which opened last winter, is the crowning achievement of master sommelier Alpana Singh, a household name among local wine snobs and then some. The ceiling of its dining room features a sculpture made of around 4,000 wine bottles, and while the menu has significantly less (about 500), it’s still impressive.

    An oldie but a goodie, Bin 36 was Chicago’s first modern restaurant to take wine seriously, and its expertly executed menu still draws both loyal and new diners. At the base of iconic Marina City, it’s a big, downtown dining room with lots of little corners, and every item on the extensive menu of new-American staples references a specific bin, making pairing a cinch.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best kid-friendly restaurants in Chicago?

    Whenever I’m out with friends with wee ones, Wishbone is at the top of the list, and it’s pretty high on the list without kids in tow, too. The theme is southern reconstruction—think jambalaya, po’boys, pulled pork—and the children’s menu offers significantly more options than most places. The noise level is buzzing—great for masking any unwanted fuss, but not so loud that you feel like you’re at a theme park.

    For breakfast and lunch, Lakeview’s charming Bakin' & Eggs is a neighborhood go-to. The generous dining room has room for high chairs and stroller parking, and the menu is packed with crowd-pleasing sandwiches and breakfast fare (frittatas, french toast, burritos).
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best romantic restaurants in Chicago?

    My favorite romantic dining room is RM Champagne Salon, on Randolph Street in the West Loop (aka Restaurant Row). Focused on grower champagnes, RM is more of a lounge than a sit-down restaurant, but it’s perfect for date-night drinks, with the opportunity to jumpstart dinner with oysters and small bites like tartine and frites, or stop in after dinner for a sweet ending thanks to a massive selection of petit fours.

    Just down the street is Maude’s Liquor Bar, the most feminine of the stellar restaurants in restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff’s mini-empire. A true French bistro, the ground floor’s exposed brick and patinated mirrors offer a romantic backdrop for bistro tables crowded with seafood towers and steak-frites. Upstairs, the lights and music are dimmed further, for romantic effect.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best food experiences in Chicago?

    For a true food experience, the name in Chicago is Grant Achatz. But tickets to his restaurants, Next and Alinea, are hard to come by unless planned months in advance.

    Alternatively, plan for a little adventure: some of the city's best food experiences are on the fringes. Southwest of downtown is Chinatown, where the best meal in the neighborhood can be found at La Sze Chuan. This is Chicago Chinese-food maestro Tony Hu’s flagship restaurant (he owns several, with several more on the way), and arguably his best. Everything on the menu is excellent.

    Another popular food experience in Chicago is a trip to Devon Street in West Rogers Park, the city’s Indian hub. There are authentic cafes and markets lining the street for the better part of a mile, but my favorite sit-down restaurant in the ’hood is Udupi Palace, which is consistently great.

    Chicago’s Vietnamese food scene is small but mighty. It’s centered in the Uptown neighborhood along Argyle Street east of Broadway, and the jewel in its crown is Tank Noodle, a delicious, cheap bare-bones noodle shop at the neighborhood’s crossroads—often with a line out the door.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What is Chicago’s restaurant scene like?

    In a word, casual. In a few more words, the scene depends more on the neighborhood than the dining room -- and Chicagoans love paying attention to who’s in the kitchen.

    As a rule, downtown restaurants are generally more formal (Spiaggia on the Magnificent Mile, for instance, is among the Obamas' favorites), and almost any address on Restaurant Row (Randolph Street in the West Loop) is going to be modern both in execution and aesthetic, cuing wardrobe upgrades from its diners (Grace, for instance, is drop-dead gorgeous, and stylishly formal).

    But for the most part, eating out in Chicago’s neighborhoods is much more about what’s on the plate than what's on the walls. There's a lot of Mexican (both of the Rick Bayless variety, and authentic taquerias in Pilsen), there's a lot of meat worship (Logan Square's Longman & Eagle is being a key fixture), there's a whole lot of farm-to-table (one name to remember: Lula), and there are very interesting pockets of Asian (BellyQ's Bill Kim is the local king). Especially now, when Chicago’s culinary scene is bursting with talent, the choices are endless.