If you’re familiar with the Magnificent Mile, the Loop, and the Gold Coast areas of Chicago, you’ll probably know many of these restaurants.


Barro
...Now defunct


Ben Pao
www.benpao.com
...Ask for the John Mickle fried rice; it’s not on the menu, but just ask for the regular fried rice with an appetizer of the anise-flavored braised pork mixed in during the cooking rather than at the end


Bennigan’s
...Now defunct; it was in our work building and was convenient in bad weather


The Berghoff

www.berghoff.com
...Get the freshly carved roast beef on light rye, no condiments; like tomato and basil, it’s an almost magical combination of just two flavors


Big Bowl
www.bigbowl.com


Café Ibérico
www.cafeiberico.com
...The best tapas and Spanish atmosphere


California Pizza Kitchen
www.cpk.com
...This was Ms. Lopez’s favorite; she always got the Thai Crunch salad with extra dressing


Catch 35
www.catch35.com
...The king crab fried rice is one of my top ten restaurant meals of all time; with all those big chunks of leg meat, it’s a bargain at $20


The Cheesecake Factory
www.thecheesecakefactory.com
...Its Art Nouveau decor, both inside and outside, is way over the top but in a good way; you feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairy tale


China Grill
www.chinagrillmgt.com
...At $120, our most expensive lunch


Dao
www.daothai.com


Gibsons
www.gibsonssteakhouse.com
...Ms. Lopez missed out on this because something came up at work; thinking of her, I had the 12-ounce filet mignon—it would’ve been the perfect size to share


Grand Lux Café
www.grandluxcafe.com
...As with The Cheesecake Factory, its Art Nouveau decor is surreal; try to get a table in the rounded corner room overlooking Michigan Ave, and be sure to get the made-to-order beignets for dessert


Houlihan’s

www.houlihans.com
...It’s in our work building and was convenient in bad weather; don’t get the appetizer of breaded-then-deep-fried baseball-sized mushrooms stuffed with gobs of cheese


Joe’s Stone Crab

www.joes.net
...The grilled king crab legs are fantastic


Kamehachi
www.kamehachi.com


Khyber Pass
www.khyberpassrestaurant.com


Le Colonial
www.lecolonialchicago.com
...It’s so far away we had to take a taxi, but it was worth it; the French-Vietnamese decor is charming and the food is unique and delicious


Morton’s
www.mortons.com
...By far the best crab cake I’ve ever had, and that includes Boston and San Francisco


McCormick&Schmick’s
www.mccormickandschmicks.com


Nacional 27
www.nacional27.net
...We never went there together but we both like it; they have salsa and merengue dancing Friday and Saturday from 11 P.M.


Oysy
www.oysysushi.com


P. F. Chang’s China Bistro
www.pfchangs.com


Ponte Fresco
www.pontefrescousa.com
...Marina used to work there; she was from Puerto Rico and she gave me tips for my vacation there in 2007


Sayat Nova
www.sayatnovachicago.com


The Signature Room at the 95th
www.signatureroom.com


Sunda
www.sundachicago.com
This hadn’t opened before my friendship for Ms. Lopez ended, but I stopped there the other day for some takeout and was told they don’t do that because they’re all about presentation; I thought that was pretentious so I walked around, looking at the decor and at some dishes that had been served, and none of it was more than you’d expect from a mid-priced restaurant; now, if you go to Le Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower, you don’t go for takeout because it’s out of the way and because you want to enjoy the view while you dine...but in the west Loop?


Tavern at the Park
www.tavernatthepark.com


Vong’s Thai Kitchen
www.vongsthaikitchen.com


And we never even made it to Bice, Coco Pazzo (get the bistecca alla Fiorentina, for two; it’s remarkably like the one I had in Spoleto in Umbria, Italy), Cyrano’s Bistrot (I wanted Ms. Lopez to meet Lalla, who’s from Morocco and works there as a hostess/server; Lalla is stunningly beautiful, and I once told her so—not to get somewhere with her, but simply because it was true and because I wanted her to know), Hugo’s Frog Bar, Redstone (in Oakbrook Terrace; it’s a great place to meet people), Shaw’s Crab House, or Trader Vic’s (newly reopened on North State Street; look for the photo of Charleen and me, taken years ago at their former location in the Palmer House HIlton)...




And here are some of my favorites places in Omaha. It’s too bad Ross’s closed years ago; for some reason, I liked their huge, kitschy three-dimensional outdoor sign in the shape and color of a steer’s head.

Be sure to visit the Henry Doorly Zoo, particularly if you have children with you. You simply will not believe that such a fine zoo can be found in a city the size of Omaha. It has it all—grounds that are beautiful and accessible; animals from all over the world; an aquarium; a large and tranquil open-air aviary that’s shrouded in netting so fine you scarcely notice it; a geodesic dome that houses a variety of ecosystems (desert, rainforest, etc); and lots of educational exhibits. They even put in a nice restaurant a while back.

And if you like the symphony, you’ve got to visit the Orpheum Theater. It’s gorgeous and sumptuous, both inside and outside; Charleen and I saw the musical
Phantom of the Opera there...It’s over now, the music of the night. Damn, I would have loved her until the end of all time...I probably will anyhow.


Bread Oven
...It’s run by a man from France, and
everything I’ve had from there is the best of its kind I’ve ever had; the Traditional French baguette is the single best bread, of any kind, I’ve ever had, and that includes throughout France and Italy


Bronco’s
www.broncoburgers.com
...It’s a local fast food chain; if you’re going to be there only once, get a double cheeseburger and a fish sandwich


Clancy’s
www.clancysomaha.com
...If you’re in Omaha on St. Patrick’s Day, you’ve got to go to the location on the northeast corner of 114th St and West Dodge Rd; I was in the restroom once and the line for the women’s restroom was so long that women were using the men’s room—you don’t see that every day.


Delice
www.deliceeuropeanbakery.com
...The best-looking and best-tasting desserts I’ve ever had, particularly the chocolate ganache torte, the Paris-Brest pastry, and the fresh fruit tartlet; it’s in the quaint Old Market area of shops, salons, restaurants, and bars


The Dubliner Pub

www.dublinerpubomaha.com
...It’s a dark subterranean bar in the Old Market, but I like the ambiance and the selection of draught beer is good


Flatiron Café
www.theflatironcafe.com
...It’s named after the wedge-shaped building in which it’s located on the ground floor; it’s narrow and its perimeter is all glass, so the view is very nice, particularly on a snowy night


Golden Palace
...The best Chinese food I’ve ever had, and that includes the Chinatowns of Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Montreal; the combination fried rice and the combination lo mein are fantastic


Jaipur Brew House
www.jaipurbrewhouse.com
...The best Indian cuisine I’ve ever had; the decor is nice and they make their own beer, too


Jam’s
www.jamseats.com
...Get the Saigon salad topped with seared salmon; don’t even consider anything else; Ms. Lopez would’ve loved it...well, with extra dressing


La Buvette
www.labuvetteomaha.com
...Also in the Old Market, it’s a quirky place for rustic homemade food, and it’s one of my favorite places to just hang out; the walls are lined with shelves and crates of wine, and you can have a glass with your meal or take a bottle home; there’s even a small selection of groceries in back


La Casa

www.lacasapizzaria.net
...It’s Italian, not Mexican; get the pizza made with a mix of romano and mozzarella cheeses—it’s a wonderful flavor, and all the salt in the romano makes for a superb all-veggie pizza


La Hacienda
...Used to be you could get a liter of freshly made margarita for ten bucks, but I’m sure that’s changed; it came in an enormous glass goblet and it was as good as any margarita I’ve had, plus it was enough to share


M’s Pub
www.mspubomaha.com
...Also in the Old Market; despite the name, it’s a fancy restaurant; the bar up front is a great place to meet people and to watch people passing by outside


Old Chicago
www.oldchicago.com
...Get the thin crust; the chunks of grilled Italian sausage make their pizza the best; it’s the antithesis of the enormous single hamburger-like patty Gino’s East in Chicago puts inside their stuffed pizza, where it gets cooked somewhere between being baked and boiled and steamed


Pauli’s

...If you’re in town for the College World Series of baseball, you’ve got to go here; it’s nearby, it’s crowded, and the beer is cheap and it’s served in plastic cups


Stokes
www.restaurantsinc.net/stokes_grill_bar.html
...The most original Tex-Mex cuisine I’ve ever had; the chicken tortilla soup is one of my top five soups of all time




And if you’re in Europe, try the falafel sandwich at Maoz (their free vegetarian topping bar can’t be beat; load up) or a döner kebap or shawarma at just about any streetside vendor or hole-in-the-wall storefront (skip all the sauces, though—they just obscure the flavor of the bread, meat, and vegetables; and for the love of God, don’t get french fries as a topping, just on the side).

Mr. Syd, whom I first met at an
al forno trattoria in Florence, Italy, has said it would be remiss, if not downright irresponsible, of me not to include a webpage on cava, the Spanish version of French Champagne and Italian Prosecco. In the end, we compromised on putting a small note here. I find cava to be more bland than the other kinds of sparkling wine, whether from France, Italy, or elsewhere. But somehow that’s a good thing; cava is like a simple, lightly alcoholic fizz. In Spain you can find it everywhere, but it’s at its best in the subterranean cava bars. I’ve been to many such places in Barcelona and throughout Andalucía. In the United States you can find cava not only on the wine list in many restaurants, but also for retail purchase in most wine stores and large liquor stores. 1492 Tapas, in Chicago, has a subterranean cava bar, but it’s small and unlike those in Spain.

One more thing—manzanilla. In Spain it means two things. One is what you could think of as a white port wine, the other is chamomile tea. The wine is an acquired taste, best sipped chilled and very slowly. It’s a drink for your more thoughtful, introspective moods.