Eating OUt(side)

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July Issue View more

Whether you’re looking for a cozy patio, an outdoor market, or a fun food truck, we’ve got you covered with recommendations on all things alfresco.


Hale Street Wheaton’s downtown street dining is here to stay.

Phil Vettel’s Top 5 Outdoor Dining Spots

By Phil Vettel

One absolute maxim for city and suburban restaurants is that people love eating outside. Even when conditions are less than ideal—a bit too chilly, a bit too windy—people still flock to the great outdoors, be it in a landscaped backyard, rooftop patio with a view, or even a few plastic tables lined up near a fire hydrant.

Here are five of my favorite outdoor venues, which combine beautiful surroundings with first-rate food.

The Colonial Room
2301 York Rd., Oak Brook

The Drake Oak Brook has emerged from an extensive (and expensive) renovation with one of the most attractive and least known (as it didn’t debut until Memorial Day) outdoor patios in the region. An extension of the Colonial Room—an upscale American restaurant with steaks, seafood, and the Bookbinder soup that was a signature dish at the Cape Cod Room (inside the Drake Hotel in Chicago, no longer related to the Oak Brook hotel)—the outdoor options include a wraparound, awning-covered veranda and the lower-level patio. If the weather is good, the brick-lined patio is the space you want, outfitted with fire-pit tables and featuring live music Thursday through Saturday evenings. Also attached to the patio is Aroma de Café, a coffee-and-pastries shop by day and upscale wine bar Wednesday through Friday evenings. 

Be sure to try: Burrata flatbread with pancetta tomato jam


Adelle’s Fine American Fare
535 W. Liberty Dr., Wheaton

In Wheaton, much of the outdoor-dining action takes place under the tented stretch of Hale Street, but just a few blocks away, this American restaurant has its own alfresco appeal. Adelle’s arbor-topped patio features string lights, illuminated landscaping along the south wall, tall gas heaters, and a central planter adorned with glass flowers (handmade by owner Debbie Williams). The something-for-everyone menu bounces from grilled octopus and Caesar salad to a signature meatloaf and roasted duck breast with gnocchi. 

Be sure to try: Grilled Spanish octopus with confit fingerling potatoes


Lorena Verdaguer (all names cq’d), from left, Fay Aslanidis, Terrie Rosenberg and Allison Malzone dine on the outdoor patio at Gibsons in Oak Brook, Ill., on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. (Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune) B582168718Z.1 ….OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION…

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse
2105 S. Spring Rd., Oak Brook

This location of the famed steakhouse (the original in Chicago’s Gold Coast just celebrated its 30th anniversary) features a magnificently landscaped patio, including bentwood-chair seating, illuminated trees and shrubs, and umbrella-topped and tented tables. The most dramatic element is the waterfall running along the patio’s west wall; thanks to the cascading water, you’d never know you were sitting in a heavy-traffic area. The steak-and-seafood menu has been garnering critical praise for three decades. 

Be sure to try: W.R.’s Chicago Cut 22-ounce steak


Redstone American Grill
13 Lincoln Center, Oakbrook Terrace

The only Illinois location of this restaurant chain boasts an outdoor patio that’s jam-packed on warm evenings. And why not? The stone-and-iron environment overlooks lush landscaping, and includes amenities such as fire pits and a free-standing fireplace—and on the right day, the people-watching is even better. Enjoy the visuals with a wide menu of steaks, seafood, burgers, flatbreads, and more.

Be sure to try: Buffalo jumbo shrimp with Buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing


Empire Burgers + Brew
48 W. Chicago Ave., Naperville

The interior of this downtown Naperville spot has a nice, pubby appeal, but in the summertime, everybody wants to climb the stairs to the split-level rooftop deck, with its treetop views of river and streetscene. Table seating is augmented by a long counter and a rain-sheltered bar with big-screen TVs. Burgers dominate the menu (including occasional specials, such as the Grecian, a lamb-and-feta burger), but you’ll also find fish tacos and a pork-belly BLT. The bar features a number of batched cocktails, among them a very good margarita. 

Be sure to try: Pick a burger, any burger.

Photos courtesy The Drake Oak Brook/Autograph Collection and Debbie Williams (Adelle’s), Keri Wiginton/Chicago Trbune (Gibsons Top), Jason Kaumeyer (Gibsons bottom), and Mekenzie Harden (Empire)


From Adaption to Amenity

By Phil Vettel

When the state banned virtually all indoor dining in the spring of 2020 because of the pandemic, Wheaton, Hinsdale, and Downers Grove moved swiftly to give their downtown restaurants a chance at survival, allowing them to expand their sidewalk café spaces into the street. That move granted them additional open-air seating at a crucial time. The result was that the downtown restaurants in those communities all survived. And, in fact, the programs have gone over so well, they have become a fixture in those towns. What started as an emergency measure has changed the way suburbs view outdoor dining.

At the time, Elle Withall, then executive director for the Downtown Wheaton Association, was just looking for a way to help restaurants in town. Erect a couple of large tents along Hale Street, string some lights, and voilà: more than 100 outdoor dining seats. The plan required closing Hale Street to vehicle traffic, which is never an easy thing. But city officials were quick to act. “We came up with a game plan, got the OK, and had the tents up in two days,” Withall says. “I have to compliment Mayor [Philip] Suess and the city council, who were instrumental in making this happen.”

The city later added live music and introduced portable heaters to extend the outdoor-dining season. (This year the tents will stay up through Oct. 31.) “It was a game-changer,” Withall says. “It helped businesses survive and helped create a destination for downtown Wheaton.” It was a Hail Mary that paid off. “We were so screwed,” says Dick O’Gorman, owner of Ivy restaurant in downtown Wheaton. “[The tents] saved downtown Wheaton.”

In Downers Grove, the village took a similar approach. “We started trying to expand the outdoor environment as a way to deal with the COVID lockdown, to give restaurants a chance to operate,” says Mayor Robert Barnett. But rerouting traffic away from Main Street, a major road through town, wasn’t feasible. So the village instead sectioned off street parking spaces (bordered by barricades for safety), allowing expanded outdoor dining while keeping downtown sidewalks walkable. “Both our restaurants and residents really enjoyed it,” Barnett says. “So in ’21, we renewed the program, but we gave the restaurants more flexibility in what they could do to their spaces [cosmetically] and made some covers for the barricades so they’d look nicer. And again, it was well received. At some point last fall, the village council decided to make it a permanent program.”

Hinsdale closed off a stretch of First Street and creating tented spaces for restaurants. The tents aren’t in place this summer, but there are umbrella-topped tables and some planter boxes, and although the street has been reopened to traffic, there’s only a single one-way lane, giving restaurants some space. “I’m happy with the outdoor program,” says Peter Burdi, who owns two restaurants along First Street. “It’s really helped us out.” 

There are tradeoffs, of course, in reserving street space for tables. It sacrifices parking spaces, something retailers consider vital. Barnett estimates that Downers Grove’s outdoor-dining program uses up 25 spots. But, Barnett says, the village has a multilevel parking garage a block east of Main Street, and the downtown is surrounded by four commuter lots. “Generally, there are hundreds of available spaces,” Barnett says. “We’re trying to do a better job of pointing people to them.”

Withall upholds that Wheaton’s tents were a win-win for retailers as well as restaurants. “The tents have become almost a recruitment tool for retail by increasing the walkability of downtown,” she says. “We were able to open two new retail stores on Hale Street during COVID. Outdoor dining is here to stay.”

It’s an adaptation that’s become a major advantage. “I see it as an evolution on the use of public space,” Barnett says. “With the outdoor dining, I think it’s been a hit across the board.”

Photo courtesy of Cinder & Vinegar Photography  



Naperville Farmer’s Market

A Field Guide to FARMERS’ MARKETS

If you’re craving fresh, seasonal produce and homemade treats, explore your local farmers’ market. The rustic atmosphere and laid-back vibe make shopping an adventure. You’ll fnd out exactly where your food comes from as you chat with local growers and even get tips on how to cook what you buy. Best of all, you can find a local market open almost every day of the week. —Julie Duffin

MONDAYS

Hinsdale
7 a.m. to 1 p.m. 
June 6—October 24 
Burlington Park
30 E. Chicago Ave.

WEDNESDAYS

Elmhurst
7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
June 1—October 26
541 S. York St.

Winfield
7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
June 1–October 27
Prairie Trail Center at Geneva and County Farm Roads

THURSDAYS

Bolingbrook
4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
June 2–August 25
The Promenade
631 E. Boughton Rd.

Clarendon Hills
7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
May 19—October 20
Village Hall
1 N. Prospect Ave.

Naperville
2 to 6 p.m.
June 2–September 29
95th Street Library,
3015 Cedar Glade Dr.


Lisle French Market

FRIDAYS

St. Charles
8 a.m.—1 p.m.
June 3–October 28
Baker Memorial United Methodist Church
Fourth Avenue and Main Street

SATURDAYS

Aurora
8 a.m.—noon
June 4–October 8
65 Water St.

Batavia
8 a.m.—noon
May 28—October 29
North River Street between Wilson and Spring Streets

Downers Grove
7 a.m.—12:30 p.m.
May 7–October 15 
Main Street train station on
Burlington Avenue

Lisle 
8 a.m.—1 p.m.
May 7–October 15 
Rte. 53 and Garfield Avenue

Naperville
7 a.m.—noon
June 4–October 29
Fifth Avenue Station,
200 E. Fifth Ave.

Wheaton 
8 a.m.—2 p.m.
April 9–October 29 
Reber Street and Liberty Drive

SUNDAYS

Burr Ridge
10:30 a.m.—2:30 p.m.
May 15—September 25 
701 Village Center Dr.

Geneva 
9 a.m.—2 p.m.
April 10–October 30
Metra parking lot at Fourth and South Streets

Glen Ellyn 
8 a.m.—1 p.m.
May 1–October 16
Metra parking lot 449 N. Main St.

Oswego
9 a.m.—1 p.m. 
June 5–September 25 
15 Main St.

Plainfield
11 a.m.—3 p.m. 
June 5–September 11 
Library Parking Lot, 15025 Illinois St.

Western Springs
9 a.m.—1 p.m.
May 8—October  23
914 Hillgrove Ave.

Photos courtesy of Chicago Tribune File (Naperville Farmers Market) and Lisle French Market


Food Truck Fare

From barbeque to empanadas to Hawaiian specialties
By Kelli Ra Anderson

Why travel the world to enjoy exotic flavors when the world can park within easy reach? Whether offering tastes from far-flung areas of the globe or twists on regional fare, food trucks are having a moment. Many of these traveling kitchens can even be hired out to cater special events. 

Thanks to a proliferation of apps (like Where’s the Food Truck? and Mobile Nom) finding your favorites is just a click away. Or graze a bunch at once. Organizer Brew Avenue Events has details on (and tickets for) several food truck gatherings in the western suburbs at
brewavenueevents.com. (You can also book trucks for events through that website). The Naperville Food Truck Festival, for example, returns August 13 to Naper Settlement and will feature some 25 trucks. And first Fridays in downtown Aurora, which runs through December, features an assortment of mobile fare.

Here are a few local favorites you’re bound to find on a street near you.


Aijo Kitchen Japanese fusion dishes like ponzo-marinated beef with sautéed onion and mushrooms over garlic fried rice, miso mac and cheese topped with crispy panko, and steamed teriyaki-braised pork belly buns are just a few of the standouts on this Japanese- and Filipino-inspired menu. aijokitchen.com


Auntie Vee’s Kitchen Showcasing Caribbean comfort food that’s 100 percent halal, the mouthwatering jerk chicken gets rave reviews—as do the Philly cheesesteak, grilled chicken entrées, and the highly touted mac and cheese bowls. auntievees.com


Billy Bricks on Wheels Thin-crust Neapolitan-style specialty pizzas are baked on location in a wood-fired 900-degree brick oven. Along with classics like pepperoni, the menu features unique options like the Honey Love (finished with a drizzle of hot honey) and Donna’s Combo of Italian beef and spicy sausage topped with hot giardiniera.
billybricksonwheels.com

Photos courtesy of AiJo kitchen, Navena moore (Auntie Vee’s), and lindsey hartline (Billy Bricks)


Flyin Hawaiian A sushi-styled “surfer’s lunch” called spam musubi,
huli huli chicken (grilled in a tangy sauce), kalua pork, garlic shrimp, malasadas, and Hawaiian fried rice are just some of the authentic Pacific flavors on the menu. flyinhawaiianchicago.com


Grumpy Gaucho The authentic Argentine offerings include a variety of buttery-crisp empanadas such as beef criolla and barbecue pork, along with gourmet sauces (including a red chimichurri). And for dessert, don’t miss the dulce de leche-filled churros. grumpygaucho.com


Holy Pierogi Sizzled up fresh onsite, these crispy-on-the-outside Polish dumplings are stuffed with savory fillings such as potatoes, cheese, bacon, mushrooms, and sauerkraut. Be sure to try the grilled onions with chipotle topping that take these comfort-food treats to the next level. 


Kissed By Fire This barbecue and wood-fired pizza combo is all about fire and flavor, from Heaven on a Bun (slow-smoked pulled pork) to the Chicago Gangsta Pizza (with smoked pork-shoulder bacon). Or do both with barbecue-style pizza. kissedbyfire.net


My Funnel It feels like the county fair on wheels with these classic deep-fried funnel cakes and ice cream creations. The sweet concoctions include deep-fried Oreos and funnel cake sundaes and the signature caramel crunch with vanilla ice cream, caramel, and Cap’n Crunch cereal. myfunneltruck.com


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Savory Crust Known for baked flaky-crust empanadas that feature a variety of saviory fillings like Argentine beef, pork belly, and spinach and feta, this Filipino-inspired menu also boasts herbaceous chimichurri sauces, elotes, and rice bowls. savorycrust.com


Toasty Cheese This mobile eatery specializes in grilled-cheese sandwiches with a twist, like the Great Dane (applewood smoked bacon with a melty cheddar/American blend), Michaelangelo (Italian beef), and Scott’s South of the Border (chipotle chicken with pepper Jack). Loaded fries and tempura-battered Wisconsin cheese curds as sides and fried Lucky Luis Bites for dessert round out the menu. toastycheese.com

Photos courtesy of Flyin Hawaiian, Naperville Park District (Grumpy Gaucho), Holy Perogi, Kissed by Fire, My Funnel, Savory crust, and Toasty Cheese