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by Little Ayun
November 19, 2006
From journal Chicago - Girls On The Town
New York, New York
March 29, 2004
We arrived just after 8:30pm on a Saturday night and found the restaurant fairly packed with extended families, large groups of friends, and several packs of suburban high school students enjoying group dates. (I was nosy enough to check out what the students were eating, and true to my memories of high school, the guys ordered burgers and pizzas while most of their dates contented themselves by sharing mozzarella sticks.) We waited roughly fifteen minutes for a table, and as we passed the time, a young female employee wordlessly offered us complimentary slices of cheese pizza. To be honest, I found both the manner and substance of her offer disconcerting and declined to accept.
Like many chain restaurants, Leona's tries to conceal its impersonal size by painting itself with a thick layer of "atmosphere." As someone who doesn't eat meat, I was slightly charmed by their slogan "Old School Italian, Abundant American, Closet Vegetarian," but the "brain food" trivia cards scattered on the table were unpleasantly greasy, and I found the large, glossy, spiral-bound menus featuring illustrations of key employees difficult to navigate. Squeezed in-between the illustrations were literally hundreds of dining options, and I struggled for some time before finally deciding upon the Portabella Mushroom Wrap ($8.95) and a glass of the Redwood Creek Merlot ($5.00). As with many of my recent Chicago meals I found the portions overwhelming and the food somewhat bland. The wrap was served on a heavy, platter-sized white plate that also held a large bowl of fruit "garnish," and while my first hungry bites were satisfying, I quickly grew bored of the entree and didn't finish half of it. That said, I had no complaints about the size and quality of the wine.
The service at Leona's was friendly and efficient. The two large tumblers of water on our table were refilled often, and the waiter was very accommodating of my request for a quick meal and check because we had a 10pm show to catch. The restaurant's interior didn't go much beyond wooden booths and checkered table clothes, so I can't recommend the restaurant for dates if you're older than eighteen, but if you're trying to satisfy a large group of diners that includes both grandparents and grandchildren, Leona's might be a good choice for you.
From journal Chicago: City of Big Portions
January 17, 2003
Lulu’s, on the left, is decorated in cheerful yellow and brilliantly colored Asian artworks and memorabilia. The people that crowd this friendly restaurant are as eclectic as its menu.
Lulu’s motto is "Dim sum and then sum." They take their influences from a variety of Asian cuisine including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai dishes. Their menu proclaims the place to be "unique and eclectic among Oriental restaurants," and indeed it is–-in the best manner possible.
Lulu’s offers their dim sum menu for Sunday brunch (11:30am-3pm) and for Monday dinners (5:30-9:30pm). For $14.95, diners can sample any food off their regular menues--yes, any--an extremely popular feature that's made Lulu’s a favorite staple in the Evanston dining scene.
Lulu’s food choices are all tasty, emphasizing attractively presented fresh ingredients, often accompanied by a combination of mustards and chili sauces. Many of their menu choices come with vegetarian, vegetable, and tofu-alternative preparations. They do not use MSG. Food always arrives hot and promptly; the waitstaff is friendly.
Whether you go to Lulu’s to try their dim sum menu or have a regular meal, start with their variety of "small eats." Their pot stickers, made from pork and scallions pan fried with a ginger-soy dipping sauce, are good. The Japanese crispy potato croquettes, served with spicy red-chili aioli, is unusual to find in Oriental restaurants, but a yummy addition to one’s meal. Shrimp, crab and vegetable wontons--often referred to as crab Rangoon in other establishments-– are excellent here, as is the salt-and-pepper fried calamari.
Their "big eats," or main courses, are also available in half portions. Here Lulu’s shows their Japanese and Thai influences a bit more strongly, with dishes like Pad Thai, tempura-battered shrimp salad, Miso soup, and Nebeyaki Udon noodle soup with seafood. Even the Ramen noodle soup defies expectations, with clean, spicy flavors, and plenty of meat and vegetables added.
The main thing about Lulu’s is its consistency. During their busiest times, there may be a short wait, but it is rarely more than 10 minutes. The waitstaff is pleasant, the restaurant is clean and attractive, the food delivery prompt, the food always the right temperature and of high quality. It is very difficult to ever go wrong eating here--in more than 30 times dining out at Lulu’s, I have yet to have a bad dining experience.
Access: Handicapped accessibleParking: Street (metered), parking garages nearbyTrain: Davis St. stop - Purple line "L" & North line Metra trains (2 blocks west)Website: Lulu's Dim SumCredit cards: Most majorAlcohol: Limited selections
From journal Chicago for the Non-Tourist
March 29, 2002
As far as I am concerned, the summer starts when Mario’s is open! Each serving of ice is served complete with lemon rinds blended with your choice of about a dozen or so flavors. Some of the fruit flavors contain the actual fruit (pineapple and coconut, for instance) while some just have the flavoring (strawberry, blue raspberry). Some special flavors cost a bit extra because there is more fruit (cantaloupe, fruit cocktail). Then you have the bizarre chocolate flavor, which has the effect of a frozen Tootsie Roll transformed into ice. It is actually pretty good, but I find it hard to resist all the great fruit flavors. There are several serving sizes (a medium is $1.50; the smallest one is 90 cents) and you can get big buckets to take away as well. Each serving comes with a spoon and a thin straw for your slurping pleasure.
Besides Italian ice, you can order lemonade drink, snowcones, and nuts. However, the main attraction is definitely the Italian ice. On a hot day, I like to try several flavors one cup at a time. Unlike ice cream, the ice is actually refreshing and thirst-quenching. This is a good spot for people watching. People dressed in suits line up with students in t-shirts and shorts. Cars frequently double-park in front of the stand. Police officers chase the double-parkers away, and then they get in line themselves for some cool treats.
Across the street from Mario’s is Al’s Italian Beef, which is one of the top places in the city to get an Italian beef sandwich – dipped or undipped. If you are in Chicago during the summertime and you are looking for a refreshing treat, you must make a pilgrimage to Mario’s!
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From journal Bill at home in CHICAGO - Dining
December 19, 2001
From journal The non-trite Chicago Guide