The night-owl gourmet

By Leah A. Zeldes

NOTE: This information current about May 2002.

The City That Works goes to bed early.

If Chicago has a major fault as a restaurant town, itís that it doesnít keep late hours. Most of the cityís fine-dining establishments close by 10 p.m., perhaps a little later on weekends. There isnít a 24-hour restaurant in all of the Loop.

If you want menudo or kim chee in the middle of the night, there are neighborhoods where you can get it, but your surroundings wonít be pretty. Late-night fare is confined largely to greasy spoons, taxi-driver hangouts and bars. Not that these are necessarily bad, when youíre in the mood, but there are times when you want something better than a burger, in a place that doesnít smell of frying oil or cigarette smoke.

So whatís a hungry night owl to do?

Well, if youíre seeking gourmet fare in luxurious surroundings during the wee hours, thereís pretty much just one place:

Pasha, 642 N. Clark St., (312) 397-0100. Pasha serves dinner till 3 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and Sundays, and till 4 a.m. Saturdays. A great, if pricey, place for dressy late-night dining, Pasha offers Italian-influenced fare such as a chilled seafood salad, pastas, steamed mussels, venison with raspberry sauce and an unusual risotto studded with shrimp and fresh strawberries. Donít miss the signature "Black Passion" dessert, a chocolate cup filled with fresh fruit macerated in pepper vodka, topped with vanilla ice cream and a touch of black pepper. One caveat: Pasha turns nightclubby with live music or a DJ and dancing on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, so those arenít the nights to visit if youíre seeking a quiet meal.

If youíre willing to be a little adventuresome, there are three neighborhoods where you can reliably expect to find better-than-diner fare until at least midnight, even on weeknights ó Greektown, Chinatown and Bucktown/Wicker Park. You wonít find upscale surroundings or fancy cuisine, but the food goes beyond burgers.

Greektown nights

Most of the Greektown restaurants serve similar, hearty fare, and itís hard to go wrong. Here are a few of the late-night options.

The Parthenon, 314 S. Halsted St. (312) 726-2407, Open till midnight Mondays through Thursdays and till 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, The Parthenon is Chicagoís oldest full-service Greek restaurant. Its proprietors claim to have been the first to set saganaki on fire, and to introduce gyros ó still made in-house ó to the U.S. Other specialties include lamb with artichokes, quail, red snapper and baklava.

Greek Islands, 200 S. Halsted St. (entrance on Adams), (312) 782-9855. Another Greektown landmark, Greek Islands serves till midnight Mondays through Thursdays and till 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Big, cheery and traditional, its downside is noise and uncomfortable chairs. A mix-and-match menu lets you choose your own combination plate. The daily specials are good options, as are lamb dishes and the house-made gyros.

Pegasus Restaurant & Taverna, 130 S. Halsted St., (312) 226-3377, Open till midnight Sundays through Fridays, and till 1 a.m. Saturdays, this restaurantís rooftop garden is one thing that distinguishes it from other Greektown spots. Try the taramasalata, fish-roe spread; spanakopita, spinach-cheese pie; octopus; or sea bass.

Wee hours in Chinatown

A number of Chinatownís restaurants keep late-night hours. Donít expect much in the way of décor, but look for freshly made Asian fare. Here are a few good options.

Hong Min, 221 W. Cermak Road, (312) 842-5026. Open till 2 a.m. daily, this no-frills, BYOB restaurant offers two menus. The first details appetizers and Chinese-American standards, plus seasonal specials on a sheet clipped to the front; the second, "special" menu is a more interesting list. Try the hot-and-sour soup, full of mushrooms and tofu; the curried chicken puffs, large, half-moon-shaped fried pastries filled with mild curry; "Mr. Weilís shrimps," lightly sauteed shrimp and crumbled pork in garlic and black-bean sauce; and the chow fun noodles.

Triple Crown Seafood Restaurant, 22 W. 22nd Place, (312) 791-0788. Open till 2 a.m. daily, this restaurant is kind of on the dingy side, but offers good seafood items, including lobster and crab from its own live tanks, as well as Peking duck without advance notice.

Penang, 2201 S. Wentworth Ave., (312) 326-6888. Open till 1 a.m. daily, this is Chicagoís only Malaysian restaurant, part of a national chain. The food is exotic, often spicy and full of unfamiliar flavors. Popular options are roti canai, an Indian pancake served with bony chicken curry for dipping; chicken satay; hokkien char mee, noodles with meat, seafood, vegetables and seafood in a sweet, thick soy sauce; Penang char kway teow, pad Thai-like pan-fried noodles with shrimp and squid, a specialty of Penang; and Hainanese chicken rice.

Bucktown/Wicker Park after dark

These lively, hip neighborhoods offer a wealth of dining opportunities. Besides those listed here, there are many others that keep late hours on weekends.

Bob San, 1805 W. Division St., (773) 235-8888. Open till midnight Mondays through Thursdays, and till 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, this appealing Japanese eatery features a waterfall sculpture, a large U-shaped sushi bar and a pleasant sidewalk café. A la carte sushi items include the signature Bob San handroll of smoked salmon, fish eggs, radish sprouts and mayonnaise.

Ezuli, 1415 N. Milwaukee Ave., (773) 227-8200. Serving dinner till 1:30 a.m. Sundays through Fridays and till 2:30 a.m. Saturdays, this small storefront has a dark and smoky barlike atmosphere, but it also has a good wine list and very good Caribbean food. The specialties include stamp íní go, tasty cod and potato patties; moist jerk chicken; spicy catfish and sweet-potato fries.

The Northside Café, 1635 N. Damen Ave., (773) 384-3555. The kitchenís open till 1 a.m. daily at this popular gathering spot, which offers pub fare, with starters like chicken wings and hummus, salads and sandwiches, plus such entrees as a New York strip steak, grilled catfish, and linguine. In nice weather, the outdoor café is a favorite neighborhood hangout.

Top 24 hours

Tempo Café, 6 E. Chestnut St., (312) 943-4373. Open 24 hours daily, this pleasant café is a step above most diners, with an attractive dining room and friendly service. The fare runs to sandwiches, salads, Greek chicken and a variety of breakfast items, always available, including steak and eggs, eggs benedict and 25 omelets.

Meaty midnights

Millerís Pub Restaurant, 134 S. Wabash Ave., (312) 645-5377, Open daily till 1 a.m., Millerís serves plain American fare and a few Greek items in a smoky saloonlike dining room hung with lots of autographed photos of celebs whoíve visited since the place opened in 1950. Popular items at this Loop hangout are steaks, baby back ribs, sandwiches and omelets.

Wollenskyís Grill at Smith & Wollensky, Marina City, 318 N. State St., (312) 670-9596, serves dinner till 1:30 a.m. The grill menu is a limited version of the larger steakhouseís, offering dry-aged steaks, seafood, sandwiches and salads. Itís housed in the same Marina City complex as the House of Blues, making it an option for post-concert munchies.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, 1028 N. Rush St., (312) 266-8999. Open till midnight daily, with food service in the bar a half hour later, this hugely popular see-and-be-seen spot serves massive and expensive steaks and lobsters, which servers display raw before they take your order. Be sure to try the chopped liver and the strawberry shortcake.

Starlight seafood

Hugoís Frog Bar & Fish House, 1024 N. Rush St., (312) 640-0999. Open till midnight daily, this straightforward fish house is owned by the proprietors of the adjoining Gibsons steakhouse, whose steaks they also serve. The short menu offers such items as crabcakes, pan-fried halibut with bean salsa, grilled trout with red wine butter and shrimp de Jonghe, plus frogsí legs, of course.

Kamehachi Café, 1400 N. Wells St., (312) 664-3663. This late night, second-floor sister to Kamehachi has a separate entrance, so donít be put off by the darkened ground-floor restaurant. A handy stop after a show at The Second City, this Old Town sushi bar is open till midnight Tuesdays through Thursdays, 1:30 a.m. Saturdays and 11:30 p.m. Sundays. A nigiri zushi combo is a good option here. Also try an oyster shooter. Those nervous about uncooked fish can try "Sushi 101" with no raw ingredients.

Nocturnal pizza

Pizzeria Uno, 29 E. Ohio St., (312) 321-1000. Taking its last orders at 12:30 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, 1:30 a.m. Saturdays and 11 p.m. Sundays, this River North pizzeria is the birthplace of Chicago-style pizza, opened in 1943 by Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo. Still one of the best, the signature pie has a slightly granular crust filled with generous quantities of meats, cheeses and tomatoes.

Late and light

Cru Cafe & Wine Bar, 888 N. Wabash Ave., (312) 337-4001. Open till 12:30 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, this Gold Coast wine bar serves light fare, such as European cheese selection, salads and a variety of gourmet sandwiches, such as a lobster and grilled beef tenderloin club with smoked chili mayonnaise; house roasted turkey with cranberry salsa, caramelized onions and honey mustard aioli on cranberry walnut bread; and a tandoori chicken wrap of mildly spiced roasted chicken breast with carrots, golden raisins, and minted yogurt sauce. It also offers 50 wines by the glass.

Persian nights

Rezaís Restaurant, 472 W. Ontario St., (312) 664-4500, and 5255 N. Clark St. (773) 561-1898, A Persian restaurant with locations in River North and Andersonville, both open till midnight daily, Rezaís is known for simply grilled lamb and seafood, duck breast in pomegranate sauce and other Middle Eastern specialties, and a wide variety of vegetarian dishes.

Nightsí inn

The Hilton Chicago & Towers, 720 S. Michigan Ave., (312) 922-4400, offers three late-night restaurants: The Pavilion serves American bistro fare till 1 a.m. Buckinghamís, open till midnight, serves steaks, prime rib and seafood, and Kitty OíSheaís Irish Pub, with bar food and Irish standards, is open till 1:30 a.m.

In the Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker Drive, (312) 565-1234, All Seasons Café, open till midnight daily, serves American fare, including omelets, sandwiches, salads and pastas.

Late-night on the North Side

Grecian Taverna, 4535 N. Lincoln Ave, (773) 728-1600. Open till 2 a.m. daily, this Lincoln Square eatery, convenient for post-concert dining near the Old Town School of Folk Music, offers Greek standards.

Gulliverís, 2727 W. Howard St., (773) 338-2166. Open till 1 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Gulliverís is a West Rogers Park institution. The dining room is a glittering gallery of stained glass and antiques, while the food is an eclectic mix of American favorites, Italian and Mexican fare and pizza.

Whistlerís Restaurant, 3420 W. Devon Ave., Lincolnwood, (847) 673-9270. Open 24 hours daily, Whistlerís serves better-than-average diner fare in substantial portions.

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Before going out to eat in the wee hours, itís a good idea to call first. Late-night eateries in Chicago have an unfortunate tendency to suddenly become non-late-night. And even those that regularly keep late hours sometimes close early if business is slow.

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