News & Features

Staff Picks: Over or Under-rated

June 27 2013 - 12:00 PM

Chicago is full of overrated restaurants – the places everyone talks about, you wait forever to get into and then end up disappointed after. Fortunately for us, it’s also full of hidden gems and dishes that will completely take you by surprise. We asked our writers to contribute a list of the top spots they say to pass on and the must-try places that you cannot miss.




Experiences here have ranged from “meh” to “gawdawful” in every area from service to ambiance to food.  I have only had one truly spectacular dish, picked vegetables, which does not a meal make, and one dish that is absolutely the worst thing I have put in my mouth this year. And the prices mean that you don’t want to make an ordering mistake.  Emperor is naked on this one, for me. I know the world is raving, but I? Just. Don’t. Get. It. – Stacey Ballis


This might be taboo to say, but I don’t think the churros at XOCO are that great. I mean, they’re good in the sense that dough piped into a deep-fryer is going to be better than salad, but I just don’t find them worth the heinous wait. If I want a churro, I’d much prefer to go to Pilsen or Little Village, order a churro the length of my arm and gnaw on it while walking down the street, surrounded by culture instead of a queue. I find XOCO’s churros to be diminutive and pricey, not to mention the Jesus fish shape kind of perplexes me. –Matt Kirouac

RPM Italian

I think RPM Italian is one of the most overrated restaurants in Chicago. While I’m always skeptical of celebrity restaurants, I tried RPM with an open mind. I felt the pastas and main dishes were overpriced for their portion sizes and underseasoned and there are plenty of other Italian restaurants in the city to get a hearty, homemade meal without the hype. –Amanda Topper

Howells & Hood

If you work in the Loop, you’re probably sick of hearing coworkers talk about the new lunch and happy hour hotspot in the Tribune Tower. Howells & Hood does have an impressive beer list and an even more impressive patio. What it lacks is the truly quality food the decor – as well as the reviews – seems to promise. I’ve eaten there three times now, and was somewhat disappointed each time. The lobster roll tasted fishy rather than fresh, and the fries lack that addictive quality that even McDonald’s masters. Go for a post-work drink, and head over to River North  for pricey, better-tasting bar food. –Marly Schuman



Athenian Room

The Athenian Room on Webster has the best gyros in the city, and the skirt steak is phenomenal.  The menu isn’t extensive, but everything is good, prices are reasonable, and service is competent and friendly.  –Stacy Ballis

Lizzie’s Bake Shoppe

Cake balls seem to be all the rage these days, but Lizzie’s cruffles deserve a larger slice of that acclaim. Wherein cake balls are basically just a throwaway snack made with balled up scraps of leftover cake dipped in icing, cruffles are much more thoughtful and intricate. Components consist of flavored cake morsels enrobed in a chocolate coating or candy shell. There are a ton of whimsical flavors, including s’mores, creamsicle, beer n’ bacon, and my favorite, sun butter & jelly. It’s like a dessert PB&J, made with sunflower butter instead of peanut butter because Lizzie’s is a nut-free bakery. –Matt Kirouac

Hachi’s Kitchen

Hachi’s Kitchen on California never seems to get mentioned in the usual Sushi circles, but every time I take a sushi-loving pal, they rave.  The Spicy Tuna Crunch is a major wow dish, and the cooked items are not just throwaways, the sea bass in a light broth is perfect every time. –Stacey Ballis

Chicago Q

One underrated dish is the Carrot cake from Chicago Q. While most people never make it to dessert at Chicago Q due to the large portion sizes, the carrot cake is a must-try dish. From the slightly sweet cream cheese frosting, to the decadent and light cake, it’s the perfect southern ending to a meal at Q. –Amanda Topper