Dillon's Restaurant
What's there to an onion ring? A little vegetable, a little batter, a whole lot of oil, and there you have it. Unless you're at Dillon's. Then you've got an onion ring that's outrageous, over the top, and oh-so-wonderful.

These are absolutely some of the most delightful crispy critters we've ever chewed on. It amazes us how decadent a stark pairing of vegetable and batter can be; the sweet onion rounds practically float off our polka-dot tablecloth under their joyously greaseless coating. We can dip them in the ancho chile sauce (think spicy Thousand Island dressing) that's served alongside, but these rings don't need gilding of any kind.

We simply can't get our fill of pho. This little joint may be short on ambiance, but maxing out at just $4.50 for an enormous bowl of the savory broth, it's a place where we can afford to eat every meal. Our favorite pho is the tai gau, swimming with brisket, rare eye of round (the meat cooks in its steaming, highly herbed broth) and skinny noodles. When other dishes seduce, bun cha gio thit nuong often wins, tumbling rice vermicelli over greens and cucumber, topped with crisp sliced spring rolls and seasoned grilled pork. Canh chua ca is tempting, too, with lots of moist catfish, pineapple and vegetables in a spicy lemon broth.

With 80 appetizers and entrees to select from, we'll never get bored. Which is good, because suddenly, we have an irresistible urge to visit Pho Bang again.

"Home of the Windy City Slider," the Chicago Hamburger Company's sign reads, and yes, the shop makes a mighty good burger. But it's worth a trip all the way to Chi-town just for this company's French fries. If you think fries are all the same, you've been sleepwalking through fast-food joints. Wake up and sample these spuds. Magnificent models of potato, these are piping hot, skinless, generously salted and crisp-edged. Like any proud potato, though, they've got to be eaten fresh from the kitchen -- to transport the delicate sticks too far would be tater torture. A generous sackful sets you back a mere $1.29, and for just 50 cents more, you can gild the fries with cheese or chili. Save your two bits, though. Fries this good don't even need ketchup.

Most restaurants get cranky if you play with open flame at your table. At Arisoo, they actually encourage it. Okay, so it's a grill set into the table, powered by a gas burner, so you can cook thin strips of meat to your liking, but still, it's leaping flame.

Pyro or no, anyone who loves Korean food will be enraptured here. Deaji bulgogi is a treasured thing -- sliced pork, marinated in a nuclear red pepper sauce, to be grilled, then wrapped with lettuce, garlic, jalapeos, and a bit of salty mung bean paste. We also romance gal bi (short ribs), bul go gi (thin-sliced beef) and sometimes heu mit gui (beef tongue), the meat soaking up the rich aroma of soy-based sauce. Entrees are all the better with appetizers of bin dae duk (pancake) and man du (pot stickers). Or supplement with chap che, stir-fried noodles, or dol sot bibimbap, a sizzling stone pot of rice, beef and veggies.

Arisoo's a grill we'd be proud to introduce to our parents.

Rawhide Steakhouse & Saloon
What's a cowboy steak, unless it's made by real cowboys? At Rawhide Steakhouse, the place is swarming with 'em -- manning the mesquite broiler, plucking guitars onstage in the dining room, and shooting each other to pieces in faux showdowns outside on Main Street.

We think Rawhide Wild West Town is a kick, with its dirt street, boardwalks, haunted hotel, general store, "widowmaker" mechanical bull, covered wagons, clown days and more. The star of the show, though, is Rawhide's steaks. Surprise -- the kitchen's under the direction of celebrity chef Michael DeMaria (Michael's at the Citadel), and his finesse shines in beefy flavor. Choose your cut: 16-ounce cowboy T-bone, 12-ounce New York strip, 10-ounce top sirloin, 24-ounce porterhouse, 14-ounce rib eye, or the slightly more dainty tender filet. Steaks come with all the fixin's -- tossed garden salad, all-you-can-eat cowboy beans, a daily side dish, and ranch toast. For Rawhide's cowboy steaks, we say "Yeehaw!"

The bar at Eddie's is pretty enough to eat, all fashion and fun in a "Moroccan living room" kind of style, with plush chaises and overstuffed chairs. But much better to chow down on are the best nibbles in town -- sumac-grilled lamb chops with mint hummus, spicy "mo' rockin'" shrimp with chewy honey dough balls, and Sonoran crab cakes with spunky red-pepper aioli, to name a few. But our hearts really beat faster for the horseradish mashed potato-stuffed shrimp with cactus pear and five-peppercorn ranch dip. Our eyes brighten as we alight on crispy chicken-stuffed spaghettini egg rolls with spicy peanut sauce. And we practically melt for golden-toasted seafood ravioli, slicked with apricot-voodoo glaze. With such superb starters, at Eddie's we never want to finish.
Ruth's Chris Steak House
This, friends, is serious steak. Only the finest aged, corn-fed, USDA Prime beef bred in the Midwest makes it to the tables in this elegantly appointed place. Ruth's Chris' beef is never frozen, so you always get exceptionally tender and flavorful meat. Steaks are hand-cut at the restaurant and served in huge portions -- 12 to 22 ounces -- because a larger cut retains more of its natural juices during cooking. The beef is richly marbled -- those ribbons of fat mean a beautiful, buttery taste explosion. The steak literally calls to us -- broiled in an 1,800-degree oven and served on a plate heated to 500 degrees, the meat sputters and sizzles merrily, making a sound that's more Pavlovian than any bell. Whether it's the filet, rib eye, New York strip, porterhouse or massive cowboy cut, Ruth's Chris has a permanent stake in our future.

Coup Des Tartes
Jamie Peachey
Some chefs treat the fusion concept as license to pair unnatural foods. Sushi schnitzel? Not for us, thanks. Then there are chefs like Natascha Ovando-Karadsheh, who takes classic dishes and marries them with select surprises, for tastes that are inspired but not weird. The handwritten menu changes nightly, depending on available ingredients and the chef's mood.

At Coup Des Tartes, we're impressed with such dishes as pork tenderloin, taken a little Jamaican with jerk rub, a little Southwestern with peach salsa, a little French with chèvre mashed potatoes, and all American with sautéed spinach. Lamb shank takes on a Moroccan flair with Indian spices, harissa-spiced vegetable ragout and dried fruits atop couscous. And we've never had such divine Alaskan halibut, drizzled with fresh basil oil, and stunningly served with Absolut Citron-spiked risotto, teardrop tomatoes and spinach. Freebie plates of French olives and a BYOB policy make dinner here even more special.

When we were kids, we couldn't stand liver. Then we discovered foie gras, and now we can't get enough. Of course, this isn't just your everyday liver, but a type that's been a prized delicacy since Roman times. The goose variety that's served here has been force-fed until the bird's liver weighs as much as two pounds. Bad news for the goose, good news for us.

Though Valencia Lane changes its menus with the seasons, its foie gras shows up regularly, and is always prepared simply. One of our favorite preparations here has it expertly seared, partnered with a few thimbles of flavorful pineapple chutney, dots of tart 100-year-old balsamic, and a little hill of radish sprouts. It's a remarkable explosion of complementary textures and flavors that has us licking the plate. Long live Valencia Lane's liver!

For such a big city, we sure don't have much in the way of ultra-luxe restaurants. Maybe we're too laid-back. (Jacket and tie? Surely you jest!) Or maybe no one's been brave enough to take on Mary Elaine's, our grandma of gourmet. This is the swankiest of swank, with rich European decor, white-glove service (even purses get their own little stools to sit on), and gorgeous views of the southern Valley. It's expensive -- appetizers for $29, entrees for $60, and desserts for $20 -- but no other restaurant can compete with its modern French cuisine. We're delighted, from a beginning of two ounces of Caspian beluga caviar through chteaubriand of buffalo with grilled Sonoma foie gras, or caramelized Maine sea scallops with arugula ravioli and white bean purée, right through desserts that leave us gasping. Yes, we do have to dress at Mary Elaine's. But we'd wear pink bunny suits if it got us a table.

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