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The NS Finest

The North Shore dining scene is on a summer growth spurt with new restaurants opening from Evanston to Lake Forest. But while we're anticipating all the new places to eat and drink, we have a lot of classics to celebrate and enjoy as well. Join us on this culinary journey of delicious dining.

A crispy polenta cake covered with sauteed rapini and a confit of cherry tomatoes ($8) for a late-summer twist on bruschetta at Union Pizzeria

We ate, we loved and we’ve talked about these favorites all year.

Avli Restaurant & Rotisserie
Chefs are fans of street food, and Avli owner Louie Alexakis is no exception. This May, he added a Greek rotisserie restaurant in the same Winnetka building as his popular Avli Estiatorio. The Berkshire rotisserie pork shoulder sandwich ($10), served on ciabatta made by the Hewn bakery, is street food elevated to an elegant avenue. POWER MOVE Check out the Greekcentric wine list and prepare to rethink every cliché you’ve ever harbored about Greek wine. 566 Chestnut St., Winnetka, 847.446.9300

If the whole chicken ($60) is available, order one to share. It comes with the insanely good crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz (always a must-order) and a choice of seasonal veggies. But can we go back to the chicken and potatoes? Because you will keep going back for seconds, thirds... POWER MOVE If your tablemates are foodies, casually drop mention that chef Brian Huston opened Boltwood after serving as chef de cuisine at The Publican. 804 Davis St., Evanston, 847.859.2880

Found Kitchen and Social House
Another small-plate restaurant, so bring enough people to share chef Nicole Pederson’s seasonal items, like the harissa-roasted ramps served with yukon gold potatoes, cipollini onions and asparagus ($8), but no matter the season, order the lamb meatballs ($14). You're welcome. POWER MOVE Get on the mailing list and you’ll get invited to cool events like the occasional burlesque show (really!) on select Wednesday nights. 1631 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847.868.8945

This lovely space has a menu of updated American favorites, like the Guildhall Burger ($17) that is so indulgent we would nominate it for any Best Burger list. Not just a gorgeous sesame-seed bun and perfectly seasoned meat; the showstoppers are the pimento cheese, bread and butter pickles and onion rings that top it and threaten to topple it over. POWER MOVE The new Writers Theatre has revitalized Glencoe, so make a reservation for dinner at Guildhall, even on Tuesday night—it’s packed. 694 Vernon Ave., Glencoe, 847.835.8100

The coup de coeur at Patisserie Coralie will remind you of a kiss in front of La Tour Eiffel.

Chef and owner John des Rosiers constantly evolves the menu at Inovasi, so the menu might not have the Mexican gnocchi with English sweet peas, black trumpet mushrooms and reggiano cheese ($12), but you can trust that whatever des Rosiers has found that’s fresh and local from his farmers will be delicious. POWER MOVE Check out des Rosiers’ nearby Wisma for takeaway food you can try to pass off as homemade. Only it’s so good, your guests may figure it out. 28 E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff, 847.295.1000

La Principal
Kale salad’s moment should be over, but if it’s done well, it’s still a must-order. La Principal’s baby kale and arugula salad ($10) comes with toasted pepitas, pickled onions and avocado. Order one salad plus a mess of tacos, share it all and you’ll be blissed out (and so healthy!). POWER MOVE Order a Grounded Roja ($6) by neighbor brewer Sketchbook; it’s a pale ale with just a hint of kick from La Principal’s red mole. 700 Main St., Evanston, 224.307.2444

You might think you don’t like octopus, but even the picky diner in your party should try the Pulpo ($18) that chef Armando Gonzalez makes with meltingly tender octopus, housemade chorizo, tiny tomatoes, garbanzos and a lemon vinaigrette. POWER MOVE Latin American cuisine isn’t often as vegetarian-friendly as Libertad, but this restaurant lavishes much love (and butter) on its veggie entrees. 7931 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, 847.674.8100

While we know the classic margherita ($13) at this Neapolitan-reverent pizza restaurant shows off all the kitchen's strengths—especially the thin, tasty crust—we can’t resist the non-trad combos like the Ricotta ($14) with pesto, dates and toasted pistachios. It doesn’t have a trace of tomato, but it’s still so good. POWER MOVE Put your name on the list, then go have a glass of wine at nearby Wilmette Wine Cellar. They’ll text you when your table is ready. 1126 Central Ave., Wilmette, 224.215.0305

Table to Stix
Tonkotsu ramen ($15) is made with a rich pork broth (the cornerstone of all good ramen) and topped with pork belly, soft-boiled egg, corn, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, fish cake and scallions. The only necessary addition is a little freshly minced garlic. POWER MOVE The staff here is friendly and helpful, so if you’re a ramen newbie, ask questions, and no shame in leaving off ingredients. 1007 Davis St., Evanston, 847.859.6847

Union Pizzeria
The pizzas are raveworthy, but we always leave room for the small-plate specials, especially the Sicilian Spicy Creole Shrimp and Grits ($12). We’re giving nothing away by revealing that—spoiler alert—butter is the secret ingredient. POWER MOVE Attached to Union is the amazing Space, which brings musical talent to Evanston almost nightly. The dinner-concert combo is hard to beat for a great night out. 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847.475.2400

And—dare we say it?—where there is a scene

The Bar, Deer Path Inn
This Lake Forest gathering spot was closed for an extensive renovation and was certainly missed until its winter reopening. While The Bar is the preferred place for an after-dark Boulevardier ($12), in the summer, head to the Garden Room, grab an aperitif and sip with the swells of the North Shore. You will not be out of place wearing Lilly Pulitzer. 255 E. Illinois Road, Lake Forest, 847.234.2280

Ten Mile House
You know this place is crazy town on football Saturdays—whether Northwestern is home or away—but in the summer, the bar is just as packed, but you’ll be rubbing elbows with neighbors instead of students. Flag down one of the cheerful bartenders to trade opinions on the well-represented local Evanston brews from Temperance and Sketchbook ($5 to $7). 1700 Central St., Evanston, 847.905.0669

Shakou Sushi
If you’re looking for a party in Libertyville, the upstairs lounge at Shakou Sushi has that urban vibe complete with music, people and energy. It’s all fueled by mod purple (we like to think it’s a Prince tribute) furnishings and an all-star cocktail list with everything from tiki bar specials like the Coconut Republic ($10) to trendy martinis—try the one called Happiness ($10) if you want to experiment with a little sake in your glass. 625 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, 224.433.6675

Top chefs spill their local go-to places for ingredients that make the dish.

Hewn Bread
Love the scrumptious bread and sandwich rolls served at Evanston’s Boltwood, Found, Peckish Pig, La Principal and Union Pizzeria? They are all hand-forged creations of Hewn owner and baker Ellen King. This summer, Hewn is doubling its space to keep up with demand. There are no finer scones, almond croissants nor kouign-amann around. 810 Dempster St., Evanston, 847.869.4396

Caputo Cheese Market
If you’re looking for impeccably fresh Italian cheeses, think Caputo. Fresh mozzarella is made at the Melrose Park location, and they stock nearly 1,000 types of cheese from around the world. Giovanni DeNigris of the rapturously reviewed Osteria Trulli in Arlington Heights is a fan, as is the chef of Nick’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill in Wilmette. 231 E. Wisconsin Ave., Lake Forest, 847.482.0100

The Spice House
For nearly 60 years, the Spice House has been batch-grinding fresh spices. Tom and Patty Erd’s Evanston store, charmingly laden with apothecary jars and filled with an intoxicating scent mixture of cinnamon, pepper and cumin, provides custom spice blends and rubs to most of the North Shore and Chicago primo spots. 1941 Central St., Evanston, 847.328.3711

Front of the house and kitchen duos that are really dynamic.

Tony Castillo and Vanner Gudiel, Longitud315
When Tony Castillo was ready to open Longitud315 he knew the person he wanted to partner with was his friend for 12-plus years, Vanner Gudiel. Both men had secure corporate jobs—Castillo was an executive chef and Gudiel an HR executive—but they cashed out their 401(k) and savings accounts, and opened in 2012. “We both have high expectations,” says Castillo. “We’re both here all the time and communicating constantly about the customer experience.” That attention to detail, combined with a vibrant, chef-driven Latin American menu—Castillo travels to a different country each year for inspiration—equals a busy, humming restaurant. 315 Waukegan Ave., Highwood, 847.926.7495 

Josh Kaplan and Mark Newman, Ballaro
Friends forever—Kaplan and Newman grew up playing in each other’s yards—they became business partners when they opened Ballaro earlier this year. Kaplan, who handles drinks and front of the house, says that the advantages of such a long relationship include “unvarnished honesty,” and chef Newman adds, “There’s a trust factor because we’ve known each other so long.” This easy communication translates into a well-thought-out menu and a space where the servers and bartenders send out not just a professional vibe, but a happy-to-be-here one as well. 214 Green Bay Road, Highwood, 847.780.3396

James Pierce and Dean Salerno, Firefly Kitchen
The smooth-working partnership at Firefly Kitchen in Wilmette started with a “you two should know each other.” And that friend’s instinct led to Brooklyn-born and New York-trained chef Salerno and long-time Peninsula Hotel mixologist Pierce forming a fast friendship and business plan. Judging from the buzz over the duck-fat fries (among other yummy menu offerings), the chemistry between the front of the house and kitchen continues to pack them in. 111 Green Bay Road, Wilmette, 224.408.2464

These master bartenders bring big flavors to beverages.

Justin DiLorenzo, House 406
Owner Jennifer Eisen knew just what she was doing when she hired this Aviary vet. Witness the greatness of DiLorenzo’s For Fred & Wilma cocktail ($12), a masterful—and fanciful, to be honest—blend of vodka, passion fruit, Aperol and housemade tangerine-vanilla syrup; an explosion of sunshine in your mouth. All we can say is, “Bamm-Bamm!” 1143 ½ Church St., Northbrook, 847.714.0200

Cody Modeer, Ward Eight
Step back in time at this Howard Street speakeasy, where every drink comes with a provenance. For summer, mixologist-owner Modeer loves the Bombay Government Punch ($8), which he terms “a drink from so long ago and half a world away.” Relatively low alcohol, bright and refreshing, it combines Batavia arrack (a sugarcane-based spirit), Meyers' dark rum, Assam tea, lime and nutmeg. The year 1694 never seemed so modern. 629 Howard St., Evanston

Rick Zwolinski, Bobby’s Deerfield
Bar manager since Day 1, Zwolinski has crafted some memorable cocktails. Tame the heat with his version of Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha ($12), here comprised of cachaça, muddled fresh kiwi, fresh lime and mint leaves, and spritzed with soda water and served on the rocks with a sugar cane garnish.
695 Deerfield Road, Deerfield, 847.607.9104

These are the restaurants we can’t wait to try next.

The Barn at Maple Mews
The Found Kitchen and Social House team (owner Amy Morton, chef Nicole Pederson and GM Stefen Bosworth) partners up for this “modern meaterie,” located in a former stable that hasn’t seen action since 1920. Open early fall 2016. Rear 1016 Church St., Evanston

This newest rustic Italian offering—think nonna’s Sunday supper—from Scott Harris and the Francesca Restaurant Group takes over the old PM Prime space. Opened spring 2016. 310 Green Bay Road, Highwood, 224.765.9490

Granite City Food & Brewery
This latest outpost of a small Minnesota chain will be brewing beer on-site and serving updated tavern and comfort-food faves. Open late summer/early fall 2016. 992 Willow Road, Northbrook

Lucky Fish Deli
A casual seafood restaurant with a Louisiana accent, brought to you by the Once Upon a Bagel team, the restaurant with its large patio will be a welcome addition to the 'hood. Open early fall 2016. 1349 Sherman Road, Northbrook

State & Main Kitchen and Bar
It will be the first U.S. restaurant for this Canadian company. Most importantly: There will be poutine. Open summer 2016. 1941 Tower Road, Glenview

Taco Diablo, Five & Dime and Lulu’s
Felled by a devastating fire a few years ago, Taco Diablo is reborn, soon to be joined by the 3.0 version of Lulu’s (sesame noodles!) and a new bar concept, Five & Dime (great upstairs patio space). Open summer 2016. 1026 Davis St., Evanston, 847.869.4343

Terra & Vine
Restaurateur and star sommelier Alpana Singh (Boarding House, Seven Lions) ventures out to the suburbs with a full-flavored take on Italian-Mediterranean. Open early fall 2016. 1701 Maple Ave., Evanston

Whiskey Thief Tavern
Touted as a great spot for burgers and whiskey, this new resto is from the owners of Chicago’s Pearl Tavern and Bar 63. And FYI, a whiskey thief is the metal tool used for barrel sampling. Opened summer 2016. 616 Davis St., Evanston

DEEP HORIZON: Coming Early 2017

Goddess and The Baker
Chef to the stars Debra Sharpe heads north with this offshoot of Goddess and Grocer, featuring a strong coffee and baked-goods program, plus healthy sandwiches and salads. Main Street and Chicago Avenue, Evanston

Michael Paulsen of Highland Park’s beloved Abigail’s is building this one—named for his other twin daughter—from the ground up. Enormous outdoor patio, shareable plates, craveable food. 200 Green Bay Road, Highwood

Save room? We might eat these sweets first.

We never tire of chef and owner Michael Paulsen’s sticky toffee pudding cake ($7), served with a scoop of housemade sour cream ice cream and a crispy cinnamon tuile cookie. You don’t have to have attended an English boarding school to appreciate its over-the-top lusciousness. 493 Roger Williams Ave., Highland Park, 847.780.4862

Ambrosia Euro-American Patisserie
The Raspberry Charlotte ($5), with its glossy red top, raspberry mousse and nautilus-shaped cross section of tender genoise and raspberry preserves, is truly a showstopper. Best of all, it tastes every bit as good as it looks. 710 W. Northwest Highway, Barrington, 847.304.8278

How good can a nut tarte really be? If it’s warm and filled with scads of toasty hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans and coconut, its richness cut by a scoop of herby lemon balm ice cream, the answer is: very ($14). 505 Main St., Evanston, 847.864.3435

Patisserie Coralie
Part Dada, part dessert, the Paris on My Lips ($7) makes quite a statement with layers of strawberry and raspberry confit, moist lime zest cake, mint- and lime zest-flavored pastry cream and a coconut cookie, all enrobed in bright red chocolate. Your lips will not be sealed. 600 Davis St., Evanston, 847.905.0491

If you’re looking for a calorieworthy dessert, you’ve come to the right place. Exhibit one, the chocolate mascarpone pie ($7): deep, dark, ooey-gooey goodness. Make mine a large slice, please and thank you. 601 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling, 847.777.6878

Start Your Sunday Funday with a delicious dish.

Di Pescara
Feeling rich? Step right up and order the lobster and avocado eggs Benedict ($17). That combo of delicate meat and creamy avocado, plus the always-silky hollandaise sauce, is the perfect start to an indulgent day. 2124 Northbrook Court, Northbrook, 847.498.4321

The Happ Inn
Gilding the lily is definitely the leitmotif of the weekend-only French toast ($11). The dish starts with brioche coated in egg custard and crunchy cornflakes, then two sauces—creme anglaise and raspberry—dot and swirl their way around the plate. But wait, there’s more—it’s topped with fresh raspberries and powdered sugar. 305 N. Happ Road, Northfield, 847.784.9200

The biscuit and gravy with chorizo, scallion and egg ($12) is hard to beat, but make sure you start with the coffee cake, scones and muffins (each $4). Every table around you will sigh with envy when they see those homey baked goods heading your way. 1625 Hinman Ave., Evanston, 847.570.8400

Milwalky Trace
The fried chicken biscuit sandwich got its start when chef Lee Kuebler’s wife and partner, Kristine Kurtzman, was in Portland and sent him a teaser photo of a similar sandwich. He figured he’d better create one for himself, Instagram and lucky us! 603 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, 847.530.7172

Prairie Grass Cafe
James Beard Award-winning chef Sarah Stegner and partner George Bumbaris execute each dish with an eye toward maximum flavor, which usually means seasonal produce. Like these raspberry crepes ($11), they aren’t always on the menu, but when they are, order them! 601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook, 847.205.4433