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updated: 12/27/2011 2:13 PM

8 favorite places we ate up in 2011

Our favorite restaurants for 2011

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  • The ceviche trio, foreground, is a must-have at Mago in Arlington Heights.

      The ceviche trio, foreground, is a must-have at Mago in Arlington Heights.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Asian braised beef short ribs, cheddar and crisps and wild mushrooms and spaghetti squash were featured earlier this year on the small plate menu at 3 Vines Cafe and Wine Bar in Sleepy Hollow.

      Asian braised beef short ribs, cheddar and crisps and wild mushrooms and spaghetti squash were featured earlier this year on the small plate menu at 3 Vines Cafe and Wine Bar in Sleepy Hollow.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Well-crafted sushi, like the popular and slightly spicy Hand Grenade, awaits diners at pl8 restaurant in Barrington.

      Well-crafted sushi, like the popular and slightly spicy Hand Grenade, awaits diners at pl8 restaurant in Barrington.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • General Tso's chicken is a customer favorite at Lu's Sushi and Chinese in Glen Ellyn.

      General Tso's chicken is a customer favorite at Lu's Sushi and Chinese in Glen Ellyn.
    Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

  • Empanadas de Pollo come with an addictive green aji at Colombian's Taste in Itasca.

      Empanadas de Pollo come with an addictive green aji at Colombian's Taste in Itasca.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Find Uzbek cuisine, like this chicken kebab with bread, at Diora in Buffalo Grove.

      Find Uzbek cuisine, like this chicken kebab with bread, at Diora in Buffalo Grove.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Meals at Ttowa in Arlington Heights come with a piquant potato salad and tantalizing pickled vegetables.

      Meals at Ttowa in Arlington Heights come with a piquant potato salad and tantalizing pickled vegetables.
    Samantha Bowden | Staff Photographer

  • Drawing on artisan meats and locally grown produce, the menu at Niche features glazed pork belly, grilled tenderloin, Scotch egg, sauteed frisse, potato fondant and maple Dijon pork jus.

      Drawing on artisan meats and locally grown produce, the menu at Niche features glazed pork belly, grilled tenderloin, Scotch egg, sauteed frisse, potato fondant and maple Dijon pork jus.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
By Deborah Pankey

At least where dining is concerned, 2011 will go down as the year of ethnic eateries, a time when restaurants in the suburbs truly reflected the diverse populations that have settled here.

During the past 12 months, three fellow critics and I have explored restaurants across the suburbs that reflect the global culinary spectrum. Between us we ate at a dozen or so Italian ristorantes (still the dominant "ethnic" cuisine in the suburbs) and spent time in quaint Greek tavernas and Old World-styled German brauhauses. We reflected on the plates of dumplings, empanadas and shawarma that crossed our polished palates and came up with these eight favorite places that we ate in 2011.

3 Vines
1025 W. Main St., Sleepy Hollow, (847) 844-0567, 3vinescafe.com.

A well-rounded wine list (from Michigan to South Africa) and chef Eric Feltman's sophisticated, internationally influenced menu await those who trek to this modern wine bar in a quiet town. The cold-weather menu features moo shu-style smoked duck and lamb "lollichops" and stews that change daily. Forty wines are available by the glass (can't you just picture the Lyeth Meritage Red with a piping hot bowl of beef stew?), and another 100 by the bottle.

Entrees: $17 to $28

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

-- Carolyn Walkup



Colombian's Taste

5N105 Route 53, Itasca, (847) 250-5366, colombianstaste.com.

Discover the glorious cuisine of Colombia at this petite, strip-mall eatery. Grab a seat at one of the few tables if you don't mind waiting for the cooked-to-order empanadas and grilled skirt steak, or order carryout. Visit on a Saturday for the specially prepared Sancocho de Gallina, hen blended with potatoes, cassava and green plantain. Also open for breakfast -- scrambled eggs with corn cakes anyone!

Entrees: $5 to $65 (feast for seven)

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

-- Jennifer Olvera



Diora Restaurant

1034 Weiland Road, Buffalo Grove, (847) 419-0400, diorarestaurant.com.

Owner Lenny Gelfond will eagerly introduce you to hard-to-find Uzbek cuisine, wines and beer in his friendly, intimate dining room. Delicately spiced lamb and beef tucked into flaky puffed pastry and fragrant rice pilafs will leave you hungry for further exploration of this ethnic fare.

Entrees: $7.99 to $13.98

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

-- Izidora Angel



Lu's Sushi and Chinese

579 Roosevelt Road, Glen Ellyn, (630) 858-8889.

Hand-pulled noodles, homemade curries and well-crafted sushi are just a few of the things to love at this charming, family-run eatery. Japanese teriyaki and tempura share the menu with Chinese favorites like General Tso's chicken and Singapore fried noodles. If you can't decide, sit back and let the staff create a tasting menu.

Entrees: $7.95-$25.95

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday

-- Izidora Angel


Mago Grill and Cantina
115 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 253-2222, magodining.com.

Chef Juan Luis Gonzales expertly crafts Mexican and Latin-American standards and introduces diners to new tastes (chipotle mashed potatoes!) at this comfortably casual space. Standouts include the Yucatán pork (pibil) tacos and ceviche sampler. Sharing an entrance with the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre makes it a natural choice for pre- and post-theater dining. Mago obtained its liquor license a few months back and now serves magical margaritas. Look for the same menu at its new Bolingbrook location.

Entrees: $12 to $20

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday

-- Deborah Pankey

Niche
14 S. Third St., Geneva, (630) 262-1000, nicherestaurant.com.

Chef Serena Perdue continues the tradition of seasonally focused, contemporary American cuisine while Vince Balisteri maintains the award-winning wine list and crafts groundbreaking cocktails at this top-notch Fox Valley eatery. Perdue's winter menu features Walnut Goat Cheese Ravioli, Steelhead Trout Paella and Lamb Osso Bucco with Caramelized Cauliflower. Monthly wine dinners and special musical events keep loyal patrons coming back.

Entrees: $23 to $48; three-course tasting menu $40

Hours: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

-- Deborah Pankey

PL8
736 W. Northwest Hwy., Barrington, (847) 382-1988, pl8simplyasian.com.

Signature sushi and Pan-Asian dishes served with flare in a bold, contemporary space. The sunken bar provides a sleek spot to sample flights of sake, enjoy cocktails (like the ginger- and lemon-infused Barringtini) or homemade ginger ale and sneak a peak into the kitchen. Don't leave without trying chef Shawn Li's signature Hand Grenade sushi roll, nori-wrapped shrimp with a spicy garlic mayo.

Entrees: $8-$17

Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

-- Carolyn Walkup


Ttowa
161 W. Wing St., Arlington Heights, (847) 749-4493.

Korean dumplings, sushi and Pan-Asian favorites are served up at this comfortably sleek downtown storefront. Traditionally spicy dishes can be tempered to suit suburban tongues. The kimchee beef stew arrives at the table still boiling in a special stone pot, just perfect for chasing away that winter chill with enough spice to clear the sinuses. Nice tea menu as well.

Entrees: $9 to $18

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

-- Jennifer Olvera

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