By Marie Balice Ward
Valentine’s Day is about getting away from the kids and spending a great time with that special someone. Local restaurants, and food shops will cater to your every need on this most fun of days, making Valentine’s Day a holiday to remember.
Al’s #1 Italian Beef, 1079 W. Taylor St. (312) 226-4017, www.AlsNo1italianbeef.com.
Featured in Chicago Magazine, Esquire, and Travel & Leisure magazines, this iconic restaurant was founded in 1938 by Al Ferrari and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli Sr. During the Great Depression with meat being scarce, they developed a luscious sandwich with very thinly-sliced beef on thickly-sliced bread. These sandwiches were sold at a neighborhood food stand and delivered to local businesses until the Taylor Street location was opened.
There are now multiple franchise locations of Al’s #1 Italian Beef. In addition to Big and Original beef sandwiches, Al’s #1 Italian Beef menu includes combo beef and sausage, Italian sausage, Chicago hot dogs, Polish sausage, sweet pepper, and cheese and pepper sandwiches. All sandwiches come with fries. Special for Valentine’s Day, “It’s love at first bite,” quipped Chris Pacelli.
On Valentine’s Day, select a Big beef sandwich and get an Original one free for your significant other. Side choices include tamales, cheese slices, cup of cheese, hot (giardinera) and sweet peppers, fries, and Gypsy fries. Take-home also is offered. Choices include one-half and one pound beef, Italian sausage (one-half and one pound size), French bread loaf, hot or sweet peppers (pint or quart).
Hours: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mon. through Fri., Sat. 9 a.m. to midnight, closed on Sunday.
Chicago Curry House, 899 S. Plymouth Ct., South Loop, (312) 326-9999, Facebook.
A chic white table-paper Nepalese-Indian spot, Chicago Curry House is located on the ground floor of the building. The restaurant offers a showcase of Indian and Nepalese cuisines including specialties from Tibet, Pakistan, India, and Bhutan as well as a full bar. The generous lunchtime all-you-can-eat buffet includes crispy papadum and baskets of naan.
Dinner is à la carte. Among the authentic selections are Nepalese khasi ko maasu, tandoori chicken and butter chicken, all created just right. Among the myriad appetizers are lamb choela, and spicy ground chicken- or vegetable-stuffed momos, which resemble Chinese soup dumplings. From the northern Indian menu, give one of the paneer dishes a try—the cheese is house-made. Corporate catering as well as deliveries are available and thoroughly enjoyed by Chicago Curry House patrons. Hours: Daily, 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Connie’s Pizza, 2373 S. Archer Ave. (312) CONNIES, www.conniespizza.com, Facebook: facebook.com/Connie’sPizza, Twitter and Instagram: @ConniesPizza.
Connie’s Pizza is synonymous with quality pizza and Italian specialties. Connie’s has been serving the Chicago area since 1963. Connie’s features a full-service restaurant located in the Bridgeport neighborhood. Also at its Bridgeport location are private dining, a full bar, and seating for over 300 guests. Pickup, delivery, online ordering, as well as dine-in accommodations are available seven days a week. During the summer months, Chicago White Sox fans can park in Connie’s lot, dine on the outdoor deck, and catch a free shuttle to U.S. Cellular Field.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, Connie’s Pizza will have a special prix fixe menu that starts on Weds., Feb. 12 and runs through Sun., Feb. 16. Connie’s Pizza will also feature heart-shaped pizzas throughout the month of February to celebrate those you love. Hours: Tues. through Thurs. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m. to midnight, Sun. and Mon. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Damenzo’s Pizza & Restaurant has four locations: 901 W. 35th St., 2324 W. Taylor St., (312) 421-1142; 11226 S. Halsted St., (773) 660-8851; and 7300 W. Roosevelt Rd., Forest Park, IL (708) 771-5705, http://www.damenzospizzaandrestaurant.com.
Damenzo’s newest location on 35th St. is a full-service dining restaurant with waitress service and a full bar. Table and bar seating is available. In addition to the menu offered at its other locations, this restaurant’s additional offerings include a selection of risotto, seafood, pasta, pork chops, and steaks prepared by its chef. The renovated site features marble from the Marshall Field’s building. The nostalgic atmosphere is further enhanced by a plethora of vintage decor from yesteryear. Delivery and catering are also offered here. Hours: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mon. through Sun.
At all of its locations, Damenzo’s features made-to-order regular, pan, and stuffed pizza, all from the best of ingredients and toppings on the restaurant’s signature crusts. Pizza slices, calzones, and Italian beef sandwiches also are available on choice of pannini, focaccia, and ciabatta breads. Damenzo’s also features Mexican dishes; there are breakfast items, appetizers, flautas, gorditas, burritos, tacos, and dinner entrees. Hours for the Taylor Street, Halsted Street, and Roosevelt Road locations are: Sun. through Thurs. 10 a.m. to midnight, and Fri. and Sat. 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Fabulous Freddies Italian Eatery, 701 W. 31st St., (312) 808-0147, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Freddies is Fred and Denise Bertucci’s lifelong dream come true. Fred fell in love with Denise,
and the two perfected their recipes while helping to manage Denise’s family’s restaurant, and – boom – Freddies was born. Though Bridgeport has evolved, Freddies remains constant. It is a family-owned eatery that serves awesome fast food made from scratch and with love every day.
Freddies puts quality over everything, except family. Patrons can get off-menu requests easily. Freddies is a place where the pricing is always fair and the portions are enormous. Freddies has made changes with the times, but somehow never seems to change. The restaurant is famous for its made-from-scratch signature Chicago items. Among the choices are juicy Italian beef, hearty Italian sausage, succulent meatball sandwiches, and thin- to Chicago-
style Pizza. Patrons are welcome to customize their orders. Freddies has much more to offer. Catering also is also offered. Hours: Mon. through Thurs. 9 a.m. to midnight, Fri. and Sat. 9 a.m. to midnight, and Sun. 10:30 a.m. to midnight.
Nepal House, 3101 S. Michigan Ave., South Loop, Facebook, (312) 922-0601.
Nepal House restaurant was founded to provide the highest quality traditional Nepali and Indian cuisine in the City of Chicago. This restaurant draws on more than 12 years of experience.
Among selections on its vast menu, Nepal House features Nepali and Indian appetizers, momos, Nepalese entrees such as goat dekuma, seafood curries including shrimp madras, Indian vegetarian curries such as palak paneer, Indian chicken curries, Indian lamb curries such as keema mutter, as well as soups and salads. Among the most popular are butter chicken, aloo ra seemi ko tzarkari, bhuteko kauli, palungoko saag, chicken biryani, Nepali kukhura, and Nepali khasi and sekuwa.
Corporate catering and deliveries are also offered and enjoyed by myriad off-site diners. At lunchtime, Nepal House features an extensive all-you-can eat buffet. Hours: Daily 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Pompei on Taylor, 1531 W. Taylor St. (312) 421-5179, http://www.Pompeiusa.com. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Founded by Luigi Davino in 1909 and expanded by Ralph Davino in the 1980s, Pompei on Taylor is now a third-generation family business offering a comprehensive selection of hot, gourmet-quality Italian dishes made from three generations of Napolitano family recipes. Only the freshest ingredients are used to prepare Pompei’s made-to-order salads, soups, hand-rolled pizzas, classic hand-cut pastas, and desserts.
Pompei’s signature pizza strudel comes in 11 different varieties including heart-healthy, Pompei Italiano, and chicken parmesan. Homemade desserts include tiramisu, cannoli, and gelato as well as time-honored holiday treats. Many daily and seasonal specials are offered. Pompei offers dine-in, delivery, on-line ordering, and catering for delivery or pickup. The 225-seat eatery accommodates private groups of up to 90 people in its La Stanza di Pompei party room, 60 in the Jut’s party area, reserved for private events, and 40 in the cafe.
Pompei on Taylor also offers carry-out, delivery, gluten-free and vegan options. Hours: Mon. through Sat. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sun. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Pompei has seasonal, holiday and winter hours. Check the website for details.
Sweet Maple Cafe, 1339 W. Taylor St. (312) 243-8907, http://www.sweetmaplecafe.com. Facebook.
With a 1940s-era ambience, Sweet Maple Cafe serves breakfast during its entire hours of operation. Patrons know their dining experience is more than breakfast—it is an authentic “taste of home.” All selections are made the old-fashioned way—from scratch with fresh ingredients. Try Sweet Maple’s must-have “No-So-Plain” buttermilk pancakes with succulent slices of ham off the bone.
Look for a range of egg specialties including the Taylor Street omelet with Italian sausage or country scrambles such as the “18th Street” with spicy chorizo sausage and queso fresco. Sweet Maple’s expansive lunch menu offers popular items such as the Etruscan grilled cheese sandwich with fontina and mozzarella cheeses, sundried tomatoes, fresh basil and olive tapenade on buttery slices of D’Amato bread as well as smoked turkey club, and a selection of signature grilled cheese sandwiches.
Catering and take-out are available for any daytime event. Gift cards also are popular. Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Open daily except major holidays.