Caro Mio

When it comes to Italian food in Chicago, most people think they should head over to Taylor Street. While it’s true there are some great restaurants over there, there’s also an excellent Italian restaurant on the North Side that tops my list of favorite places to eat. Located on Wilson Avenue in the Ravenswood / Lincoln Square neighborhood is a lesser known, but becoming increasingly more popular Italian restaurant called Caro Mio. After studying abroad in Italy in college, I’ve become pretty picky about Italian food. You won’t catch me at an Olive Garden unless I’m being forced to go, and I admit there are even a few popular Italian restaurants in Chicago that I am not a huge fan of, even after multiple attempts to try to like it. Since this blog is about things to eat, see, and do in Chicago that are “cool”, I won’t talk about those places though, nor will I recommend any places that I wouldn’t visit again. I started eating at Caro Mio almost 6 years ago, and back then I felt I had found one of the best kept secrets in Chicago. I would often tell friends and family to try this place, but many of them hesitated based on the location. Since then, the secret has gotten out, and Caro Mio has expanded their restaurant to the space next door. Although cabs can be difficult to find outside the restaurant, it is easily accessible and walking distance to the Damen and Montrose Brown Line stops.

Once you walk inside the door, you will find a cozy and romantic space. Although this place is a prime spot for romantic dates, it’s also an excellent place to go in groups. I’ve taken my family here, celebrated engagements here with friends, and have seen many birthday celebrations happening inside the restaurant. With the expanded space, you can bet that you will be seeing even more group events happening here. They only take reservations for larger parties, but they will take your phone number down so you can grab a drink at O’Shaughnessy’s Public House down the street while you wait for your table. Once you sit down, you will see a large menu of delicious items. Their specials are usually the best things to order, and I almost always get their stuffed Gnocchi. It’s the best gnocchi I’ve ever had, hands down. As someone once said to me while eating there, “It’s like a pillow of deliciousness in your mouth.” Enough said. The food is excellent. The best part about this place is that it’s a BYOB with no corkage fee. Yes, Chicago, another BYOB. So, while I feel the food prices are reasonable, the food feels even more affordable after not having a large alcohol tab attached to the bill. If you are on the North Side of Chicago and in the mood for Italian cuisine, head over to Caro Mio with a few bottles of wine.

Dress Code : Casual

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Date Night : Burgundy Skinny Jeans: TJ Maxx; Blazer: Banana Republic, old (Similar); Top: Forever 21; Belt: Target; Necklace: K-Amato Sample Sale; Earrings: Lia Sophia (old), Bracelets: Wanderlust + Co , BaubleBar (NY Store- Not On-line); Watch: Michael Kors, Boots: Nine West (Very Similar)

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Casual Dinner with Parents: Leopard Cardigan: Target (Currently In Stores Only); Shirt: H&M; Mustard Skinny Jeans: TJ Maxx; Earrings: random New York jewelry designer; Necklace: Tiffany’s (old); Bracelet: Tiffany’s (old), Boots: Nine West (Very Similar)

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Smoque BBQ

Although you may often catch me at the newest and trendiest restaurants in Chicago, I always love a good diner or local BBQ joint. So, as you can imagine, when I heard Smoque BBQ appeared on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, I decided to check it out and see if it really was the “Best BBQ” in Chicago like everyone says it is. (Spoiler Alert: It is!)

To start, the location is more convenient than people realize. It’s situated right between the Addison and Irving Park Blue Line stops. This may intimidate some of the Lincoln Park/Lakeview residents, but let me assure you that taking the bus west to this joint was well worth the trip. In fact, the owner of Smoque told me the location appeals to all audiences. It is right off the highway and has CTA bus and ‘L’ stops nearby. He often meets people from all over the world that have stopped by on trips through Chicago, and he regrets not creating a map of those who have traveled there.

Once inside (or sometimes outside) there will be a long line, but again, it’s worth the wait. That being said, I was impressed with how fast they turn over tables, and the line moves quickly. They had staff on hand waiting to clear tables the second people stood up, and they seat you after you order your delicious food.  Trust their process, it really works! The staff was friendly and helpful. In fact, I went up later in our meal to order dessert, and they instantly jumped up to help me. When my dessert was ready, they even brought it to our table. One of the owners is always around, and I was lucky enough to meet Barry. (He even gave me a private tour of the back and let us try food for free that we hadn’t already had. He takes pride in his work, and it shows.)

The food is delicious and nothing I say can truly explain the greatness of this BBQ joint. No matter what you order, it’s amazing. I was even impressed with the Peach Cobbler. (Try it.) They have GIANT smokers in the back and really focus on the basics of BBQ. You won’t find 10 different sauces like some other BBQ places, but you will find a few perfectly balanced ones. Combine that with the right rubs and cooking techniques, and you have the best BBQ restaurant in Chicago. The word has gotten out about this place, but don’t let that stop you from trying it out. Did I mention it is also BYOB? The tables are tightly squeezed together, but this only made for a better and more social experience. We even made friends (and shared beer) with friendly people sitting next to us that were visiting from out of town. I’ll be back many more times, and am looking forward to taking my parents here the next time they are in town. If you like meat, friendly service, great prices, and a good time, come here.  I promise you will love it.

Beer: Bell’s Brewery in MI; Beef Brisket; Mac & Cheese; Corn Bread; and BBQ Beans (We later sampled ribs, sausage, and peach cobbler.)

Dress Code: Casual

Plaid Flannel Shirt: Target (Similar); Jack Purcell Sneakers: Converse; Fedora: Mint Julep Boutique (Band and Feather Detail added by yours truly); Watch: Michael Kors; Necklace: Gift from a Boutique in the West Loop

After searching long and hard for the perfect fedora, I decided to create the one I was looking for by adding fabric around the brim, a button, and beautiful feathers to an existing fedora I bought on clearance at Mint Julep on Southport