Doing a little shopping on Michigan Ave. be fore the holidays? Take a break at one of our favorite Mag Mile restaurants and you'll still have plenty of cash left over for gifts.
Cape Cod Room
The old-school Drake Hotel is a favorite holiday destination. Stop in to gawk at the Gilded Age lobby with its over-the-top Christmas decorations, then settle in for lunch the hotel's nautical-themed restaurant. On a budget? Make a meal of a bowl ($7) of the signature bookbinder's soup. Made with red snapper and tomato, it's served with a small carafe of sherry--pour in a little or a lot depending on how chilly it is outside. Another cheap way to linger in the lap of luxury: afternoon tea, served from 2-4:30 p.m. daily in the hotel's casual lobby restaurant, The Palm Court. On the menu: scones, assorted French pastries, fresh fruit and finger sandwiches. There's always a live harpist during teatime. Or, pop in later, kick back with a cocktail and peruse your purchases.
Even if you can't afford to shop at Ralph Lauren, you can probably manage lunch in the designer's restaurant. The cozy spot has a retro, East Coast establishment vibe, with lots of wood paneling and equestrian art in gold frames. Management suggests the classic RL burger on a soft challah bun with fries for $12. Julia Roberts had one here a couple of weeks ago and proclaimed it "the best burger [she] ever ate."
Specializing in regional American dishes with a twist (pork tenderloin with Chinatown barbecue sauce) served in a rustic, Western setting, this second-floor eatery a few steps up (literally and metaphorically) from chain restaurants down the street. Try the Macho Salad: greens, avocado, chicken, goat cheese, dates, almonds, croutons and corn with choice of dressing.
Bucca di Beppo
This bustling, red-checkered tablecloth restaurant pours on the kitsch, serving mammoth proportions of pasta, chicken parmigiana and other red-sauce favorites in a homey atmosphere. During lunch (noon and 4 p.m.) portions are mercifully smaller. Try the 1-square-foot pizza ($8-$9).
A meal at Spiaggia is a budget-buster reserved for special occasions only, but you can get a taste of that restaurant's 4-star Italian cuisine at it's more casual next-door sibling. Recent daily specials include pizza topped with pears, walnuts, gorgonzola and chives ($13.95) and veal-filled pasta with fennel pollen ($13.95).
Coco Pazzo Cafe
Take a break from power shopping and indulge in a glass of red wine and plate of homemade gnocchi with tomato and basil sauce at this moderately priced Tuscan-style cafe. If it's true that red wine possesses regenerative powers, then have a second glass and continue to shop!
Grand Lux Cafe
A spin-off of ever-popular (with tourists) Cheesecake Factory, this brightly decorated eatery serves global cuisine in a casual, bustling dining room overlooking Michigan Avenue. The lunch special includes soup (try wild mushroom), house salad with roasted tomato vinaigrette and half-sandwich (BLT, turkey or chicken salad) for $8.95 or soup and salad for $7.95. (Enter off of Ohio Street.)
Grab a hot dog and go (think of the calories you're burning!). Hank's also serves delicious cheese fries, Italian sausage and barbecue beef sandwiches. Most items cost less than $5.
Heaven on Seven on Rush
Warm your insides with a hot bowl of spicy Cajun etouffee. A daily lunch special offers varying renditions of this hearty Cajun stew for $9.95.
Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe
Everyone's heard of Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop and Soda Fountain (830 N. Michigan Ave. 312-337-9330), so why not give Moonstruck a try. A sweet cup of hot cocoa might be just the thing to keep you going 'til dinner. We love the caramel and Mexican chocolate and malted cream flavors. $2.40 for a 16 oz. cup.
Located on the seventh floor of the Park Hyatt Chicago, NoMI is one of Chicago's most acclaimed restaurants (with prices to match). But those in the know hit the restaurant's comfortable bar for great martinis and appetizers like giant beer battered onion rings with cocktail sauce and soy reduction ($12). If you're feeling flush, ask for a table in the dining room (entrees range from $29 to $37. Try one of chef Sandro Gamba's signature risottos--like the Milanese, studded with shrimp and clams.
The $10.95 lunch buffet from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. is always crowded but well worth the minor hassle. Fill your plate with dishes like moo shu vegetables, sweet and sour chicken and pork, garlic chicken, egg rolls, noodle dishes and General Tsao's chicken.
For a quick snack, grab a couple of bao--hot Asian buns stuffed with barbecue pork, Mongolian beef and Thai curry chicken--and a glass of peppery made-from-scratch ginger ale with a wedge of lime ($2.19). At $1.19 per bao, buy a few extra for later.
Hotel Inter-Continental's house restaurant offers a fixed three-course lunch special for $14.95. We like Wednesday's menu: soup (recent offerings included roasted pumpkin with green apple and pumpkin seed oil), mixed green salad, beef stew in a sourdough bread bowl and the dessert of the day.
Jessica Volpe is a metromix special contributor.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times