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Obama's Favorite Restaurants

These Chicago eateries get the Presidential seal of approval.
Thursday Jul 16, 2009.     By Centerstage Chicago Staff
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Barack Obama sits down to eat
photo: AP

After a long, hard campaign, we know pretty much anything we could care to about Barack Obama, including his favorite spots to eat. If you're hoping to catch a glimpse of the President with his mouth full during his trips back to Chicago, these spots are your best bets.

According to Lynn Sweet the Obamas dined here back in June, and they returned to celebrate their anniversary in early October. Why do they love it so much? Maybe it's the breathtaking view of Lake Michigan. Or the 700-bottle wine list. Or the cheese expert who emerges every so often from his "cheese cave" to bestow another fatty treat. Most likely, it's a combination of all those things, plus entrees like homemade spaghetti with Maine lobster, house-dried cherry tomatoes and wild arugula.

Italian Fiesta Pizzeria
The pies at this Hyde Park pizzeria are so good, they left our reviewer nearly speechless. We can't imagine that same thing happening to the oratorical candidate, but who knows, maybe that's why he likes it so much. Buttery thin-crust pizza comes straight from the oven tasting chewy, spicy and slightly sweet. Toppings like shrimp and anchovy are offered in addition to traditional toppings like sausage and pepperoni. Best of all, they make it a point to distribute toppings all the way to the sides so you won't end up with edge slices full of sauce and nothing else. Barack hates when that happens, we think.

R.J. Grunts
Obama is the first African-American President. RJ Grunts may have invented the salad bar. Both are astounding achievements of pioneers in their field (though only the first has been confirmed), so it's no surprise that the Obamas should seek out this Lincoln Park eatery. The menu here includes huge burgers and slabs of ribs, but the central attraction is the salad bar, with over 50 items ranging from the requisite fresh veggies to beloved sides like cream cheese chocolate chip pudding. Walls lined with pictures of retired RJ's waitress provide just the right amount of kitsch to play up the dated, wood-laden decor. Indeed, even the PA system seems to be caught in a time-bubble; a typical night sees 100-plus happy souls bobbing their heads along to classic hits (played without a lick of irony) from the '70s.

It's not hard to see why Barack and Michelle favor this River North Mexican eatery for a night out. Award-winning chef Rick Bayless delivers fresh, often locally sourced food in an inviting atmosphere. You'll probably have time to finish a few margaritas before grabbing a table here, but it'll be worth it once you taste dishes like pato con mole amargo, or roasted duck breast with a "complex" mole sauce.

Obama has been accused of being elitist, and his wife's affinity for this upscale West Loop eatery might not make the couple seem any closer to the people. But really, the 90-seat restaurant isn't as stuffy as it sounds; after all, you enter through a worn wooden door and eat beside a barrel of apples. There are even communal tables if you don't have a reservation. Ok, the food is not exactly down-home (unless you grew up with skate wing on Sundays) and the drinks are decadent, but hey, campaigning is tough work.

Valois Cafeteria
Like the American people, Senator Obama is tired of the deception and lies. He wants everything to be up front, he says. So it makes sense that he's a regular at this Hyde Park eatery, whose motto is simple: "See Your Food." The menu of traditional comfort food is plastered above the counter, but it's barely needed, as the smorgasbord is laid out for all to see: chicken pot pie, mac 'n' cheese, turkey, gravy-soaked mashed potatoes and more. Plus, if you come in with $10, you'll almost certainly be leaving with another of Obama's favorite things: change.

Hope is another watchword of the Obama campaign, and that's what this soul-food mainstay is all about. Owner Mac Arthur Alexander staffs his cafeteria with down-on-their-luck locals and a few ex-inmates sorely in need of a second chance. You won't need to hope the food is good, though; that's a sure thing. Folks pack the place on Sundays for a taste of the homemade meatloaf and short ribs and sides like zesty collard greens and sweet candied yams. We're betting the lines got even longer after Obama mentioned it as one of his favorite restaurants in his second book, The Audacity of Hope.

Calypso Cafe
As the then state senator revealed on a lost episode of "Check, Please!" in 2001, the now-closed Dixie Kitchen in Hyde Park was a favorite thanks to its hearty portions and unpretentious atmosphere. Thankfully, you can still get most of the menu - including the recommended Southern Sampler (gumbo, jambalaya and red beans & rice) - next door at one of the Obamas' other preferred spots in Harper Square.

Table Fifty-Two
We're not sure if this really qualifies as a favorite, but the Obamas did eat here on Valentine's Day, so love is in the air. Besides, the Southern-style cuisine is made by chef Art Smith, who formerly worked as Oprah's personal chef. The Big O recently put the First Lady on the cover of her magazine (this is a very rare occurrence), so don't be surprised if Michelle pays her back with a few more meals at Art's eatery - and drags Barack along.

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