Carson's AMERICAN/BARBECUE A true Chicago institution, Carson's
calls itself “The Place for Ribs,” and, boy, is it ever. The barbecue sauce is sweet
and tangy, and the ribs are meaty. Included in the $20 price for a full slab of ribs
are coleslaw and one of four types of potatoes (the most decadent are au gratin),
plus right-out-of-the-oven rolls.
For dinner there's often a wait, but don't despair. In the bar area you'll find a
heaping mound of some of the best chopped liver around and plenty of cocktail
rye to go with it. (Kids who turn up their noses at chopped liver should start with
a kiddie cocktail instead.) When you're seated at your table, tie on your plastic
bib—and indulge. In case you don't eat ribs, Carson's also barbecues chicken,
salmon, and pork chops, and the restaurant's steaks aren't bad either. But ribs are
the house specialty, so make sure that at least someone in your group orders them.
(The waitstaff will be shocked if you don't.) If by some remarkable feat you have
room left after dinner, the candy-bar sundaes are a scrumptious finale to the meal.
Carson's popularity has led to something of a factory mentality among manage-
ment, which evidently feels the need to herd 'em in and out, but the servers are
responsive to requests not to be hurried through the meal.
612 N. Wells St. (at Ontario St.). & 312/280-9200. Kids' menu, high chairs, boosters. Reservations accepted
only for groups of 6 or more. Main courses $8.95-$30; kids' menu $6-$14. AE, DC, DISC, MC, V. Mon-Thurs
11am-11pm; Fri 11am-12:30am; Sat noon-12:30am; Sun noon-11pm. Closed Thanksgiving. Subway/El: Red
Line to Grand.
Houston's AMERICAN/STEAKHOUSE Here's a casual steakhouse that's
always packed with families. Located next to the Lenox Hotel and Suites, Hous-
ton's is cavernous and dark, filled with deep booths lit by overhead fixtures that
barely illuminate the tables. The place has a dark-wood-and-brass, 1980s feel to
it. (Fittingly so, since it opened here in 1987—today there are 40 Houston's
nationwide.) Houston's attracts a mix of tourists, conventioneers, and locals. It's
a comfy space, and the booths have the advantage of giving everyone a feeling
of privacy. Toasted cheese bread will be a hit with kids, and they'll make chicken
fingers and hamburgers to keep the kids happy. For adults, the restaurant offers
an extensive list of more than 40 wines collected mostly from California. At din-
nertime there's live piano music in the bar.
616 N. Rush St. & 312/649-1121. High chairs, boosters. Reservations not accepted. Main courses $15-$25.
AE, DC, DISC, MC, V. Mon-Sat 11am-10pm. Subway/El: Red Line to Grand. Bus: 145, 146, 147, 151.
Leona's ITALIAN/PIZZA This Chicago-based home-style Italian food chain
has a vast menu, good pizza, and budget-friendly prices. With 16 locations and
still family-owned and -operated after 52 years, Leona's is a real Chicago restau-
rant success story. All food is fresh and made from scratch. The River North
location features a large, open dining room. Be prepared for huge portions and
unusually warm and hospitable service in a very family-friendly setting. The
menu (actually, it reads more like a book) runs the gamut and includes ribs,
chicken wings, steak sandwiches, burgers, pasta, pizza (deep dish or thin crust),
and salads. If that's not enough, Leona's also has a children's menu featuring
spaghetti marinara, chicken strips (fried, grilled, or barbecued), 6-inch pizzas,
lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo, and more.
646 N. Franklin St. & 312/867-0101. Kids' menu. Main courses $9-$25; kids' menu $5-$8. AE, DC, DISC,
MC, V. Mon-Thurs 11:30am-11pm; Fri 11:30am-midnight; Sat noon-midnight; Sun noon-10pm. Subway/El:
Brown Line to Merchandise Mart; Red Line to Grand. Bus: 65 or 22.