When Adam (an out-of-towner planning a weekend trip to Chicago) recently asked Tammy and I about our must-eat restaurants, Bandera was one of the places I recommended.
The food is tasty, the location is prime, and the wine list is better than average. Large windows looking out on the Magnificent Mile give the loft-like dining room and bar a citified feel, and the live jazz ensemble that plays there every night completes the effect. It’s a restaurant specifically designed to show off Michigan Avenue.
Bandera is practically flanked by hotels, so I’m sure it’s frequented by folks just passing through town. But it also appeals to locals. Located in a condo building, the restaurant has a regular cast of characters to offset the Chicago newbies. My favorite is an older woman who lives in the building. She stops by every night to sip a single glass of wine and observe the goings on. Everyone on staff knows her, and they save her a comfy seat in the corner of the bar.
It’s a shame I’ve never seen her eat because the menu at Bandera has something for everyone, from fantastic roasted chicken to lovely barbecued salmon, which is my favorite.
I recommend you start with the skillet cornbread as an appetizer. It’s technically supposed to be a side dish, but I like it as a starter. It’s served warm in the skillet and is mouth watering.
For the main dish I almost always get the barbecued salmon (Although, I’ve had the pork and chicken there too and liked both very much. I’ve also heard the ribs are good). I used to think the salmon at Bandera was the best in the city.
And sometimes it is. But on recent trips, the fish has been smothered in BBQ glaze instead of accented with it, and that makes me wonder… Is the chef masking the fishy taste of a cheap fillet with more sauce? Not a happy thought. But it’s worth the risk. Because when the salmon is on the mark at Bandera it really is on the mark!
Which brings us to dessert. There are many good choices on Bandera’s dessert menu, but one in particular stands out. The homemade Oreo cookie ice cream sandwiches. Tammy’s picture (below) really speaks for itself, but I will tell you this… they taste even better than they look! Hard to believe but very true. The bottom line is that saving room for dessert is an absolute must at Bandera.
Here are a couple of other Bandera observations worth mentioning:
1. The restaurant will take reservations for small parties after 4 p.m., but not for window tables. You can put your name on a waiting list for a window table when you arrive. On weeknights there usually isn’t much of a wait, if there is a wait at all. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are great nights to go.
2. The jazz ensemble is a nice complement to the meal. But if you happen to be sitting too close to the musicians, it can be hard to talk to the person your dining with, which can be a very good or very bad thing.
3. When you order alcohol at Bandera, your waiter will take your ID and scan it into the restaurant computer to ensure that it’s authentic. Now, the wait staff assures me that my personal information is not stored in the restaurant’s computer, but since identity theft is so prevalent these days, I can’t help but be a little uneasy when anyone scans my ID for any reason.
4. Bandera is part of a restaurant chain throughout the county, but it is my understanding that the names of the restaurants and the menus served are all different, with a few shared items here and there. Bandera’s sister restaurant in Denver, for example, is called the Cherry Creek Grill, and there is no barbecued salmon served there.
5. If you use a wheelchair, getting into the building where Bandera is located is a two-person job. You’ll need someone to go through a revolving door for you to open the regular door for wheelchair access. To get to this accessible entrance, follow the walkway by the art gallery along the side of the building, past the Subway and the Popeye’s. Once inside the building, take the elevator to the second floor. It is a slow elevator, so it won’t feel like it’s moving, but it is. Bandera itself is very wheelchair friendly once you get inside.
535 N. Michigan Ave.
Price: Plan on spending roughly $35 to $40 per person for an appetizer, dinner entrée, dessert and a glass of wine.
I rate Bandera 7/10.