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Saturday, April 20

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Lately, I've been frustrated by the lack of affordable dining options in Chicago.

Sure, there are a multitude of falafel joints, taco shacks and hot dog stands offering up delicious grub at dirt-cheap prices. But sometimes -- just sometimes -- it's nice to go into a restaurant, admire the atmosphere, order an alcoholic beverage from the server, consume a semi-healthy meal that contains some variety of fresh produce, and leave a decent tip.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Yeah, except these days a meal of this magnitude could set you back close to a ridiculous $40 per person at most mid-priced restaurants in the city. Why is eating out always so damn expensive?

Fortunately, just when I thought I was forever destined to fork over an exorbitant amount of money every time I wanted a decent meal, I stumbled into Lula Cafe. I'm not sure just what I was expecting, but the casual, yet stylish setting combined with menu items priced under $10 that are made with organic ingredients from local farmers and markets took me entirely by surprise. Was this heaven? Nope, it was Logan Square.

I should first mention that Lula Cafe offers several seasonal daily specials in the range of $11-$23. Although these offerings -- grilled pork loin, braised pekin duck, fettuccine with arugula and cherry tomatoes, to name a few -- are incredibly fresh and creative, I find them a bit too pricey, especially considering the laid-back nature of the place. Sure, if you are in a splurging sort of mood (and, more importantly, have the cash to back it up), these items are usually fantastic. But if you stick to the regular menu, it is possible to order a decent glass of wine and a delicious entree for about $15 -- quite the anomaly in the city these days.

On my last visit, I ordered a glass of crisp white wine for $6, and a shiitake mushroom quesadilla (from the regular menu) for $5.50 to start. The appetizer, which was plenty for two people to share, was loaded with fresh mushrooms, spinach and melted cheeses and served with a smoky salsa. This dish was so good, my dining companion and I were fighting over the last bite.

Little did we know our entrees would be just as enormous as the appetizer. My dining companion wrestled with a gigantic chicken torta sandwich (also from the regular menu) layered with slices of tasty grilled chicken and fresh cucumber, tomato and basil. A sweet tamarind mustard was drizzled over top. Roasted potatoes where the perfect accompaniment for this dish (that is, if you aren't at all carb conscious).

Having a taste that evening for something slightly different, I was drawn to the Moroccan tagine (regular menu, $8) -- a bowl brimming with chickpeas, chunks of sweet potato and couscous all topped with fresh arugula. This dish definitely was more bland than some of the other Moroccan food I've eaten at other places. The infusion of cinnamon and sweet potato, which provides most of the taste for the dish, was fragrant but subtle. Overall, though, Cafe Lula's take on this entree proved to be a good choice.

At the end of the meal, our server came by with the dessert menu (definitely a sign that you are dining in style, eh?) and although many of the items were tempting -- we found the passion fruit creme brulee most intriguing -- we were too stuffed to continue. I dreaded looking at the bill for fear that we were about to do some major damage to our checking accounts -- two glasses of wine, two entrees and an appetizer can add up -- yet, the total came to a modest $35.62 (plus a good tip, of course.) Sure, it's not cheap if you are used to eating fast food every night, but for a night out in a decent place? I'd say it was definitely pretty fair.

If you've ever heard of Lula Cafe (before reading this review), you've probably heard some rumors about the place that I'd like to confirm/dismiss right here. First, customers have been known to rave about the brunch -- with a three-egg frittata and a breakfast burrito, such opinions are definitely justified. Second, Lula Cafe has a reputation of having long waits; on weekends, this most certainly is the case, but if you are in a time crunch, I would just advise visiting on a weekday evening. And last, I've heard some customers complain that the staff is aloof and rude. I've been treated very well every time I've visited, but I'm sure, in a hipster restaurant of this sort, there may be a little too much attitude at times.

But, really, at these prices, does anyone actually care?

Lula Cafe is located at 2537 N. Kedzie. For a complete menu, visit them online at lulacafe.com.

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Comments

Naz / July 5, 2004 9:19 PM

Good review, was just there this past Thursday for lunch - I was actually surprised at how packed (and full of hipsters) it was. We got a just vacated table. Brunch is definitely supergood and the vibe is nice.

I haven't had any aloof or rude waitstaff and have had a good time so no complaints and a thumbs up here.

brian / July 6, 2004 10:56 AM

Lula is wonderful. No question. But if you can't wait in line for breakfast, head around the corner to the Boulevard (aka Hangover Palace). For about $12 you get an all you can eat breakfast and it is truly a god-send if you've been drinking the night before.

miss ellen / July 6, 2004 3:50 PM

however, the boulevard isn't open early on saturdays, only sundays for brunch.

lula is great, though. when i have the off chance, weekday lunch is GREAT! you can still order some brunch items & the crowds are smaller, although a wait for an outside table is predictable.

 

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