A Southwestern Style Steakhouse

by Suzanne Graham

Rotisserie Chicken and House Made Cornbread

Walking down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue shopping area, it is easy to spot Bandera, a second-floor southwestern style steakhouse just a short walk or drive north of the Chicago River.

The entrance also serves the Men’s Warehouse shop and is almost directly across from a shopping center that also houses Nordstrom. Upon entering, I took the escalator up to the second floor and saw the large wooden door to my left that would lead me inside the restaurant.

A popular place for lunch, dinner, and drinks, Bandera is well-known for its rotisserie chicken and house made cornbread, which is served in a skillet. The first thing I noticed is that the lighting inside the restaurant is very dim, giving the feeling of an upscale jazz or supper club.

Strategically positioned spotlights illuminate the bar and tables, with a candles placed throughout. The color scheme is dark – black and white landscape photos adorn dark colored walls, with two brightly colored southwestern style carpets at the front.

Parties lucky enough to be seated near the front of the restaurant have a view of bustling Michigan Avenue, but nobody seems to mind, instead focusing intently on their conversations and the people they are with. Tables at the front of the restaurant give way to intimate booths throughought the middle, with both providing a glimpse of the well-lit kitchen.

Instead of waiting to be seated, I grabbed an empty seat at the large bar just to the left of the entrance, near the front of the restaurant where the jazz trio is featured nightly.

By the time I took my seat in the early evening, the jazz trio was already performing. I sat next to two well-dressed businessmen winding down the workday with a couple of martinis, a drink that I noticed seemed to be quite popular among other diners.

I browsed the small menu, which features a variety of meats and seafood with just a few vegetarian options as I tried to decide what to order. While I am generally a huge fan of the rotisserie chicken, today I tried the restaurant’s house made veggie burger with a sweet soy glaze and melted jack cheese,  served with a side of cole slaw and a glass of Schramsberg – a sparkling white wine from California.

By 7pm, nearly every table and every seat at the bar was occupied, and a group of people began to form along the wall next to the bar, sipping drinks as they waited their turn to be seated. I decided to take half of my burger home to save a little room for dessert.

I chose the apple walnut cobbler, which is served warm and a la mode, with flavors and aromas of cinnamon, baked apples, and vanilla. Midway through my dessert, a gentleman came to occupy the single seat next to mine, exclaiming “that really smells delicious!” I replied that it does – and is, but that I was going to have to admit defeat as I was unable to finish it all.

At the end of my meal, I paid my bill and went on my way. It isn’t often that I get to come to a place like Bandera, as it is slightly more upscale and a bit more expensive. For the quality and the atmosphere, however, it is absolutely worthwhile. I walked back through the large wooden entrance door, went down the escalator and outside to Michigan Avenue, now noticably less busy but just as pleasant as during the day.