Food trucks and bars: 'Mobile Monday' at St. James Tavern
The Truck: a "Mobile Monday" cavalcade of top-rated vendors that changes weekly; OH! Burgers was rocking the alley when I visited.
Hours: 6-9 p.m. Mondays
Clad in a pirate-jesting apron, "Captain Cook" (aka Brian Thornton) brings a sense of humor - plus a degree from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago - to this mostly one-man operation. It's a dressed-up, slider-sized burger joint on wheels that grinds its beef daily; that flagrant freshness is juicily evident in every alluringly griddle-crisped bite. The menu alters frequently (best bet: three "minis" for $8), but I recently enjoyed the BLT-ish OH!, a kicky horsey-sauced Spicy Spinach and Swiss (my favorite), and Vegged Out, a quinoa, black bean and herby winner. Protips: Crispy truck-made sweet potato chips get "chippier" with in-your-face garlic sauce; watch for new-item donuts.
The Bar: St. James Tavern
1057 N. Fourth St., Italian Village
It's hard to believe, but the comfy-as-a-glove SJT has been an area pioneer for 17 years. This musician and art-lovers hangout is a darkly lit, wood panel and brick charmer, equipped with red pool tables, a superior jukebox (with everything from Etta James and Marvin Gaye to LCD Soundsystem and The Magnetic Fields) plus a terrific selection of craft beers on tap including neighbor Seventh Son's flagship American Strong Ale (most brews are fixed at $4 per pint). Or, as owner Michelle Hill succinctly ticked-off her tavern's popular attributes, it's "a cozy neighborhood bar with a laidback atmosphere, great tunes and quality beverages that don't cost half the cash-wad you walked in with." Protips: Look for Pac-Man and Galaga in the back and a SJT-exclusive Seventh Son brew, coming soon.