A Toast to Foodie Favorites


We love getting to know Chicago foodies. And in this TCWmag.com exclusive, The Squared Circle’s Lisa Marie Varon and Coco Pazzo/Coco Pazzo Cafe/Tre Soldie’s Jack Weiss tell us about their foodie faves…


Lisa Marie Varon

Where do you dine when you’re not working?
With my wrestling career, I had the opportunity to travel the world. All 50 states. Countless countries on several continents. In some cases, I made time to sightsee. But often, the only places you visit are arenas, hotels, airports and restaurants. So at the very least, I had the chance to eat my way around the world. What I love about the Chicago restaurant scene is everything is represented. I love to try new things here. I like to go into Chinatown for Dim Sum. I have made my rounds on the steak houses, and have yet to hit a loser. I like Boriquen in Humbolt Park for a Jibarito. I had a great meal recently at Roka Akor. I made my rounds at pizzerias. Vito & Nick’s thin crust was tops.

LisaWEBAny Chicago restaurateurs you admire?
There are so many great chefs and restaurateurs here. I like many for different reasons. The first that comes to mind is Chef Bill Kim. He’s obviously having a great deal of success. but I like that he did something unique. I also like that it’s a husband and wife team. And his Asian Latin fusion menu appeals to me, because my mother was raised in Korea and Tokyo and my father was born in Puerto Rico. I was raised on similar flavors.

I also am a fan of Doug Sohn. It’s not because Hot Doug’s is a Chicago institution, which it is. I like that when you go in there, there’s Doug with a big smiling face there to welcome you. But also, when Doug takes a vacation the place closes. I think that speaks to his attention to detail, which you need to have to be successful in this business. And finally, everything about Hot Doug’s speaks to his passion for what he does.

What’s the next food trend?
I think the hot trend in 2013 is enjoying a brick oven pizza at The Squared Circle while watching a wrestling on Pay Per View.


Jack Weiss

Where do you dine when you’re not working?
I was blown away by our recent dining experience at Grace; it has moved to the top of my list. I’ve always enjoyed Curtis Duffy’s food and admired his ability to connect with his customers and colleagues minus the attitude. Grace is a wonderfully comfortable dining room with friendly and efficient service; the food that Curtis is presenting is even more evolved than anything I have seen in the past and simply great.

Shanghai Terrace is appealing in warmer months because you can dine on the fabulous terrace or in colder months in the intimate dining room. The Chinese cuisine is always consistent and the service excellent. The Peninsula is a fabulous hotel and it is always a pleasure to catch up with Carrie and the rest of the great concierge team at the front desk.  Executive Chef Kai Lerner and Hotel General Manager Maria Zec run an amazing operation.

Frontera Grill is the late night place go to for my wife, Coco Pazzo Wine Director Tamra Coco Pazzo RestaurantWeiss, and I when we leave Coco Pazzo and want a margarita and some bold flavors. What can you say about Rick Bayless who is amazing and consistent? I was blown away recently when we saw Cascabel, his dinner show at the Lookingglass where he put out this amazing multi-coursed dinner as part of the performance. I still think of the mole sauce.

Gene & Georgetti was here in River North when Coco Pazzo began and is going stronger than ever with 70 years under their belt. They serve a varied menu with consistently great steaks. I love the feel of the restaurant and the food. They also have been very supportive when we need to borrow a cup of flour or some ice.

Spacca Napoli serves the best Neapolitan pizza in Chicago, and Jonathan Goldsmith is the patron. The room is comfortable and well designed, the menu is tight and the pizza consistently great. Jonathan is a perfectionist and travels to Italy constantly to improve his art plus he is also the first person to share his great knowledge and assist to raise the bar for better pizza in Chicago.

Any Chicago restaurateurs you admire?
Tony Dupretti (Gene & Georgetti) is one of the nicest men I know; he supported Coco Pazzo when we first opened 21 years ago and still dines there his lovely wife and daughter. Tony believes in the longevity and purity of Gene & Georgetti and has refused offers to open in other markets. He has maintained a loyal staff and following and has not been swayed by the expansion bug.

Steve Lombardy (Gibsons, et cetera) is also a wonderful man/restauranteur and has built a great group of restaurants/bars. Steve has surrounded himself with a nice and talented group of professional, such as Hugo and Johny, and has created restaurants that have been the go to places for sports, political and business people for decades. He has an ability and senseability to know how to build restaurants where people will interact, drink and eat creating energy, fun and profitability.

Mary Beth Liccioni (Les Nomades) has always been courteous and professional for all the years I have known her since Le Francais. She is an amazing professional and always sharpening her palette at a wine tasting or other culinary event in town. Her restaurant is truly an intimate jewel with amazing food and service where one can have a true dining experience. She also cultivates wonderful, young, talented chefs and believes as I do in the lineage of culinary style as it relates to a particular cuisine.

What’s the next food trend?
I think Italian food will continue to dominate, food trucks will grow and casual dining will draw large numbers.


Thanks for sharing…a toast to you both!




About Carrie Williams

Carrie Williams is TCW's managing/digital editor. She manages day-to-day editorial operations of the monthly print publication, website and social media outlets, contributes to a variety of feature articles and directs a team of interns, freelance writers and bloggers. In early 2013, she led the redesign of TCWmag.com/restructure of TCW's brand strategy. Her blog, "Carrie On," is a blog of reflection and discovery, discussing how to push through life when you’re handed one too many curveballs. And finally, Ms. Williams is also executive director of the TCW Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit supporting underfunded women's and children's organizations.