California cuisine for families in Chicago

Got a taste for some West Coast fare but don’t want to hop on a plane? No need. Summer House Santa Monica, a recent Lettuce Entertain You addition, brings the fresh food and ambiance of Santa Monica to Lincoln Park.

One feels transported to the beach immediately upon entering the large, open space with its white walls and lighted (and retractable!) roof. The atmosphere alone is worth a visit—there’s nothing quite like it in Chicago. Early reviews of the food and service were slightly spotty, but this eatery has found its groove and our experience was as refreshing as the ocean breezes the venue evokes.

Leave the calorie-counting at home and start with the table-sharing “hot mess of fries,” topped with braised pork, fried egg, blue cheese, truffle jus and chives, a dish that’s even more sinful than it sounds. Then lighten up with food one might encounter at a seaside outdoor café: split the surfer style fish tacos with guacamole, fennel slaw and salsa verde or the smaller portioned hamachi tartare and green apple. In a word, yum.

Stick with seafood for the main course. The Maine lobster frites, grilled Atlantic salmon and wood-grilled swordfish are all excellent calls. Other options include wood-fired steaks, including a 32-day dry aged prime rib, pastas like the unique prime beef short-rib ravioli and “very special sandwiches” such as the double decker turkey burger. For sides, our party enjoyed the roasted cauliflower and caramelized Brussels sprouts (and I thought I hated Brussels sprouts before this outing).

While there isn’t a separate kids’ menu, there are plenty of child-friendly menu items, like a classic hamburger, roasted chicken and baked-to-order biscuits served with honey butter.

Summer House also is a brunch hotspot, where kids go for the wide variety of pancake options like orange-chocolate chip and the “very nice caramelized French toast.”

Tip: It’s packed, even mid-week, and can be a bit of a scene, so the earlier the better with children in tow. Make a reservation or plan to spend some time sipping cocktails in the hip bar area or at the adjacent Stella Barra Pizzeria.

Summer House Santa Monica

  • 1954 N. Halsted, Chicago
  • summerhousesm.com

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