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Chris Pandel

Chris Pandel

Every once in a while it feels good to annoy the hell out of your financial advisor by splashing pricey Champagne around at a ridiculously expensive restaurant. But then your AmEx bill eventually arrives and you realize your dining dollars would have been better spent at a cool neighborhood joint like The Bristol in Chicago's Bucktown Neighborhood. Here's a place as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans, yet the mind-blowing food coming out of Chris Pandel's kitchen is stellar. And the prices are so affordable, even your money guy would approve. So would most of Chicago's young chefs, who have made The Bristol one of their go-to places.

Pandel has clearly found his niche in the casual neighborhood environment. But before he settled in, the 29-year-old breathed rarefied air with Daniel Boulud and Andrew Carmellini at Café Boulud in New York City and with Rick Tramonto at Tru in Chicago. Pandel's more down-to-earth style developed when Tramonto tapped him to be the executive sous chef at Osteria Via Stato, a rustic Italian restaurant in Chicago.

“Osteria gave me the best direction for the kind of food I cook now, which is flavorful and humble at the same time,” he says. “Working in a more casual concept took away the pretense of the four-star kitchen. Just being able to feed people a good meal and see the smiles on their faces is a lot different than working in a kitchen with 19 people putting out a 14-course tasting menu. Not that I don't miss that side of cooking, because I do, but I'd rather have a perfectly cooked bowl of pasta these days.”

And so would a lot of other people, especially when Pandel is producing items such as green garlic and ramp carbonara with duck egg for 15 bucks, or an egg sandwich with grilled fresh pork belly for $10. This is the kind of affordable, elbows-on-the-table, stick-to-your-bones food that would wipe the smug look off of any financial advisor's face.