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Avoid crowds at busy Chicago bars and restaurants

Got a few use-'em-or-lose-'em vacation days to burn before the calendar turns over to 2014? Besides sleeping in, having an extra cocktail the night before and watching trashy daytime television, you'll also be able to finally hit up those ever-so-elusive hot spots that are impossible to get into during peak hours. Use these tips to plan your trip.

Three Dots and a Dash
435 N. Clark St. 312-610-4220
Lines quickly form at the back alley entrance of this tiki-themed River North hot spot, which serves tempting tropical cocktails such as the Painkiller No. 3 made with rum, coconut liqueur, passion fruit, pineapple and cream. With a no-reservations policy, a wait on a busy evening can be at least 30 minutes. Things tend to slow down during dinner hours (7 p.m. to 9 p.m.), and you could have better luck Sundays through Wednesdays before 8 p.m.

Girl & the Goat
809 W. Randolph St., 312-492-6262
The buzz isn't going to be dying down any time soon at Stephanie Izard's West Loop restaurant serving fried pickles, duck tongue and confit goat belly among a plethora of small plates. Prime-time reservations are booked until the end of the year, and on a normal night, you can wait more than two hours to get a table. But now that you're off work, you can arrive right when the restaurant opens at 4:30 p.m. or plan on a late dinner after 9 p.m., when seating in the first-come, first-served bar area is easiest to come by.

Xoco
449 N. Clark St. (312-334-3688
Chef Rick Bayless can do no wrong, and the hot churros and crusty tortas on the street food-inspired menu at this River North eatery provide all the proof you'll need. The restaurant's busiest times tend to be noon to 1:30 p.m. for lunch and then 7-8:30 p.m., when waits can top 45 minutes on Fridays and Saturdays. For your best chance at scoring a table, arrive before 11 a.m. for lunch or mid-afternoon for an early dinner.

Fat Rice
2957 W. Diversey Ave. 773-661-9170
At this eclectic no-reservations Logan Square restaurant, waits on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays climb up to two hours for diners craving a taste of the menu's Portuguese-Chinese mashups. The crowds seem to subside a bit on nights the Bulls, Hawks or Bears are playing, or try your luck at 5:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. on weekdays. Parties of more than six are not accepted.

Kuma's Corner
2900 W. Belmont Ave. 773-604-8769
Enduring an hour-long wait for one of Kuma's famous burgers can be torture with the sweet smell of bacon and juicy beef wafting from the kitchen. You'll cut down on your wait time significantly if you come when the Avondale bar opens at 11:15 a.m. and opt for a seat at the bar rather than putting your name in for a table. You'd think that opening a second location, Kuma's Too in Lincoln Park (666 W. Diversey Pkwy. 773-472-2666), would subdue the lines a bit, but the new location is as popular as the original. Just like it's sister restaurant, try coming Monday through Wednesday during off-peak hours.

M. Henry
5707 N. Clark St. 773-561-1600
For years, this Andersonville spot has held steady as a destination for kicking the weekend off right with simple breakfast dishes--such as lemon crab and shrimp benedict or bacon-wrapped baked eggs--done right. Scoring a table for Saturday or Sunday brunch typically takes to 40 minutes, but if you come during the week (7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday) you'll likely walk right in.

Honey Butter Fried Chicken
3361 N. Elston Ave. 773-478-4000
This Avondale newcomer from the founders of Sunday Dinner Club doesn't take reservations, and with the patio closed for the winter, scoring a seat inside is even more challenging. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., there's typically a 30-minute line just to get to the counter to order. Your best bet is dining on Wednesdays and Thursdays before 6 p.m. or after 8 p.m.

Au Cheval
800 W. Randolph St. 312-929-4580
Diner fare with a gourmet slant—think egg-topped fries, potato hash with duck heart gravy and burgers dripping with melted cheddar—draws hungry fans around the clock to this West Loop hangout. During Saturday and Sunday brunch, the entire restaurant tends to fill up within 10 minutes of opening, and weekend evenings draw a wait by 5:15 p.m. An average wait for Monday through Thursday lunch is about 30 minutes, and the closer you arrive to the 11 a.m. opening time, the better chance to score a table you'll have. Or make the most of a night before your day off and stop in late; the kitchen stays open until 1:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m. on Sundays), Keep in mind that while the kitchen closes every day from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., the bar still serves cocktails.

Lula Cafe
2537 N. Kedzie Blvd. 773-489-9554
This Logan Square favorite has been open since 1999, but still draws a weekend brunch crowd like it's a brand-new hot spot on opening weekend. Avoid the wait by stopping in for weekday breakfast when the restaurant opens at 9 a.m.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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