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Sunda, 110 W. Illinois St., Chicago
Who eats: Mostly businesspeople, some casual diners.
Why eat: Off the beaten path of bustling River North, Sunda provides an exotic yet comfortable atmosphere with big portions of tasty Asian fare.
Ambience: The restaurant can accommodate more than 200, but the space feels cozy thanks to dim lighting, distressed-wood floors, sporadic splashes of Asian-inspired art and tea-light candles sprinkled throughout. The main dining room is nestled between a cocktail lounge and sushi bar near the front of the restaurant and a private room in the back.
Dress code: Most patrons wear business casual, but jeans would be welcome.
Noise factor: Sunda's tables are close together, but its tall exposed brick walls and steady stream of upbeat yet soothing music blurs other tables' conversations.
Overheard: "I mean, I've been in school for six years. It's like an eternity."
Service: Our waitress was congenial and efficient, taking the liberty of suggesting alternatives to our original order because she thought we might enjoy a house favorite.
Cellphone reception/Wi-Fi: Both are available.
Reservations: Accepted via phone or OpenTable.com and recommended, because this place is hopping.
Menu: Appetizers, soups and salads provide a light base to a wide assortment of Asian main courses, including sushi, banh mi Vietnamese-style sandwiches and rice and noodle dishes. Wash it all down with a fruit-flavored soda or iced tea.
Reliable options: Duck -- what -- pork? (Set of four pork or duck steamed bao buns for $11); Sunda set combos: $18 for a choice of salad or miso soup, rice, three pieces of a sushi roll and one of eight entrees, including steamed ginger salmon filet or chicken and pork adobo; noodles and rice dishes such as chicken curry or garlic noodles ($12-$16); made-to-order maki ($6-$9/basic roll, $13-$16/specialty roll); chicken, skirt steak or pork belly banh mi sandwiches ($12-$14); mango-, pomegranate- and calamansi-flavored sodas and iced teas ($8).
Expect to pay: $35 to $50 per person, which includes beverages, appetizers and tip.
Contacts: 312-644-0500 or sundachicago.com.
-- Kristin Samuelson
March 13, 2013