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Oct 9, 2000 11:52 AM

where to take Los Angelenos?

  • l


we have guests from Los Angeles, and would love to show them something unique to Chicago. They aren't big beef eaters, so the steakhouses are out :)

They will be in NY before seeing us, and will probably try 71 Clinton and Balthazar, so we want to skip French Bistro and similar hot-spots to 71 Clinton.

We were thinking about Grace, for the game available, has Savoy Truffle opened up again?

What would you recommend to show off Chicago? Lots of recommendations, please :)

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  1. Take them to places utterly unlike anything in L.A.--a category that unfortunately doesn't quite include Grace.

    Cruise over to the Vernon Park Tap (manly Italian food of this quality just doesn't exist in L.A.) followed by a side visit to Al's for Italian beef. The Busy Bee is gone, but Polish food at the Orbit would be good. You can't get a decent hot dog in L.A.--take 'em to the Byron's under the el on Irving Park, or Fluky's if you're feeling ambitious. Manny's will blow them away; so will a great wine bar like Hudson Grill. Army & Lou will steal their breath. Frog's legs at Phil Smidt's in Hammond. Pancakes at Ann Sather. Rib's at Lem's. Pizza at the Home Run Inn.

    Then you can take them to Blackbird or 160 Blue for the coup de grace. They'll never know what hit 'em.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Pepper
      Tom Armitage

      There are a couple of different approaches you can take with out-of-town guests. One is to pick whatever restaurants you think are the "best" in your home town, and take your guests there, regardless of what they have available in their home town. For example, you could take your guests to Topolobampo or Frontera Grill, even though there are lots of terrific Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles. Speaking as a Los Angeles resident, I often include a meal at one of these two restaurants on my visits to Chicago. Pepper's suggestions of Blackbird or 160 Blue (or Aubriot, or Les Nomades, or Harvest on Huron, etc.) also fall within this approach. L.A. has restaurants that are not too different from these places, but they are swell places to eat just the same.

      The other approach, which you suggest in your post, and which Pepper echoes in his reply, is to take your guests to types of places that don't exist or are in short supply in Los Angeles. Obvious candidates in this category are places serving "Chicago specialties" like deep-dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, and Chicago-style hot dogs, which are pretty much covered in Pepper's response. (I'm not a fan of Chicago deep-dish pizza, but when I tell people that I've been in Chicago, and they ask if I've had deep-dish pizza, and can at least respond, "yes," tell them all the different places where I've tried it, and explain why I don't like it.) Los Angeles does not have as extensive an Eastern European population as Chicago, so restaurants in this category might be of interest for this reason. In addition to the Orbit for Polish food, you could take your guests to a Lithuanian restaurant, even rarer in Los Angeles than Polish restaurants, such as Healthy Food Lithuanian Restaurant on Halsted or one of the restaurants on West 71st Street east of Marquette Park, like Sekylcia or Neringa. Although L.A. has Greek restaurants, it doesn't have anything like Chicago's "Greek Town, so another option would be to take your guests to a place like Parthenon for spit-roasted baby lamb and flaming saganaki. And I second Pepper's motion to take your guests to Tufano's Vernon Park Tap for grilled pork chops and peppers or lemon chicken (stick with meat and chicken; I've had some dreadful experiences with the pasta there). There's no equivalent to this place in L.A.

      1. re: Tom Armitage

        Wow! Great responses but some specifics: firstly, Tuffanos (aka Vernon Park Tap) - Tom's correct in his assesment of the crappy pasta but there's an exception - it's when they start getting "fancy" - that's when they F it up. So ravioli, spagetti - you're safe. Angel hair with balsamic reduction and shitake mushrooms? Run like hell. Where for deep dish? I'm gonna say Lou Malnattis but only in Lincolwood. It's the original and still the best - somehow the others just don't stand up.
        If you had asked me a month ago, I would have recommended Lou Mitchells for breakfast but since that was such a dissapointment, I would strongly recommened the Original Pancake House in Willmette. Went this weekend for the first time in years and was wowed. Really, really good. (will post a report shortly)
        Bryons for hot dogs is right on. Although if I was going to Flukeys, I'd have the Polish - Chicago style (fried first - grilled second) and don't forget the grilled onions.
        And don't be so quick to knock the steak houses - many have decent seafood and nobody's gonna beat up a vegetarian (lacto-ovo an exception).
        Greek town? Depends on your fancy. Old school is the Parthenon. New school is Santorini. Parthenon is great for the standards (saganiki, baby lamb, egg-lemon soup). Santorini does the best grilled octopus I've ever had anywhere - and this includes Japan.
        Don't know the status of good deli in LA but Mannys (Jefferson and Roosevelt) will knock you on your ass if you're in a corned beef or pastrami state-of-mind. Please keep in mind that it's only open for breakfast and lunch.
        Have yet to try Lems for ribs - I've been fond of Leons for many years.
        Orbit for polish? A definite yes.
        Deep wallet? Feeling special? I'm going to say Mon Ami Gabi or Ambria.

        Have fun with your friends.

        1. re: bryan

          Great response yourself, Bryan. Regarding the pasta at Vernon Park Tap, last time I ate there I even had a bad experience with the spaghetti aglio e olio, and what could be simpler than that. The pasta was overcooked, the garlic was burned and bitter, and the whole mess was absolutely drowned in olive oil. On the other hand, the grilled pork chops and peppers were glorious. And thanks for the tip about the grilled octopus at Santorini. I'll be back in Chicago next month, and will check it out.

          1. re: bryan

            For pizza, I would recommend Edwardo's or Giordano's over Lou Malnati's. I definitely agree with the breakfast suggestion if, by the Orig. Pancake House in Wilmette, Bryan meant Walker Bros. on Greenbay Road. At least one person in your party must order the apple pancake. There are some other good breakfast suggestions posted in reply to "Road Warrior Chicago Eating Guide." As another dinner option, I would suggest Ethiopian--Addis Abebe, in my opinion, is the best of the 3 Ethiopian restaurants in Lakeview/Wrigleyville. It's on the east side of Clark, south of Addison.

      2. j
        Jason "Deep Dish" Perlow

        Take them out for -real- pizza. While as a New Yorker I may be biased to our own neapolitan style, Chicago style pizza is excellent and way better than the crap you get in California.


        16 Replies
        1. re: Jason "Deep Dish" Perlow

          I have to disagree with you--big time--on your assessment of Chicago deep-dish pizza vs. California pizza, Jason. I've tried a fair amount of Chicago deep-dish pizza, at Pizzeria Uno, Pizzeria Due, Lou Malnatti's, Gino's, and other places, and have pretty much the same reaction to all of them: tough crusts, insipid tomato sauce, and gobs and gobs and gobs of low-quality mozzerella cheese, plus, of course, whatever extras you add. My most recent experience was at Gino's, and I didn't even finish the pie it was so bad.

          In general, Los Angeles may not have pizza that equals the best of New York or New Haven, but there is still good pizza to be had here, including the wonderful Roman-style pizza at Alto Palato. I can think of any number of places for pizza in Los Angeles that I'd prefer to the Chicago deep-dish I've experienced. What places have you been to for pizza in California?

          1. re: Tom Armitage

            Lou Malnattis has insipid tomato sauce? Oh Tom, Tom, Tom. They don't use tomato sauce babe. They use whole tomatoes crushed up. Which one did you go to? I still stand firm in my conviction that the only Lous to bother with is the Lous in Lincolnwood. Giordanos - eh. Just o.k. Edwardos? Not on a bet - if God had meant for broccoli to be on a pizza ... well what was he/she thinking when he but a burr under someones saddle for a little sausage making? Try again Tom. I'll even pop for the pitcher of beer.

            1. re: bryan

              There may have been some mystic moment in the past when Chicago deep-dish pizza was worth eating, but not in recent memory. Either the toppings are barely warmed through--watery, insipid tomato sauce!--or the crust has annealed into something resembling week-old cookies. Often, as at Uno, both at once. I suspect there used to be a LOT more fat in the crust of these pizza, giving it a crispness and a delicious fried taste instead of hardtack gnarliness.

              On more than one occasion, I have systematically worked my way through the pantheon: Uno, Due, the various Gino's, Edwardo's, Giordano's, Malnatti's, etc. Even that weird place up in Lincoln Park that serves pizza as a pot pie. And except for one okay pie (out of three) at Due, nothing has been even acceptable.

              I have to admit I have not been to the Lincolnwood Malnatti's--why schlep all the way up there unless you're going for Korean food?--but it is only a matter of time before that, too, is exposed as a shameless pretender.

              Great deep-dish pizza is a myth.

              1. re: Pepper

                Poor, poor Pepper. You sound bitter so I'm going to address a few of your issues point-by-point.

                Firstly, Unos becam a chain some time ago. Would you expect a good pizza from Pizza Hut? No. So why would you excpect a decent za from Unos?

                Ginos is now owned by Melman (not Lettuce but a private corp). Nuff said.

                Due was, of course, once the standard but is now sub-standard. They rested on their laurels and we all know what happens after that.

                I think Edwardos and Giordanos suck. And heartily concur about the insipid sauce and watery toppings. You couldn't get me to eat at either of these joints on a bet.

                You schlep to Linconwood for Korean? Andersonville and West on Lawrence have some great places but I digress.

                Please, please try Lous in Lincolnwood. Get the buttercrust and sausage and don't dick around with various toppings. This pizza is best un-jazzed up. If you'de really rather not go that far then try My Pie on Clark street near Fullerton. It's good - a pretender to the throne - but still very good. If you like neither Lous nor My Pie, I swear on all that is good and true and tasty, I will never mention either again.

                Great deep-dish pizza is not a myth, it just takes a little searching.

                1. re: bryan

                  "Great deep-dish pizza is not a myth, it just takes a little searching."

                  You also have to like a lot of cheese. If you think the average thin-crust pizza has too much cheese on it already, you're never going to like Chicago style pizza, no matter how high the quality.

                  - VF

                  1. re: bryan

                    Two things: First, I agree with your assessment of Chicago deep dish, but I would highly recommend Lous on Wells in Chicago over the original Lincolnwood locale. They just flat out make a better pizza, as does the Buffalo Grove location.
                    Second, re bryan's comments, the cheese is NEVER my favorite part of the pie, but a good balance is needed for a good za. Uno and Dues get wayyyy too much sauce in theirs and ruin that balance. I dont generally like most thin crusts cuz they use too much cheese IN RELATION to the rest of the pie. Just my two cents

                2. re: bryan

                  It's a deal. I don't think of myself as closed minded, but I just haven't found a Chicago deep-dish pie yet that I've liked. If I'm wrong, I'll pay for the beer.

                  Perhaps VF's response to Pepper's post provides a clue to my dissatisfaction. I don't like gobs and gobs of cheese, especially low- to mediocre-quality mozzerella. But, as stated in my earlier post, that's not the only problem I've had with the Chicago deep-dish pizzas I've sampled. I didn't like the crust or the tomato sauce either. When checking out a pizza for the first time, I generally avoid toppings, the better to concentrate on the quality of the crust, the quality of the tomato sauce, and the quality of the cheese. And I like these three elements to be in some reasonable proportion so that they produce a synergy making the combination better than any of the individual elements.

                  1. re: Tom Armitage

                    I grew up in Chicago, eating and loving the pizza. As an adult, however, I can't imagine really wanting to eat all that cheese. It doesn't matter how good the cheese is, the idea of eating more than a slice of that stuff is more than I can handle. Actually, one problem you might find with the cheese is that, because they use so much of it per pizza, they can't use very good quality cheese without inflating the price beyond what most people think of as reasonable. The vast majority of people will accept the greasy, rubbery, gloppy mess and think it's great so there's no business reason to bother with decent cheese.

                    As far as balance between sauce, toppings, and cheese is concerned, how are you going to obtain it when there is so much cheese?

                    I think the answer is that unless you really like the basic, cheese-heavy concept, you'll always be disappointed.

                    - VF

                    1. re: VF

                      You're probably right about the cheese. But then I would have said, "The pizza had a wonderful crust, terrific tomato sauce, but way too much cheese, and poor quality cheese at that." But, so far, I haven't liked the crust or the sauce either. If you're correct, I guess my search will be to find a Chicago deep-dish pizza with a good crust and good tomato sauce, but unavoidably with too much, and too low a quality, cheese for my taste. Doesn't sound like a real exciting search, does it?

                      1. re: Tom Armitage


                        I don't like the deep dish either, I do find I like some crusts and sauce, but not that much cheese. If you ask, some places have a "small" size, and will do one without cheese. I've had success with Giordano's small veggie pizza w/o cheese (stuffed crust, stuffed with peppers, onions and mushrooms). Or you could tell them to use 1/4 the cheese, or something, if you must have cheese.


                        1. re: lee

                          Well... I am hopeful that this will all be a moot point once Tom trys Lous in Lincolnwood. And yes, they do put the sauce on top but they cover it with a plate and I've never found it that it got too cold for my taste, but then again, it never lasts that long. Also the cheese is not goopy nor do I think it's low quality. It's not the best, but it's good.
                          Tom, send me an E-mail when you're getting in to town and if you like, we can meet for a little pizza.

                          1. re: bryan

                            It cannot be stressed enough, though: Malnatti's Near North original is just horrible. So the chances of the Lincolnwood franchise being tremendously better have got to be pretty small.

                      2. re: VF
                        Clifford Abrams

                        For what it's worth, there's a new pizza place in Evanston (on Central Street, just west of the Metra stop)that serves (gives out?)unbaked pizza. The thing is, they are about half way between deep dish and thin and very tasty. Toppings are kind of "gourmet" but the two i've had were very fresh and, when baked, good. They tend to give fancy names to traditional toppings. For instance a margharita (sp?), consisting of the usual tomatoes, cheese, garlic and basil, is called a "Mesian"--simple, get it? But it was quite good, and, since it comes right out of your oven, very hot and fresh. The owners and help are very nice and friendly, so i would suggest that far north-siders give them a try.

                    2. re: bryan

                      Doesn't Malnatti's put their tomato sauce on the
                      top? Places that do this just drive me crazy because
                      the sauce gets cold before you're half way through
                      the pizza.

                      1. re: bryan

                        Tom is right. Haven't found any good deep dish in Chicago yet. As far as I'm concerned its not here.

                        Its in California. Zachary's in Berkeley.

                        1. re: bryan

                          Tom is right. Haven't found any good deep dish in Chicago yet. As far as I'm concerned its not here.

                          Its in California. Zachary's in Berkeley.