Visiting Chicago for first time - having dinner with friends and baby in/near Logan Square
I will be visiting Chicago for the first time in March, and will be seeing some old friends with a new baby. (She'll be about six months when I arrive.) They live in Logan Square. I have no clue where that is, but I would love to take them out to dinner. Do you have any suggestions?
On another note, I will be spending the rest of the weekend in Chicago. I'll be staying in the Palmer House Hilton. I know nothing about the city and would like to try some good local cuisine - though I don't know what that entails in Chicago! I have a special hatred of vague "I am visiting your city, what is good" posts, but if anyone has any favorites for a NYC woman with broad tastes in food and some money to spend - but who wants to stay near the El, because she doesn't know jack about Chicago - I would love to hear them. Thanks!
Already you seem to have received many suggestions. I will offer my opinion of a few of the mentioned spots and add two of my own.
As far as Ixcapuzalco goes, I have been for dinner many times over the five years I have lived in Logan Square. Yes the food is remarkably tasty, but the prices are rather high, and the service I have received has always been slow and desultory. Everyone there seems so nice but nonetheless attentiveness wasn't there strong suit.
In speaking of Abril I would like Seth have to nix it. Perhaps the "creeps" he gets have something to do with the peasant outfits the waitresses wear. The food is plain average.
Instead you should consider El Cid #2, which is just a half block north of Abril on Kedzie. Good quality, mexican food and very tasty licuados. Hands down the folks at El Cid are the nicest. My friend and I have a weekly ritual margarita night where we get a pitcher and enjoy any number of burritos, guacamole sopes, potato tacos, and a hearty black bean soup.
My favorite Logan Square spot is Lula's. There brunch on Saturday and Sunday is some of the best food in the city. They have a tantalizing array of specials starting at ten a.m. on those days which sort of gets you to the Lula dilemma. It is tiny. It is popular, very popular. So be prepared to wait if you get there after ten or ten thirty. But if you are an early riser check it out. They also do some nice specials at dinner time. Again very good folks in the kitchen and on the wait staff. Also as of today or tomorrow they are about to open their bar space which they have been working on for what seems like months.
Lastly for a decent Thai meal at value prices check out Thai Eatery, a little spot on Western Avenue just south of Fullerton.
I grew up in Logan Square, and I know the neighborhood has gotten ever more slightly upscale in recent years, but a longtime mainstay of the neighborhood that I have a special fondness for is Abril--a Mexican restaurant on the corner of Kedzie and Milwaukee Avenues right on the circle. It is very family friendly and they have the best salsa and homemade chips in my opinion.
You are lucky to be visiting a freind in a vibrant, diverse, "real" Chicago neighborhood like Logan Square. You will be close to many Chicago Chowhound favorites, esp. Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Polish options. Being a New Yorker, if I were you, I'd revel in the Mexican. People here and in other cities who know much more than me claim that Chicago has perhaps the most vibrant and varied (ie, regional) Mexican dining scene outside Mexico City. If the NYTimes is correct, Mexican is one of NYC's few major weak spots. Search the board for Ixcapuzalco and Taqueria La Oaxaquena for starters. Good luck. As for your hotel, it's in the Loop. May be deader than Wall Street on the weekend. So explore.
Ixcapuzalco is also the one of the fairly upscale places around there that would likely be family friendly. I go at lunch when frankly you could hold a kid's birthday party in the back room without bothering anybody, but it's bright and loud enough that you wouldn't feel self-conscious with a baby any time (something I don't think you could say of other spots such as the tiny Lula's, or Boulevard Cafe, etc.)
re: Mike G
I agree with JeffB's suggestion about Mexican. In the Logan Sq. area, I am especially keen on Carnitas Paisa, a shrine to pig fat that is nearby. See link below (and embedded link therein).
A couple of other places in that area that I like:
You have two good options for S. American Food near Logan Sq. On Belmont near California is the Ecuadorian Mr. Pollo and on Fullerton near Kedzie is Resturante Sudamericano for a Colombian take on roasted chicken.
Pierre's is a fancier than normal Mexican bakery with a wide range of goods. Grab a tray and fit in by filling it to the brim. If you scroll down, I have written several times on Pierre's. Pierries is on Milwaukee neary the Square (which is really a circle).
Since they ditched the wierdly green cole slaw, the Palmer House has had little to offer culinary wise. The Trader Vics bar inside, however, remains one of the coolest places to drink. Also, eminently cool place for a drink nearby is the Berghof. Chow options within the loop, especially afterhours, are very slim.
If you have a chance, you should check out the weekly Maxwell St. Market just south of downtown Chicago. Quite a chow-extravaganza, especially for Mexican food. You should find many posts on Maxwell below. Look especially for one done by Muman in October or November.
re: Vital Information
Boulevard Cafe would be good for early weekday evenings (not open for lunch). Later it morphs into a bar with live entertainment most nights.
Another newer spot that's gotten some good press is Think Cafe. It's BYOB, with a liquor store across the street. It's small though, so again I'd recommend bringing a baby early evenings, on less crowded weeknights. They also aren't open for lunch.
I'll second Ixca and throw in a heavy vote for Taqueria La Oaxaquena. There are lots of other options too. The venezuelan arepas at La Caleza Mexi Rican (right across from the mega mall on Milwaukee) are very good. You can get delicious cuban sandwiches and especially good steak sandwiches and cuban coffee at El Marianao on Milwaukee a little further south. Trek another couple of miles N on milwaukee to Thai Aree if it's open (call ahead, they're apprently on sporadic hours lately). I'd veto Abril, but jsut because that place gives me the creeps, not because of any actual experience with the food. I'd also avoid Lula except at saturday or sunday brinch, and then only order from the specials menu. There are good cheap pancakes to be had at Cozy Corner, on milwaukee at sacramento, (i think -- the sterns wrote up this place, check out Roadfood.com).
Check out the Korean Mega Mart at Kimball and the highway for some good fun -- search on Chicago Food Corp for more info. Stop by Las Delicias Guatemalteco on Kedzie and Wellington for very good tamales, and some nice pastries. (I prefer their stuff to pierre's, although they don't have the same air of faux marble opulence or the unbelievably sculpted and glaxed cakes)
Have a drink at the Small Bar at Wellington and Albany. It's much quieter than Boulevard, not to mention cheaper and less full of obnoxious sorts. (Full disclosure, I'm friends with the girlfriend of one of the owners, but the place is good notwithstanding my connections). Senor Pollo is indeeed excellent -- make sure to ask for the green hot sauce, and do not order mashed potatoes.
Finally, spend an hour on saturday afternoon walking milwaukee between diversey and belmont, and check out the variety of polish sausage shops.
re: Mike G
Ixca is stunning but very upscale i've been bowled over each time i've been but it'll run you a few bones. for cheapo taqueria mexican i recommend the ever-brilliant Arturo's Tacos on Western and Armitage. Good cheapo cuban at cafeteria de pancho on California just south of the El tracks (and therefore just a little further south of Milwaukee). Boulevard Cafe is a thoroughly solid American joint -- basics prepared well -- and for a "nicer" tho not as pricey as Ixca kinda place. Very friendly staff, a solid martini.
-Kevin, in logansq/humboldt pk for almost five years now and always up for more suggestions!