casual eats in the Loop, River North, or?
We'll be in Chicago in a week plus a couple of days, and over the years have eaten at many fine places, and gotten some good advice here. But, most of what we've looked for has been somewhat upscale.
This time, it's casual. I've got Portillo's for dogs, Lou Malnati's for pizza, Big Al's for beef. Ada's for deli. But what about good cheeseburgers in the Loop area or River North (if the later, someplace that isn't beset by kids)? What about other casual Italian (though we'll probably hit Little Italy)? Other good seafood besides the lounge at Shaw's? Good Mexican besides those already talked about recently (Salpicon and various posts on Frontera/topo)? Other stuff? Soups? Thanks a bunch in advance.
Please see my post in the "miscellaneous" thread below, for it lists some spots in Streeterville, which is River North east of Michigan.
You mentioned Ada's for deli. Consider instead Manny's on Jefferson almost to Roosevelt, a singular Jewish cafeteria. It opens and closes early in the day.
In the Loop itself, Miller's Pub is a favorite of mine for reliable middle American food in a bustling Chicago atmosphere.
Also consider Greektown. Artopolis, a unique bar-cafe-bakery, is open late.
On Taylor St., note Mario's Italian ice across the street from Al's Beef.
I know that I keep posting this so please bear with me but I have gotten to love Jay's Amore at 1330 W Madison. Very reasonable, tasty Italian food with large portions. Decent and affordable wine list and outdoor dining. Perfect casual Italian.
The original Heaven on Seven (Cajun food -7th floor of the Garland Building at 111 N. Wabash) is great fun. Go early (11:30) or face a long line (or sit at the counter). Of course, if you're from New Orleans, you won't be impressed, but if there's no Cajun where you come from you'll enjoy it. Chicagoans love the place even though we realize it's not the greatest Louisianna food in the world. It's just fun (and the gumbo is good).
In regards to burgers - I think the best in the area are either the aforementioned Millers, or Blackie's, at the corner of Grand and Fairbanks.
If you go to Little Italy, the best bet for a sit down dinner, IMO, is Francesca's - which is still "casual".
My favorite seafood, more so than Shaw's, is actually at Roy's (yes, a chain, but a good one) though Roys is probably a bit pricier than Shaws. If you're looking for seafood, I'm not sure it can be done on the cheap.
Yes Portillo's is a chain but a great one! Be sure to get a slice of chocolate cake...it's pretty incredible. I love this chain for it's high food quality (considering that it's low cost fast food), extensive menu, and cleanliness.
CHEESEBURGER: Mr. J's on State street just north of Chicago Avenue for fantastic burgers! I love this dive. MMMM tasty!
GREEK GYRO SANDWICH & SOUP:
Rodity's on Halsted just south of Adams has the best homemade gyro's. A bit greasy but quite tasty. Be sure to order the Spanakopita appetizer and Greek soup; Avgolemeno or the Navy Bean...soo good!
Manny's Deli is great. The corned beef, pastrami, and roast beef sandwiches, MATZO BALL SOUP, etc. is hard to beat.
Forget Heaven on Seven for Cajun. Definitely not worth the trip.
Santorini or Greek Island's (G.I. is less expensive) at Halsted and Adams are both great choices. Santorini is strongest in the seafood or lamb category while Greek Islands is solid all the way around but more casual. Incredible soup as sell. Santorini is more upscale and serene while G.I. is more casual and cavernous.
The Halfshell on Diversey just west of Clark Street is a great local basement dive that's been around for decades (I think). Known for Alaskan King Crab legs, Mai Tai's, etc. Stick to the basics here.
The Raw Bar in Wrigleyville on Clark street just North of Addison. For a totally different and delicious Persian and Egyptian steak and seafood experience. This place is a hidden gem.
For casual Traditional Italian try Tufano's Veron Park Tap at 1079 W. Veron Park just off of Racine avenue, a few blocks North of Taylor Street. Large outdoor patio as well. Cash only.
PIZZA: Definitely Lou Malnati's. Expect a very hearty meal. This pizza is much more substantial than your regular pizza.
Lao Sze Chuan: 1331 W. Ogden
Emperor’s Choice: 2238 S. Wentworth Avenue
Phoenix: 2132 S. Ogden
Ina's on west Randolph for gourmet breakfast. The most amazing pancake type hot cakes (I don't think she calls them pancakes).
Wishbone on west Washington: For fantastic southern and cajun influenced breakfast and lunch.
Tempo Restaurant: The fluffiest ommlette's around.
Original House of Pancake's: on Bellview at Rush Street in the Gold coast for amazing pancakes and many other basic breakfast standby's.
Totally agree with your comment about Portillo's chocolate cake - YUM.
Someone else mentioned it in another post, but I'd recommend L'Appetito. It's a specialty grocery store with a deli counter in the back (at least the one on Huron and Wabash is set up like that). Get some sandwiches (the pannini are good but a little greasy) to go and go to a park nearby to eat outside. They also have illy espresso, which I just love.