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Touristy (cringe) evening walk and dinner

Hey 'hounds,

I'm fairly new to Chicago, so please forgive the ignorance...

I'll be taking a guest (we're both originally from NYC) for a low-key night out; ideally, we'd take a walk before/after dinner on Michigan Ave. - I was hoping to do either Millenium or Grant Park, though I don't know how Buckingham Fountain looks at night/whether it's close to any good dining spots.

Some parameters to help narrow it down:
- We're definitely on a budget, hoping to keep it around $40 max per person (not including drinks)
- Not formal (though that shouldn't be too much of a problem, given our budget...), and we don't mind places that are loud - but definitely a cut above bars and burgers. A little ambience would be nice.
- Any cuisine besides Asian, pizza/hot dogs/etc.

I've done some searching on the board, and so far Grand Lux Cafe and Bandera seem to fit - with Cafe Spiaggia and Bistro 110 as maybes - but I'd really appreciate any opinions, updates, recommendations...thanks in advance!

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  1. How about Russian Tea Time, on Adams just west of Michigan Ave? I was just there for the second time - the ambiance is Tzarist Russian and the food is good - my only complaint is that they serve the same carrot slaw with everything, but that's minor, really. They have interesting flavored vodkas - you can get a flight of your own selections, too.

    I don't think much of Bistro 110, and have never been to Bandera (although friends like it) - your other choices seem good. I love the "sliders" at Grand Lux Cafe. Some other thoughts: Trattoria #10 (10 N. Dearborn - just walk west a few blocks to Dearborn) - they have a nice bar buffet; or Rhapsody at 65 E. Adams.

    1. It seems, sadly, that us native Chicagoans have been in mourning. Places dear to us have been closing; Fields, Berghoff, Carsons....

      And yet, in business since 1927, The Italian Village endures. Can you get better food elsewhere? Sure, but the history of the place makes up for it.

      Grab a piece of Chicago before we regret it no longer being around. Ask for a private booth, they ring the room and are so "old skool" cool that you can imagine Frank and Sammie eating next to you!

      Ask for the veal served three ways... it's not on the menu, but quite a tasty treat.

      Plus, download a podcast for Millenium Park here
      for a great way to work off your dinner!


      1. I'd be very curious about how other chowhounds feel about the Italian Village. I've never been to La Cantina or The Village since practically from my first day in Chicago I was warned against it as being the Ur-Convention-Tourist-American-Italian restaurant, and so far I haven't heard much to dispel that image. This does not, however, apply to Vivere, the high-end portion of the triad where I've had both very good and mediocre experiences, depending, I suppose, on who is in the kitchen that night.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jbw

          My recent (within the last few years) experiences with The Village (the hokey-cutsey one on the top floor) have been that it is quite mediocre (at one time we loved it - either it's gone downhill, or we have evolved). La Cantina is an okay place for lunch, in my experience, but nothing to rave about. I very much like Vivere, and have never had a bad dinner (or lunch) there - just lucky, I guess?

        2. Cafe Spiaggia is wonderful, but you might feel constrained by the $40 per person budget there.

          Atwood Cafe is in the Burnham Hotel, close to Millenium Park, it has very good contemporary American food, and would be within your budget.

          Vermillion - Indian/Latin Fusion is excellent, not too far from the Mag mile and probably within your budget (although I've only been there for lunch).

          Mambo Grill - A little further from Michigan Ave, but still within walking distance. It is Latin American food, with a fun atmosphere. Good Sangria, excellent Mojitos, and lots of great appetizers. It is cheaper than the others I've listed, but also more of a casual and fun place to take a friend.

          Grand Lux is basically the same thing as Cheesecake Factory. The food is fine, but it is an enormous restaurant with long waits and OK food.

          2 Replies
          1. re: SuzMiCo

            Mambo Grill sounds like a very good fit! Maybe the extra walking will be good after all that food...

            I read somewhere that Grand Lux and Cheesecake Factory have the same owners - not surprising, if their huge menu is any indication. Sounds like a fairly reliable backup?

            Thanks so much for all of your help so far, 'hounds! It's greatly appreciated :)

            1. re: theannerska

              If you don't mind a possible wait, skip Mambo Grill for Frontera Grill. You can certainly eat at Frontera for $40 a head before drinks, and it's a Chicago landmark (for good reason). Note that they don't take reservations and waits can approach two hours during prime time -- belly up to the bar, or come earlier or later.

              I had a singularly unimpressive lunch sandwich at Mambo Grill several years ago. Maybe I ordered wrong... Haven't been back.

          2. The main appeal of the upstairs at Italian Village is the kitschy decor (that mural in the back with the twinkling stars and moving river with the real water!) and the phenomenal wine list. They have probably the best Italian wine list in Chicago. The food is fine for what it is.

            1. Grand Lux is fine, but really ordinary. Frontera is not a bad idea if you don't mind waiting. Also, Quartino's on State street is a good idea for Italian-cuisine "small plates", and is quite reasonable.

              1. Depending on how far from the mag mile you are wanting to travel, I would highly recommend the Third Coast Cafe/Wine Bar at 1260 North Dearborn (http://www.3rdcoastcafe.com/). You cannot beat the ambiance, particularly when they feature live jazz (which is I believe Tuesday through Saturday.) The cafe has a very, as cliché as it may sound, European feel, and you are secluded from the craziness of Rush St. The prices are extremely affordable, and the selection is delicious and interesting, beyond mere sandwiches/pizza, and accommodate vegetarian/restrictive diets. Try the homemade soup specials, they are fantastic. Their wine selection is fantastic, making you want to linger to enjoy the music and eavesdrop on the locals' gossip. It is a little over a half mile from water tower, so you can browse the mag mile, make your way through the luxe gold coast shops (Prada, Burberry, etc.) and then after walk along the lakefront.

                1. Thanks again for all of these great ideas...

                  Another idea was to walk around Grant Park and see the Buckingham Fountain - I've never been there before at night, though, so does anyone know whether that would be fun/interesting/romantic in a nerdy tourist kind of way? If there are some good restaurants nearby, that'd be perfect! Otherwise, we could probably walk over from one of the previous suggestions.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: theannerska

                    Here's more on Buckingham Fountain. Note that it will soon go dry for the year (also I don't know whether the light show extends into the Fall), but if it's on you won't want to miss it:

                    One restaurant that hasn't yet been mentioned is Rhapsody, the Chicago Symphony's in-house restaurant, just across the street and down the block from BF. Here's a recent review:

                    1. re: jbw

                      Thanks for the info! The site says the light show runs through mid-October, which is exactly when I'll be expecting my guest. Guess I'll just keep my fingers crossed.

                    2. re: theannerska

                      The place to go is Millenium Park, on the east side of Michigan Avenue, south of Randolph. Here's a link: http://www.millenniumpark.org/

                      The park was built on what used to be part of Grant park (the northern portion). Buckingham Fountain is nice, but the Crown Fountain (two interactive pylons showing huge projected faces of Chicagoans) is incredible.

                    3. Buckingham Fountain would be lovely at night, if the weather is good. You should combine it with Millenium Park, as they are fairly close together, and both great to see.

                      For close restaurants, I second the Russian Tea Time suggestion. It is just a couple of blocks from either the Fountain or the Park, and its a very nice setting with good food. Italian Village, which I don't like nearly as much, is also walking distance, but farther. Most of the other suggestions are short cab rides or long walks away.

                      1. I'd be a backer of the Atwood Cafe idea and the night viewing of Buckingham Fountain, depending on what time of year and what the weather looks like.

                        1. As noted, you don't want to miss the fountain if the light shows are still active this late in the season. It's a spectacle...in the best possible way. Several South Loop restaurants are within an 8 or so block walk of the fountain. I'd go with Gioco for all-around good food, ambience, etc. If that's too far a trek, and you like sushi, Oysy is a great spot, and is about 4 blocks from the fountain. Printer's Row would be an option too, and is a quaint little corner of the Loop, though the restaurants there lean more toward bar food...have fun!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: looplivin

                            I thought Oysy was up on Grand and Wabash - pretty far from Buckingham Fountain. Is there another Oysy further south?