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Visiting beginning of December....what not to miss?

Hi my midwestern chow friends. My husband and I are visiting Chicago in early December for a week. We will be staying at the Hotel Allegro on Randolph street. It's not our first visit to the area by far but we haven't been there together in years. The last time I was out it was with my daughter and we stayed out near Oakbrook. This time we'll be downtown. We had a wonderful pizza dinner at Traverso's and would love to return. Is there one in the city? We will need casual dinners that won't break the bank. We won't have a car so things should be close within walking distance or cab ride. Also, can someone suggest a good dim sum place that serves weekdays? I'm also open to suggestions regarding things to see. Aside from the museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier which we've seen numerous times. Any fun little shopping areas away from the Mile? It will be a week away from the kids for me, my husband will be in meetings most days with Monday and Friday free. I would appreciate any suggestions!

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  1. Since you are staying in the loop, it will be very easy to take the el (CTA subway/elevated train) to Chinatown. I think weekend mornings are the best times for dim sum, but Phoenix is one place that says they serve dim sum in their downstairs, casual restaurant at all times. Three Happiness may be another option. You will hopefully get more opinions on which place to go. Ask your hotel concierge about how to get to the correct CTA stop.

    I am not aware of a Traverso's pizza downtown. If you are a fan of Chicago deep-dish pizza, you may wish to try the Giordano's on Randolph not far from your hotel. There are many other great pizza choices downtown. The original Uno and Due, Lou Malnati's, Gino's East all come immediately to mind. I expect you will get more input on pizza too.

    The other thing I would highly recommend, if you have never had one, is an Italian Beef sandwich. Or if you are feeling particularly hungry - a beef and sausage combo. In the loop, my two favorites are Mr. Beef on Orleans and Al's #1 Italian Beef just a bit Southeast of Mr. Beef. On Ontario, I believe. Although it is often recommended, Portillo's has never been one of my favorites for beef sandwiches, but I do like their hot dogs.

    I hope you enjoy your visit to Chicago and get some pleasant December weather! Cheers, Ken

    8 Replies
    1. re: kstroble

      Thanks Ken for the great info. My husband would love the Italian beef sandwich. What do you think of a woman taking the "el" alone during the day? Is it safe?

      1. re: mrsmegawatt

        In my opinion, it is safe for anyone to take the el to Chinatown, even more so during daylight hours. But I have lived in the Chicago area for 30 years. It would probably not be a bad idea to solicit a second opinion on that from your hotel concierge too.

        1. re: kstroble

          Thanks kstroble. I don't mean to sound paranoid, just trying to maintain a level of comfort/safety as most of the days, I'll be exploring alone.

          1. re: mrsmegawatt

            I think it is a perfectly reasonable question - not paranoia.

        2. re: mrsmegawatt

          Another thread I just read reminded me of one more pizza place I really like: Bacinos on Wacker near Hotel 71.

          1. re: mrsmegawatt

            Hundreds of thousands of women in Chicago take the "el" everyday without incident. As one of them, I can say that I've never felt like I was in danger on any train or bus in the city. (At least not from other passesngers. The driving abilities of the conductor/bus driver are another matter)

            As for a fun neighborhood away from downtown, I recommend Andersonville. Take the red line to Berwyn and walk 4 blocks west. It is a historically Swedish neighborhood that has trendy shops, great bars, and a wide variety of restaurants. It's also a very safe area. (I live in the neighborhood and always feel safe.)

            1. re: merkay

              Thank you merkay. We have a town here in California that's Danish, Solvang featured a bit in Sideways. Sounds like fun!

              1. re: merkay

                . . . and the stop before Berwyn on the Red Line is Argyle (about three blocks south), where you'll find yourself smack in the middle of our little Vietnam. Numerous food options, in particular Tank Noodle (pho), Thai Avenue, and some of the best Chinese BBQ at Sun Wah.

          2. Since you'll be visiting in early December, here's something that might be worth a couple of visits. It'll cover your chow, shopping, and sightseeing intrests all in one:


            Also, the Dia de los muertos exhibit continues at the Fine Arts Center in Pilsen until December 10 (about a $10-$15 cab ride from the Loop, also reachable by the el-Blue Line) with plenty of wonderful inexpensive Mexican restaurants nearby. Nuevo Leon is one of the best but check the "SF visitor" thread below for links to threads on the Pilsen area.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jbw

              Thanks so much JBW! This is the kind of thing I absolutely adore! I will make sure to visit!

            2. I actually have a list of shopping areas and restaurants that I put together for a family friend and her daughter who were visiting Chicago a few months ago. Would you like for me to email it to you?

              1 Reply
              1. re: elc515

                That would be wonderful elc. mrsmegawatt@prodigy.net ...since there isn't a way to send a private message (I wish they would work on that!) through this board, I'll just have to post it. All you spammers, leave me alone! I hate spam unless it's fried in teriyaki sauce and put in sushi!

              2. You might like to visit one of our ethnic neighborhoods, and a dramatic one would be Devon Avenue (Indian/Pakistani). From downtown take the Red Line subway (it runs under State Street) toward Howard. Get off at Loyola. As you emerge from the station you will be in front of McDonald's at a bus stop. (Safe neighborhood: that thing you will see across the street is Loyla University.) Take the Devon 155 bus. Ask driver to call Western Avenue (about ten minutes). This will put you in the heart of Calcutta, surrounded by shops selling saris, wedding shoes with turned-up toes, Hindu religious images, Muslim bookshops, lovely gold filigree jewelry, all kinds of gifts, videos and tapes, fascinating groceries and produce (go into Patel's supermarket and buy some spices and nuts at VERY low prices). Have lunch at an all-you-can-eat buffet for $7 (they are everywhere). Then keep walking west past the big New England-y looking bank and you will suddenly be in Moscow: Russian book and gift shops, delis, and even a Georgian bakery with a big stone oven. A couple of blocks more and the street turns Orthodox Jewish with bakeries, Kosher delis, stores selling Judiaca, etc.. Devon Avenue is like going abroad without a passport. And, BTW, yes, a woman alone can travel the route I have described in safety. There will be lots of people around minding their own business and not menacing you. I do it all the time.

                1. You guys are all so great! I'm so looking forward to this trip. Querencia, I love Indian food. I'll definitely put that on my list.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mrsmegawatt

                    I love Devon Avenue!! Great suggestion from Querencia!

                    Tiffin, India Garden and Udupi Palace(for Southern vegetarian) are generally well-regarded, but I am sure there are other good ones too.

                  2. Food -- generally much better north of the river than south. However, the casual eatery in your hotel, Encore, is a very nice spot for a casual lunch. But not dinner. Oysee is a very reasonably priced sushi restaurant with locations in streeterville (grand ave) and the far south loop (michigan ave). Good bets for dinner in the Loop are Trattoria #10 on Dearborn (very close to hotel) and the Russian Tea Room (more for the novelty than the food).

                    Activities -- Chicago has some of the best architecture and public statuary in the US. You can hook with a tour at the Chicago Architectural Foundation on Michigan Avenue. If the weather permits, the relatively new Millenium Park on Michigan Ave is worth a walk through. And the river boat tours are terrific in decent weather.

                    1. Depending on the sort of shopping and eating, there are a few boutique-y shop areas that also have nice places to grab lunch. These areas are a bit less "mega mall" oriented than Michigan Avenue, with more local shops and restaurants. All 3 are easily accessible with public transit or taxi.

                      Try Lincoln Park (particularly the area centered on Halsted and Armitage - west on Armitage and North on Halsted)

                      Bucktown (centered on Milwaukee/North/Damen intersection - North on Damen, East on North, both a bit North and South on Milwaukee)

                      and Wicker Park (centered on Ashland and Division - head west on Division).

                      Wicker Park is the least mallified, with Lincoln Park being the most.

                      1. There is also Thai food at Star of Siam on Illinois and State, off the red line at Grand. They have amazing peanut sauce! Also there is a Jazz place near there called Andy's Jazz, my boyfriend and I like to go there from time to time. There is a 10$ cover, but the music can be worth it at times. You can hear it outside the door so if you like go in if not walk on! hahaha. Also there is the Green Mill up at Broadway and ummmm Montrose? or a little north? can't remember the exact cross street but that is a great Jazz/Blues place!
                        Clark Street near Wrigley Field is always a hit too for lots of people with lots of restaurants to choose from.
                        I totally agree with the Chinatown and Devon recommendations!!!

                        OH yeah also a cool idea would be to go onto craigslist and click chicago on the right. then click under tickets, you might be able to get cheap tickets to a show then! We have bought tickets off there a lot for shows, cubs tix and so on.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Gweck

                          thanks Gweck and all who suggested! I'm very much looking forward to this visit! Chicago is a beautiful city and you are each lucky to live in such a place.

                        2. Since it's been a few years since you have been to DT Chicago - you must visit Millennium Park. The skating rink will be open after Thanksgiving. You are within walking distance to Rush Street or the House of Blues -so would recommend checking out who might be playing when you plan to be in town.

                          I second the recommendation for pizza at Giordano's. A casual dinner suggestion for you - Wildfire (easily under $75 for 2). They serve American food cooked over open woodfire - halibut, steak, chicken are all excellent. Don't have the exact address, but it would require a cab ride from Randolph. Contact them by calling 1-888-LETTUCE if you are interested and ask for Wildfire in Downtown Chicago www.wildfirerestaurant.com

                          If you are up for a late night romantic treat - here's a suggestion (my husband surprised me with this for our anniversary one year - it was wonderful). AFTER 9:30 pm TRU (676 N Clair St - 312-202-0001) serves a dessert sampling ($25 pp) - this is a very elegant restaurant (jacket req'd for men) owned by Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand (both worked under Charlie Trotter).

                          Enjoy your visit!

                          1. Since you are staying at the Allegro, 312 has some of the best homemade pasta in the city. Also, not too far away is avec, one of my favorite places to eat in the city. The menu changes frequently and the atmosphere, while crowded and noisy, makes for a great night out.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: chavez

                              Thanks dusker and chavez. I will add those to my list!