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1st time to Chic--Mag Mile area--ethnic?

  • t

I'm staying in Chicago (1st time!) in the Magnificent Mile area for a conference (4-7 Jan) so I'd imagine the area is probably not the best for good (cheaper: $20-$30 for one) ethnic food, but I thought I'd ask. Also, is there anything someone visiting Chicago absolutely 'must' have? Is it a myth about pizza? What about a (not necessarily ethnic) brunch on Sunday? I don't mind a short commute. Thanks!! And Happy New Year!

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  1. You're correct; Chicago's best ethnic food is not found in that area. But you can find some within a short cab ride. Is there a particular ethnicity you're looking for?

    Anything you "must" have? I would say no. Get whatever foods you either already like, or would like to try.

    I'm not sure what you mean about "a myth about pizza". Chicago has wonderful pizza, and it's unlike most pizza elsewhere. There are two popular styles of Chicago pizza, and both have places in/near the Mag Mile area where you can get it:

    Stuffed pizza (double crust):

    730 N. Rush St.

    Deep dish pizza (pan pizza):

    Gino's East
    162 E. Superior St
    Chicago, IL 60611

    Lou Malnati's
    439 North Wells Street
    Chicago, IL 60610

    There are LOTS of great Sunday brunches all over town! Asking for a recommendation for Sunday brunch is like asking for "a good restaurant in Chicago". ;) You might try searching these forums for previous topics...

    Enjoy your stay here!

    1. Thank you! I'll scour the board later, with map in hand. I suspected that I'd have to travel a bit to find what I'm looking for...Thanx for the info on Chicago-style pizza--that it is unique: I'm afraid I'd gotten cynical, maybe just too many slices of mediocre pizza here in Baltimore. I'll definitely check one of your recommendations out. I love Vietnamese and Korean food, but am always up for Armenian or something new/unexpected. That's why Chowhound is so cool--new places, so much good food, and a lot of people who care.

      1 Reply
      1. re: tora

        Funny you should mention Armenian. Sayat Nova is Chicago's only Armenian restauarant, and it is located just off Michigan Ave. (the mag mile). It has been around for about 40 years. It is a little dark and cave-like, but the food is very good (at least the last time I ate there it was).

        Sayat Nova East Armenian
        157 E Ohio St
        Chicago, IL 60611
        (312) 644-9159

        I hear the brunch at North Pond is very special, although I have not done it myself (I plan to soon). It is not cheap for brunch ($29), but it is a bargain compared to North Pond's dinner tasting, and the menu looks phenomenal.
        Plus, the setting cannot be beat. The restaurant is in a beautiful vintage arts & crafts style building situated inside Lincoln Park which is also home to the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Nature Museum and the Chicago Historical Society.

        North Pond
        2610 N. Cannon Drive
        Chicago, IL 60614
        773 . 477 . 5845

      2. GREEKTOWN:
        Greek Islands at Adams and Halsted is excellent. High quality eats for reasonable prices. Lots of tourists and locals alike. Call for a reservation or get a seat right away in the bar area. Great fish, octopus, giant whole lima beans, saganaki, avgolemeno soup, skordalia, spanakopita, greek chicken, etc, etc. Great vibrant atmosphere as well.

        Quartino for small plates Italian at reasonable prices.
        Topo Gigio on Wells in Oldtown for tradional Italian for moderate prices. An old Chicago standby. Good food for the money.

        Cafe Iberico on LaSalle just south of Chicago Avenue for authentic tapas in a vibrant atmosphere for dirt cheap prices.



        Definitely try Lou Malnati's on Wells or Gino's East on Rush street for the best Chicago Deep dish in town. Forget Giordano's...good pizza but not great.

        CHICAGO ITALIAN BEEF SANDWICHES: Try the beef and sausage combo.
        Mr. Beef or Portillo's. Portillo's is a great chain restaurant.
        The best is Jonnies Beef but its too far.

        Adobo Grill on Wells in Oldtown for traditional and contemporary Mexican food.
        Salpicon for Upscale Nuevo Mexican
        Cuatro in the Southloop/contemporary and traditional.
        Pancho Pistolas in the Bridgeport area.

        2 Replies
        1. re: amoncada

          I think Giordano's is BETTER than Gino's or Malnati's. Of course, it's all a matter of personal opinion.

          Also, most of the places you posted about are not in the Mag Mile area that the original poster was asking about. Some are quite a distance away...

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Yes, the poster is staying in the mag mile area and is curious about ethnic eats for a specific price range. The poster does not however state that he/she only wants mag mile recommendations.

            Yes pizza is a matter of taste.
            Gino's deepdish pizza has far too much cheese and is really buttery. Gino's, Due's or Uno's (original), or Lou's consistently are voted best pizza in Chicago. I don't think the numbers can compare. Even Gullivers on Howard is better than Giordano's.

            I almost always recommend restaurants outside of the posters area especially for a first timer. Staying in one small Mag Mile area is only a small glimpse of what our city has to offer. The posters overall culinary experience will be far more fulfilled if he/she explores at least a few of my recs.

        2. If you like Vietnamese, you might try le Colonial on Rush. In my experience, the food is excellent, the restaurant is a throwback to the French colonial period of Saigon and the bar is pretty cool. The pork dishes are very good.

          1. Chicago pizza myth? - maybe ;)

            It's often what you were raised with that you love. My husband, raised on the West coast, loves almost any Chicago Deep dish or stuffed (I think his fave. is Bacino's, but he won't turn any down). On the other hand, I'm from the East coast, and much prefer NY style (which is pretty much nonexistant in Chicago!)

            Plus there are several distinct Chicago styles of pizza (a few being more "midwestern" than Chicago specific) and continual arguments here and at LTHForum.com over who cooks which style the best (even over whose pizza is which style!).

            Add into that mix the recent trend of new places opening with wood burning ovens imported from Italy who are doing serious, artisanal pizzas in regional Italian styles with fresh, seasonal ingredients.

            So being that you could eat nothing but pizza here and still not experience it all, take everyone's advice with a grain of salt!!!

            1. As an East Coast transplant (from Baltimore, like the OP), I concur with Leek that Chicago style pizza may be unappealing to those not raised on it. I say this based, not only on my own taste but that of a lot of East Coast visitors to Chicago whom I've entertained over the years. If the OP's preference in pizza runs to that found in New York or Naples, I'd steer him/her towards other types of ethnic cuisines where Chicago excels and may not be available in Baltimore. In particular, I'd encourage him to try some of our Mexican, Thai, and Indian restaurants, all of which probably trump what's available in Baltimore. (As to Chinese, it depends. If the OP has spent much time in NYC or San Francisco, for example, he will probably be disappointed in Chicago's offerings.)

              5 Replies
              1. re: masha

                All the East Coast visitors to Chicago that I've entertained over the years have absolutely LOVED Chicago-style pizza (Giordano's, mostly, with an occasional excursion to Gino's East).

                The only exceptions have been those who expressed a preference for types of food other than pizza, and thus did not get a chance to try it.

                < shrug >

                1. re: masha

                  I agree with masha. I grew up in NJ and I can't stand Chicago pizza. Thank goodness for the other styles starting to make inroads here.

                  1. re: jesteinf

                    I grew up in NJ and I love Chicago pizza (and hate NY-style pizza)...

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      Thank you all! I bumped into the Armenian restaurant (Sayat Nova) on the way back to the hotel...fated, I guess. It was excellent! Great ambience; easy to deal with alone; and the food was both inexpensive and tasty! I tried the vegetarian sampler w/lentil soup. I enjoyed it all. After reading all the views on pizza, and considering that 'chicago style' pizza at the pizza uno chain in md is probably not real (it didn't seem esp different_, I went to Gino's East. It really is unique! So much sauce, and the crust is quite different too. I can see it would be well-nigh impossible to order just a slice. Is the yellowness of the crust from egg yolks, butter, different flour? I really enjoyed it. Did not like the 'dim sum' at Szechwan (sp?) next door to the marriot courtyard. The items seemed to be reheated from frozen--esp the pork buns. But then, I was just shooting in the dark with that one. Thank you guys!

                      1. re: tora

                        Glad you enjoyed Sayat Nova :)

                        The Szechwan place you mention is long past it's heyday. I understand some go for the buffet. I don't necessarily equate dim sum w/ Sichuan cuisine, anyway. To get the best Chinese Chicago has to offer you really have to travel to Chinatown. It's just a city peculiarity.

                2. Most ethnic restaurants can't afford the very high downtown rents, but don't despair---from Michigan Avenue (Magnificent Mile) walk west two blocks to State Street and take the Red Line subway which runs under it. You can get on at Grand or Chicago Avenue. Head south in the Dan Ryan direction and get off at Cermak-Chinatown for Chinatown. Or head north in the Howard direction and get off at Argyle for Vietnamese. Or stay on to Loyola then (right outside the station) take the 155 Devon bus to Western (ten minutes) for an intensely Indian-Pakistani neighborhood. That's a few to get you started.