Dinner in Chicago for one night
This is so lame but I'm actually born and raised on the North Shore of Chicago. But having gone to school out east for college and then moving to NY right after, I rarely get the opportunity to enjoy what Chicago has to offer. I'm excited. New York has great restaurants and some of the top chefs and i'm ready to try some from Chicago.
I'm in town visiting family next weekend and would like an amazing meal paired with cool ambience and people if possible in the city-downtown area. Lincoln Park, the Loop, etc. Can anyone recommend? Last time i was there i went to Japonais and the thought the meal was average at best.
All suggestions welcome!
It's difficult to claim that any food is "best"; it all depends on what you're looking for. Alinea, Everest, Avenues and the other top chefs offer the ultimate in innovative food and exquisite service, cuisine that is acclaimed nationwide for its creativity and styling as well as delicious tastes. The very best casual fine dining restaurants like one sixtyblue, Blackbird, Aigre Doux, Sweets and Savories, and Oceanique are not quite as innovative as the previous group, but the food is absolutely superb, and their casual elegance is an attraction as well, making them "destination restaurants" worth driving across town for their high caliber of food and service. Still other restaurants have food that is good enough to make them worth return visits if you happen to live or be in their neighborhood. This is where I would put places like Sola (Edgewater), Magnolia Cafe (Uptown), Jilly's Cafe (Evanston), and Cafe Matou (Bucktown/Wicker Park). While not so fantastic that they are destinations for those living elsewhere, they are good places to have in the neighborhood, where you can count on good food in pleasant surroundings.
My favorite place in chicago right now is Red Light. It's Pan Asian but NOT fusion. the vibe is upbeat, the crowd is pretty young and hip, but what's important to me is the food is amazing. It's always a good idea to ask Chef Jackie Shen what she recommends, and let her take care of you.
None of the restaurants mentioned above are in areas that are to be avoided for safety reasons; all of them are reasonably nice. However, some are better for after-dinner strolling, bar-hopping, window-shopping, etc, than others, which is more a function of what kinds of shops etc are around and what hours they keep. I'll come back to this in a moment, after giving a quick thumbnail of neighborhoods.
Keep in mind that these neighborhoods don't have specific definitions, so there is some overlap and some could argue about specific boundaries (but please, let's try to keep the discussion about food and where to find it).
The Loop is Chicago's commercial center, which includes a lot of office buildings, the Art Institute (our largest art museum), some restaurants, etc. Restaurants (i.e. mentioned above): Everest.
Next, the areas closest to the Loop, starting from the south of the Loop and then proceeding clockwise...
South Loop. New residential developments mixed with older industrial buildings. Restaurants: Custom House.
West Loop. Same, i.e. some new residential developments mixed with older industrial buildings. Restaurants: moto, one sixtyblue, Blackbird, Avec, Red Light.
River North (just north of the Loop, on the opposite side of the Chicago River, west of Michigan Avenue). Lots of hotels and restaurants in this area. Restaurants: Naha, Aigre Doux, Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, mk.
Michigan Avenue (this is a very long north-south street that runs along the eastern end of the Loop and south, but when people refer to the Michigan Avenue area, they are usually referring to the "Magnificent Mile" stretch from the Chicago River north to Oak Street). The fanciest hotels and shopping are located along here and within one block, either side. Restaurants: Avenues, NoMi, Spiaggia.
Streeterville. The area east of Michigan Avenue. Mostly affluent high-rise condos and such. Restaurants: Tru, Les Nomades.
Now, moving north:
Gold Coast. The area from Oak Street (1000 N) to North Avenue (1600 N), roughly. Mostly affluent high-rise condos and such.
Lincoln Park: The area from North Avenue (1600 N) to Diversey (2800 N), roughly. Lots of affluent townhouses and nightlife. Restaurants: Alinea, Charlie Trotter's, Ambria, Sweets and Savories.
And three miles northwest of downtown:
Bucktown/Wicker Park: Restaurants: Schwa, Scylla.
If you're looking for areas with a lot of nightlife and shopping, where you would want to spend time strolling after dinner, then the best of these areas for that are Michigan Avenue, River North, the east part of Lincoln Park, and Bucktown/Wicker Park. Again, the other areas (Loop, South Loop, West Loop, Streeterville, Gold Coast, the west part of Lincoln Park, suburbs) aren't bad or unsafe areas; it's just that there isn't that much to make them stroll-worthy after dinner. You could stroll there, but you won't find as many little shops and other places of interest as in the previous group.
The area in the immediate vicinity of O'Hare airport (within a mile or so) includes a lot of businesses connected to the airport, i.e. hotels, parking garages, rental car places, etc. Further out, it's mostly your typical residential and commercial mixed-use. Even though O'Hare itself is part of the City of Chicago, most of the area around it consists of suburbs like Rosemont, Des Plaines, etc. Again, if you're looking for a place within 5-10 minutes of the airport, consider the Black Ram or Gibson's for steaks, or Giordano's or Gino's East on Higgins for pizza. Within 15-20 minutes you have the two suburban French restaurants I mentioned. None of these are in areas that are places you would want to stroll after dinner - not because they are bad areas (they're not), but because they are really not pedestrian-friendly, and consist mostly of businesses that people drive to, like you find in a lot of suburban areas.
BTW, Indiana is just what you think it is - the state to the east of Illinois. The northwest corner is part of the Chicago area, but it's on the opposite side of downtown Chicago from O'Hare, and it's not worth considering if you're looking for places to eat within a short cab ride from O'Hare.
One other note - if you happen to arrive during a weekday rush hour, it can be quicker to get to the Loop and certain other areas (e.g. Bucktown/Wicker Park) via public transportation than by cab. The Blue Line of the el, our subway, runs from O'hare to downtown Chicago.
If you're really looking for the greatest chefs in the country - the ones comparable to New York places like Thomas Keller's per se, Jean Georges, Alain Ducasse, Masa, etc - we've got them here, too. (They're just not named after the chef as often as in New York.)
If you were to put together a list of the top chefs and restaurants here in Chicago, in order starting with the best of the best, it would look something like this (people may argue about whether to move this or that restaurant up or down a few notches, but I bet most would come up with a similar list):
1. Alinea - Grant Achatz - www.alinearestaurant.com
2. Everest - Jean Joho - www.everestrestaurant.com
3. Charlie Trotter's - Charlie Trotter - www.charlietrotter.com/restaurant
4. Avenues - Graham Elliot Bowles - http://chicago.peninsula.com/pch/dining_01.html
5. Tru - Rick Tramonto - www.trurestaurant.com
6. NoMi - Christophe David - www.nomirestaurant.com
7. Schwa - Michael Carlson - www.schwarestaurant.com (closed Saturdays through March)
8. moto - Homaro Cantu - www.motorestaurant.com
9. Spiaggia - Tony Mantuano - www.levyrestaurants.com/Levy/DiningEx...
You'll have to call ASAP for reservations; many of these places book up well in advance. If these are all booked, there are plenty more excellent places to eat: One Sixtyblue, Blackbird, Avec, mk, Les Nomades, Ambria, Spring, Custom House, Naha, Sweets and Savories, lots of great steakhouses, etc.
I assume you're looking in the city only; if not, please say so, as there are more great fine dining places in the suburbs (Michael, Oceanique, Vie, Courtright's, Le Francais, Carlos, etc).
You can't go wrong with any of the places named here.
It depends on how much time you have. Travel times depend on time of day, too.
All of the city restaurants listed above are within a three mile radius of downtown Chicago. If it's not a weekday rush hour - which can start as early as 3 pm and go as late as 6 to 6:30 pm - then you can get from O'Hare to any of the city places listed above by cab in roughly 25-35 minutes. You'll have slightly less travel time (20-25 minutes) to Sweets and Savories and the restaurants in Bucktown/Wicker Park, which include Spring (mentioned above), Scylla, and others, but not the very top tables numbered above. If it IS a weekday rush hour, it can take longer, up to twice these times.
Slightly closer to the airport (15-20 minutes) are two French restaurants in the suburbs that are very good:
Le Francais, in Wheeling - www.lefrancaisrestaurant.com
Le Titi de Paris, in Arlington Heights - www.letitideparis.com
If you need a place within 5-10 minutes of the airport, consider the ones mentioned in this topic:
Remember that most of the numbered places are dressy (sportjackets for men) and most of the others aren't (business casual, no jackets).
The best scenery is if you're going to something downtown and driving along the lakefront.
If you have a time constraint, tell the restaurant when you arrive what time you would like to leave, and tell them if you need them to call you a cab. Any of them will be able to pace your meal accordingly.
You may want to add a cushion of 5-10 minutes to the above travel times, just in case there are construction delays. There is a lot of construction in various parts of the Chicago area, including the access road leaving O'Hare; they are widening the Tri-State Expressway, the stretch of the main north-south expressway as it goes past the airport.