Suggestions for a San Francisco Visitor
I am a cooking teacher from San Francisco visiting Chicago this wknd. We've got lots of time to eat and are staying at the W/Lakeshore. We're hoping to spend time in Bucktown/Wicker Park on Saturday and not sure what the rest of the stay will bring yet. Our dinners are already planned, but the rest of the days we're open to suggestions.
Any recommendations for tasty lunch places-especially those little spots that aren't laden with tourists, would be great (esp. in Bucktown/Wicker Park) as well as a good coffee or breakfast spot near our hotel, would be greatly appreciated. Happy to return the favor if you make it out to San Francisco.
Have lunch at Milk and Honey Cafe in Wicker Park on Division St just east of Damen Ave. Not sure exactly what you are looking for, but they have great sandwiches, salads, sweets, as well as breakfast/brunch fare. It is very very bustling and very casual (order at counter then they deliver to your table). It's just a charming place, though, and the food is awesome.
That would be my pick, but you also may want to look-up Letitzia's Natural Bakery (www.superyummy.com) which is also on Division. They make great panini's and have a great array of home-made desserts.
For lunch in Bucktown/Wicker Park, Hot Chocolate is a cute little place that has good pastries as well as lunch type entrees:
1747 N. Damen Ave.
For breakfast right near your hotel, Fox and Obel is a wonderful gourmet grocer (like Dean and Deluca, Balducci, etc) and is worth visiting just to see it. In the back they have a cafe that serves all day, including made-to-order omelets and other items. Good food, not all that expensive, not much on atmosphere (basic coffeehouse). You can view their menu on their website by clicking on Cafe and then Cafe Menu:
Fox & Obel Food Market
401 E. Illinois Street
Chicago, IL 60611
I think Jane'sin Bucktown is now open for lunch (Cortland and Paulina). I love the Costa Rican restaraunt Irazu (Milwaukee and Oakley) also in Bucktown. Bongo Room in Wicker Park has a good breakfast. The above mentioned Milk and Honey is pretty good. Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea (53 E Jackson) has the best coffee in the city. Intelligentsia coffee is served at Fox & Obel, Milk and Honey, the Bongo Room, and Jane's. Havana Libre on Chicago Ave has excellent Cuban sandwiches.
If you're looking for hole in the wall kind of local places, try Earwax (just south of North Ave. on Milwaukee) or Pontaic Cafe (just south of North Ave. on Damen). Earwax has an amazing turkey burger and Pontaic is just an awesome dive/burger bar with some of the best seasoned fries. Club Lucky (Wabansia and Hoyne) is an excellent mid-level Italian place with above-par service.
I definitely second Irazu. They have a huge variety but stay away from the burrito, especially if you're used to mission burritos. I strongly recommend their Vegetarian plate as it changes daily and is usually the freshest item.
The places mentioned (Hot Chocolate, Milk & Honey, Bongo Room) and most of Wicker Park are a lot of new and gentrified joints. Definitely have their strong points, but have only been around for a few years.
Piece (on North Ave. just east of Damen) isn't Chicago style pizza, but it is excellent thin crust pizza with corn meal crusts and a micro-brewery. If you like micro-brew beer, a lot of Piece's home brews are akin to SF brands like Anchor steam.
Handlebar (on North Ave. just west of Damen) is a bicycle themed mostly vegetarian joint with gouda mac/cheese, garlicky collard greens, and a lot of new takes on old diner favorites.
PS. I see you posted something about fried chicken. If you want to try a real and inarguable staple of Chicago while in Wicker Park, go for HAROLD'S CHICKEN (on Milwaukee between Wood/Wolcott and Paulina). I don't know if you've had it before, and that location is probably the worst one in Chicago, but it is still nonetheless a Harold's Chicken.
It is the best chain-brand fried chicken in Chicago. Do yourself a favor, and get a mixed dinner with hot sauce on top.
Funny, I've been eating at the Bongo Room (at least 7 years) a lot longer than I have at Handlebar or Piece . I can't remember where the old location was but I don't think they have always had their current location. I would argue that Handlebar and Piece are just as gentrified. I don't think the age of the business really determines how good it is. Regardless, I didn't list any places I would describe as touristy.
Yes, the Bongo Room has been around for a few years, as SKing originally mentioned. In November 2002, the Tribune published an article with brunch alternatives to "waiting in line at the Bongo Room", so at least seven years sounds right.
I *think* the Wicker Park location at 1470 N. Milwaukee Ave. is the original one - anyone know for sure? - but they also have a second location in the South Loop at 1152 S. Wabash Ave.
I second the motion for Hot Chocolate. We have eaten there several times in the last 2 months and we find the place fascinating, unusual and with wonderful food and even better desserts, which is expected. Very unusual "tuna melt" sandwich. Unbelievable hot chocolate drinks - can you say "rich"? Excellent hamburger. And nice upscale shopping in the area if you are so inclined. Good luck. Don