Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >
Mar 19, 2007 02:43 PM

L.A. FOODIES COMING TO CHICAGO what is current creative best places

A real challange as I havae done all of LA best and most unique. I know Chicago has a great reputation and I would appreciate a detailed list of places to try on my trip. I will let you know how your best compares to LA s best and will gladly give reccomendations to anyone coming to my area. Thank you very much.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Assuming by "best" you mean the most creative fine dining chefs and restaurants, the ones listed in this topic are the ones you want to hit:
    The top five are pretty much interchangeable, i.e. it is arguable which is number 2 vs number 4 etc, and they are among the very best, most creative chefs in the country. It's no surprise that four of the five were just nominated for James Beard awards.

    On your visit, you might also consider mixing in some meals at some slightly different places, rather than eating *only* at these creme de la creme places. You could mix in one of our places that are more casual and slightly less creative but equally wonderful, as mentioned further on in that topic. And there are lots of other categories of food here besides fine dining, everything from our unique Chicago-style pizza, to steakhouses, to just about any kind of ethnic food and cheap eats you want.

    1. The best of the best is Alinea. It is not interchangable with any restaurant in Chicago or the US. If that's a little to pricey or "out there", I would suggest either Schwa (reserve WAY in advance) or Avec. Chicago also has some of the best (if not the best) Thai food in the country. I would recommend TAC Quick. All of these restaurants can be found in other threads.

      15 Replies
      1. re: jesteinf

        I would easily compare any of the other top places to Alinea - Everest, Trotter's, etc. For example, you can ask Chef Bowles at Avenues to do a 23-course dinner for you and he'll blow you away every bit as much as Chef Achatz, with tremendous creativity, possibly not quite as unusual in some ways (without things I consider "gimmicks") but with better tasting food. This is in my OPINION, of course.

        Schwa is very creative, which is why I included it in my list of the top chefs in town.

        Avec is good, but not unusually creative. I can easily name half a dozen restaurants off the top of my head that are better than Avec in every way - One Sixty Blue, Aigre Doux, mk, Custom House, Spring, and Avec's sister restaurant, Blackbird. And another half dozen in the suburbs.

        IMHO you're wasting your limited time on a short trip if you are expecting our Thai food to be all that much better than what you get at the best places back in L.A. It's good, to be sure, but not unusually so.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          That's all well and good, but I wouldn't tell Chef Bowles that he's interchangable with Chef Achatz...he might spit in your food.

          For the OP's benefit:
          Alinea = New American (molecular gastronomy to some, even though that's not really correct)
          Everest - HIgh end Alsatian
          Charlie Trotter's - Modern American in an early 90's sort of way
          Avenues - Contemporary American. Not as avant garde as Alinea, but not as traditional as other places
          Avec - Wine bar and rustic Mediterranean style tapas. Fantastic food and a really neat atmosphere.

          1. re: jesteinf

            I could have written the query posed by bocarw as my husband and I are hitting Chicago for the first time in June and have the exact same question. Are either of Rick Bayless' restaurants in this category? What are your thoughts on Topolabompo and on Frontera Grill? Thanks for these excellent tips - I'm getting ready to reserve ASAP.

            1. re: Bria Silbert

              Personally, I think Topolabompo is overrated (I've never eaten at Frontera). I actually much prefer Salpicon to Topolabompo.

              1252 N Wells St, Chicago
              (312) 988-7811

              1. re: Bria Silbert

                I wouldn't put Topolobampo and Frontera Grill in the same category of creativity as the top restaurants previously mentioned, but they are very good nonetheless. They are both a bit cramped and noisy, but if you are looking for creativity in Mexican food, they are worth going to. Topolobampo accepts reservations in advance (on but Frontera Grill only accepts reservations over the phone the same day as you're dining.

                Other good choices in creative Mexican food are Salpicon and the two locations of Adobo Grill

                If you're just here for a few days and hitting the finest restaurants in town, you might consider one of these Mexican places for lunch or brunch one day during your visit. Topolobampo is open for lunch Tuesday-Friday, Frontera Grill is open for lunch/brunch Tuesday-Saturday, Adobo Grill Old Town is open for brunch Saturday-Sunday, and Adobo Grill Wicker Park and Salpicon are open for brunch Sunday only.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Sorry, guys, but I don't think either Salpicon or Adobo hold a candle to Topolobampo or Frontera. I don't care for Salpicon at all, but Adobo can be fun -- superb guacamole and excellent margaritas -- but for the real deal, I have to recommend Rick Bayless's places.

                2. re: Bria Silbert

                  Frontera and Topolobampo are among my favorite restaurants, but I tend to go to them for lunch, with clients or friends, almost weekly. Certainly not at the level of Alinea or Avenues or Trotter's! But Salpicon will always stick in my throat as serving me one of my worst dining experiences. Still hard for me to understand the fuss about Blackbird, maybe I'll have to try them a third time. The first 2 were just OK - decent food, standoffish service. And Avec is one of the least comfortable tables at which I've ever been forced to be seated. JMHO.

              2. re: nsxtasy

                I would say Alinea and Avenues as the most current. Avec is great for honest food along with Topolabompo and the Thai joints. Check out Hot Dougs for a refreshing break, since you are in Chi-town. After seeing Anthony B in LA last night I want to fligh out for a week to indulge in the streets!!

                1. re: napolean

                  Great suggestions - thanks so much for sharing. For me, a large part of eating out is dining in a restaurant of a chef who I admire and respect, and that's the case with Rick Bayless. And I agree, Frontera would be where we are thinking of hitting for lunch. We've actually planned this whole trip around five days of lunches and dinners - with a conference squeezing in between all the meals!

                  1. re: Bria Silbert

                    MOTO is very new and and experience but pricey. We always take our LA friends and client there at least once. None have walked away upset with our choice

                    1. re: Bria Silbert

                      I concur with the thoughts on Frontera/Topolobampo - I have been to both many times and have never been disappointed. Salpicon is another favorite - my husband and I have always had great food and good service there. Adobo Grill is good for margaritas and guacamole, but we've always been disappointed with the quality of their entrees.

                    2. re: napolean

                      I just joined this board but can someone put an * next to Alinea every time it's mentioned because of the extreme price? I've been there. It's something special no doubt. It'll also max your credit. Even compared to the other top restaurants.

                      There are some amazing, and quite unique, much more reasonable places out there than the tried and true top list too. But they keep getting the recommendations it seems. Maybe a second tier/halfway affordable tier is in order?

                      1. re: fightingtheusburbs

                        Price is sometimes discussed here, and the top places do indeed vary in price. And the highest prices charged by the top places is a relatively recent phenomenon. Up until a few years ago (around the time that Grant Achatz took over Trio), even the best places in town would only run $150/person including moderate alcohol and tax/tip. Now, Alinea is typically $250-400/person (they offer two tasting menus for $135/$195) and several others are often in the $200-300/person range. It's also worth noting that there are ways to avoid the highest prices (and I'll stick with the "moderate alcohol" assumption, as wine can be the biggest variable of all). For example, there is often a huge disparity between the a la carte prices and the grandest tasting menu. Avenues charges $90 and $120 for their three- and five-course a la carte selections, and $160 for the ten-course tasting menu, which means you can split a bottle of wine with the three-course and end up in the $150-160/person range, or go for the ten-course and end up at $250 or more. Everest is slightly less and also offers a three-course early pre-theater menu (every night except Fridays) for $50. Schwa is BYOB, so even with their $100 tasting menu, you'll save on your alcohol.

                        As for the "second tier", I know what you're talking about. I hate that name, because it sounds derisive, but these places offer terrific food in a more casual setting. I prefer the term "casual fine dining" as they are typically more casual in attire, don't have as huge a wait staff, etc. Such places are frequently mentioned (see the link in my first post above) and include places like One Sixty Blue, Aigre Doux, Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, Blackbird, Avec, mk, Spring, Custom House, Naha, Sweets and Savories, North Pond, lots of great steakhouses, etc., as well as many places in the suburbs (Oceanique, Michael, Vie, Courtright's, Le Titi de Paris, etc). These are all places where dinner with tax/tip and moderate alcohol typically runs $75-125/person. These places *do* get a lot of mention here on Chowhound (perhaps even more than the very top places). It really depends on what someone is looking for. When the OP asks about "creative" and "best" and "most unique", then those very top places are much more appropriate responses. But when they are merely asking about fine food, especially when they mention a casual setting, then those other places are usually more appropriate. Both kinds of places are important parts of our dining scene and do different things well, depending on what you're looking for.

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          yes, those are exactly the places I was talking about. I think the ultra restaurants get the press and are good for once in a while/special occasions (unless you have ultra bucks) but the other restaurants are what make Chicago such a great dining town. We never run out of places to go. And for those in wicker park/logan square I think Think Cafe is top notch too, especially for BYOB, Scylla too.

                          1. re: fightingtheusburbs

                            Yup; for every place I mentioned, there are lots of others not mentioned in the immediate vicinity. Just as there are additional places in Wicker Park besides the previously-mentioned Spring, there are lots more excellent ones in Evanston besides Oceanique (including Chef's Station, Va Pensiero, Jacky's Bistro, Campagnola, and the Stained Glass). Same thing for other parts of the city and suburbs.

                2. The original comment has been removed