Visiting Chicago - which hood is best for food?
I'm visiting Chicago this summer, from NYC, and need advice on restaurants and neighborhoods. I live in Williamsburg Brooklyn, and am scouting areas in Chicago I may want to move to. I found Lincoln Park to be a little too preppy. I like Wicker Park...but found it a tad young and grungy. What other neighborhoods are offering artsy culture and great restaurants? Somebody said River West? Also -- if you can recommend a decent hotel, around $100/$150/night that's accessible to a good neighborhood (I don't care about staying on Michigan Ave), that would be great!!
I'm almost loath to say this because this part of my neighborhood is getting so chi-chi and gentrified, BUT it's a great place. Andersonville. Many fantastic restaurants (Hopleaf, Jin Ju, Andies, Reza's, Sevas, etc). Specialty stores (Middle Eastern Grocery, Swedish Bakery, a new olive oil place, a new Sicilian bakery). Can't really say much of hotels on this board but if you check out www.tripadvisor.com and go to the Chicago formums, they're really good at that.
I grew up in Andersonville, and after seeing it go through many incarnations, I'm thrilled to see it's the hot neighborhood in Chicago! Edgewater to the north is also a good place, and there may even still be some affordable real estate to be found there! Don't know what the poster who said Andersonville is "far" from Downtown means.. just hop on the el and you're there in 20 minutes / half an hour! Where I grew up, the Clkark Street Bus ran 24/7 about 1/4 block from my house, Transportation in Chicago is generally plentiful and easy.
North of Lincoln Park is De Paul. That's where I last lived in Chicago. Real estate is pretty pricy, but the neighborhood is convenient and wonderful with lots of friendly folks and near to great restaurants and night life.
I know some folks who are buying and rehabbing row houses on the near west side... don't know whether that idea or neighborhood interests you. The row houses are historic, and some still have original architectural features... This neighborhood is not far from Greektown and from the new hot "restaurant Row" that's west on Randolph.
I don't think Andersonville is far from downtown, it's just farther from downtown than the rest of the neighborhoods I mentioned. With the construction on the el, my friends commuting from up there are worried about long waits for trains and long rides, but the construction is just getting started, so it remains to be seen.
River West is close to lots of good food (the W. Randolph restaurant row, Greektown), but it isn't really a neighborhood. It's more like a collection of new condo buildings and recent rehabs that is just barely starting to resemble a neighborhood.
The West Loop is close to most of the same restaurants and has moved a little faster in developping a neighborhoody feel, but its still mostly new or rehabbed condos and the yuppies who live in them (although it does have a less preppy feel than Lincoln Park).
Edgewater and Andersonville (adjacent neighborhoods on the far north side of the city have many good restaurants and they are close to Devon (when the good Indian Food is); Argyle (where the best Thai and Vietnamese food is). It's also not far from Evanston, which has lots of good restaurants. On the downside, it is a pain to get from there to Wicker Park/Bucktown, and you are a fair distance from Downtown (longer commute).
Old Town is just south of Lincoln Park and less preppy than LP, but it is getting more like LP all the time (much to my chagrin). The restaurants in this neighborhood don't tend to be the new, hip places, but they are good neighborhood places and it is usually in the delivery zone for River North, Gold Coast and Lincoln Park restaurants, so the delivery options are great.
Also, at this point Wicker Park is getting less young and grungy as the apartment prices continue to rise.
Suz covered this very well. A couple of areas she didn't mention include...
Lakeview (including Wrigleyville) is just north of Lincoln Park and not as preppy. What she said about Old Town applies here as well - restaurants don't tend to be the new, hip places, but there's a bit of that there too. It's close to places north and south of there, including Wicker Park and downtown. Another possibility is Lincoln Square, which is just north of Lakeview and it has its share of good food too.
Basically, Chicago has a lot of good food all over, particularly concentrated in the areas within 3-4 miles of the lake from the South Loop all the way up to Evanston. Anywhere within that area will put you close to great food neighborhoods. In general, within that area, the further south you are, the closer you are to downtown (which may be more important if you work downtown and/or if you're a fan of fine dining) but the more you will pay to buy or rent a place to live.
I don't know much about hotels here. I think I heard someone mention recently that the Lincoln Park Days Inn is reasonably priced. It's certainly in a location convenient to the entire north side. www.lpndaysinn.com
The problem with Andersonville is that you can't just hop on an El and be there... there's no El stop near there , really... Andersonville, FWIW has sort of an "Upper West Side" quality to it, on a smaller scale..,. an area under revival.
The answer is that there's probably not one "hip neighborhood" that just covers it all, but there are several useful neighborhoods. If you dismiss Lincoln Park as "too trendy" then what do you want, dull ?... probably not.
If you're coming from Williamsburg then you probably don't want too far out in the burbs either... So, where are the concentrations of alot of places to eat, etc:
1) Armitage and Halsted... home to Alinea, Charlie Trotter, Vinci, Cafe Bernard, and quite a few bars... has an el stop also
2) Lincoln Park (which is a vast area from North Ave to Diversey... home to innumerable restaurants and bars of many cuisines and varying levels of quality, etc... probably the closest thing Chicago has to a Greenwich Village Atmosphere.
3) Old Town... a few middle-of-the-road places, solid Mexican and Italian, a few good bars, etc.... sort of like
4) Gold Coast / Rush... alot of higher-end stuff. Roughly comparable to the Upper East Side with a bit of Fifth Ave. thrown in given all the shopping there.
5) Wicker Park... more along lines of Soho, but not as transportation convenient to the rest of chicago. Small shop designers, art galleries, and the collection of restaurants that accompany them.
6) West Loop... alot of creative restaurants, large format clubs, etc.... might be kind of "Canal Street" vibe.
7) River North.... alot of restaurants and bars of varrying quality. Sort of our Times Square. Fairly heavy on the tourism but still some worthwhile stuff.
If you wanted to pick something that's "in the middle of it all", and within 20 minutes transport to just about anywhere, with convenient transport, then Division and Clark in the tony Gold Coast has a bunch of buses, subways, etc. right there... To the north, Belmont and Clark in "West Lakeview" would be similar. Something near Diversey and Halsted in Lincoln Park is also extremely convenient to alot of transport.
As for "decent hotels at low prices", I always recommend these: The Days Inn at 644 W. Clark at Diversey (NOT the one around 1800 N. Clark in Old Town), the Inn at Lincoln Park on Diversey just east of Clark, the Surf Hotel at Surf and Broadway, the City Suites on Belmont just west of Clark (at the El).
Hope this helps, enjoy.
mms: Go online to CTA Chicago which will show you all kinds of information about our public transportation. City streets are laid out in a grid with a major street (and bus line) every eight blocks. Subway and EL lines cross these, either diagonally or straight. When you get here, pick up a recent CTA map at any subway stop. See online info about day or week passes, available at any major supermarket. Re location, having lived in both Edgewater and downtown, I can tell you that downtown allows you to walk to everything while living north of downtown (Andersonville, Edgewater, Lakeview, Ravenswood, Wrigleyville) means you depend a lot more on transportation which in wintertime can mean freezing while you wait for a bus. For your visit, stay in River North where you'll find many reasonable chain hotels (eg Sheraton Four Points, Comfort Inn etc). If you can swing a deal at Homewood Suites you'll have a kitchen, many comforts of home, and some free meals included. Locate yourself near a subway line (do some homework with a map). Restaurants are all over the city; the bargains are outside of downtown.
Downtown is just...downtown. I went to Loyola University, and have worked in the Gold Coast area for 30 years. Except for those bar-hopping days in college, I was never really impressed with what the area had to offer: overpriced restaurants, several bland high-rise malls, and regular tourist infestations, esp. over the summer & around the winter holidays. My strategy is...work downtown, and enjoy life out in the neighborhoods, esp. Wicker Park, Andersonville, Rogers Park, Lakeview, etc. Those are real neighborhoods, with real Chicagoans, and they exemplify the diversity that is the heart of the city. Now, for visiting the city, what about a B&B? Check out www.house5863.com - that's an urban B&B at 5863 N. Glenwood...walking distance to Andersonville, near the major bus lines, etc. Rates are from $99 to $179/night.
re: Chicago Mike
mrsgus - I have nothing against the neighborhoods you list, but tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of "real" chicagoans live in the "downtown" areas - gold coast, south loop, west loop, near north, to say nothing of old town and lincoln park. Yes, this is also the heart of the more touristy areas, but also home to the highest rent areas of Chicago, the fastest growing residential areas, and many (maybe a majority) of the city's best restaurants. Don't let the touristy strip of Michigan Avenue blind you from everything else that these neighborhoods have to offer. It might not be for you, but that doesn't mean the people who live there aren't real Chicagoans. That said, I do agree that visitors should get out of the city center and see the surrounding neighborhoods, which was perhaps your main point.