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3 Brothers w/ Wives in 3 nights (6 'Hounds)

Hi,

My brothers and I (ages 37, 40, 48) are descending upon Chicago with our wives (kids at home w/ grandparents!) for three nights of fun. I am a Sr. Producer at Food Network in NYC, another brother owns two restaurants in San Francisco, and the 3rd might as well work in the industry, too, but he is too busy conserving land with the Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire. Each of our wives have as much of an appetite for restaurants, both fine and obscure, as we do.

We are staying at The Four Seasons in late October and trying to plan out the weekend (Fr-Mon.). We don't have a car, but cabs are not a problem nor is the subway or any other transport. We want to achieve a nice balance over the weekend -- we love a high-end dining experience, but it is not critical. We are most interested in great food, good local scene, and an environment that will allow a table of six to actually hear each other as we have much catching up to do. We all love the under-the-radar hole-in-the-walls, but nothing too down and dirty as we are a large group with some differences in tolerance, ultimately!

I have assembled a list of contenders -- again, we want to break it up so if you had three nights and some brunch/lunch options to squeeze in, how would you proceed -- any and all suggestions welcome!

The only criterion besides getting in a good pizza is that one of those nights in a birthday celebration as well. Thank you all ;)

General:
Aigre Doux
Avenue
Alinea
Blackbird
MK’s
Moto
NAHA
North Pond
One Sixty Blue
Schwa
Sepia

Italian:
Gennaro’s
Rose Angeli’s
Spiaggia
Vivere
Merlo
Volare
Pane Caldo

Seafood:
Hugo’s Frog Bar
Bob Chinn’s
Shaw’s Crab House

Pizza:
Gino’s East
Giordano’s
Bacino's
Home Run Inn
Aurelio's
Vito & Nick's
Father & Son
Candlelite
Barnaby's,

Mex:
Adobo Grill
Los Nopales
New Maxwell St. Market on Sunday
Sol de Mexico

German:
Laschet’s Inn
Resi’s Bierstube

Fusion:
Cuatro
Red Light

Hot Dogs:
Hot Daug

Breakfast:
Ann Sather’s

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  1. That is quite the list. Good luck finding what you are looking for. I'm surprised at the omission of Indian food. No Indian food fans in the group?

    Comments:
    Hot Doug's:
    Not a place for a "Chicago Style Dog" if that's what you are looking for. If you were looking for a Chicago dog, I would rec a bunch of places, but Portillo's is easy to find, and there's one in the touristy section, and you can also get a DECENT beef sandwich with hot giardinera which is a Chicago institution as far as sandwiches go.

    Adobo Grill is not gonna be very memorable. Sol De Mexico has a better chance of that.
    P.S. - No Love for Bayless's spots (Topolobompo / Frontera Grill?)

    Ann Sathers:
    Cinnamon rolls and Turkey Benedict. It's a Chicago institution that Ann Sathers, but please note that it's not really GREAT breakfast fare. Most go for the cinnamon rolls that come with your breakfast. They are the big draw.

    Bob Chinn's:
    Consistently 'good,' and nothing more. You may not find the food memorable, but the decor and briskness of this place is. It's good. Don't go in expecting 'great.'

    Italian:
    I REALLY like Rose Angeles. When they are on, they are GREAT. I've been there three times out of 8 where they were kind of just so-so. But the times they were great really made up fo the bad times. Their inconsistency irks me when I am expecting really good things.

    No Trotter's??

    Pizza -
    I'd cross Giordano's and Gino's East off. Check out some of the pizza threads, and go to a lesser known place for Stuffed. Sure, Giordano's and Gino's are fine, but you'll do just as well and maybe even better at a smaller non-chain place. Just search for the pizza threads - you'll find names very quickly.

    Re-consider Indian restaurants. Not sure if you forgot about those or if there are not Indian food fans in your group. We have some pretty good offerings here.

    1. That's quite a list!

      In the "general" category, you have mixed some real high-end splurge places with tons of creativity (Avenues - it's plural, Alinea, Moto, and Schwa) with others that are more casual, but still have great food. Both kinds are excellent, but they are different from each other. (Think about back home - sometimes you are in the mood for a splurge and you go to Per Se or Le Bernardin, like for a birthday celebration, but sometimes you don't want to get as dressed up and not have such a "grand experience", you just want great food, right?) Since you mentioned you don't want noisy places, for that reason I would knock out MK and Blackbird. I haven't been to Sepia, but the others are all very good. Best food for a non-splurge place - one sixtyblue; most unique atmosphere - North Pond.

      Under Italian, you include Spiaggia. This, too, is a high-end splurge place. It's excellent indeed, but this makes it a very different place from the others. As for the others... well, I would recommend not going to our Italian restaurants, other than Spiaggia. They're good, but you have so much good Italian food back home, I think there are better choices in town, for food different from what you're accustomed to. But if you really want to do Italian other than Spiaggia, I think Vivere is excellent and so are Cafe Spiaggia and Coco Pazzo.

      Seafood - I do *not* recommend Bob Chinn's. It's just not that good, IMHO. Yes, the seafood is fresh, but the preparations are nothing special. And it's quite a hike from downtown, definitely not worth it. Shaw's is very good; so is Hugo's, which also offers the option of excellent steaks (thanks to its association with Gibson's next door). If you really want the very best seafood in the area, IMHO, you should go to one of the seafood-oriented restaurants such as Spring, in the city ( www.springrestaurant.net ) or Oceanique, in Evanston ( www.oceanique.com ).

      For pizza, you have some real drek choices mixed in there. Aurelio's is the worst pizza I have ever eaten in my life, and Home Run Inn is close. I recommend sticking to the Chicago deep-dish places like Giordano's, Gino's East, Lou Malnati's, Bacino's, etc. (Giordano's is by far the best place for stuffed pizza in Chicago, IMHO; Lou Malnati's is best for pan pizza.) These are the GOOD places in Chicago, the ones that made us famous for deep-dish. If you want to do thin crust, maybe Spacca Napoli for Neapolitan pizza if they've re-opened. NOT the other ones you've mentioned.

      For Mexican, I assume you are not considering Topolobampo or Frontera Grill because they're relatively noisy...? Sol de Mexico is good, but inconvenient by public transportation and expensive by cab (finding a cab for the return may be an issue too). If you insist on going there, renting a car for that day might be the easiest way. Otherwise, I think enough good Mexican places are a lot more convenient that I wouldn't worry too much about hitting Sol de Mexico.

      For breakfast, I consider Ann Sather's nothing special. There are lots and lots of excellent breakfast places in Chicago, places like Orange, Flo, Wishbone, M. Henry, Bongo Room, Lou Mitchell's, etc. You can read more recommendations in the topic at www.chowhound.com/topics/364403

      The rest of the choices are fine.

      1. Very comprehensive list

        A few comments:

        Many of the places you list in your general category are some of the most recommended, and higher end places in the city. Good choices.

        The seafood choices, I have never cared for Hugo's, a lackluster menu, and it is part of the whole Viagra Triangle scene that Gibsons feeds into. Shaw's is a better choice. As for Bob Chinns, I do not consider it a seafood restaurant, it is a crab house, and for a place to go and crack some crabs, it serves its purpose. If you are coming in after Oct 15th you could hit Joes Seafood, Prime Steaks, and Stone Crab for some freshly flown in stone crab claws, since they come back into season Oct 15th. Their steaks are also top notch. there is no need to go outside of Chicago for some good seafood.

        Pizza, I would skip the chain places like Giordanos, & Ginos East as well, and hit the non-chain options. My favorite pizza in Chicago right now is at Coalfire on Grand Ave. Its thin crust, and excellent.

        For hot dogs, Hot Dougs is not be a place I recommend to anyone. They do a Chicago style dog, but they seem to focus more on different meat variations that is not a true hot dog in my opinion. Portillos is a good rec. they are probably the best chain restaurant in the country, and do serve the Chicago sandwich the Italian beef, or the beef and sausage combo. Typically decent, but there are better around.

        Enjoy your visit.

        Once again pretty good list.

        1. I copied and pasted your list and have included my two cents on the places I have been.

          General:
          Aigre Doux - I've enjoyed the food, but it hasn't been particularly memorable. Some on this board love it. I'm basically indifferent.
          Blackbird - other people love it. I didn't particularly enjoy it, but I don't eat any pork products, which severely limited my menu options. The dessert I had was outstanding.
          NAHA - I love this place. Everything I've had has been fresh and seasonal and extremely well prepared.
          Possible addition: Boka - really wonderful food.

          Italian:
          Spiaggia - amazing, but as nxstasy said, it's in a completely different class. This is formal, expensive dining. The sister restaurant, Cafe Spiaggia is also wonderful, and more casual and affordable (but still not cheap).
          Vivere - I'm not a fan. The food is fine, but nothing special.
          Possible addition: Coco Pazzo - great food; lovely, but occasionally slow service. Usually not too loud for good conversation, but sometimes on the weekends it gets noisy.
          Osteria Via Stato - a fun pace with a group. They have a $35 pp prix fix, where they bring family style apps and pastas and each person get to order an entree. The food is reliably good, and the place is fun.

          Seafood:
          Hugo’s Frog Bar - I'm not a fan. I can't stand being there with all the tourists. I haven't had anything bad there, but there are better places for catching up.
          Bob Chinn’s - their downtown location closed a couple years ago. Not worth the trip to the burbs. Also, its huge and crowded and very suburban-feeling.
          Shaw’s Crab House - also huge, but the food is generally good. Given your other options, I would skip it.
          Possible addition: I agree with nxstasy, Spring is better than any of the places you listed.

          Pizza:
          Giordano’s - I love Giordano's. When it comes to stuffed pizza, I think you are better off with the chains.
          Bacino's - fine, nothing special.
          Home Run Inn - yuck.
          Aurelio's - it's OK, again nothing special.
          Barnaby's - yuck

          Mex:
          Adobo Grill - not terrible, but not great. They have good margaritas and apps, I've been disappointed in the entrees. There is better Mexican in Chicago.

          Fusion:
          Red Light - good food, and lots of energy

          Breakfast:
          Ann Sather’s - I would say its worth a trip, but I agree with Gordeaux.
          Other options: Lou Mitchell's - another Chicago institution with really good diner-style breakfast fare.
          Orange - a really interesting menu, but the execution has been going downhill recently. The pancake flights (four stacks of silver dollar pancakes with different interpretations of a common theme) are usually still worth it.

          1. Hmmm, very interesting group of hounds...why not take a local along? Invite me LOL. No seriously, here are a few comments regarding your list:

            ITALIAN:
            Genarro's and Rose Angelis are overrated!
            Spiaggia is excellent but kind of has a corporate feel..nice view though. Cafe Spiaggia has a cozier feel and of same kitchen & chef and much less expensive.
            Vivo for Italian on west Randolph has been around for quite a while and is very good. It deserves morre attention.

            MEXICAN:
            Salipicon on Wells street is excellent. Pricilla Satkoff of Mexico City used to work for Rick Bayless. Fantastic food and margaritas!

            GERMAN:
            Lachetts and Resi's Bier Stube are right accross the street from eachother. I like Resi's and especially in the summer or fall in the beer garden.

            FUSION: Carnivale is Latin Fusion. Very good food in a great festive space. Take a stroll on the balcony to enjoy the great city views.

            PIZZA:
            Lou Malnati's on Wells Street or Gino's East on Rush street for traditional Chicago Deep dish.
            Spacca Napoli is the best for authentic Naples pizza.

            HOT DOGS:
            Superdawg drive-in is the one for you. There's nothing like it. Same owners for decades.
            Hot Dougs is worth the trip!
            I love Portillo's. This place would thrive anywhere!
            SUPERDAWG SUPERDAWG

            BREAKFAST:
            Ann Sathers and Orange are overrated!
            Ina's on west Randolph for great breakfast; plus lunch and dinner too.
            Wishbone for Cajun, Mexican, Southern inspired breakfast.
            Cafe Selmarie in Lincoln Square (great neighborhood for exploration) for great breakfast; plus lunch and dinner.
            Lou Mitchells downtown only
            WORTHY PUB GRUB:
            Hopleaf in Andersonville is a fantastic Belgian Pub with great beer and Belgian bar food. Unique atmosphere and located in a great neighborhood.
            Jake Melnicks on Huron for sports and grub. Very good skirt steak, burgers, fries, etc.

            DON'T FORGET TO GO TO THE GREEN MILL IN UPTOWN FOR ONE OF THE WORLDS BEST JAZZ BARS, BEEN AROUND SINCE 1907.
            ALSO CHECK OUT THE VELVET LOUNGE ON CERMAK FOR OPEN MIC

            2 Replies
            1. re: amoncada

              I'd also drop Shaw's. You can easily do just as well in NYC.

              If you like pancake flights (especially the rich sweet kind) I find Bongo Room to be far more dependable than Orange, at least in the South Loop.

              Go to Hot Doug's, not so much for the Chicago-style hot dog (which you can find elsewhere) but for the great offerings of distinctive sausage,

              1. re: jbw

                BREAKFAST:
                Agreed, Bongo Room is quite good and more consistent than Orange.

                HOT DOGS: Hot Dougs and Superdawg are the best!
                Yes, Hot Dougs has unique offerings like elk dogs, buffalo sausage, chicken dogs, etc. They're all excellent!
                There's nothing like Superdawg!