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Sep 27, 2007 11:30 AM

Challenge for all Chitown Hounds

We have two friends from Houston coming in next weekend from Thursday to Sunday am early. They are both total foodies (and I thought I was one)! So, we have 4 people--2 couples in their 30s. Where do we take them? To them, price is no object. My husband, on the other hand, wholeheartedly objects (as we are saving for a house). He is right and all, but I love food and so do the friends coming in town. So, how do we show them the best of Chicago w/o spending $100 each person each night?

We want one night to be more upscale, but not sterile, boring and ridiculous...i.e. no trotters, avenues, 160 blue, alinea (not boring but too much $$$), etc. I was thinking Blackbird, but then thought maybe we'd do lunch there Friday, instead. what are some places with fabulous food, atmophere, cocktqails that would show them the best we all different food types and ranges (no pizza...unless we travel to Burt's?, no Greek)--maybe one american, one mexican, one thai or italian or something?

Thoughts include: Boka (if we could sit outside), Merlo on Lincoln (or A Tavola), Schwa (cannot prob get in), Sepia, Japonais, Follia for higher end--thoughts?

Then, for two others, maybe fonda del mar (but if too cold, the inside gets too loud and atmophere not interesting enough..pilsen-that BYOB? other fun BYOs or great places? I have lived here forever and am in dire need of some new tapas but do not love any of the chicago versions...other small plates, maybe?

thnaks for the help! chicago has the best of everything and I need to make sure they get to see that! thanks!

Other fun places such as great wine bars...anyone been to bluebird yet?

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  1. I go to Bluebird all the time as it's a short walk from me. Ok, the food won't blow your mind, but it's pretty good. The wine and beer list is what makes this place great.

    What about Spring?

    1. For the upscale dinner, I don't find one sixtyblue to be sterile, boring, or ridiculous; they simply have great food, in a somewhat modern environment. I think it's one of the very best places in the city. Like Blackbird, but less noisy. Aigre Doux is similarly somewhat modern with spectacularly good food. Another suggestion for the upscale night would be Sweets and Savories. Their food is very good - not quite as good as Blackbird/Aigre Doux/one sixtyblue IMHO, but reasonably close - and the shock of finding such good food inside a nondescript storefront is always a pleasant surprise. And S&S can be slightly less money than the others in this group. There are plenty of other excellent places in this genre of casual fine dining: Spring (mentioned above), Custom House, Naha, North Pond, etc.

      I'm not sure why you wouldn't want to do pizza. Frankly, I don't think there's any better way to show off Chicago cuisine, without spending a lot of money, than going to Lou Malnati's, or Giordano's, or Gino's East, whichever location is close by. None of which they can find in Houston. Whereas I'm sure Houston has Italian and higher-end dining. Regardless of whether or not deep-dish Chicago pizza is *your* personal favorite, I bet they'd love it, and love the idea of enjoying our best-known specialty.

      Then, throw in some ethnic food - sure, Mexican in Pilsen (or maybe lunch at Frontera Grill), and Thai food (TAC Quick). Maybe a Latin fusion place (e.g. Cuatro, Carnivale) or Asian fusion (Red Light). What about Quartino, for "Italian tapas"?

      Incidentally, Schwa, which you mentioned, will significantly exceed your stated budget. It's $100 plus tax/tip, and that's not including wine, although your wine will cost less because it's BYO. It's a bargain for such a high-end place, but will still end up significantly above the $100/pp you said you didn't want to be spending.

      1. Some BYOB options that are inexpensive: Yassa African Restaurant. I haven't yet been here, but it's getting excellent reviews and I'm dying to go. Also Tango Sur on Southport is a good option and has outdoor seating. If you go, get there earlier (around 7ish) when the wait isn't so long. La Creperie is also a less expensive option and they have a really neat outdoor patio.

        For higher end places that are moderately priced and have a more lively atmosphere, I'd recommend Bistro Campagne, Roys or Tizi Melloul

        1 Reply
        1. re: blondie60614

          I'm way more about the food than atmosphere. Not very familiar with Houston (but am familiar with DFW,) so I'm making assumptions here on what they might not have. (i.e. Don't take them to Honey1)
          I'd take them to some ethnic "joints" with stand out food. I'd rather go to a joint with great food than a nicer place with ok food any day of the week. I think 'joints' have more character, and the chefs are more approachable. Yes, I know, this is just my opinion.

          Sol De Mexico for Mexican (Although it sounds like Frontera / Topo might be more their speed) This would showcase higher end mexican in a non Tex-Mex format.

          I HIGHLY rec TAC for Thai. Not a dive at all, but it tries to look more upscale than it is. I LOVE that about that place. Dim the lights, turn up the hip music, and voila!
          (and I think their food is incredibly good)

          INDIAN FOOD!!!
          I always rec our Indian spots for out of towners who like food. The Devon scene should always be an attraction for out of town foodies. There are some who think Indian food is too exotic, I understand, but, if you have any Indian food lovers in this group, PLEASE don't overlook these options. We have some seriously great Indian food here.

        2. For your higher-end meal, I would concur that Sepia or A Tavola would be excellent choices. I would also suggest, as nsxtasy did, that you consider Aigre Doux. I've been to Aigre Doux twice and each time, though the service wasn't great the first time around, the meal was spectacular. In fact, each of these places has been outstanding, IMHO. I would definitely skip Boka and Merlo - neither are nearly as good as these others (in any way)...

          It might be trendy, but we've really enjoyed meals at Jinju (N. Clark, I believe?). It's kind of Americanized Korean food, but if you're not familiar with Korean, then it won't feel Americanized to you! But it's very good and their menu is interesting. We've been there twice and have not been disappointed. The scallion pancake appetizer is not to be missed!

          Meritage Cafe and Wine Bar has excellent food and a great wine list, as the name implies... that might make you happy!

          I also second the suggestion for a place like Carnivale (or Nacional 27) for a fun, latin fusion experience. I love both of these places for what they are: loud, good, fun.

          Quartino for "Italian tapas" is another good idea (I was impressed, but my expectations for that particular meal were low), but it might not have the atmosphere or "authentic Chicago feel" you may be after... It kind of feels like a chain to me, for some reason.

          Just my two cents. Hope you enjoy!

          1. I'd highly recommend Blackbird for dinner . . . I love it that much, but you'll be getting close to $100/person with booze so I understand your desire to stick to lunch. Avec is great and less expensive, but certainly loud and you might not want to be there if you sit at a communal table.

            On the other hand, if you elect Blackbird for lunch, how about North Pond for dinner? It not only offers great food but one of the most beautiful dining experiences in the city and Bruce Sherman's creative use of locally raised/produced products is very impressive. Again however, a little pricey.

            I was not so impressed by Boka on my recent visit, although I loved my dessert:

            I love Merlo on Maple, but have not been to their other location.

            I like the Spring recommendation. With alcohol and three courses, it might be close to $100/person but the food is outstanding. Even less expensive, and maybe more interesting, is one of Shawn McClain's other restaurants, Green Zebra, which I interpret as being mostly vegetarian, but intended for carnivores.

            I think Lula Cafe generally has very good and creative offerings, and certainly much less expensive than the Blackbirds/North Ponds/One Sixty Blues

            Sol de Mexico . . . had another great meal there last night. Their moles will knock your socks off and its BYO. I like Fonda a lot, but prefer SdM.

            Spoon Thai - Maybe the best Thai food you will find in Chicago and it's BYO. Stick to their translated Thai language menu to not only impress your foodie friends but also to give you Spoon Thai's best choices:

            5 Replies
            1. re: BRB

              I was actually thinking of Lula, as we live in Bucktown, close to Logan S and have never been.

              I have been to Spring many times, and while I love the food, I want more than the minimalist Zen atmosphere....

              I was thinking about doing something diff than contemp american, as I am bored with the one duck, one lamb, one steak menu....

              Have you guys been to Otom?

              I was thinking thur night: low key after they arrive,

              Fri lunch BB (although I have an 8pm dinner res there)

              Sat brunch Frontera Grill

              I enjoyed TAC Quick when I went--may not be their scene, though....although it is casual but cute...what is on the blackboard these days? and is Spoon Thai better food and ambiance?

              I was thinking maybe of doing heaven on Seven cooking class and hurricanes fri night...something different--wish there was a cool wine dinner or something around town that weekend...

              So, dinners: (1) Lula, (2) A Tavola, (3) Otom, (4) Japonais, (5) SdM/Pilsen, (6) Thai: Spoon Thai/TAC Quick, (7) Blackbird...Hmmm

              Never been to SdM, but have been interested to try...maybe i will drag the parents for a preview this weekend (although they have much Mexican in HOU)...what is atmosphere like? I like FDM b/c the outside is so quaint...

              1. re: ljero

                Search this board for Otom- you'll find a few reviews :)

                1. re: ljero

                  Check out the very recent Otom reviews here (updated today) and also on

                  SdM's neighborhood is certainly not exciting -- it's a busy stretch of Cicero. But the interior is decorated nicely. Many of the items are carryovers from the former Chilpancingo (formerly on Ontario, just west of the Kennedy). I have no complaints w/ Frontera -- like it a lot -- but I think the execution and flavors at SdM are a notch above Frontera. If you like moles, SdM is an absolute must.

                  Spoon is small -- you should reserve a table if you go for a weekend -- and more quaint than TAC. Personally, I prefer Spoon to TAC but I know others' opinions are mixed between the two. Spoon's ambiance is a little lower key and I think the interior might be a little nicer. I linked to Spoon Thai's translated menu on lthforum -- there's the translated TAC menu there too.

                  But anyway, your list shows me that your friends are in for some very fine meals.

                  1. re: ljero

                    "(although they have much Mexican in HOU)"
                    This might very well NOT be anywhere close to their tex mex food. I'm not 100% sure on Hou's higher end Mexican scene, but I THINK SdM might not be the Mex food they are accustomed to.

                    Also, I know I said it before, but I really think if you are looking to "show them the best we all different food types and ranges" re-consider an Indian dining experience.

                    1. re: ljero

                      "enjoyed TAC Quick when I went--may not be their scene, though....although it is casual but cute...what is on the blackboard these days?"

                      As of Wednesday, duck curry (excellent w/ a combo of fruity flavors, mild); Wild boar (w/ Thai eggplant and peppers, spicy and flavorful); crispy on choy (a standard)