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Visiting from Duluth, need Chicago suggestions

I will hopefully be visiting Chicago, by car, some time soon. I plan on spending 3 - 4 days depending on when I'll leave, which is very flexible - after all, it's only a 7-8 hour drive from here.. Food is an important part of my trip as Chicago has WAY more dining options than Duluth (lol).

I'm looking for the following:

1. Eastern European food - I'm thinking Bulgarian, Croatian, Lithuanian, Czech, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Romanian, and other harder-to-find cuisines (of course, I don't plan on eating them all!). I know that Chicago is abundantly blessed here.

2. Authentic Mexican - I hear that Chicago is a great city for Mexican food.

3. Local dishes - I also know Chicago has a few of these ... deep dish pizza and Italian beef come to mind immediately. Any others?

I prefer inexpensive, neighborhood, down-to-earth places (in other words, chowish ones) to expensive, fancy, and pretentious locales. I don't know where I'll be staying, and it doesn't matter anyway, since I am willing to drive or take the El basically anywhere (I sometimes discover neighborhoods simply visiting their restaurants).

Thank you for your suggestions.

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  1. Wow! *sniff* you almost brought a tear to my eye. The perfect question. The perfect mentality. We are likeminded people, you and I.
    Non-pretentious, good chow recs:

    I am not well versed in the Eastern European foods, but I think I will get supporting nods for Healthy Food Lithuanian given your criteria. (Please note: healthy here means "HEARTY")
    Healthy Food Lithuanian Restaurant
    3236 S. Halsted St., Chicago

    Authentic Mexican:
    (Since you are looking for the nonpretentious spots, I won't throw you the standard rec for Frontera Grill)
    Sol de Mexico
    3018 N. Cicero
    773-282-4119

    Or:
    Fonda del Mar
    3749 W Fullerton Ave
    Chicago, IL 60647
    773 489-3748
    http://www.fondaonfullerton.com/

    Local "dishes:"
    Ok, deep dish. Check out one of the pizza threads avail, but please note, most of the Chicagoans I know prefer thin crust. Beef sammich is also another debate that can go on and on. My favorite is @ Tore's:
    Tore's Beef and Pizza
    2804 N. Western Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60618
    773-227-7595
    Please, PLEASE do not go to Tore's and order the pizza thinking you can kill two birds with one stone. The pizza here is NOTHING remotely close to good Chicago pizza. Other notes on Tore's (and other Beef joints:
    )Beef sammiches are usually ordered with a choice of peppers. They will ask you if you want hot or sweet. "Hot" will be a salty, hot/spicy, Italian, jarred pepper/veggie blend, and "sweet" will be steamed green peppers. Also, a "combo" will be a beef sammich with grilled Italian sausage stuck in the middle of it - also a local dish available at every beef stand. MOST beef stands will also have a meatball sammich available. Meatballs, marinara sauce on chewy Italian bread. Still on the topic of Local dishes, there's also the Chicago style dog. This will be available at just about any beef stand as well. If you are coming with someone, my rec would be for lunch at Tore's, one combo with sweet peppers, a meatball sammich with hot peppers, a chicago dog, and fries. You can also split a piece of their pizza just to check how bad it is compared to what one of our great pizza places will offer you.

    I also always HIGHLY recommend Indian food for those visiting Chicago. If you think you might enjoy Indian food, there are a TON of places that fit your criteria on Devon avenue, and it makes for a totally unique experience in that we have a pretty large area of town devoted to the Indian Pakistani culture with shops and restaurants on Devon Avenue. If you are interested in Indian food, please let us know. I would be happy to rec some places, and again, I HIGHLY suggest you check out this area. Actually, since you posted that you are looking for "hard to find foods," I'll go ahead, and throw this Indian Rec at you:
    Khan BBQ
    2401 W. Devon
    Chicago, IL
    773 274-8600
    Dishes I'd rec: Chicken Boti, Broasted Chicken, Potato and Cauliflower curry.

    Ooh, Oooh, not sure if you have any good Taquerias up there, but we have a SLEW of them here. Want some char grilled steak tacos, or burritos? This is right up your alley too if you are a steak eater. This is not chewy BS "chipotle" crap, this is real steak, the kind that makes your mouth water. Check this thread:
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/424655

    Good luck! If you want any more details on this response, just ask.

    1. I too am originally from Minnesota. Here are some of the joints we frequent in my little Polish and Hispanic Neighborhood of Portage Park.

      Great Mexican Joint
      Amigo Chino
      5601 W. Irving Park
      Corner of Irving Park and Central Ave
      Specialize in Veracruz Great Tacos el Pastor and chicken burritos as big as your head.

      AWESOME place for breakfast
      Johnny's Uncle Jims
      Corner of Montrose and Central
      Specialize in the 5 Egg omelete

      Nice neighborhood place for Hungarian
      Paprikash
      5210 W Diversey Ave
      (between Laramie Ave & Lockwood Ave)
      I think they may have closed though.

      A nice Polish Place
      Lutnia
      5532 W Belmont Avenue
      (between Central Ave & Linder Ave)
      It's kind of like taking a trip back in time.

      Deep Dish Pizza has to come from either Gino's or Lou Malnatti's
      Have a great time!

      1. Are you willing to travel anywhere in the city or suburbs? Let me know -- but for now I'll limit most of my recs to the city.

        For Mexican, Sol de Mexico and Fonda del Mar are outstanding recommendations. I love Sol de Mexico for their amazing moles -- several each night (except Tuesday when closed). This place is fantastic. I also think Fonda is excellent, but the emphasis is more on seafood, so which one you choose depends upon

        I'm not the best person to ask for Eastern European restaurants . . . just haven't dined at any of them enough. But my friends at LTHForum have and here's a link to four Eastern European restaurants that received great neighborhood restaurant awards: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?.... A friend of mine whose opinion I value absolutely loves Healthy Food for Lithuanian.

        Chicago has a number of outstanding Thai restaurants. Spoon Thai is my favorite. But don't order off of their regular menus -- order off of their Translated Thai language menus (I bring my own in case they're out) and enjoy some of the most amazing Thai food you will ever try. Spoon Thai is at 4608 N. Western Ave. in Lincoln Square (basically across the street from the Western Ave. Brown Line "L" stop) and here's a link to their translated Thai language menu: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?.... The food is inexpensive and the offerings are far different from your standard neighborhood Thai place. Another great choice is in the Lakeview area and it's called TAC Quick, at 3930 N. Sheridan, steps away from the Red Line Sheridan stop. Here is a link to their translated Thai language menu: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?...

        Hot Doug's (Roscoe & California) offers a great version of the Chicago-style dog, but so much more -- such as game sausages, etc. Check out hotdougs.com. If you go, be prepared to wait in line 20 or so minutes . . . yes, it's that good.

        Italian beef - in the city, I'd say go to Taylor St. and eat at the original Al's, but don't visit any of the franchised locations which are doing their best to destroy the Al's name. If you make it to Elmwood Park or Arlington Heights, then head to Johnnie's . . . my absolute favorite for Italian beef.

        My favorite deep dish pizza places are Malnati's and Pizano's (basically the same pies -- both owned by members of Malnati family). If you go, order the buttercrust.

        Any other types of foods that interest you? Bakeries? Thin crust pizza? BBQ? Chinese? Middle Eastern? Let us know . . . there's a lot more to explore here.

        I would also highly recommend walks along Argyle (exit at Argyle on the Red Line "L" and you're right in the middle of it) for many Vietnamese restaurants and groceries. Walk along Devon Avenue (slightly east and west of Western Avenue) for a number of Indian restaurants, stores and bakeries. And of course there are a number of fine Middle Eastern restaurants on Kedzie between Wilson and Lawrence (at the Kedzie Brown Line stop -- one mile west of the Western Ave. Brown Line stop).

        1 Reply
        1. re: BRB

          Ah yes, if Thai food floats yer boat, BRB's recs are solid as a rock. My preference would be TAC. TINY bit pricier than the other Thai joints, but IMHO still a great value. Entrees / apps run a dollar or two more than the standard Thai dives, but I think they are worth more than that. LOVE the vibe of the place too. It's a dive with cool "urban" music and dimmed lights. I can go on and on about the food too. Love that place.

        2. Thanks for the responses!

          Minneapolis, which is 2 hours from here, has a good Southeast Asian selection so I'm not as interested in that (considering I probably won't be in Chicago for too long). Thanks for the suggestions anyway though. I might try one of them.

          I've seen Healthy Food Lithuanian on Menupages...the name sounds like it would be a chowish place!

          On the other hand, Minneapolis has very little in the way of Eastern European food (and Duluth has no E EU restaurant of any sort), so I'm really interested in that. Also in the local dishes as those here have provided suggestions for.

          3 Replies
          1. re: tvdxer

            "I've seen Healthy Food Lithuanian on Menupages...the name sounds like it would be a chowish place!"

            Indeed it is. And if they offer you the five-fruit pie for dessert--especially if it's been freshly made--take it. Their breakfasts are good, too. Lithuanian pancakes, and if you're there on a Saturday morning, they might have bacon buns. I sight-seeing tip. Continue down Halsted to 40th (I think, it's 40th, but keep your eyes peeled), turn right and a couple of blocks down the road, you'll find the original gateway to--and last vestige of--the stockyards. A great photo op.

            1. re: tvdxer

              For eastern european (Czech, Polish, Slavic styles) you cannot go wrong with the Riverside Resturant in North Riverside, IL, located at 3422 Harlem Ave. The food is very good, inexpensive and huge quanties. It has been there forever and offers eastern euroepan delights, duck, breaded pork tenderloin, svichova (pickled beef, not certain of the spelling) fruit dumplings and liver dumpling soup.

              Also in Brookfield IL is Little Europe which has the same type of food as above. ALthough, at Little Europe they do a great strudel and sometimes if they have extra studels they leave them on top of the bar and you can buy them for $3.00 or something like that. Little Europe is located at 9208 Ogden Ave, Brookfield IL

              The Healthy on Halasted in Chicago is a gold standard for these eastern european places. My family and I have been going there since I was in high school, which was a long, long time ago! My favorite are the Lithuanian pancakes which I now order plain with butter and syrup on the side. When I could eat everything in sight I used to order then with the cheese and fruit filling, which was a lot of food.

              Also, for Mexican food Neuvo Leon in Chicago at 1515 W. 18th Street is fantastic. Most all of the Hispanic people I know go there a lot and it is most of their favorite places. It is a BYOB place. If you bring your own margaritas they will supply glasses with salt on the rims and limes. Very inexpensive and everything is good.

              Hope this helps on the eastern european food for you.

              1. re: eatingnonestop

                "For eastern european (Czech, Polish, Slavic styles) you cannot go wrong with the Riverside Resturant in North Riverside, IL, located at 3422 Harlem Ave."

                Wow - I drive by this place almost every day. Might have to make a stop. I do notice the full lot at all meal times.

            2. Hope I'm not too late on this.

              For authentic Mexican, away from downtown, there's one place you should really try: Flamingo's Seafood, in Mount Prospect, near O'Hare Airport. Within the past couple of months, I've eaten several times both there and at Sol de Mexico, and I consider the food at Flamingo's to be much better. (Nothing against Sol de Mexico - it's pretty good - but Flamingo's is better, and IMHO also more creative. Haven't been to Fonda del Mar yet.) Check out the sample menu on their website at www.flamingosseafood.com

              As for local dishes, nothing's better than our Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Everyone I know considers it the very best pizza in the world; those from out of town are sad when they leave here because they know they can't get anything that good at home. This applies to both the double-crust "stuffed" pizza (e.g. Giordano's, Bacino's, Edwardo's) and the single-crust "pan" pizza (e.g. Lou Malnati's, Gino's East, Pizano's, and the original location of Uno's). Wherever you go, you can phone your order ahead to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake (you can find menus on their websites, all with the obvious website address). For more specific recommendations, see these topics:
              www.chowhound.com/topics/327474
              www.chowhound.com/topics/319254

              You might also enjoy this topic on "quintessential Chicago" foods:
              www.chowhound.com/topics/372986

              5 Replies
              1. re: nsxtasy

                You say Flamingo's is better than Sol de Mexico, and that SdM is only "pretty good." Well, I haven't been to Flamingo's so I'm not going to comment on its quality, although from the comments and pictures that I've seen on LTH Forum, it looks quite good.

                But I will say that Flamingo's menu appears to be much more comparable to Fonda del Mar, and not comparable to SdM. In fact, Flamingo's doesn't have single mole on their menu, and SdM has several -- in short, they're offering very different regional tastes of Mexico. So you're really not comparing apples to apples.

                And I would suggest that if you think SdM is only "pretty good," then you might not be a very big fan of moles. If you are, I'd love to hear of a place in Chicago that does a better variety and offers tastier moles than SdM.

                1. re: BRB

                  Actually, I *AM* a big fan of mole. However, I am also a big fan of foods that taste great - which is admittedly a matter of personal taste and opinion. I thought that the food at Flamingo's tastes great, where you eat a lot of dishes thinking "WOW!!! This is DELICIOUS!!!". I thought that the food at Sol de Mexico was good, but not great. Nothing there was bad (except maybe the unripe mango that topped the natillas dessert, which was not a big deal to me), but nothing was overwhelmingly delicious, either. I thought the sopes appetizers were okay, blander than and thus not as good as the ones they used to serve at Chilpancingo. I thought the food was reasonably creative, and about as good as Adobo Grill or Lupita's, for two other data points. Again, I'm not saying it was bad, I'm just saying that it didn't overwhelm me.

                  As for moles, sometimes Flamingo's has mole dishes on their menu, such as their grilled lamb chops in mole. Flamingo's typically has half a dozen daily specials (at both lunch and dinner) in addition to their standard menu. When I was there last week, one special was a HUGE portion of Chilean sea bass in a guava-habanero sauce topped with crushed pumpkin seeds and it was so delicious, it was "to die for". Again, this to me is the difference between Flamingo's and Sol de Mexico - nothing at SdM struck me as "to die for".

                  I don't judge Mexican restaurants by which one has the most kinds of mole. I judge them by which one's food tastes the best. And by that criterion, Flamingo's wins, hands down.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Question? Are there any dishes at Flamingo for non-seafood eaters? It sounds like heaven to me but my DH is not keen on seafood.

                      1. re: twodales

                        Yes, of course. Last time I was there, one member of our party had a NY strip steak and loved it. That's on their regular menu, along with a filet mignon and a grilled pork chop (way way down at the bottom on their website) and they usually have a whole bunch of daily specials. The steaks and pork chop are prepared with Mexican sauces and accompaniments but if your DH wishes them done in some other way I'm sure they will be happy to accommodate him.