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Oct 19, 2007 05:35 AM

Chow Challenge

Will be in Chcago for Thanksgiving weekend and we are meeting our son and his girfriend who are flying in from San Diego--(they're in their late 20's) We all love to eat and are wanting suggestions for some interesting places that are in downtown Chicago or a reasonable cab ride. I asked my son what cusines he had in mind and he said local and progressive. We've narrowed our Thanksgiving dinner down to Mike Ditka's or Bistro 110 which have been recommended on these boards. I welcome all input and thanks ahead of time to all the Chicago 'hounds out there!

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  1. Ditka's is local in the sense that the name of everyone's favorite football coach is above the door, but otherwise it's your standard steakhouse. Bistro 110 is pretty good, but it's traditional French bistro fare. For local and progressive I'd go with Blackbird (which is downtown) or North Pond (which is in Lincoln Park--which is a 10-15 minute cab ride away, depending on traffic). A bit more expensive, but not outrageously so. Onesixtyblue is another possibility, just a short cab ride west of downtown, or Custom House, a short cab ride south.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Dedalus

      I'd agree with Dedalus' suggestions. All four are outstanding and have web sites if you want to check out the menus.

      Not sure who recommended Ditka's or Bistro 110, but neither of those would be at the top of my list. Not horrible, but you can do a lot better. Neither are really local or progressive either.

      1. re: wak

        I had asked where we could get a Thanksgiving dinner and since it seems many places are closed that day these were recommended as places that serve a Thanksgiving dinner.

        1. re: thymetodine

          Thanksgiving does make it a bit more difficult, but you might want to check out this website with many other good options.

 could also be a good place to check it out.

          1. re: chicgail

            Here's a big listing of open restaurants, as well as what they are serving. NoMI could be a good choice if you don't mind the prix fixe charge:

            1. re: foodiegrl

              Thanks so much for your ideas for Thanskgiving. We are definitely going to try something more interesting! Now, I'm trying to decide for Friday and Sat nights. On Friday it's between North Pond and Blackbird and on Saturday before the theater it's between Aria and the Atwood Cafe. Thoughts?

              1. re: thymetodine

                Blackbird vs North Pond: Blackbird can be noisy; North Pond is conversation friendly. I think both offer excellent food, although I much prefer the food at Blackbird, and they do amazing preparations with pork (particularly pork belly). North Pond's location is one of the most beautiful in the city and worth a visit just for that reason.

                Sorry but I can't get excited about Aria or Atwood -- I've been to both and had very average meals at both. There are other restaurants in the vicinity that I prefer for pre-theater meals. First, Park Grill at Millennium Park should be all about the location and should be a tourist trap, but it isn't. The food is very good and they do a wonderful job of focusing on products that are in season. I've had many good meals there, and it's close enough to the theaters (closer than Aria).

                Also, I think Trattoria No. 10 consistently turns out very good Northern Italian food, and I've always been a fan of their pumpkin presentations -- be it in desserts or ravioli. It's even closer to the theaters.

                1. re: BRB

                  Thanks so much for your insight. Would dining at North Pond during the day (for brunch) or in the evening matter much to thoroughly enjoy its location?

                  I will defintely be rethinking the pre-theater choice!

                  1. re: thymetodine

                    You would be able to take in the surroundings more for brunch, but the lights from downtown shining on the water would make it great at night too. Here's their website:

                    If you end up going to Blackbird for dinner, I think you'll love it. It's one of my very few favorite restaurants in Chicago. You can check out their menu at

                    By the way, Park Grill is located right in the heart of Millennium Park, and you'll definitely want to check the park out too. Here's a link to their website:

                    1. re: BRB

                      BRB-thank you so much for all this advice. Obviously, I am feeling like so many restaurants so little time! Weigh in on West Town Tavern for me. Thanks!

                      1. re: thymetodine

                        You're welcome -- there are a lot of good eats in this town. I like West Town Tavern quite a bit -- unpretentious, always good food leaning toward comfort food, small and intimate, although it can get quite loud.

                        I should note that since you are looking for local eats, you'll definitely find that at West Town Tavern, Blackbird and North Pond.

                        Another restaurant that fits the bill (progressive and local ingredients) is May Street Market. It tends to fly under the radar but the food is excellent.

                        Finally, although I knocked my meal at Atwood, I should say that a good friend of mine whose opinion I trust has enjoyed a couple of meals there, so who knows. I do appreciate the fact that the chef spends considerable time focusing on local products. However, I personally cannot recommend it based upon my one and only meal there, which was not impressive.

                        Let us know if there are other cuisines that you want to explore here -- Mexican, Thai, etc.

                2. re: thymetodine

                  I personally, would choose North Pond over Blackbird. Blackbird is certainly tighter (you'll be about 6 inches away from the next table) and noisier. The food at the two is comparable, but I'm just not a fan of being packed in to that degree. You'll be able to talk and relax more at North Pond.

                  If you're looking for a place before the theater, consider Custom House. It's much better than Aria and the Atwood Cafe, and, while it is slightly further from the theater district, it is still reasonably close. They have about the best short-ribs I've had, hands down.

                  1. re: mattlap_2000

                    I have concur. Custom House is incredible. Try the extensive artisan cocktail list - they even make their tonic water from scratch. I have to give a hearty second to the short ribs. The creamed corn side dish was excellent, as well. Be sure to save room for dessert, as their pastry chef is incredibly talented. The room is very serene, comfortable and modern, and the servers were knowledegeable, friendly, and really on-the-ball. I'd say it's definitely worth the extra walk or 50 cents in cab fare.

                    1. re: mattlap_2000

                      I give Custom House an additional vote. Had the short ribs with the black truffle fingerling potatoes...truly memorable. Sadly, we didn't have room for dessert, but it gives us an excellent excuse to return.

        2. i'm surprised no one has mentioned alinea, frontera grill or tru...?

          1 Reply
          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            Alinea doesn't tend to fly under the radar so I often think it doesn't need mentioning. Also, given the cost, I don't recommend it to people until they tell me that cost is no issue. But I do think it is the finest restaurant in Chicago.

          2. I think you've gotten some excellent advice so far. Here are some additional comments.

            First, regarding Thanksgiving dinner - no matter where you go, it's not going to be what you will typically get there on any other day of the year.

            Metromix is the entertainment website for the Chicago Tribune. Every year, the Tribune and Metromix do an article featuring a few of their top picks for Thanksgiving dinner. For this year's article, go to
            For more complete listings of places doing something special for Thanksgiving, go to

            Now, as for those other meals, not on Thanksgiving Day...

            I think most of the above suggestions offer outstanding food - one sixtyblue, Blackbird, North Pond, Custom House, Bistro 110, NoMi. I agree that Aria and Atwood Cafe, while okay, are not quite at the same level in terms of sheer excellence of food and service. Park Grill is good, too, but again, not at the same level, either; its convenience for pre-theater might make it a good choice. For Italian in the Loop, Trattoria No. 10 is good; so is Vivere, the downstairs restaurant at the Italian Village (they usually have a special of short ribs over polenta that is fabulous).

            Personally, if I had to choose one place, I think North Pond is really a very special place, not only for its food, but for its location. It is in the middle of Lincoln Park - the park itself, not just the neighborhood. It faces the pond, on the opposite side of which is the downtown skyline. It's a great backdrop at night, and even better in the daytime (so if you're thinking of going there for Sunday brunch, it's a great choice). This past Saturday, I purposely ate dinner there with an early enough reservation that it was in daylight when I arrived, although once Daylight Savings ends, that probably won't be possible for dinner. The building formerly served as the place for skaters to rent ice skates in the winter. Bruce Sherman's contemporary American cuisine is absolutely wonderful. It's just the perfect place for a special occasion, as well as to take out-of-town visitors.

            Another place with outstanding food and an incredible location is Everest. It's one of the finest restaurants in the entire city - it's also dressy, jackets for gentlemen - and it's at the top of the Midwest Stock Exchange Building, with a thrilling/romantic view of the city spread out below. Spectacularly delicious food, wonderful service too. Expensive, but they also have a pre-theater special, $50 for three courses, 5:00/5:30 every night they're open except Fridays.

            Nothing against the other places with great food - you'll have a wonderful meal at any of them, and any is a great choice - but at North Pond and Everest, the food is great AND the location is incredible too.

            >> i'm surprised no one has mentioned alinea, frontera grill or tru...?

            Alinea is perhaps the best restaurant in the country, and most would consider it the best in Chicago. If I were to name the five best places in Chicago, they would be Alinea, Avenues, Everest, Charlie Trotter's, and Tru. They are expensive, though - including alcohol/tax/tip, they're typically $250-400 per person at all except Everest,
            $150-250 at Everest unless you're getting their pre-theater special. All the other places mentioned here are typically in the $75-125 range except NoMI, which is priced similar to Everest.

            As for Frontera Grill, it's a good choice if you're looking for creative Mexican food; I generally prefer Topolobampo, its sister restaurant next door, because you can make a reservation in advance for Topo, not for Frontera (although they may accept a reservation for the same day you're eating if you call first thing in the morning). However, both places are a bit crowded and loud, and I generally prefer the contemporary American food at most of the other places we're talking about. Your choice, though.

            3 Replies
            1. re: nsxtasy

              Wow, thank you so much for all the info.I so appreciate all the time and effort that goes into the details you all are giving me. I promise to write a trip report upon our return. About Frontera Grill. The couple we're meeting (our son and girfriend) are from San Diego and I just thought that cuisine might not be as much of a treat for them since they really do have a lot of wonderful Mexican food at home. Now, to lunches: we must have deep dish pizza. Any other special lunch or neighborhood places not to miss?

              1. re: thymetodine

                Has anyone ever tried the very different sounding Herb and Spice Thanksgiving being offered at Vermilion?

                1. re: thymetodine

                  I have not had Thanksgiving at Vermilion, but I've eaten there a few times and have found the food to be very good.

            2. Trip Report--we've returned from our Chicago vaca and want to thank all the hounds for their wonderful advice! It's always so helpful when folks report back so here goes:

              We had the Herb and Spice Thanksgiving meal at Vermilion and it was excellent! I really wondered about the Indian/Latin fusion concept of the restaurant but it works. Our service was excellent as well.

              Day two: Lunch at Bistro 110 and it was perfect on a cold day--French Onion Soup, cassoulet and creme brulee--life was good! oh yes---Great Bloody Mary's!

              Dinner-Blackbird--oh wow--The guinea hen, the pork belly, or the Walleyed Pike--all good--also flawless service--and almost forgot an amazing salad--endive, potato and a poached egg--I know sounds weird--it is fantastic!

              Day three: lunch Lou Malnati's for the "Lou Pizza" deep dish--yum! Dinner at Aria--yummy stir fry type dishes--great vegetarian platter-really unusual eclectic menu.

              Entertainment--Second City--saw between Barack and a Hard Place---Fantastic!!! also saw Wicked--very good as well and the Oriental Theater is gorgeous!

              What a great city! Thanks to everyone for all your help!

              1 Reply
              1. re: thymetodine

                Sounds like a great trip and glad we could help. It sounds like you went to some very nice restaurants and had some great food.