Montrealer in Chicago for three nights
We are heading to Chicago for 3 nights in a few weeks and we are hankering for some good eats of the BBQ, Thai and Mexican variety (Montreal, no surprise, doesn't specialise in any of these three cuisines). We are not looking for ambiance, or a "dining experience" just high quality, authentic food. Our predicted course of action is the following:
Sol de Mexico
We thought maybe Uncle John's instead of Smoque, but we were worried that the neighbourhood would be, ahem, less than savoury after dark.
Please let us know if we are on the right track and if there are any dishes at these places that we MUST have.
We are staying in the loop (we are there for a conference) and so any suggestions for things to chow in the loop would also be appreciated.
It's not a difficult trek at all. Get on the Blue Line El heading towards O'Hare -- in the Loop, you can get on the Blue Line from Jackson/Dearborn, Monroe/Dearborn or Washington/Dearborn and Clark and Lake. Take the El to the Western Ave. stop (next stop after Damen), which should be about 15 minutes or less from the Loop, depending upon where you get on the El.
When you exit the El (around Milwaukee/Western/Armitage), head north (right) on Western Avenue, crossing Armitage, which is 2000 North. Honey 1 is at 2241 N. Western, an easy 5-minute walk once you exit the El. They are closed Monday and they are BYO.
Afterward, you might want to take a walk south on Milwaukee Avenue into Bucktown -- the heart of Bucktown is the intersection of Milwaukee/Damen/North, and that intersection is only about a 20-minute walk from Honey 1. There are lots of restaurants and bars along Milwaukee, Damen and North, and you can return to the Loop by getting back on the El at the Damen stop, right at the main intersection I mentioned. Any questions, check out Transitchicago.com.
For Mexican food, the Pilsen neighborhood is more accessible from the Loop than SdM, altho SdM is very good. Pilsen is right off the pink line at eighteenth street.
Nuevo Leon is a very popular destination for inexpensive and traditional Mexican cuisine, but when I'm in the neighborhood I usually wind up at:
Mundial Cocina Mestiza
1640 W. 18th St.
It's a bit more high end than NL, altho not especially pricey, and it's still, I think BYOB. Their food can be a bit uneven (they experiment), but I've had some very good meals there. The original BomBon bakery is also on 18th street, and if it's open when you're there, it's worth a visit.
Thanks for all of the suggestions. We will not have a car (EL only for us), and I realised after I mapped SdM that it was going to be out of the question. Mundial Cocina Mestiza sounds good and more accessible. BomBon bakery will likely be a stop-off as well. Pastoral sounds fantastic (I have a bit of a cheese thing, and I love delis/cheese shoppes), but we will likely not go out for the deep dish pizza. I have had it before in Chicago and I found it OK (we went to Lou Malnati's), but I am more of a NY style girl (I know that those are fighting words, sorry).
Any word on the neighbourhood of Uncle John's? Is it as bad as it seems?
Also, from the Loop, is Spoon closer than TAC Quick?
There's just not much around Uncle John's and it's takeout only. Honey 1 is not very difficult to get to from the Loop. Take the Blue Line towards O'Hare and the stop at Western & Milwaukee (the "Western Ave." stop) is only a few block walk from Honey 1. It's pretty close to Bucktown and Logan Square.
I found out that you may not be able to eat in at Pastoral downtown. They have a few tables, and chairs will be arriving within the next week (says the owner) but I think they might only allow seating on weekends -- not sure. But the sandwiches sound fantastic and they really focus on quality ingredients.
Fox & Obel is not that long a walk from where you'll be and they have a good bakery and quality cafe as well as a very good cheese selection. It's an upscale grocer in the Dean & DeLuca mold, and you can eat there.
From the Loop, TAC Quick is a little closer than Spoon Thai, but both are very "L" accessible. If going to Spoon, switch from the Red Line to the Brown Line at Belmont, then take the Brown Line and get off at Western Ave. (they run on the same tracks so you don't need to leave the platform). Spoon's a 10-minute El ride from Belmont. TAC is about 5 minutes from Belmont -- instead of exiting at Belmont, stay on the Red Line and get off at the Sheridan stop.
As for pizza, nope . . . saying you prefer NY-style are not fighting words . . . plenty of disagreement in Chicago too. But there are some fantastic pizza places serving thin crust. Spacca Napoli is very close to the Montrose and Damen Brown Line stops (Montrose is presently closed) and they serve fantastic, authentic Neapolitan pizzas. Coalfire is on Grand just west of the Loop and they are serving amazing thin crust pizzas (a little NY, a little New Haven) fired up in a coal/wood burning oven with beautiful blistered edges.
Fox & Obel is a good suggestion; it's a mile walk from the Hotel Burnham at Washington and State, where you're staying. The cafe in the rear is open for all three meals as well as light snacks. Their website is www.fox-obel.com
As for the el instructions to get to Spoon Thai, you can also catch the Brown Line in the Loop (it's elevated there) and take it all the way to Western. It takes a few minutes longer than the Red Line to get to Belmont but that way you will only have to wait for one train, not two. You can catch either line two blocks north of rthe Hotel Burnham at State and Lake, either the Red Line underground or the elevated Brown Line. As noted above, TAC Quick will take slightly less time, and I prefer it over Spoon Thai, but both are pretty good.
Those are reasonable choices. Will you have a car? Sol de Mexico is some distance from the Loop, and not particularly convenient to public transportation. (TAC Quick is right at the Sheridan Road stop on the el's Red Line, Smoque is at the Irving Park stop on the Blue Line, and Honey 1 is half a mile north of the Western stop on the Blue Line.)
While the food at Sol de Mexico is good, in my experience it's no better than several places close to downtown and much easier to get to (e.g. Frontera Grill/Topolobampo - www.rickbayless.com/restaurants , Salpicon - www.salpicon.com , Adobo Grill - www.adobogrill.com ).
If you *do* decide to go to Sol de Mexico, it might be just as cheap to rent a car for the day as to take cabs both ways (and I'm not sure how easy it would be to flag a cab for the return trip). If you want to take public transportation, you can take the Blue Line north to Montrose and take the #54 Cicero Ave bus south, or the Blue Line west to Cicero and take the #54 Cicero Ave bus north. More transit info at www.transitchicago.com
As for things to chow in the Loop, there are lots of choices. IMHO the one "can't miss" item for out-of-towners visiting our city is our delicious Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Take your pick - double-crust "stuffed" pizza from Giordano's, Edwardo's, or Bacino's, or single-crust "pan" pizza from Lou Malnati's, Pizano's, Gino's East, or the original location of Uno's - you can't go wrong with any of these. You can phone your order ahead of time if you want to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake; you can find their menus and locations on their websites. All the above chains have locations within a mile of the Loop; locations within the Loop itself include several locations of Giordano's, and Pizano's on Madison.
Other places I recommend in the Loop include Vivere for Italian ( www.vivere-chicago.com ), Trattoria No. 10 for Italian ( www.trattoria10.com ), and Atwood Cafe for American food ( www.atwoodcafe.com ). A short distance away, in surrounding neighborhoods like River North, Michigan Avenue, West Loop, South Loop, etc, you have many, many restaurants in every category imaginable - steakhouses, seafood places, contemporary American, Greek in Greek Town, more Italian places, and lots more.
TAC Quick is an excellent choice and easily accessible from the Loop on the Red Line (it's just below the Sheridan stop).
The translated menu, as per BRB's rec, is a good suggestion, but if for some reason you don't have it handy, TAC Quick has a chalkboard listing specialties, from which I usually order (don't pass up the duck curry if it's on there)
Couple of places for interesting breakfasts and lunches in the Loop: The Gage on Michigan Avenue has a very good Irish breakfast, altho a bit pricey. . . Less pricey and even more interesting is Heaven on Seven in the Garland Building for breakfast/lunch with a cajun touch. Check times for both since neither opens early for breakfast (and HoS gets very crowded for lunch).
We went to Sol de Mexico last week, and really enjoyed ourselves! It's a great BYOB place in the city, a little off the beaten path (and a bit of a $$ cab ride from downtown). Great ceviche, amazing home-made tortillas, and the moles were delicious. My boyfriend had the duck with the pumpkin-seed mole, which was a nice twist on a traditional mole. We didn't try the desserts, but the table next to us seemed to enjoy their molten chocolate cake!
As for the BYO part, a new shop just opened in the Loop, where you could score a nice bottle of wine (and some cheese for a snack later!) before dinner. Pastoral (http://www.pastoralartisan.com/) is located at 55 E. Lake Street.
Since you might not have the best grasp of the city when you visit, Smoque would be a very good choice, although I have to say that I prefer Honey 1 (closer in quality to Uncle John's). I just think that the ribs and tips at Honey 1 are much better, and they have good hot links. Smoque does have much better sides, but if I'm going for bbq, then its the bbq that I'm really concerned about. If I'm going to Honey 1, I'm ordering ribs, maybe tips, and make sure to ask for sauce on the side. The smoky flavor is so good you might decide you don't need sauce. It may not be Uncle John's, but it's pretty close in my opinion.
TAC Quick is excellent. Personally, I prefer Spoon Thai, but I might be a little biased since it's a short walk from me. You'll have a great meal at either place but make sure to walk into both armed with the translated Thai language menus which will help you avoid run-of-the-mill Thai food. Here are links to both: Spoon: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=7364 and TAC: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=86439
I'm more familiar with Spoon Thai. Some of my favorites at Spoon are: banana blossom salad, fried chicken with tamarind dipping sauce, crepe with bean sprouts, tofu, shrimp, and coconut; crispy pork stir-fried w/ Chinese broccoli; shrimp paste rice w/ omelet, apples, dried shrimp and pork (don't be put off by the sound; it's that good); green curry, especially with the fish balls and Isaan style sausage.
Sol de Mexico - If you love moles, this is the place to get them. My favorite is the ostrich in the Teloloapense mole, but all of the food is excellent.
If you're looking for a sandwich in the Loop, you might want to try Pastoral cheese shop, on Lake between Michigan and Wabash. I'm not sure if they have many tables, but their cheese selections are outstanding and it sounds like they offer very good sandwiches and paninis -- I have heard they're very good. This location just opened -- I'm familiar with their first location and love it, but I've limited myself to their cheeses.
You might want to take a quick cab ride over to Manny's for good deli food so you can compare Chicago corned beef and pastrami to Montreal's smoked meat sandwiches. I also love the potato pancakes, and Manny's is certainly a Chicago institution.
And if you want a little more Mexican food, definitely stop by the new BomBon Cafe on Washington near LaSalle. You can get sandwiches, pastries and more. Although I have not been to this location (it's pretty new), I have been to their other locations and the food is fantastic. Here's a link to some pictures and their menu: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?...