In town Thanksgiving week--need some help!
My boyfriend, myself, and his family will be in Chicago for five days around Thanksgiving, and I need some help. I've been reading the Chicago board for several weeks now and have many great ideas for eating out. Figuring out places to eat when it's just me and my boyfriend shouldn't be too difficult. We're incredibly open to all kinds of food and don't mind travelling around the city. The problem arises when we will be eating out as an entire family. His family is incredibly picky. Though I absolutely adore his mother, she tends to stick to chains and chicken tenders. This is the area where I need some serious pointers.
Here are the criteria:
-preferably in River North or at least not too far
-kid friendly (we'll have a two year old with us)
-reasonably priced (not more than 15-20pp)
-no reservations needed
On a separate note, I'd also like to run some of the places my bf and I would like to go to when we slip away from the family. Below are some of the places we're considering for eating/drinking in no particular order. Let me know what you think. From the length of the list, you can tell we plan to slip away often. :-)
"Little" Three Happiness
Blackbird (lunch-the pork belly sandwich sounds amazing!)
Juicy Wine Co.
I guess I should mention that our picks need to be fairly budget friendly as well. In case people have preferences that aren't on our list, here's a little info about us. We're relatively young and love to try new food. We'll try anything at least once. We like our drinks as well as our food so bar suggestions are always welcome. There isn't any type of ethnic food we wouldn't be open to.
I appreciate any suggestions you can give. From reading the posts, it is quite apparent you're a knowledgeable group. Thanks!
Hello Megany: The bad news is that prices here are going to be higher than you expect. The good news is that there are some River North (and close-by) places that will be within the budget you mention. 1) Reza's, 432 W Ontario, Persian; order from menu or go for the $10 M-F buffet lunch. 2) Big Bowl, 60 E Ohio, cheerful Asian. 3) India House, 59 W Grand, Indian, has a lunch buffet within your budget. 4) Heaven on Seven, 600 N Michigan (enter at corner of Rush & Ohio), Cajun (there's also a Loop branch at 111 N Wabash that serves amazing Cajun breakfasts). 5) Ben Pao, corner of Illinois and Dearborn, trendy Chinese served family style. 6) Signature Room, 96th floor of John Hancock Building, is expensive at dinner but has special buffet lunch within your budget; view is spectacular as walls are glass. 7) Buca di Beppo, 521 N Rush, Italian, either family-size or individual portions. If you go to "Chicago Menu Pages" you can see menus with prices, also some of these have their own website if you google the name---so you can see ahead of time what you're getting into. Also, when a lot of visitors are here during the holidays the restaurants along Michigan Avenue are jammed; if you get even a block off Michigan, you won't find the crowds as bad as they will be, for example, at Cheesecake Factory and Luxe Cafe. Be sure you have a real city map that shows every block (some "tourist" maps don't). One last thing: if you have a car, you might like to try something very Chicago, a Polish smorgasbord. This is a HUGE all-you-can-eat buffet of delicious home-cooked Polish food. Try The Red Apple (sign in Polish says "Czerwone Jabluszko") at 3121 N Milwaukee (just below Belmont). Parking in rear. Price varies if weekday or weekend or lunch or dinner but the most it ever gets to be is $8.49, arguably the best bargain in Chicago so take the whole gang and let 'er rip. Welcome to Chicago, and enjoy your visit.
I'm surprised you haven't mentioned real Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. IMHO it's the one "can't miss" local specialty that you really can't get anywhere else. And it meets all your criteria - inexpensive, kid-friendly, etc. The big chains are excellent - this is one of those exceptions in which the chains have some of the best offerings around - and they all have locations right in River North, including Lou Malnati's, Gino's East, and the original Uno's and Due for single-crust "pan" pizza, and Giordano's for double-crust "stuffed" pizza. You can review the menus on their website and call ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.
Well, Giordano's is my personal favorite, but I really like *all* of the places I mentioned; I don't think you can go wrong with any of them. Convenience of location may be a factor for you, depending on where you are in River North, and which is closer (Giordano's River North location is on Rush near Chicago, Lou Malnati's is on Wells, Gino's East has one on Ontario and Wells and another on Superior off Michigan Ave, and Uno's and Due are around Wabash and Ohio). Each has its fans. (As do many single-location places in outlying neighborhoods.) The recommendation for phoning ahead with your order applies to all of them. You can find their menus on their websites (all have the obvious .com website names).
I agree that hot dogs would be kid- and budget-friendly, but I don't have a specific recommendation for those, sorry. Hopefully someone else here can recommend a good hot dog place in or near River North. You can read a discussion about best hot dogs in Chicago at www.chowhound.com/topics/364427
your choices for you and your bf are great...my personal faves are Avec and Hopleaf. But heads up...neither of these places take reservations, and you could end up waiting 60 minutes+ (easily!) on the weekend! But, both are worth the wait, and if you love Belgium beers and mussels, then the Hopleaf is perfect.
I've been to Volo several times, and have never been overly impressed with their food. Their wine list -and knowledgeable staff- are top-notch!
If you're looking for a wine bar, my personal favorite is the Tasting Room. The food is OK, but they have good options for a cheese plate. I believe you can reserve a table...request something upstairs, as their windows face east, and you get a lovely view of the city skyline! But call ahead, as they may have the 2nd floor closed for a private party.
1415 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607
Avec is great, but it could be a bad idea. It gets crowded so be prepared to wait . . . waiting a couple hours on a weekend is not unusual. I actually love going to Avec for real late dinners -- the staff is fantastic by the way.
Little Three Happiness -- yum -- Salt & Pepper Shrimp, Pan Fried Noodles, BBQ duck and pork . . . I love it! Don't expect much in the way of decor, and make sure you don't go to the "Big" Three Happiness. Also, LTH is Cantonese, so if you want Szechuan food, head to Lao Sze Chuan or Double Li, also both in Chinatown.
Blackbird - lunch sounds great, and Blackbird is the place for pork . . . I always love their pork belly presentations.
Pizza - I'd say Pizano's or Malnati's for deep dish. . . I just don't like Giordano's much at all. The original Uno's and Due's are also good -- the Uno's is the original one and has nothing to do with those awful franchised locations. Chicago also has a number of excellent thin crust spots -- Coal Fire on Grand just west of downtown has my favorite crust, and Spacca Napoli up north has my favorite overall pizza -- authentic Neapolitan.
Hopleaf is fantastic. I tend to stick to the mussels and frites . . . oh, and beer, but I recently encountered their Montreal smoked meat sandwich and I liked it more than any that I had in Montreal.
Volo is very nice, small though, unless the back patio is open (they heat it, but not into the winter, so you might want to check). Solid food and nice atmosphere.
In terms of River North, Malnati's is in that area so maybe pizza would be a good way to go. In general, the food in River North tends to be pricier and there are lots of chains. I'm drawing a bit of a blank on less expensive spots that I like that offer dishes under $20.