London CH'er Requests Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican Recs Plus Some...
I left Chicago about four years ago (after eight years), but am coming back for a visit. I used to live around the corner from Hot Doug's, when he was on Roscoe and before the fire. My favorite hangouts (besides for Hot Doug's) were Mandarin Kitchen in & its sister restaurant across the street (Lao Sze?), the Hop Leaf, the Map Room, the Ethiopian place south of Roscoe (that has since closed), Bin 36, Adobo Grill, the Wiener's Circle, Kamehachi on Wells, Jinju (sp? the Korean place) in Andersonville, the Mexican place on the corner of Lincoln and Addison, Webster Wine Bar, 404 Wine Bar, and hmmm...I'm sure I could go on, but I'll stop there. (Oh wait--Maza, the Lebanese place on Lincoln--always liked that place.)
So it's been ages since I've been back--I moved to London four years ago--and I'm back for a week. Would love your thoughts and recs. Being a stalwart on the London board, I've done my research and have the following listed out as interesting choices.
I'm particularly interestered in Vietnamese recommendations (Argyle?), as well as Korean (Lincoln?). Ah, and Japenese? I've done Frontera, but have never Topolobampo'd, so this might be the visit. Have never spent any time around Taylor street, so that would be fun too. I'm mainly looking for dinner recommendations...my only requirement is that close to an El stop would be helpful...am staying in the Loop...
Tank Noodle and/or Hai Yen on Argyle for Vietnamese
Sol de Mexico and Fonda del Mar for my Mexican fix (we don't get much Mexican on this side of the pond)
Exchequer for burgers
The Gage, pub-ish food. (I might not need this, coming from London.)
Copperblue for European
Tuscany on Taylor for Italian
P.S. I LOVED the Chicago Local thread. Good job.
I'll speak to just a few of your questions.
For creative Mexican cuisine, there are places convenient to downtown and public transportation, and places that aren't. Of those that are, you're already familiar with Frontera Grill, and Topolobampo is somewhat similar; you can see their menus on their website at www.rickbayless.com/restaurants Another excellent creative place is Salpicon, in Old Town. www.salpicon.com Of course, for more conventional (but authentic) Mexican food, there are still all the places in Pilsen, such as Nuevo Leon.
As for the places geographically inconvenient to public transportation, there's Sol de Mexico (you can take an el to the Cicero Avenue bus; see www.transitchicago.com ). I personally think the food okay but not great. The one creative Mexican place with spectacular food, and also inconvenient to public transportation (you can take the Metra UP Northwest line to the Cumberland stop and catch the Pace #208 Golf Road bus, take it to S Busse Road, and walk south half a mile), is Flamingo's Seafood, in Mount Prospect, www.flamingosseafood.com The food is unbelievably good. Last time I was there I had a grilled Chilean sea bass with guava habanero sauce and crushed pumpkin seeds that was to die for.
Being familiar with all these places, if I were here for a limited amount of time, I would go to Topo or Salpicon, rather than spending a lot of time or money going to places that are inconveniently located. But if I were on a quest for the absolute best, most creative Mexican food in the area, I'd rent a car and go to Flamingo's.
You mention Custom House. And Custom House is indeed very good. But there are other places that are equally good, and perhaps better. If I wanted to have one non-ethnic upscale meal in Chicago, my absolute first choice would be one sixtyblue ( www.onesixtyblue.com ). Best upscale food in the city (barring the super-expensive splurge places), IMHO. Blackbird ( www.blackbirdrestaurant.com ) is also very very good, too, although I still give the advantage to one sixtyblue. I would choose either of these over Custom House or Copperblue (although those are very good too). And there are other excellent ones in this genre, including Aigre Doux, North Pond, Spring, Sweets and Savories, and a bunch more. But still, for the best of the best, I go to one sixtyblue. As often as I can.
You're fast! Have been to onesixtyblue. It was really great and memorable, but I suppose I'm looking for a bit more casual. What would you suggest?
Blackbird--have always wanted to visit...particularly Avec...so I will put that on the list! Visited Salpicon years ago and enjoyed it tremendously. Will put Nuevo Leon on the list too as I would like a local field trip.
As I'm in town for work, I'm really doubtful I'll make the trek out to Mt Prospect, but I'll keep it in mind for a future visit when I have more time!
Funny, I think of one sixtyblue as casual! Although some people there dress up (e.g. business attire), casual attire is perfectly appropriate - at least, business casual, maybe not t shirts and blue jeans though. More casual? I'm not sure what's more casual but still has great food in that upscale contemporary genre, except maybe Avec (see below) or possibly Sweets and Savories, which is upscale but has a funky vibe going too. Of course, most of the ethnic places you're considering are extremely casual.
Regarding Avec and Blackbird... Blackbird is similar to one sixtyblue, upscale casual fine dining, etc. I recommend making reservations in advance; if you want to go on a Saturday night, you ought to do so at least a couple weeks ahead of time. You will need to call, as Blackbird is one of the few upscale places that accepts reservations but not on their website or opentable.com www.blackbirdrestaurant.com Avec does not accept reservations. It's a fine choice for a weekday evening, but avoid weekends; waiting times can reach two hours or more. Also they are open both early and late. They have communal seating so if you're on your own you will probably be seated at a table with others. It's a fun place with great food, as long as you understand the arrangements and avoid their busiest times. www.avecrestaurant.com
Nuevo Leon has a website at www.nuevoleonrestaurant.com They're just east of the 18th Street stop on the CTA's Pink Line.
I love Sol de Mexico and Fonda del Mar -- SdM is my very favorite. But both are somewhat inconvenient to the El, although Fonda is the better bet if you're taking the El. Sol de Mexico can be a pricey cab ride. Salpicon would be a very good bet as would Topo.
As for Nuevo Leon, I like it but much prefer La Casa de Samuel, which is one of my very favorite Mexican restaurants in Chicago, and it's also pretty close to an El stop.
Between Tank and Hai Yen, I'd definitely recommend Tank. Stop off at Patisserie P on the north side of Argyle (and east of Tank) for great French-Vietnamese pastries -- including excellent croissants.
For very good Korean BBQ, San Soo Gab San is very conveniently located to Lincoln Square (on Western, just north of Foster). Just get off the Brown Line at the Western stop, and either walk north a 1/2 mile or transfer to the Western Bus for the short trip.
For Japanese, it depends on what you're looking for. If you just want the best, freshest fish, head to Katsu on Peterson. If you want creative maki, you might want to try (in order of my preference) Meiji, Bob San, Sushi Wabi or Tank (in Lincoln Square).
La Casa De Samuel
2834 W Cermak Rd, Chicago, IL 60623
But let's also not forget tiny Cafe Hoang, which is, when everything is said and done, probably the best Vietnamese restaurant in the city (just off the top of my head: benchmark bun bo Hue, bun rieu cua that puts every other version out there to shame etc)
Kristain, if you're in town tomorrow (27th) and can meet up with a group of old-time Chicago Board hounds for dinner (this one-surprise!-is gonna be pretty adventurous), give me a holler:
Opplicario AT yahoo.com
Here's a handy phone number for all forms of transit (except cabs) needs 24 hours with to-the-minute arrivals and departures;
RTA 312-836-7000 Includes The El Train lines, Metra, Buses, and boat taxis (I think).
Nuevo Leon is pretty good and relatively close to the el but incredibly greasy. Pancho Pistolas at 700 W. 31st Street just east of Halsed on Union, in the Bridgeport neighborhood serves the very best carne asada in the city. Salpicon is quite good for more upscale nuevo Mexican and fantastic margaritas and a fun area for after dinner exploration.
Vivo on west Randolph is excellent for upscale Italian in an Urban loft setting. This place deserves more mention.
Enoteca Roma Wine Bar
2144-2146 W Division St
Chicago, IL 60622
Phone: (773) 342-1011
One more thing worth considering, either in addition to or instead of your Mexican plans... Chicago has several newer places that are serving "Latin fusion" cuisine, food from a combination of Latin American cuisines. These places include Cuatro, in the South Loop www.cuatro-chicago.com , Carnivale in River West www.carnivalechicago.com , and DeLaCosta in River East www.delacostachicago.com One other unique place with a Latin connection is Vermilion, which serves "Latin-Indian fusion" (a combination of Latin American and the Indian sub-continent) www.thevermilionrestaurant.com All of these are very different from your standard Mexican places and I doubt that you get anything similar in London.
I'm in a minority here, but I did not like Tank at all. The pho was greasy and the appetizer platter was skimpy and overpriced. Hai Yen is much, much better, IMO. You didn't ask about Thai, but if you ask for the translated menu, there is a lot to like about Spoon Thai (Brown Line, Western stop). There are many discussions of Spoon here, with recommended dishes. It's nothing like standard Thai.
There are some new Italian options in town too, including the newish Forno at the triangle of Damen, North and Milwaukee. It has three courses for $21 on Tuesdays, a real value. The food is terrific (it's a Mia Francesca spinoff).
And I always plug Cafe Iberico, the tapas place at Chicago and LaSalle. It really is great and its prices are pure Chicago...CHEAP. Three people can have a satisfying meal with sangria for about $50, if you order carefully. If they have them, their grilled oysters are amazing. The grilled octopus with potato is a heaping helping for about $8, and it's about the most expensive thing on the menu. The squid over noodles with rice is fantastic, but it's only an occasional special.