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Dec 12, 2007 01:05 PM

First Time Visitors to Your Fair City...

We'll be coming at the end of May and spending half our time on South Clark Street in Chicago and half our time in Park Ridge. We are coming on miles and staying with friends and family so ALL our money is for restaurants and food. We would appreciate any and all suggestions with the following in mind:

-10 days, basically evenly split between the two locations, car available

-Willing to do three/four ridiculously expensive meals

-Most interested in holes in the wall, italian beefs, pizzas, hot dogs - stuff we can't get anywhere but in Chicago

-Also most interested in any ethnic places we don't have in Hawaii (or have poor representations of) - Ethiopian, delis, Polish, German, Russian, South American, Carribean -anything!

-Definitely an oyster bar

-Not so interested in Asian/Sushi/Pacific Rim as we get it a lot at home - but if it is great, let us know!

-Any recommendations for bars or clubs that have good live music (rock or jazz) would be really appreciated as well.

-Also, should we try to go to a baseball game? Is it baseball time? (I'm not a big sports person (obviously) but I've never been to a professional sports anything and this is a good opportunity)

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  1. You want ridiculously expensive, you've got it! Start with Alinea. The best restaurant I have ever experienced, and about as creative as you will experience anywhere. This is a must for any visitor to Chicago willing to pay for the best meal. Expect to pay at least $250, and probably much more (especially with wine pairings).

    If you find that you like the very creative cuisine of Alinea, you might also want to check out Moto and Avenues. Both are also quite expensive, but also excellent, with Moto being the most creative, if not scientific. But make no mistake . . . these are chefs and while some of the presentations might seem bizarre and a bit whimsical, the food is great. Keep an eye out for the reopening of Schwa. It closed a couple of months ago, but is rumored to be reopening at the end of the year or early next year. It's more casual than the above mentioned spots (even with the $95/person menu) and it's byo.

    You should also consider Charlie Trotter's, which is always outstanding. He has his naysayers, but I tend to believe this is a result of his approach to food. He does not use a lot of butter or cream, and instead focuses on the natural flavors of food. CT's is still one of the very best restaurants in Chicago and probably would be another great place to drop serious coin.

    Others to consider for high-end fine dining include: Spiaggia, Tru, Everest, Les Nomades and while in the suburbs, Carlos' in Highwood (could be a 30-minute drive from Park Ridge, but it's worth it).

    If I were doing three-four high end meals, Alinea and Trotters would definitely be in the top two (Trotters at least for contrast), and then I'd probably choose Spiaggia and then Moto, Schwa or Avenues . . . and Carlos' if in the burbs.

    You might also want to do some slightly less expensive meals . . . i.e., expensive but not in the above category. The best in this category is Blackbird (always keep an eye out for their pork presentations, particularly pork belly), but others to consider include Blackbird's sister Avec, One Sixtyblue, Naha and North Pond (spectacular location in the heart of Lincoln Park).

    Holes in the wall - For deep dish pizza, my three favorites are Pizano's, Lou Malnati's and Burt's. Burt's will be a bit hard to get to, whereas you'll find it easier to find a Lou Malnati's or Pizano's. Pizano's and Malnati's are almost identical (owned by different Malnati brothers). Order the butter crust. Pizano's and Malnati's both have locations downtown, and after Pizano's opens up it's Glenview location, both will be accessible to Park Ridge.

    Italian beef - My favorite is Johnnie's, and there's a location in Arlington Heights (maybe a 15-20 minute drive from Park Ridge), but you can also hit the Al's on Taylor Street (Don't go to any of the franchised Al's - there's one in Park Ridge -- as they are pretty bad).

    Hot dogs - lots of spots to get Chicago dogs. When in Park Ridge, you'll be close to both Gene & Jude's (steamed) and Paradise Pup (char grilled). Can't really dine in at G&J's, and you'll sit outside at the Pup. Paradise Pup also features fantastic burgers and good Italian beef. Also, make sure you stop at Hot Doug's, not necessarily for a Chicago dog, but for their specialty sausages ( Be prepared to wait on line at least 15 minutes.

    Ethnic - no trip to Chicago would be complete without sampling Chicago's outstanding Mexican and Thai restaurants. For Mexican, you can steer higher end and go to Topolobampo (or its sister Frontera Grill) or Salpicon -- These three are excellent. My personal favorite is Sol de Mexico (SdM) where they make the most amazing moles and homemade corn tortillas. For Mexican restaurants specializing in seafood, check out Fonda del Mar or while in Park Ridge, you can drive to Flamingo's Seafood in Mt. Prospect (have not been to but heard that it's excellent).

    As for Thai, you definitely want to check out Spoon Thai or TAC Quick (Spoon is my personal favorite). Focus on their translated Thai language menu items for gems not found at your average Thai restaurant. Just last night, I enjoyed a steamed catfish and red curry custard served in a banana leaf cup (see picture and translated menu at the following link: which might have been the best thing I've eaten all year. I know you've indicated that you're not so interested in Asian . . . I don't care :) Check out Spoon Thai.

    Delis - You'll certainly need to visit Manny's for corned beef, pastrami, potato pancakes and more. It's a Chicago institution with all of the traditional deli favorites.

    German - On the north side, there's Laschet's Inn and Resi's Bierstube, located right next to each other, and pretty close to Wrigley Field if you take in a Cub's game (they start playing in April). I tend to prefer the food at Laschet's, but both are very good, kind of old school and even pub like (more so at Resi's), with some of the best German food you will ever taste. If the weather is nice, sit outside at Resi's in the back.

    Polish - While in Park Ridge, you'll be relatively close to a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that features a number of fine Polish spots. One that immediately comes to mind is Red Apple, where they have a very good and large buffet.

    I would also suggest trips to Chicago's Middle Eastern, Indian/Pakistani and Vietnamese areas. On Kedzie (3200 west), mostly around 4600-4800 north, there are many middle eastern restaurants and bakeries, including Semiramis, Salam and Noon O'Kebab. Devon (6400 north and centered around Western Ave. - 2400 west) is fantastic for Indian/Pakistani restaurants, bakeries and shopping. Lately, I've quite enjoyed the vegetarian fare at Uru-Swati, but there are dozens of excellent options here and it's fascinating and fun to walk from store to store. And there are a number of excellent Vietnamese options on Argyle St. (5000 north), as well as a couple of Chinese bbq spots. Of course, on the near south side, there's also Chicago's Chinatown.

    I would also take in a trip to Pilsen and the Maxwell Street Market (Sundays) for great Mexican food. Bombon Bakery is a must, and a little outside Pilsen is one of my very favorite Mexican spots, La Casa de Samuel.

    If after reading my post and searching this site, you need some more fine tuning or directional help, please let me know. And if you would like a guide to what many of us believe are Chicago's great neighborhood spots, which includes links to and pictures of many of the places I've mentioned above, check out the LTH Forum list:

    1. What BRB said.

      Few more data points for ya:
      My fave beef sammich in the city is Tores on Western and Diversey:
      2804 N Western Ave
      Chicago, IL 60618
      (773) 227-7595
      Get it with hot giardiniera. Correct way to order: "Beef with hot peppers"
      They can make you a chicago style dog also.
      PLEASE visit Devon avenue for Indian food as BRB noted. PLEASE do this. My standard rec for Indian would be Khan BBQ on Devon. Check BRB's link for those lth spots. I think Khan is on there - and IMO it is deservedly so.
      Baseball should be in full swing by end of May, and the weather should by fully cooperative by then as well. Go catch the Cubbies at Wrigley to say that you've gone.
      Wrigley is basically a high school keg party at a baseball park, whereas I find U.S. Cellular (where the White Sox play - I'll always call it Comiskey) is a more "state of the art" kinda place. Wrigley sure can be fun though ;-)

      3 Replies
      1. re: gordeaux

        BRB covered a lot of territory there. I would also do some searches of this site and LTH Forum listed above which is a Chicago-focused food site. Once you do and have some more specific questions, please post and we can get into the details.

        Regarding Chicago classics (Dogs, Italian Beef, etc) you might really enjoy this site for inspiration:

        1. re: gordeaux

          "I find U.S. Cellular (where the White Sox play - I'll always call it Comiskey)"

          I prefer . . . Commiskular . . . kind of says it all. haha

          1. re: BRB

            Id go to a Sox game, thats where I bring my out of town clients, and guests.

            We call the park:

            Sox Park or "the Cell"

            Some of the best grilled hotdogs in the city, and fans that are actually there to watch the game, not the girls in the bleachers.

            Also very close to China Town, etc.

        2. Money no object: Alinea.

          Upscale: North Pond Cafe--very Chez Panisse inspired restaurant with some of the best views of the city

          Moderate: Riccardo Trattoria--very authentic Tuscan in Lincoln Park.

          Only in Chicago: Harold's Fried Chicken. Do not order a bucket; that's for KFC. You'll want to get a mixed half dinner with hot sauce. This is two slices of wonderbread, topped with french fries, then topped with the best fried chicken in the world, the whole thing drizzled with hot sauce.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Sam Harmon

            When you are in Park Ridge you should do hot dogs at Super Dawg. You will be blocks away. It is a Chicago institution. You could also try Flukeys, Hot Dog Island and I'd agree with Hot Dougs in the city, tho it's not strictly a regular Chicago dawg.

            1. re: aviva1

              Good catch on Superdawg . . . another great Chicago institution.

          2. For some of the best Greek Gyros in town, while your in Park Ridge go to Touhy & Harlem to Nicks Drive in, this place also has great Boston Milkshakes.

            I call it "Chicago comfort food" the kind of place where a meal only sets you back $10, keeps you full for half the day afterwards, but the memory lasts a lifetime.

            Booby's is another great place in this catagory, for bugers and the one and only "Char salami sandwich".

            1. You guys rock. I've started a spreadsheet in Excel and have already booked Alinea. I can't wait for Harold's Fried Chicken.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Linus Paul

                I like Harold's . . . quite a bit actually. But this might come as a surprise to many. Maybe the best fried chicken in the city can be found at Laschet's Inn. That's the German restaurant I recommend above, and their fried chicken is fantastic. Check out this picture of Laschet's fried chicken:

                And if you really like fried chicken, you might want to try the fried chicken with tamarind dipping sauce at Spoon Thai . . . one of many, many great dishes at Spoon. Here's a picture:

                1. re: BRB

                  5 yrs ago I remember really liking the fried chicken at Cheng's under the Bryn Mawr Red line El stop, I passed by last week and unfortunately they wern t open at that time on a Sunday.

                  Speaking of memories, I also remember a place on old RT66 called De Ray's Chicken Basket in Willowbrook that was outstanding, does anyone know if it's still there and any good?

                  1. re: abf005

                    del rheas in Willowbrook is still open. Still decent chicken, with a decent & affordable lunchtime buffet.

                    I also like the fried chicken @ Priscillas Ultimate Soul Food Buffet in Hillside, great cornbread, and smothered pork chops as well. Its also just east of the graveyard where Al Capone is buried.

                    4330 W. Roosevelt Road
                    Hillside, IL.

                    The best fried chicken I have found in the area is out west where I live. Pretty much every bar, and restaurant has chicken they fry to order. Places like Ripps in Ladd, IL., The Cherry Supper Club in Cherry, IL. etc. Between the supper clubs, fried chicken, and pork tenderloin sandwiches I eat pretty well out west of the city.