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NY Foodies visiting Chicago

My friend and I will be visiting Chicago for 4 nights, 3 full days in March. I was actually born and raised in Chicago, but went to college in NYC and became a foodie there. We're in our early 20's and consider ourselves to be NY foodie/hounds. I really want to impress him during our visit. While I grew up on all the great Chicago things, such as Lou Malnati's, Indian, Thai, Mexican, etc, I still don't know too much since I haven't gotten much of a chance to really explore the foodie scene since I moved.

We'll be arriving in O'Hare around 9:45pm and will be staying at my house in the north/lake county suburbs. I'm sure we'll be hungry, so I'm hoping Portillo's or some place else with a good Italian beef sandwich will still be open. Please recommend a place if there are any along that route.

Some places I have in mind and would appreciate thoughts on...

-Lou Malnati's or Giordano's - to show him what real deep dish pizza is like

-Carlos Restaurant in Highland Park - my parents' favorite. We already have reservations here. Any suggestions on what to eat here?

-Hopleaf - we love Belgian beer and moules frites, so this might be fun. There isn't a place quite like this in NYC. Any other suggestions for beer aficionados would be appreciated.

-somewhere for Thai food - I keep reading about TAC Quick, so that's certainly a possibility. I want TRULY authentic Thai food. Atmosphere isn't a concern. Any other places that would surpass Sripriphai in NY?

-perhaps a quick taco "snack" somewhere in Lake County

-Kaze Sushi - I know NY is far superior than Chi in the sushi dept, but my parents really like this place and want me to try it. Any thoughts/comments/concerns about Kaze? How much is the seasonal tasting menu?

We'll also be going to the Museum of Science and Industry. Is there any place nearby to grab a quick lunch either before/after the museum? Thinking about Harold's simply because it sounds like good fried chicken and is a southside institution.

Those are my ideas for now, so I'd like to know what you Chicago hounds think as well as if you have any other suggestions. I really just want to take him to places that are either uniquely Chicago and/or are better than what can be found in NYC.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Couple of thoughts:

    TAC Quick - great choice for Thai. Be sure to order off of the Thai language menu (they have a translated menu at the restaurant) for the good stuff. The blackboard specials are also a good way to go. Spoon Thai is also really good if you want to go authentic

    Kaze - Well, you're right. Chicago is well behind NYC in terms of sushi (there's nothing here that even comes close to somewhere like Yasuda). Kaze is a pretty good spot as Chicago sushi goes, but it's definitely not a place for the sushi-purist. The quality of the fish is good, but is often served with some sort of topping or sauce. Not necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind going in.

    7 Replies
    1. re: jesteinf

      Yasuda is AMAZING. the only reason why i'm considering Kaze is because of the fact that it's more on the creative side. Any notable things to try there?

      How much does Kaze's seasonal tasting menu cost?

      1. re: phr208

        I would go with the tasting menu, as opposed to trying to pick individual dishes. Last time I was there I enjoyed a bison salad and a toro tartare dish the most. The nigiri plate was interesting, with the toro as a standout. I think the tasting menu was around $100 per person (without drinks).

        1. re: jesteinf

          Is Spoon more authentic than TAC or are they about equal? And are they the two most authentic in the city?

          1. re: phr208

            I'm certainly not the ultimate authority, but I would say they're pretty close...maybe Spoon by a nose.

            Are they the two most authentic? Maybe, but others here can probably give a better response than me.

        2. re: phr208

          Hi Phr208,

          NYC hound here. If you have been to Yasuda, then I can tell you that Kaze is really not at the same level. (sorry no offense to any Chicago hounds...)

          I will say skip Kaze

          1. re: kobetobiko

            Will be skipping Kaze this time. Yasuda was a huge step up for me. I still enjoy one half-off sushi place in NY :)

            1. re: kobetobiko

              "NYC hound here. If you have been to Yasuda, then I can tell you that Kaze is really not at the same level. (sorry no offense to any Chicago hounds...)"

              None taken. You're absolutely correct. We have plenty of things to impress New Yorkers, but our sushi, while very respectable at the city's better spots, isn't among them.

        3. I think you will really enjoy Kaze Sushi, it's one of my favorites- and I think on Tuesdays, they offer a half price tasting menu with wine pairings- $45. A great deal and a great way to get an idea of the restaurant.

          Another place to check out:

          Hot Doug's- awesome house made sausages and on weekends, duck fat fries

          2 Replies
          1. re: pierrot

            Unfortunately we won't be in Chicago on a Tuesday. We're just there from Wed night until Sun morning.

            I'm from Chicago, so I do come back a few times a year. I really just want to impress my friends and show him good food that will be better than what you can find in NY. Kaze probably isn't the place, so it won't kill me if i wait to go during another trip back home.

            Since Carlos will be our one pricey meal, I may substitute Kaze with something else more "Chicago," now knowing Kaze would cost 100/person. Any suggestions are welcome!

            1. re: pierrot

              If I may second the Hot Doug's recommendation, that's a GREAT place to take visitors. It's totally unique and just outstanding. Get one Chicago-style dog and one of his funky specials and kill two birds with one stone.

            2. To reply to specific points...

              >> While I grew up on all the great Chicago things, such as Lou Malnati's, Indian, Thai, Mexican, etc, I still don't know too much since I haven't gotten much of a chance to really explore the foodie scene since I moved.

              Since you mentioned pizza and Thai further on in your post, I have comments about those further below. For Indian food, I think your best bet is to walk down Devon Avenue between Western and Sacramento, read menus outside restaurants, and choose one that sounds good. Whether that's really impressive depends on how much you like Indian food. I happen to think that our Mexican food is much, much more impressive, offering quality and variety that is not common throughout most of the rest of the country, including New York. I'm sure you're familiar with longtime favorites like Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, but in recent years quite a few Mexican restaurants have opened, offering extremely creative cuisine, often featuring provincial specialties. Places like Flamingo's Seafood and Xni-Pec (Yucatanese) are just amazing and unique. You can find recommendations in the topic at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/463572

              >> We'll be arriving in O'Hare around 9:45pm and will be staying at my house in the north/lake county suburbs. I'm sure we'll be hungry, so I'm hoping Portillo's or some place else with a good Italian beef sandwich will still be open. Please recommend a place if there are any along that route.

              Portillo's locations are shown on their website at www.portillos.com/portillos/locations The one closest to the Tri-State north of O'Hare is in Vernon Hills, on IL-60 just west of Hawthorn Center. Unfortunately, they don't show hours on their website (grrr...) so you may want to call them to ask how late they're open.

              >> -Lou Malnati's or Giordano's - to show him what real deep dish pizza is like

              Great choices.

              >> -somewhere for Thai food - I keep reading about TAC Quick, so that's certainly a possibility. I want TRULY authentic Thai food. Atmosphere isn't a concern. Any other places that would surpass Sripriphai in NY?

              For recommendations, see the topic at www.chowhound.com/topics/491970

              >> -perhaps a quick taco "snack" somewhere in Lake County

              For recommendations, see the discussion at www.chowhound.com/topics/456329

              >> We'll also be going to the Museum of Science and Industry. Is there any place nearby to grab a quick lunch either before/after the museum? Thinking about Harold's simply because it sounds like good fried chicken and is a southside institution.

              You can find recommendations for Hyde Park in these topics:
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/119212
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/118123

              >> Those are my ideas for now, so I'd like to know what you Chicago hounds think as well as if you have any other suggestions. I really just want to take him to places that are either uniquely Chicago and/or are better than what can be found in NYC.

              You can find a summary of overall recommendations for Chicagoland, and links to specific topics of discussion, in the topic at www.chowhound.com/topics/119212

              If I had to think of anything you might have missed from what you've already touched on, several additional ideas come to mind.

              One is Walker Brothers for breakfast. They continue to be excellent, including their heavenly puffed-up cinnamony apple pancake, as well as their omelets, other pancake specialties, and other dishes. If you're in Lake County, the Lincolnshire or Highland Park locations are probably the most convenient. www.walkerbrosoph.com

              I would mention Alinea but since you're already going to Carlos, you really only need one "splurge". Consider Alinea for next time, though, as it's as good as dining gets in Chicago (which is as good as it gets in New York, at places like per se). www.alinearestaurant.com

              If you're looking for something instead of Kaze, you might want to consider one of our contemporary casual fine dining restaurants. No, they aren't really any different from ones you can find in New York, but the quality is extremely high, you can find very creative food, and just a wonderful, enjoyable experience overall. In the northern suburbs, the best of these include Michael, in Winnetka ( www.restaurantmichael.com ), Oceanique, in Evanston ( www.oceanique.com ), and Chef's Station, in Evanston ( www.chefs-station.com ). I really loved the dinner I had at Michael not too long ago; you can read my report at www.chowhound.com/topics/351457 If you're looking for a good place in Lake County, I like the Tavern, in Libertyville ( www.tavernlibertyville.com ); it's a bit more conventional/American than these others, but the quality is quite good.

              Have a great time!

              7 Replies
              1. re: nsxtasy

                thanks for the comments! actually, i forgot to mention Walker Bros on my list of possible places to take my friend. i grew up on that apple pancake that i even had my mom send me the frozen ones when i was in college :)

                we basically just have 3 dinners during our stay. Carlos is definite. I'm leaning towards Hopleaf and a Thai place for the other two dinners. I'd love to try Hopleaf because we love Belgian beer and moules frites, but I'm also trying to include my whole family in all our dinners. Unfortunately, my two siblings are underage, so I'll have to see what happens.

                Portillo's in Vernon Hills (another place I grew up on) closes at 10:30, so we likely won't make it since we'll be landing around 9:45. Not sure if there's another great Italian beef sandwich joint on the way home.

                1. re: phr208

                  In regards to the underagers: Hopleaf may be hard to get them in. You may want to call and see what the policy is for the dining area. I highly, highly, highly recommend it though. Excellent food!

                  1. re: lbs

                    any food recommendations aside from the moules frites?

                    if you have any favorite beers there, feel free to share!

                    1. re: phr208

                      Phr208
                      I went in the summer and the menu has since changed. But honestly, the mussels are fantastic and you won't go wrong with that.

                      Here's the menu: http://www.hopleaf.com/dining_menu.html

                      1. re: phr208

                        So I've been there pretty often in the last few months. I really like the "La Fin du Monde" beer, a belgian style. I've been getting that one lately because it is so good. I've also had the allagash white and my friend usually gets the Two Brothers Cane & Ebel. I've tasted a couple of the sandwiches there (the beef one, the duck one) and they are just OK... I really think their mussels and frites are the best and wouldn't stray from that! Hope you still go despite the age issues!

                      2. re: lbs

                        No need to even call Hopleaf and ask. I'm there frequently and the policy is no underagers at all, no way, no how. Not even with their parents, not even if they're 3 and there's no way they'll try to sneak a drink.

                  2. Definitely Lou Malnati's over Giordano's.

                    Skip Harolds Fried Chicken as it's greasy and way overrated. I would recommend Pancho Pistolas (short car or cab ride from the Museum) at 700 W. 31st Street for the best Carne Asada in town...really unbelievable stuff!!! Very good Mexican food at dirt cheap prices. Nice exposed brick neighborhoody vibe too.

                    Hot Dougs on California 2 blocks south of Addison for the best hot dogs in town....relatively new but quickly establishing itself as the best in the city. Try the tradional Chicago dog or one of the many gourmet dogs.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: amoncada

                      I like both, but if I had to choose one over the other, I would definitely choose Giordano's over Lou Malnati's.

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        Ditto! (but of course this has been debated many times)

                    2. anyone have suggestions on what to order at Carlos? will most likely be going a la carte.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: phr208

                        I've always done tasting menus there. I've never been unhappy with anything I've had.

                        1. re: jesteinf

                          we'll be doing the tasting menus. i'm thinking one of us should do the meat degustation and the other do the seafood degustation. would it be ok to just share some if not all of the dishes so we can get a sampling of everything?