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Need great Chicago eats - downscale and delicious

Help! I've been researching where to eat on my upcoming visit. Chicago's eating options have exploded since my last visit (circa 1992), and I'm completely overwhelmed. Unfortunately, my husband and I are only there for 4-1/2 days, and we can only eat so much...

So I've decided to focus on food that is unavailable or feeble in my home town. I don't want any expensive or fancy places, though one moderate splurge would be OK.

My eating priorities are:

1. Regional/authentic Mexican - How to choose from the wealth of offerings? Reports of Flamingo, Sol de Mexico, and Nuevo Leon are making me drool - Xni Pec sounds great, too. (Too bad I can't talk my husband into an all-goat lunch at Birria Estilo Jalisco - he hates goat.) I would love some huitlacoche, but it's probably not in season right now..

2. Polish - Does any place serve czarnina? (Oh, how I miss the Orbit!) If not, is Podhalanka my best bet?

3. Turkish - I'm craving some good manti. Grilled fish would be a plus, but top-quality manti is my main goal.

4. Spanish/Tapas - perhaps Mercat a la Planxa for our one splurge?

5. Fabulous Indian - If you could pick one place on Devon (or elsewhere), which would it be?

6. Thai (if there's time) - Spoon Thai, TAC, Sticky Rice, and Siam Noodle & Rice all sound fab. Or should I consider somewhere else?

My long-suffering husband (who's not as food-obsessed as I) has requested good bakeries, chocolate (truffles or hot chocolate or both), and breakfast oatmeal. And wants to know how the tortas are at the Bombon Cafe's downtown location, so he could get a pastry fix while I eat a torta.

Oh, and I need a classic Chicago Hot Dog, of course, but probably wouldn't make a big trek for one. What's best in downtown/Near North?

We're staying near the Red Line Division/Clark stop, but are quite willing to travel (by EL/bus) for good food.

Extra points for a place with a used bookstore nearby!

Many thanks,
Anne

P.S. How do you locals have time to do anything except eat? If I lived in Chicago, I would barely sleep, let alone work or spend time with my family. There's just so much to sample!

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  1. Looks like my husband's bakery questions are already answered in this thread:

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/505253

    Anne

    1. 5. Fabulous Indian - If you could pick one place on Devon (or elsewhere), which would it be?

      For one fabulous, inexpensive meal, I would have broasted chicken, chicken boti, aloo gobi, and rice with a few parathas (not more than 30.00 - you'll have leftovers if you want to take them)at Khan Bbq on the SW corner of Devon and Western.

      My second choice, I guess would be Usmaniya, then Sabri Nehari, then Uru-Swati (veg only)

      If you want to go for ultra cheap, no ambience at ALL, but still pretty tasty stuff:
      Ghareeb Nawaz

      1. Ohh! I get extra points:

        Go on the Brown Line, get off at Western. You'll be in Lincoln Square. Viola, you have Spoon Thai, Essence of India (not as good as places on Devon but I like it), Fiddle Head Cafe for a wine and cheese flight, Los Nopales for BYOB Mexican, and good German bars and tons of other places

        . AND..... TWO bookstores! One used - the man who owns is a bit odd which I believe is a requirement to own a used book store but very friendly. And an independent bookstore.

        I'm at work so I can't look up addresses but if any of those strike your fancy, post back and I'll get addresses.

        3 Replies
        1. re: lbs

          Or as an alternative, you may want to head up to the Andersonville area. Take the Red Line going to Howard. Get off at Berywn stop and walk about 4-5 blocks west to Clark Street. There is an excellent Sicilan bakery, a specialty chocolate store that I am blanking on name wise, the Swedish Bakery plus the Hopleaf for good food and beer among other places. Also, The Brown Elephant is a second hand store with a lot of books and Women and Childrens First is an independent bookstore. All are on Clark Street.

          1. re: lbs

            The Sicilian bakery is called Pasticceria Natalina and it's wonderful. The chocolatier next door is called Bon Bon and it's pretty good, but there are other places that are even better as well as less expensive; see below.

          2. re: lbs

            Thanks, lbs! No need for addresses - I'm an avid googler.

            I found a list of used bookstores on CenterstageChicago (http://centerstagechicago.com/literat... ). I'm guessing that the used bookstore is Ravenswood Books - it looks like a great place to browse before dinner at Spoon Thai.

            Extra points for you!

            Anne

          3. Hi Anne,

            I don't have time to post anything long right now but I want to alert you that Bombon's branch in the Loop (W Washington St) is now closed. The landlord raised the rent too high for them to continue, apparently. It's a shame because it was one of the best places to get lunch downtown.

            If you are down in the South Loop at all, your husband will be happy with the truffles at Canady le Chocolatier, on Wabash south of 8th Street. (It's next door to Powells Bookstore which has a huge quantity of remaindered, discounted books, and near the Printers Row neighborhood, which has a nice small trade bookstore and a rare book dealer on the block of Dearborn north of Polk.)

            If you are in the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood take him to Hot Chocolate for dessert. (sorry, I don't know of any bookstores here offhand!)

            have fun,
            Amata

            2 Replies
            1. re: Amata

              I second Canady, which is actually only a block or two away from Mercat a la Planxa. (And don't miss the Prairie Avenue Bookshop, either, here: http://www.pabook.com/) for fine architectural books.

              "If you are in the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood take him to Hot Chocolate for dessert. (sorry, I don't know of any bookstores here offhand!)"

              Quimby's! (an "alternative" bookstore, which often has interesting reading events): http://www.quimbys.com/

              . . . and Podhalanka is not too far away, about a 1/4 mile down on Milwaukee (and right at the Blue Line Division stop).

              1. re: Amata

                Myopic books is near the corner of Milwaukee/Damen/Division and its a classic second hand book store, with shelves in every nook and cranny, so it kind of feels like a cave of books. There's a book cat there too!

              2. Here's my $.02...

                >> 1. Regional/authentic Mexican - How to choose from the wealth of offerings? Reports of Flamingo, Sol de Mexico, and Nuevo Leon are making me drool - Xni Pec sounds great, too.

                Of these, I strongly recommend Flamingo's. Flamingo's Seafood is absolutely fantastic, and unlike what you'll typically find most places (outside of Mexico itself, of course). I was really underwhelmed by my recent visit to Sol de Mexico; everything on the menu sounds wonderful, but when it comes to the taste of the dishes, I just felt they were rather bland. Nuevo Leon is very good, but it's also rather conventional Mexican, similar to what you can find in many cities. (I haven't been to Xni-Pec, but if you go, make a reservation; I've heard horror stories of waiting times to be seated.)

                >> 3. Turkish - I'm craving some good manti. Grilled fish would be a plus, but top-quality manti is my main goal.

                I don't know the answer, but I do know that Turkish food is not one of our specialties here in Chicago, and you can find better in many other places (e.g. New York). Greek is quite the opposite.

                >> 6. Thai (if there's time) - Spoon Thai, TAC, Sticky Rice, and Siam Noodle & Rice all sound fab. Or should I consider somewhere else?

                If you enjoy unusual dishes from a specially authentic menu, then the first three are good choices. If you enjoy more common Thai dishes, I've found them okay, but not "fab". For example, the tom kha gai (soup) is much better at Thai Sookdee than at any of these.

                >> My long-suffering husband (who's not as food-obsessed as I) has requested good bakeries, chocolate (truffles or hot chocolate or both), and breakfast oatmeal.

                We have some wonderful artisanal chocolatiers in town. In order, starting with the best...

                THE BEST:
                1. Belgian Chocolatier Piron (Evanston) - $36/lb - www.belgchocpiron.com
                2. Chocolates by Bernard Callebaut (Glenview, Lake Forest - made in Canada) - $50/lb - www.bernard-callebaut.com
                3. Vosges Chocolate (Chicago) - $91-100/lb - www.vosgeschocolate.com
                4. Leonidas (Wilmette - made in Belgium) - $32/lb - www.cafechocolaterie.com
                5. Canady le Chocolatier, Ltd. (Chicago) - $33/lb - www.canadylechocolatierchicago.com
                6. Bon Bon (Chicago) - $60/lb - www.bonbonchicago.com

                THE REST:
                7. Vanille Patisserie (Chicago) - $63/lb - www.vanillepatisserie.com
                8. Chocolate Box (Winnetka) - $66/lb (no website AFAIK)
                9. Coco Rouge (Chicago) - $82-102/lb - www.cocorouge.com

                For more details, see the discussion at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/374386

                >> P.S. How do you locals have time to do anything except eat? If I lived in Chicago, I would barely sleep, let alone work or spend time with my family. There's just so much to sample!

                I doubt that many of us eat all day long; you can only eat so much! As a practical matter, I suspect that most of us (including almost anyone on Chowhound) have a list (either actual, or mental) of lots of restaurants we have never been to and would like to try.

                2 Replies
                1. re: nsxtasy

                  nsxtasy, thank you for this great chocolate ranking! My husband will be very very happy. I think I'll take him to Evanston for those locally-made Belgian chocolates. Luckily, there's a bookstore nearby for me (Chicago Rare Book Center).

                  And yeah, I hear what you're saying about Turkish restaurants, but I've been to Greektown (Greek Islands/Roditys/Parthenon/etc.) many times before. And Chicago has at least SIX Turkish restaurants. SIX!!! Y'all can eat manti, lahmacun, and iskender kebap whenever you want! Oh, the injustice... Minneapolis only has two Turkish restaurants, and neither is all that great - and neither serves manti. For those who are wondering why I'm obsessed with this dish, see this article by someone else with a manti obsession:

                  http://centerstagechicago.com/restaur...

                  Oh, and thanks also for the specific info on the menus at the Thai restaurants. It'll help me make that oh-so-difficult choice of one place over the others... Ah, such decisions!

                  Thanks,
                  Anne

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Leonides also has a retail outlet adjacent to the Chicago Board of Trade right off of LaSalle St. I noticed it last weekend while walking through the loop.