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!
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!
Chicago hounds, thank you so much for the recommendations and help, in this and other threads. We had a wonderful time in Chicago, eating for four days straight.
- Milk and Honey Cafe for dried cherry-walnut oatmeal. (Thanks, LAWoman, for this tip - hubby adored it.) I liked my breakfast burrito and loved my lavender-lemon cookie. What a great place this is!
- Mercat a la Planxa - Fabulous. It lived up to my high expectations and then some. I'd go back in a heartbeat! It was expensive, partly because I ordered lots of wine by the glass (hubby doesn't drink), but mostly because we had the $23 plate of jamón ibérico (worth every penny). We also had octopus with potatoes and smoked paprika (my favorite), dates with bacon & blue cheese sauce (yum), and confit of turbot (not cod, as on the menu) with potatoes, beans, and morcilla sausage - my least favorite dish of the four, but still delicious (especially the morcilla).
- Cafe Orchid for Turkish food. The food was great, and we loved the casual, homey atmosphere. (We were too tired that night for a fancy place with music and belly dancers.) Although I've been craving manti, I ordered the Midye Kizartma instead (batter-fried mussels with tartar sauce), and loved them. We also had Iskender kebab (lots of döner, which is like gyros, on pita with tomato sauce & yogurt), and grilled sea bass (simple and incredibly delicious). This tiny place is a treasure! Many thanks to RST for the recommendation in this thread - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/49095... .
- Argo Bakery's hachapuri (cheese) and lobiani (bean & garlic) pastries. Yum! It was worth the trip just for these delights.
- The Indian sweet shops on Devon. We loved the samosa chaat and bhel poori at Sukhadia's Sweets, and I had my first falooda at Tahoora's - delicious, though how a single person can eat a whole one, I can't imagine. We bought a ton of sweets to take home (I just ate a delicious orange saffron thingie).
- Spoon Thai. Wow. Just ... wow. We ordered three dishes off the "Recommended by the Chicago Tribune" menu: catfish custard, banana blossom salad, and duck larb (lâap pèt). We loved them all. But we were surprised that the place was half empty - with food this good, we'd expect lines out the door, even on a cold Wednesday night. (though they had a lot of take-out orders while we were there).
- Maxwell Street Market. It was cold but WONDERFUL!!! The stalls, the people-watching (I wish I had taken a picture of each bundled-up toddler), and, of course, the food. Oh, happy me - I had a birria de chivo at the Tapatia de Ocotlan stand, which made the trip a success for me. We also ate a pastor taco at Rubi's stand, and some tamales from the tamale booth. All delicious. And I tried some champurrado - an acquired taste, perhaps, but I'm glad I tried it. Thanks, Amata, for the tip about the market!
Other delicious things we ate:
- Cinnamon rugallah at Ashkenaz deli.
- Prosciutto-fontina brioche from Sarah's Pastries & Candies.
- Hot chocolate (both the 70% Dark and the Mexican Cinnamon) from Hot Chocolate
(so rich I couldn't finish mine). Both great, but the cinnamon was especially delicious.
- Garrett's cheese popcorn (I'm now addicted).
- Fruit salad from Fox & Obel (a container of perfectly ripe berries was a worthwhile splurge for a treat). This was a great place to go to get supplies for the train trip back.
And the chocolates!!!! We went to Vosges (6 truffles), Sarah's Pastries (for nice toffee and delicious royaltines - aka chocolate-almond crunch), Canady (7 truffles), and Piron (6 truffles). We've sampled a few so far. My verdict: Vosges is OK for high-end truffles, but some of the flavors are wimpy, and others are just weird. (Though we did kinda like the taleggio cheese truffle...) I think I like Piron's truffles the best, though Canady is a very close second. I liked Canady's caramel better than Piron's, but Piron's cherry ganache truffle is a wonder and a marvel.
The only culinary disappointments were:
- Portillo's hot dog with everything - Only OK, not great (my bun was soggy, perhaps because they wrapped it to go even though we said we were eating in). Or maybe I was too full on Garrett's cheese popcorn? But my husband's Polish dog was quite tasty.
- 1492 Tapas Bar - Cafe Ibérico was too full (1-1/2 hour wait, bar area packed 6 people deep, and NOISY). So we walked to 1492. No wait for a table (that should have been a clue), and the place was quiet(er), but the food was mediocre. The patatas bravas were boring, and the saffron rice with the grilled veggies tasted like Rice-a-roni. But I liked the grilled chorizo, and the service was good. So it was OK in a pinch, but I wouldn't go back.
Even with all that eating, we somehow managed to get to five used bookstores (including Myopic Books, where we met the cat) and one tourist activity (the architecture river trip, with Garrett's cheese popcorn as a snack).
Oh, and we had an inexpensive tour of Chicago by riding the #22 bus along Clark from Division to Howard - it's an entertaining way to see lots of Chicago on a rainy day. We passed many places that are mentioned on this board, but were too full (and too cold) to get off the bus to try them.
Alas, we never did get to a Polish or sit-down Mexican restaurant. Next time for sure! (I foresee a visit in July for that Newberry book sale, not that I really need more books!) I have a huge list of places to try on our next trip - TAC Quick, Khan's BBQ, King Sweets, Marigold, Hot Doug's, Turkish Cuisine or Turquoise, Xni-Pec or Flamingo's, Podhalanka or Andrzej, Honey 1 BBQ/Birria Estilo Jalisco, Pasticceria Natalina, and on, and on. Plus a return visit to our favorite places from this trip - actually, that would be most of them.
Thanks again for the help!
P.S. I must also thank CenterstageChicago.com - they've got extensive bookstore reviews, plus great neighborhood and L-stop guides, so I could map out the food options near each bookstore, and thus pack in more tastes. Good CTA directions, too.
Thank you for reporting back, Anne! You and your husband certainly saw and ate your way through a lot of "real" Chicago. The Clark #22 bus can be quite a trip and you definitely saw a lot of the different neighborhoods! It is one of my favorite routes.
Please do come back in June and take advantage of some lovely outdoor dining. You can NEVER have enough books!
Alas, poor hot dog assembly at Portillo's. At least the Polish was good. Perhaps next time a char-dog at Gold Coast, or somewhere else. The grilling avoids the soggy bun problem created by the 'chef'
My wife and I have eaten at 1492 as well, and I think our reaction is about the same, some things were good, some not so good (chorizo, yes; broccoli with hot red pepper, soggy, too much red pepper for even me; potatoes likewise only okay But then again, tapas barely exists in Milwaukee).
Thanks for the notes on Mercat a la Planxa. Sounds like our next stop on our next trip.
> Wow, you guys did and ate a lot in, what? 4 1/2 days? Amazing.
Amazing is one word for it. Insane and overindulgent might be another. But Chicago is such a great food town that we couldn't resist!
My next visit will be soon - maybe even for the summer book sales - especially because I loved taking the train between MSP and CHI. I got a lot of knitting and reading (and eating) done on that train!
A couple of blocks from Canady's and Mercat, in walking distance of Lou Mitchell's and Maxwell Street Market and right on Custom House's doorstep (all in order to give this its proper foodie validation), you will find Printer's Row Book Fair in full flower the first full weekend in June:
Also the weekend of the Chicago Blues Fest
Both events are gratis
Zocalo for Mexican food, Iberico for tapas, Red Apple or Boback's for Polish but not readily accessible by public transportation, Portillo's for hot dog, Bombon isn't that good, unfortunately, and a pain to get to. Also good mexican (griled platters) is El Barco Mariscos - quite wonderful, really, just off the division stop on the Blue line. Tukish would be Turquoise on Roscoe (near Brown line), and for Indian, I would pick Marigold on Broadway (Sheridan stop on red line) - I've been to India three times and find the food on Devon exceedingly greasy. India House on Grand is also good.
Thanks for all the great tips. I really appreciate all the help!
My list keeps expanding and adjusting as I plan for next week's trip. In addition to the Maxwell Street Market (for Sunday morning), I've added this place to my list:
- Argo Georgian Bakery (on Devon)
The hachapuri (cheese bread) and bean-and-garlic pie sound too good to resist. Unless they're closed or have gone downhill?
P.S. As a result, the Devon Indian stop might have to be just appetizers or dessert. Anyone have a favorite Indian sweet shop on Devon?
>>P.S. As a result, the Devon Indian stop might have to be just appetizers or dessert. Anyone have a favorite Indian sweet shop on Devon?<<
You might wanna simply get a chicken bothi in paratha from Khan's, BUT, for things OTHER ppl think of as appetizers:
I forgot something: if you google "chicago restaurant menus" you'll get a hit to Menu Pages. Then click onto Gold Coast for the Clark & Division neighborhood, although Old Town is easily walkable too. Anything Near North or River West you can either walk or hop on the Clark 22 bus which runs southward along Clark or the Broadway 36 bus which, heading south, stops on the southeast corner of Clark & Division in front of CVS Drugstore. Or take Red Line direction Dan Ryan and get off at Grand---tons of restaurants around there. You can check out actual menus. Also, google websites of Brazzaz and Fogo de Chao, two superb Brazilian splurges nearby.
Three places very close to home if you're around Clark & Division: 1) Bombon Americano at Clark & Oak (this branch opened about a year ago)---sandwiches and pastries. Immediate neighborhood has no other pastry shop but Treasure Island (market, corner Clark & Elm) has a nice pastry counter. 2) Always reliable (and reasonable) is Big Bowl on Cedar two doors east of where Rush and State come together. Excellent stir-fries. 3) Best for breakfast is Old Original Pancake House on Bellevue two doors east of Rush. Open for breakfast and lunch; everything is good. Re used books, I hope you're coming the last weekend of July, when the Newberry Library will have its annual sale of 100,000 donated used books---google their website for details. If you're coming after the last week of June, don't miss Farmers' Market Saturday morning 7-1 on Division between Clark & State---there are little gifts to take home with you, as well as produce.
>>>4. Spanish/Tapas - perhaps Mercat a la Planxa for our one splurge?
I haven't been to Mercat a la Planxa (it's on my list of places to try), but there are several good, reasonably priced tapas places, so you might want to save your splurge for a genre you can't get otherwise.
Tapas places to consider:
Cafe Iberico - good food, but be prepared for long waits. Walking distance from where you are staying.
Cafe Ba Ba Reeba - also good food and they let you make a reservation (but there can still be a wait).
>>(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..
It is too bad! I love Birria Estilo Jalisco. For about $15 bucks, you can get a pound of goat, two huge containers of consomme (which I adore) and tortillas. So satisfying.
Birriera Estilo Jalisco also serves cabeza although this part of the cow may not go over any better than goat.
However, Honey 1 BBQ is practically across the street. If the weather is good, takeout from both could go to a little park on Lyndale a fraction of a block from both.
Birrieria Estilo Jalisco
2230 North Western
Honey 1 BBQ
2241 North Western
Okay, one more quick note, about Mexican. You won't have a car, right? In that case I think it's too hard to get to Sol de Mexico and Xni-Pec by public transportation. Flamingo's, which I haven't been to myself but which sounds good, is in the suburb of Mount Prospect, so also not too convenient by public transportation.
Instead of travelling long distances on public transportation, I'd suggest considering Frontera, which is close to your hotel.
You mentioned Nuevo Leon, too: Nuevo Leon is pretty easy to get to via the Pink Line L train (get off at 18th St and walk 2.5 blocks east). I'm quite fond of Nuevo Leon but I wouldn't put it in the same class as Sol de Mexico, say.
Another possibility near the 18th St el stop is Mundial Cocina Mestiza, which is mostly but not entirely Mexican and the most upscale spot on that stretch of 18th St.
Not a restaurant at all, but if you are here on a Sunday morning you might go to the Maxwell Street Market, which is on Canal Street north and south of Roosevelt Road. The Mexican food sold from stalls there is fantastic (also great Salvadoran pupusas.) A good time to get there is around 9 am, before it gets too crowded.
Here is a link to a write up with pictures of Maxwell Street:
Okay, sorry to add to the burden of too many choices! But I really think trying to get to Sol de Mexico, Xni-Pec, or Flamingo's without a car is too much trouble.
It's actually pretty easy to get to any of these places by public transportation. Sure, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo are a lot more conveniently located, especially when you're visiting from out of town, and you may not want to spend an hour in transit each way. And you might decide to go to Frontera or Topo for that reason. But if you want to take public transportation to those other places, here's how to do it:
FLAMINGO'S - Take the CTA Blue Line to the Rosemont stop and there catch the #606 Pace bus, which goes up Algonquin. Get off at Busse Road and Flamingo's is a few doors north. You can find a map and schedule for the #606 bus on Pace's website at www.pacebus.com
SOL DE MEXICO - take the west branch of the CTA's Green Line or Blue Line west to the Cicero stop and catch the #54 Cicero bus northbound, or the O'Hare branch of the Blue Line to the Cicero stop and catch the #54 Cicero bus southbound. (Those on the north side can also take the #77 Belmont bus or #76 Diversey bus to Cicero Avenue and walk to the restaurant.)
XNI-PEC - About one mile walk from the Cicero stop on the CTA's Pink Line, or transfer there to the #302 Pace bus to Laramie and 25th St.
This is really helpful! I don't mind spending hours on the train/bus for a good meal, but my husband is less obsessed and might balk at the travel time.
So I have alternate plans, depending on whether I can talk him into making a trek to the suburbs. If he's super gung-ho, we'll go to Flamingo's. If he's semi-willing, we'll try Xni-Pec (with a reservation). And if he's too cranky for a long trip, I'll take him to Rogers Park so we can try one of the places in this thread.
I'm leaning towards Cuetzala, Dona Lolis, or La Cazuela. Are they still open? Still good? Any better options these days in Rogers Park?
Amata, thanks for the info and links for Maxwell Street Market. It's not too much info - it's exactly the kind of place I need to visit. It's now a MUST for our Sunday breakfast. (Tacos and Pupusas, yum!)
Dumb tourist question, though - is the market open all year round? We'll be there next weekend. Is April 13 too early for outdoor food?
More googling turned up an answer to my question - YES! Maxwell Street Market is open in April! There's even a number to call for hours and info:
I'm adding this info in case anyone else is reading this thread and has the same question...
I see that some people are making recommendations for kinds of food and meals you didn't mention - here are links to discussions that may be helpful:
Brunch and Breakfast:
Polish: Bobak's on south Archer Avenue has a fantastic Polish buffet and amazing grocery/butcher/baker shop nextdoor.
Indian: Viceroy of India about 2 blocks west of Western on Devon Avenue. Absolutely delicious!! Full bar too. Don'f forget to explore the many book stores, boutiques, and grocery strores like Patel Brothers.
Turkish: Turkish Cuisine on Clark street in Edgewater/north Andersonville. Likely the best Turkish in the city, my Turkish friends love it too! Fresh baked goods plentiful. Great neighborhood for exploring with a few bookstores nearby.
German: Resi's Bier Stube for delicious authentic German eats, plenty of amazing beer on tap, and a great beer garden. 2100 w. Irving Park Road just west of Damen. Then take Lincoln avenue north about 8 blocks to The Huttenbar for an after dinner drink.
Greek: Greek Islands at 200 S. Halsted in Greektown for fantastic food in a vibrant atmosphere, at reasonable prices.
Cypriot (Cyprus-Mediterranean): Venus on Jackson at Halsted in Greektown. Great food at reasonable prices...several Greek options too.
Lebanese: Kan Zaman on Wells downtown for very good Lebanese/middle eastern cuisine.
Mr. Beef downtown for excellent Italian Beef.
Portillo's on Ontario downtown for very good hot dogs, Italian Beef, etc.
Since it looks like you're going to spend some time on the EL you're going to pick up a CTA visitor's pass, right? So, it'll be very easy to get off the Red Line at Grand and grab a decent hot dog at Portillo's.
the 100 W. Ontario location
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...
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
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.
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:
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!
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!)
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).
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.
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.
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!
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: