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Apr 2, 2008 01:54 PM

(Chicago) Restaurant guide recommendations (or other books)?

My brother is moving to Chicago, and I'd like to get him a good restaurant book. He had a great one for L.A. that listed a lot of unusual places-- national cuisines not often seen in the US, places to eat offal, etc. Does anyone know of a book like that for the Chicago area, or have a recommendation for a good restaurant guide? Any other good gift ideas to help a new resident get excited about the area? (Besides eating, he also likes museums, hiking, and various outdoor activities.)

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  1. You certainly came to the right place for advice on Chicago cuisine! is a wonderful site that incorporates all that Chicago has to offer; outdoor activities, boat tours, entertainment, live music, the art scene, street fests, restaurants, architecture, misc. stuff, etc. is a must too.

    A couple of useful publications are; The Chicago Reader
    The Chicago Magazine

    1. wow, i really wish i could help you there. i have searched for one of these myself. when i first started to get into chicago restaurants i tore pages out of chicago magazine and time out chicago to try and collect info on current restaurants, but even that can fall out of date depending on how long its been since their resident critics get back to a place, and there is semi-frequent chef-shuffle at some of the citys hotspots.

      i can advise you strongly to avoid zagat (which is hopelessly out of date- 2008 has several big name restaurants info incorrect---as basic as they type of cuisine they serve), as well as black book chicago (mostly tourist spots imho). i even tried to check out what concierges at some of the best chicago hotels rec'd but things can get very out of date (e.g. pops for champagne moved over 1 year ago and is still listed at former address).

      i have heard that eat. shop. chicago is not horrible, as such things go, but is narrow in scope.

      and to be honest, this where chicago one sounds great from the description, if only because it is brand new and mentions the venerable paul kahan in the first line.

      good luck!

      1 Reply
      1. re: kathleen rose

        Yes, I agree that staying current is a big problem with most of the guidebooks, which fall out of date pretty quickly, what with restaurants closing and others opening, and changes in chefs, etc.

        Metromix is the entertainment website of the Chicago Tribune, and it has very complete listings of local restaurants at It also has reviews, although many of the reviews are favorable, which makes it difficult to distinguish the very best places from those that are not that great.

        Chicago Magazine, , keeps current and has reviews, and also has a "Dish" column each week with the latest restaurant news.

        Of course, the best way to stay up to date with all the latest restaurant news is to read this forum here on Chowhound!

        As for recommendations for guidebooks for non-food-related activities, the Chowhound Team frowns upon posts that aren't related to food, sorry!

      2. Hmm, sounds like the "happy moving, here's a book full of great new restaurants to try" idea isn't going to pan out... I've never found a general guidebook with a restaurant section I really like, sounds like Chicago is no exception to this.

        How does the dining section of Chicago magazine compare to the online content? Is it worth getting a subscription under the assumption that you'd go online occasionally as a supplemental thing, or is the online dining content pretty much the best way to go?

        1 Reply
        1. re: bortukan

          i find the 'dish' online content to be the best for trendspotting and updates on great chefs & restaurants that are making shifts. e.g. yesterday's issue alerted me to a new spot opening less than 3 blocks from my house. [7 Questions for Rob Levitt

          Levitt and his wife, Allison Levitt (veterans of del Toro, 312 Chicago, and La Tache), plan to open Mado, a 65-seat Mediterranean spot, in the old Barcello’s space (1647 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-342-2340) some time this month.

          D: First things first. What’s the name mean?
          RL: It’s pronounced “MA-dough.” Name comes from Ma Gastronomie about Fernand Point. If you read the story of La Pyramide, his nickname for his wife was “Mado.” Nothing made it onto the menu until Mado approved. It’s a testament to the husband-and-wife relationship. That’s what it’s all about for my wife and me.

          D: You are equal partners in everything?
          RL: Absolutely. We go to the market together and I say, What do you want me to make? It’s kind of how we want the restaurant to go: Everything will be a discussion about what we would both like to have.

          D: You’re savory and she’s sweet? This is getting too cute for words.
          RL: She’s very sweet. She’s the pastry chef and has been one for a long time.

          D: How would you describe the food at Mado?
          RL: Good simple cooking with a heavy Mediterranean influence. We’re Italo-philes, but we love Spain and Morocco and southern France. Panini. Lots of antipasti. Homemade pastas. A wood-burning grill and a rotisserie. I’m getting whole pigs and lambs. Out of respect for the animal, I will be using every part of it.

          D: Did you gut the space?
          RL: We haven’t done a lot [décorwise]. But our tabletops will be made out of depressed bamboo plywood. A renewable resource. Trying for as much eco-friendly resources as we can. We will compost in the kitchen. A farmer will take our compost and use it for his plants.

          D: Price point?
          RL: The menu is very simple and the dishes are very simple. The European model. If you order leg of lamb, you are getting leg of lamb and some accompaniment and a choice of a side. Entrées should top out around $18.

          D: We hear you’re doing takeout, too?
          RL: We want to open up to the community. Hoping to get some business from people who want to take home things off the rotisserie, or start the day with homemade pastries and delicious coffee. ]

          Um, in direct response, i think a subscription to Chicago mag might be a good bet. It's at least interesting to read and when they do the restaurant issue it has decent coverage. Working from that as a reference will at least give him somewhere to start. I like reading online but feel the volume of content is more manageable in print---and there are generally other cool articles about the city so its a nice gift since it is more broad. Good luck!

        2. There is a Slow Food guide to Chicago... I bought a copy once from the Historical Society branch at O'Hare! Unfortunately, it's several years out of date by now, but it still may be worth it... it mentioned things way off the beaten track like African food trucks, which I hadn't even realized existed in Chicago!

          1. The Lake Claremont Press ( publishes only books of local interest for the Chicago area. Their Cook's Guide to Chicago, 2nd edition, 2007, is the best guide for buying foods to cook yourself that I know of and is still reasonably up to date. I wonder if they will have a new edition soon for A Native's Guide to Chicago, which covers both restaurants and activities but is rather stale (2004). The Street and San Man's Guide to Chicago Eats covers a lot of cheap and offbeat places but shows its 2003 publication date. The other Native's Guides for suburban areas seem to be out of print except for Northwest Indiana. These are organized by towns and include restaurants, activities and shopping.

            Chicago Magazine's restaurant list has a bias toward medium to upscale places with little coverage of ethnic places away from the tourist and yuppie districts. The days when Chicago Magazine was the major source of restaurant information are long gone. Their web weekly Dish is worthwhile as noted elsewhere in this thread.

            The Chicago Reader is as least as useful as Chicago Magazine. One problem with their weekly themed lists is that they often just reprint capsules that can be quite out of date. At least they are not loaded with listings of restaurants that closed years age.

            I have a lot of problems with Metromix except as an address and telephone listing for restaurants in the tourist and yuppie areas. Their coverage in the outlying neighborhoods is poor with many errors of omission and commission. They don't seem to be able to find anything that wasn't in a press release or published in the Tribune. Even when they pick up something new, they may not mark the former occupant of the space as closed. For example, Semiramis is noted as being in the former space of Shawerma King, which is still listed some years after the owner died. Both the Little Corner Cafe and Beans and Bagels are listed for 2601 W. Leland even though the latter replaced the former several years ago. I noticed several deceased restaurants in the first page of Lincoln Square listings that came up this afternoon. I have no idea what the steakhouse allegedly at 2600 1/2 W. Lawrence is because that building has housed an old fashioned neighborhood tavern for the thirty plus years I have lived in Lincoln Square. If you look at their listings for Lawrence Avenue between 2600 and 2800 west, several listings don't currently exist while very few of the restaurants that are in that stretch show up. They also have problems with geography. Since when is Bosnia in the Middle East? What nitwit came up with a neighborhood classification North Center/Sauganash or listed restaurants on Irving Park Road in the Irving Park community under North Park? Metromix reviews do not seem to have any controls for shills, resulting in some really gushy reviews or extreme slams (perhaps from competitors).

            A good place to start when looking for moderately priced restaurants outside the downtown and north lakefront areas is the LTH Forum Great Neighborhood Restaurants.