Chicago food tour - is it worth it?
still planning our July trip to Chicago and I found this on the internet... can anyone on this board tell me what the tour is like? For $40, I'd really like it to be worthwhile. It seems like a good way to get acquainted with the city...
Looking forward to seeing what you have to say about it!
Text copied and pasted from the site:
Near North Food Tasting
and Cultural Walking Tour
Our guided, narrated Near North Food Tour visits 8 food tasting locations in the historic, delicious Gold Coast, Old Town, and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. All food tastings, enough for lunch, are included in the ticket price.
Delicious food specialties are served on the Near North Food Tour from:
An award-winning Italian stuffed pizzeria (est. 1978)
America’s top spice and herb specialty shop (est. 1957)
A fudge and confectioner specialty store (est. 1963)
A gourmet foods store and cheese shop (est. 1977)
An authentic Middle Eastern-Jewish deli (est. 1975)
An aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil specialty store (est. 2007)
A high-end specialty loose tea and tisanes merchant (est. 1978)
A gourmet chocolate lounge (est. 2005)
When: 7 days a week, April - December
Check current schedule and buy tickets online
Time: Tours start daily at 11 am to early afternoon
How long: Approximately 3.25 hours
How much: $40 per adult ticket (plus $2 ticketing fee
)What’s included: All the food tastings, enough for lunch
Who: All age groups and fitness levels
Capacity: 16 people per tour
What to wear: Comfortable clothing and shoes
Weather conditions: Tour takes place rain or shine
Where: Meets near Michigan Ave and Lake Michigan in Gold Coast
(Exact meeting location information provided with ticket purchase)
Our "Foods of Chicago Neighborhoods Guide" with Store Tasting Coupons
All food tastings; enough for lunch for most participants
Insight on local entertainment, diverse boutiques, and restaurant "finds"
Historical, architectural, and cultural commentary
Pollution free, self-propelled, "Green" walking tour
Fun, qualified, and respectful tour leaders
I am planning a trip to Chicago and while researching I stumbled across a free service offered by the Chicago Office of Tourism. They provide "Greeter" tours where you let them know when you are coming and select what subject you are interested in (ethnic delis, farmers' markets, gay Chicago, African American heritage, downtown architecture, etc, etc) and they arrange for a local volunteer with an interest in that subject to show you around. I haven't tried it yet but it sounds like a great idea and might be an good alternative to a paid tour. Google "Chicago Greeter Tour" for more information.
I think I know the passionate tour guide Aggie85 was speaking about, if it was one of the bust tours by the Chicago Tourism Department. It was probably Evelyn Thompson who not only is a great tour guide, but the guru of ethnic grocery stores in Chicago. She's won one of the prestigious Chicago Tribune GOOD EATING awards in 2003, and was featured on Food Channel, Food & Wine Magazine, various newspaper, newspapers etc.
She's a free lancer for the Chicago Tourism people, and she also does her own individual tours
where she takes personally takes you to a wide range of ethnic grocery stores. Of course, you sample foods at some of these places. The tours work best for people who love to cook and want to learn more about where foods come from, how they have spread, and how they are used -in short the real history. You can find her web page by searching for Chicago ethnic grocery tours.
My husband and I went on the Chicago Food Planet Near North tour last Halloween weekend and thought it was great, www.midwestweekends.com/plan_a_trip/s...
It was a tasting tour but with a lot of historical/cultural/architectural commentary -- our guide was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. We were among the few tourists -- most of the others lived in the Chicago suburbs, and one pair lived in Lincoln Park.
I've also been on the Taste of the Neighborhoods tour with Evelyn Thompson -- she's a hoot! That stops at three restaurants, so there's more food, but also tons of cultural commentary. I recommend both of them. There's also the Tastebud tour, three pizza tours and a chocolate tour!
We tried to do part of the chocolate tour on our own, but unless you work hard to ask questions and engage the storekeepers, you won't learn nearly as much as you would on a tour.
I recently (September 2009) took this tour and LOVED it! I am not a very "touristy" kind of person, but I was alone, so wanted guidance in my travels. The tour guide was very knowledgeble not only of the food and restaurants, but of the neighborhoods and varying sights along the way. The food was yummy, the restaurants were great and the tour was worth it! I really enjoyed it and am coming back to Chicago in the coming weeks and am going to do another one!
I think the answer comes down basically to whether you like to be taken on tours. Personally, I would rather stay at home and stare at the wall than have somebody else, whether friend or foe or paid guide, take me on a "tour" of their planning. In Italy I saw groups of tourists being led from Famous Thing to Famous Thing like kindergarten kids on a field trip, with the teacher carrying on high (literally) a banner for them to follow---I doubt that one of them got a real sense of the place they had traveled so far to experience. Chicago is loaded like a minefield with good places to eat and we have super public transportation. (CTA, RTA). Chowhound, Metromix, Chicago Restaurant Menus, and Chicago Yelp are all good places to do research (also Chicago CTA and RTA Trip Planner websites). I would say, get yourself a map of the city and a CTA map and learn your way around. But I know that we might respectfully disagree.
re: ms. chow
I just wanted to put my "2 cents" in since I just returned from a 6 day trip to Chicago and the Near North Food Tour was one of my family's favorite activities we did in Chicago. The tour guide was fabulous. It was evident she loved Chicago and the neighborhoods we visited and the small, local businesses we visited. Each of the places we visited was unique and the information provided at each location was information we would not have recieved in any other manner. As interesting as the businesses were, we were equally impressed with the information the tour guide provided regarding the history of the neighborhoods and the homes and parks in the area. It was an excellent introduction to Chicago. The more substantial tastings - Reuben, Chocolate and stuffed pizza - were all excellent and very filling while the spice, tea and oil/vinegar stops were very informative and sparked a passion in my 16 year old daughter to explore these in more depth. I would highly recommend the tour.
I'm personally unfamiliar with the Chicago Food Tour or the Near North Food Tour or whatever it is called, but it's good to hear that you enjoyed it.
When I am in a city (or a country) I don't know well, I think a tour -- provided that the tour guide is both knowledgeable and enthusiastic -- is a great way to get your feet wet, get your bearings, etc.
A map can't possibly fill you in on the ins and outs and history of a place. And walking around with your face in a guidebook isn't much better. Sometimes you don't have the time or the wherewithal to research it all in advance.
On a recent trip to Rome, we started our visit with one of those "famous thing to famous thing" walking tours. It was an awesome way to get a sense of the city, the history and the people. And after that we were off on our own. On the other hand, our tour of the Vatican was led by a brilliant, but bored tour guide that we could easily have lived without.
So if you don't have your own native to accompany you, I vote for a well-recommended tour guide.
I also don't think this is a good value. If you want a feel for more ethinic specialty stores, a definite place to go is the MIddle East Bakery and Grocery in Andersonville (1512 W Foster Ave - Clark and Foster). I go about once a month and stock up on bread and other dishes - great for middle eastern ingredients You also find a few other nice stops around there for shopping. Along Broadway near Argyle there are good Asian markets and great, inexpensive Asian restaurants. The Spice House in Old Town (which is on the tour) is well worth the trip, but Ethel's and the Fudge Pot are not all that exciting (altho that's maybe because they're in my backyard)
re: pâté chinois
I’m so grateful you posted this last year. My friend and I are planning a girl’s trip to Chicago this July and came across this tour on the internet. While we are visiting the Taste of Chicago, we were hoping to go off the beaten path and experience some hidden jewels. We found this tour interesting and brought it up to another friend we have who is a native from Chicago. He was hum drum and admitted the tour sounded fun in theory but he felt the selected restaurants weren’t really representing the food found in Chicago.
Did you ever experience the tour? If so what was your thought and if you didn’t what was your game plan?
We are open to any additional suggestions ANYONE may have…
Thanks a bunch.
re: Mrs. AMB
I haven't participated in this food tour, but I know a little bit about Chicago's best restaurants and food shops in all categories and price ranges. I can understand your local friend's hesitation about the tour; I agree that the selected restaurants are not representing the best that Chicago has to offer. You can put together your own itinerary of visits to restaurants and food shops that *will* hit the best spots. That being said, one thing a "do it yourself tour" does not offer is the idea of tasting. IOW if you go to a pizza place, you're probably going to be getting at least a full lunch portion size of pizza, if you go to a deli you're probably going to be getting at least a sandwich... and how many stops will you make before you're full? You also won't get as much attention from the business owners as you probably will through this organized tour. So I can think of some advantages to doing a tour like this. And it's only $40 and a few hours, not a huge investment of time or money; why not try it?
Since you're also asking for suggestions on an overall strategy for sampling some of Chicago's best food...
The very first suggestion I'll make is this: Skip Taste of Chicago (or at least, don't plan on spending a lot of time there). The Taste does not have the best of Chicago, either, even if you're very picky about what you get. Most of the restaurants there are nothing special at all. If you want to spend a few hours there, go ahead, but it very likely will NOT be the fondest food memory of your trip (not even close).
The second suggestion I have is to think about what you want to accomplish, come up with a strategy to meet that, and look to Chowhound for advice in arranging your itinerary. For example, if you want to try local specialties that you can find in Chicago but not elsewhere, you can plan itinerary stops for your trip that will include a deep-dish pizza place, an Italian beef place, etc. If you love pastry, you can include stops at our best places for pastry. If you enjoy fine dining at the top temples of haute cuisine, you can plan a couple such dinners for your trip. If you love Mexican food, or pizza, or Thai food, or any other specific kind of food, you can determine specific restaurants which you'll make sure to visit. Some of these places may be daytime or lunchtime stops, while others may be evening destinations. There are discussions on Chowhound where you can do your research, such as the ones with links below.
Once you start putting together your itinerary, you may then have further questions. For example, let's say you decide that a particular stop is a "must visit"; you might then want to know what else is in the area, and we'll be happy to give you additional suggestions within walking distance. (Many of Chicago's best foods are often found in "clusters" - if you're going to such-and-such, you should also stop here, here, and here while you're in the neighborhood, etc.)
Now here are those links, in case you want to do further research:
Brunch and Breakfast:
Chicago food neighborhoods:
>> Many of Chicago's best foods are often found in "clusters" - if you're going to such-and-such, you should also stop here, here, and here while you're in the neighborhood, etc.
It would be easy to put together "do it yourself" itineraries for walking tours for some of these "food clusters". For example...
The "Central Street Evanston Tour" - The Spice House, Foodstuffs, Tag's Bakery, Great Harvest Bread, Homemade Pizza, with lunch at either Jacky's Bistro or Jilly's Cafe
The "Clark Street Andersonville Tour" - Pasticceria Natalina, Swedish Bakery, Bon Bon Chocolatier, with lunch at M. Henry
With homage to jbontario for posting about Terry's Toffee... the "Grand Avenue West Town Tour" - Terry's Toffee, D'Amato's Bakery, Bari Foods, with lunch at Twisted Spoke
The "Wabash Avenue South Loop Tour" - Panozzo's Italian Market, Sam's Wine, Canady le Chocolatier, with lunch at Bongo Room or Hackney's
The "Fox & Obel Tour" - the meat counter at Fox & Obel, the fresh fish counter at Fox & Obel, the cheese counter at Fox & Obel, the prepared foods counter at Fox & Obel, the bakery counter at Fox & Obel, with lunch in the cafe at Fox & Obel ;)
re: Mrs. AMB
To me, this sounds like a nice walk through some nice Chicago neighborhoods with stops off at some local shops. Several are on Wells St between North and Division - which is a very nice strip with a dozen very good restaurants and the Spice Shop which really is the best spice store in Chicago. But a walk through the mansions of the Goldcoast (ex. Astor Street between Division and North), a swing through Lincoln Park (the park, not the neighborhood) and a stroll down Wells Street for food would for me be a nice way to spend a day away from the hoardes on Michigan Avenue.
Chinatown would be another interesting half day. For an interesting perspective on the City, the boat tours along the river, those old standbys, are really kind of interesting for first time vistors.
If you're interested in sampling some local ethnic food and eateries, I'd check out the LTH Great Neighborhood Restaurants. (http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=15149). It might not be convenient for you, but a trip up to Devon (from 2200 - 2600 West maybe) would also be very interesting. Tons of Indian/Pakastani stores and restaurants. If you have time free on Sunday morning, Maxwell Street Market (on Canal St...) is a treat - big local Mexican market (http://www.dchammond.com/gorilla/Hamm...).
None of this is quite as refined as a guided stroll through Old Town and Lincoln Park (the neighborhood, not the park), but if you're in it for the food they might be more interesting.
Sounds like a rip to me. $40 for lunch? If they have other fun activities, fine. But from the description, they are going to mediocre restaurants in Oldtown along with non-restaurants. What is Spice House going to offer, all the cinnamon you can eat? Notice my nick. I live here.
Based on the pictures from the website, this looks like a tour of N Wells St in Old Town. None of these places, in my humble opinion, are really Chicago specialties that one cannot miss. They are all just great little places in Chicago. You can do this tour yourself by starting at N Dearborn and W Division @ Eduardo's (the pizza joint) then walk west a couple blocks to N Wells street and walk North on Wells to W Armitage street. At Armitage make a left and you'll be at Ethel's (the chocolate shop). At least one of the desciptions is confusing, the Middle Eastern place is not a jewish deli, it is a great lebanese joint called Old Jerusalem. They make one of my favorite falafels--maybe third only to a couple of spots in the old city in Jerusalem.
And don't forgot to stop on Division street after Eduardo's at Mother's, the bar in About Last Night where Demi Moore and Rob Lowe meet. The rest of the bars around there are a bit cheesy, but open till 4 or 5 am, so it's raucous.
Thanks Jbontario! Great information :) We might just do our very own Chicago food walking tour... If you have other recommendations on not-to-be-missed Chicago restaurants and specialties, please send them my way! We're staying at the Palmer House and I've already looked up a lot of CH posts for eateries in that area, but if something seems like a must-see, by all means...