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Jun 16, 2008 06:28 AM

1st time visitor, review/ciriticize my plans

Visiting Chicago for the first time ever and I’ve done some research. Since I hate blind pleas for suggestions without any context, the following probably has more detail than necessary.

I’ll be coming in this Saturday for a conference that starts on Monday, staying the entire time downtown. I’ll be staying near Hancock Tower over the weekend before switching hotels to Hyatt Regency on Monday. Starting Monday evening until Wednesday evening I will have work obligations. But I’ll have Thursday morning and early afternoon before my flight leaves in the late afternoon.

I’ll be eating in nicer places during the conference. Usually, I love hole in the wall and ethnic places. I’m looking to try food that is unique to Chicago. There’s nothing I won’t eat unless it’s overwhelmed by cilantro. Otherwise, I’ll try it at least twice. The second time just to make sure. I’m trying to avoid any Asian or Mexican I can’t find in Los Angeles.

I won’t have transportation but am willing to walk 2+ miles as long as the neighborhood isn’t completely unsafe. My safety standards are probably lower than most since I walk around Los Angeles a lot.

Please review my current plans and I appreciate any suggestions or criticisms:
Saturday night dinner, Café Spiggia. Any clubs or bars around miracle mile that have good music and drinks for after dinner?

Sunday morning, is the Maxwell Street Market worth the Mexican food stalls? Is this too far to walk from the Hancock Tower or should I take a cab?

Sunday evening, I’m still looking for a place. I’d love to try an ethnic cuisine that’s strong in Chicago. Unfortunately I have a friend joining me who isn’t fond of Greek but she’s open to anything else. Indian , Polish or ? Preferably easy accessibility from the miracle mile or a relatively quick and inexpensive cab ride.

Monday morning, Fox and Obel for breakfast. Monday lunch, we plan on a river tour and research points towards dish dish pizza for easy logistics. Which of the following would be easier? Bacino’s, Giordano’s, Lou Malnati’s, Uno’s or Gino’s East? We both need to be back at the hotel by late afternoon for meetings so won’t have the ability for a long leisurely lunch and the river tour.

Thursday brunch, Billy Goat Tavern. We’re both big SNL and dive bar fans.

I realize I don’t have Italian Beef or hot dog in here. We do have a Portillo’s in Southern California. Is there a can’t miss family neighborhood place I can duck into nearby for either of those two items if I can squeeze in an extra meal or snack?

Is this a good intro to Chicago? Am I missing anything crucial? I'd love to try some bbq but it doesn't look like downtown has anything worthwile? Thanks in advance!

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  1. "Sunday morning, is the Maxwell Street Market worth the Mexican food stalls? Is this too far to walk from the Hancock Tower or should I take a cab?"

    Answer to first question, yes. In general look for any stall where tortillas are being made on site or advertising regional specialties. Some additional favorites, the pupusas in the El Salvadoran stall (n of Roosevelt, most of the interesting food is s of Roosevelt) and the churros truck. It would be a bit of a trek from JH, probably somewhat beyond your 2-mile limit, altho the walk would be largely through the heart of downtown. Public is a good alternative and the Red Line (pick it up at Chicago & State get off at Roosevelt and walk west about 600 meters) would be best, if it's not rerouted for construction (which it very well might be during the weekend.) A lot of the buses going south on Michigan will get you close, but the best would be #3 or #4 both of which, I believe, go all the way to Roosevelt. During the week the Red Line should be functioning as usual, and that would be a good conduit to get you to Chinatown on the South and Argyle (Viet/Thai/Chinese) to the North.

    5 Replies
    1. re: jbw

      Fantastic! I love street food and stalls. I read about the eyeball taco and might have to give it a shot. If the trek is mainly through safe downtown and daylight, I don't mind a further walk. It'll be a good way to explore the city. As long as there's places for a restroom stop I figure I'll be fine.

      Thanks for the tip on southbound Michigan buses.

      1. re: jbw

        Red Line rerouting to the elevated tracks is happening most nights and weekends, sometimes with one direction in the subway and the other direction on the elevated tracks. Check with the CTA Web site for updates:

        The CTA Web site also has route maps and train and bus schedules. Looking at the schedules for any route planned on Sunday is a good precaution due to lower service levels.
        Trains stop at Roosevelt Road regardless of rerouting. The only question is whether at the elevated station or the subway station below. In any case one can go from the State and Lake elevated station to Roosevelt Road on the Orange or Green lines and maybe the Red line. There is a shuttle bus when the Red line is rerouted, but using one of the normal bus routes such as #3 south from Chicago and Michigan is likely to be a better bet.

        Roosevelt Road goes over a lot of former rail yards that are rapidly being developed for housing and retail. There are a lot of restaurant options in the Near South Side although many are labeled as being in the South Loop, which is a stretch. The area around State and Roosevelt was pretty crummy 20 years ago but is now quite gentrified with a mixture of new construction and adaptive reuse.

        1. re: Eldon Kreider

          Looks like easiest bet for me is taking the 3 down Michigan and getting off at Roosevelt then walking over to the market. Any interesting eats between that corner and the market?

          1. re: Jase

            On the corner of Roosevelt and Wabash is the Bongo Room, one of the more popular breakfast nooks in the city. They don't open till 9:00 on Sunday, and there's liable to be a bit of a wait unless you get there first thing. Their specialty is sweet pancakes, and these can be pretty filling, but they don't mind you splitting orders. Their other dishes (eggs benedict, omelettes) are very dependable.

            Also right at the corner of Roosevelt and Canal, at the threshold of the market, is the White Palace Grill. I don't suggest you get anything to eat there--there's plenty better to be had at the market--but you might want to stop in and have a cup of java at the counter (likely to be weak and/or burned--very authentic) and altho best experienced at 2 in the morning or thereabouts, you can still get the flavor of an iconic Greek diner that would have probably warmed the cockles of Edward Hoppers chilly heart.

            1. re: jbw

              Thanks for White Palace. My friend and I like the DDD show and we both had discussed WP but forgot about it. Stopping for coffee before or after the Maxwell market sounds like a great way to see it and we can eat at the market.

      2. Suggestion:
        Thursday brunch. Skip the goat. Fine, go have a drink there, but instead of a cheeseburger, go find a beef / hot dog. Just a suggestion.

        For Indian food on Sunday evening, given your constraints, I think I'd suggest the India House?
        If you want to make a real adventure out of it, there is a decent sized section of town devoted to Indo / Pak shops, and restaurants on Devon avenue which is pretty far north. The downside of where you are staying is that the Indian food you can get up on Devon will be just as good (some things will be even better) for about 1/2 the price. If you are willing to do a bit of travel, and you like Indian foods, sweets, spices, it might be very well worth your while if you want to make an "outing" of it. 20 or 30 minutes by cab, public trans would be upwards of an hour or more, I'm sure. BUT, India House is decent, and a decent setting as well. There is another place, I think on E Walton, "Gaylord" that I have not been to. The Indian food picking is slim near the mag mile.

        Pizza - Pick one. You're fine. I'd go with Giordano's stuffed (not deep dish) if I were looking for tourist pizza. If I wanted pizza for me, I'd get thin crust every time. Most of the people I know are bigger fans of thin crust, and only get stuffed or deep dish when they are entertaining out of town guests.


        3 Replies
        1. re: gordeaux

          Thanks for the Indian suggestion. My dining companion loves Indian but is lot less adventuresome than I am when it comes to the transportation aspect. India house may be a good compromise.

          Pizza, I'm a thin crust fan also and haven't been impressed by most deep dish. But I fully admit pizza is not one of LA's strength's. All my chicago vendors have been touting deep dish and stuffed and I thought I'd listen to them. Now I'm second guessing.

          Thursday brunch, suggestion for beef/dog near our hotel? I might sneak out for an early breakfast myself. I'm now meeting other people at the Goat for drinks and burgers and it looks too hard to switch everyone's plans. Sadly not everyone is a hound.

          1. re: Jase

            You'll be in for a treat with deep dish, or stuffed, don't worry about it! It will be an experience to see a pizza like that up close and personal.

            Someone else might be able to suggest a beef/dog near your hotel that is noteworthy. I'm rarely down that way looking for a beef.

            1. re: gordeaux

              Looks like there's an Al's Italian Beef and a Mr. Beef not too far from my hotel/Hancock area on Sat. Depending on how fast I get over from the airport, I might have time to sneak in an beef sandwich before dinner that night at Cafe Spiaggia. 4 hour flight from LA and I know I won't eat anything on the plane.

        2. Any clubs or bars around miracle mile that have good music and drinks for after dinner?

          There's a nice bar called Clark St. Ale House at Clark and Chicago (a short walk) and a very good blues bar next door with reasonable prices (strictly local acts, but if Big Time Sara is playing, she blows the doors out). Blues Etc., I think. For a more refined (and expensive) nightcap, the Redhead Piano Bar is pretty cool.

          Be aware that deep dish pizza IS a long and leisurely lunch. It takes 45 minutes to get served and at least that long to eat it all.

          I'd second the recommendation about skipping food at Billy Goat. It's fine for a beer after work; the food is blah. But it is worth the visit; it's got character.

          For an interesting Chicago experience, I recommend Harry Carey's, on Dearborn near the river (next to the House of Blues...I think it's at the corner of Illinois). Great place to grab a beer and watch a game. Or get steak or ribs in the back room.

          The good BBQ places are pretty inaccessible without a car.

          Overall, you've made good picks.

          P.S. If the Red Line is not running to Roosevelt, walk into the loop to Clark and State and take the Orange line or Green line and get off at Roosevelt. The station is just over the river, so not a horrible walk.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Pete Oldtown

            "If the Red Line is not running to Roosevelt, walk into the loop to Clark and State and take the Orange line or Green line and get off at Roosevelt"

            That would be Lake and State, about a half-mile from JH, but a good station where you can pick up several lines (Brown, too) that will get you into the neighborhoods.

            1. re: jbw

              Duh. Wow did I mess that one up. I was thinking Clark and Lake and somehow got Clark and State. Thanks for picking me up.

            2. re: Pete Oldtown

              Clark St and Chicago sounds exactly like what I'm looking for. Something with local flavor.

              I guess I won't have a choice with the deep dish and will have to adjust as needed.

              Glad to hear my picks are good. I did try to do research before soliciting help in hopes of getting a better response.

              1. re: Jase

                Luke's Italian Beef near the Sears Tower is pretty good. I used to work near there and liked their dogs, sausages and fries, not really wild about their beef.

                It's at Jackson and Orleans in the South Loop (300 S. or so).

                1. re: Pete Oldtown

                  Thanks! Luke's might be close enough for a spontaneous dog snack then.

                  1. re: Jase

                    If you're going as far south on Orleans to get to Jackson, you might as well just go to either Mr. Beef (Orleans btw Superior and Erie) or Al's Beef on Wells and Ontario - - both much closer to the JH/near north area where you're staying than the SW corner of the Loop. Kitty Corner from Al's is the giant former Planet Hollywood-now-Gino's Pizza which is forgettable other than that it has an outpost of Mitchell's Candies (originally of far South Suburban Homewood) and some of the best premium ice cream available by the scoop or pint without going to Rainbow cone or some high falutin' gelato place. Just a few ideas to think about.

                    1. re: zgwarnki

                      Thanks! Always good to have choices. My map is beginning to look very marked up.

            3. I must disagree about the folks comments on Billy Goat--one must have a double cheese or why bother going? A good greasy burger made on the grill with onions, yumm. Yeah, it's no burger at Naha or Palm, but it's good. The bakery egg rolls as buns also make it much better than most fast food. Load her up with some relish and a bit of ketchup and you've got a nice burger. I suggest the double as it has the right amount of beef (and grease) to make a good burger.

              1. I also think Billy Goat is awful. Even a triple has a bad beef to bun ratio. I'd get a dog there before a burger. I wouldn't even call it a dive bar either, far too touristy, let's face it, if you heard about it, it ain't that divey.

                Only beef in the loop I'd recommend is at Max's on Adams between Wabash and Mich... but even then, they are hit or miss.

                2 Replies
                1. re: delk

                  I don't know, I've found some dive bars through research in other cities that even locals don't know about.

                  But I can see what you mean about it being touristy. Still being big SNL fans from that era, we'd like to check it out. I suppose it's like visitors coming out to LA wanting to see Pink's. Most local hounds discourage it but understand the food/sightseeing value.

                  1. re: Jase

                    You might like to check out "Taste of Randolph Street". June 20, 21, and 22.
                    Every weekend during the summer in Chicago there are several neighborhood festivals happening. Randolph Street is home to a bunch of noted restaurants. Great way to get a sample!