First time in Chicago - how to narrow it down??
I'll be in Chicago for 5 days over 4th of July weekend and am trying to prepare the ultimate food itinerary. I've been reading this board like crazy, but not being familiar with the city, its neighborhoods, and its specialties, I'm a little bewildered. Please give me a few pointers to narrow things down.
I'm staying at a friend's in West Town (which is sometimes called East Village? wha?) and plan to dine in this neighborhood and near tourist areas, since that's where I'll be most of the time.
I need to keep cost down. No high end, and I plan to do pricier restaurants for lunch and do cheaper places for dinners. I prefer local, good value places.
I definitely want deep dish pizza - but I read elsewhere on the board that there are 2 kinds - double crust? Is that the better kind?
I don't really want to do Asian or Mexican - I'm from L.A., and I'd prefer to try stuff that I don't eat all the time here. Though I am treating my host to lunch at Frontera Grill. Does Chicago have more South American or Caribbean?
I don't need to do Italian - just did a food-filled trip to Boston and stuffed myself in their Italian neighborhood. Instead, I'm doing Greek Town. I found 3 recs here, I'll do one of those.
Beyond this, I don't know what else Chicago is known for so I don't know what keywords to search for! Ukrainian or Eastern European? Steak? Certain desserts? Help!
Two pieces of advice. 1) Go to "chicago menus" which breaks the city's restaurants down by ethnicity and neighborhood then displays the current menu. 2) From West Town you can easily get the Milwaukee 56 bus (consult CTA Chicago online for system map) heading north up Milwaukee. Get off at Hamlin (ask driver to call it) and have a HUGE Polish meal at The Red Apple, all the food in the world, and eat ad lib as it's buffet style, for around $10. Home-cooked and brought out hot constantly by nice Polish kitchen ladies. The only city with more Polish people than Chicago is Warsaw---Polish food is very Chicago. Don't miss the meat pierogies.
For a unique delicious dining experience try Chicago Pizza and oven Grinder Company. You may also try Lou Malnattis in Lincolnwood. Genos East is also very good. Pizzeria Uno as well. I love Wildfire. Everything on menu is good. Pappadeaux in Arlington Heights for great seafood. Johny Rockets for awesome burgers. Bob Chinns in Wheeling for more great seafood.
re: Ventura Hwy
I don't think the OP has to go to the suburbs to get a good dining experience. There are plenty of places closer by. Also, Johnny Rocket's is a chain. He might have it where he's from. AND: Gino's East (not Genos). Otherwise he might not find it!
As for coffee houses in your area, Caffe De Luca is there, but it's not anything super great. Most of the other coffee houses in that area have gone away. It's unfortunate.
You might check the new restaurant Mado. It's nice, but not outrageously expensive. It's not particularly "Chicago," though.
AND, nobody answered the question about 1 crust v. 2. It's just personal preference. Gino's uses 2 crusts. I think I like that better. I went to Uno's a couple years back and seem to remember that the "deep dish" didn't seem much deeper than any other kind of pizza. Gino's, though, is pretty thick...maybe 2-3 inches.
Cafe De Luca
1721 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
1647 Milwaukee Ave, Deerfield, IL 60015
A few suggestions in the neighborhoods of West Town:
Papa's Cache Sabroso on Division, a block and a half west of Western: fantastic Puerto Rican roast chicken (pollo chon) and a good place to try a jibarito (supposedly invented in Chicago). They are closed on Sunday. Several other Puerto Rican places are further west on Division.
Habana Libre on Chicago a couple blocks east of Ashland. Good Cuban food, BYOB.
Podhalanka on Division just east of Ashland is the closest place for Polish food (soups like zurek (white borscht), pierogi, potato pancakes, beef with horseradish sauce). They close early (8 pm?). Very cheap.
Irazu on Milwaukee a block or so southwest of Western: Chicago's only Costa Rican restaurant. The oatmeal shakes here have a cult following. Another very inexpensive place.
A more upscale spot (entrees in the $15-25 range) is West Town Tavern, a neighborhood spot putting out excellent new-American food. It's on Chicago Avenue, not far from Habana Libre.
1865 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
West Town Tavern
1329 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642
Papa's Cache Sabroso
2517 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622
1549 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60642
1440 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642
I have heard great things about West Town Tavern, but the friends I'm visiting are on budgets. The other things sound great. I've had Cuban, but I don't think that I've had Puerto Rican food.
Wow, I have so many things to eat. I realize today that I haven't planned other things to do! That's the next step. Keep these ideas coming.
I'm still looking for great coffee houses in the city...
Well, I hope others with first-hand experience will add their comments, but here are places I've heard good things about in West Town. (I guess I'm more likely to head to Pilsen if I go out for coffee..)
My first choice would be Cafe Ballou (if I were near Western Ave), said to be quaint, Euro-style, and welcoming with a lovely Ukrainian owner. If I were instead a little further east I would head to Sip and its outdoor back patio, if I were on Grand Ave. If I were on Chicago Ave. I would choose between large, funky Mercury or more upscale Swim.
Please report back on coffeehouses that you try!
939 N Western Ave Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60622
Sip Coffee House
1223 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60642
1505 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642
1357 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642
Also... I often visit Roadfood.com-recommended places on my trips and am rarely disappointed. There's nearly 30 Chicago restaurants listed on their website. Anyone know which if any of these are really great? There's a couple pizza places, Italian beef sandwich places, diners, etc.
Keeping in mind your price points, I'd suggest Cafe Iberico for tapas, Resi's Bierstube for German, Hopleaf for Belgian ales and fantastic food (the mussels are usually first mentioned, but everything is more than good and it's a very fun place). Iberico...order off the specials menu, it's usually better. You and a friend can eat very well and have a pitcher of sangria for about $20 each.
There's hardly any Caribbean here, but there are a lot of South American spots, most of them pretty cheap and pretty far north. Also, Devon Ave., at the extreme northern end of Chicago, has dozens and dozens of Indian and Pakistani places. I like Hema's Kitchen, on Oakley at Devon, but there are lots of good ones.
I really don't like deep dish pizza, so I can't recommend apart from Uno and Due, both off Michigan Ave. downtown. Bear in mind that these monstrosities take 45 minutes to cook, so don't go there TOO hungry.
If you happen upon it, I'd try our local walleye. It's a very tasty lake fish that is pretty hard to find outside the region (it's like a religion in Minnesota). It's usually only a special; supplies are pretty limited.
Others disagree but I like Heaven on Seven for cajun food. A shrimp or oyster poboy with a cup of pretty good gumbo and slaw for $12 or so. You will not leave hungry. They also have far more expensive dishes, but I've never had anything that wasn't pretty good to terrific and you will never, ever leave hungry.
Hope that helps.
re: Pete Oldtown
Your first paragraph recs sounds perfect - thanks! I have seen these mentioned in my earlier attempts at searching so they are definitely added to the list.
What I haven't been able to find are lists of good coffeehouses. I saw a post on Euro-coffeehouses, but what about great indie coffeehouses with great coffee and espresso drinks, plus neat atmosphere for hanging out? Comfy couches and whatnot. Besides Intelligentsia, they have branches here in L.A.
I'm a Taste disliker. I am going to the place on July 4 to see Alejandro Escovedo, and I will probably buy some food, but the only thing I have ever had that I truly liked is a softshell crab sandwich earlier this month at Blues Fest. When my daughter was much younger we used to go a lot. It's kid food. Some noodles, some sweet corn, some ribs. But they are all pretty much now overpriced. You will pay about $8 for a small portion of mediocre ribs and $5 or so for a Bud. They make the tickets' prices so weird you can't do the math in your head unless you are Einstein. 12 tickets for $10 sounds cheap, but when a beer is 8 tickets and most food is 10 tickets, you suddenly find out you're broke.
Go for music if you see something worth seeing, but I would not even consider it for food. It really disgusts me that someone is selling a $2 hot dog for 10 tickets and someone else is giving a softshell crab sandwich for the same.
re: Pete Oldtown
One of the strategies of dealing with the Taste is to graze the small portions. Just about every booth has a "tasting" portion for usually 2-4 tickets. Not only will this help you sample a wider selection, but "mistakes" (and there can be plenty of them) become far less expensive.
re: Pete Oldtown
Part of why I'm going is just because it's a Chicago thing. So that I can say I went and start badmouthing it like everybody else. ;)
Plus if you're smart and buy tix early it's only $6 for 12. A friend and I are buying 3 strips so we each have 18. That's one larger thing and 2-3 tastes for just $9. Buying beer with tickets is for suckers, I bet that's how they make their real money.
re: Pete Oldtown
Yep, good call with Iberico and Resi's !! Both cheap cheap but quite good!
Tango Sur Argentinian steakhouse / BYOB! Fun neighborhood.
Las Tablas Columbian Steakhouse! Lot's of great reasonably priced eats here.
LaGuardia in Bucktown for festive Cuban!
Borincuba on Irving Park road for really tasty Cuban and Puerto Rican in a bare bones storefront...byob! This place is pretty new, so they only have a few main entrees and sides, etc....well worth it!!! Everything is really tasty!! 773-866-2822
Cafe Semiranis on Kedzie in Albany Park is reasonably priced and fantastic!
Kan Zaman on Wells street downtown.
Persian: Noon-O-Kabob on Kedzie just south of Lawrence in Albany Park, sooo good!
Eclectic Menu: Lula's in Logan Square is great and reasonably priced!
Quick bite: Las Asadas on Western just north of Armitage for seriously tasty char grilled steak tacos.
Taqueria El Asadero on Montrose at Lincoln
Carniceria Guanajuato on California at Belmont