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Jun 25, 2008 01:56 PM

Chicago's finest and foodiest

I posted a while back and was a little dissapointed with the suggestions, so know that I've spent more time looking, I'm hoping I can be a bit more specifc.I'm looking for the best individual bits of food in the city.

We are going to take a day--Sunday July 6th, to be specific and travel around Chicago by foot, El and possibly cab. We are going to the taste on the 4th--yes, I know it is going to be packed and hot and blah blah, but I'm a sucker for festivals, and I think it will be a good way to get an intro to the basic Chicago food groups--deep dish, dogs, etc. I'm prepared for the packs of sweaty people, etc. So anything that'll be there, we can skip elsewhere

We'll start around ten or 11 am and go for about 12 hours (NY it was 12 hours and about 12 miles of walking...) so if you have any suggestions, let me know the best menu item, where it is and when it's open!

It helps if it has a bar/cafe/street cart so that we don't take seats from people eating full meals, because we will just have like the one best thing. Often we give leftovers to any hungry bums, because we are just out to taste as much as possible.

We mostly love ethnic foods, especially stuff we haven't had before (we're in seattle). They tend to be cheap, open all day, and ok with us just grabbing our snack and moving along. I would love to hear about the best restaurants in various ethnic enclaves.


I'm a little excited. Can't wait to hear about the best bites in the city.

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  1. I'm a SF hound perusing the Chicago board for my upcoming visit. Good luck on your quest as this reminds me of a similar request on the SF board (of course not in one day!). There was one post on this board that said the pork belly sandwich offered during lunch at Blackbird is a must.

    Also, note the Pakistani restaurants in Chicago in this link I found in a Dallas posting (I'm going there prior to Chicago). Devon ave. is known for the Indian shops & restaurants (probably not expensive). In SF area, I agree that Shalimar has excellent & cheap tandoori chicken.

    4 Replies
    1. re: ceekskat

      Please go to Khan BBQ for an order of Chicken Boti, and an order of Broasted Chicken Paki style. It's on the SW corner of Devon and Western. If you plan on a Devon ave walk thru, I'd consider it a "do not miss" for Pakistani bites.

      Look into Las Asadas, La Pasadita and/or El Asadero for some really tasty char grilled skirt steak. These three do not slop out the chewy griddle fried chuck steak that so many places in Chicago churn out.

      I would also do a quick sit down with a few smal servings of various stews, and a half dozen Tamales at La Casa Del Pueblo. For the price compared to quality, it's hard to beat for a quick cheap bite.

      Xni-pec in Cicero. Fare from the Yucatan. Stellar. Still a little divey, but stellar, and well priced.

      Interested in a Beef Sammich? If not, you should be. Various places throughout the city. Probably get one at the taste.

      1. re: gordeaux

        I already had the Khan BBQ chicken boti down, but I will add the Chiken paki.

        I am definetly in for the mexican goods--there isn't much to choose from here in Seattle. Xni-pec was on my list, but not the others, I will look in to them!

        I am def. getting a Beef Sammich at some point, and yes, I was hoping to take care of that one at the taste...

        1. re: dagoose

          It's just called "Broasted Chicken" at Khan's (just so you don't go in there looking for something called "Chicken Paki")

          Mexican suggestions:
          Xni-pec - a little wee bit off the beaten path, but not far. Worth the effort to get there, I think.

          Sol De Mexico on Cicero ave. If you don't wanna do the whole "Frontera Grill Rick Bayless, must try cuz I'm here" thing, Sol is my first choice for an alternate.

          Taqueria La Oaxaquena is 2nd.

          In more of a seafod vein is Fonda del Mar on Fullerton ave.

          People tend to compare Salpicon on Wells Frontera Grill as far as quality. I personally, much prefer Frontera.

          Taquerias - for carne asada: Las Asadas, El asadero, La pasadita in that order for me. You should be able to find some good char grilled steak at the Maxwell St market though. At the market, you will also NEED to seek out the tamales oaxaquenos (the rectangular ones.) If you ask around, you'll find them, provided you get there before they sell out.

          For Mexican, if I only had a few days, there would be no stopping me from getting some char grilled steak tacos, some tamales from somewhere, and a nice meal at Sol de Mexico, or Xni-pec.

          There are PLENTY of other joints that can be recommended, but these would top my list if I lived elsewhere, and came back for a short visit.

          Aslo, on Devon for snacks / sweets:
          King Sweets
          Patel Bros Grocery for a walk around, and maybe to purchase a few spices. Damn, I could seriously go for some mango Kuhlfi right now.

      2. re: ceekskat

        Oh, I love pork belly. I had taken blackbird off my list because it seemed sort of fancy and sit down, but maybe if I can swing in for lunch and grab a sandwich, I will.

        I'm definately planning a walk around Devon.

      3. There are many discussions and even more opinions on this board about pizza, hot dogs and Italian beef. And better places to try them than Taste and I certainly wouldn't go, but who am I to discourage you from what is probably the country's biggest food fest.

        Chicago's cheap, authentic ethic restaurants of note include:
        Indian and Pakistani, mostly along Devon Avenue between Western and California
        Vietnamese around Argyle and Clark (many people like Tank, but there are lots of other Pho restaurants that are appreciated)
        Thai along Western Avenue near Irving Park (the best and most authentic of which are probably TAC, Spoon and for Northern Thai -- e.g. Chaing Mai -- Sticky Rice)
        Chinese in Chinatown at Cermack and Wenworth (especially consider Lao Tse Chun, but also Moon Palace and Emperor's Choice)
        But don't disregard Mexican. We have many regional Mexican restaurants that are inexpensive and wonderful. You want to look especially in the Pilsen and Little Village area. Many people love Nuevo Leon.
        We also have a Greektown at Halsted and @ Adams. It's a bit more commercial, but the food is very good and reasonable.

        These are all reachable by public trans., but Chicago is pretty spread out and the various 'hoods are not easily walkable between them

        I know you asked for specific favorite dishes, but I'll let others try their hand at that.

        Have fun and don't forget to let us know how it went.

        6 Replies
        1. re: chicgail

          I have Devon on my list... I also had Spoon, but perhaps I will add the other Thai places...Vietnamese, well...We have a lot of that (I live in an area called "little Saigon)...So that probably isn't the most exciting foods for me...

          For the Chinese places, I would love to hear about what kind of Chinese. We have a lot of Sichuan food in seattle, but not as much Shanghai, so I'd love to know.

          And I'm going to look into mexican, I have a few on my list, but definetly need to build that up. Am planing to start sunday at the Maxwell St. Market, so hope to get some of my Latin American fix in there.

          1. re: dagoose

            Once you get addresses of the places you want to go to, check out this website


            You can put in your start point and end point and they'll give you walking directions and/or walking directions with el/buses that connect.

            1. re: lbs

              oh that is awesome! That will definetly help. I tried doing it with a google maps, but it was difficult...
              hard to figure out routes, clumsy to use.

              1. re: dagoose

                I swear by that site since I don't have a car and I walk it/el it as a way of life.

                Please, please, please! Post when you are done!

                1. re: lbs

                  Of course! isn't that the required repayment of traveling 'hounds, for the kind advice?

                2. re: dagoose

         can help you with your trip...although they now just link to google maps. I can't find the "public transportation" button on the google map you provided, but if you do a search for directions "to here," one will pop up as a choice. Also, has maps you can download or just look at.

                  BTW: it seems as though the red line is the backbone of your trip. AND thanks for the googlemap. I'm sure that will make it easier for anyone who needs the lay of the land here in chicago.

                  edit: er, I could be wrong about the red line on second thought.

          2. Not sure about your attitude toward Viet food, but I would suggest banh mi sandwiches at Argyle St. (red line, argyle stop). Plenty of hungry bums, too. I recommend the BBQ pork and the traditional cold cut one but you really can't go wrong. Tank Noodle, to your right and across the street has some good ones, but I like a place directly across Broadway from Tank that has banh mi only and only for takeout (sorry, I forget the name). They also have all the ingredients to make your own at home.

            They're about $3 a pop, although some places will give a discount on buying five.

            Another place I love that I can't remember the name of is a taqueria under the Red Line stop at Addison (Wrigley Field). Cheap, good tacos. The al pastor ones are particularly good. These are truly holes in the wall.

            1. Okay, here is my final route, as it is currently planned, pending any additions/reccos/deletions as you guys advise me:

              Start: Maxwell St. Market for eyeball tacos, pupusas and homemade tortillas.
              walk 1 mile to Greek town, where options include: Parthenon (saganaki), venus (meatballs), Roditys, Santorini (melizanosalata), and Greek Islands (Taromasalata).
              Walk 2 Miles to Heaven on Seven
              Walk 1.5 miles to Old Jerusalem (Tabouli) and Adobo Grill (Guacamole)
              Walk 1.3 Miles to Resi's Bierstube (Beer Break!) then another mile up to Spoon Thai (secret thai menu)
              Walk 1.2 miles to African Enclave: Nigerian Kitchen, Palace Gate, TBS, BQ Afro Root.
              Walk 1.6 miles to Hopleaf (More Beer!) then 1.3 miles to Taste of Peru.
              Walk final mile to Devon for: Hema's Kitchen (Chicken Vindaloo), Khan BBQ (Chicken Boti), Sabri Nihari (Nihari) and Uru Swati (Stuffed Breat).

              13 Replies
              1. re: dagoose

                sounds amazing. don't want to be a jerk but adobo grill is def. not any kind of authentic mexican. their 8-10$ guacamole is mixed at your table but in my experience unless you have a particular desire for more onions than you care to cut yourself at home, there is no advantage to going there over making your own.

                i wish i knew more about shanghai food in chinatown (which would be a southernmost point on your trip) , but here is a link to a tour by someone who does: chef calvin soh of the fine-dining shanghai terrace at the peninsula hotel

                also you may check out the lthforum recs: ed's potsticker house is one

                1. re: kathleen rose

                  Good to know. It seemed a little strange, but I had seen it on a board. I make a pretty mean guac myself, so I'd just as soon skip theirs!

                  Thanks for the link...I've been scanning the LTH Forums, but since they are mostly locals, it is a bit harder to navigate for best eats.


                2. re: dagoose

                  That's a lot of walkin'!

                  FYI, the eyeball tacos are on the south side of Roosevelt and the pupusas are on the north side (at least they were last week). A few weeks ago I only saw one person making home made tortillas, but last week it seemed like most stands were making them home made.

                  I agree that you might skip Adobo: you might be sick of Mexican food anyway (and does anybody at Maxwell make guacamole? I never thought to look). And you might as well skip Old Jerusalem: it's just tabouli. Nothing special about Old Jerusalem's.

                  As long as you're up on Devon, you might as well go to Bhabi's Kitchen for one of his breads. His eggplant is dynamite, too. He claims that chefs from all over Chicago come for that. It's close to Hema's.

                  Bhabi's Kitchen
                  6352 N Oakley Ave, Chicago, IL 60659

                  1. re: rubinow

                    Bhabi's added, Adobo and Old Jerusalem deleted. Sounds good to me! Thanks for all the help. It is a lot of walking, but considering the amount we plan to eat, it is oh so very necessary! Really, we did this in New York, and it is by far my best vacation day I'd spent in forever!

                    1. re: dagoose

                      Reconsider Old Jerusalem for the Baba Ghannouj - smoky and wonderful.

                      1. re: dagoose

                        That's an impressive list. But, with your recent deletions, you've got a long stretch of walking between Greektown and Resi's with no stops. Maybe you should solicit ideas for stops along that stretch (most direct route would be walking north on Halsted to the Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln intersection, then northwest on Lincoln.

                        Here are two ideas:

                        Bari Foods/D'Amato's bakery. On Grand a few blocks west of Halsted. Bari makes excellent sandwiches in the back of the grocery store (my favorite is a simple one: prosciutto and fresh mozzarella). D'Amato's next door has Italian cookies, slices of "bakery" pizza, perhaps arancine too. I think Bari is open till 1 on Sunday and D'Amato's till 2.

                        Further north: El Mercado Meat Market at the corner of Southport and Grace is an Argentine grocery with empanadas for sale by the register along with wonderful alfajores (cookies).

                        I'm sure others can provide other ideas for that stretch as well. And, by the way, another German place on Irving Park Road with great beer is Laschet's Inn -- and if you want an appetizer to go with that beer get the hackepeter at Laschet's (beef tartare served on rye bread with capers and chopped onion). Laschet's is essentially across the street and a half block west of Resi's.

                        Have fun!

                        1. re: Amata

                          P.S. Since this is a holiday weekend, it might be worth calling places to confirm that they will be open on Sunday...

                          1. re: Amata

                            Those are great suggestions...I used to live in Uruguay so a good empanada and an alfajor are always worth a detour...Especially if I can pick up some goodies to bring good mate! Am also a sucker for raw meat in any form, so I'm adding laschets. Heaven on 7 has been deleted. We'll walk from greek town to the italian places, take the el from there to el mercado, then head over to resi's/laschet's and resume as planned!

                            Thanks for all the input you guys...this will be awesome.

                            1. re: dagoose

                              Using the el between Bari and El Mercado strikes me as rather difficult. The two Italian places are roughly half a mile from either of two Blue Line stops while El Mercado is about half a mile from a Brown Line stop. You would need to go back downtown and connect at Clark and Lake. The Ashland bus (number 9) might be faster and less convoluted. This route runs north on Ashland (1600 west a little over half a mile west of the Italian places) to Irving Park Road (4000 north) where it turns east to a turnaround at Clark. Getting off at Grace (3800 north) and walking east a quarter mile to Southport (1400 west) would be faster and have the same walking distance as getting off at Southport and Irving Park and then walking south to El Mercado.

                      2. re: dagoose

                        This is all on one Sunday? If so, Heaven on 7 on Wabash -- the only one you'd want to visit -- is closed on Sunday. By the way, Parthenon IMO has some of the best gyros in Chicago, Another suggestion in Greektown, if you aren't particularly hungry by then and you're looking rather for something light to eat and a place to sit down to soak in the atmosphere, would be the Artopolis Cafe. It's actually my favorite sit-down in the area, at least for lunch.

                        1. re: jbw

                          Yeah, I didn't realize this was Sunday. You might want to start early. Restaurants in Chicago don't tend to stay open as long as the ones in NYC.

                          1. re: jbw

                            I had down the heaven on 7 on that not worth bothering? I loved my trip to Nola, and it is definetly a food group lacking in the Seattle area, so I was psyched about it, but if its not worth it, I'll kill it....

                        2. Ok! I'm back...It turned into quite an ordeal as everyone who had heard about this wanted to join and we ended up with a huge crew from ages 3 to 58, so we had to slow down and also couldn't just grab a bit in a restaurant and rush out (7-top please. order one app, go...I think not). This was unfortunate. By the time we had lost many of them, we only hit a few more places before landing at a friends BBQ and getting sucked into a mini keg of heineken and a game of guitar hero. But here is my findings:

                          -We started at the Maxwell Street Market. It was fun to walk around, I had total market envy, I want something like that by me. I also was having nostalgia for my time living in Latin America. I started with an eyeball taco, because that was the first thing I saw. We had one eyeball and one regular barbacoa. The barbacoa was pretty average, nothing special, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the eyeball. It had an almost marrow like texture and really took on the flavor well. We stopped at an extremely crowded looking booth with hand made tortillas for huitlacoche tacos and quesadillas for the kiddies. These were great. It is really too bad that everyone doesn't hand make the tortillas because the taste difference was unbelievable. I was in heaven. We walked all the way to the south end of the market and started back up. We stopped for the roasted corn (delicious) and headed back north. After crossing roosevelt we hit up the pupusa people for a mixta (beans, cheese, chicharonnes) and it was perfect. I sighed at how sad it is that I don't spend more time seeking out good pupusas...

                          -From the market, we walked up to Greektown. Because of the size of our party, we had to just pick one place and stay there. After browsing, cafe Artopolis seemed a little to cafe type for the small children to be controlled and Parthenon a little to kitschy with its giant white pillars. We settled on Venus. Our waiter was brusque in a way I'm not very used to. The bread and olives that came out at the beginning were quite good. We ordered saganaki (fried cheese) was not the best I've had...The taromasalata was however, and that made me very happy. We had some good oven roasted potatoes as well. The downer was the fried eggplant which was in fact terrible. Undercooked and bland.

                          -From here we hopped on the El and headed to the addison stop of the red line. Hey, look, it's wrigley field! Picture stop. We walked up to El Mercado, on the corner of grace and southport. Here I was extremely sad that they were out of meat empanadas and had to settle for chicken, but it was a very good empanada none the less. The alfajores were delicious and they kept the kiddies quiet a bit longer. We moved on toward Laschet's Inn. But wait! There is CB2! I've heard stories of this place, cheap cute plates and the such...Pit stop! Whew...back on the road!

                          -Laschet's Inn. BEER! Finally, this was much needed. A mug full of hofbrau summer cures miles of walking in the chicago sun...We ordered the hackpeter and a jumbo pretzel. The hackpeter was a delicious steak tartar, however I didn't like the bread it was served on and mostly scraped it off and ate it plain or on the AMAZING and very large pretzel. This was one of the best stops. Refreshing and delicious, very cute environment. I'm a fan.

                          -Here our young and old left and we were back down to the skeleton crew. We hastened up to spoon thai and had a delicious couple of appetizers--the favorite? Beef jerky and dipping sauce off the Thai menu. We had them pack up our leftovers and we headed down Wilson to see our friends who live at Wilson and Sheridan. Upon arrival, they tell us they have restarted the coals for us...Have you ever tried to tell a Mexican you are not going to eat at their house? I don't reccomend it! We agreed to head to just one last place and then return for the homemade food. We hit up Palace Gate, a Ghanaian (from Ghana) restaurant at Magnolia and Wilson. This was PERFECT. Holy cow. I don't know what we ordered. We asked, What is best? and the lady said " don't want it....its too spicy for you" at which point the bf and i simoultaneously jumped out of our seats and frantically exclaimed in an effort to make sure that we got that thing. We take that quote as a perfect description of what we know we want! We also got one other thing at her reccomendation. One item was a beef? and fish? stew, a yellowish color, an odd viscous texture and the best kind of spicy, that builds up as you eat it. It was served with a ball of cornmeal type dough. The other thing had noodles and rice, which was odd, delicious freshly fried plantains, some sort of meat and more terrific what I think was beef in very spicy sauce...

                          That was pretty much it...Favorites? Clearly Palace gate, followed closely by spoon thai, then Laschets. Read about this in more detail and our other adventures from the weekend sometime in the next two days at my blog:

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: dagoose

                            Great report, thanks! I'm amazed that the kids with you were able to go as long as they did, and I'm glad you enjoyed Laschet's and Maxwell St, etc. Too bad about your experience at Venus, though. Undercooked eggplant is definitely not good. Did you have the regular saganaki, or the halloumi saganaki?

                            Also, here's a link to a thread with pictures of food at Palace Gate, which might help you put names to dishes...

                            1. re: Amata

                              Thanks! We definately had the okra and beef stew they had, though I think ours had fish instead of shrimp. Other than that...not too much help. Sigh. I'm busy trying to figure out if I can convince a Ghanaian to move out here and start a restaurant. I really enjoyed that food!

                              1. re: dagoose

                                sounds wonderful! after your review i have to add palace gate to my own queue of places to visit!