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Visiting Chicago from Ireland for 5 Days

Hey all

I'll be in Chicago for 5 days this August with my family (4 of us). We're visiting from Ireland and we're staying in the Hilton Garden Inn, just north of the river. We'd mainly like to experience the kind of stuff we can't really get at home. I've been trying to narrow down the eating options over the past few days and I've come up a list of places for dinner - how does this look to everyone?

1. Giordano’s
2. Spoon Thai (with translated Thai menu)
3. Frontera Grill
4. Fat Willy’s Rib Shack
5. Blackbird

A couple of comments. We definitely want a stuffed/deep dish pizza of some kind - I chose Giordano's to get the full stuffed, double crust experience but I could go for a deep dish place if people think it's better. I did some looking but it seems that there's no real consensus on the "best" pizza place in Chicago. We're within walking distance of Lou Malnati's, Gino's East, Pizano's, etc, and Uno and Due are right outside our door. Any comments on these or should I just stick to Giordano’s?

Question about Spoon Thai - I got the translated menu from lthforum.com. This was posted in 2007, so does anyone know if it's still the same menu?
http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?...

As for Frontera Grill, it seemed to be the best choice out of Salipcon and Adobo grill. Correct me if I'm wrong.

For BBQ, I was looking at Honey 1 and Smoque as well. They're all in the same area so is Fat Willy's the one to go for?

Finally Blackbirds sounds like a great American place, I think I'll stick with that.

We'll be going to San Francisco and Los Angeles afterwards if that affects things.

I haven't really looked at any lunch or breakfast places - we're not big lunch eaters, we'd generally be looking for light snacks at lunch rather than sit-down meals. Any recommendations for breakfast places nearby and lunch places around the city?

Thanks for reading. Any comments and further recommendations much appreciated.

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  1. It's obvious you've done some research and I think you've made some really good representative choices.

    One person's opinion:
    1. Giordano’s -- you'll have some difference of opinion here. For true Chicago style pizza, I would go to Unos, Dues or Lou Malnatis, but like I say they all have their fans and detractors.

    2. Spoon Thai (with translated Thai menu) -- still have basically the same menu. If there's something you want, they will probably do it for you.

    3. Frontera Grill -- Unquestionably superior to Salpicon or Adobo. It's a Chicago icon in upscale Mexican cuisine.

    4. Fat Willy’s Rib Shack -- Fat Willy's is good enough. Don't miss their mac 'n' cheese side. I happen to prefer Smoque, but for its brisket, not ribs. Honey 1, IMHO, is a little hit or miss(and they're only about a mile apart). Smoque is quite a distance away.

    5. Blackbird -- great choice.

    For outstanding breakfasts consider Lou Mitchell's (the original); Orange, The Bongo Room, Inas, or Wishbone.

    For a great snack unique to Chicago, Garrett's Popcorn -- get the cheese, caramel mix.

    Enjoy your trip and let us know how it went.

    3 Replies
    1. re: chicgail

      I'll be visiting Chicago soon as well & was wondering how to narrow my pizza choice down. I only recently tried some Chicago deep dish pizza near home (Italian sausage at two different places*) & while both had decent crusts, the one that I preferred had a flavorful, tangy sauce. Does this help in asking Chicago hounds for help to pinpoint a place? Thanks.

      *Pizz'a Chicago & Patxi's, both in Palo Alto, CA.

      Aidoscuz, Chicago, SF & LA? Fabulous, enjoy!!!!!

      1. re: chicgail

        Ditto on all of the above. One additional note: if you want to go a little bit further upscale on the Mexican you might try Topolobampo, next door to Frontera. A little bit more upscale, a little bit more expensive, but they do take reservations, so you can avoid the often long waits and experience Rick Bayless at his best.

        1. re: chicgail

          I am no big fan of Deep Dish Pizza, but of the ones I have had, I thought Giordanos was the best. My favorite pizza in town is at an independent restaurant called Coalfire, but it's not Deep Dish. If you're interested, see the following link: (and note that they have overcome the initial service issues discussed in this link.)

          http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic....

          I like Frontera but the reservation policy is onerous and I stay away from it for that reason more than anything else. There is a lot of good authentic Mexican food in Chicago. I prefer Salpicon which I have found to have more interesting specials, but I think you will do well at either one. In fact I was at Salpicon tonight. If you like your food spicy, ask for a side of "Salpicon" - it's a potent Habanero pepper salsa. Adobo Grill is a step down from those two.

          I had a wonderful meal at Blackbird a couple months ago - best meal I've had in Chicago this year. It remains consistently good even though it's been open for a decade.

          When I was last at Spoon Thai, they not only gave me a copy of the translated menu, but also had an interesting list of specials as well as the standard English language menu.

        2. Re Frontera (which shares a kitchen with Topolobampo) about two hours ago a friend recommended Mixtecto Grill which has been opened by a sous-chef escapee from Topolobampo. My friend raved and I see that the reviews are enthusiastic. Mixteco is at Montrose and Ashland (not downtown) but I see that you are considering Spoon Thai so you may be willing to get out of downtown and move out into the neighborhoods (where the most interesting food is anyway). If you're not driving, go to RTA Trip Planner online to get a public transportation route.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Querencia

            I'll vouch for Mixteco too. It's a little inconvenient from downtown, but I thought the food was as good or better than Frontera at a better price point. It is BYO (they don't have a liquor license so you need to Bring Your Own beer/wine - and there is a store conveneintly across the street.) Equally as good is Sol de Mexico - but that's even farther away from downtown. You do pay a premium at Frontera, but the location is very convenient.

          2. I'd make a point of going to Hot Doug's, the home of the gourmet sausage. I travel a lot and I have never seen anything like it anywhere else. Depending on what he's making that week, you can try wild boar sausage, duck sausage, or just plain old Chicago style hot dogs. On Friday and Saturday, he has duck fat fries, which are probably very, very bad for you but they taste very, very good.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Pete Oldtown

              "I travel a lot and I have never seen anything like it anywhere else." Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom in LA.

            2. Thanks very much for the replies everyone. I've added some breakfast and snack places to my map.

              As regards Frontera versus Mixteco, Mixteco sounds good but I think I'll stick with Frontera. It's literally three block from our hotel and I don't mind the prices so it's tempting to just go there.

              I think I'll have to try some Italian beef as well - I'm looking at Al's No 1 Italian Beef, Mr Beef and Luke's Italian Beef, depending on where I am in the city. I've also got Weiner Circle and Portillo's down for hot dogs, and Billy Goat Tavern for a quick burger. Any other burger/beef/hot dog places people would recommend?

              2 Replies
              1. re: Aidoscuz

                Strenuous second to Hot Doug's for hot dogs!

                Friday and Saturday they cook their fries in rendered duck fat...decadent.

                Recommend getting there early. Last time we were there we arrived at 10:00 (they open at 10:30) and were the FOURTH group in line (queue).

                Enjoy!

                1. re: Aidoscuz

                  I'd skip Weiner's Circle. It's mainly popular because it stays open very late and all the drunks come in when the bars close, at which point the mutual server/customer abuse starts. The food is pretty poor, IMO. If you have kids with you, it would probably be a bit much. My daughter, who is 18, and I went there a couple of weeks ago because nothing else was open when we got out of concert, and she was just staring at these people...it's not a good ad for Chicago.

                  Your Italian beef picks are solid. I happen to like Luke's but mainly because their fries are terrific. Al's beef is better quality, IMO, and a lot juicier.

                2. Go to Lou Malnati's or Pizano's ....they are equally the best in Chicago deep dish...Giordano's can be hit/miss, depending on the location

                  1. If you want truly tasty ribs or a burger, go to Twin Anchors Pub in the Old Town neighborhood on the North side. Great food. Sinatra loved it. There are pictures of him all over the restaurant. Check it out.

                    1. Nice list other than the Giordanos pretty bad chain pizza, Id go with Pizano's for pizza if you need deep dish. Otherwise the best pizza I have had, in the city is found at Coalfire. Thin crust cooked in a coal fired oven. Also byob.

                      As for Frontera vs Salpicon & Adobo, Adobo isnt even in the same ballpark as Frontera & Salpicon, and I would give the nod to Frontera over Salpicon

                      Honey 1 and Smoque are the two top bbq spots in the city, I know Honey 1 is byob, but I have alos seen a guy sipping a byob beer at a table at Smoque. These two places cook their ribs in a smoker vs boiling or baking ribs like some of the other places in the city do.

                      enjoy your visit.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: swsidejim

                        As a recent visitor, I can vouch that Smoque is worth the trip. Great St Louis ribs with sauce on the side. I rather enjoyed the mac and cheese side as well. Nice people too. The manager moved his office from a two seater table so I could get easy access to my young'un in his stroller. The baby enjoyed the ribs too! It is byob.

                      2. The only thing we have had at Fat Willy's is the pulled pork sandwich (it was so big, 2 of us split it), and it was very good.

                        1. Thanks again for the replies. I'd seen lots of praise for Hot Doug's but it seemed a bit far away - is it worth going to even if we're not in the area? We'll be there on a Friday and Saturday so we'd be able to to try out the duck fat fries... Though it's hard to believe something like that even exists!

                          I'm still not sure about the pizza, I like the idea of Giordano's stuffed pizza but Lou's and Pizano's seem to get more positive responses. In the end I'll probably just have to flip a coin and choose one randomly. As a newcomer to Chicago pizza though I'm sure any of them will taste good.