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Aug 13, 2008 10:46 AM

Visting Chicago from Canada, where to eat and what to do!

Hi Everyone!

I'm planning on going to Chicago on business and will be staying for about 4 days. I know little about Chicago and would like your help in telling me where would be a good place to go for lunch and dinner. My price range for restaurants is wide open, though I don't want to spend big bucks the whole time :P. Also, I would like to know what I can do in Chicago. I heard that there's a statue of Micheal Jordan somewhere.. and my husband would love to go to see that and I would like to check out Harpo Studios because...I"m a girl and yeah you know- love Oprah. But other then that- what else is there to do or to see. I'll be staying around the big convention center that's in Chicago.

All your help will be greatly appreciated!! Thanks!

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  1. The statute of Michael Jordan is in front of the United Center, which is on Madison; pretty shady part of town, not too bad when there's a concert or a game going on, but you might not want to venture too close if you're alone. I'm not a scaredy cat per se, but sometimes out-of-towners can appear to be sitting ducks. Anyway, the statute is okay, but I don't know if I'd make a special trip. Here's a pic:

    Harpo Studios - it's just a building. I'm sure they have Oprah stuff for sale to make her coffer that much bigger. But I'm not a fan, so I'd naturally pooh-pooh it.

    You should take a boat tour around the loop, they always look like fun. Go to the Art Institute. Top of the Sears Tower. Have a drink at the Signature Room atop the Hancock Building. Navy Pier is very touristy, but I'd try that too ("The Dark Night" is playing at the Imax Theater right now, and probably for a while, which has many cool Chicago scenes).

    Get yourself some cheap eats; get a Chicago Hot Dog (Superdawgs is worth the trip); have an Italian Beef (Mr. Beef is good, 666 No. Orleans), and grab some pizza (NOT downtown, though, because it's all crap).

    You say "convention center," and although I'm a lifelong Chicagoan, I'm not sure if McCormick Place is the only convention center in town, but it's certainly the biggest, so I'm assuming that's what you mean. Also if you let the board know what kind of food you're looking for, we might be able to narrow down your selections. Although there are a bunch of wonderful restaurants close to Harpo ;)

    6 Replies
    1. re: sis2catbat

      Hi sis2catbat!

      Thanks for the heads up about the Micheal Jordan statue lol! In terms of cuisine- I"m good for anything. I'll probably want to hit at least one Chinese place (probably in Chinatown~something authentic) but other then that, I'm open to all kinds of food as long as it's unique to Chicago. I heard stuff about Chicago pizza. OH and where I'll be close to is "The Merchandise Mart" ~ does that make sense?
      Thanks for your help!

      1. re: pasaker

        The United Center is not a shady area (I've lived a couple blocks away for almost six years now) and you can combine it with Harpo quite easily. Oprah does have a shop she opened up across from the studio were you can actually buy some of her slightly used things as well as all matter of Oprah branded things.

        As sis2catbat mentions, there are a ton of good restaurants around Harpo, mostly on Randolph Street, but Madison Street has a few bars if you want to grab a drink while out and about.

        You could also easily swing a bit south and hit Taylor Street. I'm not a fan of Al's, actually I don't care for them at all, but a lot of people do like them so I would never stop anyone from trying their beef sandwiches and making up their own mind!

        1. re: pasaker

          Oh, Merchandise Mart, that makes a difference (place is HUGE, but I didn't think of it as a convention center, although I probably should have). Bluprint is in the Merchandise Mart, I'm told it's a nice place to have a drink and some appetizers, even dinner if you are so inclined.

          Behind the Mart is Gene & Georgetti's, a nice, old school steak house.

          For seafood, I love Catch 35 (35 W. Wacker Drive).

          Harry Caray's (33 W. Kinzie) might be okay for the novelty of it, have a few drinks there.

          There's a great sushi place called Naniwa (607 No. Wells) that won't bust the bank. Skip SushiSamba, unless you like paying through the nose to hang with the beautiful people).

          I suggest visiting to see if these restaurants are in your price range.

          Since you don't have a lot of time, skip Al's Beef and hit Mr. Beef instead. I used to go there all the time, the beef sandwich is decent, but it's become kind of a ripoff for what you're getting.

          And I'll agree with delk on hitting Randolph Street. You can't swing a dead cat in that area (near Harpo) without hitting at least 10 great restaurants to check out.

          Sorry, I can't help you with Chinatown, but rest assured everywhere you go will be pretty close to authentic!

          Have fun!

          1. re: sis2catbat

            If you're looking for a GOOD steak, skip Gene & Georgetti. I live around the corner and stop in for a drink once in a while--the old school smell of the place is somehow endearing, yet the food is average at best.

            For a great steak, that is not a chain, I suggest Keefer's or David Burke's Primehouse. Both are not cheap, but you will be nothing but extremely satisfied.

            As for Oprah, walk around the "back" of the building on the Randolph side and you can get your great photo-op in front of the big "O" Oprah sign. Also just one block East of Oprah is a great breakfast place, Wishbone. It's a cajun influenced place where you can enjoy salmon cakes, corn cakes and one of my faves, an andouille sausage hash with a poached egg on top.

            As for Randolph street around Oprah, I really like Red Light for funky Chinese. They also offer a vegetarian menu. Also on on Randolph is deCero, one of my favorite gourmet taqueria's in the city.

            Right behind the Mart is Aigre Doux. This is a great dining experience (again live I live in the neighborhood and eat here relatively frequently). It's casual fine dining so you can get away with some fancy jeans but there will be a few a bit more dressed--no ties though.

          2. re: pasaker

            The Merchandise Mart is in the southwestern part of River North and is several miles from McCormick Place, which is the largest convention center in Chicago. There are several suburban convention centers as well with the one in Rosemont just outside the city limits being the best known.

            River North is loaded with restaurants. Search on that term and Merchandise Mart and then refine your request.

            1. re: Eldon Kreider

              Pasaker corrected her post over two hours before yours and never said the Mart is close to McCormick Place - I made the assumption she was referring to MP based on "convention center." I don't understand the purpose of your post. Not to mention your need to bring up the convention center in Rosemont...Pasaker said she was staying in Chicago, not Rosemont.

        2. For a fun evening and good food go to Greektown and have dinner at Parthenon.

          1. Hi Everyone!

            Thanks for the replies! I just want to clarify that I will be around the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. I didn't know there were so many convention centers in Chicago, I just assumed there was one and it was the Merchandise Mart (which... I guess isn't really a convention center?) - my bad :S. But I hope to be more specific because even though it's a very short trip to Chicago, I would like it to be a tasty one :) So any restaurants around my area would be great! If there's a type of restaurant that is a "must go"in Chicago that you can recommend, I'll take those to too!! :D

            Thanks again everyone!

            1. People seem to like to take pictures of themselves in front of the Harpo Studios sign on Randolph...

              1 Reply
              1. re: leek

                Chances are I'll be one of those people LOL. I know I'm a loser lol. But I'll surely check out Randolph Street. Thanks!

              2. Welcome to Chicago.

                So first off, you mention China town. There are some decent places there, but honestly the Chinese food in Toronto is far far better than anything in Chicago, so in that regard you might be better off trying something else here. Specialties in Chicago are Pizza, Steak Houses, Italian, Mexican, Thai, and upscale/seasonal contemporary American, although there are a lot of other options as well.

                A few things close by include an excellent Italian restaurant called Coco Pazzo right behind the Mart. Maybe a 5 minute walk. It's one of the best Italian restaurants in town and while not cheap, won't break the bank. Gene and Georgetti's is a clubby, old school steak house nearby as well, although if it were up to me I might go somewhere else for steak.

                On Wells street, just north of the Mart, is a little strip of restaurants including, among others, a casual Labanese restaurant (Kan Zaman), a bar with excellent burgers and other good pub food (Pepper Cannister), an excellent more upscale contemporary American restaurant (Crofton on Wells), and a big South American/Japanese fusion restaurant (Sushi Samba Rio) which is a great place for cocktails, although I'm no huge fan of the food. Also, Lou Malnati's which is one of the better traditional deep dish pizza restaurants around.

                Personally, I don't think Bluprint is really worth a visit.

                Within a quick cab ride there are many more options. Blackbird on Randolph is one of the best restaurants in town. There are a couple excellent French bistros, including La Sardine (across the street from Harpo studio) and Brasserie Jo which is to the East of the Mart a couple blocks.

                It might also be fun to get out of the city center to some nearby neighborhoods (Bucktown, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview). There is a nice strip of Wells street between Division and North Avenue that includes Salpicon (high end Mexican), Bistro Margot, Kamehachi (sushi), Topo Gigio (Italian) among many others, as well as some nice stores including the best spice store in town and the Second City Comedy club.

                As far as the city goes, the boat tour is always fun. I'd also recommend getting at least a little out of the city center to seem some other parts of the city. Personally, I don't think the Jordan statue or Harpo are really worth a visit, but that's me. If I were going to do a sports related activity, I'd go to a Cubs game at Wrigley field. (for the record, I have no Cubs/Sox loyalty. I just think a game at Wrigley is a fun thing to do). I would recommend a visit to Millenium Park. It's not far from the spot on the river where the boat tours begin.

                6 Replies
                1. re: wak

                  Thanks wak!! I totally forgot that Second City Comedy Club was in Chicago. I definitely will check that out and sis2catbat also suggested I should check out the boat tour - I'm going to make that a "must go" when I'm there. As for the Chinatown, I figure I'll just go there for the snacking. :) Thanks again!

                  1. re: pasaker

                    If you want some really excellent Mexican food for cheap, check out Nuevo Leon in the Pilsen hood. My friend and I( both live in Canada) had dinner there last week. It was 20 for both and we were stuffed.

                    1. re: Calipoutine

                      Wow, $20 for both sounds pretty nice. For some reason I wouldn't think there would be good Mexican food in Chicago, I know in Canada (and you may agree) it's hard to find good, cheap Mexican cuisine- other then Taco Bell, which isn't very good.

                      1. re: pasaker

                        As of the 2000 census the Illinois portion of the Chicago metropolitan area had over one million Hispanic people with a high proportion having origins in Mexico. Numbers are certainly higher now. There are hundreds of Mexican restaurants where the clientele is predominately Mexican. Unfortunately, a high proportion of these are not particularly convenient by public transportation from the Loop or Near North Side while all too many of the ones convenient to those areas with lower prices serve gringoized food. There are some pretty extensive threads on Mexican food on this board and on, which has more coverage on restaurants outside the tourist and yuppie districts.

                        1. re: pasaker

                          Mexican food is one of our specialties. The inspiration comes from a combination of a very large Mexican population as well as a local reseraunteur - Rick Bayless - who opened a very good restaurant, Frontera Grill, serviing authentic Mexican dishes in the heart of the near north tourist shopping mecca.

                          Local have mixed feelings about Frontera since it is kind of overpriced, although not out of line for the neighborhood. I'm a fan, but regardless, there are maybe a dozen other very good Mexican restaurants around town opened by Frontera Alumni, so it has had a very positive impact on the city.

                          The most convenient alternative to Frontera is Salpicon, although it's not cheap. But it has some very tasty dishes and an almost ridiculously large wine list.

                          Adobo Grill on Wells St. is not among my top selections, but it's really not bad and if you have no other experience with traditional mexican food would be a fun experience. Right next to the 2nd City mentioned above for an overall fun night.

                          My real favorites when it comes to Mexican are the local neighborhood spots, but many are a bit inconvenient from where you will be (Mixteco, Sol de Mexico, Fonda de la Mar, Xni Pec, etc). The closest of these is probably Nuevo Leon mentioned elsewhere in this thread, although when you take into consideration the round trip cab ride, you'll probably end up spending as much as if you walked to Frontera.

                          One comment about Frontera: they have a goofy reservation policy. No reservations for parties of less than 5, so the wait can be long if you get there at prime eating hours. You can however call around 9am on the day you want to eat and see if you can snag one of a small amount of reservations for smaller parties.

                          1. re: wak

                            The OP can always go for lunch, as I did. Also, getting to the Pilsen neighborhood wasnt difficult by bus/El.