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Aug 26, 2008 07:42 AM

NYer in Chicago - tell me your secrets! (Please read)

I'm meeting an old friend next weekend in Chicago (my first time there.) She's an American coming from Switzerland and I'm a NYer and true chowhound. We'll only be there a couple of days, so I want the food to be memorable. I'd love to hear some local suggestions. We're not looking for super fancy four star places, just local places with nice ambience for talking that have consistently good food. Basically, I want to know your favorite places that you return to again and again, despite the fact that there are hundreds of other places you know you should be trying.

I'd love to eat as Chicagoans do, meaning should I try deep dish pizza, or is that unnecessary? How about steak? For some reason I feel like steak may be one of those things Chicago does well (though, again, what do I know?)

We are open to any and all cuisines. One specific thing we are looking for is breakfast. My friend is craving a "real, American breakfast". By that I think she means a wonderfully executed brunch type menu -- eggs, bacon, pancakes, etc.

I'd personally love to find a nice restaurant with good food and pleasant ambience that makes a really good martini. Not looking for a menu list of gimmicky drinks, just a place that knows how to make a solid, classic cocktail.

Lunch suggestions can even be street food if you think that makes the most sense. Just tell me what you would suggest someone do to fill her tummy while she's in Chicago for a few days.

I know this is a super general request (which is why I added the "Please read!") so if you've gotten this far, thanks for indulging me!

In terms of geography, we're happy to walk/cab it, but I don't want to do a huge amount of schlepping since we'll only be there 48 hours. We're staying at the Swissotel.

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  1. Here are a few suggestions. You can get a great martini, steak, and dover sole at Keefer's. Cool atmosphere and you can definitely talk. It is not too far from your hotel. For breakfast, I would suggest Ina's on Randolph. For deep dish--this is a controversial topic for Chicagoans, so I'm sure others will have different thoughts--you can go to Lou Malnati's on Wells or Uno's or Due's. Another great place for dinner is onesixty blue. I think it is a great spot for dinner and drinks, plus there is wine bar across the street if you're up for post-dinner beverages. Enjoy!

    1. For a nice (casual fine dining) dinner I suggest Aigre Doux. It's in River North on W Kinzie St (a 5 minute cab/15 minute walk from Swissotel) and a great place to linger and have a nice meal. Alternatively I also really like Naha (N Clark and ?W Illinois) just a few blocks away also in River North--chef just won (after 8 years) a Beard award. No gimmicky drinks in either spot.

      For an alfresco evening and a really great gimmicky drink try the rooftop at ZED451--it's a mini-chain, but I really like their funky Old Fashioned is good!

      For breakfast I really like Flo (on West Chicago Ave) about an 10-12 minute cab from Swiss. Mexican influenced breakfast and wonderful Intelligentsia (local chicago) coffee. Alternatively another breakfast is Wishbone on Morgan and Washington, just West of the Loop (again 10 minutes cab from Swiss--the Swissotel is not in a great eating area, I used to work in the building next door). I eat here at least weekly, both before work and on weekends. Southern style but can just do bacon and eggs if you want. For a greasy spoon full of Chicago's finest go just 5 blocks further west of Wishbone on Monroe Street to Palace Grill.

      1. Deep Dish Pizza -- I agree with an earlier post that recommended Uno, Due or Lou Malnoti's, but there are many opinions out there and with many threads here discussing it to death. The original is Uno and Due (1940's) and Malnoti's was started by a relative. Food served at the Unos chain is nothing like these places.

        Steak -- some good places (again different points of view), but I wouldn't bother. A steak is a steak is a steak.

        Breakfast -- Some fabulous places include Orange and Bongo Room. I'm not the fan of Wishbone I used to be (it's across the street from Oprah's Harpo Studio). A Chicago landmark is The Original Lou MIchells on West Jackson. Triple filtered water for coffee, all double-yolk eggs. Near the Exchanges so there are lots of traders there. Ina's also a great suggestion, as is Meli's Cafe on Halsted St. in Greek Town.

        Lunch -- we don't have much in the way of street food, but you might want to make your way to Portillos for a Chicago Hot Dog or Al's or Mr. Beef for an Italian Beef.

        Martinis -- can't help you. Don't drink 'em.

        Dinner -- I agree with Aigre Doux or Naha (especially Naha), and would add Sepia as a great option.

        Some of the best, most interesting food here is upscale and regional Mexican. Frontera and Topolobampo lead the way, but they have their detractors. Many like Salpicon (not me) or Adobo. If you want to get into the neighborhoods, Pilsen has some amazing inexpensive and authentic restaurants (Nuevo Leon is best known).

        Have fun. Eat well and let us know how it goes.

        1. Hello,

          I know what you mean by "eat as Chicagoans do," but must underscore that we don't eat deep dish, brats and steaks all day. I'm only saying this because I'm a New Yorker and have just moved to Chicago a year ago. Chicago has really amazing food, so you should think less "Chicago" type food and more "flat out good food." What do New Yorkers eat? Not just bagels and lox, NY style pizza and Magnolia cupcakes! Same goes for Chicago.

          Having said that, here are a few gems I have found since moving here:

          1. Spring - amazing seasonal food in a fun neighborhood.
          2. The Bluebird - great and reasonable
          3. North Pond - again, great seasonal food
          4. Sai Cafe - some of the BEST sushi I've ever had (yes, including sushi I've had in NYC)
          5. Walker Brothers - if you're lokoing for good American breakfast - in the burbs though
          6. Violet Hour - excellent for cocktails. This may even surpass places like E.O. in NYC.


          1. I have been in NY for a year and miss the following Chicago food options on an almost daily basis:

            Hot Chocolate: There deserts are better than anything I have had in New York. The place blows chicalicious out of the water.

            Spring: Simple, good food. Reminds me of Blue Hill a bit, but more comfortable.

            Blackbird: The service is hit or miss, but when it hits, it is a great place for dinner and their lunch options are a steal.

            Alinea: The best meals of my life have taken place there.

            Gino's East: Not to start a debate, but if you want deep dish, this is my favorite in the city.

            Piece: Great brew pub and new haven style pizza. Their house salad is great.

            Hot Doug's: If you want a hot dog, go there.

            Schwa: A wonderful place. Know before you go