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Quintessentially Chicago restaurants?

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I'll be coming to town for a conference Nov. 7-9 and am looking for suggestions on quintessentially Chicago restaurants – a Top 10 list of "not to be missed" spots for those interested in soaking up some local flavor. Could be any cuisine or price range. What do you recommend?

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  1. low and high:

    Jimmys Red Hots
    Gene and Georgetti

    7 Replies
    1. re: tyv

      I understand the concept of hot dogs and steaks, but for a city with the culinary depth and breadth of Chicago, that response is terribly limited. I don't even particularly like the choices.

      Some thoughts that are by no means exhaustive:
      Unos or Dues: the originators (1940's) of Chicago-style thick crust pizza
      Hot Dougs for the best hot dogs and the most unusual and excellent sausages.
      Nuevo Leon for authentic down home Mexican
      Toplolobampo and Frontera Grill for upscale Mexican
      Spoon or TAC for authentic Thai
      Lao Tse Chuan or Moon Palace in Chinatown
      Half Shell for seafood (not great food, but quintessential enough)
      Spring or Green Zebra for Shawn McLean's offerings
      Blackie's or Hackneys or Ubba Tap for burgers
      Alinea for molecular gastronomy
      Blackbird, Tru, North Pond, Everest, Charlie Trotters for fine dining

      and that's just a pretty good start. I'll leave it to others to fill in the plenty I've overlooked.

      1. re: chicgail

        Just for clairfication for myself, I'm not sure what the OP means by quintessentially Chicago and "soaking up local flavor ".

        The city is too big, too old and too culturally rich to go in just one direction. Here are some of the things I think of:
        1. Old school Chicago which brings to mind dearly departed restaurants of yesteryear like the Berghoff or Fritzel's and the ones that still exist like Unos..
        2. Stuff around Chicago institutions like bars and burger joints around Wrigley
        3. Some of the strong ethnic cuisines in Chicago like Mexican or Thai
        4. Uniquely Chicago contributions to the food scene like Alinea or Tru.

        So if I responded too quickly or inappropriately, I apologize, and any clarification would be welcome.

        1. re: chicgail

          I think the OP needs to look on this board a little more closely and narrow it down or at least make a more informed question. Any cuisine?!?! Any style?!?!? From the thousands of restaurants we have to choose from?!?! This entire board is made up of recommendations for quintessential Chicago.

          1. re: rubinow

            Ditka's or Harry Carey's. Big, boisterous. Lots of sports and media types, and lots of visitors. Very good food in both spots. Italian/carnivore. Lots of chicago ambience.

            Spiaggia for the unrivaled view. Signature room for cordials.

            1. re: rubinow

              I know there are thousands of possibilities to choose from in Chicago. I'm trying to put together a list of ideas for fellow conferees, so the field is wide open and I purposefully avoided specifying a particular cuisine, style or price range.

              Perhaps a better question to the board would be this: without regard to cuisine or price, what are your top ten personal favorite places to eat in Chicago? Chicgail offered some good choices – I'd be interested to see yours.

              Thanks.

              1. re: copydoc

                The list put together by chicgail is a darn good one.

                One thing you may want to consider is location. I assume your conference is based somewhere in the downtown area (in/around the Loop or North Michigan Avenue). Not that you can't travel anywhere in the city or suburbs, but a nearby location is a major convenience factor, particularly when you're part of a group. And there are enough places close to downtown that you really don't need to travel far to enjoy some of our finest.

                Here are my favorites, with preference given to places in or close to downtown:

                Fine dining - Everest
                Casual fine dining / contemporary American (for the food) - one sixtyblue (note recent change in chefs), Aigre Doux
                Casual fine dining / contemporary American (for the setting) - North Pond
                Asian fusion - Red Light or Aria
                Mexican - Topolobampo or Salpicon
                Italian - Cafe Spiaggia or Vivere
                Pizza - Giordano's (stuffed deep-dish pizza)
                Seafood - Shaw's Crab House
                Burgers - Boston Blackie's
                Sunday brunch - Between
                Breakfast during the week - Bongo Room

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Thanks, nsxtasy – I'll check these out, as well as the ones chicgail recommended earlier.

      2. When I think of the phrase "Quintessentially Chicago" I would not assume it is a request for what is the "best" or my "favorite" I believe it to mean what "Style of foods are unique to this area. Such as what was invented here, has a disproportionate following or only exists here in the area. That being the case my answer to the OP is this:

        Chicago is best known for some the following food items, (there are many more):

        Deep dish pizza (also stuffed & pan)
        Thin crust
        Chicago style hot dogs
        Maxwell St. Polish sausage
        Italian beef sandwiches
        Breaded steak sandwiches
        Shrimp De Jonge

        A Few of the "Quintessentially" Chicago neighborhoods:
        The little village & Pilson with its numerous Mexican taquerias & restaurants
        The Devon bizarre - the 3nd largest Indian area in the world outside of India
        Greek town
        Taylor Street (which is less Italian these days, but more of restaurant row)

        Yes, there are MANY upscale and individually unique restaurants to list, but IMO they don't really fall into the category being quintessential