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Oct 1, 2008 12:12 PM

VA Chef in Chicago for 2 nights (Oct. 9, 10), HELP!

Hey everyone,

I'm gonna be in Chi-town for Thursday and Friday (9,10) and staying in the Wrigley Field Area. I'm looking for one nice dinner Thurs. night (around $100/person before drinks range) and uniquely Chicago experiences Friday for lunch. I've heard good things about Charlie Trotter's, Alinea, Arun's, Va Pensiero in Evanston which is where my Dad is from so it's possible, Topolabampo, etc. I really don't have a clue on Chicago geography though and will be going to the game on Friday night, GO CUBS! I've eaten some of the best French/New French, Japanese/Asian Fusion out there, but have never had top end Thai, Mexican, Molecular, or purely seasonal food. I'm willing to go out of the way to find the hole in the wall hot dog stand, steak, etc. Help me out!

Thanks in advance,


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  1. One stop up from Wrigley on the Red Line is one of the better Thai restaurants in Chicago. Just below the Sheridan stop is Tac Quick, a good option, certainly, for lunch. Look to the blackboard for specials:

    3930 N Sheridan Rd
    Chicago, IL 60613

    1 Reply
    1. re: jbw

      What a great recommendation. Skip Arun's and head to TAC Quick. But stay away from the usual suspect Thai dishes. Instead, choose from items on the specials board as JBW suggests, and also make sure to order from the translated menu ( - you might want to print this menu out and bring it). Also, look at the following post also for descriptions and great pictures:

      Arun's has quite a polarizing effect upon people -- you either love it or hate it. But I think that the problem with Arun's is that it's so much pricier than places like TAC Quick and Spoon Thai (my personal favorite) and I'm not convinced that the food is better. Also, while the presentation of dishes at Arun's is beautiful (as is the dining room), it's not fancy enough to make me willing to spend the $$$ to dine there ahead of Spoon or TAC Quick.

      If you seek molecular gastronomy, Moto, Alinea and Avenues would be right up your alley (if you can get in -- you'll never get into Schwa at this late time), but getting out under $100 might be difficult (impossible at Alinea). Moto and Avenues are worth checking out. Avenues' new chef is a Grant Achatz disciple (Alinea) and Moto's presentations are as much fun as any restaurant you will find (lots of test tubes, edible paper, etc.).

      As for Mexican, this is definitely a Chicago specialty. Topolobampo/Frontera Grill are definitely very good. Salpicon is also excellent (maybe better in my opinion). If you are a fan of rich, earthy moles, drive a little out of the way and try Sol de Mexico.

      I think the recommendation of North Pond is a great one. The focus on local, seasonal ingredients, and the fact that it is one of the most beautiful dining locations in Chicago, makes North Pond a real treat.

      Finally, if you're willing to go out of the way for a great hot dog, you have to try Hot Doug's. Expect long lines but great dogs and duck fat fries. It's about 2 1/2 miles west of Wrigley Field (accessible by cab or the Addison bus to California, and then a few minute walk left (south).

      Happy eats!

    2. Wrigley Field is on the north side, roughly halfway between the Loop (downtown Chicago) to the south and Evanston to the North. You can take the el (subway) to either area in 30-45 minutes, or a cab can do it in 20.

      $100/person, even without alcohol, won't get you into Alinea or Charlie Trotter's. However, if you're looking for our highest-end "top tables", two places where you might be able to slip in within your limit are Everest and Avenues. Everest (downtown, in the Loop) has a pre-theater special at 5:00/5:30 every night they're open except Fridays, 3 courses for $50. Avenues (in the Mag Mile area of Michigan Avenue, just north of the Loop) offers small, medium, and large menus (I think they're 5, 10, and 15 courses) for $75, $115, and $145.

      I am not fond of Arun's; you can get Thai food that is just as good at our neighborhood Thai places. For one example, jbw mentioned TAC Quick (and depending on where you are, it's probably quicker to walk there than to take the el; the restaurant is only three blocks north of the stadium).

      Va Pensiero is very very good (as is the slightly less expensive Campagnola, also in Evanston); if you're looking for good Italian places in and around downtown Chicago, check out Cafe Spiaggia, Coco Pazzo, and Vivere.

      We have wonderful Mexican food, creative provincial cuisine that you don't often find elsewhere. Mixteco Grill on Montrose is a new place that's great, maybe 1.5 miles from Wrigley; only downside is that they get busy, but it's worth the wait. Other creative Mexican places not terribly far from Wrigley include Real Tenochtitlan, Tepatulco, and Fonda del Mar.

      For "seasonal" food, I recommend North Pond in Lincoln Park and Lula in Logan Square. Both are fairly close to Wrigley, 2-3 miles away. North Pond, in particular, is exquisite, partly due to its unique location in the middle of the park, and partly thanks to the cuisine from James Beard nominated Chef Bruce Sherman.

      For places within a short walk of Wrigley Field, there are recommendations in the topic at

      Website links:
      Everest -
      Avenues -
      Va Pensiero -
      Campagnola -
      Cafe Spiaggia -
      Coco Pazzo -
      Vivere -
      Mixteco Grill -
      Real Tenochtitlan -
      Tepatulco -
      Fonda del Mar -
      North Pond -
      Lula -

      1. Fellow Virginian here. I was in Chicago a couple months ago and had a great meal at Boka, which I believe is right next door to Alinea, and far less expensive (although still pricey). Modern setting, and if it's nice out, a beautiful outdoor seating area. Definitely focuses on seasonal ingredients, but with a more modern twist. The chef was also named one of F&W Best New Chefs in 2008. The locals here will have to let you know if it's near where you are or not. Good luck.

        3 Replies
        1. re: dcskinsfan

          I would also vote Topolobampo (else Frontera Grill if you can't get a Topo reservation; but only if you can arrive by 5. Make a beeline to the tables in the bar if it looks like the line ahead of you will fill the dining room). Hard to find their quality & style anywhere. BTW, has anyone else noticed the "Topo margarita" has been inconsistent at least this year? Did they lose that long time bartender, older gent?

          If not Topo/Frontera, I like the Boka idea. I too had a great meal there earlier this summer. Skip L20 and Graham Elliott. Too contrived. In my mind, even Alinea is not as good as Grant's final days at Trio.

          Blackbird it another special place. Don't bother with Everest; the dinosaur!

          Never been to Arun or Charlie Trotters as I moved to town after their hey days and have been scared off by the so so reports. My favorite Charlie bad review was that young guy who wrote into eGullet ~ 4 years ago and Anthony Boudain posted to back him up. Precious thread!


          1. re: janet T

            I know Graham Elliott's elicits mixed responses, but L.20 contrived? I couldn't disagree more. I found the food to be absolutely amazing, beginning with the amazing and numerous house made breads and ending with the flawless macaroons. Same with Alinea, which I find was better when it first opened than Trio ever was. However, I would agree that Alinea has shifted more towards molecular gastronomy than Trio ever did, and perhaps that's what doesn't impress you.

            I also disagree with your commentary on Everest. What makes it a dinosaur? The fact that it's thrived and has been difficult to secure a reservation for countless years while so many other high end restaurants have opened and closed during the same time? Everest is certainly not my favorite restaurant in Chicago, but I find the quality of the food and service today (or a few months ago as the case may be) to be as good as it was approximately 15 years ago when I first dined there.

            As for Frontera, you typically do need to arrive early but they now accept a limited number of reservations so the best advice would be to call ahead well in advance if you would rather not wait.

            1. re: BRB

              hi BRB,

              thanks for the Frontera reserv tip. I appreciate your other comments. L20 was way overpriced for the "cute" food he's serving. i'm just not a fan of the comp popcorn prelude, buffalo chicken "wing". i wish I could recall my app, entree and dessert -- just remember thinking they missed the mark.

              L20...too molecular for me and something courses were actually bland. and skimpy portions too. I'm NOT some one looking for quantity. i wanted to like it. i love his blog.

              did any other hounds think L20 or Graham Elliott where over rated?