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Nov 20, 2008 12:57 PM

Another NYer visiting Chicago (mostly West Chicago though)

We currently live in NY and will be visiting Chicago from Nov 26 - Dec 1 during Thanksgiving weekend. Staying in West Chicago so will probably be only downtown for one day since we have limited transportation options. I've been to Chicago before, but was not a "foodie" back then so haven't tried much. Looking to achieve the following in this trip:

1. Try the basic, iconic Chicago foods. From what I've read in these boards, this is my list so far. I would be happy if I can just try one of each kind:
Pizza - Gino's East (there is a location in West Chicago)
Hotdog - Hot Doug's or Wieners Circle
Italian Beef - Al's
Cheesburger - Billy Goat Tavern

Since we are only going to be downtown for one day, I want to save lunch and dinner for things that are only available in downtown. I've so far booked a brunch resy at Frontera Grill. But I am open to other suggestions ($10-15 entrees for brunch) and for dinner ($15-25 entrees per person) so no go for Alinea and the like.

2. Looking for recommendations around the West Chicago area. Open to anything iconic, unique, or just really good versions of regular foods.


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  1. Gino's East is a decent choice for single-crust "pan" style deep-dish pizza; if you're doing carry-out, another good choice is Lou Malnati's, which has a carry-out only place in Carol Stream. If you would like to try the double-crust "stuffed" style deep-dish pizza, Giordano's has a location in St. Charles.

    For Chicago-style hot dogs and for Italian Beef, Portillo's is a good bet, and they have locations in St. Charles, Batavia, and on 59 in Naperville. (Al's does not extend anywhere near that far west.)

    For cheeseburgers... unless you want to see the Billy Goat because you're a fan of Saturday Night Live, don't bother. It's not that we don't have good cheeseburgers; we do. But they're no different from what you get back home. If you insist, though, Boston Blackie's has good burgers and they have a location on 59 in Naperville.

    Since you're looking for less-expensive food options in Chicago, I would suggest going to one of our ethnic or "small plates" type restaurants. If it were my choice, I would flip the two meals, and for DINNER go to one of our creative, provincial Mexican restaurants (like Frontera Grill or maybe Mundial Cucina Mestiza - see for more Mexican recommendations), and then go for brunch to one of our classic breakfast places like Bongo Room or M. Henry, or maybe a great Sunday brunch like Between (see for details on these and more breakfast/brunch recommendations). Moderately-priced "small plates" places include Quartino for Italian (accepts reservations), Cafe Iberico for Spanish tapas (no reservations except for larger groups, waits may be long), and Avec for Mediterranean (no reservations and waits can be extremely long).

    For more recommendations around West Chicago, check out these discussions: - Geneva - Geneva lunch - St. Charles - Naperville - Naperville - western suburbs - western suburbs

    Enjoy your visit!

    1. >>For cheeseburgers... unless you want to see the Billy Goat because you're a fan of Saturday Night Live, don't bother. It's not that we don't have good cheeseburgers; we do. But they're no different from what you get back home.<<

      krystle920 -

      If others in your party try to drag you to Billy Goat for FOOD, and are expecting good food, avoid it like the plague. If you are going for nostalgic reasons, that's another story. You're better off just going in, having a drink, taking your pictures, and then leaving. Why would I lie about this? You'll find out it would be a waste of valuable gstronomic real estate with so many other options. It's JUST a cheeseburger, really.

      1 Reply
      1. re: gordeaux

        Haha, with the two responses above, I think I will definitely stay away from Billy Goat then. Save the space for more hotdogs and pizza and other yummy Chicago food!

        And I'm not even a fan of SNL! I think I just read about it somewhere

      2. I guess it depends on where "West Chicago" is for you, but one of the oldest, most traditional and arguably the best Italian beef sandwiches is at Johnnie's on North Avenue in Elmwood Park, just west of the the city limits. Portillos does a good job for a chain, Al's (IMHO is ok) but Johnnie's is the real deal. Been eating it since I was a kid, and that's a long time.

        Try the combo -- Italian beef and sausage -- with both sweet and hot peppers.

        Johnnie's Beef
        7500 W North Ave, Elmwood Park, IL 60707

        2 Replies
        1. re: chicgail

          West Chicago is a far west burb. Kind of in between Wheaton and St Charles.

          1. re: gordeaux

            Sorry, you would think I would know that. Didn't mean to mislead the OP.

        2. "2. Looking for recommendations around the West Chicago area. Open to anything iconic, unique, or just really good versions of regular foods."

          Not too far away, east of West Chicago but still in the 'burbs is Vie, one of the best restaurants in the Chicago area. It's not an "icon" but it does have a commitment to local growers so you get a Midwestern slant on solid contemporary American cuisine. More here:

          6 Replies
          1. re: jbw

            It would take longer to get to Vie (or Johnnie's...) from West Chicago than it would from downtown Chicago! They are both far away, particularly since the OP stated that they have limited transportation options.

            I too would skip Frontera and instead go to one of the many Mexican restaurants in West Chicago. El Tesoro (in the strip mall at Roosevelt Rd. and Joliet St.) is my favorite.

            For a good burger there is Alfie's on Roosevelt Rd. in Glen Ellyn (a few minutes east of West Chicago). If the OP wants to experience a much-discussed midwest burger chain, there is a Steak & Shake in West Chicago at rt59 and North Ave.

            1. re: jbw

              In addition to being quite distant from West Chicago, Vie, with entrees in the low thirties, is also clearly not in the OP's desired budget.

              For Mexican food in the West Chicago area, I continue to hear good things about Bien Trucha in Geneva, on the various forums as well as in the press:
              Chicago Tribune -
              Chicago Magazine -

              1. re: jbw

                Right in West Chicago there is the tiny little hot dog hut on Roosevelt Road just across from the Jewel..."Happy hut" is the name....Best Chicago Style dogs Anywhere in the Far Western burbs next to Portillos. But if you were trying to stay away from the chains, that's where we always go!
                I'm sorry this post is about a year too late, but if you find yourself out here again, I'm a St. Charles Native and have found amazing places to eat out here in the Far Western Burbs. St. Charles actually has quite a few really good places to eat.

                St. Charles: The Filling Station for burgers and other sandwiches...and great fries!

                St. Charles: Rosati's Pizza for authentic Chicago THIN crust

                St. Charles: El Puente, Mexican...a bit upper class Mexican, but well worth everybite

                St. Charles: McNally's Irish Pub: Need I explain? Authentic, deliscious Irish Fare, and on weekends great live entertainment.

                Geneva: Tia Maria's Mexican / Great home cooked fare

                South Elgin (St. Charles border) Village Squire for sandwiches and such..but I wouldn't recommend it for entre's as they're not really all that great...but the atmosphere and entertainment is worth it.

                St. Charles: Chord on Blues, really great place for circuses

                St. Charles: The New Scotland Yard (I think it's now called "The Yard"...good all around american eatery)

                St. Charles: ZaZa Trattoria; international/ Northern Italian

                St. Charles: Odessy - Greek / good but not as good as Greek Town in the city, but worth while if you're trying to stay in the Far Western Burbs

                St. Charles: Al Capone's Hideaway & Steakhouse (hard to find so Google Map or take your's out in an area known as Valley View and it's really hidden away. It's an Authentic Al Capone's Speak Easy, hidden along the Fox River...where Capone's gang would hide their booze and ferry it down the river to the Baker Hotel's catacomes for parties.)

                St. Charles: Erik & Me / really nice place for traditional Sweedish and American fare.
                Pleasant and relaxing atmosphere, Midrange prices, well worth it to impress out-of-towners.

                St. Charles: Salerno's On the Fox / Great Pizza and Italian fare

                1. re: JustWildAboutChicago

                  Erik and Me became Sage Bistro in April, 2008.
                  I am not real current on Fox Valley restaurants but wonder how many of the other recommendations here are out of date.

                  1. re: Eldon Kreider

                    Given that the original poster's visit was 10 months ago, I'm not sure it matters to him anymore.

                    1. re: ferret

                      I am sure that the OP doesn't care anymore, but anybody using the search function should not have badly out of date information in a current post.

              2. For your time in West Chicago I have a few places to recommend:

                For a traditonal style hot dog check out Happy House. It's a small shack that's allegedly one of the original Portillo's stands. Great hot dogs and fries but pretty much to go only.

                For Mexican food West chicago has many, many choices but the best two are probably ByBy's and El Tesoro. Byby's is what most would consider a dive or hole in the wall but don't let the appearance scare you. They produce excellent taqueria standards and also offer lot's of hard to find regional Mexica exotica, focusing on specialties from Oaxaca. You can get things like tlacoyos, huraches, atole, champurrado (winter only), and rotating specials of birria de chivo, fideos con albondingas, etc. It's a small place with only about 4 or 5 tables but the food is very good.

                El Tesoro is a bit larger and nicer inside but doesn't have as many regional specialties. What they do have going for them are hand made tortillas (with specific dishes, be sure to ask), good tacos and a nice bowl of red pozole.

                Finally is you want a good Italian sub, check out Augustino's. It's a kitschy rock and roll themed deli, sort of similar to Portillo's, but they put out a decent sub with good meats which is properly dressed with oil, vinegar and spices.

                Enjoy your trip.

                (630) 562-1710
                142 W Washington St

                Augustino's Rock & Roll Deli
                300 W North Ave, West Chicago, IL
                (630) 293-8602

                El Tesoro
                129 W Roosevelt Rd, West Chicago, IL 60185
                (630) 293-0190

                Happy House Hot Dog Stand
                140 E Roosevelt Rd, West Chicago, IL 60185
                (630) 231-8989