Where do you take visitors to Chicago?
If you want to show friends and family truly Chicago Area food, where do you take them? I would like to compile a list of what locals feel are the best restaurants to "show-off," their city. I for example I would consider a quality beef place, a good Chicago Dog and a fine dining place in order to get people a true picture of Chicago and the food and the people. But seeing what hidden away (or blatantly obvious) restaurants others consider "don't miss," may help us all expand our local horizons. Your thoughts?
Thanks in advance
When friends or relatives are visiting for the first time, I ALWAYS take them for authentic Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Usually Giordano's, occasionally Lou Malnati's.
I also usually take them to a "casual fine dining" restaurant, usually one serving contemporary American cuisine. The one that is most impressive IMHO is North Pond - not only for the food, but also for the unique, exquisite setting in the middle of Lincoln Park.
If they prefer true haute cuisine from one of the top chefs in the country, I'd go to Alinea if they're paying. :) However, any of our top restaurants - Alinea, Everest, Avenues, Charlie Trotter's, TRU, Spiaggia - is impressive in terms of food and service. Of these, I like Everest for out-of-town visitors because it has the wonderful view of the entire city along with the finest service and food. And it's not quite as pricy as the others in this group.
My visitors have been absolutely thrilled by all of these places.
I think it's also important to take them to places that YOU like (or have never been), and NOT to accompany them to places you don't like. I know one fellow who took visitors to an excellent place which he hates because they insisted on it, and he spent the entire meal complaining about the food; surprise surprise, they hated it too. If there's a food they're asking about that you don't like and they want to go anyway, have them go when they're touring on their own, so that you don't project your negative opinion onto their experience.
Mexican is a good suggestion; unlike our steakhouses, it's something we do extremely well, that you can't find most other cities. People don't generally want to go eat Mexican food because they think it will be just like they get at home. But - unless they're coming from Mexico - it probably isn't. Our very best creative Mexican restaurants are very much unlike your conventional "enchiladas and skirt steak" Mexican restaurants. There are plenty of excellent ones all over town; my favorites include Mundial Cocina Mestiza in Pilsen, Flamingo's Seafood in Mount Prospect, Frontera Grill/Topolobampo in River North, Fonda del Mar in Logan Square, and Mixteco Grill in Uptown. (I'm not fond of the inconveniently-located Sol de Mexico, whose food items I found exceedingly bland, nowhere near as good as they sound on the menu.) You can find detailed recommendations at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/463572
Of course, there are many, many other types of ethnic foods here. For most of them (other than Mexican), the dishes and style of cooking are not all that different from those in other cities. But if a friend or relative is visiting here and says that they want to try something different and ethnic, or they love Thai food, then by all means I'll go to one of our better places to accommodate their desires.
Incidentally, if there's one overhyped place I would absolutely avoid, it's Burt's Place. For one thing, it just looks crummy - old and run-down, and service problems are frequent (even legendary). What's worse, their pizza is nothing special, either, with its burnt crust and bland tomato sauce. And there's no need to go there, when we have so many excellent renditions of our delicious deep-dish pizza - not only the heavenly Giordano's and fabulous Lou Malnati's, but also Bacino's and Edwardo's for stuffed pizza, Gino's East and Pizano's for pan pizza, all of which have locations conveniently located all over the city and suburbs turning out great pizza. No need to go to an out-of-the-way, crummy place for dreadful pizza.
I disagree in two respects. First, I find the food at Sol de Mexico anything but bland . . . best moles in Chicago and probably my favorite Mexican restaurant in Chicago (albeit out of the way). Otherwise, I agree Chicago is very strong when it comes to Mexican food and this is certainly a cuisine in Chicago which I would show off (Mixteco, Sol de Mexico, Frontera/Topolobampo, Salpicon, La Casa de Samuel, etc.)
Second, Burt's is by far my favorite deep dish pizza in Chicago. Pizano's/Malnati's are right up there, but Burt's is the best . . . a quirky, hole-in-the-wall which you will not find anywhere else (unlike Giordano's for example . . . I even just saw a Giordano's location while in Florida). I've driven hours through snowstorms to get Burt's pizza . . . yes, it's that good.
Of course, Thai is also a specialty in Chicago and I strongly recommend a visit to Spoon Thai or TAC Quick . . . or even Sticky Rice, Rosded, Thai Aree, etc. If you go to Spoon Thai or TAC Quick, make sure to request the translated Thai menus for more authentic and outstanding Thai dishes.
For a Chicago dog (and a lot more), check out Hot Doug's. www.hotdougs.com. Duck fat fries on Fridays and Saturdays, although I love their tater tots. Expect long, long lines.
Jim's Johnnies' rec is spot on. Alternatively, head to Taylor St. for the original Al's.
As for fine dining, how much do you want to spend? I mean, there's Alinea, but then there's also Blackbird. Two totally different price ranges and styles, but both great.
Have to agree with BRB re: Burt's. We've taken many a guest to Burt's- almost all of them have requested a repeat.
With all of the Bayless press the past few years, his newest incarnation, XOCO, seems like a great spot for a quick lunch when seeing sights downtown with guests.
For good Chicago-style dogs up north, try Mustard's Last Stand in Evanston, Poochies in Skokie, or Superdawg (just for the drive-in alone!) on Milwaukee/Devon.
And, we always take people out for at least one brunch.. there's so many great spots all over the city: Lucky Platter in Evanston, Tweet and M. Henry on the northside, Uncommon Ground (northside and Wrigleyville) and Sweet Maple Cafe down on Taylor St. being just a few of the greats.
ps- love the idea of creating a list... perhaps then i wouldn't be spending so much time planning out each individual visit... or maybe that's part of the fun!
514 Main St, Evanston, IL 60202
Sweet Maple Cafe
1339 W Taylor St, Chicago, IL 60607
1401 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60660
-Argyle street for Vietnamese, Chinese BBQ, and Thai
-A steak house - Saloon, David Burkes, Joes Stone Crab
-An Italian Beef - Johnnys, Elmwood Park
-Korean BBQ - San So Gap San
-Mexican -Sol De Mexico, Frontera, & a place I just tried and will be on my rotation is Cemita's
The place I avoid - Giordanos. They come in town after seeing Giordanos on Food Network expecting it to be good, but always come away disappointed, that and its a chain, why come to Chicago, and eat chain food? I now take them to CoalFire, or Burt's for good pizza, if I take them for pizza at all, I really dont think stuffed/pan/deep dish pizza is anything special.
My biggest hits with out-of-town guests are a) lunch at the Signature Room (buffet on 96th floor of the Hancock). The food is OK, definitely not showing off gourmet Chicago, but the view is heart-stopping with glass walls all around offering Chicago-total-visual-immersion for visitors. b) Either lunch or dinner at Fogo de Chao because it's probably something they don't have at home and because it's endearing to have three guys hovering over you begging you to have just a bit more of the filet mignon.
I don't know what "truly Chicago Area food" means, but these are my go-to places with visitors:
- Avec - I can't get enough of the chorizo-stuffed dates, and with friends in town, it's a great option when you're out late and want a tasty bite.
- Chinatown for dimsum - (because a lot of my out of town guests come from places where there are very few ethnic restaurants, much less ethnic neighborhoods). Shui Wah is my current favorite.
- Argyle for Vietnamese food, because I can't ever get enough.
- Tango Sur for the meat-eaters, because there's something about that outdoor seating in the summer, BYOB, and lots of meat that people love.
If they've done the basic deep dish/steak house/Signature Room thing (GREAT idea BTW), believe it or not Portillo's is a huge hit with friends who have kids. You can get a Vienna Beef, Italian Beef or whatever and it's unique to Chicago/metro area.
The above suggestions are good for adults.