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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

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  1. 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.

    3 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      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.

      1. re: nsxtasy

        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.

        1. re: BRB

          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!

          Lucky Platter
          514 Main St, Evanston, IL 60202

          Sweet Maple Cafe
          1339 W Taylor St, Chicago, IL 60607

          Uncommon Ground
          1401 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60660

    2. -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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. Tango Sur rocks--however reservations are a must..BYOB btw... also try
            Graham Elliot
            Tavern on Rush
            Sushi Samba

            1 Reply
            1. re: mkslaw

              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.

            2. It depends on the season and where the friend is from, but during summer, I like to go to Argyle, get a bag of banh mi and then chomp on them while wandering through Lincoln Park. Most of my friends are from smaller towns on the East Coast and have never had them before. If they're from DC or some other place with good Viet food, of course, I think of something else.

              We generally end up at Frontera (depending on the cash situation) and I always take people to Cafe Iberico. Tapas is something Chicago does well that isn't all that common on the East Coast. My nephew, who visits every year, absolutely loves Iberico and it's a great place to relax, drink some sangria and get to talk for hours.

              I skip the deep dish. East Coast pizza is mo bettah. Getting a Chicago-style dog at Wrigley is a lot of fun. That was my first Chicago food experience; I was on a layover at O'Hare back when they used to have the hot dog carts in the bars, and they were awesome.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Pete Oldtown

                Depends on the crowd... we're usually just entertaining our parents and/or grandparents in the city, so I thought my suggestions for a less adventurous crowd may be welcome... ;)

                We typically go to:

                Coast - for sushi.. only with my parents who are slightly more adventurous.

                Lao Beijing or Lao Shanghai - Chinatown...which always seems to be a hit for out of town family. Lao SzeChuan is lovely, but often too crowded, these other 2 are under the same ownership.

                Feast in Bucktown - complete across the board parent/grandparent pleaser, cute, yet hearty food for our Wisconsin and Ohio parents...not too overwhelmingly trendy, but a good mildly "fancy/trendy" restaurant they feel comfortable in and a step outside of what they're used to.

                Hot Chocolate - great for Brunch or dinner!

                Topo Gigio - old standby, favorite all around for Italian food.

                Pequods - if they must have deep dish pizza

                Uncle Julios...a small chain, I know I KNOW! Gasp. BUT everyone loves it and seems to be the one restaurant they can't seem to wait to go back to! The Lombard location does not even begin to compare to the one on North in the city. No way.

                1. re: Pete Oldtown

                  Where on Argyle do you go for your banh mi? I'm looking to visit that neighborhood on Saturday for lunch and would love to find a great banh mi. I've got a serious craving for those and there is no such thing as Vietnamese food in my area...

                  1. re: glutton

                    >> Where on Argyle do you go for your banh mi?

                    Ba Le
                    5018 N Broadway (at Argyle)
                    Chicago, IL 60640
                    (773) 561-4424

                2. For pizza, although Lou Manati's and Giordano's are good, I would rather eat at Pizzeria Uno (the original downtown) or Pizzeria Due.

                  Carson's is also a great place for ribs, and if you're in the mood for a steak, Gibson's Steak House is my go to place! -mJ

                  1. Gullivers- Very tasty pan pizza, good atmosphere and service. Nice spot.

                    Piece- Kinda popular unfortunately, good thin pizza from not around here, but it's real good.

                    Thai Classic- Love this place, take your shoes off and enjoy some kind people and great grub.

                    Lazo's Tacos- Late night mariachi. Good Mex.

                    These are spots I like, am happy to share them with friends.

                    1. I'm shocked -- shocked and amazed -- that NOBODY mentioned either Fluky's or the Vienna hot dog factory store/deli as the place to get a properly made Chicago style hot dog. Yes, we argue quite a bit here about who makes the best dogs, but those two spots are definitely in the top 5, if not top 3. Hot Doug's gets mentioned often mostly because of the duck fat fries and the other hot sausage servings, but real Chicago dogs require a trip elsewhere.

                      That said, we also argue about who makes the best Chicago style pan pizza. Giordano's is a few decades behind the originals -- Pizzeria Uno, Pizzeria Due, Gino's East, and Lou Malnati's -- and not all the franchise locations are the same. I always thought Uno chopped up the ingredients too much into tiny bits and preferred Gino's East and Due, in that order; never did like Malnati's much, but there are people who swear by it. The original Giordano's, which used to be on California just off 63rd street when I was college age, has long been gone but was by far the best of the lot; other Giordano's locations vary somewhat in their results -- but seriously, who can/wants to eat that much dough these days? I focus more on excellent neighborhood thin crust now (no pizza chains!!!!!).

                      Italian beef is another Chicago original. And it *must* be made with fresh Gonella bread to soak up the gravy without falling apart. The big debate there used to be between Mr. Beef on Orleans and Al's No. 1 on Taylor Street, but neither is quite what it used to be. Still, on a nice warm, sunny day, I'd give Al's on Taylor the edge, if only because the excellent Mario's Italian lemonade is right across the street.

                      For Italian, yeah, you have a lot of places that serve the kind of food you could easily get in your own home town, but there are some that are a step above. Of two local Italian chains, the Rosebud group and Francesca's, the original locations again rate the highest -- Rosebud on Taylor Street, and Mia Francesca on Clark Street -- and are also among the noisiest restaurants you'll ever dine in. However, there are more interesting Italian places, too: Pizzeria DOC on Lawrence, which serves plenty more than just pizza, and at the haute cuisine end, Spiaggia (still one of my favorites after more than three decades!). Spiaggia also has a sister spot next door, Cafe Spiaggia, which is easier to get into and often serves some of the same dishes.

                      Another Chicago staple: ribs and barbecue. The north side has its offerings -- Smoque, Fat Willy's, Sun Wah Bar-B-Que for Chinese style, lots of Korean barbecue places, and of course Carson's for baby back ribs -- but the south side can compete with places like Wing Chan (great duck! take-out shop only), Honky Tonk BBQ in Pilsen, Uncle John's BBQ in South Shore (more or less), Ribs 'N' Bibs in Hyde Park, Lem's in Grand Crossing, and the little-known Park Ribs way the heck out near Archer and Harlem, at the very SW edges of the city. However, my current fave is on 79th Street in SW suburban Burbank: Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe and Voodoo Lounge. THE BEST, dammit! Real wood smokers. And Chuck knows his stuff and serves much more than barbecue: plenty of southern and haute Mexican specialties, which is what you'd expect from a guy who worked for Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill/Topolobampo for years. Those two would be at the top of a long list of excellent real Mexican restaurants, BTW (so far from the usual taco and burrito stand that it's not funny; truth: you've never eaten Mexican this good unless you ate at some miracle-making cook's house in Mexico). Yes!!

                      And that's just scratching the surface. Haven't even mentioned the wealth and breadth of other ethnic places all over town. Many nationalities here, many great meals. Seriously, there's some damn fine eating here. You can tell by the distinct lack of Hollywood-style anorexics and bulimics on the street. We like our food in Chicago, and it's usually better priced than in New York or San Francisco. The only thing we don't have is Creole to match New Orleans, but that just gives us a reason to hit Mardi Gras in NOLA and skip the parades ...

                      Enjoy your trip to Chicago! May you eat your way from one end of town to the other, from the lake to Oak Park, and never have a bad meal. It's doable.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: lindygal

                        I don't think an original Fluky's exists anymore. Weren't they sold and now operate as U Dawg something or other? I grew up on the Fluky's on Western and was so sad when it changed. It doesn't taste the same anymore and I think they got rid of the hotdog gum.

                        1. re: lbs

                          The Fluky's brand is still around (I think I saw some condiments under that label recently) but the locations have changed hands.

                          1. re: lbs

                            Fluky's destroyed their business by going for lesser quality product, which has largely been rejected by franchise holders as well as customers. The Western Ave. location in Rogers Park changed names to protect their product from devaluation by the parent company and then U Lucky Dog (the renamed Fluky's at that location), when faced with a huge rent increase by the property landlord more than a year ago shut the location and moved everything to their other restaurant further south on Western (at Hollywood), Max's. The dogs are still excellent, at Max's.

                            Regarding Italian beef sandwiches: Mr. Beef for quality and flavor, Al's (Taylor St. location only) for nostalga, not very good product, but the aforementioned Mario's Italian ice across the street.

                            Pizza? Chicago's better known for it's thin crust pizza than deep dish, which is mostly a tourist thing as I view it. Find a good think or cracker crust joint and enjoy. Coalfire - relatively new to the scene - is close to downtown and an excellent pie. Vito & Nicks out in the 8300 block of S. Pulaski is a classic thin-crust place. Lou Malnatti's is better for me than Giordano - but I'd eat Giordano any day of the week over Uno or Due (which are truly almost 100% tourist-only places).

                            I take visitors away from the downtown places so often recommended here on Chowhound. You might as well as read Metromix for suggestions as accept the cut and paste recommendations for places in the tourist zones. Get out and see how people who live here eat and have fun.

                            1321 W Grand Ave Ste 2, Chicago, IL 60642

                            Lucky Dog
                            1819 W Lake St, Melrose Park, IL 60160

                            1. re: gomexico

                              >> Chicago's better known for it's thin crust pizza than deep dish, which is mostly a tourist thing as I view it.

                              Not true on either count.

                              First, Chicago is best known for its deep-dish pizza. Don't believe it? Do a search on Chowhound forums for other parts of the country and you'll find that most of the posts asking for "Chicago-style pizza" are looking for deep-dish.

                              And most Chicagoans prefer deep-dish pizza to thin crust, as proved by the poll of Chicago Tribune readers at www.chicagotribune.com/features/chi-p...

                              As for downtown vs the neighborhoods, I like to take visitors to lots of areas, depending on what their interests are and where they are staying. When friends are staying downtown for a few days and visiting the Art Institute or Millennium Park, they almost always prefer to eat nearby, rather than spending their limited time in the city traveling to and from far-flung neighborhoods. Fortunately, many of Chicago's best restaurants in all price and food categories are located in the downtown neighborhoods, and they are as good as elsewhere (some better and more unique, too). That's why so many of us locals go to restaurants downtown (including the original Uno and Due - yum!) as well as those in our own neighborhoods. When visitors are staying in more distant neighborhoods or the suburbs, I am happy to take them to food eateries that are convenient to those locations. We are fortunate in having so many great restaurants all over - in the downtown area, in neighborhoods in the rest of the city, and in the suburbs.

                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                "Not true on either count."

                                Don't believe everything your read, and repeat from, promotional websites for the different fast food restaurants. Deep dish and stuffed pizzas are relative late-comers to Chicago pizza scene and I think that's something anyone who is born and raised in Chicago and eats pizza understands. I'm not saying deep dish isn't popular, but it's popularity would pale in comparison to the traditional Chicago pizza's.

                                I know you favor the tourist haunts, and to each his/her own preference. But, and I'll repeat again, people coming to Chicago who are interested in learning about the food in the city and the city itself will and are more satisfied when they get away from persons such as themselves - tourists. There's a wide world of food in Chicago, and people shouldn't be afraid to experience what's offered or to get to know the neighborhoods . . . and get away from the oft-recommended "just another place" tourist restaurants.

                                Have a great weekend, everyone.

                                1. re: gomexico

                                  >> Deep dish and stuffed pizzas are relative late-comers to Chicago pizza scene

                                  Not true. Uno started in 1943, earlier than virtually all the other current Chicago pizza places. (Even Home Run Inn didn't introduce its pizza until 1947.) Lou Malnati was working with his dad Rudy at Uno starting in the 1940s before opening his namesake restaurant in 1971. Nancy's was the first with stuffed pizza in Chicago, around 1971, and Giordano's opened within another year or two. And their websites are accurate; I wasn't around in 1943, but I remember eating Giordano's in the mid 1970s at their first restaurant on the southwest side.

                                  >> I know you favor the tourist haunts, and to each his/her own preference

                                  Also not true. I favor ALL of the restaurants in Chicago, including those in the downtown neighborhoods that locals as well as out-of-town visitors visit, and those in outlying neighborhoods and suburbs. I love trying new places as well as old favorites, haute cuisine as well as cheap eats, mainstream foods as well as ethnic foods of many nationalities and unusual foods of all kinds. Granted, like anyone, there are a few foods I don't care for - sushi is one example, coffee is another - but I like to try places all over town, that everyone can and does enjoy. So do many of us Chicagoans who post here on Chowhound; we locals enjoy dining at restaurants in the downtown area that offer interesting, creative food of all types, particularly those of us who work downtown and/or live downtown and/or enjoy visiting downtown frequently. The fact is, there just aren't all that many restaurants here whose customer base consists primarily of tourists.

                                  1. re: gomexico

                                    Born and raised here (actually 3rd generation Chicagoan on both sides) and whole heartedly agree with Gomexico. Everyone I grew up with ate thin crust round pizza cut into squares. Every once in while we'd get pan pizza. I am not discounting that alot of people think that Chicago style pizza is deep dish/stuffed But I will contend that alot of those people don't live in Chicago or didn't grow up in Chicago. Each style has its place in Chicago. When visitors come to visit me, I take them to my local pizza joint for thin and to a deep dish place and invariably, they like the thin better. To each their own and lets respect the differences, eh?

                                    1. re: gomexico

                                      This is getting to be a very tired argument with the same assertions thrown out about thin crust repeatedly, regardless of how they are refuted as nsxtasy has so patiently and elegantly done...again.

                                      You and your friends grew up with or prefer thin crust pizza. Not a problem.

                                      It just doesn't mean that deep dish pizzas weren't invented in Chicago before most of us were born (1943) and that deep dish-- and the more recently created (1970s) stuffed pizzas -- aren't exclusive to Chicago. In the world, there is an agreement called: "deep dish and/or stuffed pizza is Chicago style pizza."

                                      Deep dish and stuffed pizzas are not the only pizza available in Chicago and some people may prefer thin crust. I like many thin-crust pizzas made here. But none of that negates that deep dish and stuff pizzas are what is called (by natives and tourists) Chicago-style pizza.

                                      I don't know why that is hard to get. Eat whatever pizza you like. Take your friends or visitors to eat whatever kind of pizza you prefer. None of that has anything to do with that when people refer to Chicago-style pizza they are talking about deep dish or stuffed pizza.

                                      1. re: chicgail

                                        Yup. I was merely setting the record straight on some mis-statements of fact, not opinion. I think it's great that the Chicago area has so many different kinds of pizza - some that are exclusive to Chicago, others that are similar to what you find elsewhere. Deep-dish (pan), deep-dish (stuffed), thin crust, foldable (New York style), sliced in squares or wedges, crispy cracker crust, Neopolitan-style (including two - Spacca Napoli in the city and Parkers' in Downers Grove - of the fewer than 40 places nationwide certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Naples)... you name it, we have it. Yes, I prefer deep-dish, as do most Chicagoans, but many others like other types of pizza, and are as welcome to their opinions as everybody else. The more the merrier! I think it's great that we have great restaurants for foods that I don't eat but lots of other people do (e.g. sushi). We have both quality and variety in our restaurants here that are world-class. The only downside is that there are so many places that I never get to try all the ones I'd like to - not even close! - but there is never a lack of places to try, or good places to return to. I love going out to eat here, and I'm happy that so many others do too, including locals as well as visitors from out of town!

                            2. One of the Bayless places. Frontera for a drink or Xoco for chocolate and churros. Topolobampo if we can get in for nice dinner.

                              445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: nightsweat

                                We had breakfast at Xoco last month and it was great. My wife's coffee was very good, my hot chocolate was great, we shared the great churros, and we shared a breakfast egg sandwich. All of it was great and cheap. A very nice alternative to the usual breakfast options...