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Dec 27, 2008 08:54 PM

Casual recs in downtown area

My 11-year-old and I will be in Chicago for several days in mid-March. We have not made a hotel reservation yet, but we probably will be staying in the downtown area. We are adventurous eaters, and we enjoy all kinds of ethnic food. We would like to sample quintessential Chicago cuisine (and avoid chains, unless they are local/regional chains). Here is the hitch: We will be traveling light and our attire will be limited to jeans/khakis, and not even fancy jeans/khakis at that). Thus, we will need to eat at places that have a very low-key/relaxed dress code. Thank you for any help you can provide with recommendations for lunches and dinners at casual restaurants.

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  1. Start with our delicious Chicago-style deep-dish pizza! Our local chains do it extremely well. There are two main varieties - the double-crust "stuffed" pizza of Giordano's, Bacino's, and Edwardo's, and the single-crust "pan" pizza of Lou Malnati's, Pizano's, Gino's East, and the original location of Uno and Due. All of these have locations in the downtown area; let us know where you're staying and we can tell you what's closest to your hotel.

    Portillo's is a good bet for our local specialties of Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian Beef sandwiches. They have a location downtown at 100 W. Ontario.

    You like ethnic food, and 11-year-olds usually love the idea of a train ride - why not take the el (our subway) to get Thai or Chinese food? You can catch the CTA Red Line at several places in the downtown area - again, we can tell you which stop is closest to your hotel - and take it north 20-30 minutes to the Sheridan Road stop, where you can get good Thai food at TAC Quick. You can also take the Red Line south from downtown 10-20 minutes to the Cermak-Chinatown stop and walk a couple blocks to Lao Sze Chuan, at the end of a big building of shops called Chinatown Mall. CTA information is at

    Here are a couple more recommendations. Fox & Obel is our premier upscale gourmet grocery store in the downtown area. In the rear of the store, they have a cafe that's open all day, where you can get anything from a cup of coffee to a complete meal. Just your basic coffeeshop atmosphere, and grubby jeans are fine.

    And don't miss Garrett's for popcorn (carry-out). They have several locations in the Loop (the commercial/office center of our downtown area) where they sell freshly-made caramel popcorn and cheese popcorn (and some people like to get a mix of the two). Yummy!

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Two places that I think you might like are Heaven on Seven and Manny's.

      At Heaven on Seven the cuisine is creolecajun and the atmosphere is casual. It has several locations, but the best, I think, is the original. It's on the 7th floor of a downtown office building at 1141 S. Wabash. its very crowded at noon, so it's best to go there at 1 or later.

      Manny's a little south of the loop at 1141 S Jefferson is a very big deli, but it, there, too, it's better to miss the noon rush.

      Both have web sites:

      1. re: lina14

        The address posted above for Heaven on Seven is incorrect. The correct address for their Loop location is 111 N. Wabash, near Washington. They also have a location in the Mag Mile area of North Michigan Avenue at 600 N. Michigan, labeled as Rush Street on their website. The Rush Street location is open for dinner; the Wabash location is not, except for one evening a month.

        However, the address of 1141 S. Wabash is right across the street from another good recommendation, for breakfast/lunch, where casual attire is fine. Bongo Room is at the corner of Wabash and Roosevelt. They have great pancake and egg dishes; many of their pancake dishes consist of pancakes topped with a wonderful sauce. If you like, you can order smaller portions of their pancake dishes (one or two pancakes instead of the standard three) at reduced cost, which enables you to try multiple dishes there.

    2. Head over to Greek Town on Halsted Street. Our favorite place is Greek Islands but you can feel comfortable wearing casual clothing at most of the places there.

      2 Replies
      1. re: redheadteacher

        Yup - that's another good rec. If you'd like to find links to websites for, and read opinions about, the various places in Greek Town, see the discussion at

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Thanks to all for the great recommendations. These ideas are just what I was looking for. I will post again closer to our trip, when I will know where we will be staying. I'm looking forward to seeing a bit of Chicago.

      2. For sure take a trip to Chinatown. We like Emperor's Choice; 2238 S. Wentworth Ave. It's small, unassumming but really solid. In Greektown stick with Pegasus, Greek Islands, and/or Athena. While Greek Islands is my least favorite, you can get away with casual clothing at those more than the others. Chicago is known for it's might want to look @ Wildfire or Rosebud for Steaks.

        1. Pizza - La Madeira - so so good. If you go earlier then the clothes may not matter as much

          BBQ - take a short ride to Wicker Park to go to Smoke Daddy's - very casual and fun

          1. I'm not sure if you all are into the breakfast for dinner type of thing but the Original House of Pancakes is always a good choice. 22 E. Bellvue