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Casual recs in downtown area

SarahT2 Dec 27, 2008 08:54 PM

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.

  1. g
    gordeaux Mar 4, 2009 05:52 AM

    Frontera - definitely if I were you.

    India House, perhaps - lunch buffet (decent for IN THE AREA)
    59 W Grand Ave
    Chicago, IL 60610
    Phone: (312) 645-9500
    Reza's (Middle eastern) http://www.rezasrestaurant.com/

    Greektown - pick a place from another thread.

    Chinatown - my vote would be for Lao Sze Chuan

    1. s
      SarahT2 Mar 3, 2009 05:20 PM

      Thank you to all who replied. You made some wonderful recommendations -- just what I was looking for. We now know where we are staying: The Westin on Michigan Avenue. So, if this changes any recommendations or if you have any specific suggestions near the hotel, please let me know. Thanks for your help.

      1 Reply
      1. re: SarahT2
        nsxtasy Mar 3, 2009 06:20 PM

        Coincidentally, someone else just asked for recommendations in another topic ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/583214 ), and they are staying at a hotel within a block of yours! So the recommendations in that discussion would apply to you as well, except for your casual attire requirement. I would say that very casual attire is acceptable at the following places that are recommended in that discussion and close to your hotel:

        Salpicon (Mexican) - www.salpicon.com
        Frontera Grill (but NOT Topolobampo) - www.rickbayless.com/restaurants
        Vong's Thai Kitchen - www.vongsthaikitchen.com
        Cafe Spiaggia (Italian) - www.cafespiaggia.com
        Pizano's (pizza) - www.pizanoschicago.com
        Gino's East (pizza) - www.ginoseast.com
        Giordano's (pizza) - www.giordanos.com
        Original Pancake House (breakfast) - www.originalpancakehouse.com

        As you can see, some of these places have already been recommended here in this topic.

        Portillo's and Fox & Obel, mentioned earlier in this topic, are a 10-15 minute walk from your hotel. So is the Rush Street location of Heaven on Seven, which is closer to your hotel than the other locations. Greek Town is not particularly close, roughly a mile south and a mile west. Bongo Room is a couple miles south of your hotel; many bus routes run up and down Michigan Avenue.

        Here are a couple more very casual places that have not yet been mentioned. foodlife ( www.foodlifechicago.com ) is a food court in Water Tower Place, two blocks south of your hotel (just the other side of the John Hancock Building). And Tempo Cafe is a diner type place also just a few blocks away, open 24 hours. www.tempocafechicago.com

        For the places mentioned earlier in this topic that require the el (CTA Red Line), like TAC Quick and Lao Sze Chuan, the nearest stop to your hotel is at Chicago and State, just a few blocks from your hotel.

      2. l
        LadyintheKitchen Jan 7, 2009 03:36 PM

        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

        1. c
          chicagobelly Jan 6, 2009 04:38 PM

          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. f
            Francis Jan 5, 2009 07:49 PM

            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 steaks.....you might want to look @ Wildfire or Rosebud for Steaks.

            1. r
              redheadteacher Dec 28, 2008 07:36 PM

              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
                nsxtasy Dec 29, 2008 02:35 AM

                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 http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/119233

                1. re: nsxtasy
                  SarahT2 Jan 5, 2009 06:54 PM

                  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. nsxtasy Dec 28, 2008 04:16 AM

                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. www.portillos.com

                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. www.tacquick.com 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. www.laoszechuan.com CTA information is at www.transitchicago.com

                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. www.fox-obel.com

                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! www.garrettpopcorn.com

                2 Replies
                1. re: nsxtasy
                  lina14 Dec 28, 2008 09:25 AM

                  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
                    nsxtasy Dec 28, 2008 09:38 AM

                    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. http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...

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