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Jan 28, 2009 11:58 AM

Need to Eat 2009

I have started compiling a list of places I really want to eat in 2009, and was looking for some extra recommendations. I've lived in Chicago for quite a while, and that's the reason why some places are not on my list!

Table 52
Graham Elliot
A Tavolo
Bon Soiree
The Curry House
Hachi's Kitchen
The Gage
Gene & Georgetti
Farnerie 58

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  1. Trotters, if you want to spend ridiculous amounts of money. But some say it's the best meal they've ever had. I'm not sure about that. I think the best ribs are Twin Anchors, nothing trendy, just a bar with great food and it's pleasant and friendly and a good place to watch a game.

    I'd put Everest on that list--outstanding food, impeccable service, again EXPENSIVE, but it's so beautiful that it's worth it for that alone.

    And if you haven't been there, The Billy Goat, the original under (and MAN, IS IT UNDER) the Wrigley Building. Just because you haven't done Chicago without going there at least once. It's an institution. Don't order fries.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Whosyerkitty

      "But some say it's the best meal they've ever had. I'm not sure about that. I think the best ribs are Twin Anchors"

      I know T/A in beloved by many Chicago folk, but quite honestly you could get better ribs at Cook County Jail ;-)

    2. Did you leave Mercat a la Planxa off your list or just overlook it? It is excellent and was one of the 3 featured restaurants on "Check, Please" last Friday night. The Chef's Table menu is outstanding and is offered with wine pairings as well. Chef's Table was $55.00 per person when we went there shortly after it opened; we were served about 14 different dishes, all of them memorable..

      1 Reply
      1. re: CJT

        i liked Mercat a lot. I've been to Spain and the tapas were pretty authentic, however, I felt that it was slightly overpriced and the portions were small. Yes I know it's a tapas restaurant, but I frequent tapas places, and the portions here seemed to be a lot smaller. The mariscos croquettes were filled with 1/2 a shrimp each and cost $10 for an order of 6. $14 for the coca of porcini & catalan sausage, roasted garlic and manchego is the price of a small deep dish pizza and it was TINY.

        We were a group of 6 and the bill was just over $400 before tip and we were still hungry (we are not big eaters). They charged us for extra bread, which I thought was a little ridiculous. I would not go back. I think Emilio's has better tapas for more reasonable cost.

      2. I'm not sure what the purpose of this list is. Is it to name every restaurant serving great food in Chicago? LOL!

        The list above seems reasonable as a list of places to try. It's easy to quibble with the choices in some of the categories (why TRU and Sixteen, but not Everest or L2O? why Salpicon and Mexique, but not Mundial Cocina Mestiza or Fonda del Mar? etc) but that's merely a reflection of the richness of our restaurant offerings. The list above seems to be heavy in the "finer dining" area, but light in ethnic choices and with very little in the way of inexpensive places in general, ethnic or otherwise.

        I don't know how other Chowhounds manage their list of places to try (whether they are just in our heads or actually written down or electronically entered somewhere). I can tell you, my list never seems to get shorter, and constantly changes as places open and close, and as I hear positive and negative reviews, here on Chowhound and elsewhere. I like to try a variety of different places. If I think back upon the places I've tried for the first time over the course of a year, I like to find at least one or two places from each of a bunch of categories: haute cuisine, contemporary American, Italian or French bistro, creative Mexican, Asian, barbecue, etc. And hopefully I also have a chance to go back to the places I've really liked, every once in a while.

        Since the start of the year, I've tried one French bistro (La Sardine - liked it a lot), and two bakeries (Sweet Mandy B's and Bleeding Heart - both disappointing). I have plans within the next month or so to hit several of the places I've been wanting to try, including one high-end place, one French restaurant, and one contemporary American restaurant I've liked in the past but now has a new chef. Restaurant Week provided the incentive to plan two of these meals, as well as a return visit to another place I've always liked. I haven't yet made plans to try more Mexican or Asian places, but that will happen too.

        When it comes to restaurants, Chicago certainly is a wonderful place to live or visit!

        10 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          Thanks for the adds to the list. The main purpose of my list is to find some special occasion restaurants that I have not tried, and to open my eyes to Chicago institutions that I have not heard of! Being relatively new to the fine dining experience I think that there are a few places that were omitted, but not on purpose! Even though my wish list mainly comprises of higer end place, I would love to find out more about the secret spots that I have not been to yet for a good mid week meal. Bring it on, I am ready to eat!!!

          1. re: redtulip

            Aha! The concentration on special occasion restaurants explains why there are few inexpensive restaurants on the list.

            One thing I've noticed is a great disparity between some restaurants that get a lot of notice on forums and in the press, and others that don't. I know there are some very deserving restaurants out there that few people have heard of.

            Some are ethnic restaurants that are suitable for special occasions, but you don't hear much about them. I had mentioned Mundial Cocina Mestiza, which is a wonderful creative Mexican restaurant in Pilsen. Le Colonial and Le Lan serves creative Vietnamese off the Mag Mile. Vermilion offers a combination of Indian (i.e. from India) and Latin-American. Shanghai Terrace is excellent for extreme-upscale Chinese dining.

            Another reason some restaurants don't get much attention is their location, away from downtown and especially if they're in the suburbs. Great places in outlying neighborhoods include Sola in North Center and Magnolia Cafe in Uptown. The suburbs are another matter, with places every bit as outstanding as those in the city, including Oceanique and Chef's Station in Evanston, Michael in Winnetka, Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Heights, Vie in Western Springs, Courtright's in Willow Springs, and Tallgrass in Lockport, to name a few. City residents should note that the two in Evanston are convenient to both the CTA and Metra commuter trains, and Michael and Vie are both just a few steps away from Metra stops with evening service.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Shhh. Stop telling people about Sola. It's one of my favorites and still not difficult to get a reservation.

              1. re: chicgail

                You know, that's what I hate. I'm not into trendy regardless of reviews. Nobody's DOING ME A FAVOR by letting me eat in their flippin' restaurant.

                And frankly, you have some wonderful little holes in the wall with great food and people that appreciate you being there, not necessarily 'high end' or 'in'.

                That's what a great city's great food is about. Not about where the Reader or a snotty guy on the news tells you you should go

                But hell, I still like Spiaggia and it's SO 90's.

                1. re: Whosyerkitty

                  Do you have a top five 'hole in the wall's that you would recommend? Love hearing about places that I pass by all the time.

                  1. re: redtulip

                    It would be very easy to walk by some of the best restaurants around without even knowing that they're there. For example:

                    Sweets and Savories ( ) is on a busy stretch of Fullerton in the westernmost part of Lincoln Park. It looks like a nondescript storefront that you could easily mistake for a dry cleaners. Very good contemporary American cuisine in an upscale bistro atmosphere awaits inside.

                    Chef's Station ( ) is located underneath the Metra commuter train station in downtown Evanston; good luck finding either of the two entrances (LOL!). Inside it, too, has outstanding contemporary American cuisine (even better than S&S, for my money) in a whimsical upscale bistro atmosphere.

                    Michael ( ) is located on a busy stretch of Green Bay Road in north suburban Winnetka. The lot has only a narrow frontage, so the restaurant entrance is sideways and virtually invisible from the street. The atmosphere is casual but sophisticated, and the food, contemporary American with French overtones, is IMO the best in the entire Chicago suburbs (with the possible exception of Tallgrass in southwest suburban Lockport).

                    Of course, there's always the Violet Hour, the cocktail bar in Wicker Park. That place is *intentionally* designed to be invisible from the street, so as to resemble a Prohibition speakeasy. Not only could you pass it by, you could even pass it by when looking for it and still not find it.

                  2. re: Whosyerkitty

                    Sola is hardly a hole in the wall. It has a fairly high-end, thoughtful kitchen, very fine food. I guess I would rather y'all go and keep it going. I just love that I can get it easily when I want to.

                    1. re: chicgail

                      I think that depends on how we define "hole in the wall". If redtulip means a NICE (upscale, creative) restaurant that you could pass by without knowing it's there, then Sola qualifies (thanks to having its entrance on a side street, even though its street address is on a main commercial drag with zero signage). If he/she means a, well, a crummy neighborhood "cheap eats" kind of place with decent food, then Sola does not qualify - but neither do Sweets and Savories, Chef's Station, Michael, or Violet Hour, all of which are decidedly upscale and creative in intent (and pricing).

                    2. re: Whosyerkitty

                      I'm SOOOOOOO with you here. I do like the high end stuff, but I HATE it when you go to a high end place, and the food is something "just ok." I have a running list of places that charge waaaaaaaaay too much for their mediocre food, and get by on being a "scene" for the pretty ppl, or being able to cater to the crowds who have no idea. But, more power to them.

                  3. re: nsxtasy

                    Thanks a million for the new suggestions. More to add to the list!

              2. I went to Alinea in December and while it was GOOD, it was not amazing like I was expecting. The service was excellent, but some of the dishes were just ok and some were just too out there. Be prepared to spend over $600 for dinner for 2 with wine and coffee.

                2 Replies
                1. re: pumakat

                  I have to admit that, while my trip to Alinea was exciting, I agree it was not as spetacular as people were saying. $600 was a lot, and we split the pairings. The service was great, but I felt that some of the servers were trying ot put on an unnecessary performace.

                  1. re: redtulip

                    When I went last september, I thought the food was pretty amazing. The food at alinea is just not in the same class as food from any other restaurant in Chicago (going the whole apples to oranges routine). But I didn't care for my wine pairing either. At the end of the meal, my party all decided that getting a bottle next time would be far more economical than the tasting.

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