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Feb 17, 2009 08:10 PM

Help with Chicago restaurant selections

Hey. We're ex-chicagoans heading back for a visit and looking to hear about what restaurants should make our list. We're big foodies and while we like a cool vibe and scene, we're pretty much all about the food, service and cocktails (in that order). Some thoughts and old favorites.

Salpicon - old favorite
Joe's Seafood and Steaks - cliche but great steaks and seafood
Table Fifty Two - loved the comfort food, but figure this is now on everyone's radar

New ones we're considering:

Piccolo Sogno

Appreciate any feedback on the above and any new additions we should consider.

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  1. > Salpicon - old favorite

    If you liked it and have fond memories, it's still there and still good, so you may wish to return for sentimental reasons or just because you like it so much. Personally, I like Salpicon but I like even more some of the newer Mexican places that have opened recently; Mundial Cocina Mestiza is my favorite, and Mixteco Grill and Fonda del Mar are also doing great things. For more info and website links, check out the Mexican discussion at

    >> Joe's Seafood and Steaks - cliche but great steaks and seafood

    We have so very many excellent steakhouses that it's hard to single out just one. I really like David Burke's Primehouse because it's a bit more contemporary in atmosphere, menu, and style, but Joe's does an excellent steak too. And so do lots more places. Steakhouse info including website links -

    >> Table Fifty Two

    Good luck getting reservations. The Obamas ate there for Valentine's Day, and it's even more difficult to get a reservation there now than it was before that. Right now the earliest opening for a Saturday night is March 28, according to today's Tribune article at

    >> Piccolo Sogno

    Haven't been there. Chicago is overflowing with Italian restaurants, new ones as well as old favorites. Cafe Spiaggia is still IMO the very best among the mid-priced places, and Coco Pazzo and Vivere continue to be excellent. So are the somewhat more expensive Pane Caldo and Merlo. And, of course, Spiaggia is still the money-no-object champ for Italian in Chicago.

    >> Chalkboard

    Haven't been there. I've been to Sola, though, and I think that's what most folks would name as the top place if you happen to be in North Center.

    >> Alynia

    I assume you mean Alinea? This is still the "creme de la creme", the top restaurant in a city full of top restaurants, named the best in the country by Gourmet magazine. And of course you will have to pay the price, typically $300 or more per person with moderate wine/alcohol and tax/tip. It's a great restaurant, a theatrical experience as much as a dining one. Of course, we have other excellent restaurants in that top tier of haute cuisine, with Avenues, Everest, Charlie Trotter's, and TRU leading the way. L2O, the entry from Laurent Gras specializing in seafood, in the old Ambria space, is the newest star on the scene. You can't go wrong with any of these - again, if you don't mind paying the price. For a bargain in the group, hit Everest for their pre-theater 3-course prix fixe $50 special at 5:00/5:30 every night they're open.

    >> Trump

    I believe you're referring to Sixteen, the restaurant in the new Trump hotel? Haven't been there.

    There are always restaurants opening around Chicago in every price category and type of food. I've already mentioned Mixteco Grill, L2O, and Sixteen, all of which opened last year. Some of the others I've mentioned are fairly new, while others have been around for a while. For contemporary American food, Aigre Doux and North Pond have been around for a few years and are outstanding; so are long-time favorites Blackbird and MK.

    If I had moved away and were coming back for a few days, I would put together an itinerary with some variety, including one highest-end restaurant (top pick: Alinea), one casual contemporary restaurant (top pick: North Pond if you've never been there, otherwise Aigre Doux), and one ethnic finer dining restaurant (top pick: Mundial Cocina Mestiza). And, of course, one stop at whatever your favorite place is for Chicago deep-dish pizza, maybe for lunch. And a breakfast/brunch or two (top pick: Bongo Room if it's not Sunday, David Burke's with an advance reservation for a Sunday) - for detailed reports see

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks for the great reply. Have done TRU, Trotters and Everest so we were thinking of Alinea for something new. L20 sounds interesting as well. Appreciate the thoughts on Mexican. We lived in the Gold Coast so went to see Priscila and Vince quite a bit and may go back for sentinmental, but the new ones you mentioned really sound interesting so we'll have to think about it. Pretty much agree on all your picks so we'll have to branch out into a few new ones.

    2. One relatively recent addition to the Chicago restaurant "scene" is Perennial in Lincoln Park. We ate there last month and thought the food and service were great. (Just did wine, so cannot comment on cocktails. Wine list was good, with a number of reasonably priced choices.)

      1. Hi there,

        I just am adding my two cents to your request...As a recent Chicagoan (Aug '08) I won't touch the old favorites, but of the new ones, here are my thoughts:

        Piccolo Sogno - cozy and delicious. We went for NYE but they served their regular menu and we enjoyed everything we ordered, the service, and the wine. We went with the mixed seafood grill plate, followed by a pasta course (chestnut ravioli), followed by the best whole roasted branzino I have had in Chicago, while my husband enjoyed the duck breast. I think this is a great date place, but there were quite a few groups out to celebrate the holiday. They should have a HUGE patio come summer, not sure when you are traveling this way...

        Chalkboard - have only been for brunch - the food was excellent, the service sucked. Absurd. I would go again for brunch because the BLT, grits and biscuits were to die for, but the overall service, management, lack of care for patrons concerns me.

        If you are looking for a cool vibe, I recently tried Province with a friend and we loved it. Very cool, eco-friendly decor, shareable plates and nice wines by the glass. It's somehow related to the Nacional 27 folks, but I can't recall how :)

        Trump Hotel can still be visited for a cocktail in their bar overlooking the river if you don't want to commit a dinner there (with yummy pickled olives for bar snacks)!

        Good luck!

        1 Reply
        1. re: italophile

          >> If you are looking for a cool vibe, I recently tried Province with a friend and we loved it. Very cool, eco-friendly decor, shareable plates and nice wines by the glass. It's somehow related to the Nacional 27 folks, but I can't recall how :)

          Randy Zweiban, the chef-owner of Province, was formerly the executive chef at Lettuce Entertain You's Nacional 27.

        2. Alinea is great, over-the top and expensive. I'd go there.