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Feb 18, 2009 07:37 PM

Toronto foodies need local advice

Two questions......we will be in Chicago for a weekend and want to have one special over the top dinner and one well-executed but don't drain the credit card dinner. For the OTT option we were considering either Alinea or Charlie Trotter any comments? And we would love to hear your suggestions for the other night.

Many thanks in advance for your help.

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  1. Alinea and Charlie Trotter's are both excellent in every way (as are Avenues, Everest, L2O, and TRU, our other "OTT" restaurants). Alinea is a bit more of a theatrical experience, and leans just a bit more towards modern "molecular gastronomy". But you really have to split hairs to rank one above the other (although those who do, generally choose Alinea). You can't go wrong with either of these.

    For your other meal, we have many "casual fine dining" restaurants, with different kinds of cuisine. Contemporary American food is very popular. In that category, North Pond is a great choice, not only for the delicious food from James Beard Award nominated Chef Bruce Sherman, but also for its unique, lovely setting in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, not just the surrounding neighborhood of the same name). Other excellent places for contemporary American cuisine include Aigre Doux, Naha, one sixtyblue, and Blackbird.

    We also have some very nice ethnic restaurants in the "casual fine dining" category. Topolobampo and its companion Frontera Grill pioneered regional Mexican cuisine in Chicago, and Chef Bayless is still doing great things there. Other excellent Mexican fine dining places have sprouted recently, although not quite as close to downtown as the Bayless places. My current favorite is Mundial Cocina Mestiza, in Pilsen.

    Italian is always an option (and Cafe Spiaggia is a favorite pick), but you can get great Italian food in many cities, whereas our creative provincial Mexican food is more unique to Chicago.

    Bottom line, I think Alinea and either North Pond (for contemporary American) or Topolobampo (for upscale Mexican) would be a great itinerary, although you could substitute any of the other places mentioned above and still have a great dining experience.

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      If you have a car and you would like to get away from the more usual tourist recommendations you might like Chuck's Cafe ( or the May St. Cafe (

      1. re: lina14

        Actually, what's remarkable about Chicago's restaurant industry is that so many of the restaurants in the greater downtown area (including the hotel area around the "Mag Mile" and River North) are well patronized by locals as well as visitors from out of town. Locals go where the quality is, and that often means places that are downtown as well as in the outlying neighborhoods and suburbs. That includes the "temples of high cuisine" like Avenues, as well as more affordable places like Cafe Spiaggia and Frontera/Topolobampo. Go to Mundial Cocina Mestiza or Aigre Doux or North Pond and talk to people and you'll find that the vast majority of the crowd consists of locals.

    2. Terrific -- thank you for the suggestions. We're going to give Mundial a try on Friday and Charlie Trotter on Saturday (we already had a reservation there, just wondered whether to keep it) and will report back. Many thanks!

      If you have any earlyish Sunday morning breakfast spots to recommend (emphasis on good coffee and casual vs mountains of food) we're listening.....

      1 Reply
      1. re: lifeistooshorttoeatbadfood

        Well, my personal preference for Sunday breakfast is more towards mountains of food, especially items on the sweeter side (pancake and French toast specialties), which is why I love Bongo Room and M. Henry. But for a casual Sunday morning breakfast scene, without the mountains of food or the pressure of a long line of people waiting for a table, I like Fox & Obel. It's our premier gourmet grocery store, located in River East, a few blocks east of Michigan Avenue and just north of the river. They have wonderful fresh meats and seafoods, prepared foods, baked goods, etc. In the rear of the store, they have a cafe (you wait in line to order and pay, and they bring you your food) where you can order anything from a cup of coffee to a complete meal, cooked to order. For breakfast, they have omelets; for lighter appetites, their cinnamon swirl rolls are wonderful, and so are their muffins (particularly the bran muffins). The atmosphere is your basic casual coffeehouse, with newspapers you can read, etc. I've noticed additional cafe seating on the opposite side of the store, but I'm not sure whether you have to walk through the store to get there or if there's some other way. And you can watch people doing their Sunday morning upscale food shopping.

        Another option, if you're in the Loop around Millennium Park, is coffee at Intelligentsia -