solo eats in Chicago
I'll be making a trip to Chicago in early April (Sunday to Wednesday) and need good recommendations for places to eat. I'll be traveling by myself, so I'm looking for places where I'd be comfortable dining for one (nice bar, etc.). I'll be there for Sunday brunch (where I'll likely have people joining me), 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 3 dinners.
I'm hoping for at least one wine bar, and maybe 1-2 good coffee shop/cafe places for lunch. I'm open to all types of cuisine. I'm staying at the Hyatt downtown, but I'm hoping to spend some time in the Andersonville area and any other cute, foodie-friendly neighborhoods. I'm considering moving to Chicago in a year so I'm trying to get a lay of the land, (So suggestions for neighborhoods to explore would be welcome, too!).
Personally, I've never been uncomfortable dining alone anywhere. Go to whatever strikes your fancy. No one can make you feel uneasy without your permission. Have fun, and don't worry about dining solo.
There are some great restaurants near Steppenwolf Theater (where I like to go alone too!): Landmark, The Black Duck, Vinci, Cafe Gianni, and Boca. Just to name a teeny section of our fair city.
Weekday dinner/wine at the bar is perfect at Quartino (State and Ontario)--I find the food (Rustic Italina) to be much better than Bin 36 and they have many small plates. Also great plate-sized pizzas.
Another casual wine/upscale pizza is La Madia on Grand and Clark. Nice little lounge in front and casual bar with a nice wine list.
If you want high-end bar food with a little ruckus (25-40 upscale casual crowd) I highly recommend Rockit! Bar and Grill. Don't miss the truffle fries and burger (they were one of the first to adopt this now cliche potatoe, but do it the best in my opinion). Not sure if they put the foie gras back on the Rockit! Burger (kobe-style with grilled foie on top), but it was one of the best $20 burgers I've eaten in a long time.
For neighborhood recs - Andersonville - I'd go on a Sunday and then spend the day there eating your way through the neighborhood. I like Svea (no website). It is a Swedish place that has solid breakfast food. Cash only and tiny but very friendly. I've never been but people rave about M. Henry (http://mhenry.net ) and that will probably be more brunch-y than Svea.
After that, spend some time meandering through the Swedish Bakery (www.swedishbakery.com ), Pasticceria Natalina (www.pasticcerianatalina.com ), Middle Eastern Bakery & Grocery (middleeastbakeryandgrocery.com ), hit up the Women and Children Bookstore, the Brown Elephant, the funky furniture stores, maybe grab a bottle of wine at In Fine Spirts (www.infinespirits.com ), some chocolate at Bon Bon (www.bonbonchicago.com ). If you want a Chicago style hot dog, go to Hueys Hot Dog (no website - on Balmoral and Clark).
And then once 3 rolls around, go to the Hopleaf and indulge in some Belgian beers. Food starts at 5 so get the mussels and frites. Or the CB&J. Mmmm.... (www.hopleaf.com)
Sunday is the worst day of the week to go to Andersonville. Swedish Bakery, which is one of the top foodie stops in the neighborhood, is closed on Sundays. And on Sundays, M. Henry has long waiting times to be seated, if you get there after about 9 a.m.
Part of the problem with Andersonville is that there is no really good time to go and do everything, since some of the places (like M. Henry and the two bakeries) are primarily morning/daytime destinations, and things at Hop Leaf don't get going in the evening. I go to Andersonville for an hour or two at a time for a few specific stops, but I'm not sure I would want to spend an entire day there out of a weekend trip to Chicago. No disrespect intended for Andersonville, of course; I LOVE Swedish Bakery (as any fan of marzipan cakes would), and M. Henry is one of my favorite places for breakfast, along with Bongo Room and Walker Brothers.
This is the thing about Chicago. There are lots of food enclaves where you can choose this and that, but you might not want to spend an entire day there. Especially if you're looking for the absolute best of something! For example, IMHO Andersonville has the best bakery for Swedish specialties and for Sicilian pastries, but Bon Bon is only so-so among our chocolatiers, and upscale dining hasn't quite made it big there yet (give it time, it will). You can go just a bit north to Evanston for Piron, the very best chocolatier in the Chicago area, and also go to the Spice House for spices and Walker Brothers in Wilmette for breakfast, as well as some fantastic contemporary restaurants like Oceanique and Chef's Station, but the bakeries are just okay and the bar scene only has a few places (e.g. Tommy Nevins, Prairie Moon) so you wouldn't go up there just for that. The South Loop has Bongo Room for breakfast (yum!) and Canady for chocolates, and Custom House and Mercat for finer dining, but not much for bakeries and gourmet foods. I love being able to pick and choose, to spend an hour or two in each neighborhood, but if I were only spending a weekend in Chicago, I probably wouldn't want to spend an entire day, let alone several days, limiting myself to any one neighborhood. Hope that makes sense.
To each their own. I have and will continue to pick out neighborhoods to spend the day in. If it is a nice spring day, I think picking out a neighborhood - especially since the OP stated that he/she are looking to move to Chicago - to hang out in and get a good feel of it is part of the integral charm of the city.
Not arguing with you. Just presenting an opinion for a laid back day that doesn't involve a lot of driving, public transporation, or cabs.
Of course! It's up to each person to decide how best to spend his or her limited time on a visit here. Part of it may depend on transportation and logistics (and even what the weather happens to be, if you plan to spend time outside). Part of it may depend on one's own personal preferences - for example, if you're a mussels et frites fiend then Hop Leaf becomes a "must see", if you're a Belgian chocolate fanatic then Piron Belgian Chocolatier is an essential stop, etc. And part of it may depend on other folks you're spending time with, and what *they* would like to do while you're visiting. And, as noted in the discussion on food tours ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/527608 ), you could easily come up with a charming food-based itinerary in any of a whole bunch of neighborhoods - not just Andersonville, but also Old Town, Evanston, Lincoln Square, West Town, South Loop, etc.
Whatever you do, though, if your heart is set on Swedish Bakery, don't go there on a Sunday. ;)
Which downtown Hyatt are you staying at, the Hyatt Regency Chicago on Wacker or the Park Hyatt at Chicago and Michigan? (Or maybe even the Hyatt at McCormick Place?)
For breakfast and brunch suggestions, see the discussion at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/364403
For the wine bar, you'd probably enjoy Avec. It features Mediterranean food in "small plates". Seating is communal, so you'll be sitting with friendly strangers. Since it's small and there are no reservations, waits on weekends can be extensive. www.avecrestaurant.com Avec is a short cab ride from either downtown Hyatt. Slightly closer, a ten minute walk from either Hyatt, is Bin 36, another wine bar. www.bin36.com
For the coffee shop/cafe type place for lunch, go to Fox & Obel. It's our premier gourmet food shop, with the very best of fresh meats, seafood, prepared foods, baked goods, cheeses, pre-made sandwiches and salads, etc. In the rear is a cafe where you can get anything from a cup of coffee to a complete meal, cooked to order. It's less than five minutes walk from the Hyatt Regency Chicago, less than ten from the Park Hyatt. www.fox-obel.com
There's a discussion on foodie-friendly neighborhoods at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/437740
Beyond that, it's impossible to list all the excellent choices available, since there are thousands of restaurants here, and most are very comfortable for the solo diner. If you are interested in specific types of food and/or budget and/or locations etc, it would help to narrow things down. Here are some of the previous discussions for each of the following types of food/restaurants: