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Mar 18, 2009 06:56 AM

Foodie w-end in Chicago, need you help!

My boyfriend and I are planning a w-end trip to the windy city in April and are looking for restaurant recommendations for our 3 days (breakfast, lunch and dinners). We enjoy small and casual eatery as opposed to stuffy and overpriced restaurants. When in NYC we love to go to Bread, Kitchenette, John Dory, the spotted pig, the hamburger joint, momofuku ssam bar and fatty crab to name a few. We are staying downtown Chicago.Thanks for your help.

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  1. You really haven't conveyed enough information to narrow down the thousands of Chicago restaurants to a small number that are suitable for your needs.

    Where are you staying in downtown Chicago? Downtown Chicago is a large area, extending three miles from the Gold Coast to the South Loop. In New York terms, saying you are staying in downtown Chicago is like saying you are staying in Manhattan - it doesn't really help pinpoint enough to know what's convenient to where you are staying.

    Also, what kind(s) of food do you particularly enjoy?

    FWIW, I've never heard of those restaurants in New York.

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      We are staying at the Westin River North, thanks!
      Japanese, korean, american, italian, chinese, indonesian, etc...

      1. re: mtlfoodie

        Bin 36 ( ) is a wine bar across the street from your hotel. Right next to and underneath it is its sister restaurant, A Mano ( ), an Italian "small plates" type place. Both of them are the type of place you're looking for, casual and intimate. Another place like that is Quartino ( ), a few blocks north of your hotel, and it too features Italian "small plates". Also a few blocks north of your hotel is Cafe Iberico ( ), for tapas.

        I also recommend both of Rick Bayless's famous restaurants for provincial Mexican cuisine, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo ( ), a couple blocks from your hotel. They are casual (Frontera is more casual than Topolo), and offer food that is excellent and not easily found elsewhere around the country. Frontera accepts only a limited number of reservations and you may have to wait a while to be seated; locals know to arrive right before they open to avoid waiting. Both are a great choice for lunch as well as dinner.

        If you want to go to a nicer place while you're here, two of our best contemporary "casual fine dining" restaurants are just a few blocks from your hotel: Aigre Doux ( ) and Naha ( ). I would also recommend Brasserie Jo ( ), but I'm guessing from your username that you are from Montreal and there are plenty of French bistros back home, n'est-ce pas? ;)

        For breakfast, I really love Bongo Room, recommended by rubinow below. However, it's not particularly close to your hotel; the South Loop location is about a mile and a half south, and the Wicker Park location is even further. You can catch a CTA* bus or subway (Red Line to Roosevelt) or take a cab. They feature delicious pancake specialties. Two tips: They get VERY busy on Sunday mornings, so avoid that day. And their standard portion size is three HUGE pancakes. The menu doesn't mention it, but they also offer one-third and two-third portion sizes at reduced price, perfect for the smaller appetite or if you want to try more than one dish.

        For breakfast closer to your hotel, I like Atwood Cafe ( ), a few blocks south. They serve contemporary American food in a bistro setting, inside the Hotel Burnham. The service level and overstuffed seating is what you expect from a luxury hotel, and the food is excellent and very creative.

        Your hotel is also just a few blocks from David Burke's Primehouse, in the James Hotel ( ). It's a contemporary version of a steakhouse, but offers so much more. In particular, I love their "American dim sum brunch" on Sundays; see my detailed report in the breakfast/brunch topic at

        Another place you might enjoy is Fox & Obel, about half a mile east of your hotel. Fox & Obel is Chicago's premier gourmet food store, with the highest quality everything - fresh meats and seafood, cheeses, prepared foods, and baked goods, including their yummy cinnamon swirl rolls, the world's best bran muffins, excellent croissants, etc. At the rear of the store is a cafe where you can get anything from a cup of coffee and a muffin to a complete meal, made to order. It's just your basic coffeehouse atmosphere, but the food is excellent. If the seating is crowded, there's more seating on the opposite side of the store.

        Many of our Asian cuisines are more easily found in neighborhoods away from downtown.

        For Chinese food, our best places are in Chinatown, about three miles south of your hotel, and an easy ride on the CTA* Red Line to the Cermak/Chinatown stop. My two favorite places there are Szechuan places, Double Li (which is smaller and more intimate) and Lao Sze Chuan. Read about these and other Chinese in the discussion at

        Other Asian cuisines include Vietnamese food, which is found along Argyle Street next to the Argyle station on the CTA* Red Line, and Indian/Pakistani, along Devon Avenue between Sacramento (3000W) and Western (2400W). Le Colonial ( ) is an upscale Vietnamese restaurant in a converted townhouse about a mile north of your hotel.

        Many of our restaurants accept reservations on

        Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

        *CTA is our local transit agency, with the el (subway and elevated trains) and bus service in the city and nearby suburbs. For maps and other information, see

    2. Based on the restaurants you like in NYC, you should look into Avec and The Bristol (which are probably closest to spotted pig/momofuku). Be aware though that neither take reservations, so if you go primetime on a weekend be prepared for a long wait (so...also like momofuku).

      These would both be dinner spots.

      Avec Restaurant
      615 W. Randolph
      (312) 377-2002

      The Bristol
      2152 North Damen
      (773) 862-5555

      1. Well, *I've* heard of some of those restaurants and I have 4 suggestions. 3 are not close to downtown, one is. Lula Cafe and Mado (which are not downtown, not stuffy, and do interesting things with seasonal, local ingredients, including seafood). Kuma's Corner for hamburgers (based on your reference to the Burger Joint). And Avec which is just west of the loop.

        For breakfast and a similar vibe, go to Bongo Room which has locations in the south loop and in the Wicker Park neighborhood.

        2 Replies
        1. re: rubinow

          Mado's a great call, I should have included that. Highly recommended.

          1. re: jesteinf

            We must have been posting at the same time b/c I didn't see your post. The Bristol is a good call too! It's definitely in the same vein as all of the other suggestions.

            And you're right: these all are very popular restaurants now. You might need to wait for a seat.

        2. You must go to Lula Cafe and Avec. It's my #1 and #2 most favorite places in the city.

          1. Avec is also popping up all over the place because of the insanely similar interior to Momofuku. When I was running my food blog back in the day, I also compared the two restaurants ( for kicks. I'd like to add another restaurant to the suggestions list: Wicker Park's Mana. Its a vegetarian restaurant, with small plates but I think most of the dishes are really enjoyable. Since its just a stylish hole in the wall, it feels very "new york" to me.