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Chicago weekend!

Hello all. I am very excited! Why? This summer, I will be having a food-centric long weekend in Chicago with my father. As the designated meal planner in the family, I decided to consult my local Chowhounds on my decisions. We will be arriving Thursday afternoon and leaving Sunday after lunch time. I don't know the area really well, but I know the hotspots. There are a few places we'd like to hit, and any more suggestions would be welcome, but I also am asking about where certain places would fit best in our schedule. We would likely have breakfast (free!) in the hotel, so no brunch/breakfast spots needed. As we would be arriving by train, we would likely be staying the Lincoln Park/Downtown area.

Thursday Lunch: Would like a good, big welcome to Chicago. Possibly a sandwich or cafe spot in the area. Maybe Hot Doug's
Thursday Dinner: Avec or Blackbird? I'm thinking Avec, as we would order tapas style after our big lunch.

Friday Lunch: Cafe Spiaggia (?)
Friday Dinner: Open. Any of the good dinner spots listed below, maybe?

Saturday Lunch: As our dinner will be the highlight of our day (and likely my dining life up to this point), maybe we should go lighter here? Will Alinea fill us up, or would we be OK with a bigger lunch?
Saturday Dinner: Alinea

Sunday Lunch: Preferably something in the downtown area, as we will likely leave shortly after lunch. I suppose good brunch spots would be the best here, as many restaurants, if they are even open, are only serving brunch on Sunday afternoons.

Spots we are considering: Cafe Spiaggia, Hot Doug's, North Pond, Sweets and Savories, Spring, Custom House, one of Bayless's spots. Mainly in search of good lunch spots and dinner recommendations.

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  1. Hot Doug's is great and best to go on a Thursday or Friday. Saturdays are really packed and it's closed Sundays.

    Avec is also a great idea. Very unique space. Blackbird is also open for lunch, so that may be a good option for Friday.

    For Friday dinner, Spring would be good. But look into Sola and Chalkboard near Lincoln Square.

    I think Feast has opened up an outlet downtown and it's always a solid brunch or you can try Frontera Grill for brunch.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chicago09

      Lincoln Park and downtown are not really in the same location. Assuming you mean North Michigan Avenue when you say "downtown, " be aware that Lincoln Park is about 3 miles further north.

      Just a note or two about Hot Doug's: the duck fries (yes, they use duck fat to cook their french fries, but just on Fridays and Saturdays). Expect to wait outside in line for at least 30 minutes on weekdays.

      Definitely plan on a light lunch on Saturday with Alinea on for dinner. You might want to try the cafe at Fox and Obel.

      If you decide against brunch, you might want to consider a deep dish Chicago pizza on Sunday for lunch. I recommend Uno's or Due's -- they're basically across the street from each other and they're the guys who invented deep dish in the '40s. Their pizzas bear no resemblance to the franchise you may have seen.

      If you know where you will actually be staying, we could recommend some nearby brunch suggestions.

      -----
      Pizzeria Uno
      29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

      Fox & Obel Food Market
      401 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60611

    2. Avec will be a unique experience. Blackbird, while very excellent and shouldn't be missed, you can find comparable places in other cities.

      If you are considering Spring or Custom House, Green Zebra will be a good choice as well. It is the 3rd fo Shawn McClain's 'empire'. The only downside is if there is a heavy meat eater in the group. Green Zebra is vegetable centric, and usually only has one meat dish.

      Sunday lunch i would recommend The Gage. The place is an Irish bar/restaurant, but it deserves more attention for the inventive good food and great atmosphere. They serve both brunch and regular lunch on Sundays.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ms. chow

        I'm thinking of doing Avec on Thursday night and Hot Doug's for lunch. After looking at some menus, I think Custom House may be a good choice for Friday night (both my Dad and I are meat eaters). As for Sunday, I was toying with the idea of David Burke's Primhouse for their dim sum brunch, but The Gage sounds good as well. I remember reading something on DB's brunch a while back, and I thought it was a unique experience. In terms of Cafe Spiaggia, do you think this is a good choice for lunch? Thus far, it looks like the weekend will go like this:

        Thurs. Lunch: Hot Doug's
        Thurs. Dinner: Avec

        Fri. Lunch: Cafe Spiaggia
        Fri. Dinner: Custom House

        Saturday Lunch: Still open...any suggestions?
        Saturday Dinner: Alinea

        Sun. Lunch: The Gage, DB dim sum, or some other place.

        Does that sound like a Chicago food weekend of what? :) Only spots left to solidify are Saturday's lunch and Sunday's lunch/brunch. Thanks for the replies, guys!

        1. re: pastry634

          Thursday sounds great unless you want to try Duck Fat Fries (move Doug's to Friday D.F. fries on Fri. & Sat. only).
          I suggest Blackbird for Lunch; I was just @ Spiaggia (not cafe), and you would not miss anything by skipping it. Also try to fit in Publican (Great Beer list & food).
          Gage is a very fun choice (I stopped in 2 times for drinks, & snacks when in town this week). Chef has some great takes on pub food.
          Stop by Violet Hour for a custom made cocktail

      2. >> As we would be arriving by train, we would likely be staying the Lincoln Park/Downtown area.

        As chicgail correctly noted, Lincoln Park is not "downtown". In Chicago, many distances are noted in reference to "the Loop", Chicago's commercial and historical central business district. Nowadays people use the word "downtown" to refer not only to the Loop, but also to neighborhoods extending from the Gold Coast (a mile north of the Loop) to the South Loop (a mile south). If you are arriving from another city by train, you will arrive at Union Station, on the west edge of the Loop.

        >> Thursday Lunch: Would like a good, big welcome to Chicago. Possibly a sandwich or cafe spot in the area. Maybe Hot Doug's

        You should be aware that Hot Doug's is in an outlying neighborhood. Allow 30 minutes each way to get there by car or cab, 60 by public transit.

        >> Thursday Dinner: Avec or Blackbird? I'm thinking Avec, as we would order tapas style after our big lunch.

        I've eaten at both of them fairly recently, and frankly I think they are both overrated. I'm not all that fond of Avec's food, and the communal seating and the long waits to be seated are major issues. Blackbird's food is delicious, but portion sizes are small, and the restaurant is cramped and noisy.

        If you like contemporary American food, you can go elsewhere and get food that is just as good or better, without the major downsides. My top three recommendations are Cafe des Architectes, Aigre Doux, and North Pond. The food at all three is outstanding, and they are very pleasant places to dine, as well.

        >> Friday Lunch: Cafe Spiaggia (?)

        Great choice.

        >> Saturday Lunch: As our dinner will be the highlight of our day (and likely my dining life up to this point), maybe we should go lighter here? Will Alinea fill us up, or would we be OK with a bigger lunch?

        I would go lighter. chicgail's recommendation of Fox and Obel is a great one. Especially if you are a fan of baked goods. ;)

        >> Saturday Dinner: Alinea

        Great choice.

        >> Sunday Lunch: Preferably something in the downtown area, as we will likely leave shortly after lunch. I suppose good brunch spots would be the best here, as many restaurants, if they are even open, are only serving brunch on Sunday afternoons.

        You mentioned North Pond, and that's a great place for their a la carte Sunday brunch as well as for dinner. The food is excellent, and the setting in the middle of the park is exquisite and unique. Just be aware that it's in Lincoln Park, three miles north of the Loop (but an easy ride by cab or CTA bus).

        Another great place, in River North (just north of the Loop), is David Burke's Primehouse, which offers their "American dim sum" brunch on Sundays. Think of it as 22 dishes served in 7-8 courses, with unlimited seconds, for a bargain price of $35 (and a great bargain on certain alcoholic drinks with unlimited refills for $10). I posted a detailed report on my brunch there some months back, in the discussion on breakfast and brunch places at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/364403

        >> Spots we are considering: Cafe Spiaggia, Hot Doug's, North Pond, Sweets and Savories, Spring, Custom House, one of Bayless's spots.

        Sweets and Savories, Spring, and Custom House are very good; however, I think the food is even better at Cafe des Architectes, Aigre Doux, and North Pond. I've been particularly disappointed in the desserts at McClain's restaurants, and I suspect from your username that that may be important to you. I do not recommend Green Zebra, his other restaurant, to non-vegetarians who would not be satisfied without many meat or fish choices (he sometimes has one non-vegetarian dish on the entire menu, sometimes none).

        Frontera Grill and Topolobampo continue to offer excellent Mexican food and are good choices.

        >> As for Sunday, I was toying with the idea of David Burke's Primhouse for their dim sum brunch, but The Gage sounds good as well. I remember reading something on DB's brunch a while back, and I thought it was a unique experience.

        Easy choice: Go to David Burke's.

        >> In terms of Cafe Spiaggia, do you think this is a good choice for lunch?

        Yes, absolutely.

        >> Saturday Lunch: Still open...any suggestions?

        I still like Fox and Obel.

        HTH - feel free to ask more questions.

        4 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          Well, after much discussion, we have decided to move our trip to a Sunday-Wednesday in late August. Here is the updated itinerary. Not much has changed in terms of places, but a few adjustments have to be made (i.e. no more brunch)

          Sunday
          (if we make it) Lunch: Fox and Obel for sandwiches

          Dinner: Alinea

          Monday
          Lunch: Cafe Spiaggia, maybe.

          Dinner: Avec (maybe switch it to Blackbird because of noise level. I know the iffy reviews on it, but I honestly want to test the hype

          Tuesday
          Lunch: Topolobampo

          Dinner: North Pond

          Wednesday
          Lunch: Looking for a good burger spot downtown. I've heard of Kuma's, so we were thinking of checking this place out.

          1. re: pastry634

            Kuma's is quite a way from downtown without very good public transportation access. To put it in scale, the numbering system is based from State and Madison with 800 per mile except for the first three miles south of Madison. The Belmont bus runs past Kuma's, but Belmont Avenue is choked with traffic for much of the distance from the Brown/Red Line stops (1000 west). The Blue Line Belmont stop is 3400 west and so requires a back haul of 5/8 mile. The other possible Blue Line stop is at California (2800 west and around 2300 north) and then transferring to the North California bus and walking 1/8 mile west on Belmont. Kuma's is 2900 west and 3200 north and has many of the transportation problems often noted for Hot Doug's (2800 west and 3400 north). Hot Doug's isn't quite as bad because the North California bus stops right across the street. You really have to want to go to either of these places to try getting there by CTA. These neighborhoods do not have a lot of cabs cruising around, so even calling for a cab may take quite a while before one shows up.

            1. re: pastry634

              Sounds good. A couple of quick notes...

              >> Dinner: Avec (maybe switch it to Blackbird because of noise level. I know the iffy reviews on it, but I honestly want to test the hype

              I'm not sure which would be noisier on a Monday; I know that both are busy and noisy on weekends. If I had to pick between those two, it would be Blackbird, whose food is better.

              >> Lunch: Looking for a good burger spot downtown. I've heard of Kuma's, so we were thinking of checking this place out.

              Kuma's Corner is nowhere near downtown; it's about seven miles northwest of the Loop. www.kumas-corner.com If you're looking for good burgers downtown, I recommend Boston Blackie's, which has two downtown locations in the Loop (west edge of the Loop), and on Grand just north of the river in River East (just northeast of the Loop), and a third location in Lincoln Park (three miles north of the Loop). www.bostonblackies.com I also recommend the burgers at Park Grill, at the entrance to Millennium Park in the Loop. www.parkgrillchicago.com Most of the steakhouses have good burgers, too; you can find links to the websites for most of them in the steakhouse discussion at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/359377

              1. re: pastry634

                Custom House does a very good burger, so you could go there for a burger instead of dinner.
                As far as other burger places:
                I've never been a fan of Boston Blackie's, but many are, so if you find yourself near one (the one on Grand is close to Navy Pier, Fox and Obel and North Michigan Avenue) keep it in mind.

                I'd only order a drink at Billy Goat's, and really, I probably wouldn't even do that.

                Epic is another burger place that get's lots of press. Went twice (even though it is very close to my office) but after watching the grill man repeatedly smash all possible juices out of the burgers with his spatula, I haven't been back.

                Three places I do like: Hackney's (although people feel the same way about this place like I do about Boston B's), SRO and my favorite, Marc Burger on the 7th floor of Macy's on State Street.

                -----
                Standing Room Only Chicago
                610 S Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60605

                Hackney's Printers' Row
                733 S Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60605

                Marc Burger
                Macy's State Street, 111 N. State St., Chicago, IL 60602

            2. Ok, i'll try to dispel the 'iffy' reviews on Avec.

              Going to Avec requires a different kind of mind set. If you have to follow a rigid time schedule, expect to get seated within 10 minutes of getting to a restaurant, Avec is not for you. The no-reservation policy is a management decision, and i get why they do it. If you would rather have a nice meal in an atmosphere of serene quietness and be able to whispher to your dining companions, Avec is not for you. I have been there at 1am when rock music is blaring, and everyone is loud. It doesn't really bother me. It's no different than any bars you would go to at 1am. The atmosphere is very lively, abuzz with allegria, and most often than not, celebrities. If you like creature comforts in your dining setting, Avec is not for you. The overall decor at Avec i have heard people describe anywhere from a sauna, to a casket. The banquet is 2 long slabs of wood. Regular chairs are a wooden block with a 2-inch back. There are no tableclothes. They do have seat cushions available if you ask. Personally, all these doesn't bother me.

              So why do i go to Avec? GREAT FOOD. The Mediterranean influenced dishes are so consistently good. I have never had a bad experience there. Koren tweaks them just so that there is always an element of surprise. One of the new items is a salad of shaved brussel sprouts and fennel with herbs and red onion/brown butter vinaigrette. Brussel sprouts? Shaved? The roasted whole fish is excellent, and lends to the communal dining experience. The signature braised pork shoulder is top notch comfort food. The focaccia with taleggio and truffle oil should be every carb loaders dream. Koren also is nominated for this year's James Beard award for best chef - great lakes. Other thing i like is the WINE. They carry numerous boutique wines from France, Italy and Spain. A few of the wines that i discovered at Avec are now my household staples. Lastly, the HOURS. Chicago is not a late-night dining town, and it is very difficult to find great food later in the evening. At Avec, i can walk in at 11:30pm, the place is bustling, the music is loud, and i know very well that a nice piece of pork and hot cheesy bread is waiting for me.

              1. Blackbird, the sister restaurant of Avec across the alley, is a gem in it's own right. It is noisy as well. But again, one doesn't go to Blackbird for a nice, staid, romantic everning. Could be a good choice for lunch though, seeing that your lunch options have not been set yet. They have a pork belly sandwich that is the best thing to happen between bread and pig.

                For burgers, also consider Billy Goat Tavern for the iconic atmosphere. Boston Blackie's would be my personal choice. Don't forget to order a few Manhattans.

                10 Replies
                1. re: ms. chow

                  You know, I was thinking about Blackbird for lunch. My only fear was that it would be too similar to Avec. However, the more I read about it, the more it seems like Avec is more Mediterranean while Blackbird is more new-age American. Is this the right mindset? I also saw that they have a $22 prix fixe lunch with a choice of entree, app, and dessert. Is that a separate menu, or would we be able to order the items off the regular menu?

                  1. re: pastry634

                    Yes, Avec's food is mediterranean influenced. It is closer food-wise to it's newest sibling The Publican. Blackbird is creative contemporary American using artisanal products. I have not been to lunch at Blackbird in a while. The prix fixe option are selections from the regular menu.

                    1. re: ms. chow

                      After showing my Dad some menu's, we are interested in going to Custom House on Tuesday evening instead of North Pond (likes the more meat-centric approach). Staying away from steakhouses, are there any other spots that would be similar to Custom House? We are still tossed, and North Pond isn't ruled out entirely.

                      1. re: pastry634

                        Keefers has a lot of beef offerings but also plenty of other choices. It is not per se a steakhouse.

                        1. re: masha

                          I would think more about North Pond. I've eaten at Custom House twice and both times I was happy but not wowed. It's not a steak house, more like a New American that happens to have a steak. I found the portions small (not tiny) but that's what one would expect when main courses were all under $30.

                          Keefers or Joe's Steak, Seafood, stone crab would be my other steak recomendations.

                          North Pond is great and I can still remember the dinner I had there three years ago--a really tasty lamb with a meditterean rice and vegetables. It was just tasty and the whole experience was great.

                        2. re: pastry634

                          I agree that Blackbird is more contemporary American, whereas Avec is more Mediterranean. My main issue with Avec is the food, which I found disappointing. I would have excused all the other issues if the food had been great, but it wasn't. I remember having a very fatty and bland-tasting short rib there, followed by a dessert that was equally unimpressive. At Blackbird, the food has always been wonderful, while the downsides are more along the lines of cramped seating and small portion sizes. I think that Blackbird is a good choice for lunch, but for dinner you can do a lot better than either Blackbird or Avec, IMHO.

                          Custom House is focused on meats, but honestly, you can get good meats in a lot of places; I think that emphasis is primarily made to distinguish it from Chef McClain's other restaurants (Spring, which emphasizes seafood, and Green Zebra, which is almost exclusively vegetarian). At my most recent dinner at Custom House, I loved the sweetbread appetizer and the bone-in short rib main, but the desserts were a huge disappointment.

                          North Pond is a great choice for everyone - meat-lovers, seafood-lovers, and vegetarians. And even dessert-lovers. (They had an almond-flavored dessert last time I was there that was divine.) Also note that one of the main attractions of North Pond is its exquisite setting in the middle of the park, which may not be easily discerned from its website.

                          Another place worth considering for meat-lovers is David Burke's Primehouse. It's basically a steakhouse (and the steaks are some of the best in town), but offers a lot more, including an UN-steakhouse-like contemporary decor, as well seafood and other food items. You can view their menus at www.jameshotels.com/Chicago-Hotel.asp...

                          1. re: nsxtasy

                            We are thinking about North Pond. However, the best part that I always hear about is the view. Does the food live up to the location? In terms of the view from the park, that is honestly not that important to my Dad and I. Versus Custom House, does NP still win on the food side?

                            1. re: pastry634

                              Yes, absolutely! I would definitely give the nod to North Pond over Custom House on food (although Custom House is good, too). The view has nothing to do with Chef Sherman's well-deserved nomination again this year for a James Beard award.

                              It's difficult to get a good idea of the food at North Pond from their website menu. I really hate menus where they only name the three primary ingredients in a dish and don't tell you anything about how the dish is actually prepared, you can't tell whether the ingredients are all mixed together or separate components on the plate, which ingredient is in a sauce, etc.

                              Here's how I would describe the food at North Pond. You can see on the website menu that most dishes name 4-5 ingredients. At North Pond, these tend to be 4-5 separate items on the same plate - the main item is the largest, of course, but the other items are of interest, i.e. not just a piece of steamed whatever, but a timbale, or a puree. So all 4-5 items on the plate are interesting, and I've generally found that at least one or two provide that "wow! delicious!" sensation. And they do this, not just with the entrees, but also the appetizers and desserts. This contrasts with more conventional places like Custom House, where your main course consists of the main item, with maybe one side alongside it, resulting in less variety on the plate. Hope that makes sense.

                              Custom House does a great job with meats. The last time I went there, I had two of my favorite dishes, a sweetbread appetizer and a short rib main course, and they were extremely well-prepared and delicious. If you love meat dishes like that, then you may want to consider Custom House. However, I found the desserts thoroughly disappointing. And my dining companions were not as thrilled with their starters and mains as I was. In contrast, North Pond offers high quality throughout their menu, regardless of whether you're talking about meat dishes, or seafood, or vegetable accompaniments, or vegetarian mains, or desserts. (Last time I was there they had an almond-flavored pastry cream dessert that was to die for.)

                              So that's why I would say that North Pond wins on the food side. Hope that makes sense.

                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                Thanks for the reply, nsxtasy! I think we will go with North Pond. I am excited for this trip! Now, I just have to wait for the calendar to creep on by...I think North Pond take reservations a month out, and Alinea 2 months out (I think I understand the weird scheduling system. It's like, any date in the month that is 2 months away. So, since we will be there at the end of August, I can call on June 1, right?). So, I'll be on the phones the day of, no doubt about it

                                1. re: pastry634

                                  I believe that's correct regarding Alinea reservations, although it's not a big deal (compared with, say, the French Laundry in California, where you have to call during the first half hour the first day they take reservations for your date, or you won't get a reservation). If it's not a Saturday, you might very well call even just a few weeks in advance and be able to get a reservation. I mean, by all means call them when they first start taking reservations, but just so you know, it's not a madhouse frenzy.

                                  North Pond accepts reservations on Opentable.com and that's how I have made my reservations there. Whatever it says there about how far in advance should be generally true. Of course, you can always call them to double-check.

                  2. Oooh ooh, me too! I'm going to celebrate my 30th with some friends and fam. Although Chicago is known for having more cutting-age cuisine, I'd really like to go to a traditional steak house.

                    And then on Sunday we're going to take this food tour ... excited!
                    http://www.foodietours.com/Chicago-Fo...
                    \

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: clemsonkd

                      For opinions on Chicago's best steakhouses, as well as links to their websites, see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/359377

                      1. re: clemsonkd

                        You should go to Lawry's, Gibson's, or Morton's. I know the first two are in the general downtown area. Gibson's may be a little on the outskirts of downtown but within miles.

                        1. re: LadyintheKitchen

                          FYI, Lawry's is not a steakhouse. The serve Rib Roast sliced and served table side. The spinner salads are also a nice touch, but I find it to be more gimmick than great food.

                          Morton's, in my opinion, is just not that great anymore. The cache of the "old school steakhouse" is just not there anymore. Joe's, Keefer's and David Burke's have taken prime steaks to a whole new level. GIbson's is great for the scene and the steaks are always great, just expect to wait 30 minutes past your reservation unless you're Michael Jordan or Mayor Daley.

                          1. re: LadyintheKitchen

                            Huh? Gibson's - the downtown location, not the one in Rosemont near O'Hare - is a block west of the north end of the "Magnificent Mile" of North Michigan Avenue, in the so-called "Viagra Triangle", and most folks would consider that to be part of the "general downtown area".

                            I agree with the comments of jbontario above. One other point worth mentioning is that if anyone has his/her heart set on Gibson's, be aware that it's one of the few restaurants in Chicago that completely book up full in advance, even during the week as well as the weekends. That is not generally true of the other steakhouses (although it's always a good idea to make reservations in advance, anywhere).