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3 days in chicago (river north)

q
QcQc Apr 21, 2009 07:51 AM

My friend (no romantic dinners) and I will be spending 3 days in Chicago in early may. We will be staying in the really nice James Hotel, corner Ontario and Rush. These are four places that I've read about on Chowhound:
Quartino
Mercat a la Planxa
Café Iberico
Knowit

What we really LIKE is good food, young upcomming chefs, local products, classic european style quality bistro, and what we really LOVE is wine, wine and wine...

We don't mind walking a few blocks or even taking a cab ride if necessary for a good glass of wine and the great food that comes with it. We have a medium budget but don,t mind paying for a great meal if it is worth the cash. We are both from Québec City, which is north of Montreal, so we are used to live in a french/european style city where the food reflects the town.

Not so much into dogs, Lavazza, chains, pizza, anything fried...

Thanks for all your help
Patrick

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  1. m
    MahiMahiFish RE: QcQc Apr 21, 2009 08:21 AM

    Avec meets your requirements
    http://www.avecrestaurant.com/

    3 Replies
    1. re: MahiMahiFish
      m
      ms. chow RE: MahiMahiFish Apr 21, 2009 08:25 AM

      Yes, i second the recommendation for Avec. Also, what was the 4th place you listed? Have not heard of Knowit.

      1. re: ms. chow
        q
        QcQc RE: ms. chow Apr 21, 2009 11:39 AM

        Soory for that. I meant Rockit.

        1. re: QcQc
          m
          ms. chow RE: QcQc Apr 21, 2009 01:18 PM

          RockIt is ok in terms of bar food and drinks. But not the 5 criteria you are looking for. Actually for that matter, Cafe Iberico too. Food is good and solid, but wine list so so, no young up coming chef.

          Don;t get me wrong, i go to both places, and they are good for what they are. Just not the criteria you mentioned.

    2. nsxtasy RE: QcQc Apr 21, 2009 08:52 AM

      Hi Patrick,

      I don't see any questions, so I'm guessing you're looking for general feedback on your plans. So without further ado...

      >> These are four places that I've read about on Chowhound:
      Quartino
      Mercat a la Planxa
      Café Iberico
      Knowit

      What is "Knowit"? I'm pretty sure it's not a restaurant in Chicago.

      The other three restaurants are all very good. However, they are all quite similar to each other; all three feature Mediterranean cuisine in "small plates" (tapas). If that's what you REALLY want to do, go ahead! However, I think you could experience more of what Chicago's restaurant scene has to offer by trying to incorporate a bit more variety into your itinerary. (And for the same reason I would not recommend adding Avec to your itinerary, since that would be your FOURTH Mediterranean small-plates restaurant, LOL!)

      Here are a few examples of terrific, not-terribly-expensive restaurants near your hotel that do NOT feature Mediterranean small plates. You might want to consider going to Cafe des Architectes ( www.cafedesarchitectes.com and http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/598661 ) for lunch or dinner, to experience the fine contemporary American cuisine of one of the city's top chefs, Martial Noguier. Another possibility is David Burke's Primehouse ( www.jameshotels.com/Chicago-Hotel.asp... ), right in your own hotel. Burke's is one of our very best steakhouses and also has a lot of other foods on the menu. Their American dim sum brunch on Sundays is also awesome; for a detailed report, see the brunch topic at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/364403 As a third suggestion, Chicago has some wonderful creative provincial Mexican cuisine; within walking distance of your hotel you'll find Frontera Grill/Topolobampo ( www.rickbayless.com/restaurants ), or for more Mexican recommendations see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/463572 Latin fusion restaurants serve dishes from throughout Latin America in a fun atmosphere, and Nacional 27 ( www.nacional27.net ) is close by. We have lots more restaurants serving all types of cuisine; these are simply a few of our best places within a few blocks of your hotel.

      In terms of your budget, keep in mind that lunch is less expensive than dinner, and all of these places serve lunch during the week and brunch on weekends. There are also some special deals you'll find on the restaurants' websites, such as the $29 "neighborhood friends" dinners at Cafe des Architectes on Sunday through Tuesday evenings. As another option, you can take public transportation ( www.transitchicago.com ) or cabs to inexpensive ethnic restaurants in their neighborhood enclaves, such as Chinese food in Chinatown ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/594324 ), Vietnamese food along Argyle Street, Indian/Pakistani food on Devon Avenue, Mexican food in Pilsen (see link above), and Greek food in Greek Town ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/119233 ).

      >> What we really LIKE is good food, young upcomming chefs, local products, classic european style quality bistro, and what we really LOVE is wine, wine and wine...

      Then in addition to the above suggestions, you should probably also plan a trip to Bin 36 ( www.bin36.com ), which is a wine bar and restaurant just a few blocks from your hotel.

      Also note that May 10 is Mother's Day, for which many restaurants have special brunch plans, and book up in advance, so reservations that day are essential. Most of our nicer restaurants accept reservations on the Opentable.com website. (Neither Cafe Iberico nor Avec accepts reservations for small parties.)

      Feel free to ask questions and all of us will be happy to provide more recommendations to you.

      4 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy
        p
        Pete Oldtown RE: nsxtasy Apr 22, 2009 08:10 AM

        Thank you for the American Dim Sum suggestion. I checked out the menu and since my birthday is coming up, I think my daughter and I will be checking that out in early May.

        Your post was, as usual, extremely informative and well-written. That's a phenomenal deal for a bit of a splurge.

        1. re: Pete Oldtown
          nsxtasy RE: Pete Oldtown Apr 22, 2009 09:13 AM

          Thanks for the kind words!

          Here are some insider tips about the American dim sum Sunday brunch at David Burke's, just a few things to keep in mind.

          The brunch does a pretty good business; there have been times when I've checked for reservations and they were not available, or were only available earlier or later than I wanted. So making an advance reservation (which they accept on Opentable.com) is a good idea, especially if you need a specific time.

          Allow at least two hours for the brunch. That's how long it took me as a solo diner (which generally means a slightly faster pace than a group) without getting any seconds on anything. I arrived at 1:00 and finished at 3:00. They were definitely winding down at that point, so I would avoid being seated any later than that.

          The portion sizes are somewhat small, as you would expect with ~22 items. I arrived hungry and left feeling full (not overstuffed/bloated, but definitely full) after eating each of the plated items, and some but not all of the items on the carts used for 2 of the 8 courses.

          The price and menu is different on special occasions. For example, the brunch is normally $35 for adults, but it's $48 with a different menu for Easter and Mother's Day. The menu says that serving is family style, which is not necessarily the same as the dim sum approach.

          Several of the drinks - bloody marys, mimosas, etc - are offered at $10 with unlimited seconds. This is a great deal; just don't overdo it, and consider transportation arrangements or a designated driver if appropriate.

          It's really a very special and unique experience - enjoy!

          1. re: nsxtasy
            p
            Pete Oldtown RE: nsxtasy Apr 22, 2009 12:41 PM

            Thanks for the tips. I will use them. I emailed my daughter the dim sum menu and she emailed back, "can we go THIS weekend?"

            1. re: Pete Oldtown
              b
              biga290 RE: Pete Oldtown Apr 23, 2009 01:13 PM

              Today's Wall Street Journal has a feature on David Burke. Very clever fellow.

      2. m
        masha RE: QcQc Apr 21, 2009 10:15 AM

        For good food, up & coming chef, and reasonably priced wine, I would also recommend Perennial, which is in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
        http://www.perennialchicago.com/

        1. j
          jbontario RE: QcQc Apr 21, 2009 12:09 PM

          Since you mention Wine in caps (I would type it that way too) I will point you that way.

          My absolute favorite wine bar in the city is the Tasting Room (and Randolph Wine Cellar) on West Randolph. This is MUCH better than Bin 36 for wine selection. An aside, if you do go to Bin 36 (and I do go there frequently) be sure to ask for the reserve list. Their standard menu is quite pedestrian and their servers don't know wine. Back to the Tasting Room, the upstairs room has a wonderful view of the entire skyline and the wines are always great. Food is also very nice, but not a destination in itself for dinner. I have had hit or miss with the servers knowledge, but the bartender and somalier are great to chat with.

          http://www.thetastingroomchicago.com/

          Another very nice wine bar in the LIncoln Park neighborhood just north of downtown is Websters. About a 10 minute cab from your hotel. Great ambience, a phenomenal list and superb servers that know the list.

          http://www.websterwinebar.com/

          Quartino is great for food, but only above average in the wine department. I go there at least a couple times a month for dinner and have never had a bad glass, but have never been blown away.

          Just had a great meal at Mercat and I would 100% pick that over Iberico. Don't do both.

          Rockit! is another place i frequent for drinks and the late night burger. Food is excellent for a bar and the drinks are not (that) overpriced for a downtown bar.

          Totally agree with NSXTASY that you should try some of our gourmet mexican at Frontera or latin (and SUPERB cocktails) at Nacional 27. This is something you cannot get in Quebec.

          Enjoy!

          3 Replies
          1. re: jbontario
            m
            ms. chow RE: jbontario Apr 21, 2009 01:09 PM

            Great recs jbontario. Webster is my favorite. Their knowledge of wine can only be described as encyclopedic.

            Agree re Bin 36. Lately too seems like because of Brian Duncan (wine director) doing all those collaborations with wineries, they are definitely pushing those products.

            Try Bluebird too, which is owned by the same folks at Webster. It is their take on the gastropub craze. Great wine selection. Beer selection too. Food is better than what they have at Webster. It is about a 15 minute cab ride into Bucktown. 1749 N Damen.
            www.bluebirdchicago.com

            -----
            Bluebird
            1749 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

            1. re: ms. chow
              q
              QcQc RE: ms. chow Apr 21, 2009 02:45 PM

              I've only had a quick look at a few pictures from the Bluebird web site and I know I want to go there. Exactly the ambiance I am looking for, young but professional. Thank you so much for your help

            2. re: jbontario
              q
              QcQc RE: jbontario Apr 21, 2009 02:39 PM

              Thank you so much, both really interesting... I think The Tasting Room will get my attention, I was really impressed by the wine list and I will be there on monday and/or tuesday so they have great specials for both days.

              Mercat cought my attention a lot also. Café Iberico was recommended by tourists from Chicago that I served last week.

              Places like Rockit and Nacional 27 will get us going for the evenings.

            3. b
              biga290 RE: QcQc Apr 21, 2009 05:09 PM

              I love the James Hotel and stay there quite frequently. One of the reasons is that David Burke's Primehouse is right off the lobby. Outstanding steaks and "Burkers," and salads. They are the in-house restaurant so the room service menu is also really good. I have not tried their breakfasts but I am certain they are excellent too. There are a lot of fun places to dine within walking distance. Topolobampo and its sister Frontrera Grill, Roys, to name a few. I know you don't like pizza but I would be remiss if i did not mention that the original Due's is on the same block and the original Uno's is a block away. Due's has a lively bar and a great garbage salad as well as chicago style italian beef. Lawry's the Prime Rib is across the street but seems soooo dated -- but they do have some nice things at their lunchtime carving station -- prime rib sandwiches on onion roll are very tasty.

              2 Replies
              1. re: biga290
                nsxtasy RE: biga290 Apr 21, 2009 06:29 PM

                Next time you plan to stay at the James, make a reservation for David Burke's "American dim sum" Sunday brunch - basically a 22-dish, 8-course meal, most of which is cooked to order. It's really special, and quite unique! Also a great bargain at $35 with unlimited seconds (even more so with the $10 unlimited mimosas, bloody marys, etc).

                1. re: nsxtasy
                  q
                  QcQc RE: nsxtasy Apr 23, 2009 02:09 PM

                  The dim sum sunday brunch will be on our list for sure. Lets just hope they have some places left for us. Thanks

              2. p
                Pete Oldtown RE: QcQc Apr 22, 2009 07:54 AM

                I'm a big Iberico fan, but its not there for its wine. Quartino is, however, and I love their food.

                1. q
                  QcQc RE: QcQc Apr 25, 2009 12:31 PM

                  Have any of you tried Mado restaurant and if so, is it worth going???

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: QcQc
                    j
                    jesteinf RE: QcQc Apr 25, 2009 01:20 PM

                    Yes, Mado is excellent. Hyper-focused on local, seasonal ingredients and run by two of the nicest people in the business. I would highly recommend Mado.

                    1. re: jesteinf
                      q
                      QcQc RE: jesteinf Apr 25, 2009 01:56 PM

                      Great, will try to make it. Do you know if any of the two owners are the chef and or server of the place?

                      1. re: QcQc
                        chicgail RE: QcQc Apr 25, 2009 02:09 PM

                        Yes. Mado is a "mom and pop" operation, except that "mom and pop" are Rob and Allison Leavitt and they're young and hip. Rob is the chef de cuisine and Allison is the pastry chef, savory chef and environmental-rights enforcer of this very green establishment.

                        The food is great and the offerings of the day, along with the organic purveyors are listed on chalkboards on the wall.

                    2. re: QcQc
                      m
                      ms. chow RE: QcQc Apr 25, 2009 02:23 PM

                      Mado is great for what's already mentioned. It is also in the same neighborhood as Bluebird.

                    3. b
                      BigE RE: QcQc Mar 31, 2010 02:17 PM

                      In lieu of starting a new thread, I've decided to bump this one with a similar request.

                      I'll be spending 3 days (2 nights, mid-week) in River North next month, staying at either Hotel Sax, Whitehall or Palomar (new place). I don't want to upset the powers that be, but any quick recommendations (or alternatives) on that front would be appreciated.

                      In addition to what's already been mentioned in this thread, I'm looking for other suggestions. Pertinent info about my trip and what I'd like to accomplish:

                      -I'm traveling alone.
                      -This trip is purely for leisure purposes.
                      -I've been to Chicago multiple times, but haven't spent time in downtown in the last 10 years.
                      -I will have a car (with in and out privileges as part of my hotel package)
                      -I am a huge fan of mexican food. I will be trying one of the Bayless joints, but I'm open to any other recommendations.
                      -Love Chicago style pizza. I'm sure this will lead to a war, but I need a place that I can go by myself and enjoy some pie. If I have to take leftovers back to the room, I won't be heartbroken. :) The only thing close I can get to Chicago style I could get at home (Minneapolis/St. Paul area) is the now defunct Uno chain.
                      -I'd like to keep my daily tab under $100 if possible
                      -Looking for a good place to tip back the full selection of Goose Island brews. I've had them all (as far as I know), but never had them all available at the same establishment.
                      -Looking for a nice, relatively quiet bar with a good beer and whiskey list. If this can be accomplished under the same roof, all the better.
                      -Any good ethnic food is welcome. I love trying new cuisines.
                      -A good breakfast, anything from a greasy spoon to a nicer cafe/bistro. Just plain good, wherever it's served.
                      -I plan on going to Hot Doug's. Is mid-afternoon the best time?
                      -I will probably have one or two nice dinners. I see Avec recommended. I'd like to stay at or under $50, if possible, but I could splurge on one of them.

                      I know this is pretty broad, but it certainly won't be my last visit.

                      Thanks in advance, Chicago Hounds.

                      -----
                      Hot Doug's
                      3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

                      Avec Restaurant
                      615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

                      20 Replies
                      1. re: BigE
                        nsxtasy RE: BigE Mar 31, 2010 07:21 PM

                        First, I'll respond to your specific questions...

                        >> - I am a huge fan of mexican food. I will be trying one of the Bayless joints, but I'm open to any other recommendations.

                        Topolobampo and Frontera Grill are obvious choices and both are excellent. Topolobampo is more expensive than Frontera at dinner, but the prices are pretty similar at lunch. Topo accepts reservations for the whole place, whereas Frontera accepts only a handful and holds most of the restaurant for walk-in traffic; weekday waits can be short, but on weekends they can be lengthy. Topo accepts reservations on Opentable.com and books up for dinner WAY in advance; if you want to eat dinner there, make your reservations NOW.

                        We have a lot more places featuring creative provincial Mexican food, but not in River North itself. Salpicon is nearby, in Old Town. www.salpicon.com My favorite is Mundial Cocina Mestiza, in Pilsen. www.mundialcocinamestiza.com I also like Mixteco Grill a lot. http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura... For a combination of Mexican dishes with French techniques, try Mexique in West Town. www.mexiquechicago.com

                        >> -Love Chicago style pizza. I'm sure this will lead to a war, but I need a place that I can go by myself and enjoy some pie. If I have to take leftovers back to the room, I won't be heartbroken. :) The only thing close I can get to Chicago style I could get at home (Minneapolis/St. Paul area) is the now defunct Uno chain.

                        The original locations of Uno and Due are still good. www.unos.com Also good are Pizano's, whose location on State is in River North - www.pizanoschicago.com - and Lou Malnati's, which has a location in River North on Wells - www.loumalnatis.com If you'd like to try our double-crust "stuffed" pizza, Giordano's has a location in River North on Rush. www.giordanos.com Wherever you go, call ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes for your pizza to bake.

                        >> -Looking for a good place to tip back the full selection of Goose Island brews. I've had them all (as far as I know), but never had them all available at the same establishment.

                        Why not go to the Goose Island Brew Pub on Clybourn? www.gooseisland.com There's also a gastropub in the Loop called the Gage that has a huge selection of beers. www.thegagechicago.com

                        >> -Any good ethnic food is welcome. I love trying new cuisines.

                        Well, you name it, we've got it. I love Double Li in Chinatown for Szechuan food. http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura... You could try one of our Latin fusion restaurants, such as Nacional 27 in River North www.nacional27.net or Carnivale in the West Loop. www.carnivalechicago.com We have some excellent pan-Asian restaurants, such as Sunda in River North www.sundachicago.com Red Light in the West Loop www.redlight-chicago.com and Aria in the Fairmont near Millennium Park www.ariachicago.com For tapas, I recommend Mercat a la Planxa at the south end of the Loop. www.mercatchicago.com

                        >> -A good breakfast, anything from a greasy spoon to a nicer cafe/bistro. Just plain good, wherever it's served.

                        See this recent discussion:

                        River North Breakfast Ideas - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693985

                        -I will probably have one or two nice dinners. I see Avec recommended. I'd like to stay at or under $50, if possible, but I could splurge on one of them.

                        I don't normally recommend Avec, for many reasons - the no-reservations policy means long waits for tables at desirable times, it's the LOUDEST restaurant in Chicago, and it has the most uncomfortable seats of any restaurant in Chicago. I also don't think the food is anything special, although a lot of other people like it. If you want a relatively inexpensive "small plates" restaurant, I instead recommend two places in River North: Cafe Iberico for tapas www.cafeiberico.com and Quartino for Italian small plates. www.quartinochicago.com

                        There's also a contemporary American restaurant that is very affordable, and which I absolutely love. The food has been superb every time I've gone. It's called Cafe des Architectes and it's on the ground floor of the curved glass facade of the Sofitel in River North. Their prix fixe menus are very reasonable; they have a 3-course prix fixe menu for $42 every night, and on Sundays through Tuesdays they offer their 3-course "neighborhood friends menu". www.cafedesarchitectes.com

                        Recently someone else staying in River North asked for recommendations of places that are unique and representative of the great food to be found here. This is what I wrote in response:

                        Here are places and foods I suggest, all unique to Chicago.

                        Deep-dish pizza - in River North, you can go to the place where it all started - Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due. They're still there, and they're still excellent. Phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes for your pizza to bake. www.unos.com

                        Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches - Right in River North on Ontario Street, there are two places, a block away from each other, and you can get both of these local specialties at either of them: Portillo's ( www.portillos.com ), and Al's Beef ( www.alsbeef.com ).

                        Fine dining - We have a restaurant that was recently ranked one of the ten best restaurants in the WORLD. It's called Alinea, from Chef Grant Achatz, and it will blow your mind. To get an idea what it's like, check out the comic strip at http://lucylou.livejournal.com/555828... Yes, it's expensive (figure $300 per person including moderate wine, tax, tip), and dressy (jackets for gentlemen), but it's unique and it's here. It's in Lincoln Park, about two miles north of where you're staying. www.alinearestaurant.com

                        Rick Bayless's restaurants (Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, XOCO) - Chicago has a collection of wonderful restaurants specializing in creative provincial Mexican cuisine, which is difficult to find almost anywhere else this side of the border. Rick Bayless is widely recognized for bringing this trend here, and his restaurants are still excellent and providing the most creative Mexican food in town. Topolobampo is the most expensive, although it's surprisingly affordable at lunchtime, and accepts reservations in advance but books up long in advance for dinners, not as much for lunch. Frontera Grill is not as expensive, but accepts only a handful of reservations and keeps most of the dining room available for walk-in traffic. Waits for a table can be lengthy on weekends and at lunchtime. XOCO is his take on Mexican street food and I've found the food there excellent when you are in the mood for lighter fare; beware long lines at lunchtime. They are all at the same location, in the middle of River North. www.rickbayless.com/restaurants

                        North Pond uniquely represents Chicago for its setting, located in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, not the adjacent neighborhood of the same name) facing its namesake pond with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The renovated building formerly served as the warming shelter for skaters on the frozen pond in the winter. The food is contemporary American featuring local and seasonal ingredients from James Beard Award finalist Chef Bruce Sherman. It's about three miles north of River North. www.northpondrestaurant.com

                        Our new French Market, located just west of the Loop in one of the train stations, is worth a visit. Keep in mind that it just opened a couple of months ago, and it's not fancy. However, it has several dozen food booths and these include some of the very best that Chicago has to offer. Highlights include the croissants, entremets, and French macaroons at Vanille Patisserie; the artisan chocolates at Canady Le Chocolatier (whose main shop is in the South Loop, also not far away); the cheeses at Pastoral; and the rainbow cookies at Delightful Pastries. www.frenchmarketchicago.com

                        While you're here, go to Garrett's Popcorn. There are several locations in the Loop and one on Michigan Avenue, all walkable from River North. They have caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, or a mix of caramel/cheese. Yum! www.garrettpopcorn.com

                        Fox & Obel is our premier gourmet food store, with the finest meats, cheeses, and other basics, as well as the finest baked goods and other prepared foods. Don't miss the yummy cinnamon swirl rolls at the bakery counter! There's a cafe in the rear if you want to eat anything on the premises, from a cup of coffee to an entire meal prepared to order. It's on the other side of Michigan Avenue a short walk from River North. www.fox-obel.com

                        Most of our better restaurants, including North Pond and Topolobampo (but not Alinea), accept reservations for free at Opentable.com

                        Enjoy your visit, and feel free to ask more questions!

                        1. re: nsxtasy
                          b
                          BigE RE: nsxtasy Apr 1, 2010 02:38 PM

                          Well, that ought to get me started. :) Much obliged. And thanks for the link to the breakfast thread; some really good looking stuff there.

                          Anything else you would recommend in the dinner realm? I'm certainly not married to the Avec idea and the reviews seem to be quite mixed. What about Publican or Graham Elliott? I don't think Alinea is in the cards.

                          -----
                          Alinea
                          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                          Avec Restaurant
                          615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

                          1. re: BigE
                            nsxtasy RE: BigE Apr 4, 2010 10:18 PM

                            I ate at Publican a week or two ago. The savory dishes (meat as well as seafood) were very good. The desserts were dreadful. It was also incredibly LOUD/NOISY. I doubt that I will return. About half the restaurant is communal seating at a very long table; when making a reservation, you can specify your preference for the communal or for your own table, and they will try to accommodate your preference but they can't guarantee that they will do so.

                            I haven't been to Graham Elliot, although I enjoyed his food when he was at Avenues.

                            My top picks for contemporary American food in the city are still Cafe des Architectes and North Pond (see above).

                            -----
                            North Pond
                            2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                            Cafe des Architectes
                            20 East Chestnut Street, Chicago, IL 60611

                            1. re: nsxtasy
                              b
                              BigE RE: nsxtasy Apr 5, 2010 02:14 PM

                              Thanks so much for all your help. As I've read the Chicago board, my interests have changed slightly.

                              My (rough) itinerary consists of this:

                              Breakfast - LB Bistro for one and not sure for the other. Any rec between Heaven on Seven, Yolk and Southwater? Other choices are welcome.

                              Lunch - Frontera or Topo for one and looking for your input on the other. I know it's corny, but I'd like to get a good dog and/or Italian beef joint...thoughts? Doug's or Portillo's seem to fit the dog bill, how about the italian beef? I'm not interested in driving across town for either of these, FWIW.

                              Dinner - Pizza for sure one night (Uno, Due or Malnati's), Frontera or Topolo might be the other (I have a slight Rick Bayless/mexican food fascination).

                              Any other places I can't miss (lunch or dinner)? My trip is lengthening by a few days (in Madison for the weekend) and as such, I'd like to keep my meal costs lower if possible. Any and all recommendations on that front are welcome.

                              Again, thanks for all your help. Keep in mind, this certainly won't be my last visit to Chicago. :)

                              PS - Any parking issues at these places? I will have my car, but it would be helpful to know beforehand if I should leave it behind. I know I can walk to the Bayless places, and probably a few others.

                              -----
                              Heaven on Seven
                              600 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                              1. re: BigE
                                j
                                jbw RE: BigE Apr 5, 2010 02:38 PM

                                I would definitely recommend HoS over the other choices for breakfast (we are talking about the HoS on Wabash, right?) It's one of the more interesting places for breakfast in the Loop, primarily because of the unique (for Chicago) Cajun ambience of both surroundings and food, and I particularly recommend the cheese grits with egg and andouille altho if you have a sweet-tooth the -Foster items are nice, too. Be sure to check their hours first (not open til 10:00 on Saturdays and closed Sundays). Forget about parking, unless you don't mind paying center-city parking garage rates as an add-on to breakfast costs, but there's about a dozen ways to get there by public transport depending on where you start.

                                1. re: jbw
                                  b
                                  BigE RE: jbw Apr 6, 2010 08:16 AM

                                  I'm staying at Hotel Sax (next to House of Blues), so I was planning on going to the Michigan Ave location. Is there a difference in quality between that and the Wabash locations?

                                  -----
                                  House of Blues
                                  329 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60654

                                  1. re: BigE
                                    nsxtasy RE: BigE Apr 6, 2010 08:41 AM

                                    The two Heaven on Seven locations are on Rush Street at Ohio in River North (northeast of the Hotel Sax), and on Wabash near Washington in the Loop (southeast of the Hotel Sax). They are roughly the same distance from the hotel (about 6-7 blocks walk).

                                    You said that you were planning on going there for breakfast, no? Only the Loop location (on Wabash) is open for breakfast, starting at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. on Saturday. The River North location (on Rush) opens at 11 a.m. for lunch during the week, and at 11 a.m. for brunch on weekends.

                                    I know this doesn't answer your question, but this may make the question moot!

                                    1. re: BigE
                                      chicgail RE: BigE Apr 6, 2010 09:03 AM

                                      The Heaven on Seven is definitely better at the original location, which is the one on Wabash. Enjoy.

                                      -----
                                      Heaven on Seven
                                      600 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                  2. re: BigE
                                    nsxtasy RE: BigE Apr 5, 2010 04:27 PM

                                    >> Lunch - Frontera or Topo for one and looking for your input on the other. I know it's corny, but I'd like to get a good dog and/or Italian beef joint...thoughts? Doug's or Portillo's seem to fit the dog bill, how about the italian beef? I'm not interested in driving across town for either of these, FWIW.

                                    I'd pick Topo for lunch over Frontera. The prices are similar (which means that Topo represents more of a discount vs dinner) and you can make a reservation, so there are no concerns over waiting for a table. I would make the res soon rather than risk being a walk-in (when Topo can get busy with the overflow from Frontera).

                                    Since you're not keen on traveling, I'd skip Hot Doug's and go to either Al's Beef or Portillo's. Both are a block apart in River North, and either one has an excellent representation of both Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches.

                                    >> Dinner - Pizza for sure one night (Uno, Due or Malnati's), Frontera or Topolo might be the other (I have a slight Rick Bayless/mexican food fascination).

                                    A lunch AND a dinner? Interesting! You can certainly do that if you want (assuming you can get the Topo reservation or you don't mind a possible wait at Frontera - to be sure of no waiting, arrive 15 minutes before they open). If you're interested in trying another creative regional Mexican restaurant, Salpicon is very good and is not far from the Bayless places. If you don't mind traveling, I love Mundial Cocina Mestiza, which is in Pilsen and is convenient to public transit (CTA Orange Line, 18th Street stop); on the north side, Mixteco Grill is excellent but is less convenient to public transit.

                                    >> Any other places I can't miss (lunch or dinner)? My trip is lengthening by a few days (in Madison for the weekend) and as such, I'd like to keep my meal costs lower if possible. Any and all recommendations on that front are welcome.

                                    I mentioned some ethnic places in the paragraph in my March 31 post starting "Well, you name it, we've got it." Those are mostly upscale but casual ethnic places, with the notable exception of Double Li in Chinatown. You can spend less by going to ethnic storefront places in some of the neighborhoods, but you will need to get there. In addition to Double Li, these would include TAC Quick and Spoon Thai for Thai food, Tank Noodle and other places around Argyle St for Vietnamese food, and Indian places on Devon Avenue.

                                    For more tips on getting great value for your restaurant dollar here, see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697829

                                    >> PS - Any parking issues at these places? I will have my car, but it would be helpful to know beforehand if I should leave it behind. I know I can walk to the Bayless places, and probably a few others.

                                    For getting around the downtown area (including River North, the Mag Mile, and the Loop), a car is generally more of a hindrance than a help. Park it once, and pay once. Most downtown restaurants offer valet parking that is typically $7-12. Parking rates vary widely; you can pay $10 and $25 for 2-3 hours on the same block! I've found one website where you can enter a city address along with the date and times you'll be arriving and departing, and it shows you parking rates for lots and garages in the vicinity: http://chicago.bestparking.com/index.... If you're traveling to the more distant and/or less transit-convenient neighborhoods or the suburbs, a car can reduce your travel times considerably, except for prime commuting times.

                                    For short distances around downtown, you can walk; you can also take a taxi if the weather isn't so great. If you're willing to consider public transit, some of our restaurants (like the Thai and Vietnamese places mentioned here) are right near el stops. If you use a transit pass rather than cash, you can transfer to/from buses for a small charge without paying another full fare. More transit info is at www.transitchicago.com

                                    Feel free to ask more questions!

                                    -----
                                    Mundial Cocina Mestiza
                                    1640 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

                                    Mixteco Grill
                                    1601 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

                                    1. re: nsxtasy
                                      b
                                      BigE RE: nsxtasy Apr 6, 2010 08:59 AM

                                      I'm not averse to driving around for good food, but sitting in traffic and paying extraordinary amounts for parking aren't on my 'to-do' list. A driving example would be 20-30 minutes for a place like Superdawg...is that worth it for the experience? Maybe that is something I can hit coming into town.

                                      I'm willing to drive for cheap food, but I think (hope) my hotel location will allow me to walk to some of my destinations.

                                      Thanks for all the info. I'm sure I'll have more questions before I leave (a week from tomorrow).

                                      1. re: BigE
                                        nsxtasy RE: BigE Apr 6, 2010 12:02 PM

                                        You are correct that you can walk to all of the places you have mentioned with the exception of Hot Doug's, which is about seven miles northwest of your hotel. For Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, the locations of Portillo's and Al's Beef on Ontario Street are about 5-6 blocks walk from the Hotel Sax.

                                        1. re: nsxtasy
                                          b
                                          BigE RE: nsxtasy Apr 13, 2010 11:51 AM

                                          Alright, so I leave tomorrow morning (whenever I wake up, that is). ~7 hours of driving ought to put me in town around mid-afternoon.

                                          Aside from a lunch reservation at Topo on Thursday, my schedule is still wide open. I'm trying to decide if I want to do something upscale tomorrow night or go the complete opposite way.

                                          I'd say the tentative schedule is as follows:

                                          Wednesday late lunch - Grab a quick bite at Portillo's or Al's. Get settled into my room.

                                          Wednesday dinner - Undecided. May go something higher end like Graham Elliot or Blackbird, may slum it and get my pizza fix.

                                          Thursday AM - Heaven on Seven

                                          Thursday Lunch - Topolo...can not wait for this.

                                          Thursday dinner - Opposite of what I did Wednesday night.

                                          Friday Breakfast - ? LB Bistro, Yolk and Southwater have been recommended...any that I should put above the rest?

                                          Friday Lunch - ? Maybe Doug's on the way out of town. Otherwise, I wouldn't mind finding something uniquely ethnic, even if it is another Mexican meal.

                                          Suggestions on the last two would be great. Friday I'll be driving from Chicago to Madison, where I can't check in until 4, so lunch will be had before I leave.

                                          -----
                                          Heaven on Seven
                                          600 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                          Graham Elliot
                                          217 W. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654

                                          1. re: BigE
                                            nsxtasy RE: BigE Apr 13, 2010 02:16 PM

                                            >> Friday Breakfast - ? LB Bistro, Yolk and Southwater have been recommended...any that I should put above the rest?

                                            If you want something different from what you'll find just about anywhere else, consider Bongo Room. Particularly good if you enjoy sweet dishes like their pretzel pancakes with white chocolate sauce; if you're just looking for eggs or other savory items, not all that unusual.

                                            Another unusual possibility is XOCO, Rick Bayless's place. It's very different from Topolobampo. Check out the menu on their website.

                                            >> Friday Lunch - ? Maybe Doug's on the way out of town. Otherwise, I wouldn't mind finding something uniquely ethnic, even if it is another Mexican meal.

                                            Did you miss my post above, with all the ethnic suggestions? Again...

                                            >> >> -Any good ethnic food is welcome. I love trying new cuisines.

                                            >> Well, you name it, we've got it. I love Double Li in Chinatown for Szechuan food. http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura... You could try one of our Latin fusion restaurants, such as Nacional 27 in River North www.nacional27.net or Carnivale in the West Loop. www.carnivalechicago.com We have some excellent pan-Asian restaurants, such as Sunda in River North www.sundachicago.com Red Light in the West Loop www.redlight-chicago.com and Aria in the Fairmont near Millennium Park www.ariachicago.com For tapas, I recommend Mercat a la Planxa at the south end of the Loop. www.mercatchicago.com

                                            1. re: nsxtasy
                                              b
                                              BigE RE: nsxtasy Apr 27, 2010 11:07 AM

                                              First of all, thank you for all the wonderful suggestions.

                                              Second, I absolutely loved the visit. Hotel Sax is in a GREAT location. Walking distance from everything I wanted to go to. The room was nice, the staff was wonderful...I would definitely return.

                                              Now, on to business.

                                              Day 1 - I didn't get on the road as early as I wanted to (surprise, surprise) so I ended up hitting some good traffic for the last 10 miles or so of my trip. Minor distraction. Got checked in around 5:30, basically threw my bags in the room and went right back out. Spent the next 45-60 minutes just walking around. I can use google maps only so much. I wanted to see the lay of the land. I passed by Rick Bayless' restaurant row and a smile crossed my face. I couldn't help myself. I had to make...

                                              1) Xoco my first stop. A moderate line (~10 people) awaited, as did another 5 or so minute wait for a table after I got to the front. I've never had a torta before, so I figured this would be a good chance to start. I was deciding between the Cubana and the daily special, which was Pork Belly. I went with the special and was seated in the back of the restaurant. The wall of sound kept me entertained, as did the death rattle of a young child apparently unhappy with his experience. My torta arrived and the first thing I noticed was the overwhelming amount of bread compared to the filling. Probably 3/4 bread, which was discouraging. My first bite revealed a nice crusty bread and little else. As I continued to work, I got the flavor of bacon, arugula and the glaze, but the pork belly flavor was mild at best. The sandwich continued this way and left me discouraged.

                                              Walking back on to the street brought new life. I love the vibe in river north. It helped that the weather was absolutely perfect (65-70 and sunny) for my entire stay. I walked a few blocks up Clark to the corner of Ontario. There stood my second stop.

                                              2) Portillos - I'm a complete junkie for hot dogs, so this was an easy choice. I must admit, I wasn't expecting the mall food court experience I walked into. Minor gripe. One Chicago dog + one chili cheese dog and I was on my way. First, the Chicago dog. I had to start with the classic. The first big was mostly dog and bun...heavenly. The bun puts it over the top. I have to admit, though, that the rest of the Chicago dog toppings get a little muddled for me. Oh well, I finished it and moved on. The chili cheese dog was outrageous. I have no idea if this chili is homemade, where the cheese comes from, etc. And I don't really care. This was as good as any dog I've ever had (though this sentiment would change). I walked out of Portillos with a huge smile on my face, but still a rumble in my tummy (nearly 8 hours of non-stop driving had left my famished). So, down the road I went to...

                                              3) Al's #1 Italian Beef - Being another Chicago institution, I figured what better place to have my third dinner of the night? I ordered a regular with hot peppers. I watched the whole sandwich making process and my mouth watered. As I sat down with my tightly wrapped prize, I couldn't wait. My first bite brought...wait, what? First problem, the bun completely disintegrated, leaving me with a failed sandwich. Beyond that, the meat was kind of...mushy. I can't think of a better way to describe it. It was OK, but very bland. Too bad, as I was looking forward to this stop.

                                              Later in the night, I walked around trying to find a nice spot to enjoy a drink and watch the NHL playoffs. There are plenty of choices around (though I didn't look at any reviews on the bar scene) and after a good bit of walking, I happened upon English. A few pints of 312 and a conversation with the gentleman next to me ensued and I tried a bit off the menu. It turns out Top Chef vet Radikha Desai is now cooking at English and she is making some out of this world pub grub. Seriously, give it a shot. This was the end of a great, but very long day.

                                              Day 2 - Definitely didn't wake up in time for breakfast. Laid around until my 11:45 reservation at...

                                              4) Topolobampo - This was the meal I was waiting for. I got there right on time and was walked back to the Topolo side of the Bayless complex. I was expecting a bigger space, but this is not the case by any means. I was rather surprised to see that I was the first table seated for lunch that day. No matter, I was ready. The meal started with complimentary chips and guac that were as quite good. The chips were hot and (I assume fresh made) the guac was creamy and helped out by little studs of red chili throughout. For a starter, I ordered the red chili short rib soup with epazote and masa dumplings. The meat, though scant, was nice and tender. The broth was incredible...I could have sucked it through a straw. Not too heavy, full of flavor with just enough kick to leave my mouth tingling. I chose carnitas for my main course. This arrived in a pile, accompanied by pork belly, tomatillo/avocado salsa, lime 'air' and 4 piping hot tortillas. The meat was fork tender, as expected, the sauces were great and the lime 'air' was unlike anything I've ever had before. Superb. Top notch meal all around, as expected.

                                              From there, I walked over to the lake, then back to my hotel for a few hours. My next meal was going to be a little more casual...

                                              5) Lou Malnati's seemed to fit the bill. Late afternoon, they were ~25% full. I bellied up to the bar, ordered a 312 and a small sausage pizza with the butter crust. I knew the 30+ minute wait would be there, but the Cubs game (and the staff suffering through it) kept me well entertained. The pizza arrived and was different than I expected. Perhaps this wasn't me doing my homework, but I expected the red sauce laden, knife and fork classic Chicago pizza. No matter...I'll eat pizza anywhere, anytime, so I dug in. Very good crust, good cheese and good tasting sausage. A satisfying pie that I would eat again.

                                              Another night of hockey and beers at English. Again, highly recommended.

                                              Day 3 - On my final day, I made a point to go to breakfast. For this, I actually crossed the river for the first time in the trip and made my way to...

                                              6) Heaven on Seven - I have to admit, going into a huge office building and up to the 7th floor did not lead to expectations of a greasy spoon diner. The only times I leave ground level for food tend to be shirt and tie affairs. No matter, up the elevator I went. Bellied up to the bar and got a menu. Since I hadn't eaten any sort of breakfast so far in the trip, I decided on the andouille omelet. In maybe 5 minutes, the food was in front of me. Just a good, simple breakfast. Nothing fancy, just done right. Loved the taste of the andouille and more than ample hot sauce choices to kick up the eggs a bit. Great suggestion here.

                                              From there, I trudged back to the hotel to pack up. I would have stayed another week, to be honest. Anyways, I couldn't help but make a few last stops on my way out of town. First, a few pints at Goose Island brewpub on Clybourn. Unassuming outpost to say the least, but damn do I love their beer. Had I been going straight home, I might have picked up a growler or two, but alas, I left empty handed. As I looked at the clock, I knew I could safely hit one more destination before I left and it was only a few miles away. I motored up Elston, up to California and took a left at...

                                              7) Hot Doug's - Sure, there are mixed feelings on this place, but damn am I glad I stopped. I figured it would depend on the line and, seeing only ~10 people out the door, I stopped. The weather was nice, I had nothing but driving in front of me and I was here. It had to be done. I got in the line and waited maybe 40 minutes until my meet with the wizard himself. It was a no-brainer that an order of the now famous duck fat fries would be had, but what else? I settled on the duck sausage with fois, the garlic pork sausage and a corn dog. As I took my bag of goodies back to the car (the inside was too packed for my liking), I dove into the fries. Good...really good. Not sure how the taste compares to Doug's regular fries, but a definite thumbs up. Next, the garlic pork sausage. Holy garlic, Batman. I'm a man who loves his garlic, so I was in heaven. The pile of blue cheese definitely helped cut through the garlic taste and complimented everything else. Thumbs up. Now, on to the main event...the sausage I've heard so much about. Could it possibly live up to the hype? It couldn't, could it? It can and it did. The first bite brought a smile to my face and actually made my laugh with joy. I'm not very well versed in fois, but as far as I'm concerned, I could have it in this form for the rest of my life. Words can't describe how much I enjoyed this. Some people may say '$9 for a sausage?' but I would gladly pay that again. Hell, I'll probably get 2 next time.

                                              As I drove back up I-94 munching on my corn dog (well worth a buck and a half) and my pile of duck fat fries, all I could do was smile. Thank you, Chicago. What a great 3 days. See you all soon.

                                              -----
                                              Hot Doug's
                                              3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

                                              Topolobampo
                                              445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

                                              Heaven on Seven
                                              600 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                              Al's Beef
                                              169 W Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60654

                                2. re: BigE
                                  l
                                  lbs RE: BigE Apr 5, 2010 07:47 AM

                                  Publican wasn't that loud in my opinion. Had a business meeting/dinner there on a Wednesday and everyone was able to hear each other and communicate with each other in normal tone of voice. Was there at 7pm too. Food was top notch and served "family style". Loved the dessert of the waffle with honey butter. Absolutely sinfully rich but not cloying sweet like a lot of desserts. Had one of my worst meals at Cafe Des Arct... Again, it was a business dinner with our London group. Waiter got orders mixed up (which was odd because we all ordered from their "seasonal pre-fixe menu so we had limited options so he wasn't juggling a lot of different options), food was ok but bland, and the dessert looked really nice but that was pretty much it. For the price point, it was fine. But I would never go back again. Maybe my expecations were too high since it is highly praised but the whole evening was flat.

                                  1. re: lbs
                                    nsxtasy RE: lbs Apr 5, 2010 08:10 AM

                                    Publican is INCREDIBLY LOUD. (I have heard that the restaurant is aware of the problem and is looking into solutions.) The reason it's so loud is that it has a lot of hard surfaces (mostly wooden seats, tables, and decor) and high ceilings and virtually no soft surfaces to deaden the sound. I was there on a weekday with a somewhat early reservation; they were still not quite full when we left and the place was already at a FULL ROAR.

                                    As for those terrible desserts, they really need to hire a pastry chef if they want to consider themselves a destination restaurant. I thought the waffle dessert was dreadful, just a plain overbland waffle; I've had better at Bob Evans. The other two desserts (we tried all three on the menu) were no better; one was a chocolate sorbet that allegedly had some sea salt and caramel flavorings but were undetectable, and the third was a dried out, tasteless lemon poppyseed cake.

                                    I'm glad I tried Publican, as I really liked some of their dishes (notably the sweetbreads), but I would never go back again.

                                    By contrast, in my numerous visits to Cafe des Architectes, every time it has been absolutely superb, with one amazingly delicious dish after another. Highlights have included their heavenly saffron fish veloute (soup) with shrimp and mussels, the moist and delicious duck confit, the hanger steak, the whitefish, and the wonderful chocolate pistachio dome which deserves consideration as their signature dessert. The service has always been exemplary and I love the room itself in the curved glass facade of the Sofitel. The bargain price is just a bonus on top of the best food I've had at any casual dining place in the city.

                                    -----
                                    Cafe des Architectes
                                    20 East Chestnut Street, Chicago, IL 60611

                                    1. re: nsxtasy
                                      chicgail RE: nsxtasy Apr 5, 2010 02:03 PM

                                      I usually respect your opinions, nsxtasy, but I have to disagree with you re both Publican (which I love!) and CdA.

                                      We recently dined at CdA. The room is an attractive hotel dining room. The Chef's Seasonal Menu was, as you have pointed out, very reasonable and an excellent low-priced option for North Michigan Avenue. However, we both found that while the food was perfectly acceptable, nothing special at all. The only exception for us was the hamachi appetizer, which was, indeed, wonderful.

                                      Worse, the service was both unctuous and omnipresent. The waiter, rather than tell us anything about the menu items, basically read to us the menu descriptions, adding absolutely nothing. For some reason he was pushing the deconstructed Caeser salad ("It has white anchovies," he told us. Twice). Then our waiter, the bus boy, the manager, the chef and a couple of other people stopped by our table just about every 5 minutes throughout our meal to interrupt our conversation and ask us how everything was. We actually left finally laughing about it.

                                      We won't bother to go back there, but can see how it could be a reasonably priced nice dinner for folks looking to be careful with what they spend. Sorry.

                                      1. re: chicgail
                                        nsxtasy RE: chicgail Apr 5, 2010 04:30 PM

                                        No problem. Sometimes experiences differ, and sometimes it's a matter of taste. I've never had any service problems at CdA and the food has always been superb, but apparently your experience was different, and that's okay! FWIW, though, I love it and recommend it not for the value for the money, but because I've loved the food more than any other restaurant in the city, leaving aside the big-bucks fancy places.

                                        1. re: nsxtasy
                                          chicgail RE: nsxtasy Apr 6, 2010 05:37 AM

                                          Maybe we ordered badly. Maybe the food just didn't rise above our experience of the obnoxious service. It is also possible that our waiter was new and/or inexperienced and all the attention from other people was an effort to compensate for it.

                                          I know this is one of your favorites, but after this experience, for us there are too many other places that we really enjoy for us to try CdA again.

                                      2. re: nsxtasy
                                        nsxtasy RE: nsxtasy Jun 22, 2010 04:29 PM

                                        About the Publican, I said:

                                        >> they really need to hire a pastry chef if they want to consider themselves a destination restaurant. I thought the waffle dessert was dreadful, just a plain overbland waffle; I've had better at Bob Evans. The other two desserts (we tried all three on the menu) were no better; one was a chocolate sorbet that allegedly had some sea salt and caramel flavorings but were undetectable, and the third was a dried out, tasteless lemon poppyseed cake.

                                        Someone stated on another forum that the Publican hired a pastry chef within the past two weeks, so let's hope this turns the dessert situation around!

                                        -----
                                        Bob Evans Restaurant
                                        2201 Morthland Dr, Valparaiso, IN 46383

                              2. b
                                BigE RE: QcQc Mar 1, 2011 01:48 PM

                                After my visit last year, I can't wait to return. Last year didn't go exactly as I planned (things never do), but I managed to get to: Topo, Xoco, Portillo's, Al's, Malnatti's, English (for beers and hockey viewing), Heaven on Seven, Goose Island Brew Pub, Dougs.

                                Not much fine dining in there, obviously. I quickly realized that even though I had access to my car, the idea of driving anywhere didn't appeal to me in the slightest. I walked everywhere last year, no taxi, bus, L, nothing. And I plan on doing things that way again, unless the weather is poor.

                                As with last year, I'll be spending a few days in the middle of the week (arriving Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, departing Friday around noon). Haven't booked my hotel yet, but looking at the James, along with a few others.

                                Anything new I should be looking to try?

                                I'm planning on repeating the following: Bayless complex at least once, Portillo's, Dougs. Beyond that, I'd like to try new things. Different breakfast, different bar (beer/whiskey list, and semi-quiet ambiance at a premium), at least one high end place (not quite Alinea, but in the ~$50 range), different pizza joint, at least one new ethnic place.

                                Can I do this all? Who knows, but if not, there's always next year. :)

                                P.S. If there is anything good on the outskirts of town (or beyond), I'm all ears. I'll be coming southbound on 94, so anything from Milwaukee down is fair game.

                                -----
                                Alinea
                                1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                Heaven on Seven
                                600 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                Goose Island Brewpub
                                3535 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657

                                XOCO
                                449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

                                11 Replies
                                1. re: BigE
                                  nsxtasy RE: BigE Mar 1, 2011 03:27 PM

                                  >> Anything new I should be looking to try?

                                  The places with the biggest buzz are the Girl and the Goat and the Purple Pig. G&TG is Stephanie Izard's new place for contemporary American cuisine, and reservations open up three months in advance and fill up quickly thereafter. You may or may not get seated quickly if you go without one (going at non prime times helps). The Purple Pig specializes in pork, cheese, and charcuterie (just like the Publican). It does not accept reservations and waits at dinnertime are lengthy. I recommend going at lunchtime, since they serve the same menu all day anyway.

                                  Sable is relatively new also, and I just love it. It too has contemporary American cuisine, from Chef Heather Terhune. Most of the dishes come in half portions as well as full ones, so you can try a lot of things. Don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee! For $20-25 of food you can stuff yourself, but don't let the price throw you, it's a classy place. They also have artisanal cocktails. And they take reservations on Opentable and they're not that hard to get. Highly recommended!

                                  >> at least one high end place (not quite Alinea, but in the ~$50 range)

                                  $50 range is not high end. Not even close. Our truly high-end restaurants (Alinea, Everest, TRU, Spiaggia, Trotter's, etc) generally run in the $175-250 range per person including moderately-priced wine, tax, and tip. The less formal "finer dining" restaurants (North Pond, MK, etc) typically run roughly half that amount (figure $75-110/pp). I mentioned Sable and the Girl and the Goat above, and both are a bit less than that range (particularly Sable, which is quite the bargain); their food could qualify because they have the creative chefs normally found in high-end places, even though both are casual in style. I'll add some notes at the end about places away from downtown, on your route.

                                  >> at least one new ethnic place.

                                  How about some Latin fusion (Carnivale, Nacional 27) or pan-Asian (Red Light, Sunda)?

                                  >> P.S. If there is anything good on the outskirts of town (or beyond), I'm all ears. I'll be coming southbound on 94, so anything from Milwaukee down is fair game.

                                  Two of my favorite restaurants are in the suburbs off the Edens, right along your route, and a third is on the north side not far from Wrigley. I've eaten at all three of them several times in the past year or so, and frankly I think they're as good as anything downtown short of the super-expensive places. Any would be suitable for your "inexpensive high-end" meal. Here are links to the restaurant websites as well as my detailed reports:

                                  1. Michael, in Winnetka - www.restaurantmichael.com
                                  GREAT Dinner at Michael in Winnetka! - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/351457

                                  2. Inovasi, in Lake Bluff - www.inovasi.us
                                  Inovasi in Lake Bluff (North Suburbs) - TERRIFIC! - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/687962

                                  3. Deleece, in Chicago/Lakeview - www.deleece.com
                                  Deleece - Chef Brandon Canfield rocks in Lakeview - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/757360

                                  HTH - feel free to ask more questions!

                                  1. re: BigE
                                    m
                                    ms. mika RE: BigE Mar 2, 2011 09:46 AM

                                    An idea for a bar, depending on what you're looking for, is Pops the champagne bar has opened a bar in their basement called Watershed, that specializes in various local beers. I haven't been myself, but am attaching the link so you can see if it interests you.
                                    http://watershedbar.com/

                                    I agree for new spots- I really love G&TG and the PP, but PP can get crowded, although it has a convenient location right off of Michigan Ave. Another new place in River North is Grahamwich- Graham Elliot's sandwich shop. I thought the food was good, not amazing, but an option for creative sandwiches if you want something quick. The other spot I've really enjoyed lately is Gilt Bar- has a great atmosphere and delicious food.

                                    1. re: ms. mika
                                      b
                                      BigE RE: ms. mika Mar 3, 2011 10:35 AM

                                      Thanks to both of you for the info.

                                      -ns, I realize the $50 budget is far from 'high end' around Chicago. I guess I should clarify by saying that I don't have any desire for the $100+ dinner tabs. Anything under that is perfectly fine. Thanks for the out of town/coming into town recs as well, but I'll most likely be driving by these places at lunch time. Any others you'd add to that list? Quicker is probably better, to be honest.

                                      -I've heard a lot about G&TG, I'll definitely have to check that out.

                                      -ms, thanks for the heads up on Grahamwich. I love a good sandwich shop and there is a dearth of them in the Twin Cities area.

                                      1. re: BigE
                                        nsxtasy RE: BigE Mar 3, 2011 11:40 AM

                                        >> Thanks for the out of town/coming into town recs as well, but I'll most likely be driving by these places at lunch time. Any others you'd add to that list? Quicker is probably better, to be honest.

                                        Inovasi is open for lunch. I've only been there for several dinners, but the lunch menu looks similar. It's not far from US-41 so you could take that once you cross the border into Illinois. But when I'm looking for a quick lunch, I usually wind up at stand-in-line places like Panera, rather than sit-down restaurants.

                                        >> -I've heard a lot about G&TG, I'll definitely have to check that out.

                                        Make a reservation NOW.

                                        1. re: nsxtasy
                                          b
                                          BigE RE: nsxtasy Mar 7, 2011 09:58 AM

                                          G&TG is booked solid for the next month...yikes. Guess I'll have to wait until next year for that.

                                          As for the outskirts of town kind of stuff, I might just stick to what I did last year. Stop at Goose Island, a few delicacies at Hot Dougs, then on my way. That made a perfect ending to last year's trip.

                                          -----
                                          Hot Doug's
                                          3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

                                          1. re: BigE
                                            nsxtasy RE: BigE Mar 7, 2011 10:37 AM

                                            >> G&TG is booked solid for the next month...yikes. Guess I'll have to wait until next year for that.

                                            Right now, G&TG starts accepting reservations for any particular date three months in advance. They fill up quickly thereafter, especially for more desirable days (weekends) and times. That may or may not change by next year!

                                            1. re: nsxtasy
                                              b
                                              BigE RE: nsxtasy Mar 22, 2011 12:03 PM

                                              I actually went back to Opentable and got into G&TG next Thursday at 10. Very pumped about that.

                                              The rest of my itinerary (Thursday late lunch/pre-dinner) is still up in the air, including Wednesday lunch/dinner and Friday breakfast/lunch.

                                              I'm thinking:

                                              -One of the pizza joints (Malnatti's last year)
                                              -Sable
                                              -No idea about breakfast...I tend to sleep in, so this might get missed altogether.
                                              -I'd like to find another good tasting menu in the ~$100 range.

                                              1. re: BigE
                                                nsxtasy RE: BigE Mar 22, 2011 12:10 PM

                                                I love Sable!

                                                But if you're looking for a tasting menu, you might consider Graham Elliot...

                                                1. re: nsxtasy
                                                  b
                                                  BigE RE: nsxtasy Mar 23, 2011 10:35 AM

                                                  >>I love Sable!

                                                  That's what I hear. :)

                                                  OK, one last topic. On Friday, I'll be driving back north right around lunch time...anything in Wrigleyville/north side (aside from what you already listed) that's worth a look? Something less fancy, on the ethnic side perhaps? The current plan is Kuma's/Doug's. Truth be told, there is a 99% chance I'm stopping at Doug's no matter what.

                                                  1. re: BigE
                                                    nsxtasy RE: BigE Mar 23, 2011 10:52 AM

                                                    >> On Friday, I'll be driving back north right around lunch time...anything in Wrigleyville/north side (aside from what you already listed) that's worth a look? Something less fancy, on the ethnic side perhaps? The current plan is Kuma's/Doug's. Truth be told, there is a 99% chance I'm stopping at Doug's no matter what.

                                                    If your heart is set on Hot Doug's, by all means try it! Just one more suggestion - before your trip, check their website, as he closes the place and goes on vacation for a week at a time, and always posts the dates it will be closed ahead of time on the website.

                                                    Here are some additional places you might consider for lunch on your way out of town.

                                                    Mexique (Chicago/West Town, Mexican) - www.mexiquechicago.com
                                                    Lula (Chicago/Logan Square, contemporary American locavore) - www.lulacafe.com
                                                    Smoque (Chicago/Irving Park, barbecue) - www.smoquebbq.com
                                                    Deleece (Chicago/Lakeview, contemporary American) - www.deleece.com
                                                    M. Henry (Chicago/Andersonville, breakfast/brunch) - www.mhenry.net

                                                    Mexique, Lula, and Smoque are both off the Kennedy (I-90/I-94) before the junction, so they're on the way regardless of whether you're headed north on the Edens (I-94) or the Tri-State (I-294). I threw in Deleece and M. Henry since you mentioned Wrigleyville and the north side, even though they're not exactly convenient to the expressway.

                                        2. re: BigE
                                          j
                                          jbw RE: BigE Mar 3, 2011 03:17 PM

                                          "Thanks for the out of town/coming into town recs as well, but I'll most likely be driving by these places at lunch time. Any others you'd add to that list? Quicker is probably better, to be honest."

                                          Captain Porky's for some of the best deep-fried (jumbo) shrimp (and other d-f seafood) around. Beef brisket's pretty good too,

                                          http://www.captainporky.com/

                                    2. b
                                      BigE RE: QcQc Apr 4, 2011 09:04 AM

                                      My 2nd annual three day trip to River North is complete. Here are the gut busting details.

                                      Day 1:

                                      I hit the rage inducing Chicagoland traffic at ~2:30 on Wednesday. In no mood to sit through it, I ducked off I-94 a few miles north of downtown and wound my way through the neighborhoods in search of the uber-popular Kuma's Corner. I had just read a glowing review by David Lebovitz and I was determined to get there. As I drive by, I see a hoard of people outside the door, and an obviously full house. After 7 hours in the car, standing in line for an hour plus wasn't high on my list. I decided to drive back north a few blocks to the warming embrace of Hot Doug's. There was no line whatsoever, which was great. I walked right to the counter, got my Foie dog, corn dog, and fries and was on my way to the hotel. Delicious as I remember, and a good start to the trip.

                                      Sable - After a few hours of walking around and relaxing in the hotel, I strolled over to Sable. Not having a reservation, I waited for a few minutes until a spot opened at the bar. Immensely impressed with the whiskey list and still feeling full from my late lunch at Doug's, I ordered some cheese curds and the buffalo short rib sliders to go with whiskey #1. That ended up being all I ate at Sable, while getting a 3+ hour master's class on everything from bourbon to scotch to tequila, sampling a handful of spirits on the house. I will definitely be returning.

                                      Day 2:

                                      This was a day of gluttony/food bliss that won't soon be forgotten.

                                      Topolo - My first meal of the day was an 11:45am stop at Topolobampo. When I arrived, there were a combined ~10 people at Frontera and Topolo. By the time I left (just before 1), Frontera was packed and Topolo was ~75% full. I started with the Frontera ceviche. This was a nice, light start to the meal. Three good sized portions of ceviche sitting on tostadas. Fresh, bright, clean flavors...everything ceviche should be. For the main course, I ordered the duck breast in pasilla chile sauce. I was told the duck is prepared medium rare, which is just what I like. When it arrived, the duck was beyond medium, closer to medium well. Still, it was tender and the pasilla sauce was very nice. Unfortunately, the amount of sauce served ended up overpowering everything else. When I was done, my entire plate was still covered in sauce, even though I used it liberally. As a whole though, this dish didn't wow me like I expected it to. This meal was good, but not as good as I was hoping. Next year, I will probably try a new lunch spot.

                                      GT Fish and Oyster - As I was walking around on Wednesday night, I noticed this place only a few blocks from my hotel. Having never heard of it, I read up and found that it was brand new (opening Thursday), the outpost of celebrated Boka Group chef Giuseppe Tentori. It seemed like there was a lot of hype and expectation here, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I walked in right at 5pm and was greeted by FOUR people at the host desk. Overall, there were probably 30-40 staff members present and maybe 6 patrons...opening night, indeed. Finding a seat at the bar, I started talking to the oyster guys. Minnesota isn't exactly oyster central, so I wanted to try a few different types. I ended up with 2 Kumamotos (the only type I had ever heard of), 2 Blue Points, and 2 of another type that I don't recall. I really enjoyed them all, and preferred the East Coast varieties. Great start to my meal. From there, I had the BBQ Eel, which is served on an octopus potato salad with a bit of wasabi. The eel was nice, the potato salad was a fun compliment with a little kick. It was hard to distinguish the octopus (not that it has a strong flavor to begin with), but textural difference was enough to let you know. I finished my meal with the lobster roll. Lobster is another alien creature to me, so I can only say that I really enjoyed this version. I've been told it was a classic lobster roll, with the split toasted brioche roll. Delicious. It was served with crispy fried onions...not sure what purpose they served, but they certainly didn't take away from the dish. They don't skimp on the lobster, either.

                                      Chef Tentori was calmly running the pass, occasionally breaking to glad hand with friends and well wishers. The space is nice and bright, very open and inviting, chic yet rustic. The staff (there were enough for me to have my own team) are friendly and passionate about their particular area, be it oysters, cocktails or otherwise. I have a feeling this place is going to be extremely popular.

                                      Girl and the Goat - Not ready to be done with my incredible food day, I hailed a cab and rode over to my 10pm reservation at G&TG. This place was packed and buzzing, but upon arrival, I was immediately taken to a two-top to begin my meal. Still reeling from the day's indulgences, I wasn't sure what I was going to be able to manage. I started with the chickpea cakes, which were absolutely incredible. Impossibly smooth inside with a crisp exterior. Just outstanding. From there, I wanted to get something light. I settled on the grilled octopus, which was served with a few other grilled vegetables. Again, a great dish. The char flavor on the octopus was wonderful. They do serve it a little more al dente than some people care for, but I thought it was just right. Sadly, I couldn't manage to eat anything else, but I can completely understand why this place is as popular as it is. Great, albeit abbreviated, meal.

                                      I ended day 2 with a belly as stuffed and satisfied as can be.

                                      Day 3 didn't involve anything but packing, having a few brews at Goose Island, and making one last stop at Hot Doug's. I managed to get in before the rain started and munched as I drove away. The only disappointment were the famous duck fat fries. They just weren't as good as last year. Oh well, still worth the stop.

                                      My second annual trip to River North ended up being even more successful than the first. It gave me some of the best food and drink experiences of my life and left me wanting more.

                                      Alinea ominously remains on top of the list for my return, but we'll see.

                                      Until next year...

                                      -----
                                      Alinea
                                      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                      Hot Doug's
                                      3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

                                      Boka
                                      1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

                                      Topolobampo
                                      445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

                                      Kuma's Corner
                                      2900 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

                                      Girl and the Goat
                                      809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: BigE
                                        m
                                        ms. mika RE: BigE Apr 4, 2011 11:43 AM

                                        Thanks for the report! It's always great to hear where people ended up and what they liked. I'm wanting to try GT as well, so it's good to hear some initial impressions!

                                        1. re: BigE
                                          nsxtasy RE: BigE Apr 4, 2011 01:04 PM

                                          Yes, thanks for posting. Feedback is always helpful. And it sounds like you've found a possible "undiscovered gem" in GT. There are always so many restaurants in Chicago, with new ones opening all the time. A few get lots of attention and hype from the media, while others may be doing a fine job but just don't get the PR. GT sounds like one of these, and I'm happy to add it to my never-shrinking (LOL!) list of local places I'd like to try! Thanks again!

                                        2. c
                                          cvillemel RE: QcQc Sep 23, 2012 05:20 PM

                                          Great thread to all who contributed. I am staying at the westin north river and this was helpful. I hoped to go to frontera or topolobampo, but unfortunately they are closed Sun-Mon. But I had a great dinner at Quartino (dining alone in the bar area). I always know I can rely on Chowhounds!

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