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May 5, 2009 05:45 AM

Social (and hungry) Butterfly

Hi! Heading into town for a week- part business and part exploring on my own. I'll be staying at Essex Inn and Whitehall. Any good communal tables, gastro pubs, mexican, etc? My only request is no steakhouses or italian (I'm from Boston and we have both of those in abundance)! I won't have a car, but don't mind taking the subway. Thanks!

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  1. My current favorite communal table/gastro pub is The Publican. Excellent hearty food (pork rinds, pork belly, veal breast, boudin blanc), and great seafood selections (oysters, smelt fry). Huge, huge beer selection.

    Another great option for communal dining, although a wine bar, not a gastro pub, is Publican's sister restaurant Avec. You can read all about what people like or don't like about Avec on several threads in this forum. Both are in the West Loop, a short cab ride to get to.

    Another great gastro pub option is Bluebird. It is in Bucktown, cab accessible, but a little further north and west of where you are staying.

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

    1749 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

    The Publican
    837 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

    1. The Essex Inn is on Michigan Avenue in the South Loop, a bit under a mile south of the Loop (depending on where you're measuring from) and the Whitehall is a mile north of the Loop, near the north end of the Mag Mile stretch of Michigan Avenue.

      For a gastropub, the Gage is right on Michigan Avenue in the Loop, so it's maybe 3/4 mile north of the Essex Inn, and a mile south of the Whitehall.

      Mexican restaurants are a great choice; we have some phenomenal, creative, provincial Mexican restaurants! Frontera Grill and Topolobampo ( ) were influential in spreading provincial Mexican cuisine when Rick Bayless opened them, and they are both still excellent. They are in River North, just north of the Loop, a 10-15 minute walk from the Whitehall and maybe 25 minutes walk or a short cab ride from the Essex Inn. Salpicon ( ) is another choice, also a 10-15 minute walk from the Whitehall, but you'd want to ride a cab or the CTA* to get there from the Essex Inn. There are a lot more Mexican places, particularly in the Logan Square area about five miles northwest of the Loop. My favorite Mexican restaurant in Chicago right now is Mundial Cocina Mestiza ( ), in Pilsen, three miles southwest of the Loop, just a short block east of the 18th Street station on the CTA Pink Line*. I had another phenomenal dinner there a couple of weeks ago, with one standout dish after another (particularly the steamed mussels slathered with strips of poblano pepper and chunks of bacon). I posted a report on that dinner in the topic on Mexican restaurants, where you will also find links, detailed information, and directions for these and other creative Mexican restaurants around town:

      *For transit information see

      1. I'd add The Bristol to your list. Sort of gastro-pub-ish and there is a large communal table in the middle of the room. Decent cocktails too.

        The Bristol
        2152 North Damen
        (773) 862-5555