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Chicago questions after some research

Am planning to visit Chicago at some point in the foreseeable future and have done some research before posting here. Would appreciate suggestions or corrections as needed. While there, my goal will be to seek out some eateries that are easily reached with a home base area in The Loop or via a reasonable El ride -- will not have a car -- and would also be open after a full sightseeing day (no lunch-only spots unless they're quick and easily reached in a sightseeing itinerary). Specifically have interest in cuisines we're not strong in where I live (Eastern European and German especially), or things that are unique to Chicago or that this city does really well. Specifics follow.

-deep dish pizza or stuffed pizza. Poking around here suggests that the best options fitting the bill would include Gino's East (deep dish), Lou Malnati's (deep dish), Giordano's (stuffed), Pizzeria Uno (deep dish), and Pizzeria Due (deep dish). We have Uno's locally, so am thinking I'll concentrate on the first three.

-Italian beef sandwiches. Al's #1 Italian Beef and Mr. Beef, with the former having an edge around here.

-Chicago style hot dogs. There are some otherwise worthy options that apparently are either not accessible via public transport or have short lunch-style hours (Hot Doug's, Superdawg), so I'm passing on them. That leaves Portillo's and Gold Coast Dogs, perhaps Wiener's Circle, from what I've seen.

-Eastern European, German. Am thinking Red Apple Buffet (Polish, the one at 3121 N. Milwaukee is near the Belmont stop on the Blue Line) and Russian Tea Time (Russian) are good possibilities. Might have considered Berghoff (German), but there seem to be some questions about whether it's even open nowadays, and it appears to get minimal love on this board. In fact, no German places seem much liked here, from what I've seen.

Would very much appreciate any feedback, including other spots I'm missing here.

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  1. Berghoff is now the Berghoff Cafe with a very modified menu. and pricier than it used to be. Go to "chicago restaurant menus" to see selections and prices. Red Apple isn't elegant but it's possibly the most food for ca $10 in Chicago and very home-cooked tasting. BTW the 56 Milwaukee bus goes right to the door of the Red Apple (Milwaukee & Hamlin)---you can get the 56 in the Loop going west along Madison. See RTA Trip Planner website. Also, buying CTA/RTA pass may save you a lot of money over paying individual fares. Website has details. Buy passes at Jewel supermarket, State & Ohio.

    1. Another Italian beef worth checking out is at Luke's, located at Jackson and Wells in the Loop. The fries are very good, also.

      The Uno chain restaurants you find across the country are not at all the same as the flagships Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due. Aside from that, I personally prefer Lou Malnati's, though I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying Uno or Due.

      I wish I knew of an amazing downtown hot dog place.

      On the subject of sandwiches, Hannah's Bretzel at Washington and Wells is a real winner, though it costs a few more dollars than Luke's. They use a pretzel roll for the bread and have only the best ingredients.

      1. >> -deep dish pizza or stuffed pizza. Poking around here suggests that the best options fitting the bill would include Gino's East (deep dish), Lou Malnati's (deep dish), Giordano's (stuffed), Pizzeria Uno (deep dish), and Pizzeria Due (deep dish). We have Uno's locally, so am thinking I'll concentrate on the first three.

        All of these serve deep-dish pizza; Giordano's serves the double-crust "stuffed" style, and the others serve the single crust "pizza in the pan" style.

        The pizza at the nationwide franchise Uno's Chicago Grill is not at all like the pizza sold here at the original locations of Uno and Due in River North, where the pizza is still a good example of deep-dish "pizza in the pan". However, you're not really missing anything if you instead go to Lou Malnati's, Gino's East, or Pizano's for "pizza in the pan", all of whose pizza is pretty darn similar to Uno and Due, except for the characteristic yellow crust at Gino's East. Both Lou Malnati's and Pizano's were started by sons of Rudy Malnati Sr. who played a lead role in the early decades of Uno and Due, so there's a family relationship as well as a pizza relationship. Note that Pizano's has a location in the Loop on Madison that is geographically more convenient to the Loop than the locations of either Lou Malnati's or Gino's East.

        The rest of what you outline sounds fine!

          1. As far as pizza goes, my preference would be Malnati's or Pizano's - they're nearly identical (owned by different members of the same Malnati family) and both have locations in the Loop. In any event, the Uno's locations nationwide are nothing like the original. At Malnati's and Pizano's, I recommend ordering the buttercrust - a shorter, crunchier and more flavorful crust.

            Of your hot dog choices, I think Weiner's Circle is the best, followed by Portillo's (assuming you don't choose Hot Doug's or Superdawg). Superdawg is definitely more difficult to get to, but you could go to Hot Doug's by taking the Red or Brown Line north to Belmont, taking the Belmont bus west to California, and then walking 1/4 mile north to Hot Doug's at Roscoe and California. Once you exit the Red Line station, you could check on how far away your bus is at ctabustracker.com. If you want to go to Weiner's Circle, you're better off taking a bus (either Clark bus or Fullerton bus from Red/Brown Line Fullerton Station). Note that the lines at Hot Doug's are always long and you should expect to wait 20 to 40 minutes.

            For beef, unless you're going to the original Al's, I would go to Mr. Beef.

            Red Apple is ok, Berghoff is barely ok, but despite what you might think there is excellent German food in Chicago . . . it just goes a bit unnoticed. Go to Laschet's Inn, which is easily accessible by public transportation. The food is excellent and the old school neighborhood charm cannot be beat. Reservations are absolutely essential on weekends and service is leisurely (but very friendly) so plan on being there a couple of hours. It is a lesser known Chicago gem and I'd be shocked if you're not very impressed with both the German food and the hospitality.

            Portions are big. I love the red cabbage, fried potatoes, spaetzle, veal schnitzel, rouladen and sauerbraten, but everything is very good. Start off with one of the huge Bavarian pretzels as an appetizer (enough for 2-3 people). Here's a link to their website:

            To get to Laschet's, take the Brown Line north to the Irving Park stop (or get there faster by taking Red Line to Belmont, and switch to Brown Line at Belmont). When you exit the Irving Park station, walk west (less than 1/2 mile) and the restaurant is on the south side of the street. It's a safe area to walk. If the weather is nice, after dinner cross the street and in the direction of the L station is Resi's Bierstube, about a block away if that. I don't like the food (it's German too) nearly as much as Laschet's (although I'm a big fan of their potato pancakes), but their outdoor beer garden and beer choices make this a must stop.

            In terms of other foods, Chicago is extremely strong in and well known for both Mexican and Thai food. For Thai, both Spoon Thai and TAC Quick are public transportation friendly and both offer translated Thai language menu options which are outstanding and out of the ordinary.

            6 Replies
            1. re: BRB

              >> As far as pizza goes, my preference would be Malnati's or Pizano's - they're nearly identical (owned by different members of the same Malnati family) and both have locations in the Loop.

              Lou Malnati's does not have any locations in the Loop.

              >> In terms of other foods, Chicago is extremely strong in and well known for both Mexican and Thai food.

              I agree - and it's worth pointing out that Chicago's strength in Mexican food includes creative, provincial Mexican foods that are not very common in most American cities. Rick Bayless was influential in starting this trend with Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, both of which are still excellent, and walkable from the Loop. My personal favorite is Mundial Cocina Mestiza, which is in Pilsen right near the 18th Street station on the CTA Pink Line. For more Mexican recommendations, see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/463572

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Malnati's location on Wells St. is not technically in the Loop, but it is a very quick walk from many locations in the Loop, and also a very quick walk from the Merchandise Mart L station (Red, Purple and Brown Line access). I have frequently walked to this Malnati's from the Loop, and on a nice day it's a beautiful view of the city while crossing the river from the Loop.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  There is a Lou Malnati's very close to the Merchandise Mart, though.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    There's also a Malnati's in the South Loop.

                    1. re: ferret

                      The Malnati's in the South Loop is in the 800 block of South State. The OP was looking for lunch spots that fit into a sightseeing itinerary. If you are going to the "Museum Campus" -- where the Field Museum, Planetarium, and Aquarium are located -- you will be relatively close to this Malnati's.

                      1. re: masha

                        Yup. And if your itinerary puts you in the Loop at the Art Institute (with its new Modern Wing) and Millennium Park, you're close to Pizano's on Madison. And if you're walking along the north half of the "Mag Mile" of Michigan Avenue, you're close to Pizano's on State, and along the south half, you're close to Uno and Due. If you want to try stuffed pizza, the "Museum Campus" is close to Edwardo's on Dearborn, the Loop has several locations of Giordano's, and Giordano's on Rush is near the midpoint of the Mag Mile.

                        Personally, though, if I were going to the South Loop portion of the "Museum Campus", I would start with a breakfast of the specialty pancakes at Bongo Room at Roosevelt and Wabash, and THEN go to the museums. Pretzel pancakes with white chocolate sauce, yummmm...

                2. A fine storefront Polish restaurant is right at Division on the Blue Line stop:

                  1549 W Division St
                  Chicago, IL 60642

                  Try especially the white borscht and the pierogis.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jbw

                    Red Apple is notable for giving you so much Polish food (a buffet, unlimited quantity) at such a reasonable price ($9.49 lunch, $9.99 dinner weekdays, $10.95 dinner weekends, as noted on their website at www.redapplebuffet.com ). But the food may be even better at Podhalanka. So the choice just depends on what you're looking for.

                  2. There's a few German restaurants and stores in the 4300 - 4800 blocks of North Lincoln Avenue.

                    You can get there easily (at least to the North end, the 4800 block) by the CTA if you take the Brown Line to Western. Lincoln Square is right as you exit the CTA platform (to your right).

                    The Brauhaus is at 4732 N Lincoln, and I've eaten there - very old school German. I know there's at least 4 or 5 other places farther south. There's also a German deli/butcher shop in the 4600 block.

                    It's a wee bit of a ride from the Loop (30 minutes or so on the Brown Line el) but worth the trip, and the neighborhood is open eves and weekends. It's just a nice area - some other cuisines too (a great French cafe) and some great shops too.

                    Re: the South Loop Lou Malnati's - It is the closest to Field Museum/Millenium Park - it would be a short walk from any of the Michigan Avenue buses, or close to the Harrison stop on the Red Line el.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: PCE60605

                      Lincoln Square is a very fun neighborhood to walk around with some very good restaurants: Spoon Thai and Rosded for Thai, Bistro Campagne (probably the French place you're thinking of), Tank Sushi is pretty good, Tallulah for a little more upscale dining. But I have to say that although I like the jovial atmosphere at Brauhaus, I'm not a big fan of the food . . . it's just ok to me.

                      Much better (and only about a mile away) is Laschet's. Here's a little more on Laschet's, including some pictures of the food: