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May 16, 2009 09:24 AM

Our Chicago Plan: Critiques and SuggestionsWelcome!

Hi Chicago Hounds,

We're coming to Chicago in a week and have narrowed down our options for primarily lunches and dinners with a breakfast/brunch here and there.

We have a year old baby so we cannot go anywhere considered fine dining and/or super quiet (no Alinea, etc.). We're hoping to find Chicago gems that are simultaneously unique to Chicago and baby-friendly.

River North:

Downtown/Art Institute/Millenium Park:
Pastoral (lunch)
Publican (dinner)

Wicker Park/Bucktown:
Birchwood Kitchen (lunch)
Green Zebra (dinner)
Margie's Candies

Downtown/River Tour/Magnificent Mile:
Mr. Beef (lunch)
Frontera (dinner)

Lincoln Park/Old Town:
Hot Doug's (lunch)
Avec (dinner)
Green Market
Southport Grocery

Where would you take visitors in each of these neighborhoods. And the big question, which I know is complicated, where to go for pizza?

Thanks guys!

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  1. Publican and Avec are in the West Loop area and Hot Doug's is not in Lincoln Park/Old Town, just so you know! Chicago's myriad of neighborhoods are a great way to explore food, and the so-called boundaries vary, but, you are pushing. Even Southport Grocery is a bit of a distance from Old Town.

    All of your choices are solid, just be aware that some of your choices don't fit into your categories and will involve further transport.

    4 Replies
    1. re: delk

      Thank you, delk! Yes, I should have clarified that the neighborhoods I listed are the main destinations for the day, but we will take little side trips to Hot Doug's, etc.

      Is the West Loop area either on the way back to River North from, say Wicker Park or Downtown or close by?

      1. re: Suebee

        The West Loop is immediately west of the Loop (i.e., Downtown) on the west side of the Chicago River. That makes it southwest of River North by 1-2 miles (depending upon how far north you are in RN and how far was in WL), but not very far away.

        From Wicker Park, you can get to the WL by taking the Blue Line el to the Clark/Thompson Center stop, which is on the West side of the Loop, and then either (a) walk west for about 10 minutes, or (b) transfer to the Green Line, and get off at either Clinton or Ashland, depending upon how far west in the West Loop you are headed. If it were a nice day, I'd probably walk, assuming your child is in a stroller.

        With a one year old child, additional places I'd consider dining in the West Loop would be any restaurant in Greektown, Wishbone, or Ina's.

        1. re: masha

          Thanks, Masha, for the great directions and recommendations. We are definitely walkers and will have the stroller so hopefully the weather will cooperate!

          1. re: masha

            Clinton and Ashland are also Pink Line stops! It seems confusing because one line goes one way and the other goes the other way, but you have the option from any of the Wabash stops. You can also take the Blue line to Racine, get off on the Loomis (west exit) side walk three blocks south and you are in Little Italy.

            Get off the Blue line one stop earlier at UIC/Halsted and you are in Greektown and there is a Giordano's pizza there as well!

      2. All of those choices seem reasonable. I haven't been to all of them, though, and there are a few I've never heard of (e.g. Molly's).

        In understanding our geography, it helps to understand our house numbering system, and the relationship of neighborhoods to the Loop, Chicago's historical and commercial downtown area, where all the public transit lines and highways converge. House numbers are centered in the Loop (at State and Madison), with each difference of 800 house numbers equal to a mile away from the immediate downtown, and a little less than that in and around the Loop. Streets are often marked with how far north, south, east, or west they are, such as on the transit maps on the CTA website ( ). So, for example, North Avenue (that's the name of the street - one of our more confusing ones) is 1600N. That means it's an east-west street, and house numbers on the cross streets are 1600 at that intersection.

        How is this useful? Take a place like Hot Doug's, which is at 3324 North California. California is 2800W. So that means that from the Loop, Hot Doug's is a little over four miles north, and 3.5 miles west. Or, take Wicker Park, which extends roughly between Division (1200N) on the south and Armitage (2000N) on the north, and between Ashland (1600W) on the east and Western (2400W) on the west. And you can tell how far that is from, say, Lincoln Park, which lies roughly between Armitage (2000N) and Diversey (2800N), east of Western (2400W) - not far. Hope that makes sense.

        Some of the downtown areas tend to run together. For example, River North is just north of the Loop; so is the Mag Mile, which is technically only one street (North Michigan Avenue). The area east of Michigan Avenue is Streeterville, although lately the part closer to the river has been referred to as River East. All of these areas are directly north of, and a short walk from, the Loop.

        The word "downtown" is not always specific; some people use it to refer to only the Loop, while others use it to include the surrounding neighborhoods, from the Gold Coast (at the north end of the Mag Mile) and River North and Streeterville, to the Loop, to the South Loop south of the Loop, and including the West Loop.

        That online CTA transit map (see link above) may be helpful to you.

        To answer your questions and add a few comments...

        >> Downtown/Art Institute/Millenium Park:
        >> Pastoral (lunch)
        >> Publican (dinner)

        The Art Institute and Millennium Park are considered part of the Loop; both are on Michigan Avenue, on the east side of the Loop. Pastoral has its location at 53 East Lake Street (about 200N) in the Loop, and another in Lakeview (2947 N Broadway), just north of Lincoln Park. Publican, at 835 W. Fulton (one block north of Lake Street) is in the West Loop, as noted by delk. How far would it be to walk from Pastoral to Publican? One block north, and about a mile west (the difference between 53E and 835W). Now you can see how those house numbers come in handy!

        >> Wicker Park/Bucktown:
        >> Breakfast?

        My favorite #1 breakfast place in the entire city, Bongo Room, has two locations, one of which is in Wicker Park. They specialize in breakfast items, particularly pancake dishes (as well as egg dishes, and sandwiches/salads at lunchtime too). I love their pretzel pancakes with white chocolate sauce, and blueberry pancakes with almond panna cotta cream! Warning - the pancakes are HUGE and a standard order is three of them. However, although it doesn't say so on the menu, you can get one-third and two-third portion sizes at a reduced price - perfect for those with smaller appetites, or if you want to try more than one kind. Beware long waits to be seated on Sundays.

        >> Downtown/River Tour/Magnificent Mile:
        >> Breakfast?

        You might want to consider breakfast in the cafe in the rear at Fox & Obel. Basic coffeehouse atmosphere, works for small kids. You can get anything from a cup of coffee to a full meal to order. I love their Cobb omelet. Don't miss the cinnamon swirl rolls, and muffins!

        >> Frontera (dinner)

        I recommend calling to see if you can snag a reservation in advance. They accept a limited number, and leave most of the dining room open for walk-ins; as a result, waiting times to be seated can be lengthy. If you don't have a reservation, do what locals do - get there 15 minutes before they open the doors.

        Also note that Frontera Grill serves brunch on Saturdays.

        >> And the big question, which I know is complicated, where to go for pizza?

        Yes, very controversial. If you've never had deep-dish pizza here before, the single-crust "pizza in the pan" is probably the better of the two popular styles to start with. I would stick with the original Uno/Due and the two chains, Lou Malnati's and Pizano's, both founded by sons of Rudy Malnati Sr. who played a lead role at Uno/Due in its early decades. I would then base the choice on where you're located. (a) If you're in River North, my first choice would be the original Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due at Ohio and Wabash. Lou Malnati's has a location on Wells half a dozen blocks west of there, and Pizano's has a location on State a few blocks north of there. (b) In the Loop, go to Pizano's on Madison. (c) In the South Loop, go to Lou Malnati's on South State. (d) In Lincoln Park, go to Lou Malnati's at Sheffield and Lincoln. (e) In Wicker Park, the Lou Malnati's is carry-out and delivery only.

        If you want to try the other popular style, the double-crust "stuffed" pizza, Giordano's has the most locations, including several in the Loop, one on Rush in River North, and one on Belmont in Lakeview. Bacino's has locations in the Loop and in Lincoln Park, and Edwardo's has a location on Dearborn in the South Loop.

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

        1. I'm not so sure Publican would be good with a baby. And Avec is crowded and noisy. Margie's doesn't really have food; chicken salad sandwiches with chips is about it. It's for ice cream.

          As for pizza, Piece in Wicker Park (on North Ave., just east of Damen) is a brewpub with good pizza. They have some sort of happy hour deal, too.

          I'd recommend going to Argyle St. for Viet food (the baby will be happy with some noodles or coconut rice) or to Chinatown for dim sum. Asian restaurants tend to be extremely kid friendly and there will likely be other young kids there.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Pete Oldtown

            Margie's isn't a lunch place so much as it is an iconic and perhaps even historical old fashioned -- and excellent -- ice cream parlor. It's been there since 1921. Countless couples have gone on first dates and gotten engaged to be married there. The Beatles ate there when they were in Chicago in the '60s.

            Margie's probably has the best, smoothest hot chocolate I've ever tasted. It's been there for more than 85 years for a good reason. Just go knowing what to expect.

            For breakfast in Wicker Park, consider the Bongo Room on Milwaukee or Toast on Damen. Lots of families at both, but especially Toast.

            Green Zebra is an interesting and creative (but not brilliant IMHO) vegetarian restaurant. For better food in Wicker Park, also consider Mado or Hot Chocolate. Other options include Crust on Division for organic flatbread pizza and salads, Feast, Las Palmas and Smoke Daddy. All good with a little one.