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May 21, 2009 12:04 PM

Tourists Seeking Unusual Chicago Food Spots

I'm new to chowhound and have been browsing for days for our upcoming visit to Chicago. We will be there Tue-Sat Aug18-22 and can't wait for the eating to begin!

Background: We are foodies, not food snobs and we can't get alot of things where we live that we like (from Key West it's a 4hr drive to the mainland...) so when we go on vacation it's a big feeding frenzy ; ) My husband is a grad from CIA and we were both chefs in the past. His family is Thai-American but he didn't eat alot of thai growing up. We are both suckers for artisanal cheese, all forms of charcuterie and secondary cuts being transformed into delicious treats!

We will be staying downtown in order to be close to the different museums and attractions and using mass transit to get around. We will travel up to an hour for something really special...

We are looking for what we don't have here. We have seafood, fine dining and Cuban.
We are also looking to try Chicago-specific foods.

So far we are interested in:

Gold Coast Dogs (theres one in MDW for when we arrive)
Giordano's or Pizanos
Arun's (sounds different, ?)
Pastoral for lunch near Grant park area
M Henry for breakfast once
Garrett popcorn
1492 or Mercat a la Planxa
Avec or Bistro Campagne (marrow bone app-mmmm!)
Hopleaf for a meal and beer
Lao Sze Chuan (hoping to score new food finds for us)
Ras Dashen (never had Ethiopian)
Signatures for a drink/snack instead of the observation deck
Jerry's sandwiches
Hot doug
and some one please tell me where can I get my hands on some Pupusas!

I need to narrow it down a little more, but I would like suggestions of any other Chicago specialties or unusual or ethnic spots before I do.

I know it's a long way out, but I already got so excited about this Chicago style dog that I went out and bought all the ingredients to make this at home from a recipe I'd found online! I had to substitute whole wheat buns for poppyseed, peperoncinis for sport peppers (?), normal relish for the lime green kind... but I steamed the dogs and buns, added: mustard, tomatoes, relish, pickle spear, peppers, cucmber, chopped onion and celery salt. OMG! It was so good we each ate 3!!! I've never in my life eaten 3 hot dogs or enjoyed pickle relish, I can't wait to try the authentic version when I get there!!!!

Any help is appreciated and I promise to write a detailed review when we return.

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  1. Great list. You can't go wrong with Lao Sze Chuan unless you really can't handle spicy food -- don't go there without ordering Tony's Three Chili Chicken.

    Gold Coast Dog's (esp. in MDW) isn't particularly "the best" Chicago hot dog experience you can get -- I'd skip it. If you have a rental car, I'd suggest making the trip (and yes, waiting in the long line and dealing with the not-so-convenient hours) at Hot Doug's.

    Avec is one of my favorites, especially the Chorizo-stuffed bacon wrapped dates.

    Generally, though, I'd point you towards another Chicago foodie haunt,, for restaurant recs. Check out their "Great Neighboorhood Restaurant" list for a large list of places off the tourist track that have excellent food at all sorts of price points.

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

    Lao Sze Chuan
    2172 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

    1. If you're looking for "secondary cuts" you might look into Publican which specializes in all sorts of pork, oysters, and beer (and has marrow). Mado also does all of their meat/charcuterie in-house.

      Chicago has a lot of ethnic food you didn't mention. Greek, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Mexican and more all are represented by neighborhoods which are worth seeking out.

      1. I second Publican. Really delicious and great beer (if a bit pricey).

        Also, don't forget to try Italian beef. These sandwiches shouldn't be overlooked! Try Al's Italian Beef. I would not have the sandwich "dipped" unless you want your sandwich to fall apart :).

        Hot Doug's is fantastic, but kind of a pain to get to from downtown and there is ALWAYS a line. If you decide to go to a Cubs game or something, you can always go to Wiener Circle which is pretty close by and tasty.

        2 Replies
        1. re: tripc

          Thanks for the replies so far!

          I've added Publican and Al's Italian Beef to the list. Still considering Mado.

          I've removed Arun's and replaced it with Sticky Rice. It seemed the reviews were not all that great and we were hoping for something a little different. Plus, they have mango and sticky rice for dessert there!

          I really appreciate the link to the other forum, I've found it easier to search and was able to find a one stop shop for through another poster- almost all menu pages are listed, even for restaurants w/o websites. They have other major cities as well...

          Also through I found a map of Chicago area restaurants via google which is pretty cool.

          We regularly visit a Korean BBQ w/ hubby's family, but if you have one that's really stellar we'd be obliged to go.

          Also we won't be there on a Sunday, so the Hispanic market is out. Any other recs for Pupusas?


          1. re: crackedconch

            It's too bad that you won't be here for Maxwell Street, but you can also get your Mexican fix in Pilsen or Little Village.

            Pupusas? I know that there are only a handful of pupusa restaurants spread out around the city.

        2. jibertios at Borniquin
          Pizza at Burt''s in Morton Grove
          and, as mentioned elsewhere, Italian Beef (lot of good options)

          1. I agree with others on Gold Coast Dogs. If you're going to do something like that, I'd go to Portillo's for a hot dog and Italian Beef. I hit Portillo's everytime I'm in town.

            Another uniquely Chicago place is the Billy Goat Tavern. Everyone remembers the SNL skits about the place and I love sending out-of-towners there. Yeah, it's just burgers and chips (cheepz, no fries), but it's an experience you'll never forget...make sure you go to the one on Michigan Avenue.

   <---Billy Goat review

   <---a Portillo's review..this one's from Oak Lawn, but the foods the same.

            100 W Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60654

            Billy Goat Tavern
            430 N Michigan Ave Lowr 1, Chicago, IL 60611