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Tips for a Chicago girl exiled in DC

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Old favorite places were Hot Chocolate, Scylla, Salpicon, Pizza DOC, Bongo Room, Orange and Hearty Boys for brunch, NoMI, Cocco Pazzo Cafe, Lula Cafe. I'd happily return to all those places but I only have 3 days in Chicago and based on my itinerary I'll probably only get to plan one real meal out - on the later side on a Saturday after a Sox game. I've been spending a lot of time on these message boards and come up with the four frontrunners, all of whom seem to get consistently great reviews from you all and all of whose menus look fantastic!

Publican
Mercat
Perennial
Province

If you had one real Chicago meal after 3 years of the comparatively blah DC restaurant scene (no offense to my adopted town, Chicago just sets the bar exceptionally high), which of those four would you pick? We're a couple in our 20s, without a TON of discretionary spending money (meaning Alinia stays sadly out of reach), but we're saving a bundle staying with family, and will mostly be doing free or nearly free activities, so we can afford one nice (if not break-the-bank) meal.

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  1. I just was in Chicago for the first time in a year. The meal I had at Hot Chocolate most reminded me of home. The food has improved measurably and the deserts are as great as they have always been. I would hit up the Publican and then head over to Hot Chocolate for the best day ever.

    1. It would be very hard to pick just one off this list, but my personal choices are:

      1. Publican. Best gastropub. I know the people behind the restaurant does not like this term. But it is a leading contender with the current movement of 'back to basics' restaurant. See NYTimes article. Great casual atmosphere, excellent beer, seafood, pork. It has the most casual vibe of all, and you don't necessarily have to spend a ton.

      2. Mercat. Best tapas place right now in the city. Creative food, fun, sexy atmosphere. I know there will be 'hounds that will disagree. It is also pricier compared to other garden-variety tapas places around.

      3. Province. Unique restaurant with a mediterranean, latin american focus. They have the most categories of food i've seen in a restaurant, and that gives you a lot of flexibility on what you order and spend. Great space.

      4. Perrenial. I have been a fan of Chef Poli and am glad he is back in town at a great restaurant. Casual, market-focused.

      4 Replies
      1. re: ms. chow

        ms. chow, it continues to amaze me when I read your posts. You almost always say exactly what I am thinking.

        So from me: ditto.

        1. re: chicgail

          Thanks chicgail. Great minds think alike. ;-)

          1. re: ms. chow

            Thank you SO much for the very helpful breakdown. Publican was exactly what we were looking for and it did not disappoint! I'm only sad that I was there with only 2 other people and so didn't get to taste everything on the menu! The shrimp and squid ink fettucine was a favorite, but everything was superbly executed and we had a fantastic time.

            DC has some wonderful restaurants no doubt, and the best Ethiopian I've ever had. But anyone who thinks that DC restaurants can hold a candle to Chicago's in terms of quality, innovation, variety, value (I could go on and on)...well, he/she needs to get out more in Chicago.

            1. re: chitodc

              Great to hear you had a fantastic time.

      2. As someone who moved from DC to Chicago I must say, you need to get out more. DC's restaurant scene, while not as broad as Chicago's is excellent. Every time I go back to visit there are more restaurants I want to go to than meals in a day. Instead of pining away for what you don't have anymore, go out and enjoy what you do have.

        Of course, enjoy your stay in Chicago as well.

        I'd choose Publican out of that bunch.