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Aug 13, 2009 06:46 PM

Three nights only, Help!!!!!

Excited about my first trip to Chicago but stressing (ok just a little) about my dinner selections. I will be there from Thursday to Sunday in October with my wife. I have a reservation at Alinea for one night (not sure I can wait until October...) but not sure what to do for the other two. I really want to try a Rick Bayless spot and was leaning toward doing dinner at Frontera Grill on Thursday night. Is this a must do? How is the wait on a Thursday night? is lunch a better play? is Topolobampo a better call?

If I do dinner at Frontera one night that leaves one more dinner. I've reviewed the Board and narrowed it down to Tru, L20, Spiaggia, North Pond, MK, Everest and Blackbird. Of course, I'm open to additional suggestions. I'm looking for Chicago's best/must do's and a good follow up/compliment to Alinea and Frontera.

If Frontera is a pass or a lunch, I need two more spots.

I'm also interested in great casual lunch spots. Dogs, deep dish etc. (Hot Doug's and Lou Malnati's??)

Looking forward to your recs and my first trip to Chicago.
Thanks in advance.

I'm leaning toward staying at the Peninsula if location matters.

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  1. See my recent thread for a lot of good stuff.

    Skip Spiaggia - awful experience and they don't care. The Cafe was good for lunch, though.

    Not sure where you're coming from, but while North Pond is a nice view, it is average overall. If you're from Cali or NY there is nothing novel here - and even Columbus (my home town) has equal/better food.

    I'd put Alinea, Charlie Trotters, The Art of Pizza, Hot Doug's, M.Henry, Bongo Room, and TRU (at least for the dessert tasting) on my very short list.

    1. It really depends on the kind of experience that you are looking for. You already have Alinea, the best restaurant in the country, and Frontera, the best casual Mexican restaurant in the country. So for a 3rd, what do you feel like the most? If you want another high-end fine dining restaurant, i'd recommend Avenues, Tru, L2O. For a more casual fine dining experience, Blackbird. Yes and yes to Hot Doug's and Malnati's. You read the board, get early to Hot Doug's.

      Chicago's best/must do's is a long list. You only have 3 nights now. Reason to come back again. (Am i sounding like a commercial?)

      4 Replies
      1. re: ms. chow

        I say get out and see the neighborhoods of Chicago. You have some great places in there, but why not head up to Lincoln Square for Tallulah or Bistro Campagne or someplace a little more "chill" for a final night here? It jus depends, what do you really love, or what is lacking in your home town? Where you visiting from?

        1. re: Chargenda

          Miami. No objection to a "chill" night but you have so many great options that I hate to pass on something great.

          1. re: The Chowfather

            Agreed - too much great stuff in Chicago to "chill." I can get chill bar food at home. :-)

        2. re: ms. chow

          Any thoughts on Graham Elliot? Would you do that over Blackbird if I went the casual route for dinner 3?

        3. The wait at frontera on any given day is likely to be around two hours. The bar area is a bit easier to get in to, though, if you don't mind eating there. Full menu from frontera and topolobampo available.

          1. I know people from out of town love to try a Rick Bayless place. I get it, especially with his current popularity on Top Chef. The food is very good at both Topo and Frontera, but there are upscale Mexican places in Chicago I prefer to both and the wait at Frontera is almost always ridiculous. Topo is the better of the two in my opinion, but very pricey. But an fyi for those staying downtown - you can give your name at the restaurant and they'll call you on your cell phone when your table is close to ready.

            But depending upon your preferences, I might recommend places such as Salpicon, Sol de Mexico, Fonda del Mar or Mixteco Grill above Topolobampo/Frontera. My favorite is Sol de Mexico just because I love moles and nobody does them better. Salpicon is nicely decorated and a little more upscale and is closest to downtown.

            Graham Elliot gets some mixed reviews, but I've really enjoyed my meals there. It can be a bit loud, but the food is very creative and usually very well executed.

            Blackbird and Naha are my top choices for dining in the category of almost fine dining - i.e., just below the top tier places such as Alinea, Tru, etc. I prefer them to Graham Elliot, but that's not a knock on GE (by the way, I also like MK, but I have not been there in a while). Blackbird can be a bit crowded but the food is great. Naha is more comfortable. You'll have a great meal at either place. I'm a little more positive about North Pond than UHockey, but I would agree that the location and beautiful setting is the highlight of any meal at North Pond.

            Hot Doug's and Malnati's are both very good, but be prepared to wait a while at Hot Doug's - typically 20 minutes to an hour. For deep dish, Pizano's pizzas are essentially the same as Malnati's (both owned by Malnati family members) and they have a location in the Loop and one in the Gold Coast (closer to the Peninsula).

            1. i just returned from 3 nights in chicago, and ate at alinea, topolobampo (tried two different tasting menus), and graham elliott. i was not disappointed with any of them, and alinea was one of the finest meals i've ever eaten. this lineup worked for me.

              as far as pizza and hot dogs, i regret not getting to hot doug's but i didn't have the time. portillo's (in the downtown are) was a good way to try a "chicago" dog.

              it was a great city, food and otherwise.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jcd

                Great choices. Not the only great choices, but definately foodie heaven.