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New to Chicago

Hello foodies. I'm a long-time New Yorker recently transplanted to Streeterville for school. I'm looking to find my new culinary home in Chicago, and I'd love some help. My roommates and I are trying to build two lists of places to go--one of places that are (relatively) close by and worthwhile--favorite chinese, thai, sushi, lunch, dessert/ice cream, deli, breakfast, etc. Since none of us have cars (and are in class most of the day), we're looking for close-ish. I'd also love a list of places worth the (not outrageously difficult) trip--places to explore on the weekends.

For the first list, we tried Dao Thai the other night and found it to be passible but not amazing.

For the second, thinking Hot Doug's, some of the Dim Sum places in Chinatown (brings back memories of weekly trips to Dim Sum Go Go or Golden Unicorn), etc. We're frankly less interested in the debates about which place is BEST (we'll try 'em all), just some pointers as to where to head.

I'm sure that this has also been covered elsewhere to some degree--if there are links that would be helpful instead of originally constructed paragraphs, those would be great as well.


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  1. I'm a HUGE fan of Hot Doug's, but it's kind of off the beaten path if you don't have a car. Call the CTA or go to the website for bus routes, because I think that's the only option (I could be wrong, but I don't think the el goes near there). You should also know it's closed on Sundays, so Saturdays are your only option in terms of list #2, open 10:30-4:00 (and not a minute past). http://hotdougs.com/default.htm

    1. For your neighborhood list.
      Sayat Nova - great Armenian food, lively atmosphere.
      Coco Pazzo Cafe - comfort Italian.
      1492 - intimate Spanish tapas.
      Oysy - sushi and izagaya.
      West Egg Cafe - no frills breakfast.

      For your worth the trip list:
      Lula Cafe - creative modern food.
      Avec - Mediterranean focused scenester hang out.
      Happy Chef for dim sum
      Lao Sze Chuan
      Publican - oyster, pork, beer
      Green Zebra - vegetable focused
      Bistro Campagne - modern, farm to table French bistro
      Province - creative Mediterranean, Latin America food
      Sepia - Refined modern American in a sexy setting.
      Anteprima - takes you back to Italy. Or to Italy.

      1. Hi... welcome. I'm a long ago transplanted New Yorker who now thinks of myself as a Chicagoan. I recommend Semiramis (Middle Eastern) on Kedzie right near the Kedzie Bown Line stop. Also, the closest to a New York deli is Manny's on Clinton (or is it Jefferson) just off Roosevelt Road. Wherever you end up, happy eating at much more reasonable prices than in the 5 boroughs.

        1 Reply
        1. re: debbypo

          Pastaguy, I'm in the same boat - New York foodie, headed back to finish my time at Medill in a few weeks. In preparation for the soul-shattering hours and intellectual drubbing I'm about to receive, I've done a preposterous amount of research, so that I might end my day with the soothing balm of, say, a pizza the size of my head.

          But in all seriousness, I'm a foodie with pretty varied taste, and although I'm a ways from you (border of Gold Coast and Lincoln Park) I've got a huge list going. I like your philosophy of guaranteed quality rather than "best" - which is always an amorphous distinction, anyway. Highlights of respective cuisines that I'm going to be specially visiting are:

          Sol de Mexico for the real deal black mole, and elevated Mexican cuisine (and to compare to Bayless's ballyhooed Frontera's later on)
          M. Henry for the classic stuff-your-face-and-make-noises brunch - check out their menu's blisscakes and french toast. Seems like a better Norma's.
          Smoque, Honey 1, and some others for real-deal bbq like we New Yorkers dream about.
          Kuma's for their burgers, Tacqueria Puebla for their infamous cemitas.
          The Art of Pizza's stuffed crust pizza gets votes over the Lou Malnati's contingent, even among my native Chicagoan friends. This is earth-shattering and borderline treason, so it's worth a trip for that alone.
          For Thai, everyone seems to say Spoon Thai's "secret" menu is as close at it gets to delicious stuff actually eaten in the homeland.
          Toro sushi is well loved. Katsu is high-end, but worth it if you're a fan. Sort of like the Sushi Yasuda of Chicago.
          Cafecito's got great cuban-style sandwiches, and wi-fi. Fun place to study.

          I've got a far bigger list running that would threaten to overload the Chowhound server, but I cannot link or post my email due to regulations and their secret police. Holler at me if you've got more specific questions.

        2. Thai - If you want serious Thai food, take the red line or brown line L trains north. My favorite Thai restaurant in Chicago is Spoon Thai and it's about a 1 minute walk from the Brown Line Western Ave. stop. You don't need to ask for the "secret" translated Thai language menu - they bring you that menu when you sit down. N.B. - if you just plan to order Ameri-Thai noodle dishes, you might be disappointed. They specialize in authentic Thai food and it is amazing and cheap. Also, it's byo and there are a couple of liquor stores right near the restaurant.

          About 5 blocks south of Spoon is Sticky Rice which is also fantastic (might have to ask for Thai menu, assuming they have it . . . otherwise find it on lthforum.com)

          Right next to the Sheridan Red Line stop is TAC Quick, which is also outstanding. At TAC, you do need to ask for the translated Thai language menu usually.

          For dim sum, my personal favorite in Chinatown is Shui Wah in the Chinatown mall. Afterward, head next door to St. Anna's Bakery for the best Chinese pastries. If you insist on cart dim sum service, Phoenix is very good too, but I prefer Shui Wah.

          For non-dim sum, I am a big fan of (Little) Three Happiness for pan fried noodles and salt and pepper shrimp (the one on the south side of Cermak; avoid the Three Happiness on the north side at all costs). It's largely Cantonese. For spicier food, head to Lao Sze Chuan or Double Li. My absolute favorite Chinese restaurant is more of a Hong Kong bbq-type place called Sun Wah and it's on Argyle, north of the city next to the Red Line Argyle L stop. I love their pan fried noodles (extra crispy), their Beijing duck and their bbq pork and duck options. Argyle features mostly Vietnamese restaurants and there are a lot of those to try too.

          1 Reply
          1. re: BRB

            From a big Tac Quick fan: since its right off the Red Line, a bit closer than Spoon Thai to Streeterville. I've never been disappointed when I've ordered off the chalk board there.

            and here's a couple of Streeterville recs: Boston Blackies for good relatively inexpensive burgers, and a second on Coco Pazzo Cafe for midlevel Italian.

          2. welcome to Chicago. without being argumentative, try:
            chinese: spring mountain for hunan, szechuan (chinatown square), lee wing wah for classical cantonese, i 2nd the sun wah rec; try the duck over rice and shrimp dumpling soup with or without the noodles.
            vietnamese: pho at 777 on Argyle st.
            thai: 2nd and 3rd spoon thai rec, on western, near the L station,
            indian: indian grill on clark, south of fullerton, himalaya in Niles, but that might be a trip for you.
            dim sum: happy chef next to shu wah is worth a try.
            pizza: also try Pat's for thin crust pizza (on Lincoln Ave), unos or dues for chicago style
            cajun: heaven on seven on Wabash (better ambiance than the Michigan ave location)
            best of luck to you in your new home town

            1. A couple of more off the beaten path places to try:
              -El Borinquen for a lechon jibarito - there is location on California near Division and one on Western, near Addison
              -Urban Belly in Logan Square - gourmet noodle shop, BYOB
              - The Half Shell - for king crab legs; it is a complete dive and would be fun to go with your buddies from school; lots of bars nearby to hang out at after dinner
              -Bruna's in Little Italy for old school decor and food - the lasagna bolognese is off the charts

              Enjoy your culinary adventures in our fine city!

              1. 1 easy public transportation from downtown

                chinese: Lao Sichuan for spicy sichuan cuisine or hot pot; Lao Beijing or Ed's Potstickers for northern fair and manchurian cuisine; Mandarin Kitchen for hot pot; Phoenix for dim sum; Saint's Alp or Joy Yee's for bubble tea (all these places are in or around Chinatown)

                sushi: Naniwa or Bob San (same owner, i prefer naniwa); Itto Sushi

                dessert: Hot Chocolate, TRU's dessert tasting menu (this is an ultra fine dining option)

                lunch: Blackbird's lunch prix fixe, Sepia, Province, The Gage (outdoor), Chicken Planet (for a hole-in-the-wall soul food-style chicken experience in the loop); Fox & Obel Cafe, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo (same owner, i prefer Topolobampo, which is a tad pricier. for either of these two, the easiest way to get in is to stand in line before it opens at 11:30); Terzo Piano (if you become a member of the museum, you get a 10% discount everytime)

                breakfast: The Bongo Room (i like the white chocolate and caramel covered pretzel pancake); Yoshi's Cafe sunday brunch (the "japanese breakfast" is a fun and awesome experience).

                2. cab worthy

                sushi: Katsu .

                I would add that, unlike nyc (which has a pretty good congregation of japanese restaurants in the east village), Chicago's japanese community is located in a suburb 40 miles northwest to the city (Arlington Heights). and if you really want more authentic japanese options, it might be worth taking the blue line to Rosemont and cab from there. once there, the places to go for sushi are: Sushi Station, Nippon Kan, and Nobu's. My personal favorite Japanese restaurant is Daruma (it has sushi, but it also has amazing hot dishes)

                3. other resaurants i'd recommend, all of which are within reach of public transportation, but do not fit into your categories:

                Carnivale, Avec, Takashi, Spring, L2O (ultra fine dining), Murasaki (sake lounge), IL Mulino (from new york, actually), Cido Matto (only for the appetizers and pasta), Osteria via Stato, China Grill by the Hard Rock Hotel (only for the giant martini), Intelligentsia (Chicago's own Starbucks)

                1. Thank you all--I can't wait to try all of these places!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: pastaguy

                    Welcome to Chicago! I agree wholeheartedly with the rec for Kuma's Corner - Essentially is a rock/metal dive bar whose game is essentially microbrews and awesome food from a kitchen the size of a den. Be warned, if you try to get there Thur dinner rush through Saturday Dinner rush, waits can be as long as 2-3 hrs, so get their early. The burgers are to die for and I haven't had a bad one yet (Lair if the Minotaur w/ its burbon soaked pear, pancetta, brie and caramelized onions is one of my favorites). But don't stop at burgers, the mussels are a great value in the city, perfectly cooked little morsels swimming in a butter white ale broth, or their build your own Mac & Cheese (try it w/ Sundried tomatoes and crisp prosciutto...*drool). For one person, burger, 1/2 appetizer tax and tip + one drink, expect a tab of about $23-25.
                    For Sushi, Agami is a must. The acid trip club decor can be a bit much, but the food is spot on: fresh fish, a great balance of flavor and great presentation. Fusion is their big theme there and they do it well. Try the White tuna Carpaccio or the Uni Shooter; lightly flavored with citrus soy and sesame seeds on a bed of baby greens and fresh tomatoes, a great start to any meal, or a shot of ponzu/citrus infused soy holding a morsel of uni (sea urchin, rich, briny and delicious) a softboiled quail egg and just enough green onion to balance out the flavor, you'll get the intense rush of the soy/ponzu broth followed up by the burst of richness from the uni and egg and as you chew, a freshness from the green onion... *drool... XD
                    I'll stop here...I'm gettin a little hungry... Buon Apetito!

                    1. re: OISHII123

                      Yes to Agami. I feel it is very Sushisamba, but done right. The decor is trippy.

                    2. re: pastaguy

                      Just a few more quick ones!
                      Tapas - Cafe Iberico downtown is a great value, but beware the crowds on weekends. Cafe Babareeba(? hope I spelled that right) in the northside by DePaul University is a little pricier, but you get what you pay for and the Sangria menu is much more diverse.
                      Chinatown - Double Li (same streetside as the big pink building/Three Happiness, past the fire station, Yellow and red sign) is a nice little place. Not dimsum, but really good food nonetheless. Try the Dry Chili Chicken or the twice cooked duck.
                      And your from NY, I know, but for Pizza/Deepdish, you have to go w/ Lou Malnatis. generous toppings, crispy crust (if you're getting it to go, ask for it uncut to preserve the crunch) and a nice sauce on top, the best in my opinion, thougn I guess Uno and Due are pretty close. Again, happy hunting and welcome to Chi-town.

                      1. re: OISHII123

                        If Iberico gets to much to bear, 1492 is a nice alternative. Quieter and could either be intimate or loud depending on your party. Actually i much prefer 1492 than Iberico.

                        1492 Tapas Bar
                        42 E Superior St, Chicago, IL 60611

                    3. Tank - 1/2 price sushi on sundays and its actually good/fresh

                      Matisse - great appetizers- 3.00 burger w/fries ---yummy awesum sangria 2 or 3 dollars on tues. half price wine bottles amd glasses on wed

                      Mia Francesca - good italian food in lakeview ---very filling

                      Market 1/2 price appetizers on mon in the west loop ---randolph st is awesum

                      Cozy Noodles---on Sheffield near wrigley---

                      Rockit- Wrigley ville ---good food great cocktails