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Sep 16, 2009 08:18 AM

Chicago Foodie Marathon 4 days - big aspirations - need advice!

I am a foodie from Vermont. I will be traveling to Chicago October 17-20th. I have absolutely nothing on my agenda except for to EAT! So tell me... what should I do? What should I see? To be honest it is a bit overwhelming and I need some help.
Are there some great restaurants that I should try? Tell me about the hole in the wall places... the locals only joints... the places that specialize in one thing and do it REALLY well! I am on a budget so I dont really want to hear about fine dining folks.
What areas should I go to to find some really good markets or cool culinary shops? Are there any worth while culinary classes workshops or tours that I should check out?
I would love to know if there is anything special going on paticularly during those dates that I should take advantage of.

Thank You for your help!!
links to websites will help me if you have them.

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  1. Definitely Hot Doug's. There's enough discussion about it on this board. The most obvious thing, be prepared for a long wait.

    For goings on around that time, check the city of Chicago site.

    1. Hot Dougs for Hot Dogs.
      Bongo Room and M.Henry for breakfast
      Art of Pizza for single slice deep dish pizza.
      Yolk for the Cinnamon Roll (still haven't tried Ann Sather's)
      Primehouse or Blackbird for the lunch prix fixe.
      Cafe Spiaggia for excellent Italian in a great setting.
      The Gage for Haute-Bar Food
      Bleeding Heart Bakery for organic baked goods.

      1 Reply
      1. re: uhockey

        I second Bleeding Heart Bakery, The Gage, and Primehouse.

      2. What an exciting premise for a trip! You'll love Chicago.

        First, ms. chow is spot-on: Hot Doug's, an "encased meat emporium" would be a place you want to hit ( but unfortunately they are closed from October 3rd-October 20th. One of the charms of Hot Doug's is that its owners are totally hands-on but that also means that if they aren't there, the place shuts down.

        Even without Hot Doug's you won't be wonting for great grub. I'll list a few of my top choices here and I know that other CHers will chime in.

        Sun-Wah BBQ: hole in the wall Korean near Argyle. A family run joint that serves an amazing four-course Peking Duck meal for $28 dollars all-in (yes, that's right, $7 a person for a party of 4!


        Tank Noodle: one of the city's best Vietnamese restaurants, and around the corner from Sun-Wah

        Lincoln Park Greenmarket ( one of the nation's finest farmer's markets, in the heart of the actual park near the intersection of Clark and LaSalle on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. One of the chefs at Spiaggia, where the Obamas often celebrate special occasions, will be presenting a demonstration at 10:30 on the 17th.

        Hopleaf ( Excellent beer list, excellent mussels and frites, great neighborhood vibe in Andersonville

        Pizza! Obviously you'll have to try Chicago deep-dish. At the risk of setting off a tangential debate, I'll put my two-cents in for Gino's East, but others on the board have strong feelings (search for Deep-Dish Debate -- favorites tend to breakdown between Gino's, Giordano's, Pizzeria Uno and Due, and Lou Malnati's). There are minor differences between the chains, but all are totally different than the pizza you're used to!

        I also think that there are some slightly nicer places that are incredible values.

        Avec ( James Beard-nominated restaurant in the West Loop serving small-plates Meditarranean at communal tables. Outstanding, seasonally-rotating menu and a really fun vibe (and great wine list). Get there early, since they don't take reservations.

        The Violet Hour ( In the spirit of a Prohibition Era speakeasy, this spot makes the best cocktails in Chicago (and among the best in the country). Try the Dark and Stormy or the Romeo and Juliet. Wicker Park/Bucktown, where Violet Hour is located, is a very fun neighborhood to walk around, people watch, and window shop. The drinks may be expensive, but they're not overpriced.

        Hot Chocolate ( - Mindy Segal does things with sugar and chocolate previously believed impossible. Go here for dessert -- it's near Violet Hour.

        Those are my top recs. For some more "hidden gems" check out, which has a section devoted to Great Neighborhood Restaurants ("GNRs") by cuisine and neighborhood.

        Let us know any other questions and good luck planning your itinerary.

        1. Disclaimer: I'm not a native, but have spent a lot of time in Chicago, a few extended stays, and eaten at a lot of places, very well. But I don't know all the local dives w/ good grub. The Chicago Hounds will have to help you with that.

          Do an architectural boat tour and maybe a bicycle tour. Go to Millennium park. Go to the Art Institute. If you're there on Sunday, go to Maxwell Street Market and eat Mexican street food from some of the vendors there.

          Budget eats (not knowing exactly your budget!):
          Urban Belly (Asian), Smoque (BBQ), lunch at Frontera Grill (Bayless's Mexican food really is amazing; you might consider this a splurge, but it's a good value), Hot Doug's as already recommended. Venus (Greek). Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba for tapas can be excellent value. (We've always liked it and had fun there, but I got berated by a Chicago native for that opinion. Still, have been there numerous times and always found the food very good.) I would also nominate Coco Pazzo Cafe in Streeterville, a few blocks off Michigan Avenue, in a hotel: very reasonable, delicious Italian food. You can have a nice dinner here--an excellent dish of pasta and an app or salad--on a tight budget. And if I recall correctly, pasta is available in half portions. We also had great sandwiches at the cafe attached to Fox & Obel (a gourmet food store you might enjoy browsing in). Also for fantastic sandwiches--Pastoral, in the Loop. and I've never been, but have friends who rave about Jerry's for sandwiches.
          Wish I were you; can't wait to get back to Chicago.

          5 Replies
          1. re: nomadchowwoman

            Any other BBQ options closer to downtown? Smoque looks great, but it is too far. We wont have a car. Any BYOB suggestions? I LOVE good BBQ

            1. re: foodiememoirs

              Try Honky Tonk, especially for the pulled pork and beef. Not too far away by cab, and you can also get there with one or two transfers on the CTA:


              1. re: foodiememoirs

                Smoque is very close to the Irving Park Road Blue Line stop, particularly if you use the secondary exit on Pulaski.

                Honey 1 is a short walk from the Western Avenue stop on the Blue Line.

                Both Smoque and Honey 1 are among the Great Neighborhood Restaurants selected by LTHForum, which is a good source for restaurants outside the tourist district. will link you to more than you may want to know including a lot of pictures.

                Honey 1 BBQ
                2241 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

              2. re: nomadchowwoman

                I want to berate the chicagoan that berated you for liking Cafe Ba-ba-reba.
                I am a native and I really like it.

                1. re: jbontario

                  jbontario--it is always good to get the seal of approval from a native. btw, i love chicago and chicago chow!

              3. WOW! All great so far! I am beginning to get addresses for all of these great sounding places so I can add them to my list. What about breakfast? Where is best? I now know that I will be staying at Swissotel on Wacker. Anything right near there?

                How about spice shops, bakeries, or sweet shops that I should visit?

                Has anyone had the fondue at Swisshotel? Is it worth it?

                6 Replies
                1. re: foodiememoirs

                  There's a lot of threads on breakfast on this board. See which ones sounds good to you. The food at Swissotel is pretty boring. For breakfast in the area, Fox & Obel serves good breakfast items, but i have been disappointed with their service (i.e., staff doesn't clean tables as fast, so you're stuck with an dirty table left by previous diner, etc). West Egg Cafe is good, but it is a no-frills diner. The Gage, an upscale gastropub, serves excellent brunch.

                  The Spice House in Old Town is the best for spices. There is also enough discussions on this board about bakeries and sweets.

                  Fox & Obel Food Market
                  401 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60611

                  The Gage
                  24 South Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

                  1. re: ms. chow

                    Thanks Ms. Chow! for the recommends. I see that there is plenty on the forum to look at, but I don't have time to comb through the chaos... hence my post. :) Have you stayed at Swissotel? Did I make a good choice? It was difficult to decide where to stay!

                    1. re: foodiememoirs

                      You're welcome. Swissotel is a decent place to stay. The food at the hotel is just nothing to brag about. The Palm (the steakhouse) is in your hotel. But i'm not into steaks generally. And in Cow-Town, why go to an ok national chain?

                      As for breakfast, The Gage realtively close to you has excellent brunch. What do you look for for breakfast? More savory? More sweet? Location not an issue?

                      Same as well for bakeries and sweets. What specific things are you looking for?

                      1. re: ms. chow

                        Just memorable things really. I am on a budget but enjoy everything. I am not picky. If you have something that is particularly memorable, that is what I am looking for. I dont care where it is.

                        1. re: foodiememoirs

                          I see you've gotten good recs on your other posts. So just to reiterate what is on this thread.

                          Hot Doug's is very memorable. It is not really about the normal hot dog, but the other myriad sausages they have. it is a great value for the money.

                          Sun Wah BBQ, if you are in the mood for Chinese BBQ, is definitely a good one for the price.

                          Urban Belly is a great pan-Asian noodle place. It is fast food, but don't think it's Panda Express or even Chinatown noodle houses. Chef Bill Kim brings a lot pf pedigree to the joint.

                          1. re: ms. chow

                            If you decide on Sun Wah (very accessible on the Red Line) be sure to call first, since they've recently moved around the corner and, as far as I know, have not yet re-opened.