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Oct 28, 2009 01:54 PM

Single diner - Frontera/Topo or alternatives

Hi All-

I'm a business traveller from Boston who has done a bunch of Chicago trips this year and have been trying to make a dent in what has become a rather impressive set of restaurants that you guys have.

I'll be back in town next week for 1 night (Wed. night) and need a suggestion.

Here's a bit of back story to put it in context.

1 - I'm all about the food, not the hype or the ambiance. For example, by far the best meal I've ever had and still dream about was was in a shady looking shack outside of Chang Mai Thailand that cost $2US for my wife and I to have more food than we could possibly eat - i.e. I don't need fancy.

2 - I've had a lot of amazing dinners at restaurants, but I've had far less amazing second dinners at those restaurants. As such, I've been to the places below at least twice and although I've been happy the second time around, I'm not as blown away as I was the first time. So I am looking for that if I can find it.

3 - I will be solo, so I typically prefer to sit at the bar to eat if available. Also, I am likely to not make reservations, but a multi - hour wait isn't really what I'm after.

Over the past few months, I've hit Bin 36, Avec, & Graham Elliot each multiple times and have been suitably impressed, but need something new.

I was thinking about trying the Topo tasting menu at the Frontera Bar, but I am wondering how logical and realistic that is reading some of the reports here. Any chance of me getting a bar spot there on a Wed night? Is the food worth the hype?

How about any other suggestions. I realize that's an extremely open ended question, but have at it. I'd suggest that Italian and Seafood probably won't make the cut unless it is very compelling (I'm from a very Sicilian family and I live 2 blocks from the Atlantic Ocean in Boston, so its hard to compete in those categories).

Extra credit - I'm looking for a basic, simple, greasy diner open at ~5am or so near (cab or walking) E.Wacker &Michigan Ave. that is worth getting up early for before I head to ORD.

Thanks in advance for all the help!

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  1. I've been a solo diner on many of my trips out to Chicago, and have had good luck at Gage, Naha, Publican, and Vermillion.

    If you like Avec (my favorite in all of Chicago), I would guess you'll enjoy the others. Gage and Publican are both gastropubs, but different - Gage is more of a restaurant, whereas Publican has large communal seating and more of a "big room" vibe.

    Naha is a somewhat expensive, but very tasty "locavore" ingredient-driven place, quiet and sophisticated and they really take care of single diners - not squeezed into a corner somewhere.

    Vermillion is a Latin-Indian fusion place, and the combo mostly works. Go there later in the evening if you want more "energy" - it can be quiet if you're there early.

    For breakfast, my favorite in the River North area is Fox & Obel - but the breakfasts there are BIG - best split with someone else.

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

    The Gage
    24 South Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

    10 W Hubbard St, Chicago, IL 60654

    The Publican
    837 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

    500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

    1. You should be able to get a seat at the bar at Frontera (and you can order off of the Topo menu there), but I'd still arrive early. After his Top Chef finish, the place has been packed. The food is excellent - not my favorite Mexican restaurant in Chicago, but that's more of a statement about the other excellent Mexican restaurants in the city.

      Sounds like you haven't been to Blackbird, Avec's sister restaurant. It's very different but also excellent.

      My current favorite is Mado (, a byo spot in Bucktown. Because they use every inch of an animal, livers, hearts, pig's head and similar will show up on the menu. But there's no gimmick here - the food is just great and don't miss dessert . . . some of the best in the city. Staff is very friendly too. BYO might not seem reasonable for a single diner, but I'd do it here.

      Another spot I'd highly recommend is Naha, which leans a bit Mediterranean. It's pretty close to Frontera/Topo.

      Avec Restaurant
      615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

      Mado Restaurant
      1647 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

      500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

      1. "Extra credit - I'm looking for a basic, simple, greasy diner open at ~5am or so near (cab or walking) E.Wacker &Michigan Ave. that is worth getting up early for before I head to ORD."

        Can you hold off till 5:30?:

        Otherwise, you might try White Palace Grill (24 hrs). Altho it's not far you'll need a cab, but you might find the atmosphere (not necessarily the food) is worth it. It's right off the Dan Ryan, so if you call a cab from there, it'll take you right up to ORD

        1 Reply
        1. re: jbw

          Hi jbw.

          I'm pretty sure the Ohio House, at Ohio + LaSalle Streets, is open super early, only 3-4 blocks west of Michigan Avenue, so convenient, definitely a greasy spoon, attached to an old, '50s hotel, and opens at 5:30 am. A good spot. I've enjoyed it for a long time.

          Reviews here:

        2. Tempo at State and Chestnut. You''ll have no prob waving down a cab to or from. It's in the Water Tower area. Cheap, hearty - luckily, not so greasy. It's very popular and very dependable. Has everything.