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Dec 12, 2009 12:51 PM

Visiting chicago at the end of the month- any advice?

Hey guys, I'm visiting Chicago on the 28th to the 3rd and will be staying off the Mile on Ontario I believe. I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions as to whats good around the area. My price range isn't incredibly high ( I'm a law student) and I am not picky. Also, my girlfriend's birthday is on the 29th as well so I was trying to find somewhere nice for that dinner at least. I heard Signature room is good,but I have always been skeptical of restaurants that on top of buildings like that, I don't know why. Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks !

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  1. I wrote recent posts in a couple of topics you'll probably find helpful.

    This topic is about affordable eating near the Sheraton, which is not far from where you're staying, so all of the recommendations there are appropriate to your question:

    Your girlfriend's birthday is on a Tuesday. This topic is about Tuesday night specials: Of the places whose Tuesday deals are detailed there, Cafe des Architectes, which is a great restaurant serving contemporary American cuisine, is a short walk from where you're staying. La Sardine and Le Bouchon are further and would require a short cab ride. Any of these would be a great place to celebrate a birthday. If you let the restaurant know about the birthday when making your reservation, maybe they will do something special, like serving a dessert with a lit candle in it.

    One more possibility for the birthday dinner, if you're willing to splurge, is North Pond. It's about 2.5 miles north of where you're staying, in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, rather than the adjacent neighborhood of the same name), so it would require a cab ride there and back (assuming you don't want to take the bus to a birthday dinner). What makes it special is its setting; it faces its namesake pond, with the city skyline towering over the opposite shore, and is in the renovated building that formerly served as a warming shelter for ice skaters on the pond. The food is very good, but significantly more expensive than the previous recommendations; you can see prices on the menu on their website at

    Your skepticism about the Signature Room is well-founded; it has had its ups and downs over the years. Its bar, the Signature Lounge, is a great place to grab a drink before or after eating elsewhere, assuming there aren't low clouds at the time.

    Feel free to ask more questions and we'll try to help.

    16 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      thanks for the advice! I don't mind the occasional splurge. also, what do you know about korean bbq places ? i remember going to one right off a lakeshore drive exit

      1. re: Troika

        I don't know anything about them, but here is a list of all of the Korean restaurants within the city limits; maybe a name will ring a bell:

        1. re: Troika

          Koreatown is in Albany Park, a neighborhood off the beaten path, but easy to get to from the Loop. Hop on the Brown line towards Kimball and get off at Kedzie and hit Kang Nam. Albany Park also has the best Middle Eastern in the city if you're into that kind of thing. Also right next to the Kedzie Brown Line is Salam, Semiramis and Noon O Kebab. Salam is the cheapest...$7-8 for a meal. Semiramis is BYOB and about $10-12 and Noon o Kebab is about $15-17 but not BYOY.

          Consider checking out Urban Belly a ramen shop owned by a Korean chef and his Puerto Rican wife, the Phat Rice is awesome!

          And if you like Pho, take the red line north to Argyle and you're in "little Vietnam". Tank has great pho for about $6 and it's BYO.

          Have a great time!

        2. re: nsxtasy

          Just ate at North Pond this weekend and I highly second the recommendation. Not only is it a beautiful location at the north end of a pond in Lincoln Park, but the food was extraordinary and the service hit all the right notes as friendly, but not overbearing or cloying.. Seconding what nsxtasy noted, it is also not inexpensive.

          1. re: chicgail

            I remember hearing about a restaurant that Michelle and Barack Obama went to on their date night. It's an italian place and I believe it started with an S and it's right across from the signature room. I know I'm not being very descriptive but if anyone knows what I'm talking about, I would love it.
            Also, does anyone know any cool, down to earth bars? I work part time at a bar down here in New Orleans and it's a cool, chill local bar with not not alot of yuppies or snooty people. How about some normal, greasy bar joints with pool and good people where I won't feel like I'm the oldest person there?

            1. re: Troika

              The restaurant you are talking about is Spiaggia. It is a very upscale Italian restaurant. If your price range "isn't incredibly high," I don't recommend it. However, Spiaggia's sister restaurant, Cafe Spiaggia, is far less expensive and uses the same kitchen. I've had some wonderful meals there and recommend it.

              Sorry I can't help you with greasy bar joints, but I'm sure other people can.

              Cafe Spiaggia
              980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

              980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

              1. re: chicgail

                Yup. Spiaggia is a very high-end place (the only one of our high-end restaurants specializing in Italian cuisine), and a great choice for special occasions. It's dressy, jackets for gentlemen, etc. I *DO* recommend it, *IF* that's the kind of place you're looking for. However, I also agree with chicgail that Cafe Spiaggia is wonderful in its own right; in fact, I consider the Cafe the very best mid-priced Italian restaurant in the city. It's indeed far less expensive (entrees in the mid twenties, vs low forties for its big sister). It's also casual for attire, and open for lunch. The two restaurants are side by side at the end of North Michigan Avenue kitty-corner from Oak Street Beach; that's a couple of short blocks north of the Hancock Building where the Signature Room is located, and roughly half a mile north of where you're staying. Spiaggia and Cafe Spiaggia share the same website - either website address, or , will get you to the same place - where you can find sample menus with prices for both restaurants.

                I, too, can't help with bar joints, other than to note that what you're looking for is more commonly found in the residential neighborhoods rather than the downtown tourist/shopping district where you're staying.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  You probably don't want to just stay in the pricey neighborhood of your hotel. Two distinctive and moderately priced restaurants in the Loop are the Osasis Cafe and Heaven on Seven.

                  The Oasis is not like any other restaurant I know. Its in the Loop, located at the back of the Jewelers Mall. The furnishing and decor are functional; the cuisine is Lebanese and excellent. See Metromix:


                  Just a block north of the Oasis is the original Heaven on Seven--on the 7th floor of an office building. It has several branches, but the original is the best. See its web site:


                  Neither of them serve dinner and are very crowded at noon, but the crowd will have thinned out by 1pm It's best to go either of them at 1pm or so.

                  1. re: lina14

                    Thank you guys very much. Oh, have you guys heard of the Map room?

                    1. re: Troika

                      I've heard of the Map Room and want to try it.

                      I'm from LA, too! You're gonna love Chicago, the people are so nice here!

                      Take the time to visit Hopleaf. Just take the red line north to Berwyn and walk west to Clark. It's a great Belgian beer bar and restaurant. They open at 3 on weekdays. Go in the afternoon for a late lunch or snack, sit at the bar and talk with the bartenders. They're great and it's a super cool bar.

                      Another great bar on Clark, just 1/2 block from Hopleaf is Simon's Tavern. An old Swedish bar from the 30s. This time of year they have glogg. Also in Andersonville, a tad north still of Simon's, is a great little martini bar called Marty's on Clark and Balmoral. A great martini!

                      If you want a fancy drink out, check out the Violet Hour in Wicker Park on Damen just south of North Ave. It's not a place that you're gonna want to drink all night, ($15 cocktails!), but it's a great place for pre-dinner drinks. A super cool speak easy kind of place.

                      There is a great Italian place in Andersonville called Anteprima if you wanted to make a night out of it. It's reasonable, but cute enough for a birthday dinner. The food is excellent. Again, on Clark, right in the same couple of blocks as the places above.

                      Please, don't go to Heaven on Seven. I don't know why people want to send someone from LA to a "creole or cajun" place. I can assure you, you can get better anywhere in New Orleans.

                      I'd also highly recommend The Publican in the West Loop, not too far from your hotel on the train. It's currently one of my fave places in the city. Great meats, an ever changing menu, but hands down, my fave thing is their mussels, they are the best ever. Their roast chicken is fabulous and the fish specials are always great!

                      Have a great trip!

                      1. re: geg5150

                        whoa, thanks for the great advice. Any other places would be great. Also, i'm coming in around 8 pm on a monday, is there anything quick and easy to eat around there?

                        1. re: Troika

                          Oh, and I was going to say...def check the Hancock Tower, but go for a drink, not for dinner. It's open until 11 every night

                    2. re: lina14

                      >> You probably don't want to just stay in the pricey neighborhood of your hotel.

                      Nonsense! There's plenty of affordable eating in the River North and Streeterville areas - everything from burgers at Boston Blackie's to Armenian food at Sayat Nova to pizza at Uno and Due to tapas at Sol y Nieve to Italian food at Coco Pazzo Cafe, just to mention a few. And I don't see the point of traveling to the Loop to go to Heaven on Seven when they have a location about a block from your hotel.

                      >> Oh, have you guys heard of the Map room?

                      The Map Room is a brewpub in the Wicker Park neighborhood, roughly four miles northwest of your hotel. I haven't been there...

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        What do you think of Fox and Oble? I think thats how you spell it. How are their lunches and such?

                        1. re: Troika

                          Fox and Obel is an upscale (gourmet, really) grocer that has cafe that serves excellent lunches (and such). Worth a visit absolutely.

                          1. re: chicgail

                            Yes, definitely. They're open from 6 a.m. to midnight every day. The cafe serves all day long. In addition to lunch as chicgail notes, it's also a great place for breakfast, with omelets and such made to order. (I like their "Cobb omelet.) They even have bigger items at dinnertime. The atmosphere is your basic coffeehouse, nothing special, but the food is excellent. You can see their complete cafe menu on their website at

                            Of course, their other items - baked goods (I LOVE their cinnamon swirl rolls) and prepared foods, and for us locals, basics like meats and fresh fish and cheeses and such - are all excellent as well. It's just a few blocks east and south from where you're staying.

          2. MAPROOM is super cool if ur a fan of rare beers

            you should check out Salud, Forno Diablo, Matisse if your a little north of the city

            In the loop/river north area is Wildfire, MK, Graham Elliot, Cafe Iberico which are pretty nice not too expensive

            for Korean BBQ till 5am try san soo gab san --- its worth the trip
            for fun sushi date spot try Tank

            1. There is a good and reasonable place right around the corner from you, Big Bowl, on Ohio just west of Rush. It's informal with a cheery atmosphere and has very good stir-fries and other Pan-Asian meals for around $10-$12. See their website for menu. Also, Heaven on Seven (Rush and Ohio) has interesting Cajun breakfasts on weekends. The Signature Room is expensive at dinner but has a deal at lunchtime Mon-Sat, a buffet lunch for about $20---go on a clear day to see the stunning views from 96the floor as the walls are made of glass. If you can manage about $25 pp consider lunch at Fogo de Chao (Brazilian, LaSalle & Erie) Mon-Fri, half of the dinnertime price---prix fixe for all the excellent meat in the world and a fine salad bar. Go to "chicago restaurant menu" to view menus of around 3000 Chicago restaurants, with prices.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Querencia

                So if i'm in the area around the Mile, how close or far is wicker park, lincoln park, and all the other neighborhoods that would offer cool surprises? I usually hate tourist hot spots, they have enough of those in New Orleans.

                1. re: Troika

                  As I already posted above, :) Wicker Park is about four miles northwest of your hotel. Lincoln Park is 2-3 miles north of your hotel. There are literally dozens and dozens of neighborhoods all over the city that "offer cool surprises" (food and non-food related), including the various neighborhoods comprising downtown Chicago as well as those further away. Entire books have been written on the subject! And many of us locals go to restaurants and other attractions downtown; it's not just for visitors from out of town.

                  The Chicago Visitors Bureau has information about events and attractions on its website at For a guide to Chicago neighborhoods, go to Don't forget that the Chowhound Team would like the discussions here to concentrate on food and beverage rather than non-food topics.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Here are two other topics that will give you a better familiarity with the city and its neighborhoods:

                    New to the Chicago Board? Read This First -

                    Best Chicago Foodie 'Hood -

                  2. re: Troika

                    Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and may of those have wonderful residents and interesting things to see. Many of them are worth exploring if you have the time and the weather allows you to walk around. Not always comfortable at this time of the year, but you never know.

                    Some neighborhoods (but not all) you might want to consider include:
                    Wicker Park/Bucktown is about 5 miles northwest.. Loaded with interesting restaurants and boutiques broadly from Division to Armitage along Damen Ave.
                    Lincoln Park is about 3 miles south. I find parts of it to be congested and cheezy; other parts of it are lovely.
                    Lincoln Square is maybe 7 miles north and west. Also a good place to walk about and enjoy restaurants and shops.

                    Other neighborhoods to consider are Andersonville, Lakeview, Uptown (Vietnamese), Roscoe Village, Rogers Park (Indian/Pakistani) and River North. These are all north and/or west of the Magnificent Mile and the central tourist area. The South Loop and River West are also worth consideration. And that's just the start.

                    I'm afraid I don't know much about neighborhoods on the South Side with the possible exception of Pilsen (for great Mexican).

                    If you'll be using public transportation, will give you access to getting around. And can help you find out what's in the area.

                    I hope this doesn't open too many options for you, but if there's something that interests you, I'm sure CHs can give more directions.

                    1. re: chicgail

                      that all sounds great. I definitely want to check out wicker park and bucktown. And I have never been to the Vietnamese town in uptown. Thanks alot.

                2. Wow! Lots of great recs here...looks like I'm set for MY upoming trip to Chicago in May.