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Feb 10, 2010 04:07 PM

Browntrout or other downtown-ish suggestions?

I'm back for my (approximately) monthly visit to your fine city, and looking for one or two new places to add to my list.. I came across Browntrout but found very little on Chowhound so thought I would check if anyone has opinions/experience on it.

My preferences align very well with nsxtsy and uhockey, in general, so what I like is Avec, Sepia, Publican, The Gage, Naha, Vermilion, Frontera, and so on. Also like the ethnic stuff like Lao Sze Chuan, Ed's, and Pho 888 (or was it 777?).

No biases away from any particular style, but limited to about $30-40 pp plus wine. I stay downtown, so I'd prefer River North or River West, but will travel a reasonable distance (1-3 miles) for good food...not up for long taxi or train rides (well, except for Chinatown I guess).

Thanks - this board has been indispensable in finding so many wonderful restaurants - I think that I may have eaten more good meals here than back home in SF!

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  1. I haven't been to Browntrout, so I can't say anything, other than referring to these websites:

    Restaurant website -
    Metromix listing -

    I see it opened this past May, so it's still fairly new. In general, I feel that there are a lot of very good restaurants out there that you just don't hear a whole lot about. It's tough to get attention in a city with so many good restaurants of all types. Browntrout is in North Center, an up-and-coming north side neighborhood that is also home to Sola, another contemporary American restaurant that has been around for a while; while Sola gets some attention, it's nowhere near as much as some of the places downtown. I think that restaurants away from downtown are at a real disadvantage when it comes to publicity. Some of the very best restaurants in the Chicago area are in the suburbs or outlying city neighborhoods, and you just don't hear all that much about them.

    Note that Browntrout doesn't meet your stated desire for geographical location; it's about seven miles from the Loop, about a ten minute walk from the Irving Park station on the CTA Brown Line or you can take the #11 Lincoln CTA bus all the way there, which will be slightly slower than the el. If you go there, please let us know how you like it!

    Here are some quick suggestions for places you might want to consider, in addition to those you have already mentioned. And I'll also note that some of them will exceed your desired budget, but some of them are open for lunch which is one way around that. I'll list them by category.

    Contemporary American - I love Cafe des Architectes off Michigan Avenue (and it's a bargain); other worthy restaurants include Blackbird in the West Loop, Atwood Cafe in the Loop, MK in River North, Sweets and Savories in Lincoln Park (also a bargain), and Sola in North Center (see above).

    Italian - Cafe Spiaggia on Michigan Avenue, Coco Pazzo in River North, Vivere in the Loop.

    French bistro - La Sardine in the West Loop, Kiki's and Brasserie Jo in River North.

    Mexican - Mundial Cocina Mestiza in Pilsen, Mexique in West Town, Salpicon in Old Town.

    Tapas - Mercat a la Planxa in the South Loop.

    Latin fusion - Nacional 27 in River North, Carnivale in the West Loop.

    Pan-Asian - Red Light in the West Loop, Aria in the Loop.

    1. I am heading out next week again, and wondering if there are any new, worthy places that have opened in the past 6 months or so, primarily in River North or River West. I can travel farther (from the Loop) but want to save my time and expenses for food rather than travel, if possible.

      I am aware of, and have been to many of nsxtasy's suggestions below, so trying to find out what's new and interesting that's close-ish to downtown. I will eat pretty much anything, but would like to keep it to about $40-50/pp including a beer or glass of wine, so call it $30-40 for food (dinner).

      Thanks in advance!

      5 Replies
      1. re: RichInMV

        Probably 2 of the newer/hottest places around right now are The Girl and the Goat and The Purple Pig. Both are great places, serve small plates and have interesting menus. Downsides are they are both very popular as well, so getting reservations at TG&G might be tough. The Purple Pig doesn't take reservations, which can lead to sometime long waits, although we've never had a terrible wait, even on a Sat night, and if you're dining solo, you might have an easier time grabbing a seat, as it's mostly communal type seating. The Purple Pig is also convenient in that it's right off Michigan Ave. See if either of their menus interest you.

        1. re: ms. mika

          Thanks, I've already hit both, and liked Girl and the Goat better than Purple Pig.

        2. re: RichInMV

          I'll add recommendations for two places where I have eaten in the past six months, although I think both of them have been open for about a year. One is Cibo Matto, the contemporary Italian restaurant in the new Wit hotel in the north end of the Loop, for which I posted a detailed report at The other is Sable, the contemporary American restaurant with craft cocktails in the new Hotel Palomar in River North, for which I posted a detailed report at As you can see from my reports, I really enjoyed both of them, and you should be able to get reservations for either (both are on since they're not overhyped places that everyone is talking about. Sable's food is a noteworthy bargain, too.

          Two more places have opened in the past year (maybe the past six months) and have received a lot of buzz - the Girl and the Goat in the West Loop, and the Purple Pig in River North - but I haven't been to either. You probably won't be able to get a reservation for TG&TG, though, and the Purple Pig has a no-reservations policy and lengthy waits for seating. EDIT: I see that ms. mika was posting the same thing as I was typing this post!

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Thanks nsxtasy - been to Sable (twice) and like it, and have hit Cibo Matto, and though it was pretty good.

            So, any other new places beyond these four? Maybe I need to expand my geographic horizons?

            Cibo Matto
            201 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601

            1. re: RichInMV

              LM restaurant in Lincolin Sq. is a fairly new French contemporary restaurant that has excellant meals. It also has a $45 prix fix menue I recommend it highly!

        3. I was at Browntrout this weekend. It was as easily as good as any restaurant in its price range, and better than many that are much more expensive. The chef is committed to sustainable seasonal, organic and natural local farms. It was my second visit there and I was at least as good as it was back in June. I recommend it highly, albeit with trepidations that it might become a difficult reservation to get once everyone finds out how good it is.

          Now, that being said, my favorites from your list include Publican, Naha, Frontera, Sepia, Avec and Lao Sze Chun.

          3 Replies
          1. re: chicgail

            OK, thanks for the good suggestions - both LM and Browntrout sound like they are worth a try.

            I have also read some good reviews on Henri, here and elsewhere, though it seems a bit pricy for "bistro" food. I am already a fan of The Gage and inclined to believe that it's likely to be worth it.

            One more that I've heard recommended is Hopleaf, though it's a bit of a hike from downtown.

            Thanks very much for the good suggestions - it's tough to visit Chicago frequently, as I am always conflicted between revisiting one of several restaurants I really like, or trying to find something new and exciting. Coming from San Francisco, I am constantly amazed at the exciting food scene in Chicago - it's really become my favorite destination.

            Hopleaf Bar
            5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

            4111 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

            1. re: RichInMV

              >> One more that I've heard recommended is Hopleaf, though it's a bit of a hike from downtown.

              All three of these places (other than Henri) are a bit of a hike from downtown. In fact, they're not all that far from each other.

              LM and Browntrout are both on Lincoln Avenue roughly 5-6 miles north of the Loop, with LM about half a mile further north of Browntrout. LM is considered in the Lincoln Square neighborhood; Browntrout, in North Center. Both are about half a mile walk from the CTA Brown Line; for LM, walk south on Lincoln from the Western stop, and for Browntrout, walk west on Irving from the Irving stop. (Chicagoans usually shorten the name of the street, Irving Park, to Irving.) Or, you can take the #11 Lincoln CTA bus to the door.

              Hopleaf is about seven miles north of the Loop on Clark Street near Foster, with the Andersonville neighborhood to the north and Uptown to the south. It's about half a mile walk west of the Berwyn stop on the CTA Red Line. Or, you can take the #22 Clark CTA bus to the door.

              From most of the downtown area, I would allow 40-55 minutes travel time by CTA el/bus. By car/cab, you can probably do it in 15-25 minutes, a little more in the evening commuting hours.

              1. re: RichInMV

                Henri was excellent - I just wrote my thoughts on it - coming from San Francisco you'll appreciate this thought: It is more refined than Butler and the Chef and I liked the food as much or more than Bouchon. :-)