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Mar 8, 2010 05:49 AM

Upscale downtown restaurant

My wife and and I will be spending a couple of nights at the Palmer House next week. I am looking for a nice upscale restaurant. Price does not matter but would like a place "unique" to Chicago. I have searched and find Charlie Trotter's and Alinea. Are there other suggestions? Thanks-

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  1. Here are recommendations for upscale restaurants that are truly unique to Chicago in one way or another.

    If you enjoy fine dining from the top chefs in the country, then I recommend Alinea, first and foremost, above all others. The food is amazingly creative; it was recently named one of the ten best restaurants in the WORLD. It's expensive ($300 per person including tax/tip/alcohol is typical) but it's a unique experience. However, you may have trouble getting reservations for next week, but it won't hurt to call them and ask. And you will need to call them to find out; unlike most of our better restaurants, Alinea is not shown on It's in Lincoln Park, two miles north of the Palmer House. More info at

    Everest is another of our very best restaurants, and it's easy to find openings even on short notice. Everest serves a contemporary version of French cuisine. What makes it unique to Chicago, in addition to Chef Jean Joho, is the view from its location on the 40th Floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange Building, looking out on the entire city. It's priced a bit less than Alinea, figure around $200/pp, although they also have a limited 3-course pre-theater menu at 5:00/5:30 for $50. It's a five-minute walk from the Palmer House.

    We have more fine dining restaurants from top chefs, which are excellent although not as unique as the previous two. These include Charlie Trotter's ( ), Avenues ( ), Tru ( ), and Spiaggia ( ).

    All of the above are expensive and dressy (jackets required for gentlemen) and you can have a wonderful meal and experience at any of them. All except Alinea accept reservations on Next I'll present a couple more recommendations for places that are unique to Chicago, but which are less expensive ($100/pp or less) and more casual (no jackets required).

    North Pond has excellent contemporary American cuisine from James Beard Award nominated Chef Bruce Sherman. What makes North Pond unique is its setting; it's in the middle of Lincoln Park - the park itself, not the adjacent neighborhood of the same name. It faces its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The renovated building formerly served as a warming shelter for ice skaters on the pond. It's a lovely setting, regardless of whether you're dining in the front room with the big full-length windows looking out on the pond, or the rear room with the open kitchen along one side. It's about three miles north of the Palmer House, accessible via taxi or the #151 CTA bus on Michigan Avenue. Reservations on

    Chicago is unique (well, along with L.A., anyway) in its many restaurants serving creative provincial Mexican cuisine. Rick Bayless was a huge influence in this regard, and his restaurants are still the most creative of all. Topolobampo accepts reservations on ; however, it has been booking up 2-3 months in advance. Frontera Grill only accepts a handful of reservations, and holds most of the dining room for walk-in traffic. Waits for a table can be lengthy on weekend evenings, but on a recent weekday when I was there, seating was immediate. Frontera Grill is less expensive than Topolobampo for dinner, but both are open for lunch during the week, when prices are fairly similar. Locals often arrive at Frontera just before the doors open, for immediate seating. It's in River North, about 3/4 mile north of the Palmer House.

    We have many, many more restaurants, in these and other categories, but I would consider Alinea, Everest, North Pond, and Topolobampo/Frontera Grill to be the upscale restaurants most unique to Chicago, for the reasons described above. If you'd like more recommendations in these or other categories, please let us know.

    Here are two more places unique to Chicago and close to the Palmer House, but not in the category of upscale restaurants.

    If you'd like authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza while you're here, the location of Pizano's on Madison is very close to the Palmer House. Phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

    Garrett Popcorn has caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, and a mix of caramel/cheese. There's one a block north of the hotel at State and Madison, and another a block south of the hotel at State and Jackson.

    Enjoy your visit, and feel free to ask more questions!