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Mar 12, 2010 08:49 AM

Four days of meals for a big group

A group of about 8-10 people of us are coming to a four day conference in Chicago and want to experience a range of the city's best treats. We'll be looking for favorite spots for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we've got a couple of fish only (no meat) eaters in the group who will need to be accommodated (at least most of the time). We're also interested in a broad price range, from fancy dining that's worth a big price to down-and-dirty destinations where it's all about the flavors. Please don't leave out the city's best desserts. Thanks in advance...

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  1. Your question is difficult to answer, because there isn't much information that would narrow down from Chicago's 18,000 restaurants, or especially from the several hundred noteworthy excellent ones.

    Where (at what hotel) will you be staying? There are excellent restaurants all over the city, but there may be some closer to your hotel which would add a convenience factor. Let us know as this will affect our recommendations.

    You also might want to take a look at this discussion, where the question was specifically about the best places and foods that are unique to Chicago:

    6 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy're right about the need to narrow it down (although we're certainly willing to travel to food destinations). The conference is in the Renaissance Hotel in Chicago. I'll also check the thread you listed.

      1. re: bpcohen

        Which Renaissance hotel:

        Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel - 1 West Wacker Drive
        Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel - 636 South Michigan Ave
        Renaissance Chicago O'Hare Suites Hotel - 8500 West Bryn Mawr Avenue

          1. re: bpcohen

            Wow, I can't believe I messed up this post the first time I wrote it, by confusing West Wacker (on the north side of the Loop) with North or South Wacker (on the west side of the Loop). Fortunately, though, I'm still in the two-hour edit window, so I can re-write it. (Thanks, Eldon!)

            Your hotel is in the Loop, on the north side of the Loop just across the river from the area known as River North. There are many nice restaurants in River North as well as in the Loop itself. So let's start there.

            For breakfast, see this recent discussion:

            River North Breakfast Ideas -

            For lunches and dinners, there are many many choices, and most places in the Loop and River North are open for both lunch and dinner. Here are some of the good ones that are close to your hotel:

            Catch 35 (seafood) -
            Shaw's (seafood) -
            Morton's (steakhouse) -
            Naha (contemporary American) -
            Atwood Café (contemporary American) -
            Coco Pazzo (Italian) -
            Vivere (Italian) -
            Sunda (pan-Asian) -
            Bacino's (stuffed pizza) -
            Nacional 27 (Latin fusion) -

            For a high-end meal, here are our best:

            Alinea (Lincoln Park) -
            Charlie Trotter's (Lincoln Park) -
            Everest (Loop) -
            TRU (Mag Mile) -
            Avenues (Mag Mile) -
            NoMI (Mag Mile) -

            There's also a contemporary American restaurant which I absolutely love. The food has been superb every time I've gone. It's called Cafe des Architectes and it's on the ground floor of the curved glass facade of the Sofitel in River North. Their prix fixe menus are very reasonable; they have a 3-course prix fixe menu for $42 every night, and on Sundays through Tuesdays they offer their 3-course "neighborhood friends menu".

            With the exception of the two high-end places in Lincoln Park, all of the above places are in the Loop or River North/Mag Mile, and most are within a short walk of the hotel. All also offer options for the non-meat-eaters in your group. And all can handle a group of 8-10 people.

            Another poster, staying in River North (the neighborhood just north of the Loop, easily walkable from the hotel), recently asked for recommendations of places that are unique and representative of Chicago's best. Here is what I wrote in response:

            Here are places and foods I suggest, all unique to Chicago.

            Deep-dish pizza - in River North, you can go to the place where it all started - Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due. They're still there, and they're still excellent. Phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes for your pizza to bake.

            Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches - Right in River North on Ontario Street, there are two places, a block away from each other, and you can get both of these local specialties at either of them: Portillo's ( ), and Al's Beef ( ).

            Fine dining - We have a restaurant that was recently ranked one of the ten best restaurants in the WORLD. It's called Alinea, from Chef Grant Achatz, and it will blow your mind. To get an idea what it's like, check out the comic strip at Yes, it's expensive (figure $300 per person including moderate wine, tax, tip), and dressy (jackets for gentlemen), but it's unique and it's here. It's in Lincoln Park, about two miles north of where you're staying.

            Rick Bayless's restaurants (Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, XOCO) - Chicago has a collection of wonderful restaurants specializing in creative provincial Mexican cuisine, which is difficult to find almost anywhere else this side of the border. Rick Bayless is widely recognized for bringing this trend here, and his restaurants are still excellent and providing the most creative Mexican food in town. Topolobampo is the most expensive, although it's surprisingly affordable at lunchtime, and accepts reservations in advance but books up long in advance for dinners, not as much for lunch. Frontera Grill is not as expensive, but accepts only a handful of reservations and keeps most of the dining room available for walk-in traffic. Waits for a table can be lengthy on weekends and at lunchtime. XOCO is his take on Mexican street food and I've found the food there excellent when you are in the mood for lighter fare; beware long lines at lunchtime. They are all at the same location, in the middle of River North.

            North Pond uniquely represents Chicago for its setting, located in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, not the adjacent neighborhood of the same name) facing its namesake pond with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The renovated building formerly served as the warming shelter for skaters on the frozen pond in the winter. The food is contemporary American featuring local and seasonal ingredients from James Beard Award finalist Chef Bruce Sherman. It's about three miles north of River North.

            Our new French Market, located just west of the Loop in one of the train stations, is worth a visit. Keep in mind that it just opened a couple of months ago, and it's not fancy. However, it has several dozen food booths and these include some of the very best that Chicago has to offer. Highlights include the croissants, entremets, and French macaroons at Vanille Patisserie; the artisan chocolates at Canady Le Chocolatier (whose main shop is in the South Loop, also not far away); the cheeses at Pastoral; and the rainbow cookies at Delightful Pastries.

            While you're here, go to Garrett's Popcorn. There are several locations in the Loop and one on Michigan Avenue, all walkable from River North. They have caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, or a mix of caramel/cheese. Yum!

            Fox & Obel is our premier gourmet food store, with the finest meats, cheeses, and other basics, as well as the finest baked goods and other prepared foods. Don't miss the yummy cinnamon swirl rolls at the bakery counter! There's a cafe in the rear if you want to eat anything on the premises, from a cup of coffee to an entire meal prepared to order. It's on the other side of Michigan Avenue a short walk from River North.

            Most of our better restaurants, including North Pond and Topolobampo (but not Alinea), accept reservations for free at

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

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Isn't 1 WEST Wacker a lot closer to River North than it is to the West Loop?

              1. re: Eldon Kreider

                Oops - your right - brain fart on my part! I was thinking of the other part of Wacker. I'll re-write my post...