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Great value (budget) Chicago must-try meals

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We are planning our 2nd ever trip to Chicago on Easter weekend Fri-Mon. We’re staying at the new Palomar hotel at N State St and E Illinois. Last time we were in Chicago it was very last-minute and we didn’t have time to do any research on places to eat. This time we want to experience as much as we can.

We’re particularly interested in beer offerings and Mexican food. We are pretty open to any type of food but my husband is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. We’d like to stay on the lower end of the budget for most meals with room for one splurge at around $100pp if it is worth it.

We’d like to visit one of Rick Bayless’ restaurants, probably as our splurge meal. Which one will be the best experience/value?

Recommendations for brewpubs, gastropubs and bars with great beer selections are most appreciated. Beer is the focus, but good food would be great too. Also shops with a particularly good selection of local and imported beer would be a must-visit.

Want to try deep dish pizza – any recommendations in the area?

Interested in budget and reasonably priced local gems for dinner and maybe Sunday brunch.

Would love to try Hot Doug’s but it seems pretty far from our location. We’ll be driving though – maybe on the way into town.

I know these questions are common on this board but hoping you can give some specific suggestions based on our interests and location. Thanks!

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Hot Doug's
3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

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  1. For Chicago deep dish pizza, Uno's is the "original", and it's not far from where you'll be staying. For Rick Bayless's restaurants, go to Frontera Grill, or really splurge and go to Topolobamba, at the same location....a little more upscale, but you can make a reservation, otherwise be prepared for a wait at Frontera, and a few margaritas! Noisy, but really good food. Two other Mexican upscale places I go to regularly, are Adobo Grill on Wells St., nr. North Ave. or Salpicon, also on Wells, but several blocks south. Both are terrific. A new upscale brewhouse called Publican is also a recommendation, but just go online to Chicago Magazine for a good listing with descriptions. I'm a New Yorker, but I love Chicago and have spent at least a week a month there for the last 10 years. It's a great restaurant town, and there's valet parking at almost all the restaurants, if you are driving. For a great beer and wine selection try Binny's...it's the largest in Chicago....several locations! For Sunday brunch, try to get into Yolk, on Wells St. south of Chicago Ave. It's busy, and noisy, but great food...ate twice there last week! I think that's about all you can fit on your plate, this time.

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    Frontera Grill
    445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

    1. >> We’d like to visit one of Rick Bayless’ restaurants, probably as our splurge meal. Which one will be the best experience/value?

      First, I would rule out XOCO. It's very good for lighter fare ("Mexican street food") but is not as good a representation of Bayless's creativity as the other two.

      You may already be aware of the reservations policy; Topolobampo takes reservations in advance, whereas Frontera Grill takes only a handful and keeps most of the seating available for walk-in traffic. Topolobampo has been booking up three months in advance lately, so it may be too late to get a dinner reservation there, even on a weekday. Waiting times at Frontera Grill can be lengthy on weekends unless you get there just before they open the doors, but during the week it might not be so bad.

      I ate at Topolobampo for dinner last month. I thought the food was excellent, but the prices were somewhat high and some of the portion sizes were somewhat skimpy. So while it was a good experience, the value was less than impressive. So if you're looking for value, Frontera Grill and its lower prices might be a better bet.

      I think your best bet might be to consider lunch. At lunchtime, the prices at both restaurants are quite similar, and much more affordable. Also, Topo hasn't been booking up way in advance for lunches. So if you're around for lunch on Friday, I recommend Topolobampo. Otherwise, I recommend going to Frontera Grill, either for Saturday brunch, or for one of your dinners. Note that it's only a couple of blocks from your hotel, so if you put in your name and they tell you it will be an hour or more before they can seat you, you have time to go back to your room (as well as to a nearby bar, etc.).

      All of them are closed Sundays and Mondays.

      I think the Bayless places offer food that's more creative and unusual than the other restaurants with creative provincial Mexican cuisine. If you decide to go elsewhere, I would recommend against Adobo Grill, which is just okay; Salpicon ( www.salpicon.com ) is pretty good, Mexique ( www.mexiquechicago.com ) isn't far and it's a combination of Mexican and French cuisine (hence the name), and there are some excellent places in neighborhoods away from downtown, such as Mundial Cocina Mestiza ( www.mundialcocinamestiza.com ) in Pilsen.

      >> Recommendations for brewpubs, gastropubs and bars with great beer selections are most appreciated. Beer is the focus, but good food would be great too.

      The Gage - www.thegagechicago.com It's on the east edge of the Loop, very convenient if your itinerary includes the Art Institute or Millennium Park.

      >> Also shops with a particularly good selection of local and imported beer would be a must-visit.

      The Binny's location at 213 W. Grand is five blocks west of your hotel. www.binnys.com

      >> Want to try deep dish pizza – any recommendations in the area?

      Your hotel is only a couple of blocks from where it all started many years ago - Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due. Unlike the dreadful chain locations in the suburbs and other cities nationwide, the pizza at the two original locations are still excellent. Phone ahead to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake. www.unos.com

      >> Interested in budget and reasonably priced local gems for dinner and maybe Sunday brunch.

      For dinner, I really love Cafe des Architectes, in the ground floor of the curved glass facade of the Sofitel, half a mile north of your hotel. The cuisine is contemporary American with a slight French accent, and I've absolutely loved everything I've eaten in my several visits there. And you can't beat it for value! Every night, in addition to their a la carte menu, they have an extensive prix fixe menu with 3 courses for $42. Even better, Sunday through Tuesday nights, they also offer a limited "neighborhood friends menu" with 3 courses for $29. www.cafedesarchitectes.com

      Some other places you might consider for a reasonably-priced dinner include:

      Coco Pazzo (Italian, a few blocks west of your hotel) - www.cocopazzochicago.com
      Brasserie Jo (French bistro, a block or two northeast of your hotel) - www.brasseriejo.com
      Shaw's (seafood, a block or two southeast of your hotel) - www.shawscrabhouse.com

      For breakfast or Sunday brunch, consider the breakfast places in this topic:

      River North Breakfast Ideas - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693985

      I don't recommend Yolk, which isn't bad but is just exceedingly ordinary, not special in any way; it's also considerably further from your hotel than virtually all the other recommendations in this discussion.

      You can also consider the brunch places in this topic, although they are all over the city, not necessarily right around your hotel the way the River North discussion is:

      Foodie needs recs on cocktails and brunch - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/364403

      >> Would love to try Hot Doug’s but it seems pretty far from our location. We’ll be driving though – maybe on the way into town.

      If you're driving, it's not that far, maybe half an hour or less depending on traffic. You'll spend more time waiting in line than getting there. ;)

      1 Reply
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Wow, thanks for all the detail. Of course there are no reservations available for the Friday and Saturday we are there. It looks like Frontera would be better for us anyway so we'll try as walk-ins Friday and if not we can try again for Brunch or dinner on Sat. We'd be fine sitting at the bar too if that makes it easier to get in. Very excited. There is no decent Mexican food where we live.

      2. Three great bars/restaurants in the same neighborhood, Logan Square, are Longman & Eagle, Revolution Brewery, and the Rocking Horse. Rocking Horse is known less for its food, but I had a great burger there. All have great beer selections.

        Lula Cafe is in the same hood. It is many people's favorite for new American food.

        Altogether, those restaurants are putting Logan Square on the map for food.

        It shouldn't be a big deal with a car.

        1. For a restaurant with great beer offerings Hopleaf is a great choice. Really nice tap list with lots of belgians and good food. Especially the mussels.

          I have not been but the Publican seems like it could be cool. They have a nice beer list and the food sounds really good. Maybe someone else can chime in about that.

          http://hopleaf.com/
          http://www.thepublicanrestaurant.com/

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          Hopleaf Bar
          5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

          1. Sunday brunch, or any day brunch---the Sheraton (not far from you) has a deal in its Bistro that you pay a flat rate of about $25 and get ad lib access to all chef stations (everything imaginable). This allows you to eat for hours for half of what you'd pay at the traditional hotel brunches.