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3 nights in Chicago

l
laaussie Mar 26, 2010 10:25 PM

We're heading to Chicago for three nights - Sun, Mon, Tues. Thought about going to Charlie Trotter's on Tuesday night but wanted ideas for Sunday and Monday. Spiaggia? Alinea? Any other ideas? Thanks!

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Charlie Trotter's
816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

Spiaggia
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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  1. nsxtasy Mar 27, 2010 05:27 AM

    The first question to ask yourself is whether you want to go to three high-end restaurants in three days, as opposed to creating more diversity in your dining experience, such as by including a more casual fine dining experience, an ethnic restaurant, etc. You'll get exposure to more of what Chicago has to offer, and what is unique to Chicago, by choosing three restaurants that are different from each other. But if you're most interested in our fine dining restaurants and you would be happiest going to three of them during your brief stay here, then by all means do so!

    Our top haute cuisine restaurants are excellent. However, there is one that stands above all others, and that is Alinea, from Chef Grant Achatz. It will blow your mind. To get an idea what it's like, check out the comic strip at http://lucylou.livejournal.com/555828.html It's in Lincoln Park. It's open Sundays, but closed Mondays and Tuesdays. www.alinearestaurant.com

    If I had to rank our high-end restaurants based on the food and experience, it would look like this: Alinea, Charlie Trotter's, Everest, Spiaggia, Avenues, Tru, NoMI, Les Nomades, L2O. Obviously there are some differences in food, with Spiaggia the sole Italian entry, Everest leaning towards contemporary French, etc. Anyway, if you want to do more than one, there you have my take.

    If you want to add someplace more casual (as well as representative of a unique-to-Chicago experience) to your itinerary, here are two suggestions.

    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. www.rickbayless.com/restaurants

    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. www.northpondrestaurant.com

    Keep in mind that some restaurants are closed on Sundays and some restaurants are closed on Mondays, so check the hours. Most of our nicer restaurants (with the notable exception of Alinea) accept reservations on Opentable.com so it's an easy way to check who's open with availability on any particular night.

    There are lots more types of places of all kinds, including many additional choices for contemporary American food, as well as restaurants of every ethnic persuasion. Let us know if you'd like additional suggestions along these lines.

    1. l
      laaussie Apr 4, 2010 01:47 PM

      Thank you SO much! Wish we had a week to explore all the fabulous dining. Just got a res at Alinea for tonight and we're super excited. Booked Blackbird - have you dined there? Couldn't get into Rick Bayless' places... will have to save them for next time. Is Spiaggia wonderful? Cafe Spiaggia??? Thanks!

      -----
      Alinea
      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

      Cafe Spiaggia
      980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

      Spiaggia
      980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

      2 Replies
      1. re: laaussie
        nsxtasy Apr 4, 2010 11:06 PM

        >> Just got a res at Alinea for tonight and we're super excited.

        At the last minute? VERY lucky - good for you!!!

        >> Booked Blackbird - have you dined there?

        Yes. The food is excellent. Enjoy it!

        >> Couldn't get into Rick Bayless' places... will have to save them for next time.

        If Tuesday lunch fits into your plans, keep in mind that Topolobampo doesn't book up for lunch the way it does for dinner, and it's not all that expensive at lunch, either. Or, Frontera Grill is open for lunch, and the waiting times for lunch are often not bad, especially if you get there on the early side.

        >> Is Spiaggia wonderful? Cafe Spiaggia???

        They are both wonderful, in different ways. Spiaggia is a high-end restaurant, expensive and dressy. It's wonderful, but again, you might to think carefully about whether to commit to two formal dining experiences in your itinerary. Cafe Spiaggia is moderately-priced and casual, and it's wonderful for that type of restaurant.

        Hope you're enjoying your visit - sorry about the rain, but this time of year, it could be a lot worse! :)

        1. re: laaussie
          c
          chiguy13 Apr 5, 2010 05:32 AM

          Blackbird is my favorite place, you will love it! There is a great winebar that the same owners of blackbird have, called avec, they share an alley. Show up early, grab a drink at Avec, then head to dinner.

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          Avec Restaurant
          615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

        2. d
          durhamois Feb 13, 2011 06:42 AM

          I also have a short trip (4 nights to Chicago) in April. My top picks right now are Topolobompo, Alinea, and possibly Charlie Trotter's. But I would love some recs for small restaurants with great ingredients, and moderately priced menus. The ideal for me would be a very small Northern Italian restaurant, that has Osso Buco, homemade gnocchi, rabbit stews, etc. Any recs? I'd also be up for some recs for ethnic restaurants, especially if they are particularly interesting or high quality: Indonesian, Persian, Ethiopean, etc. I believe we'll be centered in or near downtown.

          -----
          Alinea
          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

          Charlie Trotter's
          816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

          3 Replies
          1. re: durhamois
            nsxtasy Feb 13, 2011 07:07 AM

            If you're interested in Topolobampo for dinner in April, it may already be too late to get a reservation; check Opentable right now. Lunch reservations should still be plentiful. Availability at Alinea may also be a problem; call them right away.

            We have a lot of great, moderately-priced Italian restaurants such as you describe. Check out Cafe Spiaggia, Cibo Matto, the Florentine, Vivere, Coco Pazzo, and Piccolo Sogno. If you don't need to stick to Italian, we have a bunch of contemporary American restaurants featuring great ingredients and moderate prices, notably North Pond (with its lovely setting in the park), Sable (my personal favorite for the great food and moderate prices - don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee), Atwood Cafe, Naha, MK, Boka, and Perennial.

            We also have a lot of great ethnic restaurants, of course. You'll find a good overview of our ethnic options in this discussion:

            Where are the best Chicago dinner *values* - the hidden gems? - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697829

            Some of our best ethnic restaurants are in or near downtown, including Topolobampo and Salpicon for Mexican, Le Colonial for Vietnamese, Vermilion for Indian-Latin, Red Light for pan-Asian, and Carnivale for Latin fusion. Many others are in outlying neighborhoods, such as Mundial Cocina Mestiza and Mixteco Grill for Mexican, Vietnamese places on Argyle, Indian-Pakistani places on Devon, Chinese places (e.g. Double Li, Lao Sze Chuan) in Chinatown, TAC Quick for Thai, Ethiopian places on the far north side, etc.

            Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

            1. re: durhamois
              chicgail Feb 13, 2011 07:21 AM

              Topo and Alinea are both superb. However, I was at Trotters just a few months ago and it disappointed me for the second time. Nothing "wrong" with the food; service impeccable; just not, IMO, not worth the extravagant price.

              The ethnic foods that are authentic and count-on-able are regional Mexican (almost certainly the top of the list), Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Indian and Pakistani, North African and Thai. Except for the Mexican, none of these are near downtown. Will you have a car? Public transportation is possible, but can be time-consuming.

              For moderately priced, small restaurants with great ingredients I would recommend Girl and the Goat, Sola, Perennial, Sprout, Blackbird, or Browntrout. Girl and the Goat and Perennial are closest to downtown (Magnificent Mile? River North?) but are easily accessible by taxi.

              For Italian you might really like Terragusto. It has two locations. The closest for you is on Armitage St.

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              Terragusto
              1851 W Addison St, Chicago, IL 60613

              Blackbird Restaurant
              619 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL 60606

              Perennial Virant
              1800 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL 60614

              Sola Restaurant
              3868 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL 60613

              Browntrout
              4111 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

              Sprout
              1417 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

              Girl and the Goat
              809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661

              1. re: chicgail
                nsxtasy Feb 13, 2011 08:57 AM

                Just to add a few comments to the usual great advice from chicgail...

                >> The ethnic foods that are authentic and count-on-able are regional Mexican (almost certainly the top of the list), Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Indian and Pakistani, North African and Thai.

                We have other ethnic foods, too, pretty much any kind you want. However - and I suspect this is the point she is making - the ones she mentions are ones where Chicago really shines and out-does other cities. It's not that we don't have the ones you mention (Indonesian, Persian, Ethiopean), but rather, that it sounds like you are specifically asking about cuisines that shine elsewhere (DC, perhaps?) and you might be better off instead sticking to what Chicago does especially well, which are the ones chicgail lists (to which I'd probably also add Polish/Eastern European). Hope that makes sense.

                >> Except for the Mexican, none of these are near downtown.

                With the exception of Le Colonial for Vietnamese, and a few decent Indian places.

                >> For moderately priced, small restaurants with great ingredients I would recommend Girl and the Goat, Sola, Perennial, Sprout, Blackbird, or Browntrout. Girl and the Goat and Perennial are closest to downtown (Magnificent Mile? River North?) but are easily accessible by taxi.

                Actually, Blackbird is close to downtown too. As are the contemporary American places I listed previously. Did I mention I love Sable? :) Also, if you decide on the Girl and the Goat, that's another place where you need to make reservations right away or you may have already missed the chance. (I haven't been there but I have a reservation to go there in April.)

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