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2nd time to Chicago - thoughts on restaurant itinerary?

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Betsypaige Apr 18, 2010 10:06 AM

Hi all!

I will be in Chicago the week before Memorial day. The first time I was in town, I was alone, but now I'm bringing my parents. I want very much to show them exactly why Chicago is such a wonderful restaurant town, so I was hoping you could give me your thoughts on my very preliminary itinerary:

*North Pond: I wanted to try this last time, but there just weren't enough days in the week. It seems to me that the food/setting comb is unique to Chicago and that is what I am aiming for.

*Frontera/Topo: I love Mexican food, so does my father; my mother? She's not adventurous. That said, I'm sure she will love either of these places. I'm aware of the reservations issue with Frontera, but aside from that and the fact that Topo is more expensive, what are the differences between the two restaurants in terms of the food? I did go to Topo for lunch the last time; I remember liking it, but not being blown away. Of course, that was 3 years ago - and it was for lunch.

Mundial Cocina Mestiza: If I find myself in Pilsen, I might go here. It's gotten good reviews and it's a different kind of Mexican than Bayless offers. If not Mundial, what other authentic Mexican can you recommend in this area? Is it difficult to get to Pilsen from the Loop?

Thai: I think this is a must-do while I’m in Chicago. My mother might not want to, but if not, I’ll go on my own, lol. I think it’s very important to take advantage of a city’s strengths and Thai seems to be one cuisine that Chicago does a lot better than NY. I’ve read a lot about Spoon Thai; is that the consensus best Thai? I know that TAC Quick has a lot of fans. I haven’t read as much about it as I did before my last trip; I imagine I couldn’t go wrong with either. I would love to hear your thoughts. I take it the best thing to do at either place is to order from the real Thai and not the American-Thai menu?

Alinea/Tru: I took a chance on Alinea when I came to Chicago last time; I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the whole molecular gastronomy thing, but boy was I wrong. It was the most incredible dining experience I’ve ever had. It was FUN- and I was treated very well as a solo diner. I still remember it like it was yesterday even though it was 3 years ago; I was “wowed” by every course. That’s also how I remember Tru. What a fantastic meal – and I remember being downright giddy at seeing the candy/lollipop cart. It might be moot because even if I tried, I don’t know if I could get into Alinea at this stage, but I’m completely torn as to which restaurant to go to.

Blackbird: This was another place I wanted to try last time. I’ve heard wonderful things about their lunch. True?

Of course, I will definitely have deep dish at Lou Malnati’s – yum!!!
Sorry to go on, but I am just so excited about returning to Chicago; it’s not just a great food city, but it’s great in every way – I just adore it. So, if anyone could chime in, I would appreciate it.

Thank you!

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Mundial Cocina Mestiza
1640 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

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  1. b
    Betsypaige RE: Betsypaige Apr 18, 2010 10:08 AM

    Oops, I also meant to add Mado to my list. I love farm-to-table restaurants and this place really seems very appealing to me. I love meat, but I don't eat a lot of charcuterie or odd cuts; based on the on-line menu, I don't believe that would be a problem, but what about in reality? Thanks!

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    Mado Restaurant
    1647 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

    1. nsxtasy RE: Betsypaige Apr 20, 2010 01:18 PM

      >> *North Pond

      Great choice!

      >> *Frontera/Topo: I love Mexican food, so does my father; my mother? She's not adventurous. That said, I'm sure she will love either of these places. I'm aware of the reservations issue with Frontera, but aside from that and the fact that Topo is more expensive, what are the differences between the two restaurants in terms of the food? I did go to Topo for lunch the last time; I remember liking it, but not being blown away. Of course, that was 3 years ago - and it was for lunch.

      For the differences in food, I recommend checking out the menus on their website at www.rickbayless.com/restaurants However, you mention the reservations issue at Frontera but not at Topolobampo. Topo has been booking up about three months in advance for dinner, so depending on when you would like to go, it may already be too late to get a reservation. Check on Opentable.com or call them, but you may not have that option. (You don't have to reserve that far in advance for lunch, though.)

      >> Mundial Cocina Mestiza: If I find myself in Pilsen, I might go here. It's gotten good reviews and it's a different kind of Mexican than Bayless offers. If not Mundial, what other authentic Mexican can you recommend in this area? Is it difficult to get to Pilsen from the Loop?

      I really love Mundial Cocina Mestiza! It sounds like you've already looked at the menus on their website at www.mundialcocinamestiza.com It's easy to get to from the Loop; take the CTA Pink Line (elevated) from the Loop to 18th Street, and the restaurant is a block east of the el stop. There are other Mexican restaurants in Pilsen, but the food is more conventional Mexican food like you find in most cities around the U.S. The best known of these is Nuevo Leon ( www.nuevoleonrestaurant.com ), which is also on 18th Street.

      We have other restaurants offering creative provincial Mexican food, although they are not in Pilsen. I recommend Mixteco Grill on the North Side ( http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura... ); Fonda del Mar in North Center ( www.fondaonfullerton.com ); Fuego in Logan Square ( www.fuegomexgrill.com ); Mexique in West Town ( www.mexiquechicago.com ); and Salpicon in Old Town ( www.salpicon.com ).

      >> Thai: I think this is a must-do while I’m in Chicago. My mother might not want to, but if not, I’ll go on my own, lol. I think it’s very important to take advantage of a city’s strengths and Thai seems to be one cuisine that Chicago does a lot better than NY. I’ve read a lot about Spoon Thai; is that the consensus best Thai? I know that TAC Quick has a lot of fans. I haven’t read as much about it as I did before my last trip; I imagine I couldn’t go wrong with either. I would love to hear your thoughts. I take it the best thing to do at either place is to order from the real Thai and not the American-Thai menu?

      There is no consensus on the best Thai restaurant in Chicago. I've eaten at Spoon Thai and at TAC Quick and they're decent. I wouldn't consider either one the best in town, but many others do.

      >> Alinea/Tru: I took a chance on Alinea when I came to Chicago last time; I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the whole molecular gastronomy thing, but boy was I wrong. It was the most incredible dining experience I’ve ever had. It was FUN- and I was treated very well as a solo diner. I still remember it like it was yesterday even though it was 3 years ago; I was “wowed” by every course. That’s also how I remember Tru. What a fantastic meal – and I remember being downright giddy at seeing the candy/lollipop cart. It might be moot because even if I tried, I don’t know if I could get into Alinea at this stage, but I’m completely torn as to which restaurant to go to.

      My advice: Don't rule any restaurant out because you don't know if you can get a reservation; just call. And while both are excellent, I think Alinea offers such a unique experience that it would easily impress anyone. I'd call Alinea and take any time they offer, even if it's an early seating or a weekday or Sunday.

      >> Blackbird: This was another place I wanted to try last time. I’ve heard wonderful things about their lunch. True?

      True. It's a good place for lunch.

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

      21 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy
        b
        Betsypaige RE: nsxtasy Apr 20, 2010 08:00 PM

        Hi Nsxtasy

        Wow, Topo is booking 3 months in advance? Ok, I'd better get cracking, lol.

        Thanks for the rec of Nuevo Leon; I'm going to take a look at their menu as well.

        I probably will decide on Alinea; I was truly blown away by my meal. I was there for 3 hours and it just flew buy.

        What Thai restaurant do you recommend?

        Thank you so much for your help!!

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

        Nuevo Leon Restaurant
        3657 W 26th St, Chicago, IL 60623

        1. re: Betsypaige
          nsxtasy RE: Betsypaige Apr 20, 2010 08:17 PM

          >> What Thai restaurant do you recommend?

          The place I prefer is Thai Sookdee, in Evanston, which has the best tom kha gai (soup) in the area, as well as great panang dishes. However, that's a fairly long way to travel for Thai food. (Evanston is the first town north of Chicago on Lake Michigan.) You're probably just as well off going to TAC Quick. I'm sure you'll find some interesting dishes there (although I would avoid their tom kha gai - it's very tomato-ey, something which doesn't even belong in that dish).

          1. re: nsxtasy
            b
            Betsypaige RE: nsxtasy Apr 21, 2010 08:37 PM

            Yep, we're not going to travel outside of the city, so that's out, but we certainly seem to have plenty of options. I just remembered that I had a fantastic meal at Salpicon when I was last in town; I think that would be a great place to take my folks. As I recall, it's a colorfully decorated place with very good food - just a fun experience. Thanks for all of your help!

          2. re: Betsypaige
            chicgail RE: Betsypaige Apr 21, 2010 03:12 AM

            Nsxtasy's recommendations are spot-on.

            For Thai, my preference would be Sticky Rice. Not far from Spoon Thai, it is harder to get to on public transportation. The food is northern Thai, as in Chaing Mai. But all three (TAC, Spoon, and SR) are darn authentic. TAC and Spoon have a Thai menu that has recently been translated and has, far and away, the best offerings.

            Re Mundial: you won't "find" yourself in Pilsen, but if you make it an intentional stop, it's a really good option. I also love Mexique on west Chicago Avenue and Fonda del Mar, both mentioned by Nsxtasy.

            -----
            Spoon Thai
            4608 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

            Sticky Rice
            4018 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

            Mexique
            1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

            1. re: chicgail
              nsxtasy RE: chicgail Apr 21, 2010 06:32 AM

              A few more comments about the Mexican restaurants.

              Mexique's cuisine is different because it offers a mixture of Mexican and French ingredients and techniques (and yes, it works well).

              I don't recommend Nuevo Leon to visitors from out of town, because the food is very conventional Mexican, which can be found all over the United States, unlike the provincial specialties of the others mentioned here.

              West Town, home of Mexique, is about three miles northwest of the Loop. Pilsen, home to Mundial Cocina Mestiza and Nuevo Leon, is about four miles southwest of the Loop. Fonda del Mar is located in North Center, about five miles north of the Loop on Lincoln; make sure you have the correct address (3908 N. Lincoln Ave.) as they have moved within the past year. Fuego is about five miles northwest of the Loop, and Mixteco Grill is about seven miles north of the Loop.

              The Rick Bayless restaurants are walking distance from most of the downtown hotels, and Salpicon is not far either. By public transit, Mundial is close the el, as I mentioned. Fuego is about three blocks from the Western stop on the CTA Blue Line. You will need to take a CTA bus, or a combination of bus and el, or a cab, to get to Mexique, Fonda del Mar, and Mixteco Grill. For transit info, see www.transitchicago.com

              1. re: nsxtasy
                b
                Betsypaige RE: nsxtasy Apr 21, 2010 08:45 PM

                Nsxtasy, you're a font of knowledge; I really appreciate your help - and I understand and agree with what you're saying.

                Salpicon sounds better and better; as I said before, I had a wonderful meal there.

              2. re: chicgail
                b
                Betsypaige RE: chicgail Apr 21, 2010 08:40 PM

                Thanks, Chicgail! I will do some serious research on the Thai restaurants, but I'm sure we can't go wrong.

                I wanted to go to Pilsen the last time I was in Chicago, specifically to see the Mexican Museum (of Art? History? Sorry, I forget what it's called), but I never got the chance. This time should be different - and I definitely want to make a point of having lunch there. There are so many wonderful options it seems; thanks for your tips !

                1. re: Betsypaige
                  j
                  jbw RE: Betsypaige Apr 22, 2010 07:45 AM

                  If you do get to Pilsen, make sure you take a look at the murals. The museum may have a map, but this will get you started:

                  http://cuip.uchicago.edu/~jwhite/pilsen/

                  Oh yeah, food. I'm a fan of Mundial, too, but to get a real feel for the neighborhood Nuevo Leon might be the better choice. It is conventional as mentioned above, and none of the food, tho good, will surprise you, but a lot of families, attracted by the low prices, go there. The ambience is vibrant and definitely low-key and mucho friendly.

                  And if you wander over to East Pilsen, where a lot of the independent art galleries are, stop by Kristoffer's Cafe at 1733 Halsted, where you'll find some of the best tres leches cake in Chicago.

                  -----
                  Nuevo Leon Restaurant
                  3657 W 26th St, Chicago, IL 60623

                  1. re: jbw
                    b
                    Betsypaige RE: jbw Apr 22, 2010 08:45 PM

                    Jbw, thanks for the tip; those murals are wonderful.

                    I don't mind conventional Mexican; I'm pretty much open to anything. Ooh, I love tres leches cake.. I don't remember reading about Kristoffer's when I was planning my last trip; I remember there was some other dessert place - Bonbon cafe?

                    This is all such a great help; thank you!

                    1. re: Betsypaige
                      delk RE: Betsypaige Apr 23, 2010 05:15 AM

                      The Bom Bon in Pilsen burned down. They do have a location at Monroe and Ashland in the West Loop.

                      1. re: delk
                        b
                        Betsypaige RE: delk Apr 23, 2010 06:43 PM

                        Oh, what a shame. Thanks, though - I'm staying in the Loop so maybe I'll check out that location.

                        1. re: Betsypaige
                          nsxtasy RE: Betsypaige Apr 23, 2010 07:07 PM

                          Monroe and Ashland is two miles west of the Loop.

                          Fox & Obel, our premier gourmet food store, has some of the best pastries in the city, and you can walk there from the Loop (under a mile). I know I'm always touting their wonderful cinnamon swirl rolls, but their tres leches cake is one of the best you'll find anywhere, too. www.fox-obel.com

                          1. re: nsxtasy
                            b
                            Betsypaige RE: nsxtasy Apr 25, 2010 01:51 PM

                            Hmm, thanks for the link! I'd heard lots of good things about this place but figured I'd pass because it sounded like a NY-style deli and I get plenty of that kind of food in NY. I"m going to check this out now - I'm so in the mood for tres leche now, lol.

                            1. re: Betsypaige
                              nsxtasy RE: Betsypaige Apr 25, 2010 02:10 PM

                              Speaking in New York terms, Fox & Obel is more like a Balducci's or a Dean & Deluca.

                              1. re: nsxtasy
                                b
                                Betsypaige RE: nsxtasy May 1, 2010 08:49 AM

                                Hi Nxtasy

                                Got it, ok - I have put Fox & Obel on my list (which grows bigger every day, lol).

                                Thanks!

                                1. re: Betsypaige
                                  b
                                  Betsypaige RE: Betsypaige May 1, 2010 09:39 AM

                                  I got very lucky in scoring a reservation at Frontera at 8pm on the 26th. I went on Open Table for Topo and the other times available were 5:45 and 9pm ....

                                  1. re: Betsypaige
                                    mmmduck RE: Betsypaige May 3, 2010 08:51 AM

                                    Hi !
                                    Didn't want to start a new thread so I am coming into this one =).
                                    I will be visiting Chicago sometime in July. I wanted to at at Tru but some reviews on tripadvisor tell me otherwise. The bad reviews states that the portions are ridiculously small and food is hard to find on the plate .
                                    Can anyone confirm this or are those diners just picky?
                                    I am really not interested in spending a lot on a meal then leaving hungry.
                                    If there are any high end restos that have decent portions please recommend them !

                                    1. re: mmmduck
                                      chicgail RE: mmmduck May 3, 2010 09:44 AM

                                      I really like Tru but I haven't been there in several years and maybe something has changed. I thought it completely out shown Trotter.

                                      1. re: mmmduck
                                        h
                                        HoosierFoodie RE: mmmduck May 3, 2010 11:16 AM

                                        I was at Tru this past Saturday. No, you aren't going to get Applebee's portion sizes! So, yes in my opinion those diners are picky. If you order one of the "collections" (tasting menus) the portions are on the smaller size but, then again, there are a lot of courses. The sizes are larger on the three course menu.

                                        Every course was excellent and the service was wonderful. I would rank Tru behind Alinea but right there with the rest of the top tiered Chicago restaurants.

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

                                        Applebee's
                                        1719 River Oaks Dr, Calumet City, IL 60409

                                        1. re: mmmduck
                                          b
                                          Betsypaige RE: mmmduck May 23, 2010 09:47 PM

                                          I went to Tru a few years ago and had an amazing meal; I 'm going back again there this trip

                                          1. re: mmmduck
                                            m
                                            mbooth RE: mmmduck May 26, 2010 10:55 AM

                                            We were just at Tru last week & were "underwhelmed". Fabulous service, excellent room, food tasty, but the whole experience was overpriced. We prefer NorthPond food, or other cities' restaurants such as Obelisk in DC or almost any restaurant in New Orleans. Maybe it was partly the build-up for Tru & nothing could match it. But I doubt it.

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