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Apr 25, 2010 02:52 PM

A lot of solo dining in Chicago - help me make a big list


I'm a New York Chowhound who just took a new job. The job is in NY, but it requires me to travel to Chicago weekly. Often I am dining solo. So please help me make a list of the best solo dining experiences. Bar or group seating, talkative people, menus not meant for sharing, etc So far this month I have been to


This should give a pretty good idea of price range. Devoted fan of all types of cuisines - just want. A great experience (and more importantly great food).

Please help

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

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  1. Each and every restaurant in the city could and should be on your list. Just scroll through the previous discussions for discussions about dining in Chicago.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gomexico

      Right on. I don't let the fact I'm dining solo influence my restaurant decisions - unless we're talking communal tables, which I loathe anyway so wouldn't have considered them in the first place.

      I second Alinea. Clearly you're not afraid to spend your money for good food, and you can't do much better than Grant Atchaz' fare.

      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

    2. Here are some of my faves and different price ranges.

      Xoco -- Rick Bayless' new place, casual. Tortas and caldos.
      Cafecito -- really great Cuban sandwiches for lunch
      Quartino -- Italian "tapas", wine by the glass, quartino or bottle
      The Gage -- great gastropub across the street from "The Bean"
      Ginza -- the udon is better than the ramen, but not as good as you'll find in NYC.

      If you want to venture a little further, I highly recommend you take the red line north to Argyle and explore the Vietnamese restaurants. My fave for pho is Tank. Great Chinese BBW at Sun Wah on Broadway.

      For fab Middle Eastern take the Brown Line to Kedzie and visit Salam, Semiramis or Noon o Kebab. All are tasty and very inexpensive.

      Enjoy your time here!

      626 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60654

      26 E Congress Pkwy Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60605

      Ginza Restaurant
      19 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

      Salam Restaurant
      4636 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

      1. Alinea is fantastic - solo or with friends.

        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

        2 Replies
        1. re: uhockey

          Alinea is a great choice, but sadly not in the price rance of Frontera, Publican, Blackbird and Avec.

          Some good ideas in a few recent previous threads:

          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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

          1. re: chicgail

            That is true, but if you want a great experience. :-)

        2. A great experience? Can't guarantee it but the food'll be pretty f***** good. avec, bbird, publican, frontera are great but pretty obvious. hoping you started this thread to find stuff usually not bolded in a Frommer's travel book.

          La Pasadita - best carne asada taco.hands down. there are three stores. the one on the east side of ashland ave is the least "gringo friendly". normally a late-night spot after hanging out in wicker park.

          Marrakech - moroccan. patience is a virtue. most nights the chef is the host, server and busboy. lamb shank.

          Hot Doug's - wait in line (shorter wait on a non-saturday before noon and after 2:30). best place for meat in tubular form. duck fat fries are good too (friday/saturdays only).

          Lula Cafe - inventive but not over the top

          Pizza - think letter "p" - pequod's deep dish, peace (awesome microbrew), or pat's thin crust.

          Lao Sze Chuan - get their hot pot - order a la carte - but make sure you add dungeness crab or lobster. bring a friend...that's a social event.

          Sun Wah - call ahead and pre-order the "special duck". it's a taiwanese style roast duck served in three courses: carved tableside with bao buns. then fried rice with remaining meat and finally soup with whatever's left. bring reinforcements with this meal too.

          Urban Belly - Korean chef marries Puerto Rican. the mix is more noticeable at their other place called Belly Shack.

          Kuma's Corner - sneak a seat at the bar when it's busy (always), good beer/whiskey selection, and be ready for rock music.

          Sweets and Savories - just order the tasting menu.

          Sprout - Dale Levitski's new joint (Top Chef runner-up) down the street from sweets and savories.

          MK - worth mentioning. Dale's buddy is the pastry chef.

          Hot Chocolate - probably bolded in Frommer's too.

          Big Star - great place for tacos and drinks (before you get awesome steak tacos at pasadita). think organic/sustainable.

          Steak (bone-in ribeye) - Keefer's for wet-aged, David Burke's for dry.

          Sunda - kinda fits in the avec, bbird, publican, frontera but for asian (more filipino influenced) cuisine. chef rod is gonna have his own food show.

          The Bristol - get your sustainable foods on. menu changes often so can't really suggest specifics. just go.

          Woo Chun - korean bbq - table top cooking with real coals means wear t-shirt and sweats cuz you're gonna smell like smokey meat and garlic. definitely worth it

          Old Town Social - very good charcuterie if you're into preserved meats and it's usually good people watching. tell joe (the gm) he's a dork and that i said hi.

          Get your Middle Eastern fix on Devon Ave! most places are total dives. try lahore grill. the guy over there is super cool and helpful if you're trying to figure out what to even order.

          okay, that's it for now. i'd like to know what you/others think of this list. overall, i think it's pretty solid.

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

          Lao Sze Chuan
          2172 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

          Kuma's Corner
          2900 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

          3053 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

          1. Good reviews by all for the most part, but I beg to differ with regard to omz's appraisal of La Pasadita. Don't get me wrong, I like La Pasadita a lot, and yes, they have very good carne asada tacos that have satisfied more than a few of my late night cravings. If you're on the Near North side or in Wicker Park and craving a solid steak taco, it's absolutely worth making the trip. But hands down the best in the city? No. That's just crazy. Have you been to Pilsen? Manolo's at the Maxwell Street Market? As long as I'm on the subject of Pilsen, here are a few places definitely worth checking out.

            Kristoffers Cafe (Halsted & 18th St)- Rick Bayless said he had the best tres leches cakes of his life here. Enough said. Try the Mayan Tamales. At least twice the size of any tamale I've had elsewhere, they're cooked in banana leaves and stuffed with chicken, potato, and peas rather the traditional pork. They are a delicious meal unto themselves. The vibe here is that of a friendly and relaxed coffee shop/cafe. If they're not too busy, strike up a conversation with the owner, and you'll feel like a regular in no time.

            As long as we're on South Halsted, head on over to Nightwood Cafe (2119 S Halsted). Their food would probably be described as contemporary American comfort food, and it's good stuff. Eat at the bar which borders the open kitchen on two sides and enjoy the smells and the show. I've not yet gone back for their fried chicken, but I will soon: it gets raves. Everything I've had here both for brunch and dinner has been solid to excellent.

            A short block south from Nightwood is Cermak Road, and if you head west on it to 2834 W. Cermak (if you're coming from the loop the easiest way to get there is to take the Pink line to California & Cermak), you'll find La Casa de Samuel. This is Guerrerense Mexican food which is different than the NorteƱo cooking most of us gringos think of when we think of Mexican food. They specialize in meats other than pork, beef, & chicken, and the venison here is the best I've ever had. They also have alligator, rattlesnake, boar, rabbit, quail, cornish hen, and goat (this is another dish I've heard raves about and will be trying very soon). But if you're not yet ready to venture into that territory, they've got a broad enough assortment of familiar and unfamiliar fajitas, taco, huaraches, burritos, quesadillas, gorditas, and steaks that you're almost certain to find something you like. All masa products are handmade fresh with your meal, and fresh tortillas et al. add just one more delightful dimension to the flavors. This is a family style place without a bar to sit at, but if you go there when they're not too busy (ie not during the weekend rush), sit at a table facing the window, chat up Sergio, the server, in English, Spanish, French, or Italian (the man is a serious polyglot), and take in the neighborhood life on Cermak, you're almost certain to have a good time!

            Heading back up Halsted to Jackson, you'll have entered Greek town. My favorite place in the neighborhood is Venus, a Greek Cypriot place that's just west of the intersection and easily as classy as the places you've already been, ageusiatic. They have a bar you could probably eat at if you'd prefer. The food here is just plain outstanding. A couple other places you might look at in Greektown are the Parthenon, a traditional Greektown joint which I believe has a tv over their bar that's always on sports and Artopolis, a more casual bakery/cafe that still has table service, a bar with a tv, and some seating by the front window at tables perfect for one with great people watching. Both are just south of the intersection of Jackson & Halsted on the west side of the street.

            A little bit further north on Halsted at Washington, you'll find the Grocery Bistro, an upscale joint that fits right in with Avec and Blackbird. Most of the seating here is along one enormous communal table, so it could be fun to chat up your neighbor. It's byob, and there's a wine shop adjacent to the restaurant. The Grocery Bistro was one of the stars of the locavore movement in Chicago when it was at its peak, and the food here is damn good contemporary american.

            A block north of the Grocery Bistro is the Randolph street restaurant district that extends all the way from the river six blocks east of Halsted, to ogden street six blocks to the west, one block south of Randolph, and two blocks north. Since you've already tried some of the best of the more mainstream of these restaurants (Blackbird, Avec, & Publican), I'm going to recommend a few more interesting places. Jaipur and Veerasway are two excellent Indian restaurants just west of Halsted. Jaipur is more traditional, upscale authentic Indian food while Veerasway has the authentic dishes but they also have what they call Indo-Ameican creations and a more modern, casual atmosphere.

            If you're into molecular gastronomy, Homaro Cantu's Moto and its more affordable sister restaurant Otom are definite places to check out. They're two blocks north of randolph on Fulton Market and about 3 blocks west of Halsted (which is two west of the Publican). Moto has a 10 course tasting menu for $135 and a 20 course tasting GTM (which I think means Gourmet Tech Meal, but I'm probably totally wrong about that) for $195. This is cutting edge molecular gastronomy. Otom does more approachable and affordable molecular gastronomy versions of comfort food. Their menu has stuff like bar food, pork chops, mac & cheese, & duck breast, and it all has a delightful twist. I believe their entrees are around $20-25, and their sides & starters are around $10-15.

            If you are more in the mood for a great burger and a wide whiskey selection, head north on Halsted to Grand and West to Ogden. The Twisted Spoke is hard to miss with the motorcycle rotating atop its roof. If a gastropub and a biker bar had a child, it would be the Twisted Spoke. Excellent bar food.

            If you're looking to get out of the downtown and explore some of Chicago's neighborhoods, you might want to head up to Great Lake Pizza (1477 W Balmorral) in the Andersonville neighborhood, but I should warn you that unless you go around 5:30-6 on a Wednesday or Thursday (it's only open Wednesday through Saturday), you're likely to wait a couple hours. A year or so back GQ called Great Lake the best pizza in the country. I don't know about that, but it is damn good. They only have like 10 seats inside (I think they have more seating outside now that the weather is better), and their oven only accommodates one pizza at a time. So you'll almost definitely have to wait to be seated and to eat, but if you're going to have to wait for your pizza, it's best to sate your hunger for a time. You can give the hostess your cell number and head to the best scicilian bakery in the city, among the best bakeries of any kind in a city that likes its baked goods (half a block north at 5406 N Clark), Pasticceria Natalina, and have your dessert (gelato and canoli are only the tip of a delicious iceberg they have there) before your dinner. Careful though, Natalina is only open till 6 Tues-Fri and 5 Sat & Sunday. You don't want to be too late to savor Natalina's treats. If you still have some time to kill, head down the street to have a beer and some pretty excellent belgian frites at Hopleaf (a brewpub at 5148 N Clark), and Great Lake's byob, so you can stop at the liquor store on the corner to get something to drink with your pizza. When you do get in, the seating is almost all around one table. There are usually 5 choices of pizza and a couple choices of desserts. No substitutions. The reason for this is that the chef goes and gets the best, freshest ingredients he can find every day, and that's all he has there. So consider yourself warned. If you're tired of waiting and want to eat asap, Hopleaf has excellent bar food, and the French place next to Great Lake, La Tache, is also outstanding.

            Here are a couple more favorites of mine:

            I second both Hot Chocolate and Cafecito. Hot Chocolate's food is good, and its desserts are out of this world. Cafecito, on Congress between State & Wabash, is one of the friendliest joints in the city, and they make some of the best cuban style sandwiches too. I'm told their coffee is also awesome, but since I don't drink the stuff, I can only testify to the excellence of their hot chocolate and Batidos.

            Pastoral is a wine, cheese, and bread shop where everyone's extremely friendly and helpful, and their selection is broad and of the highest quality. They'll let you taste to your heart's content. Pastoral has a location in a market in the West Loop, another in the Loop, and another in Lakeview. Their sandwiches are good, if overpriced.

            For what I think are some of the best sandwiches in the city, head south on Michigan to 14th Street where you'll find Panozzo's Italian Deli. Their roast beef may be worth killing over.

            Saving the best for last, Cafe Bom Bon on Ashland has desserts that will blow your mind. They have sandwiches too, and they're good. But the desserts... oh, the desserts. If you can, call in the am or the day before and special order a chocolate tart with profiteroles on top or better yet, order four. They only make them if you preorder, and after you have one you will want more. Go to Bom Bon. You will not be sorry.

            So I hope you get a chance to check out and enjoy some of these Chicago originals. Let me know if you or anyone who reads this has thoughts, questions, or comments. Enjoy!

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

            Twisted Spoke
            501 N Ogden Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

            Moto Restaurant
            945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

            Hot Chocolate
            1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

            844 W Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607

            26 E Congress Pkwy Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60605

            Otom Restaurant
            951 W Fulton, Market Chicago, IL

            Hopleaf Bar
            5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

            Great Lake
            1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

            The Grocery Bistro
            804 W Washington Blvd., Chicago, IL 60607