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May 9, 2010 05:08 PM

2 NYC foodies + Chicago next weekend= Where to eat?! Help!

Would love your suggestions! We are staying just off the Magnificent Mile & will have a car.

I would like to try one of Bayless' restos but keep reading mixed reviews, advice?. Also, have Hot Doug's on the list. Looking for a few more recs for lunch & dinner and a great breakfast place.

I'm pregnant, so sadly no sushi, open to all other cuisines. Though would like to stay away from high end italian or steakhouses.

Thanks in advance!

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

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  1. >> I would like to try one of Bayless' restos but keep reading mixed reviews, advice?

    Frontera Grill and Topolobampo are still the most creative of our many creative Mexican restaurants, and I recommend both of them. However, getting in is the tricky part. If you'll be around for lunch on Friday, making a reservation for Topo on is your best bet. For dinner, you'll never be able to get a reservation for Topo on this short notice and waits for tables for dinner at Frontera on weekends are horrendous. Lunch at Frontera on Friday or brunch there on Saturday may be additional options. Both are closed on Sundays and Mondays. XOCO is also good but the cuisine is not as unusual as at his other two restaurants.

    If for some reason you can't get to Bayless's places, there are other excellent creative provincial Mexican restaurants around. The ones I like closest to downtown are Salpicon in Old Town, Mexique in West Town, and Mundial Cocina Mestiza in Pilsen.

    >> Also, have Hot Doug's on the list. Looking for a few more recs for lunch & dinner

    Contemporary American - North Pond, Cafe des Architectes
    Seafood - Shaw's Crab House, Hugo's Frog Bar
    Italian (moderately priced) - Cafe Spiaggia, Coco Pazzo, Vivere
    Deep-dish Pizza - Uno/Due, Lou Malnati's, Giordano's
    French bistros - La Sardine, Brasserie Jo
    Pan-Asian - Red Light, Sunda
    Latin Fusion - Carnivale, Nacional 27
    Tapas - Mercat a la Planxa, Cafe Iberico
    Chinese - Double Li, Lao Sze Chuan
    Thai - TAC Quick, Spoon Thai

    >> and a great breakfast place.

    Bongo Room! They have wonderful pancakes, such as their pretzel pancakes in white chocolate sauce. Here's a tip: The standard portion size is three HUGE pancakes, but you can also get one-third or two-thirds portion sizes at a reduced price - perfect to enable you to try more than one dish! The South Loop location is slightly closer to the Mag Mile than the one in Wicker Park, and it's easier to get to via public transportation or cab.

    For additional breakfast recommendations close to the Mag Mile, see

    6 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      nsxtasy- Wonderful suggestions, thank you so much! Will report back :-)

      1. re: trinyc

        A few more comments. You'll want the car to go to Hot Doug's, but little else. Much of the downtown area is walking distance from the Mag Mile, and for the rest, it's usually cheaper and quicker to take a cab (or public transportation) than driving and re-parking. Kind of like having a car while staying in a hotel in Midtown Manhattan - unless you need it for specific destinations, you may find that it's more of a liability.

        Also, I strongly recommend against Avec. They don't accept reservations and waiting times for seating is often lengthy, it's REALLY LOUD, the hard wooden seats are the most uncomfortable in town, they only have communal seating so you'll be seated with strangers... need I go on? ;)

      2. re: nsxtasy

        Quick question---our hotel is on East Delaware Place & looking for suggestions nearby??

        Also---which Chicago pizza place would you recommend? Giordano's, Lou Malnati's or something else?

        1. re: trinyc

          >> Quick question---our hotel is on East Delaware Place & looking for suggestions nearby??

          I posted a list of places above. Now I'll show distances in parentheses representing the approximate number of blocks to walk from East Delaware and Michigan Avenue so you can see which ones are close (I love using Google Maps for this):

          Contemporary American - Cafe des Architectes (2)
          Seafood - Shaw's Crab House (13), Hugo's Frog Bar (2)
          Italian (moderately priced) - Cafe Spiaggia (2)
          Deep-dish Pizza - Uno/Due (10), Pizano's (3), Lou Malnati's (17), Giordano's (5)
          French bistros - Brasserie Jo (15), Bistro 110 (2)
          Pan-Asian - Sunda (15)
          Tapas - Cafe Iberico (9)

          If there are other types of food you're interested in, or if there's any particular place you'd like to know how close it is, feel free to ask!

          >> Also---which Chicago pizza place would you recommend? Giordano's, Lou Malnati's or something else?

          There are lots of opinions about Chicago pizza, and no real consensus. Here are mine. There are two main types of deep-dish pizza. The original, introduced by Uno in 1943, is often called "pizza in the pan" and is made with a single crust; the best examples are the original locations of Uno and Due as well as Lou Malnati's and Pizano's. In the early 1970s, Nancy's and then Giordano's popularized "stuffed pizza" made with two crusts (with cheese and meat/veggies between the two, and tomato sauce on top of the upper crust); other good examples include Edwardo's and Bacino's. If you've never had deep-dish pizza in Chicago (and those out-of-town locations of the horrible "Uno's Chicago Grill" don't count), then I suggest trying one of the places for "pizza in the pan". Pizano's on State is very close to your hotel. If you walk a little further, you can go to the original locations of Uno and Due. Further still is Malnati's location on Wells. All of these are very good - and very similar, not coincidentally, because they share a family relationship. If you've already tried one of those and you'd like to try stuffed pizza, Giordano's is as good as any, and they have a location on Rush Street near your hotel. Personally, I really love both kinds, with a slight preference for Giordano's over Malnati's (those are the ones close to where I live).

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Thanks again! Appreciate your quick help!!

            1. re: trinyc

              I liked Lou's, I loved Giordano's - but for me, the best pizza I had in Chicago was The Art of Pizza - just down the way from Hot Doug's. Similar in style to Lou's (but lacking the caramelized crust) but I really loved the sauce.

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

              Art of Pizza
              3033 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

      3. Frontera and Topo are good and excellent, respectively. The wait can be long, but if you arrive early in the lunch hour you can get in.

        Hot Doug's is a no brainer - go.

        Great Breakfast - see my Blog. m.Henry and Bongo Room are FAR better than anything breakfast in NYC (at least for pancakes and french toast) Would also consider Yolk, though the others trump it.

        For Contemporary American I'd go with Blackbird, Avec. North Pond is a nice setting but it is very average for the price.

        NYC Italian blows Chicago out of the water - skip it. :-)

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

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

        Bongo Room
        1470 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

        North Pond
        2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

        25 Replies
        1. re: uhockey

          Thanks uhockey! Great blog :-) Will check out some of your Detroit suggestions too---my husband's originally from Detroit suburbs and we're always looking to try new places when we get back there.

          Re: NYC italian, what are your faves? My go to fave is Peasant! Love!

          1. re: trinyc

            I loved Alto and Babbo, very much liked Convivio and A Voce, and liked Marea. Il Mulino (the original) is a scene, but it was fun and the specials were excellent.

            My next visit to NYC will be dictated by when Benno's place opens. :-)

          2. re: uhockey

            uhockey -- remind me if you went to Clinton Street Baking Co. and/or Shopsin's in your visits to NYC. Also did you try the French Toast at City Bakery?

            What do you recommend at the Bongo Room?

            Bongo Room
            1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

            1. re: kathryn

              >> What do you recommend at the Bongo Room?

              Their specialty is pancakes topped with sauce. The best kinds I've had there have been pretzel pancakes with white chocolate sauce, and blueberry pancakes with almond panna cotta cream. They change the menu regularly, so you'll have to see what they've got now. I've tried their sandwiches and salads, and they're okay, but not really special.

              Bongo Room
              1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Hmmm, hard to decide if it'll be for us. Husband loves both pancakes and egg-y dishes for breakfast. But he's a maple syrup purist, not sure he'll be satisfied with fancy sauces on the pancakes....

                1. re: kathryn

                  "May I have the sauce served on the side, please?"

                  Bongo Room has omelets and other egg dishes as well.

                  We have a lot of other excellent breakfast places around Chicago in addition to Bongo Room. I tend not to recommend places that serve decent but utterly conventional breakfast dishes like omelets and pancakes to visitors from out of town, just because they're not all that unusual - places like Lou Mitchell's, Kitsch, and Yolk fall into that category - but here are some other places worth considering for interesting breakfasts:

                  Walker Brothers. Multiple locations in the Chicago suburbs. An unusually top-quality franchisee of the Original Pancake House and the only one allowed to put its own name on the restaurants. Along with Bongo Room and M. Henry, one of my top three picks for Chicago-area breakfast. Don't miss the amazing puffed-up cinnamony Apple Pancake.

                  M. Henry. In Andersonville, 7 miles north of the Loop. Love their blisscakes.

                  Jam. In West Town, 3 miles west-northwest of the Loop.

                  Orange. Multiple locations in the city and suburbs. Pancake "flights" and create-your-own fruit juice blends.

                  Atwood Cafe. In the Loop. A contemporary American restaurant that does a mighty fine job with breakfast/brunch, such as their yummy mascarpone stuffed brioche French toast. It's a classy place in a luxury hotel (Hotel Burnham) so it's a bit pricey, but convenient; if you're in the Loop and you want a good place nearby, this is the place to go.

                  Toast. Locations in Lincoln Park (three miles north of the Loop) and Bucktown (four miles northwest of the Loop). Another excellent stuffed French toast.

                  Lula. In Logan Square, five miles northwest of the Loop. Weekend brunch has more offerings than weekday breakfast.

                  Fox & Obel. One mile northeast of the Loop. It's our premier gourmet food store, comparable to Balducci's or Dean & Deluca in New York. They have a cafe in the rear where they cook food to order and I like their Cobb omelet. And don't miss the yummy cinnamon swirl rolls, in the cafe as well as the bakery counter.

                  I've posted detailed reports on these and others in the breakfast/brunch topic at

                  French toast aficionados can find the Tribune's article about the best French toast in town at

                  Sunday brunch (i.e. places that are not open for breakfast during the week) is another category entirely...

              2. re: kathryn

                Glad others are responding to my questions. :-)

                I walked up to Shopsin's, I saw Crisco sitting by the Griddle, I promptly left. :-) At City Bakery I had the pretzle croissant, but not the French Toast. Never been to Clinton Street.

                At Bongo Room I very much liked the cornmeal pancakes, the Banana Nestle Crunch Bar Flapjacks with warm Toffee Cream Sauce and Fresh Bananas, and the Pumpkin Carrot Cakes comprised of pumpkin spiced cakes with shredded carrots, vanilla bean cream sauce and cinnamon orange crème anglaise.

                The stuffed French Toast looked divine the last time I went, as well.

                Bongo Room
                1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

                1. re: uhockey

                  Thanks for your Bongo Room recommendations! I'm having a hard time finding a more up to date menu for them. The menupages one looks very short and their web site is still "under construction."

                  Shopsin's IS a diner run by a curmudgeon who openly admits to using Aunt Jemima's pancake batter, but I think Kenny's wacky flavor creations are really great.

                  But if you haven't been to Clinton Street Baking Co. or City Bakery in NYC I don't think you can really say that Chicago spots are "FAR better than anything breakfast in NYC."

                  Bongo Room
                  1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

                  1. re: kathryn

                    I don't think a single Pancake offering at Clinton Street (no matter how good anyone says they are) or a single French Toast offering (I've never even heard anyone recommend this) can compare with the 4+ pancakes, 2+ French Toast at Bongo and larger number of offerings at m.Henry, Yolk, Lula Cafe, Toast, or even Orange (which really didn't blow my mind.)

                    1. re: uhockey

                      OK, Chicago spots have a bigger variety, got it.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Well, I guess quality and quantity (of options) is what is important - and all but Orange deliever that in spades in Chicago.

                        My experiences in NYC have been Norma's (good food, awful service,) Good Enough To Eat (Horrible, and pricey,) and Balthazar on last visit (good, but not worth the price.) To be completely honest - with the bakery scene you guys are sporting in NYC I can't figure the point of breakfast in the sit-down sense. :-) NYC needs to expand their Bouchon to breakfast service so you get get TK's Brioche Bread Pudding French Toast.

                        Actually though, with Payard's UES stop closing, check out Fritz in Chicago if you go there - the Almond Croissant is on par with what Payard had.

                        1. re: uhockey

                          While Chicago has a few excellent pastry shops, overall I consider our pastry offerings to pale in comparison, not only with New York, but also with some other American cities. I can't name a single place here where you can walk in and buy over a dozen different amazingly delicious pastries. We have some places that have a few excellent items - Fritz is one of the better ones, although I'd put Vanille Patisserie and Fox & Obel above Fritz - but there are many, many Chicago bakeries where you'll find one blah item after another, places that people tout as "great" when they're barely better than supermarket quality.

                          Fortunately, there are many other types of food that Chicago does extremely well, including many as well as or even - gasp! - better than New York.

                          For discussions of Chicago's best pastry shops, see and for Chicago's best croissants, see

                          1. re: nsxtasy

                            I agree with the assessment that there is no one "go to" shop in Chicago, but I've tried a whole lot of almond croissants and I'd put Fritz's up against Payard or Petrossian.

                            I found Fox and Obel's pastry VERY pedestrian and while some items at Vanille were good I just wasn't "wowed" by it for the prices. Their Macarons were tasty and the chocolate caramel bar were superb, though.

                            Also, the baked goods (including the refridgerated bread puddings and puddings) at Trotter's to Go are wonderful.

                            1. re: uhockey

                              Fox & Obel has a few items that are simply amazing. If you're a fan of bread pudding, theirs is one of the very best around, especially if you pop it in the microwave briefly before eating, topping it with the little container of caramel sauce they give you. They have a chocolate version they call "chocolate brut" that is similarly impressive. They do a banana pudding (complete with vanilla wafers) that will beat anything you'll find in the South. Some of their other pastries are just okay. The breads are generally excellent too. Their cinnamon swirl rolls are the best I've ever had anywhere. Their almond croissants are also the best I've had anywhere, better than Fritz's. I love their brioche loaf, by itself or as the basis for French toast. They have a really good rustic fruit-nut loaf (I forget what they call it) with chopped apricots in it too.

                              Vanille isn't inexpensive, but truly high-quality pastry never is. Their entremets are wonderful, and their croissants are among the best in town. But they are very small and they don't have a huge selection.

                              I've had the baked goods at Trotter's To Go, including the puddings. Good, yes. Wonderful, no.

                          2. re: uhockey

                            I think we have had exactly opposite experiences. I hate Norma's, like GETE, and think Balthazar is quite food. My favorite places to have breakfast/brunch in NYC are Prune, Clinton St Baking Co., Shopsin's, Locanda Verde, and Blue Ribbon Bakery. That TK's Brioche Bread Pudding French Toast sounds really really good though.

                            BTW Payard has reopened, kind of:

                            Blue Ribbon Restaurant
                            201 S Main St, Bartlett, IL 60103

                      2. re: kathryn

                        Bongo Room does not have an operational website and changes its menu too often for Menupages to be kept up to date. Sorry.

                        Incidentally, if you happen to be in Bucktown, they have a location there in addition to the one previously mentioned in the South Loop.

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          I think I'm going to leave it open, dependent upon what husband feels like when he wakes up that day! Thanks for your help!

                          1. re: kathryn

                            If you'd like to mention which hotel you're staying at, or a nearby intersection, I can tell you what breakfast places are close by...

                            1. re: nsxtasy

                              Hotel Sax on Dearborn in River North. I think our primary issue will be that it'll probably be 10-11am on a weekday. It often takes us a while to get out of the room.

                              Looking for places that serve continuously between River North and South Loop (probably going to Shedd afterwards). Trying to avoid Chinese (going to visit my folks in LA in a few months + I go to Flushing Queens often), BBQ (spent 10 days in Texas this year and am going to the Big Apple BBQ festival in NYC a few weeks before I come to Chicago), and anything else that New York City does better.

                              1. re: kathryn

                                A lot of the breakfast places are mentioned in this discussion:
                                Breakfast River North

                                Here is approximately how many blocks you would walk from the Hotel Sax to each the places mentioned there:

                                3 - Sable ( )
                                3 - XOCO ( )
                                3 - Sixteen ( )
                                3 - South Water Kitchen ( )
                                6 - Eggsperience Pancakes and Cafe ( )
                                6 - Heaven on Seven ( - Wabash location)
                                7 - Restaurant at Conrad ( )
                                8 - LB Bistro in the Sheraton ( )
                                8 - Aja ( )
                                9 - David Burke's Primehouse ( )
                                10 - Fox & Obel ( )
                                10 - Orange ( - location at Clark and Superior)
                                13 - Yolk ( - River North location)
                                (not walkable) - Bongo Room

                                If you're open to eating lunch rather than breakfast, then you can look at just about any place in that area from River North through the Loop to the South Loop. Almost all of the restaurants in that part of town are open for lunch. See my first reply above for some recommendations for various types of food; virtually all are open for lunch.

                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                  I know that Sable is fairly new -- have you tried the food there yet? I had a friend stop by recently but only for the cocktails, not the food.

                                  Xoco is already on my list. I guess if my husband likes it enough we could always try to repeat it but for breakfast instead of lunch, assuming we get there before 10:30am.

                                  Will probably skip Primehouse as there is a Primehouse in NYC now (where we're traveling from).

                                  I hijacked Jim Leff's thread yesterday with my itinerary, repeated below for your convenience:

                                  Rough itinerary:

                                  Late lunch at Xoco (it's close to our hotel and husband LOVES churros)
                                  Dinner at Publican (have reservations already, and don't mind the loud/cramped/wooden seat nature)
                                  After dinner cocktails at Sable (which is close to our hotel and we are big fans of Violet Hour as well as PDT/Death & Co/Pegu Club/Flatiron/Milk & Honey/etc in NYC)

                                  Lunch/brunch at either the Bongo Room or Giordano's (did Malfati's last time we were in town, aiming to try stuffed pie this time)
                                  Pre-dinner cocktails at Violet Hour (6pm or so)
                                  Dinner at Alinea (already have reservations, this will be our 2nd time there)

                                  Lunch with friends at Hot Doug's (aiming to get in line early, around 10:30am?)
                                  Catching a train out of town shortly thereafter

                                  1. re: kathryn

                                    >> I know that Sable is fairly new -- have you tried the food there yet?

                                    I haven't tried Sable or most the other hotel restaurants I mentioned for breakfast; I included them for the sake of completeness.

                                    I think you can tell a lot about a breakfast place from its website menu. If the breakfast menu sounds like it has really creative dishes, it's more likely to impress me. There are some hidden gems among the hotel breakfasts. (I haven't been to LB Bistro, but I've loved Atwood Cafe!)

                                    1. re: kathryn

                                      Hey Kathryn! Just a follow up to your trip last year. I'm staying at the same hotel & was wondering what you tried & would recommend? I'm traveling with my husband and 1 y.o. daughter. Have lunch reservations thus far for tobolobampo. Grateful for your help.

                                      1. re: trinyc

                                        We thought Hotel Sax had a great location but only OK overall. To get coffee in the morning you had to go to their sit down restaurant but ask for to go coffee. Very odd.

                                        Regardless, my two recent Chicago trip reports:

                                        Not sure which of those are kid friendly except Hot Doug's and Julius Meinl.

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