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May 17, 2010 08:05 AM

Assorted questions about moving to Chicago (from NYC)

So, after having spent roughly 24 hours of my life in Chicago, I will be taking the plunge and moving out there (into the Loop, likely).

In my whirlwind visit, I was able to enjoy a few touristy Chicago staples (deep dish, italian beef, intelligentsia coffee), but now it's time to start thinking about branching out.

Firstly, I'd love to find a go-to Polish restaurant to hold me over between trips back home. I'm sure they're plentiful somewhere in Chicagoland.

Intelligentsia is one of my favorite coffee places ever, and while I'd love for all of my coffee to come out of a clover machine or cold-brew vat, are there any mini-chains worth going to in a pinch? I'm no coffee snob, but I can't stand SBUX.

In NYC, grocery prices are generally better in convenience stores than in supermarkets. That's usually not the case, but I just wanted to see what the general strategy is in Chicago. Also, is there a supermarket worth going out of your way for, or are they roughly interchangeable?

I don't want to burden you all with a dozen requests for specific restaurant recs (that I can use "search" for), but perhaps you have some general tips on making the move.

Do any NY expats care to opine?

Thanks a lot

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  1. I'm a NY expat and so feel free to ask me whatever questions you may have. In general Chicago offers many great options although nothing comes close to the sheer magnitude of what NYC has to offer.

    A couple things to consider. People eat dinner far earlier in Chicago. My wife and I were used to going out to dinner at 9-9:30 and expecting to wait an hour before being seated at our favorite restaurants but in Chicago you will find that you have to go out of your way to eat past 9:30. The flip-side of this is that you can get reservations day of for all but the newest restaurants. The other issue I have is that everything in Chicago is more hearty. I tend to like more decadent dining but Chicago takes it to a new level. It's not so much the pork heavy places that try to one-up each other as much as it is surprisingly difficult to get a fish dish or a vegetable dish that doesn't come with some sort of meat. On numerous occasions my wife was shocked to find bacon in dishes that didn't even mention it as an ingredient. There aren't as many places that feature local/farm-fresh cuisine and when they do it tends to be overwhelmed by meat.

    As for you questions...I cannot offer much in the polish category but I'm eager to learn. I tend to do most of my shopping at Whole Foods although we tend to go to Jewel and Dominic for staples. Dominic tends to be a bit nicer than Jewel but obviously Whole Foods is even better although more expensive. Stanley's is a great produce market which is ridiculously cheap.

    I will think of a couple places to recommend at get back to you.

    Welcome to Chicago

    1. Let me take a crack at your questions.

      I can't help you with the Polish restaurant. I know there are people here who have their recommendations, but for whatever reason Polish food is not on my rotation.

      I share your disdain of SBUX and agree that Intelligensia is awesome coffee. The other local coffee brand I like is Metropolis. It doesn't have its own chain that I know of, but plenty of local independent coffee shops use it. How good they are can depends on the skill and care of the barrista. I also like the coffee (yes, the coffee) at Argo tea outlets.

      Grocery Stores. The two basic chains are Jewel and Dominicks. Dominicks was once a fine family-owned local grocery chain, but it got bought out by Safeway and has never been the same. It tends to be better in the suburbs than the city. In the city I prefer Jewel, but some stores are unquestionably better stocked and maintained than others. and that, BTW, is also true for Dominicks stores: some will for sure be better than others.

      Next there is Whole Foods, which you know about as a national chain. It has a huge and excellent outlet on Kingsbury, technically in Lincoln Park. It's not the closest WF to you, but not that far from you either.

      Treasure Island is a high end grocery chain, mostly in the suburbs,but it has a couple of outlets in the city: one on Clybourn in Lincoln Park and one on Wells St. in Old Town. It's expensive, carries a number of exotic and imported products you might not find other places. I also don't think it's as clean as I'd like, but maybe that's me.

      I do the rounds: Jewel for basics and cleaning products; WF for meat, fish, milk and stuff I can't get other places, the Green City Market (literally in Lincoln Park - the park that gave the neighborhood it's name -- on Wednesday and Saturday mornings) for most produce and sometimes bread or other products, sometimes a local bakery. In the winter when GCM is not open every week, Stanley's can be a great resource for cheap produce (not always super-fresh, but always inexpensive).

      There are local independent stores and co-ops that are neighborhood specific. You might consider Fox & Obel in East Illinois. It's pretty impressive, more like Dean and DeLuca in NY. Not a regular stop for me (partly it's a location issue) and they also cater and have a very nice cafe.

      Green City Market
      1750 N Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614

      32 Replies
      1. re: chicgail

        I think Metropolis only has one location, so it's not a chain, but the shop itself, in Edgewater, on Granville, is a great place to hang out and read or catch up on some work.

        1. re: chicgail

          Correction about Treasure Island, it is mainly a city grocery store. There is only one suburban store in Wilmette to my knowledge. In additon to the Clybourn and Wells stores, there are stores on Lake Shore Drive, Elm and North Broadway. Also, ever since Dominicks was bought out by Safeway, their prices are higher than Treasure Island's. What Treasure Island has going for it is a long (over 30 years) and rich history of being the only major Chicago grocery where you could get a wide variety of imported goods. I can remember TI's being the only place I could buy tahina because it had an international aisle.

          As has been pointed out, the grocery scene in Chicago is very different from NY. I love to stay on the UWS at the Hotel Beacon, mainly because of the Fairway Market across the street. Chicagoans have no idea what they're missing and seem to settle for less when it comes to grocery shopping, relying on the institutional fare of the major chains. The competition in the NYC has produced fabulous stores with the broadest range of high quality offerings I've seen. I'm continually dismayed that bakeries and butchers are hard to find in Chicago.

          1. re: madlyophelia

            You are correct about TI being primarily a city store. I had a momentary confusion with Sunset, which is a small north shore (and northwest) suburban grocery chain, and which I rarely get to because of it's location, but covet for it's wonderful selection and quality.

            1. re: madlyophelia

              >> I'm continually dismayed that bakeries and butchers are hard to find in Chicago.

              Huh? We have some excellent bakeries and butchers! Haven't you been to places like Fox & Obel or Zier's? See the discussion links in my other post in this topic.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                I live in Old Town, so I'm not going up to Wilmette to shop for meat, etc. Nor am I going to Fox & Obels for a loaf of bread. The situation is quite different in teh suburbs, where you do find butchers and bakeries. I don't find the breads at Whole Food to be all that special and seem rather "cottony" to me. The Wells TI used to bring in challah from the King David's Bakery on Howard Street; it was the best, but no longer exists. There used to be a Breadstuffs on Wells, but it closed.

                As for butcher shops in the city, there's Paulina and Gepperths, both incredibly overpriced. I've ventured down to the Fulton Market area on occasion, just yesterday to have some knives sharpened at NW Cutlery.

                My observations were meant to compare/contrast with the NYC grocery/food shopping scene. If only Fairway would expand to Chicago...I would be so so happy.

                1. re: madlyophelia

                  With a population density differential of about 6:1 and a per-capita income about double that of Chicago, Manhattan is a unique entity unto itself. Chicago can't replicate Manhattan.

                  Do you both live and work in Old Town? I live on the NorthWest side where there is literally nothing within walking distance, but between my office in the Loop and my home I can manage to get everything I need.

                  1. re: madlyophelia

                    So you are saying that there are plenty of good bakeries and butchers, including some near your home, but you don't want to pay the prices they charge. That certainly doesn't support your claim that "bakeries and butchers are hard to find in Chicago." They are not hard to find; you just have to pay what they charge. And shops which specialize in the highest quality of *anything* often charge a premium for doing so.

                    For higher-quality meat at a reasonable price, I suggest going to Costco, which has a location on Clybourn near Diversey.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      I may be adopting an unpopular position but Costco produces some fine breads and baked goods.

                      1. re: ferret

                        Yes, you may be. :)

                        I'm with madly about the breads at Whole Foods; they're okay, but don't blow me away.

                        OTOH the breads at Fox & Obel are superb. I love them all! Their brioche loaf is great, either for sandwiches or for French toast. They have a rustic fruit-nut bread that's fantastic (has chopped apricots in it). And their other baked goods are just the best - the best bran muffins anywhere, the best cinnamon swirl rolls, etc. And heck, it's convenient; from Old Town you can drive there in 10 minutes, and they have free validated parking in the high-rise across the street.

                        1. re: ferret

                          Actually, I agree about the breads and baked goods at Costco. I have been surprised by their quality and I'm not nuts about the breads at Whole Foods. Go figure.

                          1. re: chicgail

                            I also like the uncooked flour tortillas that you can toast up in a skillet/griddle. They won't fool anyone into thinking they're homemade but they're much, much better than the regular store-bought ones.

                        2. re: nsxtasy

                          I'm sorry, but two butchers (and Paulina is not really *that* close) you consider "plenty"? True, NY is higher density, but if I compare the UWS to the Lincoln Park neighborhood, our shopping pales by comparison. We're talking fantastic grocery stores every couple of blocks. Also, you shouldn't presume that the NY stores' prices are higher. Fairway isn't fancy but the food is crammed in and has lots of people to wait on you where it counts. Their prices are not only fair, I found for example cheese (handcut) to be far less than at WF or F&Os, the only places where I've found my taleggio. Their deli section had numerous choices of smoked salmon to be handcut by dedicated staff.

                          Another bread bakery (I don't care about cupcakes and cookies) is Red Hen, but they don't have a brioche bread. Fox & Obel to my knowledge is the only place that has it. TJs has brioche rolls, but no bread.and I have never seen the round variety anywhere.

                          1. re: madlyophelia

                            "True, NY is higher density,"

                            SIX TIMES the density, so you have 6 times the market. Manhattan is 5X the density of even Lincoln Park. You can't ignore that. So if your immediate neighborhood can support 2 bakeries, it would support 10 in Manhattan.

                            1. re: ferret

                              Not to pick a nit here, but I was only comparing the UWS to Lincoln Park. If you're going to compare the whole of Manhattan, then we're going to have to expand the Chicago area included. ;-) But there is no question of the difference in density. What I've noticed is a major difference in attitudes and approaches to shopping. They demand better in NY and people tend to settle in Chicago for what the big chains offer as the whole of their existence.

                              Now I'll give you one product which is IMO better in Chicago:chopped liver! None of the highly touted delis in NY can touch the chopped liver from Shaevitz in Highland Park.

                              1. re: madlyophelia

                                If you like Shaevitz, you'll love Romanian. I think their chopped liver is superior (as are their sausage products).

                                1. re: ferret

                                  There's another place in the 'burbs that my family has gotten chopped liver from, when Shaevitz is closed. I think it is Once Upon a Bagel and it was very good.

                                  I was less than enthralled with a kiska from Romanian.

                                2. re: madlyophelia

                                  >> They demand better in NY and people tend to settle in Chicago for what the big chains offer as the whole of their existence.

                                  Wow, I couldn't disagree more. There are many, many people in Chicago who enjoy the highest quality foods, which is why there are some great stores - not just Fox & Obel, but the fish markets, and the meat markets, and the ethnic markets, etc. They're just not all in one place, that's all.

                                  Sure, there are some people in Chicago who settle for mediocre products, and I have plenty of friends and relatives in New York City who do so as well - along with others who appreciate high quality the same way many people here in Chicago do.

                                  Maybe you're just hanging out with the wrong people here. :)

                                  1. re: madlyophelia

                                    I haven't been to Shaevitz or Romanian. (I know, shame on me!) Kaufman's in Skokie ( ) had always been my go-to Jewish deli, and they do an excellent chopped liver. But lately I've been going to Steve's Deli in River North ( ) and I really like a lot of their stuff (they have great stuffed cabbage and chicken pot pies, as well as their deli sandwiches, and yes a good chopped liver). They started in Detroit, which has some terrific Jewish delis, and now Chicago is the beneficiary. It's right next to the East Bank Club (not far from Old Town) and they have free validated parking in the CVS/Petco lot behind the deli.

                                    1. re: nsxtasy

                                      Thanks for the info on Steve's Deli. I'll have to give it a try, but usually I'll just make my own chopped liver if necessary. I inherited my mother's wooden bowl and chopper.

                                3. re: madlyophelia

                                  >> if I compare the UWS to the Lincoln Park neighborhood, our shopping pales by comparison

                                  Of course - because the Upper West Side is an entire swath of Manhattan, over three miles in length. Take the comparable area in Chicago, and you're looking at most of the North Side, from the Gold Coast up to Lincoln Square (and there are plenty of bakeries and butchers in that area). Lincoln Park is just a small neighborhood by comparison. And that's just area, and doesn't even take the difference in population density into account (ferret's point). You're trying to compare apples to oranges (to use a food metaphor).

                                  And you're saying that you've found everything from taleggio to brioche bread at Fox & Obel, which is ten minutes from your home in Old Town and has free parking. Now it sounds like you're trying to refute your own statement that "bakeries and butchers are hard to find in Chicago". :)

                                  As for prices, a home in Manhattan costs two to three times as much as an equivalent home in Chicago, and the difference wipes out many times over any differences in the cost of groceries.

                                  1. re: nsxtasy

                                    Not to mention State AND CITY income taxes of nearly 10% (triple the Illinois rate).

                                    So for a person earning $50,000 (assuming your pay remains the same), a move to Chicago can save $3,000+ a year. More than enough to cover any added food expense.

                                    1. re: ferret

                                      you do realize that Chicago has the highest sales tax in the country, don't you?

                                      1. re: madlyophelia

                                        You do realize that the difference in sales tax rates (less than 1 percent) is offset many times over by the cost of a home, right?

                                        I love VISITING New York. I love LIVING IN Chicago. :)

                                        1. re: madlyophelia

                                          Sales tax is a use tax. You can choose whether or not to buy (and you can also shop outside the city. You'd have to buy $30,000 of merchandise to get the equivalent hit in my scenario.

                                          1. re: ferret

                                            >> Sales tax is a use tax. You can choose whether or not to buy (and you can also shop outside the city. You'd have to buy $30,000 of merchandise to get the equivalent hit in my scenario.

                                            Because the difference in sales tax rates is less than 1 percent, you'd have to buy over $300,000 of merchandise to get the equivalent savings!

                                            Of course, our sales tax on food is much less (2.25 percent). And everything other than food, I buy from out of state over the internet, with no sales tax. :)

                                      2. re: nsxtasy

                                        I'm not sure where you got your geographical info, but the UWS is smaller than LP. I'm not sure where you're counting from but it is long and not very wide, unlike LP, a huge amorphous territory.

                                        Housing costs are vastly higher in Manhattan, but salarlies are too. Yet I could get a manicure/pedicure for less there.

                                        I'm not sure why you keep bringing up Fox & Obels as refuting my argument. It is not in my neighborhood and it is one grossly overpriced store. It seems that I can choose from chain stores or "the best" and hence costing an arm and a leg. Why isn't there an in between, as there used to be in Chicago and still exists in NY.

                                        1. re: madlyophelia

                                          >> I'm not sure where you got your geographical info, but the UWS is smaller than LP.

                                          I'm not sure where you got your geographical info, but the populated area of the Upper West Side is approximately the same size as that of Lincoln Park (i.e. excluding the park areas of Central Park and Lincoln Park). The Upper West Side occupies 2.5 square miles; it extends from 59th Street to 125th Street, a distance of 3.4 miles north to south, and its width averages 0.7 miles; it is generally considered to include Morningside Heights. Lincoln Park occupies 2.3 square miles; it extends from North Avenue to Diversey Parkway, a distance of 1.5 miles north to south, and its width extends from the park and the lake to the Chicago River, an average of 1.5 miles. The only way Lincoln Park is larger is if you also include the area (just under a square mile) of the park and lakefront, where nobody lives and which is irrelevant to any discussion of the food and needs of the people in the neighborhood.

                                          64,000 people live in Lincoln Park. Approximately four times that number of people live on the Upper West Side, in the same area.

                                          >> I'm not sure where you're counting from but it is long and not very wide, unlike LP, a huge amorphous territory.

                                          Lincoln Park is not at all a "huge amorphous territory". It has precisely defined boundaries, from North Avenue to Diversey Parkway, and from Lake Michigan to the Chicago River. It is one of the 77 community areas of Chicago, almost all of which had boundaries precisely defined in the early part of the 20th Century. You can read more about these community areas at

                                          >> I'm not sure why you keep bringing up Fox & Obels as refuting my argument. It is not in my neighborhood and it is one grossly overpriced store.

                                          You're the one who stated that you've found everything from taleggio to brioche bread at Fox & Obel, which is ten minutes from your home (with free parking). That contradicts your claim that "bakeries and butchers are hard to find in Chicago"; you seem to have found one ten minutes from home that has what you need.

                                          >> It seems that I can choose from chain stores or "the best" and hence costing an arm and a leg. Why isn't there an in between, as there used to be in Chicago and still exists in NY.

                                          There are plenty of stores throughout Chicago where you can get quality foods at prices that vary from moderate to expensive. Fox & Obel is not the only place to shop, but it was the example in which you yourself contradicted your earlier statement. And what do you mean by "as there used to be in Chicago"? That's simply not true. There are far more options for food providers today in Chicago than there were 20-30 years ago.

                                  2. re: madlyophelia

                                    they have one in Paramas and are expanding to Long Island and Brooklyn why not Chicago

                                    1. re: coachrbc

                                      What place are you referring to in Paramus?

                                        1. re: Bone Thug n Hominy


                                          Grocery stores tend to be local/regional based. I assume this gives them advantages in marketing (it's tougher to enter a new market where you're not already a household name, whereas by expanding within a market you can limit your buys of TV and newspaper ads to ones in that market for a cost advantage) as well as in distribution (warehouses and deliveries over a confined geographical area). That's why it's rare for chains to expand into other geographical markets. Over the years it's been a lot more common for grocery chains to enter the Chicago market by buying an existing local chain, like Supervalu/Albertson's acquisition of Jewel and Safeway's acquisition of Dominick's, rather than trying to create an identity for a brand name that is new to the area. Furthermore, the Chicago market has recently seen the entry of several chains from elsewhere, including Kroger's Food4Less and Meijer. This, in a down economy, in a retail industry where profit margins are already slim, and in which department stores (Walmart and Target, as well as Costco and Sam's Club) are taking a larger and larger slice of the market. So while there's nothing stopping Fairway, or any other supermarket chain, from entering the Chicago market, it's expensive to do so and the odds of success are not great (and are probably worse now than ever before).

                                4. re: madlyophelia

                                  There's also a TI in Hyde Park, having replaced the old Coop on 55th. I find that I shop for most of my staples at Dominick's or Jewel, but I occasionally make a special trip to TI for the additional offerings mentioned above , for its bakery, and for its fruit and produce which are generally priced far more reasonably than at my local D and J.

                                  The local neighborhood independents are also worth an occasional look. We do a lot of Italian cooking, so I usually make a seasonal trip up Harlem Avenue to Caputo's, Riviera, and occasional others to stock up on Italian standards: olive oil, pasta, tomatoes, etc.

                              2. Here are some thoughts in addition to the insightful comments of the two posters above.

                                For Polish food, Podhalanka just northwest of downtown gets lots of raves. So does Red Apple, which is an inexpensive buffet with two locations. For more recommendations see these topics:

                                I don't drink coffee, but here's what I know. In addition to Intelligentsia (which I believe is carried in some independent shops in addition to their own) and Metropolis, some chains not based in Chicago receive plaudits, including Lavazza, Seattle's Best, and Peet's.

                                Our grocery setup is very different from New York's. There, as you point out, you have a lot of smaller grocery stores that offer a variety of foods (meat, fish, produce, dairy, baked goods, etc) with generally high quality and sometimes low prices; I'm not referring to places like Dean & Deluca or Balducci's (highest quality but high prices), but rather, independent convenience-type stores located in your neighborhood. In Chicago, you don't generally find that level of desirable quality or price in "one stop shopping" convenience-type stores, but rather, in multiple stores that specialize in particular types of food. It's very common for Chicago chowhounds to do what chicgail and I do - make one stop for produce at a farmers market or a store that specializes in produce, another stop at a store that offers excellent meat or fish, yet another stop at a store that has a good selection of cheese, and at a bakery for breads and/or pastry, etc. Sometimes they are a specialty store (e.g. bakery or cheese shop) and sometimes it's a supermarket that just does a great job at one thing in particular but not everything. Yes you can get all those products at our local supermarket chains as well as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, but the best quality (and often better prices) can often be found by making multiple stops when shopping. Yes it's less convenient that way, but when you want the best, well...

                                And yes, Fox & Obel is a wonderful gourmet store with the best of everything, but it tends to be expensive, as high quality often is. It's near the Loop so it's convenient if you're living downtown, and it also offers the convenience of free parking in the garage for the high-rise across the street.

                                Depending on where you decide to live, you'll find out which are the best places nearby to shop. (There are also specialty shops in the suburbs, which don't always get as much discussion here on Chowhound, but they're out there.)

                                You can find discussions of the best shops here for meat in these discussions:

                                and for fish:

                                and for pastry:

                                and croissants:

                                and for artisanal chocolatiers:

                                We have lots of great food here, in restaurants as well as in shops for home cooking. It's just that your shopping patterns will probably be different from what you are currently accustomed to.

                                Incidentally, you probably won't be living in the Loop, although you may be living close by. There is very little housing in the area considered the Loop itself (roughly bounded by the river/lake on three sides and on Congress Street on the south), but there is extensive housing in the adjacent neighborhoods named for their direction from the Loop: River North, West Loop, and South Loop - neighborhoods which are often included in the term "downtown Chicago".

                                If you're interested in a discussion of Chicago food neighborhoods, see

                                Feel free to ask more questions!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                  Thanks a lot for the info. I have a lot of reading to do before my apartment hunt visit. I actually do plan on living in the loop, but I'm not sure if I'll have my car with me. Likely not, if I can help it.

                                2. You guys are awesome, and I'll definitely use your replies as a basis for my exploration this summer/fall.

                                  I'm making a small trip next month to check out apartments. Podhalanka will definitely be dinner one night.

                                  Thanks a lot

                                  1549 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60642

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Bone Thug n Hominy

                                    Podhalanka is very good. It's straight out of a Polish grandma's kitchen, nothing fancy, just solid, delicious Polish food. And cheap. But service can be slow if they're busy, so be sure you're up for a wait. And it's BYOB, which I consider a plus.

                                    You don't say if you'll have a car or not - it doesn't really matter. I have one now, but I did just fine without for years. There are hourly car rental places like iGo and Zip Car all over, which makes grocery shopping much easier. For meat, I highly recommend Paulina Meat Market. And for groceries, Jewel and Dominick's are fine, but my favorite is Whole Foods in Lincoln Park (on Kingsbury). In the summer there are Farmer's Markets all over town several days a week.

                                    I've lived here 22+ years, and I love it! I hope you'll be happy here too!

                                    1549 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60642

                                  2. Once you decide on a neighborhood, let us know and you'll get more specific replies. Also will you have a car? I don't drive nor does my SO so we live in an area where it isn't necessary due to the close proximity of public transporation and grocery stores/restaurants/etc. For grocery shopping, I usually hit a variety of stores all within a couple blocks of my place in Lincoln Square. HarvesTime (produce, etc), Gene's Sausage Shop (butcher/deli/cheese/wine), Lincoln Quality Meat Market (butcher). Now that the Farmer's Market will be held at night - I'll be hitting that up a lot more. The Jewel is less than a mile away for basic staples. And Trader Joe's/Whole Foods is a quick jaunt on the Brown LIne or Lincoln Bus. So pick your neighborhood wisely so you don't have to rely only on the Jewel or Dominicks as they are generally over priced.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: lbs

                                      So, I plan to live within the loop, towards the river. This is all just tentative, but I won't be too far from there either way. I hope that I won't have to bring my car, but I may.

                                      I'll be willing to take public transportation, though.