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The first five places I should eat in Chicago

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I am moving to Chicago in July. I've visited the city many times through the years, and have eaten my way around town, but I've done so as a visitor, not as a local. What are the first five places you'd recommend I visit when I arrive?

I'm open to all kinds of cuisine and price levels -- I'm a big fan of Asian food, I love places with an emphasis on local products, I have a car and I will venture to neighborhoods off the beaten path.

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  1. The places I would recommend to residents are the same ones I would recommend to visitors from out of town. The main difference would be, like they say in the real estate business, location, location, location. When you live here, you will become very familiar with restaurants in the immediate vicinity of your home, particularly of foods that you like. Of course, like most Chowhounds, you'll be willing to venture to distant neighborhoods too, just like you state in your post. The types of food you'll travel for probably depend on where you live. There may be foods that your immediate neighborhood does well, and others it does not; also, you may be willing to seek out the very best place that does some foods, but not some other foods. You haven't mentioned the city neighborhood or suburban town where you'll be living, so there is no way for us to know what's close by, or what kinds of food you would travel for.

    A few of the places I would recommend to anyone, regardless of location, are Alinea, for the ultimate in high-end dining from Grant Achatz; Topolobampo, for Rick Bayless's creative provincial Mexican food; and North Pond, for its exquisite setting in the park as well as Bruce Sherman's contemporary American cuisine (with an emphasis on local products). Note that all three book up well in advance, so you might want to consider making reservations now if you want to dine at any right after you move here.

    Beyond those, it really depends on what kind(s) of food you're looking for. For example, you mention Asian food. I really love the pan-Asian places like Red Light, Opera, Sunda, and Aria. For Chinese food, I love Szechuan food and Double Li is my favorite (although Shanghai Terrace, in the Peninsula, is a great place when you have a special occasion and you want to go upscale). For Thai food, my favorite is Thai Sookdee, in Evanston (they have the best tom kha gai in Chicagoland), although others will mention TAC Quick and Spoon Thai, which haven't impressed me all that much. For Indian food, you can go to Devon Avenue (between Western and Sacramento) and take your pick.

    For chefs who emphasize local products, you might want to peruse the list of chefs who support the city's Green City Market with demonstrations, as they do so to help support local sources of ingredients and they are the ones most likely to use them in their own restaurants: www.chicagogreencitymarket.org/chefs

    I've had many fantastic meals in Chicago-area restaurants over the years. If you asked me where I've had the very best meals in the past five years, the ones that immediately come to mind include some high-end fancy expensive places (Alinea, Everest), some mid-priced ones (Michael, Oceanique, North Pond, Chef's Station, Vie) and some that have seemed like a terrific bargain for great food (Tallgrass, Inovasi, Cafe des Architectes). These are the places that always come to mind whenever I'm considering trying someplace new vs going back to a place I've tried and loved. But these are also all contemporary American/French places, and those are not the only places I eat. I've also enjoyed excellent meals at many Asian places (such as the ones I've named above), as well as Mexican (Topolobampo, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, Mixteco Grill), tapas (Mercat a la Planxa), Italian (Cafe Spiaggia, Vivere, Campagnola), pizza (Giordano's, Lou Malnati's), etc. That's what's so great about Chicago - the combination of many places of high quality in a wide diversity of cuisines!

    If you'd like to mention which area you'll be living in, we'll be happy to provide recommendations nearby. And feel free to ask more questions. Welcome to Chicago!