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LA Chowhound in Chicago – need “must try” recommendations for two lunches and three dinners

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Hi Chicago chowhounds! I will be coming to town at the top of October and I need your recommendations. It's been at least 10 years since I was in Chicago. I need recommendations on truly memorable meals. Thanks for your help! I would probably pass on Japanese (unless otherwise it is a Must), but other than that, we are open for any cuisine. Not just a high-end dining, I would like to try casual good eats as well. Thanks!

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  1. Here's a good place to start. First, a topic about what's unique to Chicago:

    first time Chicago - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693477

    Keep in mind that, if the LA in your title refers to Los Angeles and not Louisiana, you already live in a city that offers creative provincial Mexican food, whereas most people don't. Ours may or may not be worth trying, depending on whether you're specifically looking for foods you can't get at home, or looking for a variety of the best of what Chicago has to offer.

    The other discussion worth checking out is this one:

    Where are the best Chicago dinner *values* - the hidden gems? - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697829

    It has a lot of recommendations of the best we have in lots of different categories.

    Beyond that, it all depends on what kind of food you like, what kind of budget you have, etc. If you like high-end haute cuisine, you probably want to include Alinea in the itinerary. If you enjoy more casual fine dining, one of our contemporary American restaurants like North Pond should be considered. If you enjoy ethnic foods, there are a hundred different types you can find here, from throughout Asia, Europe, the Americas, and Africa. If you're looking for our local specialties, foods like deep-dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches make great stops for lunch. And where you're staying or spending time may determine some of the choices you make; since there are usually many different good places in a given category, it often makes sense to choose one that's close by, rather than spending your limited time here traveling all over town.

    Once you've given some consideration to what we have that's unique to Chicago, and what kind of food(s) you particularly enjoy, you'll probably have some more ideas for your trip, and you'll have questions that are more specific. And when you do, just ask, and we'll be happy to help further.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thank you so much for your suggestions. Yes, I live in Los Angeles. I know nothing about Chicago, so I will start from getting to know what unque exsperience this great city can offer. I should get busy!

    2. You are correct that if you are coming from LA, you probably shouldn't waste time trying our Japanese food, as LA does it much better. For that matter, I'd skip Chinese and Korean as well. You can probably skip Mexican unless you are interested in trying Rick Bayless' flagship Topolobampo (it's the kind of fine dining Mexican even rare in LA).

      The one exception for Japanese is "Yoshi's Cafe." To be fair, it's not really Japanese, but more like Japanese-French fusion. Chicago is an unlikely candidate for such a restaurant, but Yoshi's Cafe really does this kind of fusion well. I've never had this kind of cuisine, not even in LA or New York.

      If you have budgeted for an ultra fine dining meal, I think Alinea is a must. It is really the best Chicago has to offer (in terms of food, service, and creativity), and that is saying a lot. One of my personal favorites in the city is Avec (Mediterranean wine bar / tapas). It is currently closed but will probably reopen soon (you can google and read about what happened). Greek Town in Chicago is worth a trip. My favorite is Parthenon. Chicago boasts a large Polish population. If you are willing to venture into one of the old Polish neighborhoods, I'd recommend Red Apple (Czerwone Jabluszko). It's a casual joint for Polish buffet. The food is authentic and good.

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

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

      Topolobampo
      445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

      Red Apple Buffet
      6474 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60631

      2 Replies
      1. re: mountsac

        Getting out into the neighborhoods, and away from the areas saturated with tourists is what I suggest - eat as most Chicagoans eat, not at the Downtown and River North places touted by the guidebooks. See how people in Chicago live.

        You'll find more and better Mexican food - across the board - in Chicago than you will in Los Angeles. Chicago is the center, the capital of Mexican cuisine in the USA. No other city in the USA offers the depth and variety found here. The Bayless places would't be near the top of my list of preferences.

        I very much like Yoshi's Cafe. Neighborhood. High quality. Innovative. Comfortable.

        The Parthenon in Greek Town is my "go to" for Greek food in the city. I've been patronizing the place for more than 30 years.

        The Red Apple would'nt be a place I'd reccomend you avoid - unless you like buffet food. I've found few buffet restaurants I've enjoyed the food at, including the half-dozen times I've eaten at Red Apple. I had my first meal at a new - for me - Polish restaurant at Central and Lawrence Ave. the other night - Smakosz. I wouldn't go far out of my way to get there, but it's the 'real deal' as far as home-style Polish cooking goes.

        If you're the type of person who likes to explore a bit and can make a spur-of-the-moment dining decision, based on instinct - why not consider wandering some neighborhoods with great choices: Chinatown ... for Chinese; 26th St. for Mexican; Devon Ave. for Indo-Pak; Argyle St. for Asian; Clark St. in Andersonville for wide-variety. These areas all have restaurants, bakeries, bars or lounges, stores, etc., and a vibrant neighborhood life that - as a total package - can make for an enjoyable visit.

        Have a great visit!

        -----
        Smakosz Restaurant
        5619 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60630

        1. re: gomexico

          >> Getting out into the neighborhoods, and away from the areas saturated with tourists is what I suggest - eat as most Chicagoans eat, not at the Downtown and River North places touted by the guidebooks.

          I disagree. We have many good restaurants throughout the city and suburbs, but many of the best, most creative, and most unique are in and around the downtown area. Many Chicagoans live in and near downtown and enjoy the restaurants there, and those of us who don't live downtown are often going downtown to eat at new and trendy places as well as old favorites. And that's why most local chefs open their restaurants downtown, and those who open restaurants in outlying neighborhoods (such as Sola, Zealous, and Emilio's) often move their restaurants or open another location downtown.

          Furthermore, when you are limited to three days here, most people don't want to spend a lot of time traveling to far-flung neighborhoods, just for food that is in many cases no different (and no better) than the food in the downtown areas. It's worth making an exception if there is a specific cuisine or culture that you want to be immersed in - for example, if you enjoy Indian cuisine and shopping in Indian stores, it's worth traveling to Devon Avenue - but in most cases, there's no need to spend a lot of your limited time getting around the city when there are so many great choices downtown. And if you have more time to explore the city, such as when you have several weeks or longer in another visit, by all means go exploring the outlying neighborhoods and our more interesting suburbs!

          >> You'll find more and better Mexican food - across the board - in Chicago than you will in Los Angeles. Chicago is the center, the capital of Mexican cuisine in the USA. No other city in the USA offers the depth and variety found here.

          I disagree with that, too. I thought the same thing, until I explored Los Angeles further in recent visits there. Los Angeles has quite a variety of authentic regional Mexican cuisine, in such places as Moles La Tia, Monte Alban, Guelaguetza, etc. The problem in L.A. is that many locals aren't aware of the richness and variety of Mexican cuisine available in their own city. But it's there, if you're interested. If you've been to these places and you'd like to experience similar places here, we've got them. If you haven't been, well, feel free to enjoy our best Mexican places (which IMHO include Frontera Grill and Topolobampo and Salpicon downtown, as well as the outlying Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, Mixteco Grill, and others).

          Our Greek restaurants in Greek Town serve very good Greek food. However, I wouldn't place them among the top ten best foods to experience in Chicagoland, and I certainly wouldn't devote one of three dinners in the city to Greek food. But if that's what you like, you can read all about them at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/119233

          Similarly, I wouldn't put Polish food at the top of the list, either, but if that's what you like, Podhalanka is good and is a quick 5-10 minute cab ride from the downtown hotels.