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Sep 13, 2010 03:03 PM

Don't-miss restaurants for Chicago first-timers?

2 San Franciscans coming to Chicago for a few days at the end of September: where shall we eat? It doesn't have to be fancy or exclusive, just delicious! Where would you take your friends?

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  1. This previous discussion provides a complete answer to your question:

    first time Chicago -

    1. although I will greatly defer to locals on this sensitive subject, let me offer my two-cents advice:

      Frontera Grill/Topo (Bayless lives up to the hype)


      1 Reply
      1. re: ricodanles

        I think Blackbird was a "don't miss" ten years ago. Now, there are better and more unusual places.

        Here's how I answered the question in my opening post in the topic to which I posted the link above:

        What a great way of looking at your visit!

        Here are places and foods I suggest, all unique to Chicago.

        Deep-dish pizza - in River North, you can go to the place where it all started - Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due. They're still there, and they're still excellent. Phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes for your pizza to bake.

        Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches - Right in River North on Ontario Street, there are two places, a block away from each other, and you can get both of these local specialties at either of them: Portillo's ( ), and Al's Beef ( ).

        Fine dining - We have a restaurant that was recently ranked one of the ten best restaurants in the WORLD. It's called Alinea, from Chef Grant Achatz, and it will blow your mind. To get an idea what it's like, check out the comic strip at Yes, it's expensive (figure $300 per person including moderate wine, tax, tip), and dressy (jackets for gentlemen), but it's unique and it's here. It's in Lincoln Park, about two miles north of where you're staying.

        Rick Bayless's restaurants (Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, XOCO) - Chicago has a collection of wonderful restaurants specializing in creative provincial Mexican cuisine, which is difficult to find almost anywhere else this side of the border. Rick Bayless is widely recognized for bringing this trend here, and his restaurants are still excellent and providing the most creative Mexican food in town. Topolobampo is the most expensive, although it's surprisingly affordable at lunchtime, and accepts reservations in advance but books up long in advance for dinners, not as much for lunch. Frontera Grill is not as expensive, but accepts only a handful of reservations and keeps most of the dining room available for walk-in traffic. Waits for a table can be lengthy on weekends and at lunchtime. XOCO is his take on Mexican street food and I've found the food there excellent when you are in the mood for lighter fare; beware long lines at lunchtime. They are all at the same location, in the middle of River North.

        North Pond uniquely represents Chicago for its setting, located in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, not the adjacent neighborhood of the same name) facing its namesake pond with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The renovated building formerly served as the warming shelter for skaters on the frozen pond in the winter. The food is contemporary American featuring local and seasonal ingredients from James Beard Award finalist Chef Bruce Sherman. It's about three miles north of River North.

        Our new French Market, located just west of the Loop in one of the train stations, is worth a visit. Keep in mind that it just opened a couple of months ago, and it's not fancy. However, it has several dozen food booths and these include some of the very best that Chicago has to offer. Highlights include the croissants, entremets, and French macaroons at Vanille Patisserie; the artisan chocolates at Canady Le Chocolatier (whose main shop is in the South Loop, also not far away); the cheeses at Pastoral; and the rainbow cookies at Delightful Pastries.

        While you're here, go to Garrett's Popcorn. There are several locations in the Loop and one on Michigan Avenue, all walkable from River North. They have caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, or a mix of caramel/cheese. Yum!

        Fox & Obel is our premier gourmet food store, with the finest meats, cheeses, and other basics, as well as the finest baked goods and other prepared foods. Don't miss the yummy cinnamon swirl rolls at the bakery counter! There's a cafe in the rear if you want to eat anything on the premises, from a cup of coffee to an entire meal prepared to order. It's on the other side of Michigan Avenue a short walk from River North.

        Most of our better restaurants, including North Pond and Topolobampo (but not Alinea), accept reservations for free at

        Enjoy your visit, and feel free to ask more questions!