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Toronto Foodies Coming to Chicago

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  • excel Oct 24, 2010 04:05 PM
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Hey Guys,

We're coming into town over the Thanksgiving weekend and have a few questions, as this is our first trip to Chicago.

1)We'd like to try Alinea, Schwa, and Trotters- however we are only going to be able to get in 2 fine dining experiences, so which one do we leave off the list? Right now we're thinking about leaving Trotters off.

2)Is deep dish pizza really worth trying? If so, where?

3)Hot dogs...I hear Chicago like it's hot dog. We're coming from Toronto and I think we've got some great street meat - I think it's even better than the hot dogs you get in NYC...how good are the hot dogs in Chicago?

4) I love offal - where can we find it in Chicago?

5) Comfort food/ soul food - anything in Chicago? We'd love a place that serves fried chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potato, etc

6) Since we're going to be in Chicago over Thanksgiving, anyone know of places that are going to be open on that day and serving food?

We'll be driving so we'll have a car, and our hotel is downtown, but we are willing to drive out to the "burbs" if that's where the best food is. Hole in the walls, fine dining, street vendors, all good to us!

Thanks guys!

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

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  1. You'll find answers to many of your questions if you search this board, but I'll give it a shot here anyway.

    1) Good choices for fine dining. I don't know if you already have reservations for Alinea or Schwa, but both are challenging (Schwa probably more so because the restaurant is tiny and the kitchen staff makes reservations - when they answer the phone). You may also want to consider Topolobampo, Rick Bayless's upscale Mexican regional cuisine or Tru.

    2)Yes. Uno's invented the deep dish pizza in the 1940s and the original location, along with sister restaurant, Due, still serves the same recipe. Don't be put off if you've tried the Uno's chain or frozen pizza -- it is horrendous and not the same at all. Alternately, you might try Lou Malnoti's and Pizzanos which both have ties to the original Unos and serve a similar version.

    3) Yes, do try a Chicago hotdog. Portillo's does a decent dog and it has a conveniently location in the center tourist area. Portillo's also has a good Italian beef sandwich that you can't get in other cities. Recommendation: get a wet (dipped in juice) combo (includes Italian sausage) with sweet and hot peppers.

    4) offal -- I don't know.

    5) There are good comfort/soul food restaurants, mostly on the south side. I'm not as knowledgeable about them as I would like so I'll leave it up to others.

    6) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7317...
    Most hotel restaurants do Thanksgiving. Check out opentable.com for a full list.

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

    Topolobampo
    445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

    1 Reply
    1. re: chicgail

      Just to add to chicgail's excellent comments...

      1. Alinea books a couple months in advance; also, I'm not sure but I thought I heard they were closed Thanksgiving week. Regardless, you'll need to call them to find out about reservations, but I strongly suspect you've already missed the boat on eating there that week. If you enjoy truly high-end dining with the appropriate level of service along with your creativity, in addition to Alinea, I think Charlie Trotter's is still worth considering; so are Everest, Avenues, and TRU. All of these (except Alinea) accept free reservations on Opentable.com

      2. I agree with chicgail's recommendations for pizza. Depending on which hotel you're staying at, any of those may be close by; tell us the hotel and we'll tell you what's closest.

      4. Places serving unusual cuts of meat include Blackbird, the Publican, and the Purple Pig. Beware, Blackbird and the Publican are VERY NOISY and the Purple Pig does not accept reservations and waits for tables at dinner can be lengthy.

      5. Table Fifty-Two is known for an upscale take on comfort/soul food, but it books up well in advance (check Opentable).

    2. Thanks for answering my questions!

      I almost forgot about the Italian Beef Sandwiches.....so either go to Al's or Portillo's? Got it.

      As for Thanksgiving, it looks like David Burke's and Ditka's are open. Any preference to either?

      3 Replies
      1. re: excel

        Go to Al's and Portillo's, they're on the same street and basically a block apart or so. Get a cake shake at Portillo's to wash the italian beef/hotdogs down!

        1. re: excel

          I would choose David Burke's over Ditka's any day.

          1. re: chicgail

            >> I would choose David Burke's over Ditka's any day.

            Same here.

            Also, Burke's may or may not be serving from their regular menu on Thanksgiving Day, at least earlier in the day. Their regular menu is great, and they do some even better things on holidays like Easter and Mother's Day. In the past, on those days they have offered their "American dim sum brunch" (NOT their regular Sunday brunch) and it's a wonderful assortment of foods, all prepared to order, with the ability to get seconds for free.

        2. So we've tried to make a reservation at Alinea and at Schwa....we REALLY want to eat there, but we're on the cancellation list at Alinea, and Schwa hasn't answered the phone or called us back (yet!). We hope we get into both or either restaurant.

          For Thanksgiving Day, we've decided to go to a nice hotel for brunch and then dinner in Chinatown. Any recs for good brunch buffets? We heard that Four Seasons is good.

          Any recs for a restaurant in Chinatown? NYC is known for dumplings, is the Chicago Chinatown known for anything?

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

          8 Replies
          1. re: excel

            I would strongly recommend making some backup reservations - the November window for reservations at Schwa opened on September 30th and the chances for Alinea opening up are slim - probably less so once the Michelin Guide drops.

            The good news is that Chicago has ~5 other "destination" quality restaurants, IMO, with L2o, Charlie Trotter's, TRU, Topolobampo, and perhaps Everest (will find out in a week) plus many others.

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

            Charlie Trotter's
            816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

            Topolobampo
            445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

            1. re: excel

              Let me also give you our tentative itenerary for your critique:
              Wed 24th: Dinner- Uno's
              Thurs 25th: Brunch- hotel? Dinner- Chinatown
              Fri 26th: Lunch- Fronterra Grill Dinner- ?
              Sat 27th: Lunch- Al's or Portillo's Dinner- TRU
              Sun 28th: Lunch- Al's or Portillo's

              So we still need something for Friday night.....Graham Elliot's? Blackbird?

              Sat dinner is not set in stone either. TRU or L2O?

              -----
              L2O
              2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

              1. re: excel

                I think Blackbird is fantastic and it'll allow you to experience one of Chicago's best in Paul Kahan - Avec or Publican would also serve that need.

                While I've not been (I will in 4 days) if you can't get into Alinea or Schwa a backup would be Bonsoiree or Avenues (which recently got a RAVE review from someone whose writings and palate I greatly respect)

                With regard to TRU and L2o, they are both "high end" but I found them vastly different experiences. If you have the means, I'd consider doing both. If I were only allowed to do one it would be L2o though - while others don't love it as much as I, I still rank it in my top 5 meals ever (sharing space with places like Alinea, Per Se, and TFL.)

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

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

                Bonsoiree
                2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

                1. re: excel

                  >> Let me also give you our tentative itenerary for your critique:
                  >> Wed 24th: Dinner- Uno's
                  >> Thurs 25th: Brunch- hotel? Dinner- Chinatown
                  >> Fri 26th: Lunch- Fronterra Grill Dinner- ?
                  >> Sat 27th: Lunch- Al's or Portillo's Dinner- TRU
                  >> Sun 28th: Lunch- Al's or Portillo's

                  For your Chinatown dinner, consider Double Li or Lao Sze Chuan if you enjoy Szechuan food.

                  I would recommend switching your Friday lunch to Topolobampo rather than Frontera Grill. The prices are virtually identical (Topo is a lot more expensive at dinnertime, but not at lunch) and you should still be able to make lunch reservations without any problem (they book up three months out for dinner).

                  >> So we still need something for Friday night.....Graham Elliot's? Blackbird?

                  I haven't been to Graham Elliot. Blackbird has great food but small portions and it's VERY NOISY. Instead, I would strongly recommend North Pond. Other excellent alternatives include Sable and Cibo Matto.

                  >> Sat dinner is not set in stone either. TRU or L2O?

                  Between those two, TRU. Definitely.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Thanks for your suggestion to move Friday's lunch to Topolobampo. Done!

                    -----
                    Topolobampo
                    445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

                  2. re: excel

                    The menus at Blackbird and Publican both look amazing. How do I choose which one to go to?

                    1. re: excel

                      >> The menus at Blackbird and Publican both look amazing. How do I choose which one to go to?

                      Check on Opentable for availability. You may find that Blackbird is already booked up, which would make the decision easy. (Personally, I'm not all that impressed with either one.)

                      1. re: excel

                        Blackbird is excellent, and a downright steal at lunch!

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                  3. hi toronto - if you don't have reservations at alinea, trotters or schwa yet, good luck getting them - - but i would chose alinea, schwa and trotters in that order.

                    deep dish pizza is worth it if you want a deep fat tummy - - the thin crust stuff is so much better - take a pass

                    here are some other places i would definitely try - -

                    topolombobo - also prob not possible at this point to get a res for thxgiving weekend but worth a try - fantastic mexican - upper end - thx to rick bayless ; urban belly for best big bowl of soup with noodles and various yummies - for lunch - also from same chef - bill kim - belly shack - also for lunch - - also if u can check out xoco - - again, lunch or breakfast and brought to us by rick bayless

                    Best Mexican in town hands down other than topo which is mucho more expensive - is Chilam Bilam - bring your own wine or terquilla or whatever u want - they only take reservations 6pm or before - - totally worth an early evening - yum

                    really good comfort food at smoque - a bit of a schlep from city centre - but really great ribs and fries and mac and cheese etc.

                    have a great time!!!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: luisa dos

                      I'd say, especially in Chicago, you are in the minority with your pizza opinion.

                      You can get thin crust pizza anywhere in North America. You can get legit Chicago style pizza in.......you guessed it, Chicago. For a visitor I'd say get a deep dish pie or just skip pizza all together. I realize Great Lake was named the best in America by a single critic, but be that as it may, Chicago = Deep Dish.

                      I'm pretty sure thin crust does not equal a thin tummy, either.

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                      -----
                      Great Lake
                      1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

                      1. re: luisa dos

                        Always amazed with people who discourage visitors to the city to avoid the pizza Chicago is known for. Deep dish pizza was invented and perfected here. It is surprisingly NOT greasy and simply isn't replicated anywhere else.

                        Definitely get deep dish pizza here -- Unos, Dues, Lou Malmoti or Pizzanos to start with. There are others, but these are the original, iconic versions. Eat thin crust at home.

                        1. re: luisa dos

                          >> Best Mexican in town hands down other than topo which is mucho more expensive - is Chilam Bilam

                          You really think so? I thought Chilam Balam was just okay - very creative but the food wasn't nearly as delicious as some of our other creative Mexican places, such as Mundial Cocina Mestiza, Mixteco Grill, Salpicon, Mexique, Amelia's, Don Diablo (formerly Fonda del Mar), Fuego, etc. Try those if you're really interesting in the best Mexican in town (in addition to Topolobampo, which is indeed very expensive).

                        2. Welcome to Chicago!! As for fine dining, I second the recommendation for Bon Soiree. The food is fine dining, but the atmosphere is more "casual elegant", nice jeans and a jacket are ok for men. The food is lovely and it's BYOB! In fact, they partner with a local wine shop that will pair wine to the menu and have it delivered to the restaurant for you. Inventive with Asian and French twists. Their signature scallop motoyaki is divine. It's a little off the beaten path, but an easy cab ride. Note that they don't take reservations on Saturday night, so shoot for Friday. www.bon-soiree.com

                          Yes, try deep dish. It's not really my fave either, but I take out of towners and it's always a fun experience. I recommend Uno's or Due across the street. There can be a wait, but they'll take your order and begin cooking while you wait.

                          Hot Dog & Italian Beef at Portillo's is a good quick choice.

                          Offal. Good stuff. I second Publican and Purple Pig. I'd suggest Purple Pig at an "off" time so you don't have to wait. I was there two Thursdays ago at 2:45 and it was still 80% full. Totally worth it. Not offal, but they have a butternut squash dish with pumpkin seeds, sage and ricotta salata on the menu right now that is fabulous! The Publican is a combo of community seating and private tables, make your recommendation when you make your reservation (although I believe I've heard they don't guarantee the table preference). If you're concerned about how loud it is, I'd recommend going earlier for dinner -- before 7 even.

                          Table 52 for comfort food is a good bet! I'm not a fan of Smoque and it's not super easy to get to from your hotel. Skip it.

                          Love the hot pot at Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown.

                          -----
                          Lao Sze Chuan
                          2172 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

                          Table fifty-two Restaurant
                          52 West Elm Street, Chicago, IL 60610

                          Bon Soiree
                          Chicago, Chicago, IL

                          1. from a fellow Canadian (came from Toronto 20 years ago):

                            first - skip Chinatown. having three different Chinatowns in Toronto, all with excellent (and lesser) options, you'll be sorely disappointed by the four square blocks offered here. I've gone back periodically, hoping its improved, but you'll never find anything near the standard you're used to.

                            deep dish pizza - if you must, go "iconic," as chicgail mentions. while not to my taste, it certainly is a meal that is part of Chicago (although, for the record, I MUCH prefer Pequod's on Clybourn)

                            comfort food - my current favorite is a hole-in-the-wall due west of downtown at Chicago and California called Feed. Great greens, mac & cheese, etc. Too late in the season for the backyard, alas. This area is what Queen St. W. was, back when artists could afford to live there. Cheap, basic, excellent food (menu on their website <feedrestaurantchicago.com>

                            1. I highly recommend you use your car to drive to Hot Doug's and wait in line for your Chicago hot dog experience. And order the duck fat fries if you get there on Friday. Be sure to check their website for days/hours during the holiday.

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

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: alexisfromtexas

                                With all due respect, while Hot Doug's is awesome, it is a waste of time and fuel to drive to Hot Doug's just for a hot dog. You will wait in line outdoors for a good 45 minutes just to place your order. There are plenty of convenient hot dog places in town if what you want is a Chicago hot dog. If you're staying downtown, Portillo's does as good a Chicago dog as anyone.

                                Hot Doug's is NOT a hot dog joint. It is known for its "encased meats," which bear little more than a passing resemblance to hot dogs (Chicago or not). The website will give you an idea of the kinds of sausages that are served there.

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

                                1. re: chicgail

                                  The wait @ Hot Doug's is a hassle. However, you can always order it to go-put the hazards on ,park right in front, waltz in and grab your takeout and eat it in the car. That's a pretty authentic Chicago experience as well. Cheers.

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

                                  1. re: La Canasta

                                    I'm not saying that the wait at Hot Doug's is a hassle; it's that if all the OP wants is a "hot dog," it's probably not worth the out of the way drive and wait to go all the way to Hot Doug's.

                                    OTOH, if you want to try what Hot Doug's known for, I personally like the experience of the wait and kibbitz with locals.

                                    And, to give you an idea of what you really can't get anywhere else, this week their specials include:
                                    * Bacon and Cheddar Elk Sausage with Guinness Stout Mustard and Red Leicester Cheese
                                    * Spicy Thai Chicken Sausage with Sriracha Mustard and Sesame-Seaweed Salad
                                    * Spicy Jerk Pork Sausage with Jerk Mayonnaise, Mashed Plantains and Baby Belletoile Cheese
                                    * Spinach and Mozzarella Chicken Sausage with Sun-Dried Tomato Mustard, Ricotta Salata and Mediterranean Olive Medley
                                    * Corned Beef Sausage with Russian Dressing, Sauerkraut and Swiss Cheese
                                    * Apple and Garlic Lamb Sausage with Spinach Raita and Fig Chevre

                                    1. re: chicgail

                                      I'd agree - if you're just going for a Chicago Style Hot Dog, it likely is not worth the wait.

                                      The designer options, the staff, and the locals make it worth the wait.

                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                              2. Hi Everyone!

                                We got back from Chicago yesterday and wanted to let you know how you guys helped us to have such a great time! Can you say food coma???? Haha.

                                We were lucky enough to get in at both Schwa and Alinea!!! We really felt like we won the lottery!

                                Our first dinner when we arrived in Chicago was at Schwa. Wow! AMAZING! Like everyone has said, it was worth the trouble. At the end of the night, both of us agreed that we would have paid more for the meal. The Chef's signature dish of Ravioli with a quail egg, truffle, and brown butter was the single best dish/bite we've ever had!! Amazing! The other amazing dish that we haven't stopped talking about was the hand made Tagiatelle with the veal demi-glace. OMG! SO good! The service was great and we thought it was cool that the chefs delivered our plates. They were really fun!

                                Next was lunch at Topolobampo. We didn't like the fact that we had to wait outside in the freezing cold with others who were waiting for Fronterra Grill, but the food made up for it. Everything had the perfect amount of heat and the ceviche was the best I've had outside of South America.

                                For dinner, we ate at The Publican. Again, it was a great meal! And a great break from "fine dining". The space and ambiance is just what we are comfortable with, so we were so happy that the food was good too! We ordered what the waitress recommended, and wasn't disappointed. This restaurant is a place that we could eat at once or twice a month if we lived in Chicago. Make sure you order the pork rinds and the roast chicken. Their fries with the roast chicken are SO GOOD!

                                Uno's was our next meal. Ok, it was good to try Chicago's deep dish pizza. It was definitely better than we expected, but wasn't the best pizza we've ever had. Glad we tried it though!!

                                Our next meal? Alinea!!!!!!!!! What an experience!! Overall, it was the best restaurant we've ever been too. Period. The ambiance, the service, the food.....all was perfect. Every dish amazed us. We splurged, since this was a once in a lifetime experience, for the white truffle risotto supplement. So happy we did. It was SO GOOD! A lot of our courses, in fact, included truffle, so it was almost like we had a truffle tasting menu. The Chef's famed Black Truffle Explosion did not disappoint, but we both agreed that Schwa's Quail Egg Ravioli with Truffle might have been a little more tasty (in our humble opinion)! The 3.5 hours flew by quickly and we both left feeling we had an amazing experience.

                                Our last meal in Chicago was at Portillo's. We thought that it would be a great place to "kill two birds with one stone" and be able to try a Chicago hot dog and an Italian Beef Sandwich at the same time. We were really impressed with the hot dog (and now we only want to eat hot dogs with vienna sausages), but weren't too impressed with the Italian Beef Sandwich. Perhaps we didn't give it a fair try, and will try to go to Al's Beef and Mr. Beef the next time we are in Chicago.

                                The city itself is so pretty! We loved Millennium Park and the architecture of the buildings. We loved how the houses in Old Town and Lincoln Park looked "old" from the outside and were beautifully renovated on the inside. We loved how pretty Oak Street was and how fun the Magnificent Mile was. It was a great walk from our hotel (Hyatt Regency) to Oak Street and back.

                                Thanks for all your help, CH's! We loved Chicago and will be back soon!

                                (Next on the restaurant list: The Girl and the Goat, Blackbird, Avec, Avenues, Graham Elliott, etc)

                                -----
                                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

                                Al's Beef
                                7132 183rd St, Tinley Park, IL 60477

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: excel

                                  Good report back - it was those amazing huckleberries that really pulled the tagliatelle at Schwa together for me - an unreal dish (and I agree that the quail yolk ravioli tops Black Truffle explosion..)

                                  I know the Chef has changed, but on your next visit I would strongly consider L2o. Having been to Toronto multiple times (both in the blog, and pre-blog days) and experienced much of the food scene there the seafood at L2o is something you cannot find up north.

                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com