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Surviving the loop without a car

Hey- I moved to downtown Chicago, several months ago, from NYC. While I love this town so far--and this is subject to change, depending on how my first mid-west winter goes--I have found it really difficult to locate a few things.

Bear in mind, I have no car, and live in the loop. I'm okay the occasional zipcar trip, or with taking public transportation, if reasonable.

None of this is a knock on the city. I can't emphasize enough how much I enjoy living here (and how great some of its culinary strengths are).

Also, while I don't like F&O's coffee or bagels, I absolutely love most of their stuff. The cinnamon swirl thing is deplorably good.

- Decent bagels. I was extremely unimpressed by Fox & Obel's version. In fact, based on small sample size, it appears that Bockwinkel's has a better, denser bagel.

- Coffee. Intelligentsia is easily one of my top ten coffee shops. However, the drop-off after that has been incredibly steep. I can't even think of a decent runner up. Maybe Fox & Obel, but again, I'm not a big fan.

- Donuts. This isn't one of NYC's strengths, either. I'd love to find a place that serves a decently fresh donut.

- Ethnic food: particularly Ramen, Banh Mi, Doner Kebab, Tacos. I've actually had some amazing mexican food farther away from the loop, but I'm basically stuck with Chipotle and El Jardin here.

- Rolls: Kaiser, italian sesame hero, and potato. I figured the midwest would be huge on potato rolls, but I can't seem to find them anywhere.

- Late-night eats. As fa as I know, it's pretty much 7-11 and Rock & Roll McDonald's here. Neither is particularly exciting.

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Chipotle
2235 Enterprise Dr, Westchester, IL 60154

El Jardin
3335 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657

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  1. A couple of things I forgot:

    I'd also love for a place to buy tofu shirataki noodles, as well as fresh ramen noodles (the kind that comes packaged similarly to fresh pasta). I imagine I'll have to leave the loop for this, but I'd love to find a place accessible by public trans.

    1. Hi BTnH,

      This doesn't specifically answer your queries but I wonder if you've been to the French Market at Ogilvie Transportation Center. Saigon Sisters is there with Banh mi, and there are many other vendors with things for you to try. Nice way to check out several vendors in one place. If you find one or two hits it will have been worth your visit.

      http://www.frenchmarketchicago.com/ve...

      I'm sure others will be along with more specific recs for you.
      You know, I live in the suburbs and have yet to try Intelligentsia! Have to get that on the to-do list. I use Lavazza at home.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Georgia Sommers

        Cool suggestion. I haven't been to any of these markets (save the downtown farmer's market, if you'd count that).

        You really need to try Intelligentsia, IMO. There is nothing wrong with Lavazza, but Chicagoans are lucky enough to have local access to one of the best roasters in the U.S.

        However, I'd suggest having it at the shop before trying it at home. It's on a different level when brewed there (vs. standard drip maker, that is). No need to go for the fancy styles--whatever beans they offer via pour-over method would be a fine introduction to their coffee.

      2. I like New York Bagel & Bialy for bagels. Thought they are in the suburbs (Lincolnwood, Skokie), I am pretty sure that they supply other places more convenient to you like Ashkenaz deli on Cedar and possibly even Treasure Island (the one up around Erie and Lake Shore Dr is probably the closest one to you.).

        Doughnuts: try Dinkels on Lincoln Ave in Lakeview. Half a block south of the Paulina Brown line station.

        3 Replies
        1. re: solon

          I actually had no idea there was a Treasure Island in River North. I'll check that out first, but I'd also like to try out this Ashkenaz deli. It looks pretty solid.

          Also, Dinkel's may be what I've been looking for, in terms of Donuts. I'll try to head up there in the next week or two, and I'll definitely report back.

          Thanks

          1. re: Bone Thug n Hominy

            Technically there is no Treasure Island in River North. The store referenced by solon is in Streeterville and in my experience is the weak link in the Treasure Island mini-chain. Depending on where you are in the Loop, the stores at 75 West Elm or 1639 North Wells may be more accessible and are definitely better as grocery stores. I have no idea whether they are a decent source for bagels, but they offer possibilities for groceries and generally have pretty good produce. http://tifoods.com/

            Most of the good ethnic food is away from the central business district in neighborhoods where there are material numbers of people of whatever ethnicity and where real estate is less expensive. The Brown Line is your friend here with many options near stations from Paulina on out. Options near Western, Rockwell and Kedzie are particularly good. Lincoln Square and Albany Park are very diverse and great for food lovers.

            1. re: Bone Thug n Hominy

              Dinkel's is great for donuts, (cinnamon are awesome, the plain with chocolate glaze are even better), you can also get rolls here. I highly recommend the pretzel rolls.

              While you're in the neighborhood, you could get off at the Western or Irving Park stops on the brown line and go to Sticky Rice for great thai food, Los Nopales for Mexican (check to see if they have tacos, but otherwise they are great), and Nhu Lan Bakery for banh mi.

              Also, if you like German food/beer, there are a number of choices at the Irving Park stop (Resi's, Glunz, Laschet's) or Western (Huetten, Brauhaus).

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              Sticky Rice
              4018 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

          2. BTnH,

            Here's some late night places for you:
            Miller's Pub
            Italian Village
            Ada's
            Hackney's
            Flaco's Tacos

            Might want to try Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi on Macy's 7th floor.

            Banh Mi at Saigon Sisters http://www.saigonsisters.com/

            Chinatown is a simple and fast red line. There is a grocery store across from the L that has the noodles.

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            Miller's Pub
            134 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

            Flaco's Taco's
            725 S Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60605

            2 Replies
            1. re: delk

              Hmm.. Noodles @ Macy's might have to be my next loop lunch. I had a no-frills, but surprisingly tasty bowl of udon in the pedway, of all places. But I'd love to have something a tad more authentic.

              1. re: delk

                I had the shoyu ramen & gyoza at Macy's.

                The ramen was surprisingly good. It wasn't mind-blowing, but certainly tasty. The noodles were not overcooked (which I was somewhat worried about), and the flavor was great after I added chili oil and togarashi.

                The gyoza tasted like it had been sitting under a heating lamp, though.

                I look forward to trying the fried rice, which looked like pretty solid Japanese cha han.

              2. 1) There is a Treasure Island at Clark & Elm which is 1 block from the Clark & Division station of the Red Line. 2) You mentioned some ethnic grocery items---take the Red Line to Argyle and walk around the corner to Broadway, turning south (left). You will find an assortment of Asian markets including a big supermarket-type one in the strip mall across Broadway from the Uptown Post Office. Argyle between Broadway and Sheridan is a commercial Vietnamese strip but the markets are pan-Asian. 3) I second Dinkel's Bakery. From Loop take Red Line to Belmont, transfer to Brown Line, get off at Paulina, walk 1/2 block south on Lincoln. Worth the trip. 4) You might enjoy Clark between Foster (5200 Norh) and Bryn Mawr---take Clark 22 bus, runs north on Dearborn in the Loop. It used to be Swedish and is now trending Middle Eastern so your tummy can profit from both---Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery, Foster just west of Clark, and Swedish Bakery, Clark near Balmoral,define the paradigm, but there's lots more. 5) I guess by now somebody has told you about Devon Avenue---blocks of Indian/Pakistani which then segue into Russian and Orthodox Jewish. Take Red Line to Loyola then just as you emerge from station take Devon 155 bus for about 10 minutes and get off at Western. You will be in Mumbai.

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                Swedish Bakery
                5348 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

                1. Awesome info, guys. It'll take me a while to get through these, but I'm glad I have a reference point--especially when I'm craving something in particular.

                  1. Lots of good info has already been posted in the replies above.

                    It's worth noting that the Loop is not all that interesting from a food standpoint. I mean, there are some very good places, especially for lunch, but not a lot of variety. You'll find a lot more variety if you consider the neighborhoods that are adjacent to the Loop and within walking distance (South Loop, West Loop and Greektown, River North, Streeterville) and even more if you have the time to take an el to more distant neighborhoods. You can read more about Chicago food neighborhoods at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/437740

                    One more comment about Jewish delis. I haven't been to Ashkenaz in many years, so I have no input on it. But Steve's Deli in River North is really, really excellent (and closer to the Loop, too). There are so many great things there; their usual deli sandwiches are excellent; so are their knishes, chicken pot pie, and other items. I have not had their bagels - I usually get bagels from Kaufman's in Skokie - but their rye bread is outstanding. It's not the traditional heavily seeded kind you get in New York - that's something you can also get at Kaufman's if you're interested - but rather, it's a "Detroit style" rye bread, a bit milder and really bursts with deliciousness if you heat it up before slicing/eating.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      That sounds great.. If the famous NYC delis have a weakness, it's the rye bread--which is (unfairly, IMO) treated as more of a vessel for the meat than anything else.

                      1. re: Bone Thug n Hominy

                        I've yet to have anything good at Steve's.
                        I love good rye bread - so I'll give it another chance.
                        Thanks!