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Chicago Trip Advice

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I'm planning a trip to Chicago as a present for my wife. We are coming in town from Memphis and I've been to Chicago many times before but mainly with friends for concerts, sporting events, etc... so I've never really had a few days to take in the culinary scene outside of a couple places (Graham Elliot and Moto are the only fine dining I've experienced) so I need some advice from the almighty chowhound board.

fine dining - I definitely want to hit up Alinea but a) I'm not sure if I'll get in and b) I'm not sure if my wife can handle 18+ courses (she's not quite the foodie I am). What are some other good options?

Rick Bayless - my wife loves upscale mexican food so we were thinking of hitting up Frontera, I wanted to make sure that was the best option.

Pizza/hot dogs - I've been to a few places while in town but wanted your opinion on what is the best

also any other interesting options would be appreciated

Finally, hotels - I'm contemplating either the Drake or the Dana hotel and spa. I know they are both at the opposite end of the spectrum but I was curious to know if the Drake had nice rooms or if all it's charm was in the lobby and if I didn't choose the Drake if there was somewhere better downtown than the Dana hotel.

Thanks.

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Moto Restaurant
945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

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  1. >> fine dining - I definitely want to hit up Alinea but a) I'm not sure if I'll get in and b) I'm not sure if my wife can handle 18+ courses (she's not quite the foodie I am).

    Alinea is so much fun, and the food is so amazing and good, that I can't imagine anyone not enjoying it. And you can get in if you're reserving far enough in advance; if I'm not mistaken, they accept reservations starting on the first of the month two months before the date you'll dine there. The amount of food is not a concern; some of the dishes are small (the relative sizes are indicated by the size of the circles on the menu) and you'll be eating them over the course of about four hours. I've left comfortably full but not overstuffed. The only caveat I can think of is that if this is a gift for your wife, try to imagine what kind of place(s) SHE would enjoy the most.

    >> What are some other good options?

    The best other "fine dining" options for expensive, formal dining with exquisite service and lengthy tasting menus are Charlie Trotter's, Everest, Avenues, TRU, and Spiaggia. If you would consider places that are a bit less formal and not quite as expensive, then the list expands to include such places as North Pond for contemporary American food; Cafe Spiaggia, Vivere, and Cibo Matto for Italian; Topolobampo/Frontera Grill, Salpicon, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, and Mexique for creative Mexican food; and a bunch of steakhouses including David Burke's Primehouse.

    >> Rick Bayless - my wife loves upscale mexican food so we were thinking of hitting up Frontera, I wanted to make sure that was the best option.

    Frontera Grill is still very good; the big consideration is reservations. Frontera accepts only a handful of reservations over the phone, and otherwise, you'll encounter lengthy waits to be seated. Topolobampo is its sister restaurant next door, and it is excellent also; however, it's significantly more expensive at dinnertime (although both are moderately priced at lunchtime). Topolobampo accepts reservations on Opentable; it books up 2-3 months in advance for dinner, not as long for lunch.

    My personal favorite creative Mexican restaurants are Mundial Cocina Mestiza, in the Pilsen neighborhood on the near southwest side, and Mixteco Grill, in Lakeview on the north side. Salpicon is also excellent and it's convenient to the hotel district along Michigan Avenue. And Mexique is excellent for creative Mexican food with a bit of French influence.

    >> Pizza/hot dogs - I've been to a few places while in town but wanted your opinion on what is the best

    If you've never had our delicious local specialty of deep-dish pizza, you're in for a treat. I think the best places to get it are the original locations of Uno and Due, Pizano's, and Lou Malnati's. I would go to whichever of those is closest to your hotel.

    Portillo's has a location on Ontario near the hotel district, and is a good place for Chicago-style hot dogs as well as Italian beef sandwiches.

    >> Finally, hotels - I'm contemplating either the Drake or the Dana hotel and spa. I know they are both at the opposite end of the spectrum but I was curious to know if the Drake had nice rooms or if all it's charm was in the lobby and if I didn't choose the Drake if there was somewhere better downtown than the Dana hotel.

    Since I live here, I really don't know, but the Chowhound Team tends to frown upon discussions that aren't centered on food/beverage. Sorry.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      >> Pizza/hot dogs - I've been to a few places while in town but wanted your opinion on what is the best

      >> If you've never had our delicious local specialty of deep-dish pizza, you're in for a treat. I think the best places to get it are the original locations of Uno and Due, Pizano's, and Lou Malnati's. I would go to whichever of those is closest to your hotel.

      I just noticed that you said you had been to some of the places here. If you've already tried deep-dish at one of the places I mentioned, and would like to consider the other popular type of thick Chicago-style pizza, then I recommend trying the double-crust stuffed pizza at Giordano's. It's actually my personal favorite among Chicago pizzas (although I get it from Malnati's almost as often). I still recommend Uno/Due/Malnati's/Pizano's if you've never had them, since it's our "original" deep-dish, but stuffed pizza at Giordano's (as well as Bacino's, Edwardo's, and Nancy's) is another style and also delicious.

    2. The 18+ courses are deceiving in number. Many of them are three or more tiny bites that all appear on the menu as multiple courses despite being served together. If you look at the menu, the size of the bubble indicates the size of the dish. I would guess it's more like 9-10 "normal" sized courses over 4-5 hours. I took a party of 6, some of whom weren't really foodies. They all loved it and no one was painfully full. There were some inebriated folks from a partial wine pairing, though.

      3 Replies
      1. re: TAsunder

        Nowhere near 9-10 "normal" courses. You are, however, eating in measured doses and (presumably) drinking at a steady pace. I don't think anyone will need to loosen their belt at the end of the night but looking at it from my wife's perspective, it's less an issue of how much/little food you get per course, she just refuses to sit down at a meal for that long ever again (and although she loved Trotter's she got antsy sitting there as well).

        1. re: TAsunder

          >> Many of them are three or more tiny bites that all appear on the menu as multiple courses despite being served together.

          The last time I was there, every course listed on the menu was served separately; there was no time that two (or more) courses were served together.

          >> I would guess it's more like 9-10 "normal" sized courses over 4-5 hours

          I agree with ferret; it's not like 9-10 "normal" entrees. In terms of the amount of food, it's somewhat more than the conventional three-course dinner, but does not seem massive or overwhelming due to the duration involved. At most restaurants, I feel comfortably full after a conventional three courses (appetizer, entree, dessert), and I felt the same way after dinner at Alinea.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            By "normal courses" I was referring to the size of a course at a tasting menu at most other places: a small dish that is eaten in 5-20 bites. The current menu was about equivalent to the French Laundry menu we had earlier this year in terms of amount of food. I agree with your assessment of a conventional menu.

            I have been there only twice: once in March 2009 and once last month. Both times there were "courses" that consisted of multiple menu items. Even still, most of the time those multi-item courses were very small. Looking at the menu now, I believe all of the following are served together. The hibiscus may be as well (it was in 2009), can't remember.

            Lemon / Apple / Squash = three single bite edible cocktails
            Yuba / Chao Tom = two small items, about 2-3 bites each
            Pineapple / Bacon / Caramel Popcorn = three small items, about 2-4 bites/sips each

        2. L2o, Trotters, and TRU fall in line as the next three best options behind Alinea.

          Hot Doug's, Lou Malnati's, and Art of Pizza are the best for "Chicago Style" dogs and pizza, though Great Lake is every bit worth the hype.

          I'd strongly recommend lunch at Topolobampo and Blackbird as "best of" in the city.

          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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          Alinea
          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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

          Topolobampo
          445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

          Art of Pizza
          3033 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

          Great Lake
          1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

          1 Reply
          1. re: uhockey

            >> Hot Doug's, Lou Malnati's, and Art of Pizza are the best for "Chicago Style" dogs and pizza

            Hot Doug's is not considered by most Chicagoans to be a place to go for Chicago-style hot dogs. They specialize in unusual sausages, although you can get a Chicago-style hot dog there too. But if you're interested in trying Chicago-style hot dogs, there's no reason to travel to its inconvenient location and wait in line 90+ minutes; you're much better off just going to Portillo's (or one of the other top hot dog places around town). (And if you're interested in unusual sausages, Franks n Dawgs is more convenient and you won't have to deal with the long lines at Hot Doug's.)

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

            Art of Pizza
            3033 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

          2. The Drake is lovely; my husband and I have stayed there a few times. However, if you make a reservation, check to be sure you'll be given a room which has been renovated as not all of them have been done. The C'ote d Or bar is perfect for happy hour or after dinner, and The Palm Court has a small dance band on weekends. As to restaurants, I highly recommend Brasserie Jo's on Hudson. Fabulous food, great service and people who live in the area frequent the place - always a good recommendation.

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            Palm Court Restaurant
            1912 N Arlington Heights Rd, Arlington Heights, IL 60004

            2 Replies
            1. re: KatieBugs

              Just fyi- Brasserie Jo on Hubbard is closed. They'll be reopening it as a more casual/trendy French restaurant.

              1. re: KatieBugs

                If you're looking for a good French bistro near the Drake, Bistro 110 is good and is the closest; Kiki's Bistro is not far and is also good.

              2. Don't be discouraged about getting a table at Frontera ... while they only accept a very few phone reservations, if you go by at around 4:30 or 5, you will get onto the list and have a good sense of how long until you have a table. Recently the Bayless frenzy post-top chef masters seems to have eased enough that I don't see as many insane lines out front at least on weekdays. (our office is right around the corner)

                Also, you might enjoy Mercat a la Planxa for superb tapas and a great room - and Sable at the Hotel Palomar for amazing cocktails and wonderful food at a very nice price.

                1. In the area, Portillo's for Italian beef or dogs. Not as much in the area Lou Malnati's. I would avoid Giordano's.

                  After Alinea, Tru, L20, Trotter's, would probably all be on the list. I prefer Tru to the others.

                  My wife and I quit staying at the Drake 5-6 years ago after an issue with honoring a quoted price for the room. The Dana is new, I haven't stayed there, but had a really good meal at Aja (restaurant in the hotel).

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                  Alinea
                  1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                  1. All of the recommendations in nsxtacy's posts are excellent, in my opinion. Personally, I would avoid Tru unless you're on an expense account -- not that the others mentioned are inexpensive -- but Tru's wine list is unapproachable unless you're prepared to spend many hundreds of dollars per bottle, and the service is unpersonnable and haughty, albeit fine tuned and precise (I don't think there needs to be a tradeoff of those qualities).