visiting chicago next month, need a rundown
my friends and i are driving down to chicago in february, and we are looking for the "best of"
chicago, if it matters we are staying downtown, so preferably walking/stumbling distance is preferred
so what are some things we would like to eat
pizza(doesnt every tourist?)
steaks(fancy not wallet breaking)
anything else noteworthy
drinks, 1 a night or a string that can be crawled(in the same area/street)
id like to have a place for lunch and dinner for 2 days, so 4 places total, maybe a place for drinks each night
First, here are links to two discussions that will give you an overview of what Chicago has to offer. This discussion tells what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at:
first time Chicago - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693477
This discussion has an overview listing some of our best in various food categories, as well as advice for getting the best value for your dining dollar:
Where are the best Chicago dinner *values* - the hidden gems? - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697829
As to your specific questions...
>> we are staying downtown, so preferably walking/stumbling distance is preferred
WHERE downtown? The neighborhoods generally referred to as "downtown" extend for three miles north to south and over a mile east to west, so not everywhere is walking distance from everywhere else.
>> pizza(doesnt every tourist?)
Top picks for our delicious deep-dish pizza downtown are Uno and Due, Pizano's, and Lou Malnati's. Tell us more specifically where you're staying and we can tell you which is closest.
>> steaks(fancy not wallet breaking)
Steaks would not be my choice, just because you can get a good steak in just about any city in the country, and we have some other cuisines that are more unusual than elsewhere. But if you want the best steaks in town, go to David Burke's Primehouse. They offer a variety of steaks in a variety of price ranges.
>> anything else noteworthy
See the two links above.
>> drinks, 1 a night or a string that can be crawled(in the same area/street)
The artisanal cocktails at Sable are superb. The food is also excellent; don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!
Also, you may want to consider a drink at the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building, as long as it's a day or night that's not foggy and doesn't have low clouds. If you can see the top of the building from the ground, it's good. This pick is all about the view, so if the weather prevents the view, go elsewhere.
Then yes, go to Uno or Due. They still use the original recipe (unlike their franchise clones) and the pizza is still excellent.
David Burke's Primehouse is only a couple blocks west of your hotel, and Sable is just another couple blocks further.
Since you're looking for a couple of lunches and a couple of dinners, I would do Uno or Due for one lunch, Topolobampo for another lunch, Burke's for one dinner, and Sable for another dinner. Phone ahead to Uno or Due with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake. The other three places all accept reservations in advance (including on Opentable.com as well as over the phone). Topolobampo books up 2-3 months in advance for dinner and a few weeks for lunch; I recommend making the Topolobampo reservation NOW, and it wouldn't hurt to make the other reservations as well (you can always cancel them between now and then if you change your mind).
At lunchtime, Topolobampo is very reasonably priced, and isn't a whole lot more than Frontera Grill (unlike dinner, when Topo is quite expensive). The food at both is a lot more unusual than Xoco's. You can see the menus for all three restaurants, including prices, at www.rickbayless.com/restaurants and then decide for yourself.
I've posted detailed reports on over a dozen brunches in the brunch topic at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/364403. Here's a quick overview and you can find details there about a lot of the places I'll mention.
A big factor in brunch is what day of the week you're talking about, your tolerance for waiting to be seated, and your tolerance for traveling some distance, so I'll try to cover all those factors.
On weekdays, there are places that specialize in breakfast/brunch all week long. They're open on weekends too, but I would avoid them on Sundays because most such places don't take reservations and they tend to have long waits for tables between 9:30 and 12:30. The best and most interesting IMHO are Walker Brothers in the northern suburbs, M. Henry in Andersonville on the far north side, Bongo Room in the South Loop and Wicker Park, and Southport Grocery in Lakeview. Of these, only Bongo Room is reasonably close to downtown (with the South Loop location being closer to most of the hotels than the Wicker Park one). Jam in West Town is also pretty good and not far from downtown. If you want to eat close to the hotels, there are other such places (e.g. Eggsperience, Orange, Yolk, Lou Mitchell's) but their food is conventional breakfast fare, well prepared but not particularly unusual.
Now, on to places that only do brunch on weekends. Most such places only serve brunch on Sundays - more on those in a moment - but for whatever reason, quite a few of our creative Mexican restaurants are open for brunch on Saturdays. One is Frontera Grill, but they only accept a handful of reservations; if you don't have a res, call before you go. A few months ago I considered going there for Saturday brunch and called first, and found out the wait was 90 minutes. Instead I went to Mundial Cocina Mestiza in Pilsen and it was terrific. Most of the Mexican places are open Sundays as well as Saturdays, with Frontera an exception because they are closed Sundays.
Beyond that, there are many many places open for brunch on Sundays, and almost all of them accept reservations (often on Opentable) so long waits aren't an issue. Unfortunately, a few of the places I reported on loving either no longer do Sunday brunch (Between) or changed their brunch so it's no longer what I loved (David Burke's). There's one place that is so good that I keep going back, and I still recommend it highly, but for it to be a good choice (a) you have to like seafood, and (b) you have to be interested in a fairly substantial meal, rather than a light meal of eggs etc. The place I'm referring to is Shaw's Crab House, and when I go there for brunch, it's my big meal of the day. They have an all-you-can-eat buffet including crab cakes and Alaskan king crab legs (hot or cold) and scrumptious desserts, which tells you how it's more dinner-like than breakfast-like. It's also not cheap, at $43 (although some of the buffet brunches at the luxury hotels are even more than that) but it provides a great value if you think of it as an all-you-can-eat seafood dinner.
After that, there are lots of places that offer a very good brunch (and accept reservations), but it may not be all that unusual. Maybe the best that comes to mind is Cafe des Architectes, where I had brunch a couple of weeks ago; what I particularly enjoyed was their "brunch sampler" because it provided a lot of different items (in small sizes) - three juices, four mains, and three desserts.
Oh yeah, here's a link to one more discussion, which provides more info about places near the hotels, specifically serving breakfast, but any place that serves breakfast, serves brunch:
River North Breakfast Ideas - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693985