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Toronto Local-Foodie-Wino Seeks Same

Hi, Chicago.
I'm headed down with my husband for my first trip ever to your fair/fare town. I've read the posts and got the first-timer low-down, and am ready with specific questions.

We are staying on the Magnificent Mile. We are open to travel on public transit and will walk as long as 30 minutes for good food, but will try to avoid cabs.

We are looking for:

* Food Tourist Destinations: markets, shops, areas of town with lots to see and eat (like Kensington Market in Toronto) - husband will also want to get some famous deep dish so I'll take reccos for that, too.

* At Least One Nice Dinner - somewhere with great pork/beef for the man and fish for me, lots of veg and salad options too - nowhere too stuck up, somewhere focused on good food and good service, with an atmosphere of excitement. Considering: The Bristol, Girl and the Goat, open to other thoughts.

* Other Dinners: open to suggestions, but looking to keep to under $20/person for main dishes. we like Indian, husband loves pizza, we like Thai, Middle Eastern, Mexican, etc. Only thing I'd rule out would be sushi, Japanese, Korean or Chinese.

* Lunches: affordable but nice-ish lunches, places that offer sandwiches, soups, salad and nice ambiance, especially if there's deals at lunch, or anything fun fitting the ethnic descriptions above. Considering: XOCO, open to other thoughts.

* Bars: i like wine and husband likes beer - anywhere off the beaten track, bonus points for good food, too, looking for comfy but cool places to either settle down for an evening or just grab one drink. we lean more toward the late 20s-early 30s crowd than the rowdy types, we like music and buzz, but not too loud.

Basically, I'm all about creative presentations of local produce and meat, and want the best that your town has to offer. Thanks in advance and should you ever venture north I'll return the favour for TO.

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Girl and the Goat
809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661

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  1. Welcome to Chicago! You'll have a great time I'm sure - and folks will offer many good suggestions.

    Food Tourist options:
    - Fox and Obel which is a great gourmet grocery store - super breads, wonderful cheese selection in particular.
    - Depending on when you are here, Green City Market - an extraordinary farmers market and more that has some indoor winter dates and twice a week dates when we emerge from the cold. I can't recommend this highly enough.
    - The Spice House in Old Town (just a little north of the Loop, easy access by bus or brown line el) which puts all other spice vendors to shame (and stop next door at Old Town Oil for some of their ginger balsamic!)
    - Butcher and Larder - a new butcher shop opened by a local foodie fave chef, I hear the roast beef sandwiches are extraordinary along with true love of all things meat

    Nice dinner - Your ideas are good and get raves. I'd also consider Naha and Mercat a la Planxa which both are stellar restaurants. Naha is more sedate but the food is amazing, Mercat has more "excitement" and the grilled options are stunning.

    Other dinners - in that price range, I'd suggest
    - Le Madia for their very good pizzas but also great risotta and more - sit at the pizza kitchen counter and they serve you a free glass of prosecco.
    - Sable - my always go-to spot for superb food and a great range of options

    Lunches - Xoco is wonderful and Sable and Madia have great lunch special

    Bars - I don't go to enough of them but definitely Gilt Bar and - cocktails, not wine or beer but go anyhow, Violet Hour for extraordinary cocktails

    I'm actually in TO rather often for work and love Kensington Market! next trip is going to be too speedy for more than food on the fly but favored spots are always welcome!

    -----
    The Violet Hour
    1520 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622

    Green City Market
    1750 N Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614

    Naha
    500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

    Violet Hour
    1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

    XOCO
    449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

    Butcher and Larder
    1026 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

    Spice House
    1512 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60610

    13 Replies
    1. re: Siun

      Those are good suggestions above from Siun. Here are some more!

      >> * Food Tourist Destinations: markets, shops, areas of town with lots to see and eat

      In addition to Fox & Obel, I think the French Market is worth a visit. It's not huge but it hosts some of our best food stores, all in one place. www.frenchmarketchicago.com

      If you'd like to stroll around the neighborhoods, you'll find some suggestions in this discussion:

      Best Chicago Foodie 'Hood - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/437740

      >> husband will also want to get some famous deep dish so I'll take reccos for that, too.

      The best places for deep dish are all related: Uno and Due in River North, Pizano's, and Lou Malnati's. The pizza is similar at all three. Pizano's on State is the most convenient to the northern half of the Mag Mile, Uno and Due to the southern half.

      >> * At Least One Nice Dinner - somewhere with great pork/beef for the man and fish for me, lots of veg and salad options too - nowhere too stuck up, somewhere focused on good food and good service, with an atmosphere of excitement. Considering: The Bristol, Girl and the Goat, open to other thoughts.

      Beware, reservations at the Girl and the Goat are filling up 2-3 months ahead of time. North Pond is a great choice, with its exquisite setting in the park to go along with the excellent contemporary American food. I also love Sable, mentioned above by Siun; if you go, don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!

      >> * Other Dinners: open to suggestions, but looking to keep to under $20/person for main dishes. we like Indian, husband loves pizza, we like Thai, Middle Eastern, Mexican, etc. Only thing I'd rule out would be sushi, Japanese, Korean or Chinese.

      Since you're coming from Toronto, which seems to have plenty of Asian cuisine, I probably wouldn't bother with a trip to Devon Avenue for Indian food or to TAC Quick for Thai food. Instead, I'd definitely do Mexican. I mentioned Topolobampo and Frontera Grill for lunch. Other Mexican places worth visiting, not terribly expensive for dinner and not far from downtown, include Salpicon (in Old Town, walkable from the north end of the Mag Mile), Mexique (two miles west on Chicago Avenue, take the #66 CTA bus), and Mundial Cocina Mestiza (in Pilsen, take the underground CTA Red Line and transfer to the CTA Pink Line to the 18th Street station). Salpicon and Mexique accept reservations on Opentable as well as over the phone; Mundial does so only over the phone.

      Also see the link below to the discussion about value.

      >> * Lunches: affordable but nice-ish lunches, places that offer sandwiches, soups, salad and nice ambiance, especially if there's deals at lunch, or anything fun fitting the ethnic descriptions above. Considering: XOCO, open to other thoughts.

      Most lunch places are affordable. I would choose Frontera Grill or Topolobampo over XOCO; the food is much more unusual and creative. You can make reservations for Topo on Opentable.

      >> * Bars: i like wine and husband likes beer - anywhere off the beaten track, bonus points for good food, too, looking for comfy but cool places to either settle down for an evening or just grab one drink. we lean more toward the late 20s-early 30s crowd than the rowdy types, we like music and buzz, but not too loud.

      Sable fits into this category too; they have a huge selection of artisanal cocktails. (They hired their chief mixologist away from the Violet Hour.) Other places in the Mag Mile vicinity specializing in wine include Pops for Champagne and Bin 36. For beer, consider the Gage in the Loop.

      Finally, 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

      Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

      1. re: nsxtasy

        I have had some feedback from a friend who has lived in Chicago for a while. Her top recs were Nightwood, Schwa, Avec (or Publican), and The Gage and Pastida for lunch.

        Thoughts on those?

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

        1. re: LemonLauren

          Nightwood - I haven't been.

          Schwa - It's almost impossible to get through to make reservations (oh how I've tried). What's worse, several people recently had reservations cancelled by the restaurant as noted in the discussion at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/758401

          Avec - They don't take reservations and there are often long waits to be seated; there is ONLY communal seating at the bar and eight-tops; it may be the NOISIEST restaurant in the entire city; the seats are the most uncomfortable in the entire city; and the food is not any better than the many restaurants that don't have these severe drawbacks.

          The Publican - Another VERY NOISY restaurant. Some of the food is very good, but the desserts when I went there were dreadful. At the end of our meal we all said, "Okay, let's scratch that one off the list" (IOW we would never go back).

          The Gage - Good gastropub.

          Pastida - Never heard of it.

          1. re: LemonLauren

            I haven't been to Nightwood, but have heard good things.

            Schwa is very much in a class by itself - and it makes its own rules. It is difficult, but not impossible get reservations, but, as nsxtasy notes, they have just not opened some nights and no one knows why.

            I love both Avec and Publican, although if I were going to choose between them, it would be Publican. The communal tables have never bothered me. I enjoy meeting a talking to new people. And I've never had a problem with the noise level at either. Neither one is open for lunch, but you can get Sunday brunch.

            The Gage, for me, has never lived up to its promise and I've been several times. Like Publican, it is a gastropub, but I prefer Publican. Not everyone agrees with my assessment. It is open for lunch and it's not a bad option.

            La Pasidita is a tiny (well, actually three tiny) storefront tacoterias on Ashland Avenue near Division. There are two on one side of the street and one on the other. They're good. They're an experience, but not IMO not really the best in town. This is one of those things that you will get many opinions about. I would recommend La Asadas. It's a bit further west and north, on Western Ave. between Armitage and Fullerton Avenues. Specialties are carne asada and leunga tacos.

            1. re: chicgail

              I've already stated my opinions, so I won't repeat them. But just to clarify a bit on chicgail's comments...

              >> I love both Avec and Publican, although if I were going to choose between them, it would be Publican. The communal tables have never bothered me. I enjoy meeting a talking to new people. And I've never had a problem with the noise level at either. Neither one is open for lunch, but you can get Sunday brunch.

              Avec only offers communal seating, but at Publican, you also have the option to have your own table. About half the seating consists of 2-, 4-, and 6-tops, and about half is two long tables. If you specify a preference when making a reservation in advance - either for communal seating, or for your own table - they will try to accommodate it. Of the two, only the Publican is open for Sunday brunch, not Avec.

              >> La Pasidita

              I haven't been there, but I've heard of it (them); I just didn't recognize the name from the previous post. Sorry!

              If you want to have some Mexican food, rather than going to a taqueria like you can find in most cities across the U.S., I recommend instead going to one of our restaurants featuring creative provincial Mexican cuisine. See my first reply in this topic for more information about Topolobampo/Frontera Grill, Mexique, Salpicon, and Mundial Cocina Mestiza.

        2. re: Siun

          Thanks! My TO shortlist: Woodlot (comfort food done right, great affordability), Black Hoof (snout to tail dining with exciting cocktails), Enoteca Sociale (authentic italian small plates), Harbord Room (just good honest food made with local ingredients really well and a lovely ambiance). There's lots more...

          1. re: LemonLauren

            If you're looking for a true brew pub (ala Dogfish in DE) we have only one, Goose Island Brewery. It is very good, I really like their Matilda and the winter ale currently being served. Food is very good, but nothing to write home about. The pub chips are great and you can get a Paulina Meat Market sausage sampler and Paulina is the bees knees.

            There are a few other regional (within 200 miles) brewers that are served here in chicago.
            My favorite is Bell's Beer from the Kalamazoo Brewery in Michigan or Three Floyds from Indiana. Most specialize in a more hoppy american style versus the belgian style.

            Some of the issue here is outrageously arcane liquor distribution methods and laws that cause issues so terrific craft brews are few.

            That being said, nsxtasy is right that Hopleaf is great, but it's a shlep from downtown. A couple other downtown bars that have great beer menus.

            Public House (a new sister bar to Bull & Bear);

            Primebar (this is more of an after work, pre-theater place) but has a very nice menu.

            -----
            Hopleaf Bar
            5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

            Bull & Bear
            431 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60654

            Three Floyds
            Munster, Munster, IN

            1. re: LemonLauren

              Thanks so much! One colleague will be in TO for the weekend so I will pass along - and hope we are organized to try one on the night I'm there.

              Enjoy Chicago!

              1. re: Siun

                Woodlot is the newest and hottest and really really special - no website but google reviews by David Ort (food with legs blogs) and Corey Mintz (porkosity blog). Black Hoof is good if you're courageous. Enoteca is just a great spot for a night of food and wine Nonna's style. Hope this helps!

                1. re: LemonLauren

                  Revolution, Piece, and Haymarket are all brewpubs. I would have to disagree that Goose Island is the only brewpub in town. For an off the beaten track dive-y kind of place with good bar food and interesting beers you might check out the Paramount Room.

                  -----
                  Paramount Room
                  415 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60654

                  1. re: dulcie54

                    Thanks, totally forgot about Piece. Yes, they have very tasty beers and some really good east coast style pizza.

                    Has anyone been to Haymarket or Revolution? It seems both have only opened in the last 12 months and as guy who enjoys beer (took a trip to belgium last year to drink and eat moules, frites, and chocolate) I wish I would have looked sooner.

                2. re: Siun

                  Toronto recommendations are off topic for this board; please post Toronto queries and recommendations on the Ontario board.