Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >
Feb 16, 2011 10:11 AM

3 day weekend in Chicago

I am staying in the North Michigan Ave - Water Tower Place - Gold Coast zone according to Hotwire :) Haven't been to Chicago as an adult but next weekend DH and I are going to brave the cold and make the trip. We will have a car, but I understand the public transportation is great (coming from Detroit where it's non-existant will be nice).

Looking for:

Great breakfast/brunch locations
At least one meal has to be a hot dog (per DH)
At least one meal has to be pizza - but it doesn't have to be the million calorie deep-dish type....we like all different kinds of pizza
Looking for one nice meal.....but doesn't have to be suffy or super classy.

We like: Asian, Seafood, Italian, Mexican
Don't like: French

Thanks guys!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. >> We will have a car, but I understand the public transportation is great (coming from Detroit where it's non-existant will be nice).

    You can do either. Depending on where you're going and time of day, public transportation may (or may not) take longer. Depending on how many people and whether your hotel makes you pay for parking every time you go in and out, driving may (or may not) be more expensive. Convenience factors can also cut either way.

    Speaking of convenience, there are many, MANY food options within walking distance of your hotel, so you don't HAVE TO drive anywhere. But if you want to get out to the ethnic and residential neighborhoods, you can do so. It's your choice!

    >> Great breakfast/brunch locations

    In the area of your hotel, I recommend the Original Pancake House on East Bellevue.

    I also recommend either location of Bongo Room, for their creative pancakes; it's not walking distance from your hotel (either is about two miles away).

    Otherwise, you'll find lots and lots of recommendations within walking distance in this discussion:

    River North Breakfast Ideas -

    You'll also find lots of detailed reports on brunches in this topic, but they are all over the city and suburbs, not just downtown:

    Foodie needs recs on cocktails and brunch -

    One more quick recommendation. Since you said you love seafood, consider the Sunday brunch at Shaw's Crab House. You'll find a detailed report in that last link. It's more of a dinner type meal than a breakfast type meal. It's an all you can eat buffet with items like crab cakes, Alaskan king crab (hot or cold), etc. Not cheap at $45 but also not expensive if you love great seafood.

    >> At least one meal has to be a hot dog (per DH)

    Portillo's on Ontario is walking distance from your hotel and does an excellent Chicago hot dog, also an excellent Italian beef, another local specialty.

    >> At least one meal has to be pizza - but it doesn't have to be the million calorie deep-dish type....we like all different kinds of pizza

    But you can't get our deep-dish pizza when you're back home, so go for the local specialty! It's delicious. Pizano's on State is a short walk from the area of your hotel. Phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

    >> Looking for one nice meal.....but doesn't have to be suffy or super classy.
    >> We like: Asian, Seafood, Italian, Mexican

    Here are some great places in the various categories including the ones you mention. The ones noted as Gold Coast, River North, and Old Town are all a short walk from your hotel (probably, depending on where it is), while the ones in Lincoln Park and the West Loop are 1.5-2.0 miles away, easily do-able by cab, subway/bus, or driving.

    Contemporary American (upscale) - North Pond (Lincoln Park) -
    Contemporary American (casual) with artisanal cocktails - Sable (River North) -
    Pan-Asian - Sunda (River North) -
    Pan-Asian - Red Light (West Loop) -
    Vietnamese - Le Colonial (Gold Coast) -
    Seafood - Hugo's Frog Bar (Gold Coast) -
    Seafood - Shaw's Crab House (River North) -
    Italian - Cafe Spiaggia (Gold Coast) -
    Italian - Coco Pazzo Cafe (River North) -
    Mexican - Topolobampo and Frontera Grill (River North) -
    Mexican - Salpicon (Old Town) -
    Latin fusion - Nacional 27 (River North) -
    Latin fusion - Carnivale (West Loop) -

    Enjoy your visit, and feel free to ask more questions!

    4 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thank you so much. This is an awesome list of recs!! One other thing - are there good deli's in Chicago? If so, what's your rec?

      1. re: tdmort

        There are indeed some good Jewish delis in Chicago, but honestly, since you're coming from Detroit, this is one thing your home town does extremely well. My favorite Jewish deli in Chicago right now is Steve's; ours is an additional location of the one based in Bloomfield Hills. I've been to Deli Unique in West Bloomfield Hills and I liked it better than anything in Chicago. I haven't been to Star Deli or Stage Deli in the Detroit area but I've seen them praised on Chowhound. So, all in all, I think you're better off having deli food at your great delis back home, and sticking to other kinds of food here in Chicago that may not be so easy to find in Detroit. Hope that makes sense!

        My post above includes many of my favorite places in Chicago, and I recommend all of them highly. However, some of them are kinds of food (Italian, seafood) that are good here, but which you can find in many cities around the country. If you asked me which of the places represent Chicago most uniquely... (1) I would stick with your "cheap eats" of Portillo's (Chicago hot dogs, Italian beef) and Pizano's (deep-dish), local specialties here which would make great choices for lunch as well as dinner; (2) I would make sure to have some of our creative provincial Mexican food (given the lack of advance notice, I'd recommend Salpicon as you might not be able to get even a lunch reservation at Topolobampo, dinner would be impossible, and the long waits for seating at Frontera Grill are dreadful; another good choice for Mexican is Mexique, which is a couple miles west on Chicago Avenue ); and (3) I'd recommend North Pond for its exquisite, unique location in the middle of the park. But if you really love one of the other cuisines (Italian, etc) by all means consider the places I've listed above. And a personal favorite of mine is Sable; if you go there, don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!

        I also recommend making reservations in advance if you can, as some of these places are very popular and can fill up in advance, especially on weekends. Most of them accept free reservations on the website.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Thanks again. You have been very helpful. I cannot wait to look at all of the links that you provided. And you do have a great point about sticking with what is native to Chicago while I am there. I am very disappointed that I will be missing out on great Mexican food....I had no idea reservations would be needed weeks in advance!

          1. re: tdmort

            You don't have to miss out on our great Mexican food! The reservations weeks in advance applies only to Topolobampo, which fills up quickly for dinner as reservations become available three months out. For lunch, they fill up weeks in advance (more so for Fridays than other weekdays). Frontera Grill accepts only a handful of reservations, all by phone, and otherwise you have to wait, although many people don't mind eating early and go there 15-20 minutes before they open the doors.

            At all our other Mexican restaurants, it's relatively easy to make reservations in advance. For example, I mentioned Salpicon and Mexique, and both have availability on Opentable even for Saturday Feb 26 (although prime times between 6:30 and 8:00 are mostly full). My favorite is Mundial Cocina Mestiza ( ), which is a bit further from your hotel - about 4 miles, an easy drive or take the el (CTA Red Line and change to the Pink Line to the 18th Street station); they're not on Opentable but they take reservations over the phone, and they also do a great brunch on Saturdays as well as Sundays. So you should still be able to get a reservation at any of these without any problems, and they're all really really good. Check out their websites and look at their menus to see which sounds the best to you!

    2. As a fellow MIchigander who makes a couple trips a year to Chicago, I'll toss my two cents in here as well. You'll be close by the Red LIne El train and I'd highly advise you to use that to your advantage. You can take it to Chinatown or to Uptown ( Argyle St. stop) for Chinese/Vietnamese food. Will you still be in town on Sunday ? If so, my best reccomendation for Mexican food would be the Maxwell St. Market.

      3 Replies
      1. re: moose734

        Here's why I think the other Mexican restaurants are a better bet for visitors from out of town than Maxwell Street. Maxwell Street Market, held on Sundays, has Mexican "street food" like tacos, elotes, etc - food that you can find in Mexican neighborhoods in any big American city. It's good stuff, but it's not really all that different from what you can find elsewhere. Whereas our restaurants featuring provincial Mexican cuisine are a real treasure here, with more unusual food like what you find in upscale restaurants in Mexico but which is not readily available in most cities this side of the border, with the notable exceptions of Chicago and Los Angeles.

        For a better understanding of the difference from what you get back home, check out the menus on the websites of the Mexican restaurants I've mentioned above (Topolobampo/Frontera Grill, Salpicon, Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza). In addition to their dinner menus, check out the brunch menu at those places (Sundays only at Salpicon, Saturdays and Sundays at Mexique and Mundial, and Saturdays only at Frontera Grill but beware, Frontera often has waits of 90+ minutes for brunch seating).

        1. re: nsxtasy

          I see your point , but the OP never says where exactly she is from ( I know she says Detroit, but really she could just mean the Metro area.), so the availability of Mexican cusine of any kind of an authentic nature could be sparse. Even with Mexicantown in Detroit, it;s hard to find a lot of things that I tried at the Market ( Huitlacoche, Oaxacan tamales,some of the Agua Fresca flavors and ice creams, not to mention the more "exotic" taco offerings.and actual handmade tortillas). I'm just saying if you're only in town for a couple days and just have a craving for Mexican, then the Market can give you a pretty good snapshot of food.

          1. re: moose734

            The Maxell St. Market is a good option for really authentic Mexican street food that isn't available in many big cities in this country.

            What nsxtasy is saying is that what makes Chicago"s Mexican food scene unique is its innovative gourmet Mexican culinary options that are not available anywhere else in the U.S.

            Good tacos or hard-to-find-in-the-US tamales are just not the same as say,
            Topolobambo's "Day-boat catch in 'horchata" sauce (creamy almond, Mexican cinnamon) and lime-infused chia seeds. Goat cheese tamal, dark pasilla chile oil, roasted cauliflower, toasted almonds"
            or Mexique's "Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb and Coffee Braised Lamb Shoulder Barbacoa Sope, Sweet & Spicy Eggplant, and Roasted garlic-Mulato Chile Essence."

            These represent some of the finest of regional Mexican cooking that you can typically find only in fine restaurants in Mexico or in some private homes there.

            1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

      2. Just spent 4 days in Chicago. Portillo's dog and Italian beef were very good (Italian's my thing, as my blog is called Speaking of Italian, I was underwhelmed by Cafe Spiaggia. If you like Greek, I highly recommend the Parthenon in Greektown (spent an entire Sunday afternoon w/ friends there, doing the family-style dinner).
        Also, though I hate the term, gastropubs are a big deal in town, and I tried three: Purple Pig, Bristol, and Publican. All good (small plates), though if I hadda pick one it might be Publican.
        And, oh, Rick Bayless' place at O'Hare just opened if you need sumthin quick (Mexican) in Terminal 1. I got pics on Meatball's Facebook page.

        Cafe Spiaggia
        980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

        8 Replies
        1. re: Mister Meatball

          A quick note... Greek food is another cuisine that Detroit does well - they have their own Greek Town near downtown - so the OP, who is from Detroit, may want to skip Greek cuisine while here.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            I am not crazy about Greek food, and you are right, we have plenty of Greek in downtown Detroit.

            One last question - BBQ?? The only good BBQ we have is Slows. I've read about Chicago Q and Smoque. DH loves que.

            1. re: tdmort

              Chicago has a lot of different styles of barbecue. It's not something that we do better than other places, but it's here if you want it. I haven't been to Chicago Q. Smoque is good if you prefer your barbecue smoky with a dry rub. (I'm not; I'm more a fan of the style of basting with barbecue sauce while cooking, such as at Carson's.) Beware long waits at peak times at Smoque.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                That is right that Chicago Q is not a smokey dry-rub place, but their sauces are really good--I like the vineagar-based sauce myself. They do serve everything properely (i.e., very lightly basted) so you really get to choose your own sauce flavor.

                Another option if you're into the smoque style is Smoke Daddy over on W division in Ukranian Village (10 mins cab from Sofitel). Been around a long time and less busy than smoque. I just had some spare ribs (my pesonal favorite as they are soo much more flavoreful than baby backs) last week and they were great.

                Smoke Daddy Restaurant
                1804 W Division St Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60622

              2. re: tdmort

                I grew up in the detroit area and still like Bone Yard BBQ when I get back. Big meaty spare ribs cooked on a spit. I know there is one on Orchard Lake Rd in Farmington Hills, and there are two others. It's not memphis, but . . .

                1. re: jbontario

                  The last time I was at Bone Yard it was not all that great.

                2. re: tdmort

                  Chicago is a destination food city, but not for barbecue. We have decent barbecue, even good barbecue, but little great barbecue. (Disagree as you will.)

                  There are places for a Chicagoan to satisfy that bbq yen, but, IMO, not enough to bother with if you're visiting town. There are just too many other cities that are known for barbecue and too many other kinds of food that are stellar or even iconic in Chicago.

                  1. re: chicgail

                    I'll usually get something from Lem's when I'm in town , and it's good BBQ but nothing so earth- shatteringly better than BBQ here. Although I am curious about Uncle John's after seeing Bizarre Foods on Tuesday.

            2. Thank you all so much - especially Nsxtasy. This is what I have planned -

              Saturday arrive around lunch and grab a Chicago Dog
              Portillos or Superdawg (yes, I know Superdawg probably isn't as good, but it's like a landmark, right?)

              Saturday Dinner
              Deep dish pizza: Pizanos

              Sunday Brunch:
              Leaning towards Perennial or M Henry (does M Henry take reservations?)

              Sunday Dinner:
              Mexican!! Salpicon

              Stop by South Port Grocery on the way out of town


              M. Henry
              5707 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60660

              5 Replies
              1. re: tdmort

                >> Sunday Brunch:
                >> Leaning towards Perennial or M Henry (does M Henry take reservations?)

                M. Henry does not take reservations. They get busy on Sundays between 9:30 and 12:30, when waits for a table are typically 30-60 minutes. I have no idea but the waits may be much less at their new sister restaurant, M. Henrietta - you might try calling them to ask.

                Or, you can avoid the issue altogether by having brunch at Perennial, which accepts reservations on Also note that the executive chef at Perennial, Ryan Poli, just resigned.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Have you heard anything negative about Perennial since the executive chef left?

                  1. re: tdmort

                    His resignation was just announced a couple of days ago. Given that you're coming next weekend, I wouldn't expect any major changes, especially for brunch. Most restaurants can function fine when the chef is not around. When they bring in a new executive chef, he/she typically revamps the menu over the course of the first few months, but they're not there yet.

                    If the brunch at Perennial - for which I posted a review at - sounds good to you, I recommend going, and not worrying about the change in chefs.

                    1. re: tdmort

                      Poli resigned, but he isn't leaving until March 7th. The owners say that they will announce their new "celebrity chef" partner for Perennial next week, so I doubt there will be any changes until that announcement at the earliest.

                      1. re: Coogles

                        The announcement has been made, and it's very exciting indeed! I just posted about it in the Perennial discussion at

                2. If you are getting to these great restaurants on the CTA get passes, a better deal than fares. You get them at the Jewel supermarket at State & Ohio, a 15-minute walk from your hotel. And while you are up that way you will be near Maggiano's, Indian Garden, Ben Pao, and Brazzaz: might as well catch a meal.

                  Ben Pao
                  52 W. Illinois St., Chicago, IL 60610

                  539 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL 60654

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Querencia

                    >> If you are getting to these great restaurants on the CTA get passes, a better deal than fares.

                    That depends. You can pay for CTA rides with cash fares, fare cards, and passes. If you are only getting one bus or train ride, you will pay the same amount using cash as you would with a fare card. What the fare card does is it lets you transfer up to two more times within two hours for 25 cents, rather than requiring payment of another full cash fare, so as long as you need to do that, you will pay less with a fare card than with cash. Passes are good for unlimited rides for a specified duration (1, 3, 7, or 30 days) and are a better deal if you need to take more than one round trip (IOW more than two one-way fares with transfers) per day.

                    >> You get them at the Jewel supermarket at State & Ohio, a 15-minute walk from your hotel.

                    We don't know which hotel you're staying at, but in the Hotwire area you mention, the el station at Chicago and State is almost certainly closer, and you can get passes from the vending machine there. You can buy fare cards at any el station, but only certain stations sell passes. For a complete list of locations where you can buy fare cards and passes, see