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Mar 1, 2011 11:56 AM

In Chicago for 3 Days review my list and tell me what's missing

Hi Everyone,

My husband and I will be in Chicago for 3 days for a wedding. Two nights are taken up by wedding festivities, so we only really have one night for dinner. We'll have 3 days for breakfast and lunch. Take a look at my list and let me know if we're missing anything. We want local specialties and aren't really looking for fancy dinners. We want what the locals get and don't mind traveling, since we'll have a car.
So far

Bongo Room
Ann Sathers (strictly for the rolls)

Lunch & Dinner
Lou Malnatti's
Al's #1
Weiner Circle

These are the places we're really interested in and the type of food we really want to experience. Feel free to tell me I'm doing it wrong or suggest other places to go.


Bongo Room
1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

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  1. You're not doing anything wrong.

    That being said Bongo Room is a great choice. I would not recommend either Yolk or Ann Sathers. If you say where in town you are staying and what your preferred means of transportation is (car, feet, public trans, taxis) we could make other suggestions.

    For lunch (and dinner), I would choose between Malnati's and Uno's or Dues (the same restaurant, basically a block apart), not both. If you're looking for an Italian Beef and/or a Chicago-style hot dog, Portillos is centrally located and does both well.

    The question then becomes what else would you like to try? Hard to know what to recommend. Again location and transportation may matter, but also what kind of food interests you and what you are comfortable spending. Chicago has superb regional Mexican found nowhere else in the U.S. We also have great, authentic Vietnamese, Indian, and Thai and other food not necessarily in those categories. Specific recommendations, however, may depend on your answers to the above questions.

    Bongo Room
    1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

    8 Replies
    1. re: chicgail

      You want to get a bit our of your comfort zone and go for a something new and very Chicago? Go to Papa's Cache Sabroso at 2517 West Division and order a Jibarito. Papa's is a Puerto Rican place specializing in roast chicken, but they make a great Jibarito, an amazing sandwich that uses fried plaintain instead of bread. Seems like the kind of food you're looking for, but not the typical Italian beef, deep dish, etc.

      Papa's Cache Sabroso
      2517 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622

      1. re: chicgail

        I agree with chicgail's reply, absolutely.

        The big problem with your itinerary is that you have quite a bit of virtual duplication. Eliminate the places that are virtual duplicates of each other and you'll have a lot more diversity in your culinary experience here. Malnati's and Uno or Due both serve deep-dish pizza (and there is a family connection; Malnati's was founded by the son of one of the principal players in the early decades of Uno and Due, and he grew up in the restaurants working with his father. Choose one or the other. Similarly, I would not choose Al's, Portillo's, and Weiner's Circle for three separate meals! All three do Chicago-style hot dogs and the first two do Italian beef sandwiches. I'd suggest getting a dog and an Italian beef at Portillo's and skip the other two, and do something different with those meals. As chicgail mentions, we have unusual creative provincial Mexican cuisine which you won't find back home. If I were you, I'd make a reservation at Topolobampo for lunch. I'd consider doing another lunch at one of our contemporary American restaurants like Sable, Blackbird, etc. All of these places are not at all expensive at lunchtime.

        I agree with chicgail about your breakfast choices. Yolk is a very conventional breakfast restaurant, serving eggs and pancakes, something you can easily get back home (regardless of where home is). If you want another breakfast recommendation, I would go to Cafe des Architectes, in the Sofitel. They do a very nice breakfast/brunch and bring French breads/pastries to your table too. And Ann Sather's is nothing special. If you really want great cinnamon rolls, go instead to Fox & Obel, our premier gourmet grocery store, and get their cinnamon swirl rolls. You can eat them in the cafe in the rear (where you can also get a complete meal prepared to order - I recommend the Cobb omelet for breakfast) or get them to go.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Thanks! I think I wax really trying to have some help elimating the duplicates. The breakfast recs sound great and I will have to try topolobampo.
          It's just so hard since we want to try everything!

        2. re: chicgail

          Thanks for the reply. We are staying at the Amalfi and will have a car and are willing to travel. We're from NY so public transportation doesn't scare us and we will travel anywhere if it's good. We are pretty adventurous eaters and love new experiences. We're actually making it a long road trip going through Nashville and Memphis and St Louis on a barbecue tour. Put it this way we think dirtier usually equals better and more soulful. Mexican is always a welcome recommendation.
          I would love more breakfast recs since that seems to be where I'm having the most trouble deciding.
          Thanks for all the tips so far.

          1. re: tnhayes0405

            >> We are staying at the Amalfi and will have a car and are willing to travel. We're from NY so public transportation doesn't scare us and we will travel anywhere if it's good.

            You really don't need a car while you're here. It's like New York - when you're staying in downtown Chicago, you can walk or catch a cab to anything close by, and you'll probably be better off just letting the car sit (especially if you have to pay for parking every time you go in and out). For transit information in the city, see the CTA website at (although I find that Google Maps is often better at routing when you enter your departure and destination points). Note that if you need to transfer between buses or between the el and a bus, it's cheaper to use a fare card which lets you transfer for $.25 instead of paying separate fares. For outlying neighborhoods and the suburbs, you'll have the choice of whether to drive or take public transportation. If I were staying mostly in downtown Chicago, I would NOT rent a car for my visit.

            >> We are pretty adventurous eaters and love new experiences. We're actually making it a long road trip going through Nashville and Memphis and St Louis on a barbecue tour.

            If you are interested in learning what types of food are unique to Chicago and/or specialties here, you may want to read this topic if you haven't already done so...

            first time Chicago -

            >> Mexican is always a welcome recommendation.

            ...and creative provincial Mexican cuisine is right at the top of the list. Topolobampo and Frontera Grill are longtime favorites, and Chef/Owner Rick Bayless is well known for his many years there. He is a big part of why Chicago has such varied Mexican fare; many "alumni" from his staff have gone on to start their own restaurants here.

            Incidentally, if you're planning to go to Topolobampo for lunch, they do fill up in advance. You can make reservations on They are only open for lunch Tuesdays through Fridays, and they typically fill up a few weeks in advance, especially for Fridays.

            We have other great Mexican restaurants too. Salpicon is close to downtown and is very good, but it's dinner only (plus Sunday brunch). Mexique is not far and they serve lunch and brunch too. Mundial Cocina Mestiza is one of my absolute favorites, but is a little further, in Pilsen. Mexique and Mundial do brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

            >> I would love more breakfast recs since that seems to be where I'm having the most trouble deciding.

            I've already mentioned my top three picks in the downtown area: Bongo Room, Fox & Obel (for their baked goods), and Cafe des Architectes (for an elegant breakfast/brunch). If you are interested in traveling for a good/unusual breakfast, here are a couple more. There are two "twin" restaurants about seven miles north of downtown, M. Henry in the Andersonville neighborhood ( ) and M. Henrietta in the Edgewater/Uptown neighborhood ( ). They have great "blisscakes" (pancakes with fruit and mascarpone) and on Saturdays and Sundays do a great bread pudding. M. Henrietta is right at an el (elevated/subway) stop (the Granville stop on the CTA Red Line).

            I also love Walker Brothers ( ) in the northern suburbs. It's like a hyper version of the Original Pancake House chain, with the highest quality of everything (which is why they're the only franchisee allowed to put their own name on the restaurants). The restaurants feature amazing carved wood and stained glass (including a few pieces of original Tiffany). Don't miss the huge puffed-up cinnamony apple pancake!

            Another good place for breakfast, not as far from downtown, is Jam in West Town. A little bit further (but not as far as M. Henry or Walker Brothers) is Southport Grocery, in Lakeview. I've posted detailed reports on these and other places in the big brunch/breakfast discussion at

            1. re: tnhayes0405

              Some suggestions given your criteria:
              Rick Bayless' Topolobambo or Frontera Grill top any list and those can be lunch or dinner.
              Mexique in a neighborhood called Westown is Mexican with a French twist. Mexique also does a nice Sunday brunch.
              Mundial Cocina Mestiza or Nuevo Leon in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood called Pilsen. Mundial serves very creative food in a tablecloth environment. Nuevo is an excellent example of more typical Mexican fare.
              Las Asadas is a tiny storefront in Bucktown, not far from the el, that serves excellent carne asada tacos
              Big Star in Bucktown is a much trendier restaurant with very creative tacos
              Los Nopales earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand mention. It's a very good (BYO?) place on Western Avenue.
              There are many more options worth trying, but this is a start.

              Asian/Latin fusion
              Belly Shack, literally under the el at the same stop as for Las Asadas, specializes in cheap, awesome Asian/Latin fusion Plastic Chairs. BYOB.

              On Argyle at Broadway in Chicago, is a Vietnamese neighborhood with tons of places for Pho and other Vietnamese specialties. I like Tank on the corner. Others have other favorites.

              Devon Avenue is the home of this community. Not my personal favorite cuisine, but a lot of options if you like it.

              For authentic Thai, most people name Spoon Thai, TAC or Sticky Rice (northern Thai). All tiny, inexpensive and BYO.

              The Chicago public transportation system is probably not as easy or extensive as NYC's, but is helpful for how to get around.

              TAC Quick
              3930 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60613

              Mundial Cocina Mestiza
              1640 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

              Pho Xe Tang (Tank Noodle
              )4953 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640

              Los Nopales Mexican Restaurant
              4544 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

              Spoon Thai
              4608 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

              Sticky Rice
              4018 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

              Frontera Grill
              445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

              445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

              Nuevo Leon Restaurant
              1515 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

              1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

              1. re: chicgail

                You can take the ? of the BYO for Los Nopales. It is BYOB and I don't think there is a corkage fee either.

                1. re: lbs

                  Menu showed a corkage fee at Los Nopales within the last couple weeks.

          2. Well, just made a lunch reservation at Topolobampo and we're very excited. Have decided on portillo's for a very filling lunch and my husband's eyes lit up at the idea of cinnamon swirls at Fox and Obel. Thanks so much for all the ideas. We still don't leave for another week so if there are any more suggestions please send along. Thanks!

            445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610