Wondering about a couple different areas (Evanston, Wicker Park)
I'll be in town in April for my 30th B-day and we're going to some areas I'm less familiar with. I'll be at SPACE in Evanston on Friday night and I'll be at a show in Wicker Park on Saturday. I'm staying downtown at The Allerton and I have a car but will be using the public transportation to get around. I read the recent post on Evanston and I didn't see much there that really stood out. So my thoughts are should we catch some dinner on the way there or is there somewhere there that is really worth it. Here are my thoughts so far:
Thursday: Kuma's or Depot Diner on the drive in, Nacional 27, CDA, or Cafe Spiaggia, Watershed for drinks
Friday: Fronterra Lunch, then on the way to Evanston maybe hit Tango Sur or Sapore Di Napoli (we love BYOB) or maybe somewhere in Evanston Pete Millers?
Saturday: Breakfast maybe Orange or HoS then a late lunch and snacking at the French Market, Dinner @ Big Star in Wicker Park.
I've spent a lot of time downtown but none in the Evanston as well as Wicker Park. So let me know if I'm missing out on any food spots and if there are any good late night (not fancy, we love dive) bars around these areas. Thanks for the help!
3763 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60613
325 W. Huron, Chicago, IL 60610
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Sapore Di Napoli
1406 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60657
I'll address the Evanston part first. There are some outstanding restaurants in Evanston, and they vary in cuisine and price. If you don't see much, you're just not looking very hard!
Let's start with SPACE and the area around it. SPACE is behind Union Pizzeria, just south of Dempster. They let you order a pizza at Union and bring it in to SPACE, but I do not recommend doing so. The seating at SPACE is such that you will either be 4-6 seats crowded around a tiny cocktail table, or you will be in a row of seats with nowhere to put the pizza. You can eat at SPACE before the show, but honestly I didn't care much for the pizza there.
There are a few other restaurants in the immediate vicinity, but nothing I would recommend, with the exception of Blind Faith for vegetarian cuisine. There are two much larger concentrations of restaurants not too far away, around Main Street a half mile south of SPACE, and all of downtown Evanston a half mile north of SPACE. Note that, for public transportation, the el stops at Main, Dempster (near SPACE), and Davis (near downtown Evanston), while Metra commuter trains stop at Main and Davis but not Dempster. So, for example, you could take the CTA or Metra to Main Street, eat at one of the restaurants there for dinner, and then walk the half mile north to SPACE, and take the el back from Dempster.
Around Main and Chicago, you have several excellent choices. Oceanique is an upscale restaurant with a focus on seafood and I think it's the best restaurant in all of Evanston. Cross Rhodes is a very casual inexpensive restaurant serving gyros and other Greek dishes. Campagnola is an excellent moderately-priced Italian restaurant. Lupita's is the best Mexican restaurant in Evanston (if you go, concentrate on the weekly specials). And Lucky Platter is a casual place serving eclectic American and global cuisine. Oceanique, Campagnola, and Cross Rhodes may very well be the best expensive, mid-priced, and inexpensive restaurants in all of Evanston.
In downtown Evanston, there are many, many choices. You mention Pete Miller's, which is an excellent steakhouse. Chef's Station serves excellent contemporary American cuisine. The Stained Glass is a wine bar that also has excellent contemporary American cuisine. Thai Sookdee is my favorite Thai restaurant in the Chicago area (their tom kha gai soup is awesome). If you enjoy deep-dish pizza, there's Lou Malnati's for single-crust "pizza in the pan" and Giordano's for double-crust "stuffed pizza". I consider this group the best places in downtown Evanston.
There are lots more choices in downtown Evanston. Bistro Bordeaux is a French bistro; I had a couple of excellent dinners when they opened a year ago, but I recently ate there and it was just okay. Other restaurants downtown include Lulu's Dim Sum (pan-Asian), Koi (Chinese), Pine Yard (Chinese), Merle's (barbecue), Davis Street Fishmarket (seafood), Bat 17 (sandwiches/deli), Dixie Kitchen (cajun/creole), Mt. Everest (Indian), Tapas Barcelona (tapas), and That Little Mexican Cafe (Mexican). One more option is Prairie Moon, which is located at the south end of downtown Evanston so it's a bit closer to SPACE than the other downtown places mentioned here. Prairie Moon has American food and it's sort of sports bar-ish, but the food is very good.
If I were eating at SPACE and wanted to eat at a place that's reasonably close and has great food, my top picks would be Oceanique, Campagnola, Prairie Moon, or Cross Rhodes, depending on what kind of food you want and how much you want to spend.
Now, moving on to the rest of your plans...
>> Thursday: Kuma's or Depot Diner on the drive in, Nacional 27, CDA, or Cafe Spiaggia, Watershed for drinks
All three of those dinner options are good choices; it's just a matter of what kind of food you are interested in (Latin fusion, contemporary American/French, or Italian).
>> Friday: Fronterra Lunch, then on the way to Evanston maybe hit Tango Sur or Sapore Di Napoli (we love BYOB) or maybe somewhere in Evanston Pete Millers?
I assume either you have a reservation at Frontera Grill, or are aware that you may need to wait a LONG time to be seated. If you don't already have a reservation at Frontera, I recommend instead making one on Opentable.com for Topolobampo, its sister restaurant next door (it's actually just another dining room inside Frontera). Topolobampo is a lot more expensive at dinnertime, but lunch prices are very similar to Frontera's, and it's easy to get a reservation at Topolobampo.
For dinner, there are so many excellent places in Evanston, I recommend choosing one and eating there. That will work a lot better than eating elsewhere, which would require you to eat earlier to allow time to travel to Evanston after dinner.
>> Saturday: Breakfast maybe Orange or HoS then a late lunch and snacking at the French Market, Dinner @ Big Star in Wicker Park.
Note that Heaven on Seven serves breakfast only at its Loop (Wabash) location, not the location on Rush Street in River North.
Feel free to ask more questions!
Very good stuff! So then my plan for now is Prairie Moon or Cross Rhodes on the night we're in Evanston. What are your thoughts on Big Star for the night we're in Wicker Park? Also, the breakfast is tough for me because I'm not a huge fan of breakfast but the people I'm going with love it. I had a friend recommend Orange and I've read up on HoS but it seems pretty standard. I think the Bongo Room would be great but it's a ways away right? Also any great casual bars or happy hours in the areas we will be in would be great. Thanks again for all your help.
1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605
>> What are your thoughts on Big Star for the night we're in Wicker Park?
I haven't been there, so I have no thoughts. Hopefully someone else here can comment.
>> Also, the breakfast is tough for me because I'm not a huge fan of breakfast but the people I'm going with love it. I had a friend recommend Orange and I've read up on HoS but it seems pretty standard. I think the Bongo Room would be great but it's a ways away right?
Right. Bongo Room has two locations, one in the South Loop that's about two miles south of the Allerton (a short trip by cab, bus, or el), and the other in Wicker Park that's about 2.8 miles northwest of the Allerton.
And you're right, Orange is pretty good, but won't blow you away. One nice thing, they have fresh fruit juices (you can select your own blend).
The best breakfast near the Allerton is probably Cafe des Architectes, in the Sofitel, just a few blocks away. They serve a nice a la carte brunch on Saturdays and Sundays; I love the variety you get on their "brunch sampler" and they bring that basket of French breads/pastries to the table, yum! I haven't been there for a weekday breakfast but I'm sure that's good too.
Another good choice for breakfast, a few blocks further north, is the Original Pancake House on East Bellevue.
>> Also any great casual bars or happy hours in the areas we will be in would be great.
I love Sable, which is also only a few blocks from the Allerton, in the Palomar. It's casual and they have great artisanal cocktails. I also love the food; it's worth considering for a dinner, even during a brief stay. Many of their dishes are available in half portions if you're just grazing while drinking. Don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!
Big Star is excellent, but it's largely a bar -- good beers and margaritas -- with innovative, interesting, and tasty tacos. It's a happening place, especially in the summer when the outdoor area is open. It may be exactly what you want. Wicker Park has lots of very good restaurants if it's not.
Orange is good. Bongo is better. There's actually a Bongo Room in Wicker Park on Milwaukee Avenue. On Saturday, unless you go really early, plan on a long (45-60 minute) wait. Other good breakfast places include Toast (there's on in Bucktown, right next to WP and one in Lincoln Park), Breakfast Club, Inas in the West Loop and Meli's Cafe in Greektown.
1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605
1381 W Hubbard St, Chicago, IL 60642
There are lots more breakfast places around, but honestly, most of them do rather conventional eggs and pancakes, nothing special. I could name a lot more of them, but if that's all you're looking for, you may as well go somewhere close to your hotel (like Orange or Tempo, which is a diner type place). And the big problem (to which chicgail alluded) is that none of them take reservations, so that long waits to be seated are prevalent on Saturdays and Sundays, unless you go early (typically before about 9:30 you won't have problems).
A few of the breakfast places offer food that's more unusual and creative than just plain old omelets and pancakes. These include Bongo Room as well as Jam (in West Town), M. Henry (in Andersonville), M. Henrietta (in Edgewater), Southport Grocery (in Lakeview), and Toast (in Bucktown and Lincoln Park), which chicgail mentioned and which does a nice stuffed French toast. I've reported on some of them in the big brunch discussion at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/364403 You still have the problem of long waits on weekends at these places, though.
Not a lot of places offer brunch (as distinct from breakfast) on a Saturday, but a few do, and some of these take reservations so waiting is not an issue. One is Cafe des Architectes; I really do think their brunch is a big step above the conventional breakfast places in quality, plus it's only a few blocks from the Allerton. Another is Deleece in Lakeview (about five miles north), where I had Saturday brunch earlier this month (see the brunch topic for a detailed report). Both Cafe des Architectes and Deleece accept reservations on Opentable.com
Several of our creative Mexican restaurants also offer brunch on Saturdays. Frontera Grill does, but I don't recommend it if you don't have a reservation; I recently called ahead and found out that the wait was 90 minutes. But if you don't mind traveling to Pilsen (about four miles southwest of the Allerton, and on the CTA Orange Line), Mundial Cocina Mestiza does an awesome a la carte brunch on Saturdays as well as Sundays. They take reservations over the phone, but in case you don't have one, I haven't seen any waits for brunch there.
Here are links to the brunch menus at these places, which will give you a better idea of what they have (especially if you're looking to avoid the standard breakfast stuff):
Cafe des Architectes - www.cafedesarchitectes.com/popups/pop...
Bongo Room - http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...
Mundial Cocina Mestiza - www.mundialcocinamestiza.com/pdf/Brun...
Jam - www.jamrestaurant.com/brunchmenu
M. Henry - www.mhenry.net/menu.html
M. Henrietta - www.mhenrietta.com/menu.php
Southport Grocery - www.southportgrocery.com/cafe-grocery...
Toast - www.toast-chicago.com
Deleece - www.deleece.com/pdf/brunch.pdf
So I leave in a week and I have this so far:
Watershed for Drinks
Bongo Room/French Market
Dinner: Cross Rhodes
Dinner: Big Star
This Saturday lunch is driving me crazy. I thought maybe Chinatown or some Thai? Is it worth the trip to Chinatown or can I get something just as good closer? I looked at Reza's? Maybe some great Italian lunch or any crazy/unique suggestions? Are there any great happy hours around the loop or mag mile for Thursday or Friday? Thanks for the help.
If you want to stay nearer the Loop on Saturday, you might like Hong Kong Cafe at Wabash and Madison ... on the third floor of the Jewelers Building. Had lunch there recently with a group of local food lovers and it was really good ... very low key, family feel, get the sesame balls for desert. Salt and pepper fish was stellar, shrimp and walnuts wonderful and lots more - very inexpensive. http://www.chicagohkcafe.com/directio...
Big Star is fun - especially if you can sit outside. Small menu, smaller prices, tasty food and just all round good feeling. If you're there early evening, consider a cocktail across the street at Violet Hour before they get so busy to have a big line.
1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
>> This Saturday lunch is driving me crazy. I thought maybe Chinatown or some Thai? Is it worth the trip to Chinatown or can I get something just as good closer? I looked at Reza's? Maybe some great Italian lunch or any crazy/unique suggestions?
What your itinerary now lacks is any of our creative provincial Mexican cuisine. This is one of the strengths of Chicago and it's impossible to find in most cities this side of the border with Mexico. (Take a look at the menus on the restaurant websites to understand how this differs from the conventional Mexican cuisine found in most of the United States.) Furthermore, many of those Mexican restaurants are open for brunch/lunch on Saturdays, which makes them a perfect choice. This would be my top recommendation BY FAR for brunch/lunch on Saturday. Earlier you had mentioned Frontera Grill; however, unless you have a reservation (unlikely), you'll need to wait 90+ minutes for their Saturday brunch, which to me is not acceptable. Last time I wanted a Mexican brunch, I went instead to Mundial Cocina Mestiza, and it was fantastic. Mundial is in the Pilsen neighborhood about three miles southwest of the Loop. Mixteco Grill is another excellent choice, and it's on the north side, which makes it particularly convenient to Evanston, and somewhat so to Wicker Park. If you're staying in Wicker Park (or in the downtown hotel district), Mexique is very close and it's another great choice. All these are open for brunch on Saturdays and I recommend any of them as a great example of some of Chicago's best, most unique food. Mexique accepts reservations on Opentable as well as over the phone; Mundial and Mixteco accept reservations over the phone only.
I would not choose Chinese or Thai or Italian over Mexican. However, if you insist... In my recent experience, the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown are much, MUCH better than any place I've been elsewhere in the Chicago area. As for Thai food, my favorite Thai restaurant in the Chicago area is Thai Sookdee in Evanston (their tom kha gai soup is outstanding). For Italian, I know Cafe Spiaggia is open for lunch on Saturdays and would be a good choice. I hate to be repetitive, but I think you're missing out on something special if you don't have our Mexican cuisine while you're here.
So since I was thinking Big Star for Dinner on Saturday, maybe I'll do Mexique Brunch then do Piece for dinner. Instead of doing 2 mexicanish meals in the same day I'll skip Big Star. I'm staying at the Allerton so that should be a pretty cheap cab ride over to Mexique on Saturday right? It looks pretty reasonably priced as well for brunch so that's a plus.
1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
Sorry, I missed the reference to Big Star. But I think Mexique is really great, and more unusual. Mexique is two miles west of the Allerton on Chicago Avenue. So yes, it's a very cheap cab ride. Or you can take the #66 CTA bus up Chicago Ave.
As for your other meal on Saturday, have you had our delicious deep-dish pizza, at places like Uno/Due or Pizano's? (Or, you could flip these if you like - deep-dish for lunch, Mexique for dinner - or leave them with Mexique for brunch. You can see both menus on Mexique's website, to help you decide.)