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Mar 11, 2011 07:02 PM

Dinner with college kids

We are visiting our son who is a freshman in college and taking him and four buddies out to dinner tomorrow...staying downtown and looking for something that would be fun for them but have really good food for us...any suggestions? Need help with this as we don't know Chicago

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  1. What about a place like Cafe Babareba? It is a tapas restaurant so you can select lots of different foods. It is really great food. Or, if you want Mexican, Rick Bayless has Frontera Grill. Also good. Enjoy!

    Frontera Grill
    445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

    1. Here are some places I would recommend. Note that you don't mention exactly where you will be downtown; the areas generally considered downtown extend for about three miles, so I'm shooting in the dark without knowing where you will be. But here goes anyway.

      If you want a place that's rather noisy and lively, you can consider any of these (note that most of these lively places have bars so there will be some drinking, obviously not by college freshmen, but just thought I'd mention it):

      Quartino (Italian small plates) -
      Sable (contemporary American) -
      Nacional 27 (Latin fusion) -
      Carnivale (Latin fusion) -
      Sunda (pan-Asian) -
      Red Light (pan-Asian) -
      Mercat a la Planxa (tapas) -
      Uno and Due (deep-dish pizza) -
      Pizano's (deep-dish pizza) -

      Here are a few more places but ones that are not quite as lively/noisy and don't emphasize alcohol quite as much:

      Salpicon (Mexican) -
      Cafe Spiaggia (Italian) -
      Cibo Matto (Italian) -
      La Sardine (French bistro) -
      Kiki's Bistro (French bistro) -
      David Burke's Primehouse (steakhouse) -
      Shaw's (seafood) -

      All of these except the pizza places accept advance reservations on and I STRONGLY recommend making a reservation for a Saturday night, rather than just walking in and risking a long wait for a table. One other exception is La Sardine, which accepts reservations on its own website but not on Opentable. And of course you can also reserve over the phone.

      If you would like to mention where you're staying, I can tell you which of these places are close by, and maybe throw in a few more recommendations in the immediate vicinity.

      Oh, and regarding the recommendations in the previous reply above, there are so many great restaurants downtown that I wouldn't bother traveling to Lincoln Park for Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba. It's good, but no need to travel that far, especially with so many great places right downtown. And I would not recommend Frontera Grill; it too is good, but on a Saturday for dinner, if you don't already have a reservation, you're probably looking at waiting 90-120 minutes to be seated.


      2 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thanks for all the recs... We're staying at the Drake.... didn't realize downtown meant so many neighborhoods ... I 'll have to learn because we're moving to Chicago permanently in the fall!

        1. re: normnew

          Congratulations and welcome!

          Here's a VERY brief overview of the area considered "downtown Chicago". Chicago's longtime historical downtown is called "The Loop", originally named after the loop that streetcars made around it, and now by elevated ("el") trains. Boundaries include Lake Michigan on the east and the Chicago River on the north and west. The area across the Chicago River just north of the Loop is called River North. The "Magnificent Mile" of North Michigan Avenue, with its shopping and hotels, extends from the Chicago River north to Oak Street, at the Drake, and the area east of the Mag Mile is called Streeterville. The Gold Coast is the area around the north end of the Mag Mile. The areas just west and south of the Loop are appropriately named the West Loop and South Loop. All of those areas are often referred to as "downtown Chicago", and you'll find plenty of restaurants, hotels, and office buildings in all of them.

          I'm retyping the list of places I mentioned above, and preceding each with the approximate distance in miles from the Drake (I'm not looking these up so I could be off by a few tenths here or there):

          0.6 Quartino (Italian small plates) -
          0.6 Sable (contemporary American) -
          0.8 Nacional 27 (Latin fusion) -
          1.4 Carnivale (Latin fusion) -
          0.6 Sunda (pan-Asian) -
          1.6 Red Light (pan-Asian) -
          1.6 Mercat a la Planxa (tapas) -
          0.6 Uno and Due (deep-dish pizza) -
          0.2 Pizano's ON STATE (deep-dish pizza) -

          0.5 Salpicon (Mexican) -
          0.0 Cafe Spiaggia (Italian) -
          1.0 Cibo Matto (Italian) -
          1.6 La Sardine (French bistro) -
          0.5 Kiki's Bistro (French bistro) -
          0.6 David Burke's Primehouse (steakhouse) -
          0.7 Shaw's (seafood) -

          Here are more good places that are particularly close to the Drake:

          0.1 Le Colonial (Vietnamese) -
          0.2 Balsan (contemporary American) -
          0.2 Gibson's (steakhouse) -
          0.2 Hugo's Frog Bar (seafood) -
          0.2 Mity Nice Grill (comfort food) -
          0.2 Foodlife (casual food court) -
          0.2 Saloon (steakhouse) -
          0.2 Bistro 110 (French bistro) -
          0.2 Cafe des Architectes (contemporary American) -
          0.2 Bistronomic (contemporary American-French) -

          And if you're also looking for a good breakfast while you're there, the Original Pancake House on East Bellevue is only a couple of blocks away. Don't miss the apple pancake! Beware, though, there may be long waits for a table on a Sunday morning. Cafe des Architectes is an alternative for a nice Sunday brunch and you can make reservations there to avoid a wait.

 is a great way to see what's available at the last minute; with a few clicks on your computer keyboard, you can see the availability of all of these places at the time you want. However, if you still have any problems making them via Opentable or over the phone, you might want to see the concierge in your hotel; sometimes they can get you an opening when you can't find any availability yourself.

      2. Not a particular restaurant but just a general observation about taking college kids out to dinner: Assuming that they are all omnivores, I bet they would really appreciate steak. I recall a few years ago, when our son & niece were both in school, we took them out to an Italian restaurant. They both ordered steak because it is not something they ever got in the college dining hall (or if they did, it was certainly not restaurant quality). It doesn't mean you need to go to a "steakhouse." One of the French bistro, like La Sardine or Kiki's, will have steak frites, which would be fine. By contrast, pizza is probably within their budget, so taking them to a pizza place (Pizzano's) would probably be less of a treat for them.

        La Sardine
        111 N Carpenter St, Chicago, IL 60607

        1. Wondering if Maggiano's might fit the bill? Texas De Brasil? Bandera?

          Bandera Restaurant
          535 N Michigan Ave Ste 208, Chicago, IL 60611

          1. Thank you all.., went to Texas de was perfect...the boys enjoyed stuffing themselves with meat .and I thought it was delicious. I will keep all the recs for when our move here is completed in a few months. Thanks again for all your help. !

            1 Reply
            1. re: normnew

              Glad it worked out.

              Keep in mind, when you move here, if you're not living downtown, there may be other places that we can recommend close to where you live. Some of Chicago's best and most interesting restaurants are in outlying neighborhoods in the city as well as in the suburbs.