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Mar 20, 2011 09:14 AM

Mom & Daughter Spring Break - need casual but delicious and off the beaten path recos

My daughters (10 and 6) and I are headed to Chicago for a little Spring Break getaway Wed-Saturday of this week. I'm a big foodie and want to make sure my girls are aware of all things non-chicken fingers and french fries. They're relatively adventurous, though menu items that are somewhat familiar to fall back on are good, just in case. We're well on our way down the expanding horizons path and I see this trip as a way to help us progress further.

I know there are a number of posts from families, traveling with kids, looking for restaurant recos and I've taken note of several of those options. What I'm specifically looking for are lunch and dinner spots that have great food, but are more on the casual side than the upscale side. We like to explore different cuisines and styles of food and one of our favorite kinds of restaurants in Minneapolis are those that enable us to order a bunch of different things and share. We're staying downtown, near Michigan Ave. and will be traveling by cab or El. Cute and charming neighborhoods outside of downtown are a plus, as long as they're easily accessible by public transport.

Thanks for any help you can provide!

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  1. There are a few casual and inexpensive restaurants in the downtown area that feature small plates, so let's start with those:

    Cafe Iberico (tapas) -
    Quartino (Italian) -
    Sable (contemporary American) -

    I'd also recommend going to the French Market, a public market in one of the downtown commuter train stations featuring a lot of booths from local vendors. Some of the best include Vanille Patisserie for pastries, Pastoral for cheese and sandwiches, and Canady le Chocolatier for artisanal chocolates.

    As for recommendations outside the downtown area, there are a lot of ethnic neighborhoods where you can find just about anything. I suggest you go check out this topic:

    Where are the best Chicago dinner *values* - the hidden gems? -

    Look down past my first reply (which outlines some of the best values in upscale-ish restaurants downtown) to my second reply in that topic, which outlines where various ethnic neighborhoods are, and mentions the closest CTA stop to each.

    Here is a discussion that talks about various food neighborhoods around the city:

    Best Chicago Foodie 'Hood -

    This discussion should also be useful to you, as it outlines what foods are unique to Chicago and some of the best places to get them:

    first time Chicago -

    Oh, and just a quick summary - If I had to give you only a handful of "don't miss picks" based on what you've asked, they would include Bongo Room for breakfast, Uno/Due/Malnati's/Pizano's for deep-dish pizza, Mundial Cocina Mestiza for Mexican, and Sable for contemporary. Beyond those, it all depends on what kinds of food you like - Double Li if you like Chinese, Greek Town if you like Greek, etc.

    All of that should give you some great ideas for what you're looking for. After reading through them, you may have more specific questions, and please feel free to ask and we'll try to help!

    Enjoy your visit!

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Wow - this is excellent! I can't thank you enough. We're really excited for the trip and your recos are making me even more excited! The French Market sounds perfect and I can just imagine my chocoholic daughter thinking I'm the best mom ever for bringing her there. I'm checking out the other links you recommended immediately!

    2. You should definitely spend some time in Chinatown. It's easy to get to (Red Line El, about 10 min from the Loop). There a lots of interesting shops, so that's fun, but also great food! The bakeries provide an opportunity to try a variety of snack-sized things on the cheap (so not a big loss if you don't like them). There are also any number of good restaurants. If you're really feeling adventurous, dim sum on the weekends is a lot of fun. I like Phoenix, but a search of the boards will tell you everyone has a favorite. Be prepared for a long wait for a table though, especially as you get closer to lunch time.

      I'd also recommend Avec on Randolph in the West Loop. They don't take reservations and it's very small, but I'm guessing with kids you'll be eating earlier. If you get there by 5:30 or 6 you shouldn't have a long wait, if at all. Lots of small plates, very friendly staff. Normally I don't think of it as a place for kids, but I was there last week and saw a surprising number of families, all seemed to be having a good time. The food is wonderful! It's not super cheap but not overly expensive either especially if you're sharing.

      Wherever you end up I hope you have a great time!

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

      6 Replies
      1. re: Hissyfit

        I've never seen kids at Avec - it's basically a wine bar and restaurant - but except where they're actually forbidden (as at Hopleaf), you can bring kids anywhere. However, Avec is also one of my least favorite restaurants; it's REALLY NOISY, the seats are the most uncomfortable ones in the entire city (they consist of a flat wooden stool, a flat wooden bench, or a flat wooden box), you're stuck sitting with strangers whether you want to or not (it's 100 percent communal seating, with a bar and all eight-tops), and I've found the food disappointing. That's why I didn't recommend it in the other topics to which I posted links, which are chock full of much better recommendations (including some in Chinatown).

        1. re: nsxtasy

          I'll admit, I was surprised to see kids there too, but there were at least 2 families there with kids under the age of 10 on a recent Tuesday night and everyone seemed very content. Admittedly the little folks were kept busy playing on iphones, but I've been around adults who were less well-behaved. And it is loud, but earlier in the evening, it's not as bad. Mostly I suggested it as a unique, out of the ordinary place. I've had good food experiences there. That's the wonderful thing about Chicago, there are SO MANY great places, you can't really go wrong if you do a little research.

        2. re: Hissyfit

          Thanks Hissyfit - I didn't even realize Chicago had a Chinatown. Sounds like a great area to explore and we love Asian food!

          1. re: mplskegleys

            Chicago has specific neighborhoods where you'll find Chinese, Greek, Indian/Pakistani, Vietnamese, Mexican, etc. And in each case, that neighborhood has many of the very best examples of those cuisines. There are lots of other types of ethnic food, but many of them are not necessarily concentrated in one particular neighborhood.

            If you plan to be doing a lot of your traveling by el, you should become familiar with how the various fares work. Kids under 7 ride free with a fare-paying adult, and kids 7-11 are eligible for reduced fares. Fare cards are a better deal than paying cash if you can use transfers; when you buy a fare on an el or bus using a fare card, you can transfer up to two times more in the following two hours for $.25. (If you pay cash, you'll have to pay another full fare for the second ride.) There are also 3-day and 7-day CTA passes that provide unlimited rides, which work out to a better deal if you're paying more than two fares per day. Fare cards are sold at all CTA stations and lots of other places, but the CTA passes are only sold in certain stations and places. For information on all of these aspects and more, see the CTA website at

            1. re: nsxtasy

              This is so wonderful! Thanks for the great tips. We'll definitely take advantage of the passes.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Yes, I was just thinking of neighborhoods that would seem exotic to your daughters. Devon Avenue (6400 North) around Western Ave is all Indian/Pakistani. In addition to dozens of restaurants offering ad lib lunch buffets for $8 it's all stores displaying saris, wedding shoes with turned-up toes, Hindu religious artifacts, etc. The grocery stores are fascinating---try Patel's (2610 Devon) and also the produce store on the same corner of the same block, look for green awning. If lunch would be too spicy for the girls, time your visit so you just go to a sweets shop for a snack. To get there from downtown take the Red Line subway (runs under State Street) in direction Howard; get off at Loyola. As you exit the station you will be in front of McDonald's at a bus stop---take the Devon 155 bus to Western (ask driver to call it---10 minutes). From Western, stroll in the same direction the bus was going. And do follow nsxtas's advice about bus passes, available near your hotel at Jewel Supermarket, State between Grand and Ohio.

          2. Thank you all for your recommendations! We had a great time in Chicago. Unfortunately, our aggressive daytime schedules proved to tucker out the girls. However, Quartino was just two blocks away from our hotel so we hit it twice. It was a solid hit with us. Can't wait to come back.

            626 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60654