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Mar 26, 2011 01:33 PM

Foodies traveling with kids, looking for some great meals in downtown Chicago

Staying at the Drake hotel; kids are pre-teens, well-behaved and adventurous eaters; Looking for a couple expensive restaurants and a couple more moderate. Anything but asian and french, please. Willing to drive, but would also like to find some within walking distance.

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  1. You shouldn't need to drive, unless you plan to go to outlying neighborhoods or the suburbs. There are TONS of places within walking distance of the Drake.

    This recent request was virtually identical to yours - foodies traveling with their kids and staying at the Drake (although the latter part was only mentioned in a subsequent post). You'll see I've posted top recommendations downtown, showing distances from the Drake for each, followed by a second group of more restaurants that are particularly close to the Drake (again with distances):

    Dinner with college kids -

    Check it out, and if you still have questions, feel free to ask!

    7 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thank you, the distances are particularly helpful. Any specific unique-to-Chicago dining experience recommendations?

      1. re: kmarriner

        >> Any specific unique-to-Chicago dining experience recommendations?

        Recommendations for unique-to-Chicago dining experiences are described in detail in this discussion:

        first time Chicago -

        Here's how far the recommendations described in that topic are from the Drake:

        0.2 Pizano's on State (deep-dish pizza) -
        0.8 Portillo's (Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches) -
        2.0 Alinea (expensive fine dining) -
        0.8 Frontera Grill and Topolobampo (provincial Mexican) -
        2.0 North Pond (contemporary American in the park) -
        2.5 French Market (food court) -
        0.4 Garrett's Popcorn on Michigan Avenue -
        0.7 Fox & Obel (gourmet food store, great baked goods) -

        A word about reservations. The first two and last three places on this list are "cheap eats" where you can go any time, without reservations (although you can call ahead to Pizano's with your pizza order if you don't want to wait 30+ minutes while you're already seated for it to bake). Alinea accepts reservations only over the phone, and you have to call 2-3 months ahead of time (they open reservations on the first of each month, for the month two months after that). North Pond takes reservations on Opentable and they're not all that hard to get.

        Frontera Grill (or "Frontera") and Topolobampo ("Topo") are another story entirely, and this is why I mentioned Salpicon among my recommendations near the Drake. Frontera and Topo are side by side, with a common entrance (Topo is actually just a dining room inside Frontera). Frontera accepts only a handful of reservations over the phone, and keeps most of the dining room available for walk-in customers. Waits to be seated are almost always horrendous, unless you arrive 15-20 minutes before they open the doors. Topo accepts reservations on Dinner reservations at Topo fill up shortly after they become available three months in advance. Topo also serves lunch on weekdays, and lunch reservations don't fill up all that far in advance, 1-3 weeks usually. Topo is a lot more expensive than Frontera at dinner, but they are similar in price for lunch. If you sit at the bar at Frontera, you can order off either menu.

        Because of the long waits at Frontera and difficulty getting dinner reservations at Topo, you may want to consider one of our other restaurants offering creative provincial Mexican cuisine, which is one of our specialties that's difficult to find in most other American cities this side of the border with Mexico. In the other topic, I already listed Salpicon, which is in Old Town half a mile from the Drake. Salpicon is only open for dinner and Sunday brunch, and reservations are easy to find on One other excellent creative Mexican restaurant is Mexique, which is in West Town about 2.3 miles west of the Drake, and again, it's easy to reserve on Opentable. Bottom line, unless you're making reservations three months in advance, Topolobampo is a good choice for lunch, Salpicon for dinner, and (if you're not trying to stay within walking distance) Mexique for either lunch or dinner.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          If you want something fairly quick, fresh but casual. You might consider Foodlife in the Water Tower Mall. They have multiple options for all your family members. You can view menu options at this web site.

          835 N Michigan Ave Ste Mezz4, Chicago, IL 60611

          1. re: twodales

            Yup, it's one of the places listed along with its website address in the first link provided above. :)

            1. re: nsxtasy

              I must have missed it when I scanned the posting. : )

          2. re: nsxtasy

            Thanks so much for the comprehensive list of restaurant ideas. We tried several of them, and had very good experiences. Here are some details:

            Cafe Spiaggia: Great gnocchi, loved the beet salad, excellent meatballs; Pasta with clams just ok; Kids didn't like the grilled chicken on the kids menu, but they loved plain old pasta with marinara

            Frontera Grill: Everything was great - Creamy and flavorful guacamole, Sopes Rancheros were delicious, pork tacos were good, and Enchiladas de Carnitas were full of flavor (heavy on lime, but really good). The only disappointment were the kid's taquitos -- kind of greasy and not a hit with my son. Topolo margaritas were also good.

            Hugo's Frog Bar: Excellent crab cakes, very good prawns, juicy cheeseburger burger (hit with our 11-year-old); Had the cod and sea bass dishes -- good but not great. Dessert is a show-stopper here -- one dessert is enough for a family of five. The key lime pie and chocolate mousse pie were both outstanding.

            Portillo's: Big hit with our family, especially the Chicago-style hot dog, italian beef sandwich with sweet and hot peppers, italian sausage sandwich with sweet peppers, and chili cheese dog. Cheese fries were good, and the kids liked the chocolate cake shake.

            Again, thanks for the suggestions. We had a set of great meals.

            Frontera Grill
            445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

            Cafe Spiaggia
            980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

            1. re: kmarriner

              So glad you enjoyed yourselves. Be sure to come back and try some other options!

              Thanks for sharing too!

      2. Frontera or Topolobampo

        Also, I think you'd like Avec. Absolutely delicious, and you can share tons of different small/large dishes since it's served family-style (my family of 3 ended up sampling 6 or so dishes), so you get lots of different flavors to try. I was especially in love with their chorizo/date small plate, and the pork main dish. Amazing!

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

        445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

        2 Replies
        1. re: loveballet101

          >> Frontera or Topolobampo

          Detailed information about both of these options (and other Mexican restaurants) has already been posted above.

          >> Avec.

          Beware, Avec has a LOT of downsides that you need to know before deciding to go there. They don't take reservations and waits to be seated are often 60-90 minutes or more on weekends and opera nights, unless you go really early or really late. They ONLY have communal seating so you'll be sitting at a table alongside strangers, or at the bar alongside strangers. It's one of the LOUDEST restaurants in the city, and has the most uncomfortable seating in the city (you have a choice of wooden backless barstools, wooden backless boxes, or a wooden bench). All for food that I found really disappointing (although some like it).

          1. re: loveballet101

            Avec's a great suggestion ... I'd also consider Province for a good meal that shows off the local focus on Chicago chefs.

            Sable at the Hotel Palomar, Xoco for a taste of Bayless without the wait (and personally I prefer Xoco for the spirit)

            If your pre-teens might like a sense of the trendy younger vibe of Chicago, take the red line to the Damen stop and go to Big Star for lunch or dinner - very inexpensive, very fun and near fun small shops. (And the grownups can head across the street for a cocktail or two at Violet Hour!)

            I also enjoy getting pho and such at Saigon Sisters - either at their neat little restaurant or at the French Market at the train station which adds some fun local food shopping to the mix.

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

            Violet Hour
            1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

            449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

          2. We took our non-adventurous daughter to Blackbird and had a great time the food was excellent and the waiter doted on our daughter so she felt like Queen Bee. lol , have a great trip.