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Must know ...WHERE do we eat?

Heading to Chicago for the first time. Need to know the must eats. I know we want to have deep-dish pizza, Italian beef, hot dogs but we are foodies as well and are wanting to know where would we eat that if we never return to Chicago we would have had the best.

A few things, its 2 adults and 1 child, 8yr old, I am not worried that somewhere will be unchildfriendly but let me know....we are in on a Saturday morn and out on a Tuesday afternoon. We are staying Mag Mile/downtown..we are not renting a vehicle .

Please give me ideas.

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  1. Before Nxtasy responds--and gives the best, more comprehensive review--I wish to issue a few brief suggestions.

    Make sure you go to Garrett's Popcorn for gourmet popcorn. It is worth the money and the wait.

    Also Lou Malnati's is the #1 deep dish. People will advocate for Uno's or Duo's or other places, but really Lou's is the best--in my original North Shore perspective.

    If the restaurant at the courtyard of the Art Institute is still open, then consider eating there.

    Food Life is OK in a pinch if you are stuck at Water Tower place.

    Someone else will have to provide the rest, but enjoy. You can't go wrong in Chicago.

    2 Replies
    1. re: GraceW

      The Courtyard is no longer there...thank goodness. I had one of the worst meals in my life there.

      The other recommendations are good. Pizzeria Due's is also a good place for Chicago Pizza.

      You might want to look this one over too.


      Pizzeria Due
      619 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

      1. re: GraceW

        Let me expand on something GraceW said. FoodLife is a food court in a shopping mall but it is NOT what you're thinking---a collection of fast food joints. It is run by Lettuce Entertain You, an outfit that runs some of the best restaurants in Chicago, so the food is very good, as food courts go. FoodLife is set up with chef stations. When you go in they give you a ticket then you get what you want from Asian, Barbecue, Italian,Mexican, Salad, Desserts, Comfort Food, Soup etc stations and they punch your ticket. If you want a drink tell the person you get your food from then you help yourself to that too. The whole thing is quite a few cuts above most food courts. The second thing you need to know about FoodLife is that it is hard to find. It's on the mezzanine of Water Tower Place Mall but in the rear---go all the way through American Girl or Macy's and come out the back in the rear lobby then take the escalator up to FoodLife. BTW behind FoodLife is Mitey Nice Grill, also run by Lettuce, but it's sit-down and more expensive than FoodLife and doesn't offer the variety.

        Also, another suggestion for families---Buca di Beppo, because many dishes are available family style. Go to "chicago restaurant menus" to see menus FoodLife, Buca, and 3000 other Chicago restaurants.

        Lettuce Entertain You
        2171 Northbrook Ct, Northbrook, IL 60062

      2. These are great recommendations from GraceW and twodales.

        Regarding the places for deep-dish pizza, Lou Malnati's, the original Uno and Due, and Pizano's are all great and very similar to each other. That's no coincidence; Lou Malnati's and Pizano's were both founded by sons of Rudy Malnati Sr. who worked with their dad at Uno and Due in its early decades. If you're near the northern half of the Mag Mile, Pizano's on State is closest to you; near the southern half, Uno and Due are closer. (The closest Lou Malnati's is on Wells, a bit further than the others.)

        Our specialty in provincial Mexican food is mentioned in that other topic to which twodales provided the link. However, because of the days you'll be visiting, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo may not be the best choice, since both are closed on Sundays and Mondays, and Saturday is a choice between a horrendous wait at Frontera and probably an entirely booked Topolobampo. But we also have some other great Mexican places. Salpicon is near the north end of the Mag Mile and is excellent, open for dinner and Sunday brunch. Two miles west of the Mag Mile is Mexique, open for lunch, dinner, and Saturday/Sunday brunch.

        I'd also consider North Pond, an upscale restaurant serving contemporary American cuisine. What makes North Pond unique is its exquisite setting in the middle of the park facing its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. It's about two miles from the north end of the Mag Mile, an easy cab ride.

        You might also check out Fox & Obel, our premier upscale gourmet food store, near the Mag Mile. They have the best meats, fish, prepared foods, etc. Of particular interest for those visiting from out of town is the bakery counter. The breads are fantastic, which is why it was named by Bon Appetit magazine among the ten best bread bakeries in the United States.

        There are lots more places. If you'd like to let us know which hotel you're staying at, or a nearby intersection, we can give you some recommendations that are within a few blocks of it.

        Finally, here are links to two more discussions that will give you an overview of what Chicago has to offer, in addition to the link already provided. This discussion tells what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at:

        first time Chicago - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693477

        This discussion has an overview listing some of our best in various food categories, as well as advice for getting the best value for your dining dollar:

        Where are the best Chicago dinner *values* - the hidden gems? - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697829

        Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

        4 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          I want to thank you all. I was already planning on Garrett's. I have heard and read many things about Burt's and Gino's East for pizza and Al's for Italian Beef. I am going to try for res on Saturday brunch at Frontera Grill ..we know for sure we want to do a Rick Bayless place and they are only open Tues - Sat... But I did want to try XOCO as well..

          I was thinking about Tru, Blackbird, The Publican , The Girl and the goat, Spiaggia, Sprout and Alinea or Moto... We cant really decide about our dinner choices.. Plus we dont want to be out of place because we will have a child with us .. hoping at the high dollar joints he can share with us..

          1. re: Lyn7279

            Another thought if you're a bit nervous about dinner... not a gourmet place but good solid food and not overly grown up for an 8 year old: Bandera on Michigan Ave. Food choices are pretty straightforward: beef ribs, roasted chicken and grilled fish, steaks and good burgers. I've never been disappointed there. If you sit by the window you will have a good view of Michigan Avenue with a little soft jazz trio to serenade you. http://www.hillstone.com/pdf_menus/ba...

            Also, there are several options for tapas downtown as well.

            Have a great trip.

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

            1. re: Lyn7279

              With an 8-year-old child I would skip Spiaggia, Alinea, Tru as these are long formal affairs where men are expected to wear jackets. Food is great, but fun factor is not there and I am sure your little guy won't be happy sitting for hours.

              Our next tier of casual fine dining restaurants would all be totally acceptable with a child.

              Some of my favorites where we've been with kids: Carnivale (latin fusion), North Pond (New American-local based), Naha (Med-American), Publican, and Balsan (New American).

              North Pond
              2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

              500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

              702 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60661

              1. re: Lyn7279

                >> I am going to try for res on Saturday brunch at Frontera Grill

                By all means, give them a call. But don't be surprised if you can't get a reservation there. They only take a handful of reservations, and keep most of the dining room available for walk-in customers.

                A few months ago, I had relatives visiting from out of town, and I wanted to show off one of our great Mexican restaurants for Saturday brunch. I had called Frontera Grill two months ahead of time and they were not able to take a reservation. So my plan was, get in the car, call while on the way, and if the wait is too long, go elsewhere. When we called, the wait was 90 minutes. LOL! So instead we went to Mundial Cocina Mestiza, one of our very best and most creative Mexican restaurants, in the Pilsen neighborhood about three miles southwest of the Loop. They serve brunch starting at 11 on Saturdays and Sundays. We got there shortly after 11 and were seated immediately, and although they were starting to fill up by the time we left, no one was waiting to be seated. And we all thought brunch there was fantastic. (Mundial does accept reservations over the phone if you don't want to take your chances.) www.mundialcocinamestiza.com

                So if you can't get a reservation at Frontera and you don't want to be stuck waiting 90 minutes for a table, that's certainly an option. So is Mexique, which also has brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

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

                Frontera Grill
                445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

                1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

            2. Thank you all so much for all the ideas. I guess that we will have to save the upscale dining for a romantic couples trip.. but thats okay we need family time too..I am getting excited and nervous. I also have a non food question.

              What would be the ideal transportation from the airport to hotel? Train, cab, van, limo sedan?
              We arent renting a car...

              6 Replies
              1. re: Lyn7279

                >> What would be the ideal transportation from the airport to hotel? Train, cab, van, limo sedan?
                We arent renting a car...

                You don't mention which airport, or exactly where near the Mag Mile you're staying, but the answer is going to be similar regardless. The cheapest way is to take the el (that's our subway system, portions of which are elevated). The fare is $2.25 per adult, $1.00 for kids 7-11. You can transfer from one el line to another for free (at certain stations; see below) and you can pay $.25 extra to transfer to a bus, as long as you're using a fare card rather than paying cash each time. The CTA Blue Line runs from O'Hare to the Loop, and the CTA Orange Line runs from Midway to the Loop. Assuming from your original post that your hotel is near the Mag Mile, you may want to transfer to the CTA Red Line and take it to one of the stops near the Mag Mile (Grand/State or Chicago/State), or it may be easier to transfer to a bus that runs right up Michigan Avenue. (The free transfer from the Blue Line is at Jackson; walk downstairs from the train platform for the tunnel to the Red Line. You need to use a fare card or pass for the free transfer from the Orange Line, which is at Library or at State/Lake.) The total travel time including a transfer will probably be around an hour from either airport. You can find more CTA information at www.transitchicago.com (There's a route planner there and at goroo.com but I've found problems with it and usually get better results using Google Maps for public transit directions.)

                Of course, there may be a convenience factor to consider when you're traveling to and from the airport. If you have a lot of luggage, using the CTA means you'll need to lug it through the el stations, up and down escalators or stairs, etc, and you may need to walk a few blocks from the el to your hotel. A taxi offers a lot more convenience; if you stand in the taxi line outside the baggage claim at the airport, you can go right to the door, and they will load all your luggage for you. But there is a price to pay for that convenience. I think a cab from Midway to the Mag Mile will run around $30 with tip, and from O'Hare around $40. The travel time in an off hour is around 25-30 minutes, but can be double that or more in prime commuting hours during the week.

                Limos are even more expensive than taxis...

                1. re: Lyn7279

                  There is a subway that goes from the airport to downtown. It depends which end of town you will be staying in and also it depends what time you are arriving. A cab at rush hour can be expensive unless you are promised a fixed rate. Does your hotel have it's own van? Something else to consider.

                  1. re: twodales

                    >> A cab at rush hour can be expensive unless you are promised a fixed rate.

                    In case you're wondering why this is, the cab rate depends not only on distance, but also on standing time. The rates I estimated above assume it's not rush hour; if you're stuck in rush-hour traffic it can cost even more.

                    >> Does your hotel have it's own van? Something else to consider.

                    Good idea, and definitely worth calling the hotel to ask. Even if they charge for it, it might be a better deal than a taxi.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      If the return flight is anywhere near rush hour, I highly recommend the "el."

                  2. re: Lyn7279

                    From O'Hare you take the Blue Line, from Midway you take the Orange Line Both are light railway systems that we call the EL and both bring you to the heart of downtown. If your hotel is still a couple of blocks away and you're coping with child and luggage you can hail a passing taxi which for a couple blocks will run you just a couple of bucks. Google "CTA" (Chicago Transit Authority) for maps, fares, and details.

                    1. re: Querencia

                      ...or see the details already posted above. :)

                  3. I just went past a couple of places on my way home that may or may not have been mentioned in these postings. Harry Caray's which was named after a well known sports announcer here in Chicago. He was mostly associated with the Cubs. The food is mostly steaks, chops, seafood and Italian. Touristy? Yes but if your son likes baseball, he might like this place. The food is decent.
                    If anyone suggests Ed Debevics because of your son...just say no! Maybe 20 years ago the food was decent and it was a fun place... where the staff insults the clients. They will still give you a hard time and throw your straws at you but the food is the worst. Maybe if I ever get dragged there again, I would order a grilled cheese...how can you ruin that? Shame because it could be a fun place to take kids. We can only hope.

                    Once again, have a great time in our fine city.

                    Harry Caray's Restaurant
                    33 W Kinzie St, Chicago, IL 60654

                    1. Thank you all for the great info. To answer some reply questions,...

                      We are flying into Midway.
                      Not sure when rush hour is but, leaving on a weekday on flight at 2:20pm.
                      We are staying at the Hyatt Regency. I dont thik they have a van , but I will call.
                      Some one did tell us about both Ed Debevics and Harry Carays, our son loves baseball, and thanks for the heads up about Eds, I was kinda of thinking about it since we would be dragging him to where we wanted to eat and that might be fun for him but now we wont. I was just trying to squeeze it in anyway.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Lyn7279

                        Rush hour in Chicago typically starts 3:00-3:30 and runs till 6-ish. Assuming your flight arrives at Midway at 2:20 pm, traffic probably won't be too bad, even if it's a little late and it takes you a little while to get your luggage. The Stevenson (I-55) is not usually all that bad inbound in the late afternoon rush (unlike the Kennedy - I-90/94 - which gets bad in both directions in rush hour). If you're taking the el from Midway, there's no need to transfer to the Red Line; just get off at State/Lake and it's about a three block walk to the Hyatt Regency. The el is a bit of a walk at the airport end as well; you have to walk through the parking garage to the el station (it's clearly marked). If your luggage is minimal and on wheels, it's easily doable; if you have a lot of luggage and need the convenience, a cab is an option.

                        Of the places mentioned above for deep-dish pizza, the original Uno and Due are the closest to your hotel, about a ten-minute walk.

                      2. Well for now I think we will do a taxi due to the fact with a child and baggage...

                        As for the eats , the best part, this is what we have so far( let me know if we need to change or add something..

                        Saturday: Brunch at Frontera Grill...I am sure we will have to wait, no res avail..haha
                        Saturday: Dinner at Sable?
                        Sunday: thinking Breakfast or Brunch at Cafe des Architectes
                        Sunday: Dinner at the Publican?
                        Monday: Dinner res at Naha

                        We are hitting up
                        Lou Malnati's for Pizza
                        Portillo's for Italian Beef and Hot dogs
                        Fox & Obel
                        Garrett's Popcorn

                        We are also doing museums and sight seeing so if I am missing something , food or just something special, please let me now.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Lyn7279

                          Sounds like a good start to me. Have a great time!

                          1. re: twodales

                            Yup, sounds great to me too... except the wait for Saturday brunch at Frontera, but at least you know what you're in for. BTW you can avoid it if you arrive 15-30 minutes before they open the doors, which they do at 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays.

                        2. Thanks and I am looking forward to the vacation, As for the Frontera wait , I know it seems odd but that we would wait a long time but I have LOVED Bayless for years. I also was wondering if we got there before opening if we would have to wait long then,,

                          Thanks again all!

                          Oh and I did get dinner res at Sable and The Publican.....

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Lyn7279

                            >> I also was wondering if we got there before opening if we would have to wait long then

                            I assume you saw my answer to this question in the post directly above yours...

                            1. re: nsxtasy

                              Thanks...that was a comment not a question. Like oh, i was wondering about that....

                              Well I have enjoyed all of the advice from all. I won't bother with anymore questions or comments for now.


                          2. Well we are back and our bellies are full, our legs/feet are tired and we have met a new friend and her name is Chicago!!

                            Only have a little to say now, I will save the rest after I myself am rested. Just got in and back to work tomorrow.

                            I do want to say a BIG "Thank you" to all the answered my qs and also to the city and ALL the Chicagoians....We had a blast!!!

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Lyn7279

                              Well it has been a busy weekend and week..

                              The FINAL BREAKDOWN:

                              XOCO- Aztec and Mexico City cocoa, Churros( a taste while waiting for Frontera to open)

                              Frontera Grill- Pozole with poached egg, Enchiladas Mole, kids Taquitos, Queso Fundido and Guac.....Limonada, Blue Agave Marg and Yucateca Mag(habanero), Marisol brews

                              Sable-Pear Flatbread, Shrimp Fritters, Crispy Pork Belly BLTS, Smoked Black Cod, kids Meatballs and Pasta...Wars of roses and Stella brew

                              Cafe des Architectes- Continental, Pancakes, Grapefruit segments...H2O and French Press Coffee, oh and Chocolate Milk

                              (sad to say) McDs@ Field Museum: sooooo sad but we needed something close and quick

                              The Publican-Asparagus Salad, Ham Selection, Frites with egg, Fish Stew, Country Rib, Crumble....Rootbeer, Metro Krankshaft, and Chai

                              Corner Bakery- Normal eats- French toast, Breakfast Panini...Coffee and Ojs

                              Lou Malnati's- Chicago Classic, House salad with Malnati Dressing..Sodas all around

                              NAHA- Gnocchi, Foie, Halibut, Salmon, for the kid-Burger, Almond Dacquois .. Ice cream ..Highball, Ransom Fizz, Hemmingway, Delirium brew and Ginger Ale

                              L'appetito- Breakfast sandwiches, Coffee and juice

                              (Airport) Gold Coast Dog- Italian Beef, Chicago dog

                              We also threw in there Garrett's Popcorn and Fox and Obel.

                              We had some great food, okeydokey food, fill the void food and AWESOME..EXCELLENT food.

                              EVERYTHING about and at the Publican...Loved it!!!

                              Frontera was worth the wait and I have been waiting for years to go. A nod to them but to my mother in law , some of the things were spot on to hers. YUMMY! and the drinks weren't too shabby either.

                              My husband wanted to go back everyday to Cafe des Architcetes. We had the best coffee to date there..Starbucks( Scooters here too) bye bye, we will have to invest in a French Press now. The pastries and breads were out of this world and don't get me started on the Grapefruit, something so simple but excellent.

                              Sable wasn't the best ever but pretty good. The Poached Pear Flatbread and Cocktails were great. The Crispy Pork BElly BLTs were good but I have had Pork Belly and this didn't do it justice more of a Carnita type meat. And my Cod had quite a few bones in it, YIKES..

                              The Chicago Pizza at Malnati's ROCKED!!

                              NAHA night, our last night, was spectacular .. from the food to the cocktails I wouldn't know were to start or end. Our whole meal, we couldn't ask for more...except more of that food here and now..haha.

                              Of course we had some normal foods too and since we couldn't get away from museums we didn't get Beef or DOgs until the airport but they were ok. We have a place here called Chicago Dawgs and it is AWESOME and I think it does better service to the dogs and beef than what we had but hey whatever, we just ate there because hubby HAD to have a Beef sandwich before we left CHicago.

                              So Thanks again ALL!!!

                              1. re: Lyn7279

                                Glad you enjoyed everything - and thanks for posting feedback. Come back and visit again!

                                1. re: Lyn7279

                                  I just love when people follow up with tales of their culinary excursions. Great post!

                                  (P.S. The hubs was right on...one MUST have an Italian beef in Chicago).