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Boston 'hound coming for a visit....and a little overwhelmed...

t
twentyoystahs Apr 13, 2011 05:10 PM

Hi guys,
It will be my first time in your fair city, but unfortunately, only for a couple of days -arrive late Fri night, leave Monday am...which allows me at the very least --two dinners ---maybe 2 lunches and a breakfast.

So yes, I have done a search and complied a list of spots. I tend to like casual spots with lots of energy that really do a great job of capturing the local essence--not so interested in high end (like Alinea, tho' it does sound great) but more just really good food in relaxing surroundings --emphasis on local, fresh, cooked and served by passionate people who love good food. Bonus points if it is in a fun, bustling neighborhood. Girl and the Goat sounded like just my sort of place, but it seems to be booked already. (And I'm not a huge meat/organ/charcuterie eater either, so maybe that's just as well) Thought I might want to try a Rick Bayless place, but both Topolobampo and Frontera seem to be booked both nights (tho i only tried online via open table, might be worth a phone call) No clue whether any of these places are in lively areas --don't know Chicago at all and am hoping to learn a little more about the neighborhoods. On that note, I'm not sure where we are staying...my guess is it is somewhere downtown in the center of the action (I'm heading there for a convention so I'm thinking HIlton, Marriott, Sheraton, etc)

I love places that have an interesting beer list, so Publican seemed to jump out at me and I was able to get a res there for Sat night...so that's a tentative. Also maybe Gilt Bar, which for some odd reason had availability Sat night but not Sunday? (I'm thinking maybe their res system doesn't book that far out? Otherwise can't figure out why Sunday would be all booked and Sat would be open)

But...since I've never been to Chicago, I would like to experience a "chicago institution" --I know your hot dogs are famous so maybe Portillos for a snack one day? And deep dish pizza (tho' I'm having a tough time thinking of going to Unos just b/c it is a chain around these parts --but Unos and Dues are different, right?)

Avec seemed like an option, but again, no reservations, and I'd rather have a few reservations lined up as I'm not sure we'll be up for 2+ hr waits on Sat night. And my guess is Sunday night will be similar as well, yes?

Thought maybe a steakhouse could be possibility and so Keefers or David Burkes? My sister recommended Gene and Georgetti...anyone want to weigh in on those?

In regards to what I like --as I stated above, not a huge meat eater but if Chicago truly is known for their steaks I'd be up for a steakhouse. I tend to like Italian just 'cause I love pasta...tomatoes, olive oil, all kinds of seafood, etc but again, I'm open. Just looking for a memorable dining experience that truly screams "Chicago.."

Will keep searching the boards but wanted to get all of the natives' opinions on whether some of my thoughts were good and/or if you had any other recs and/or ideas.

Promise to return the favor if/when you come to Boston :)

Thanks!

-----
Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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

Topolobampo
445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

Girl and the Goat
809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661

  1. nsxtasy Apr 13, 2011 05:42 PM

    >> Boston 'hound coming for a visit....and a little overwhelmed...

    Frankly, I get overwhelmed here myself. When I'm planning to go out to eat, it's a whole lot easier to come up with a list of 10 or 20 candidates, than it is to narrow it down to just one!

    >> It will be my first time in your fair city, but unfortunately, only for a couple of days -arrive late Fri night, leave Monday am...which allows me at the very least --two dinners ---maybe 2 lunches and a breakfast.

    As another option, since it's a weekend, you can consider brunch.

    >> Thought I might want to try a Rick Bayless place, but both Topolobampo and Frontera seem to be booked both nights (tho i only tried online via open table, might be worth a phone call)

    By "both nights", I assume you're referring to Saturday and Sunday, yes? If so, they are closed on Sundays, not booked. Topolobampo's dinner reservations fill up 2-3 months in advance, so it's not a surprise that they're booked on Saturday, too.

    Frontera Grill only accepts a handful of reservations (phone only), and keeps most of the restaurant available for walk-in customers. They are open for Saturday brunch as well as dinner. I HATE long waits to be seated, and I won't go there without a reservation unless I am willing to arrive 15-30 minutes before they open the doors; otherwise, waits for a table are typically anywhere from an hour to two hours or more, and I'm serious. So if you want to go, go really early, before they open.

    However, we have some other terrific Mexican restaurants that are equally worth going to, and that are open on Sundays as well as other days (although most are closed Mondays). These are restaurants featuring creative provincial Mexican cuisine, not anything like the usual tacos, enchiladas, and skirt steak you find at conventional Mexican places. Check out the menus on their websites to get a better idea of what I'm referring to. My two favorites that are reasonably close to downtown are Mexique, in the West Town neighborhood a couple miles west of the Mag Mile, and Mundial Cocina Mestiza, in Pilsen, a few miles southwest of downtown. You can hop a cab, or both can be reached by public transportation - Mexique from the #66 CTA bus on Chicago Avenue, and Mundial is near the 18th Street station on the CTA Pink Line. Both accept reservations - Mexique is on Opentable, Mundial only over the phone - so there are no worries about long waits. Also, both are open for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays as well as for dinner.

    >> I love places that have an interesting beer list, so Publican seemed to jump out at me and I was able to get a res there for Sat night...so that's a tentative.

    Unless you're that committed to beer, I wouldn't bother going to the Publican, since you say you're not big on meats, organ meats, charcuterie, etc. That's their specialty.

    >> Also maybe Gilt Bar, which for some odd reason had availability Sat night but not Sunday? (I'm thinking maybe their res system doesn't book that far out? Otherwise can't figure out why Sunday would be all booked and Sat would be open)

    It can happen for various reasons. Some places, like Topolobampo, are closed on Sundays. Sometimes a restaurant gets booked up for a private party. If you can't find availability on Opentable, you can always call to find out what's going on.

    Not sure why you chose Gilt Bar...

    >> But...since I've never been to Chicago, I would like to experience a "chicago institution" --I know your hot dogs are famous so maybe Portillos for a snack one day? And deep dish pizza (tho' I'm having a tough time thinking of going to Unos just b/c it is a chain around these parts --but Unos and Dues are different, right?)

    Portillo's is a good place for a Chicago hot dog as well as an Italian beef sandwich.

    Chicago deep-dish pizza is very different from the dreadful stuff that the Uno's Chicago Grill chain sells elsewhere. Fortunately, when they bought the franchise rights from Ike Sewell's widow, they agreed to keep the original recipe at the downtown locations of Uno and Due. That's why we have great deep-dish pizza here, even though the stuff sold elsewhere is crap. Uno and Due are great; so are Lou Malnati's and Pizano's, both are local chains founded by sons of one of the original characters in the early decades of Uno and Due. Go to whichever of these is closest to where you'll be while you're here.

    >> Avec seemed like an option, but again, no reservations, and I'd rather have a few reservations lined up as I'm not sure we'll be up for 2+ hr waits on Sat night. And my guess is Sunday night will be similar as well, yes?

    Sunday night won't necessarily be as bad as Saturday night. That being said, there are so many good places here that accept reservations, there's no need to stick yourself with a place that doesn't. (I'm also not a fan of Avec. In addition to the no-reservations policy, I've found the food disappointing, the seats the worst in the city, the room the noisiest, etc.)

    >> Thought maybe a steakhouse could be possibility and so Keefers or David Burkes? My sister recommended Gene and Georgetti...anyone want to weigh in on those?

    I consider David Burke's the best. However, unless you're REALLY a fan of steaks more than other foods (and it sounds like you're not), I wouldn't waste one of your meals in a short visit here at one of our steakhouses. You can get great steaks back home. You can't get provincial Mexican, or deep-dish, or lots of other foods that we have here.

    >> In regards to what I like --as I stated above, not a huge meat eater but if Chicago truly is known for their steaks I'd be up for a steakhouse. I tend to like Italian just 'cause I love pasta...tomatoes, olive oil, all kinds of seafood, etc but again, I'm open. Just looking for a memorable dining experience that truly screams "Chicago.."

    Here's what I would do if I were you, based on what you've said:

    1. Have deep-dish pizza for one of your meals. This might work well for lunch one day.

    2. Have a meal at one of our creative provincial Mexican restaurants, such as Mexique or Mundial Cocina Mestiza (or, if you're willing to get there before they open and eat early, Frontera Grill). This would work for a dinner either night, or for brunch on Saturday or Sunday.

    3. If you want to do a Chicago hot dog, do Portillo's for lunch or a snack.

    4. For one or both of your dinners, I would do contemporary American and/or Italian. We have some terrific contemporary American restaurants. My favorite in the greater downtown area is Sable, in the Hotel Palomar. Chef Heather Terhune is working miracles in the kitchen - don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee! A lot of the dishes are available in half-portions which lets you try a lot of them. Prices are very reasonable. They also have amazing artisanal cocktails.

    I normally wouldn't recommend Italian to someone from Boston, because you have good Italian back home, but you say you love it. Several of our Italian restaurants have a contemporary emphasis and they're wonderful: the Florentine, Cibo Matto, and Vivere fall into this category. Bridging the gap between contemporary and traditional Italian are Cafe Spiaggia and Coco Pazzo.

    5. As one more possibility, you might consider going to Bongo Room for breakfast, although they have long waits on Sundays unless you get there before 9:30; maybe Saturday would work for you. They specialize in creative pancakes, such as their pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce. The standard portion size is three ENORMOUS pancakes, but you can get one-third or two-thirds portion sizes at a reduced cost, which lets you try more than one dish. They have two locations, in the South Loop and in Bucktown.

    If you let us know when you figure out where you're staying, we can tell you which of these places are close by, and transportation tips for those that aren't.

    Feel free to ask more questions too!

    Website links:
    www.rickbayless.com/restaurants (Frontera Grill and Topolobampo)
    www.mexiquechicago.com
    www.mundialcocinamestiza.com
    www.portillos.com
    www.unos.com
    www.loumalnatis.com
    www.pizanoschicago.com
    www.davidburkesprimehouse.com
    www.sablechicago.com
    www.the-florentine.net
    www.eatcibomatto.com
    www.vivere-chicago.com
    www.cafespiaggia.com
    www.cocopazzochicago.com
    http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura... (Bongo Room)

    19 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy
      t
      twentyoystahs Apr 13, 2011 06:32 PM

      Wow. Awesome reply! (based on my previous searches, i had a feeling you'd be responding) ;)

      Thanks so much. I will report back soon with more details on where I am staying and what I am thinking.

      Also, re Gilt & Publican, I tend to like casual gastro-pubby type spots and both of these seemed to fit the bill. Gilt seems to offer some seafood and pasta options too, which is nice. You're right though, Publican is pretty meat-heavy so I'll probably ditch that in favor on one of the other spots. I'm not sure brunch will be an option just b/c my guess is I'll be at certain activities related to the convention during the day --a quick breakfast or lunch is probably more likely. More soon.

      1. re: twentyoystahs
        t
        twentyoystahs Apr 14, 2011 05:50 AM

        I *think* we are staying at the Hyatt Regency McCormack Place (attached to the convention center)
        Does that help at all with suggestions? What deep-dish pizza place would be closest?

        Also, I see you recommended "North Pond" to a previous poster for a true Chicago experience. Is that a place that might be worth checking out or is it a bit more conservative and better for dinner out with the parents??? ;)

        Thanks again!

        1. re: twentyoystahs
          nsxtasy Apr 14, 2011 06:00 AM

          >> I *think* we are staying at the Hyatt Regency McCormack Place (attached to the convention center)

          Just so you know - that hotel is really not all that convenient to any of the places we're talking about. You're going to have to take a cab, drive, or take public transit to get just about anywhere. The only exception is Chinatown, which is about 3/4 mile away and has some excellent Chinese food.

          If you want to try our Mexican cuisine, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, which I mentioned above, is the closest great Mexican restaurant to the hotel. It's not walkable, but it's only two miles west of the hotel. www.mundialcocinamestiza.com

          >> What deep-dish pizza place would be closest?

          Lou Malnati's at 8th and State. But since you're going to be driving/cabbing/etc anyway, think about what else you might be doing before or afterwards. If you're only going for the pizza, go to that location. But if you plan on doing other things (nightlife, walking around, etc), the South Loop neighborhood around 8th and State has some of that, but there's a lot more in the River North and Mag Mile areas north of the Loop.

          >> Also, I see you recommended "North Pond" to a previous poster for a true Chicago experience. Is that a place that might be worth checking out or is it a bit more conservative and better for dinner out with the parents??? ;

          )

          Oh, it's definitely worth checking out and not at all conservative! Since you've read what I've written, you are aware that its setting in the park makes it unique. The contemporary American food there is very, very good too. It's another very good choice!

          1. re: twentyoystahs
            chicgail Apr 14, 2011 06:09 AM

            Just some thoughts.

            Chicago is not known for it's steaks and hasn't been since the stockyards came down in the early '70s. Unless you're a big steak fan, I wouldn't bother. Gene and Georgetti's has its regulars and its fans. I think it's totally mediocre and overrated. David Burkes is much better.

            What Chicago does really well right now is authentic regional cuisine (mentioned above), gastropubs (I LOOOVE Publican, but Longman and Eagle and the Bristol are also excellent), and New American, such as Browntrout, Sprout, Sable, Sola, MK.

            Some of these are in neighborhoods and will require taxi rides, but it's worth it.

            For great Italian, I highly recommend Slow Food designee Cafe Spiaggia, little sister to the venerable and high-priced Spiaggia. They share a website, a location and a kitchen. Just ate there and was floored by it.

            -----
            Cafe Spiaggia
            980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

            Browntrout
            4111 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

            1. re: chicgail
              nsxtasy Apr 14, 2011 06:17 AM

              >> authentic regional cuisine

              Perhaps you intended to include the word "Mexican" in this phrase, but may have omitted it...?

              1. re: nsxtasy
                chicgail Apr 14, 2011 10:37 AM

                Thank you for catching that. You are correct.

              2. re: chicgail
                h
                hoppy2468 Apr 14, 2011 06:24 AM

                It will be quite a trip north but if you want great beers AND good food, Hopleaf is the place to go. It does get busy and I don't think they take reservations.
                Now I need the same help...a great beer bar with good food that four of us can go to to watch the Cubs beat the BoSox on a Saturday night in May??

                -----
                Hopleaf Bar
                5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

                1. re: hoppy2468
                  nsxtasy Apr 14, 2011 06:28 AM

                  Just keep in mind that, not only will it take you an hour to get to Hopleaf on public transportation or 15-25 minutes by cab, but once you're there, you're probably going to wait a while to be seated (as much as two hours on Saturday nights). No reservations.

                2. re: chicgail
                  nsxtasy Apr 14, 2011 06:30 AM

                  >> gastropubs (I LOOOVE Publican, but Longman and Eagle and the Bristol are also excellent)

                  It's worth noting that neither Longman and Eagle nor the Bristol accepts reservations, and long waits for seating are common at desirable times. Both were included in the Tribune/Metromix's recent article on Chicago's always-crowded spots.

                  Among our gastropubs, the Publican and the Gage both accept reservations (including on Opentable).

                  1. re: nsxtasy
                    h
                    hoppy2468 Apr 14, 2011 06:51 AM

                    Love the Gage...a great recomendation. Also, Owen and Engine would be a good choice as well.

                    1. re: hoppy2468
                      t
                      twentyoystahs Apr 14, 2011 07:36 AM

                      Good news --I am hoping --the hotel is actually the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, 301. E. North Water St --better location??????

                      1. re: twentyoystahs
                        nsxtasy Apr 14, 2011 10:07 AM

                        Yes, definitely a better location! You'll be able to walk to LOTS of stuff.

                        The Sheraton itself is home to LB Bistro, a restaurant opened by a two-time world pastry chef champion. I haven't been there yet but I've seen it recommended for breakfast.

                        It's also only a couple blocks from Fox & Obel, our premier upscale gourmet food store, with the best of everything - meats, fish, prepared foods, etc. Two things are worth taking advantage of. One, they have the very best baked goods in the city. (They were recently named one of the ten best bread bakeries in the country by Bon Appetit magazine.) Their rich "cinnamon swirl rolls" are amazing, their croissants and brioche are wonderful, and they have lots of other great baked goods for carryout. They also have a cafe in the rear of the store where you can get anything from a cup of coffee to a complete meal, prepared to order. Open 6-midnight, 7 days. www.fox-obel.com

                        The closest place for good deep-dish is the original Uno and Due, about a 5-10 minute walk away. Even for dine-in, phone ahead with your pizza order if you don't want to wait 30-45 minutes for it to bake. (They'll also make sure to seat you promptly that way.) As for the other recommendations, you're also about a 5-10 minute walk from Sable, Cibo Matto, and David Burke's; and 10-15 minutes from Frontera/Topo, Coco Pazzo, and Portillo's. (Coco Pazzo Cafe, the slightly less expensive sister restaurant to Coco Pazzo, is only 5 minutes away.) 15-20 minutes walk will get you to the Florentine, Vivere, and Cafe Spiaggia. The other great Mexican places aren't walking distance, but it would be easy to take a cab from McCormick Place to Mundial Cocina Mestiza, then after dinner go from there to the hotel by cab or el.

                3. re: twentyoystahs
                  huiray Apr 14, 2011 07:55 AM

                  <Rant>
                  Just speaking for myself - I can't understand why Chicago set up the convention center complex - with that hotel included - where it is, on the 'other side' of Lake Shore Drive, south of the Loop and Mag Mile, isolated from the city proper. If one was focued SOLELY on the convention one was attending and cared not a whit about ingesting the necessary calories to sustain one through those meetings - hen fine...but it always seemed so cruel to me to isolate convention attendees (at that complex) from everything else that went on in Chicago.
                  <End Rant>

                  1. re: huiray
                    t
                    twentyoystahs Apr 14, 2011 09:01 AM

                    Yeah, i finally got a hold of a Chicago map and see what nxstasy means about the Hyatt not being near anything.
                    But, it's official, i'm not staying there, but instead am at the Sheraton Chicago on E North Water St. This looks more like it is in the "heart" of things and walkable to lots of spots, yes?

                    1. re: huiray
                      nsxtasy Apr 14, 2011 10:02 AM

                      Well, as McCormick Place has expanded in recent years, it is now on both sides of the Drive. But the answer why it's there is pretty obvious. A convention center occupies a huge area, and it's cost-prohibitive (and land availability isn't there) to put it close to areas that already have a high density of people and businesses.

                  2. re: twentyoystahs
                    m
                    ms. mika Apr 14, 2011 10:24 AM

                    I really like the Gilt bar- it fits your description of a casual gastro-pubby type spot and has a fun atmosphere too. Their handmade pastas are great and we really loved everything we've had there.

                    1. re: ms. mika
                      t
                      twentyoystahs Apr 14, 2011 05:42 PM

                      Thanks to everyone for their help.
                      Question: I fly into Chicago Fri night, I land at 7:10. If I just have a carry on bag, and assuming my flight is on time, I'm thinking I could be in the city by 8...go to the hotel, change, walk over to Frontera, be there 830-9ish. Is it possible our wait wouldn't be that crazy if we were there on the later side? Or is Chicago like NYC where 830-9 is when a lot of folks are just getting ready to head out? If we got there at 830- 9 I would probably not want to get seated much after 930. Is that wishful thinking?

                      If it is, I'll try for something else, just thought I'd check with you all.

                      Thanks again.

                      1. re: twentyoystahs
                        nsxtasy Apr 14, 2011 06:00 PM

                        >> walk over to Frontera, be there 830-9ish.

                        Waits at Frontera on a Friday night are typically 60-90 minutes or more at all times, unless you get there before the doors open. So yes, getting seated before 9:30 is definitely wishful thinking. They're open till 11, so if you don't mind waiting that long, you'd eventually get seated.

                        There are also 30 seats at the bar, and I don't think getting seated there significantly shortens your wait. But there's an advantage to sitting at the bar: you can order items from either menu, Frontera Grill's and Topolobampo's.

                        1. re: nsxtasy
                          c
                          ChemWork Apr 15, 2011 06:14 AM

                          twentyoystahs:

                          I've eaten twice at the bar at Frontera and it's pretty fun (although it can get crowded). I really enjoy watching and interacting with the bartenders. As nsxtasy points out you can order off both menus. I think you should try to sample Rick Bayliss's cuisine.

                4. n
                  nycreba Apr 19, 2011 05:59 PM

                  Revisiting your initial mention of Keefers and David Burke: when my husband and I were last in Chicago, we had the good fortune to eat at both places and really (I mean REALLY) enjoyed them both, but differently.
                  Keefers was an outstanding - albeit atypical - steakhouse with a stellar wine list, wonderful accompaniments, and highly memorable steak. We really had a great meal there - my husband still talks about it. And he's VERY particular about his meat.
                  David Burke's Primehouse @ the James Hotel was an entirely different animal - very posh and David Burke-ish...whimsical, modern. Not steakhouse-y. We chose to eat at the Lobby Bar and mostly opted for bar snacks and cocktails...in fact, we ended up opting out of steak altogether. The burger, however, was among the best I've *ever* had and the small plates were a lot of fun to sample.
                  Two totally different experiences, both very positive and I'd readily recommend to anyone. Good luck...

                  -----
                  David Burke's Primehouse
                  616 N Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611

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