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Visiting from San Francisco -- Need a couple of more "Must Do's/Eats"!!

d
deylamian May 5, 2011 09:34 AM

Hey all --

My girlfriend and I will be visiting from San Francisco on Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get reservations at Alinea, so I'm hoping we can at least get into Aviary at some point to try some of the drinks.

Here is what we're up to during the 4 nights we'll be there....My question is this; what are a couple "MUST DO's," "MUST DRINKS," or "MUST EATS" that we should check out that aren't on my list? We love intricate cocktails, and I'm a HUGE pizza freak (especially Chicago style, so any options besides the ones I listed would be great), and definitely don't want to miss out on any "must's" that your city has to offer, so any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!!!

Eats:
Girl and the Goat.
Lou Malnati's
XOCO
Jam or Purple Pig for brunch
Great Lake pizza -- is it worth they hype?
Giordano's

Cocktails:
Aviary --
Violet Hour
The Whistler

To Do's
Art Institute
Willis Tower
Wendella Boat Tour
Cubs game on Memorial Day

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

Great Lake
1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

Violet Hour
1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

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

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  1. f
    ferret RE: deylamian May 5, 2011 10:03 AM

    Won't comment on the restaurants - nearly every poster has their own opinion on each. I will add that the Willis Tower is enough off the beaten path as to not really merit a visit (unless you're dead set on walking out on the Ledge - which I admit is pretty cool). The Hancock, while not quite as high is in a better location and offers a nicer viewing position, in my opinion.

    Okay, I lied. Malnati's AND Giordano's in one weekend? Skip Giordano's.

    1. m
      ms. mika RE: deylamian May 5, 2011 10:14 AM

      Missing off of your Must Drink list is The Drawing Room. They have amazing creative cocktails and knowledgeable bartenders who will create cocktails for you based on flavor profiles if nothing off the menu grabs you. Definitely go and sit at the bar. Their head mixologist was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award this year.

      On your question on Great Lakes Pizza- it is really delicious, but it also is a really long wait. So it depends on how much of your time you want to invest. There's great places nearby you can have a drink while you wait, but be prepared for a couple hour wait...

      -----
      The Drawing Room
      937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

      1 Reply
      1. re: ms. mika
        d
        deylamian RE: ms. mika May 5, 2011 10:21 AM

        Great -- Thank you. Drawing Room looks great.

        My problem is now this -- I have NO IDEA what restaurant to pick besides Girl&The Goat.. It's the same pain people have when they visit San Francisco; so many amazing options, I have no idea to narrow it down.

        Alinea was booked (obviously), so now I'm looking for something I can reserve for either Saturday or Sunday night -- It doesn't have to be at a 3 michelin star level (I'd actually prefer not)....Maybe Boka, Takashi, or Tru??

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

        Boka
        1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

        The Drawing Room
        937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

      2. d
        danimalarkey RE: deylamian May 5, 2011 10:19 AM

        Working backwards (with the caveat that mods here like to keep the focus on food at the expense of other topics), take a look at architecture.org - I think their boat tour is better, though that's because it's longer and has a stronger architecture focus (if your schedule doesn't allow for a longer ride or you don't want something that seems so academic, feel free to skip). There's also a tour called 'Elevated Architecture" that's a lot of fun and the tour of Millennium Park is pretty exhaustive and very interesting (full disclosure - I volunteer with the organization and lead tours myself).

        As for drinking, add Sable (can also add to the food list) and The Drawing Room. I would even add Big Star since they share a beverage director with Violet Hour (though Big Star's cocktails are limited to whiskey/tequila). Aviary announced yesterday that they will accept limited, same-day reservations for 6pm. There's more on facebook and it's worth a shot if you don't mind drinking early (at least you get to skip the line!).

        As for eating, it's kind of tough to say. Do you want to find places unlike those you'll find in San Francisco? Do you want white-tablecloth, formal dining? Contemporary American? Do you mind waiting for 60-90 minutes for a table if you can't get reservations? Do you mind lively (some would say loud), crowded places or something more sedate? Are you looking to stay in a particular neighborhood (ie. where you'll be staying while in town) or will you mind taking public transportation to different spots around the city?

        Having said that, I agree with ferret - you only need Malnati's or Giordano's (and I'd pick Malnati's for authentic Chicago-style -- Giordano's is a stuffed crust, which is also good but not quite the same thing). Great Lake is phenomenal but tiny, tiny, tiny and expensive - but, if you want to find out for yourself, then it's likely worth trying.

        -----
        The Drawing Room
        937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

        Great Lake
        1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

        Violet Hour
        1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

        6 Replies
        1. re: danimalarkey
          d
          deylamian RE: danimalarkey May 5, 2011 10:42 AM

          I'm not too big on the White Tablecloth, Formal Dining, stuffy atmosphere, "Coat Required" type of restaurant...though if it's worth the experience, I wouldn't be opposed. I'm definitely into Contemporary American, hip, modern places,. Purely on the fact I'm going to be there for only a few days, I don't want to wait too long to get in anywhere -- which is why I'm looking at places with availability. (Aviary is the exception) With that said, Tru, L20, Boka, and Takashi all have a couple openings for the days I'll be in town.

          I'm leaning toward TRU and L20; are they worth the pricetag, and if so, which would you recommend?

          Thanks!

          -----
          Boka
          1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

          1. re: deylamian
            chicgail RE: deylamian May 5, 2011 11:08 AM

            L20 is a bit of an unknown right now with chef Laurent Gras having left. I'd go with TRU. It's also closer to central tourist area than either Boka or Takashi, both of which are good, but not quite the food destination that Tru is.

            1. re: chicgail
              o
              one00proof RE: chicgail May 5, 2011 11:54 AM

              Just to note that Tru is as "White Tablecloth, Formal Dining, stuffy atmosphere, "Coat Required" type of restaurant" as you can get if you catch my drift.

              1. re: one00proof
                chicgail RE: one00proof May 5, 2011 12:14 PM

                I think I caught your drift. Tru absolutely has white table clothes and provides a formal dining experience.

                That being said, I found the staff to be friendly, knowledgeable and in no way stuffy, arrogant or offputting. It was a delightful experience.

            2. re: deylamian
              d
              danimalarkey RE: deylamian May 5, 2011 12:16 PM

              Yeah, as noted below, Tru and L20 are both pretty formal, very quiet rooms. Food is probably great, but if you want something more like Girl & The Goat as far as atmosphere, I don't think either would deliver.

              Across the street from G&TG is Maude's Liquor Bar - it's probably more of a place to be scene and have drinks, but I've heard that the food is solid, too. If you want to head out of downtown a little, take a look at Longman & Eagle. They don't take reservations and are ~6miles from downtown (very easy L ride, though), but the food really delivers. It's not far from The Whistler, too, in case you want a 1-2 combination.

              I would also recommend Avec and The Publican. Avec doesn't accept reservations and you'll be stuck with barstools or communal seating - if that doesn't bother you, though, it's a real Chicago stalwart. The Publican is also lagely communal seating-type place and while the food may not be as inventive as other places, it's executed really, really well. Their beer list is one of the best in the city, too.

              I understand, though, that L&E and Avec don't really help you with avoiding long waits, but depending on when you plan on eating, you may see shorter times.

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

              1. re: danimalarkey
                d
                deylamian RE: danimalarkey May 5, 2011 01:05 PM

                Avec looks perfect!! I'll definitely check it out. It reminds me (based on what I'm reading/seeing) of NOPA here in San Francisco, which is one of my favorite restaurants in the City.

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

          2. l
            lbs RE: deylamian May 5, 2011 12:12 PM

            Do you have reservations for GATG? Doing a quick opentable.com search seems that they are solidly booked for that weekend. There are some walk-in tables available but the wait may be super long.

            Lou's is great and I would pick that over Giorando's. However, if you are going to be at the A.Institute, you may want to check out Pizano's on Michigan and Madison as it is down the street. Very similar to Lou's.

            Great Lake - I'd make sure they are open for the holiday. If so, you may want to go after the Cubs game (if in the right frame of mind). You can get back on the Red Line and take it Berywn. Walk 3-4 blocks west and you'll hit the area. You could take the #22 bus but after a Cubs game, you can usually walk faster than the bus. If you are in the area of Great Lake and the line is too long, try Hopleaf for some Belgian Beers and great food.

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

            Great Lake
            1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

            1 Reply
            1. re: lbs
              d
              deylamian RE: lbs May 5, 2011 01:03 PM

              Yea, I made reservations at GATG -- 4:30 PM on my last night there (Tuesday).
              I'm also on the wait list for Alinea -- 155th person. :-/

              Thanks for the advice on Great Lake -- I like that idea of checking it out after the Cubs game.

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

              Great Lake
              1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

            2. geg5150 RE: deylamian May 5, 2011 05:07 PM

              Oh, I adore NOPA! Enjoy your stay here in Chicago.

              Check out The Publican. Belgian Brasserie atmosphere, heavy emphasis on Belgian style beers, pork, seafood and offal. Communal seating and a very lively atmosphere. They do take reservations.

              Another option to explore for brunch is Nightwood in Pilsen. Bacon donuts is all I have to say. A tad off the beaten path but easy enough to get to on the Orange line. They also do take reservations, but sit at the kitchen counter. I've not been for dinner.

              Great Lake is great, but particular. I was there a few weeks ago and it was $100 for three pizzas. Tasty, but you could have a crazy wait on Memorial Day weekend. I've gotten there at 5 on a Saturday an they're already full for the night.

              If you're into beer at all, check out Hopleaf in Andersonville, arguably the best beer bar in Chicago. (Love Monk's Cafe in the Mission, btw.)

              Another option for dinner -- look into Bon Soiree. Prix Fixe, BYOB and tiny -- 28 seats. Pan Asian with classical French touches. Exposed brick, white table clothes and perfectly acceptable to have dinner in jeans. The chef is young and hip and they have a star.

              Violet Hour is super cool. It gets crazy though, not unusual to have a 90 minute wait at 9 on a weekend night. I suggest going when they open at 6, sit at the bar, talk to the bartender and enjoy a pre-dinner drink. The Whistler is a cool bar, too, a little off the beaten path, but close-ish to Bon Soiree.

              I second the rec to skip the Sears Tower and have a drink at the Hancock instead. You skip the entrance fee and it's only one floor below the observation deck.

              Sable is good for cocktails and a snack.

              Have fun!

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

              Great Lake
              1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

              Violet Hour
              1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

              Bon Soiree
              Chicago, Chicago, IL

              1. nsxtasy RE: deylamian May 10, 2011 04:01 PM

                I'll keep it brief because a lot of good advice has already been posted here in previous replies.

                I agree with the previous posters. Doing pizza at three different places is overkill. Do Malnati's (or Pizano's or the original Uno/Due) and skip the others.

                For creative cocktails, definitely consider Sable. The food there is also outstanding and I think it's worth spending a dinner there during your trip.

                You mention "Jam or Purple Pig for brunch". Note that the Purple Pig does not have a brunch menu, so if you're looking for brunch dishes (sweet or savory), you'll want to go elsewhere. Jam is very good but waits on weekends (especially Sundays) can be lengthy. Consider it for a weekday to avoid waits.

                I think you're really missing out on one of our strengths if XOCO is the only Mexican place you go to. We have places that serve unusual, creative provincial Mexican food that you can't get in San Francisco. Consider Topolobampo for lunch, or Mexique for lunch or dinner.

                One more "must do" place in Chicago is North Pond, not only for the food but also for its unique, exquisite setting in the park.

                Finally, this discussion tells what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at - a more complete list of "must eats" if you will:

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

                1 Reply
                1. re: nsxtasy
                  d
                  deylamian RE: nsxtasy May 10, 2011 04:17 PM

                  Great stuff; Thank you.

                2. c
                  CaliChiGal RE: deylamian May 18, 2011 09:12 AM

                  Hey,

                  I'm one of the few ppl in the world who can say I grew up equally in San Fran and Chitown. As such, here's a bit of advice. Chicago is full of WAY too many good eats options to hit them all in a four day span (couldn't even suggest a good four week plan). Also, Chicagoans (of the "foodie" caliber) do tend to lean toward a more, how should I say, "stuffy" atmosphere when recommending a great night out. Weird, since they're very laid back in all other respects.

                  Top advice - don't worry so much about the food, if it has a crowd and it's in the city, chances are you'll like it. Do worry about hearing some great jazz while you're here!! Chicago is an excellent spot for live jazz.

                  On the food tip, my suggestion is to pick a neighborhood/locale where you want to hang out and pick an interesting dining spot & watering hole from there. Interesting neighborhoods to try (outside of downtown) include: Old Town, Lincoln Park (although highly congested, extremely difficult to park), Lakeview (ditto), Ravenswood/Lincoln Square/Andersonville (old Swedish haunt, interesting character, good for brunch/lunch options). If you head that way, I'd highly recommend trying Chalkboard, Tre Kronor, or 42DegreesNLattitude. For not-so-stuffy French, try Kiki's Bistro (that would put you back downtown). If you head to Hyde Park (which I recommend, see the U of C campus, beautiful!), and walk over to Piccolo Mondo, a tucked away Italian restaurant on 56th street (walking distance to the Museum of Science & Industry). Authentic, great food.

                  Another great night in Chicago is trying any of several great Indian restaurants on Devon (far north side). Don't bother with anything else asian or anything south of the border, while Chicago has some awesome choices in both categories, California has that market cornered, hands down.

                  All of these options are great food with a laidback atmosphere. These places always appeal to the coastal gal in me.

                  Just my two cents (one Chicago jazzed up coin, one Bay Area minted). ;-)

                  -----
                  Tre Kronor
                  3258 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

                  Kiki's Bistro
                  900 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60610

                  Piccolo Mondo
                  1642 E 56th St Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60637

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: CaliChiGal
                    chicgail RE: CaliChiGal May 18, 2011 10:38 AM

                    Sorry, I have to disagee about that south-of-the-border stuff. We have regional upscale Mexican that I haven't seen anywhere else.
                    Toplobambo
                    Frontera Grill
                    Mexique
                    Mixteca
                    Nuevo Leon
                    Mundial Cocina Mestiz
                    Fonda del Mar

                    And I'm just getting started.

                    -----
                    Frontera Grill
                    445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

                    Mexique
                    1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                    Nuevo Leon Restaurant
                    3657 W 26th St, Chicago, IL 60623

                    1. re: chicgail
                      f
                      ferret RE: chicgail May 18, 2011 10:53 AM

                      I wouldn't go so far as to say you can't find good regional upscale Mexican elsewhere. There are a number of places in NY that I've been to over the years that are quite good and comparable to what we have here.

                      1. re: chicgail
                        nsxtasy RE: chicgail May 18, 2011 10:57 AM

                        >> Sorry, I have to disagee about that south-of-the-border stuff. We have regional upscale Mexican that I haven't seen anywhere else.

                        I agree with chicgail, with one exception (and it's not San Francisco). I'm a frequent visitor to both ends of California, and much of the rest of the United States. There is absolutely nothing like our provincial Mexican restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area, or in most of the United States including New York City. However, the Los Angeles area is an exception - the only one I'm aware of - as they have some similar places (examples include Moles La Tia in Boyle Heights, where I've been, and several locations of Guelaguetza).

                        Oh, and the above list of some of Chicago's creative Mexican restaurants is a good start (yes, as she mentions, we have many more too), with the exception of Nuevo Leon, which serves the more conventional Mexican food you find in most of the United States.

                        Those who are not familiar with the difference between provincial Mexican cuisine, and the conventional Mexican food found elsewhere, can see the difference by checking out the menus on these restaurants' websites:

                        www.rickbayless.com/restaurants (Toplobambo and Frontera Grill)
                        www.mexiquechicago.com
                        http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...
                        www.mundialcocinamestiza.com
                        www.fdmrestaurant.com

                        I would strongly recommend that any visitor from San Francisco should try our creative Mexican food. It is excellent and varied, and it is not available to them back home.

                        1. re: chicgail
                          c
                          CaliChiGal RE: chicgail May 18, 2011 01:44 PM

                          1. I did say Chicago has good options (just for a Californian on vacation it would be a redundant waste of time - at best, being a California transplant and having had a TON of family from Cali come and make various comments here about the Mexican, I have a sense of how they view it).
                          2. Since when is Nuevo Leon upscale?? That's news to me & my family - we dine there regularly.
                          3. The point of my post was to give him something original and something that Chicago does uniquely well, without being too overpriced/stuffy/blah.

                          Amazing that anyone would be so limited in their "food" knowledge as to try and explain Mexican cuisine to a California native. Please. Regarding "provincial" Mexican cuisine, I assure you San Francisco (and indeed the entire west coast) has a WIDE variety of Mexican regions represented in a wide variety of forms (California was actually part of Mexico at one point, don't you know).

                          Examples:

                          http://www.colibrimexicanbistro.com/
                          http://www.mayasf.com/
                          http://www.papalote-sf.com/
                          http://tropisueno.com/
                          http://rocksnosalt.com/san-francisco/

                          The list goes on and on. Chicago has its own unique few. But for every one in Chicago you could name, there's dozens on the coast.

                          I remember being shocked when I moved to Chicago and half the people I met didn't know what a "mole" was (let alone the myriad of variations).

                          -----
                          Nuevo Leon Restaurant
                          3657 W 26th St, Chicago, IL 60623

                          1. re: CaliChiGal
                            nsxtasy RE: CaliChiGal May 18, 2011 01:54 PM

                            >> The point of my post was to give him something original and something that Chicago does uniquely well, without being too overpriced/stuffy/blah.

                            That's a perfect description of our restaurants offering provincial Mexican cuisine. And they're unlike anything found in San Francisco. Sounds to me like your friends/family are unaware of such cuisine and mistakenly confuse it with the enchiladas and carne asada they get back home. Taking them to Mixteco Grill and/or Mundial Cocina Mestiza will be a big awakening for them; that's what I've done with my relatives from the SFBay area (both restaurants) and they've been mightily impressed!

                      2. a
                        Adriane RE: deylamian May 18, 2011 08:23 PM

                        Okay so clearly you're getting a ton of feedback here so I will try to be brief on the items already covered and hopefully add some new bits

                        -Skip the idea of Aviary, because it's going to be a nightmare of a madhouse esp. on Memorial Day Weekend!...there are so many other great cocktail places. I second the Drawing Room and Violet Hour (also a wait, but not as nuts). I would also add Gilt Bar which has a speakeasy-type feel and excellent cocktails. http://www.giltbarchicago.com/

                        -Do a "two-for-one" and go to the trump tower. I don't know if the 19th floor terrace will be open, but if it is, do yourself a favor and go have a cocktail while viewing the sunset splashed all across the gorgeous River North buildings --and get a peek at Lake Michigan, too--drinks are pricey but solid and the view makes it worth it.

                        - XOCO is tasty but odd in general. Not a place I'd say you absolutely must visit.

                        -Purple Pig is amazing. If you are into the sharing, talking about food while eating it, and a general convival/hip atmosphere throughout the place, go. Food is fantastic. Not Stuffy. Our long wait was mitigated by the bartender-runner literally taking orders and bringing them to us as we waited outside. Hello? Talk about great service. Also check out Longman and Eagle. http://longmanandeagle.com/eat/ I have not been personally but have heard great things.

                        -Giordano's is not worth the hype...it feels sooo....contrived. It's full of tourists. Blech. If you're going to be up near Wrigley/Lakeview for the game, I suggest Art of Pizza- So good!! http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-art-of-pi...

                        -In that same vein, check out Julius Meinl on Southport for brunch (okay i work there but this is so not a plug! I promise!) We are right down the street from Wrigley and have a pretty large menu with breakfast until 3pm every day, also open til midnight on fri-sat. Solid Vienna coffeehouse will all the added awesomeness of a full menu.

                        To Dos (keepin' it brief, please google the recs!
                        )-Definitely Art Institute-- Terzo Piano if your hungry?
                        -Garfield Park Conservatory, beautiful...awe inspiring...serene...
                        -Millennium Park..Beach, cityscape behind you? Perfection.
                        -Architecture Tour!!!
                        - Glessner and Clark House Museums...for a taste of Chicago from the turn of the century. A little gem...celebrating it's 125th and 175th anniversaries, respectively

                        Ok ok- I think you have a huge host of items to sort through- good luck and have fun in our city!!

                        -----
                        The Drawing Room
                        937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

                        Art of Pizza
                        3033 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

                        Violet Hour
                        1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                        Terzo Piano
                        159 E Monroe St, Chicago, IL 60603

                        1. s
                          Siun RE: deylamian May 20, 2011 12:40 PM

                          I don't work at Meinl but surely second the suggestion if you need Wrigley nearby brunch.

                          I'd toss Spout into the restaurant option list - Dale Levitsky does really wonderful food and likely more your preferred atmosphere than the whole Tru etc scene.

                          Xoco for lunch or breakfast is a very good choice ...

                          Also seconding Violet Hour, Sable and Gilt Bar

                          And if the weather is good, eating from the outside window at Big Star after some brilliant cocktails at Violet Hour is just a wonderful way to spend a Chicago evening ... with good weather, either the Wendalla or Arch Inst. boat tour plus these would make for a truly lovely Chicago day. I used to think the boat tours would be too "touristy" but was so wrong and take them just for fun rather often ...

                          Also just note that Great Lakes is known for rather quirky customer relations - and they are insanely busy so be prepared but if you adore pizza, then go for it.

                          -----
                          The Violet Hour
                          1520 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622

                          Great Lake
                          1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

                          Violet Hour
                          1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                          Sprout
                          1417 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

                          XOCO
                          449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

                          1. nsxtasy RE: deylamian May 20, 2011 12:47 PM

                            If you are interested in brunch near Wrigley Field, I recommend Southport Grocery, which is right around the corner from Julius Meinl. Southport Grocery has a really creative brunch menu, including bread pudding pancakes and "grown-up pop tarts". It's one of our very best places for breakfast/brunch! www.southportgrocery.com

                            I also recommend Deleece on Southport, which is about half a mile north of Southport Grocery. Great food, whether you go for dinner or for their brunch (it's a more conventional a la carte brunch). www.deleece.com

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