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

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

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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. 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. 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...

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

      1 Reply
      1. re: ms. mika

        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??

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        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. 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

          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!

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          Boka
          1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

          1. re: deylamian

            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

              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

                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

              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.

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

              1. re: danimalarkey

                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.

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

          2. 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.

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            Hopleaf Bar
            5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

            Great Lake
            1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

            1 Reply
            1. re: lbs

              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.

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              Alinea
              1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

              Great Lake
              1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

            2. 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