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Need help with my Chicago eating itinerary!

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So I'll be in Chicago for a few days in August for Lollapalooza. I say I'm going for the concert but really I'm going for the food. I am NOT into fancy restaurants, and I am VERY interested in regional specialties and cheap eats. I will have friends with cars, but I would prefer to get some advice on what is close to where I plan on being... so as to not inconvenience my friends.

Okay, so some of the things I plan on doing are:
Cubs Game
Second City
Kingston Mines
The Baton Show Lounge
Lollapalooza (Grant Park)

What would I like to eat?

Pizza - I was thinking Una for deep dish, Giordinno's for stuffed, and Nick & Vito's for thin crust.

Italian Beef - Al's # 1, Original Jim's, or Portillo's... where should I go based on quality and my locations...?

Hot Dogs - think I'll pass on Hot Doug's. Do they have decent Chicago style dogs at Wrigley field?

Burgers - Moody's and Kuma's are the ones that captured my interest. Is Windy City Burger any good, especially considering I am a fan of veggie burgers as well as beef?

Mexican - is there anything good close to where I'll be? I was also thinking about hitting up Cemitras Pueabla....

Other random things - Chicago Brauhaus. Is this worth checking out?
Smoque? - is this close to any place I'll be?
Chicago Diner - any opinions on this vegetarian diner in Boystown?

Sorry for all the scattered random questions... it's just that last time I went to Chicago my friends there weren't much help. And I keep getting lost on the map.... any advice would be appreciated!

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Hot Doug's
3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Chicago Brauhaus
4732 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

Chicago Diner
3411 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60657

Windy City Burger
3109 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60657

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  1. I do not see any mention of where you are staying, just where some activities are. Hotel location would be helpful.

    Frontera/Topo are practically across the street from Baton Show Lounge. Cemitas Puebla might be worthwhile for the namesake sandwich or tacos arabes but is not close to any of your activities. It is taqueria plain and small. You order and pay at the counter and they bring the food to your table. http://cemitaspuebla.com/

    I would not bother with Chicago Brauhaus in August unless you want old-school Chicago-German food and entertainment. A December weekend with roast goose as a special is a different story.

    Smoque is near the Irving Park Road/Pulaski exit of the Kennedy Expressway and so is a fair distance from any of your named stops.

    Explore Chicago, the city's official tourism site, has links to maps, community areas and all sorts of information if you want to drill down a bit. http://www.explorechicago.org/city/en...

    -----
    Cemitas Puebla
    3619 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

    Chicago Brauhaus
    4732 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

    3 Replies
    1. re: Eldon Kreider

      That's the thing. I'm staying with friends, and they both outside the actual city of Chicago. I got a 30-40 minute ride into the city, so that's why I'm basing restaurant selection around my activities. I probably will try to get a hotel downtown for a couple nights as well, but I'm far from any actual bookings at this time.

      I've been to the Chicago Tourism website and it's excellent. But the neighbourhood map is much more basic than an actual street map of Chicago.... overwhelmed...

      1. re: existential_crisis

        >> I'm staying with friends, and they both outside the actual city of Chicago.

        Where are they? There are some excellent places (including cheap eats) in the suburbs, too.

        >> I probably will try to get a hotel downtown for a couple nights as well, but I'm far from any actual bookings at this time.

        You can get some of the best hotel bargains through Hotwire and Priceline. Just know that on those sites, you have to pay in advance when reserving, you can't cancel/change or get refunds, you won't get frequent guest points, and you can't choose a specific hotel, only a star level and a general location.

        >> I've been to the Chicago Tourism website and it's excellent. But the neighbourhood map is much more basic than an actual street map of Chicago.... overwhelmed...

        In my reply below, I mentioned the Chicago street/house numbering system. The middle of the Loop (Chicago's historical and commercial city center) is the center of the numbering system, with each 800 house numbers equal to a mile. So, for example, Wrigley Field is at 1060 North Addison, and Addison is 3600 north (3600N). That means it's roughly 3.5 miles north, and 1.25 miles west, of the center of the Loop. Here are the east/west numbers of all the places you're going:

        Cubs Game - 1060 West Addison (3600N, 1060W)
        Second City - 1616 North Wells (1616N, 200W)
        Kingston Mines - 2548 North Halsted (2548N, 800W)
        The Baton Show Lounge - 436 North Clark (436N, 100W)
        Lollapalooza (Grant Park) - entrances are at Michigan Avenue and Congress Drive (400S, 100E) and at Columbus Drive and Monroe Street (100S, 200E)

        You can use those numbers to figure out how far one place is from another. So, for example, I mentioned that Mixteco Grill is not far from Wrigley Field. You know that Wrigley Field is 3600N and 1060W. Mixteco Grill is at 1601 West Montrose, and Montrose is 4400N. So Mixteco Grill is about 1 mile north (4400 minus 3600) and 3/4 mile west (1601 minus 1060) of Wrigley Field. (Clark Street runs between the two, so if you don't want to walk, just hop on the #22 CTA bus.)

        Incidentally, when you look for a hotel, you're going to find that there's a huge number of hotels in the neighborhoods that are collectively known as "downtown Chicago", and not all that many are outside downtown (other than those in the suburbs). Most of the hotels are south of North Avenue (1600N), east of Halsted (800W), and north of Roosevelt Road (1200S).

        Feel free to ask questions about any directions you need, and we'll try to help.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Just moved here in June and that description was the most helpful description/tip anyone's given to orient myself...it's all making sense now!!

    2. >> Pizza - I was thinking Una for deep dish, Giordinno's for stuffed, and Nick & Vito's for thin crust.

      For deep-dish, you can't go wrong with Uno (not Una) or Due, Lou Malnati's (multiple locations), or Pizano's (multiple locations). Uno and Due and the Wells Street location of Malnati's are close to the Baton Show Lounge. Pizano's on Madison is close to the north end of Grant Park; Lou Malnati's at 8th and State is close to the south end. Lou Malnati's on Wrightwood is close to Kingston Mines. For stuffed pizza, Giordano's (not Giordinno's), Bacino's, and Edwardo's are always good choices. Giordano's in the Prudential building on Lake is close to the north end of Grant Park; Edwardo's on Dearborn is close to the south end. Bacino's on Wacker is close to the Baton Show Lounge. Giordano's on Belmont is close to Wrigley Field. Remember, at all these places (except Uno/Due, according to a recent report), you can phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while there for your pizza to bake.

      Vito and Nick's (not Nick and Vito's) is really, really far from every place you're going.

      >> Italian Beef - Al's # 1, Original Jim's, or Portillo's... where should I go based on quality and my locations...?

      Portillo's and Al's both have locations on Ontario near Baton. Some people say that that particular location of Al's should be avoided.

      >> Hot Dogs - think I'll pass on Hot Doug's. Do they have decent Chicago style dogs at Wrigley field?

      They're okay. They also have bison dogs there too, and even the guys roaming the stands sell them.

      >> Burgers - Moody's and Kuma's are the ones that captured my interest. Is Windy City Burger any good, especially considering I am a fan of veggie burgers as well as beef?

      Haven't been there. Keep in mind you'll wait forever at Kuma's, and it's not convenient to anywhere you're going. Moody's is pretty darn far, too. There are some decent burgers in areas you're headed, including Park Grill and Miller's Pub both near Grant Park.

      >> Mexican - is there anything good close to where I'll be?

      Frontera Grill and Topolobampo are close to Baton. You'll wait for a long time (90+ minutes) at Frontera unless you have a reservation (they don't accept many) or get there before they open. Topolobampo is a great choice for lunch, for which you can get reservations (including on Opentable) a few weeks in advance. Otherwise, it's worth traveling a few miles to Mexique in West Town (take the #66 CTA bus up Chicago Avenue) or Mundial Cocina Mestiza in Pilsen (near the 18th Street stop on the CTA Pink Line). Another great choice is Mixteco Grill, which isn't all that far from Wrigley (you can take the #22 CTA bus on Clark Street to get from one to the other).

      >> Smoque? - is this close to any place I'll be?

      No.

      >> I keep getting lost on the map....

      Keep in mind, Chicago has a street/house numbering system in which each difference of 800 is equal to one mile for most of the city, a little less than that downtown. Also, since you don't want to inconvenience your friends, there may be times when you want to hop on the el (that's our subway, portions of which are elevated) or a bus, both run by the CTA. The CTA has some good info on their website at www.transitchicago.com If you have specific questions about directions, we can try to help out.

      Also keep in mind that some of these places (such as Topolobampo for lunch) accept reservations, but do book up in advance. You've got some time between now and your trip, but I'd recommend making reservations as soon as possible for places that take them. You can always change or cancel them if you change your mind, but at least that way you'll have the option - which is better than waiting till the last minute and finding out you can go where you'd like.

      Feel free to ask more questions!

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

      Bacino's
      75 E Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60601

      Frontera Grill
      445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

      Topolobampo
      445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

      Mixteco Grill
      1601 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

      Mexique
      1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

      2 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thank you! You are very helpful... unfortunately, I'm not good with numbers and directions so your navigational advice went right over my head. I'm better off picking up a tourist or transit map when I get there and winging it.

        The Mexican restaurants you recommend look really good, but a little fancy for this particular trip. I should probably mention I'm from Canada where good Mexican or Tex-Mex is virtually non-existent so it won't take much to impress me. I tend to prefer home-style and street dishes.

        I'm staying in Elgin. There is an ok Mexican restaurant there I like.

        It looks like some pizza and beef dips are a good plan for before my activities. For Vito & Nicks, Cemitras Pueabla, and Kuma's I can probably get a ride.

        1. re: existential_crisis

          >> The Mexican restaurants you recommend look really good, but a little fancy for this particular trip.

          Mundial Cocina Mestiza and Mixteco Grill are not at all fancy and not very expensive. You can walk in dressed in anything, even the most casual like shorts, etc. An advance reservation is still a good idea, though (more so at Mixteco than at Mundial).

          >> I'm staying in Elgin. There is an ok Mexican restaurant there I like.

          Keep in mind, the food at the Mexican restaurants I mentioned is totally UNlike that of conventional Mexican restaurants (such as anything in Elgin). Take a look at the menus on their websites to get a better idea:

          www.rickbayless.com/restaurants (Topolobampo/Frontera Grill)
          www.mexiquechicago.com
          www.mundialcocinamestiza.com
          http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura... (Mixteco Grill)

          Enjoy your visit, and feel free to ask more questions!

      2. Given your reference to cheap eats and Mexican, consider Rick Bayless' Xoco near Baton instead of the Frontera/Topo options which are decidedly pricey.

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        XOCO
        449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

        1 Reply
        1. re: Siun

          Huh? At lunchtime, both Frontera Grill and Topolobampo are extremely reasonable in price, with most main courses in the mid teens. At dinner, Frontera Grill is still reasonable, with mains in the low twenties; Topolobampo is pricey only at dinner, with mains in the upper thirties.

          And what you get at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo is extremely creative food that you won't find in most other American cities. Whereas the food at XOCO is more conventional and comparable to Mexican food you can find anywhere.

          I've eaten at all three. XOCO can be fine when you want something quick or to go. But when you want to sit down and be served delicious, creative Mexican cuisine, it's no contest - Frontera Grill and Topolobampo have it all over XOCO.

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

          Topolobampo
          445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

        2. One thing to keep in mind about Lolla is that they hired Graham Elliot to coordinate the food options. Friends of mine said that the food last year, when he was also in charge, was amazing and much better than what you normally see at big music festivals. I'm sure the prices are high, but at least they might be worthwhile!

          If you're looking for good pizza, whether it's Chicago-style or not, take a look at Piece (in Wicker Park, 4 miles northwest of downtown Chicago) or Coalfire (in West Town, about 3 miles west of downtown). Both do thin crust, though Piece specializes in "New Haven style", meaning no cheese beyond parmigiano (you can also order pizzas with the usual mozzarella/sauce) while Coalfire is neapolitan (nearly as good as what I remember from Rome). Piece is also a brewpub and makes delicious beer. Some have said that Great Lake is the best pizza in America, located in Andersonville, but it can be prickly trying to get a seat, if only because it's tiny (there's a recent thread for last week that will give you an idea of how you go about ordering). I think the pizza there is phenomenal, but I don't know if it's necessarily worth your time since you won't be in town for long and might be shuttling back and forth a lot already between Elgin, Grant Park and your hotel.

          And I know these last three are not regional specialities, but they do offer amazing pizza. Much better (IMO) than Chicago-style.

          For burgers, Kuma's does have a lot of character but as nsxtasy already said, the wait times are outrageous. It's not so bad getting a seat at the bar, but that does't really work for more than 2 people. The other option is tos how up about 30 minutes before they open. For an amazing burger, albeit one in a more generic-feeling restaurant, consider Bad Apple (North Center, about 8 miles north of downtown). They also have a huge variety of toppings, just as 'extreme' as what you'll find at Kuma's but with virtually no waits. Great beer selection, too. Their veggie burger is made in-house, rather than just using a Gardenburger/Bocaburger/etc. I've never tried it, though, so that could be a negative!

          If you really want some barbeque, you can try Honey 1 BBQ. It's still in the city's northwest area, but not as far out as Smoque. They do porks ribs really well but the brisket is hit or miss. Best menu item is a rib tip/hot link combo. Honey 1 is also BYO.

          -----
          Coalfire
          1321 W Grand Ave Ste 2, Chicago, IL 60642

          Great Lake
          1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

          Graham Elliot
          217 W. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654

          5 Replies
          1. re: danimalarkey

            Stick with deep-dish Chicago-style pizza. It's our local specialty that you can't get anywhere else. It's located near where you're going, so you don't have to spend lots of time traveling to other parts of the city. And IMHO it's much MUCH better, much more delicious than those faraway thin-crust places.

            Also, FWIW, I've been to Honey 1 and didn't care for their ribs. They were WAY too fatty.

            There are plenty of great food places close to where you'll be going. No need to spend your time going to neighborhoods in other parts of the city - especially when you're just looking for something as simple as a good burger! (Speaking of which, another good place to get a burger at lunchtime is David Burke's Primehouse, a few blocks walk from the Baton Show Lounge.)

            1. re: nsxtasy

              All of those thin-crust options are much closer than the OP's thin-crust idea of Vito & Nick's. I'm not saying the OP shouldn't head to Uno's (or Due's or Malnati's, etc etc), but I don't know that adding on stuffed and tavern-style is really worth it. Given the choice between a pizza from Piece/Coalfire/Great Lake or Giordano's? Easy call for me.

              1. re: danimalarkey

                Ah, the thin crust/thick crust debate. Again.

                Piece/Coalfire/Great Lake or even Spacca Napoli are all good examples of thin crust pizzas.

                For the OP, I wouldn't bother with both deep dish and stuffed pizza. It's way too much. And I wouldn't consider Giordanos unless I really HAD to have stuffed. Giordino's (IMHO) is pretty meh. If it were me, I would settle into just one really good deep dish: Uno/Due/Pizano's/Malnoti's.

                Sounds like a great food trip.

                -----
                Spacca Napoli
                1769 W Sunnyside Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

                1. re: chicgail

                  Well I looked at all those thin crust places and they look good, but they all sorta look Neapolitan. And that's fine. I was just under the impression that Chicago was also known for its own style of thin crust pizza. Isn't it cut into squares or something?

                  I'm kinda torn because on my last visit I had a pizza from Malnati's. It was amazing! But I kinda want to try Uno's and I kinda want to try stuffed crust. I realize it's a lot of pizza and I'm not sure what my plan of attack will be...

                  1. re: existential_crisis

                    Serious Eats put together a guide to different types of pizza found in Chicago. I think it's pretty exhaustive and does a good job explaining how all of these pizzas are different.
                    http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives...

                    Since this guide was put together, a new pizza place has opened up called Roots. They specialize in "Quad Cities" style, meaning there's a bit more malt in the pizza dough and you cut it with scissors.

                    Re thin crust (or tavern-style), while it's something that can be common to these parts, I don't know that it's particularly good. I think it's one of those things that if you grow up eating it, you're going to love it -- if you just want really, really good pizza, you might be underwhelmed.

                    Re stuffed... if that's what you want to try, by all means, try it! Again, I personally don't find stuffed crust to be that amazing but it's your vacation and you should eat what you like. If you really want to go on a pizza bender while in Chicago, I simply wouldn't overlook some of the other places mentioned just because they don't use a thicker crust.