HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >

Bday (55) in Chi for group of 8 (including vegetarians)

s
simkhele Jul 7, 2011 08:31 AM

Greetings. I grew up in a Chicago 'burb, but left when I was 18, and though I get back from time to time for family visits, I hardly ever manage to go out when I'm there. So though it's my hometown, I'm at a loss about: Where to have dinner on my birthday in August. I will be staying at a hotel near the Art Inst for an academic conference, but don't think that would be the right neighborhood to eat in as I figure everything nearby will be overpriced, pretentious and/or touristy (but correct me if I'm wrong). It's not a problem to take the El or a cab to some other part of town, but it should be reasonably accessible from any points in the city. (Two folks will be coming from the south side, two from Evanston.) Here are qualities I'm seeking:

-Quiet enough for people to converse without shouting -- we'll be a party of 8, most likely
-Good, fresh food with options for the four vegetarians in the group (farm-to-table place, maybe?)
-Special/festive in any of a number of ways -- trendy joint or great ethnic hole-in-the-wall or outdoor garden ...
-Not super expensive / super-trendy -- under $50 pp including wine
-Not pizza
- Takes (and honors) reservations (and isn't too hung up to accommodate a change if the size of the party grows or shrinks by one or two 24 hours in advance)

The kind of thing I've enjoyed when I've taken a bunch of friends to dinner for my birthday (that's the European custom and I think it's so nice, I've adopted it) here in NYC, have included: Elias Corner (grilled fish in the garden in a Greek nabe in Queens); Bombay Talkie (tarted-up Indian "street food"); the outdoor garden at Moustache (Middle Eastern); tapas at Boqueria (too loud, it turned out, but delicious); Grand Pho (my fave Vietnamese place in Chinatown).

I'll have one other night in the city and would be happy to hear recommendations for a nice, suitable-for-veggies place for just my partner and me -- but the birthday group is the more pressing question.

THANKS! I'm looking forward to finally having a chance to sample some Chicago chow.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. nsxtasy RE: simkhele Jul 7, 2011 08:50 AM

    >> I figure everything nearby will be overpriced, pretentious and/or touristy (but correct me if I'm wrong).

    Not true. There are plenty of places downtown that offer excellent food at a fair price, where locals as well as visitors go. However, your criteria are very specific, and they rule out a lot of places because they are noisy (Sable, Quartino) or they don't take reservations (Lula, although not downtown, would otherwise be perfect) or they are above your price point (many, many places).

    Here are a few suggestions that ought to fit all your criteria:

    Provincial Mexican - Mundial Cocina Mestiza ( www.mundialcocinamestiza.com ) is about four miles southwest. It is my favorite Mexican restaurant in the city, and the food is nothing like what you can get back home in NYC.

    Contemporary American - Rhapsody ( www.rhapsodychicago.com ) is close by. Deleece on Southport ( www.deleece.com ) is about five miles north.

    Italian - Coco Pazzo Cafe ( www.cocopazzocafe.com ) is about half a mile north.

    Greek - all the Greek restaurants in Greek Town, about a mile west (see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/119233 )

    French bistro - La Sardine ( www.lasardine.com ) is about a mile west, but their vegetarian offerings are limited.

    All of these have websites with menus that show prices, so you can check them to see how they fit the needs of your budget and your vegetarian companions. All of these accept reservations; all are on Opentable except La Sardine, which accepts reservations through its own website, and the Greek places, and of course they accept reservations over the phone too.

    17 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy
      d
      danimalarkey RE: nsxtasy Jul 7, 2011 09:16 AM

      >>Lula, although not downtown, would otherwise be perfect) or they are above your price point (many, many places).

      You might call them anyway -- they're currently expanding (into the dry cleaner's space next door) and plan on accepting reservations once the expansion is complete. It's possible they will be finished by the time the OP's birthday.

      Nightwood, in Pilsen and owned by the same couple, accepts reservations. It's about 3 miles from downtown and a very quick cab ride (the L, sadly, doesn't stop close by). The menu online right now doesn't have too many vegetarian options, I admit, but it changes a little every day and if you give them advance notice when you make a reservation, they may be willing to accomodate additional requests.

      For the two of you, if you don't mind a quick L/cab ride to Wicker Park, you can go to Mana. It doesn't have a huge indoor space but there is ample outdoor seating. Very casual and hip, it always smells delicious when I walk by (I haven't been yet -- but it's always packed and hardcore meat-eating friends of mine have gone and walked away happy). Green Zebra, in West Town, is also a popular vegetarian destination.

      -----
      Green Zebra
      1460 W Chicago, Chicago, IL 60622

      Nightwood
      2119 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60608

      1. re: danimalarkey
        s
        simkhele RE: danimalarkey Jul 7, 2011 11:55 AM

        Thanks. These all sound like promising leads. Much appreciated.
        Any Chinatown/Vietnamese good bets?
        In any case, I will definitely have to spend more time in Chicago!

        1. re: simkhele
          s
          simkhele RE: simkhele Jul 7, 2011 12:10 PM

          And PS: Thanks for correcting my erroneous assumption about what's downtown. I was projecting. (If someone asked me where to eat near the Metropolitan Museum, I'd explain what bus or subway line to get on.)

        2. re: danimalarkey
          nsxtasy RE: danimalarkey Jul 7, 2011 12:08 PM

          >> Nightwood, in Pilsen and owned by the same couple, accepts reservations.

          That's another good recommendation, for contemporary American food. However, typical entrees are $26, which may stretch your budget. www.nightwoodrestaurant.com

          >> (the L, sadly, doesn't stop close by).

          Nightwood is about 1/3 mile north of the Halsted stop on the CTA Orange Line.

          Public transit for other restaurants mentioned above: Mundial Cocina Mestiza is a few doors east of the 18th Street stop on the CTA Pink Line, and Deleece is a half mile west of the Sheridan stop on the CTA Red Line and a half mile east of the Irving stop on the CTA Brown Line. The other places are close to downtown, so from the Art Institute I would walk or hop on a bus, but for those coming from elsewhere, Coco Pazzo Cafe is close to the Grand stop on the CTA Red Line, Greek Town is close to the UIC/Halsted stop on the CTA Blue Line, and La Sardine is about half a mile from the Clinton stop on the CTA Pink and Green Lines and the Grand stop on the Blue Line.

          1. re: nsxtasy
            s
            simkhele RE: nsxtasy Jul 7, 2011 12:13 PM

            Wow. Thanks so much nsxtasy. That's tremendously helpful.

            1. re: simkhele
              nsxtasy RE: simkhele Jul 7, 2011 12:22 PM

              No problem. You can find more transit info on the CTA website at www.transitchicago.com

              Incidentally, that walk up Halsted street to Nightwood is not exactly pedestrian-friendly. I mean, you can walk it no problem, but Halsted Street through there is a busy multi-lane commercial street and it's an industrial neighborhood as you cross over the river. So it's not as pleasant as, say, walking past shops and restaurants on 18th Street between the el and Mundial Cocina Mestiza.

              Last month I got off at that same CTA stop (UIC/Halsted) to go to a restaurant that might also meet your needs. I transferred from there to the CTA #8 bus down Halsted Street a half mile to 31st Street, then walked 1/4 mile east to Han 202. Han 202 is a Chinese restaurant whose menu also features some global dishes (beet salad, souffles for dessert). The menu is $25 for a five-course prix fixe, with $5 supplements for some dishes. It's BYOB only. It definitely meets your price and quiet objectives, although it's not as convenient to transportation as the other places mentioned here. www.han202.com

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

              Nightwood
              2119 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60608

            2. re: nsxtasy
              d
              danimalarkey RE: nsxtasy Jul 7, 2011 12:24 PM

              It might be 1/3 mile, but to be honest, that stretch of Halsted is pretty desolate and I wouldn't feel like walking it. The Halsted bus would be fine, and that tends to run pretty frequently.

              As far as my comment for Lula's, Eater posted a short update with information from the owner, Jason Hammel:
              "is still waiting on getting licensed to do the expansion, which is four to six weeks out, according to owner Jason Hammel."
              I don't know if that means the licenses are not due to come through in 4-6 weeks, or that's when the whole project is currently set to be wrapped up. Either way, it looks like it won't be done in time for this visit.

              For those interested, this is what Lula's initially said would be coming as part of the expansion: http://chicago.eater.com/archives/201...

              1. re: danimalarkey
                nsxtasy RE: danimalarkey Jul 7, 2011 01:44 PM

                >> It might be 1/3 mile, but to be honest, that stretch of Halsted is pretty desolate and I wouldn't feel like walking it.

                It's very busy with a lot of vehicle traffic - not desolate (but, as I mentioned, not pedestrian-friendly either).

                1. re: nsxtasy
                  d
                  danimalarkey RE: nsxtasy Jul 7, 2011 01:46 PM

                  Desolate to me meaning little in the way of other pedestrians, shops, etc.

              2. re: nsxtasy
                delk RE: nsxtasy Jul 8, 2011 12:16 PM

                >>La Sardine is about half a mile from the Clinton stop on the CTA Red and Green Lines and the Grand stop on the Blue Line.

                Should be PINK line and Green line

                1. re: delk
                  nsxtasy RE: delk Jul 8, 2011 01:42 PM

                  Of course you are correct. Thanks for catching that!

                  The Chowhound Team has fixed my post per my request.

                  1. re: nsxtasy
                    delk RE: nsxtasy Jul 9, 2011 05:11 AM

                    Ashland, the next stop, is mine! I hit Clinton on my way home to go to the Jewel and the French Market.

                    ps, the food truck Thursday at Ethyl's (324 S Racine) is pretty cool!

            3. re: nsxtasy
              m
              mrsdebdav RE: nsxtasy Jul 7, 2011 02:12 PM

              nsxtasy - I always follow your posts, as you know, and really appreciate your input. On your rec, I went to Sable on my last visit and found it extremely veg friendly (and meat friendly as well), and not at all too noisy. We all just loved it.
              On the other hand, I don't think Rhapsody or Deleece look terribly veg friendly. Just wanted to add my two cents and, again, remain in your debt.
              Will be heading to Chi in August and already looking forward to another week of fab food.

              1. re: mrsdebdav
                nsxtasy RE: mrsdebdav Jul 7, 2011 02:34 PM

                >> I don't think Rhapsody or Deleece look terribly veg friendly.

                No? In addition to appetizers and side dishes, Rhapsody has three vegetarian pastas, and Deleece has a vegetarian pasta and a veg entree, which is more than a lot of other places.

                Also, Green Zebra, mentioned above by danimalarkey, is an upscale vegetarian restaurant that might merit consideration on all counts. It's about three miles from the Loop and half a mile west of the Chicago stop on the CTA Blue Line. www.greenzebrachicago.com

                1. re: nsxtasy
                  m
                  mrsdebdav RE: nsxtasy Jul 7, 2011 04:16 PM

                  Green Zebra is veggie heaven. I absolutely loved it. Not sure how non-veggers would feel, but if they are open-minded and appreciate great food and wonderful service, they should be happy.
                  Maybe I'm old and jaded, but pasta just doesn't do it for me. There are so many creative veg dishes (i.e., Green Zebra!). But, if all tastes need to be accommodated, I guess pasta is better than a steamed veg plate.

                  -----
                  Green Zebra
                  1460 W Chicago, Chicago, IL 60622

                  1. re: mrsdebdav
                    s
                    Siun RE: mrsdebdav Jul 9, 2011 09:43 PM

                    I've taken many non-vegetarians to Green Zebra and they've enjoyed it as long as they like creative food but I'd also second your comment on Sable - I go often and have not found it loud and they have a lovely big table for a group that size.

                    -----
                    Green Zebra
                    1460 W Chicago, Chicago, IL 60622

                    1. re: Siun
                      nsxtasy RE: Siun Jul 9, 2011 10:08 PM

                      The only hesitation I have about Green Zebra is that some non-vegetarians may not be satisfied with a meal without offering any meat or fish (sometimes Green Zebra has a single non-vegetarian dish but other times it does not). It may be as important to include options for non-vegetarians as for vegetarians. You know your group; this is something for you to consider.

                      As for Sable, I've only sat in the main dining room (the one with the open kitchen) and I thought it was rather noisy. But I absolutely LOVE the food there and the food prices are amazingly low, especially considering the high quality. So I would agree with Siun and mrsdebdav that it deserves consideration.

            4. m
              masha RE: simkhele Jul 8, 2011 08:06 AM

              Another alternative would be Marigold, which features Indian-inspired food, in Uptown. http://www.marigoldrestaurant.com/men...
              It's close to public transportation, and would be particularly easy to get to for your Evanston guests.

              There are also quite a number of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in Uptown but I have no personal experience with any of them. Search the board under Uptown and you will locate those that are Board favorites

              2 Replies
              1. re: masha
                nsxtasy RE: masha Jul 8, 2011 08:10 AM

                >> There are also quite a number of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in Uptown but I have no personal experience with any of them. Search the board under Uptown and you will locate those that are Board favorites

                Vietnamese, yes, around Argyle and Broadway, places such as Tank Noodle. But Chinese, not so much. If you want really good Chinese, you'd be better off going to Chinatown rather than Uptown. Szechuan favorites there include Lao Sze Chuan and Double Li. Near the CTA Red Line stop at Cermak/Chinatown.

                -----
                Lao Sze Chuan
                2172 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

                1. re: nsxtasy
                  s
                  simkhele RE: nsxtasy Jul 11, 2011 11:49 AM

                  Back on line after a few days without Internet -- just to say thanks to all who have posted such great sounding suggestions. I wish I'd have time to try them all. I'll be keeping a list for next visit and meanwhile, am looking forward to whatever we end up with in August. I'll report back. Thanks again.

              2. s
                simkhele RE: simkhele Aug 28, 2011 03:57 PM

                Belated thanks to all for the helpful suggestions. We went to Han 202 and a good time was had by all 11 of us. The staff was cheerfully accommodating and provided some alternatives for the veggies among us. Most raved-about: softshell crab with sweet chili sauce; a salmon special in a light hoisin glaze; vegetable tempura (one of the accommodations); walnut tart and blueberry. Each dish was tasty and beautifully presented and the price --even with a couple of cab rides added in -- can't be beat. I look forward to trying many of the other places suggested here. Meanwhile, many thanks, Chicagoans, for contributing to a swell birthday.

                -----
                Han 202
                605 West 31st Street, Chicago, IL 60616

                Show Hidden Posts