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Coming from LA to Chicago

c
cettlinger Jul 12, 2011 03:24 PM

I'm coming to Chicago with a friend and my 14-year-old daughter--we all love to eat, and would appreciate some recommendations:

1. If price is not a concern, what are the best, most memorable places for dinner? We will be there four nights.
2. Where should we go for pizza (we always order from Malnati's and love it!)?
3. Where should we go to grab great Chicago hot dogs?
4. What would you recommend for nice, light lunches since we will be having big dinners?

Thanks in advance....

  1. nsxtasy Jul 12, 2011 03:37 PM

    >> Coming from LA to Chicago

    Are you coming from Los Angeles or Louisiana?

    >> 1. If price is not a concern, what are the best, most memorable places for dinner? We will be there four nights.

    One surpasses all others, and that is Alinea. It has been named by various media writers and industry insiders as the best restaurant in the country. They start accepting reservations on the first of the month for two months later (for example, October reservations will start being accepted August 1) and they fill up quickly.

    After that, there is no consensus runner-up, but rather, a group of excellent high-end restaurants, characterized by well-known chefs, the availability of lengthy tasting menus, extensive service staff, high prices, business attire, etc: Everest (contemporary French), Spiaggia (Italian), Avenues, and TRU. Several others have similar aspirations but have received mixed reviews here, notably Charlie Trotter's, L2O, Ria, and Les Nomades.

    >> 2. Where should we go for pizza (we always order from Malnati's and love it!)?

    Sounds like you answered your own question! Malnati's is a great choice, and within the past year, they have opened two locations that are convenient to the downtown hotels, one at State and Rush in the Gold Coast, the other at 8th and State in the South Loop.

    >> 3. Where should we go to grab great Chicago hot dogs?

    Where will you be staying and/or spending time? You don't mention any location. Remember, even the area considered "downtown Chicago" is quite large, extending for three miles north to south.

    If you're near the "Magnificent Mile" of North Michigan Avenue, Portillo's on Ontario is always a good choice.

    >> 4. What would you recommend for nice, light lunches since we will be having big dinners?

    Again, a location where you will be staying and/or spending time would be helpful in making recommendations.

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy
      nsxtasy Jul 13, 2011 02:43 PM

      >> After that, there is no consensus runner-up, but rather, a group of excellent high-end restaurants, characterized by well-known chefs, the availability of lengthy tasting menus, extensive service staff, high prices, business attire, etc: Everest (contemporary French), Spiaggia (Italian), Avenues, and TRU.

      Curtis Duffy, the chef at Avenues, just announced that he is leaving: www.chicagotribune.com/features/food/...

      Avenues will undoubtedly continue, and find a worthy executive chef. But until that happens, and the new chef establishes himself/herself, I would be a bit hesitant to recommend it.

      1. re: nsxtasy
        c
        cettlinger Jul 13, 2011 05:13 PM

        Thank you again for all your great advice!

    2. uhockey Jul 12, 2011 06:24 PM

      Alinea is in a league of its own.

      L2o, Avenues, TRU, and Trotter's are all a step down but excellent and Schwa and Bonsoiree are both quite excellent at a good price. As an LA Comparison, think of L2o as akin to Providence and Trotter's like Melisse.

      Spiaggia is vastly overrated and being from Los Angeles I assure you it doesn't hold a candle to Osteria Mozza or Valentino.

      Go to Great Lake if you're willing to get there early - it is indeed worth the hype - and for deep dish Malnati's is excellent.

      For a regular dog, there are plenty of options. For an experience, go to Hot Doug's - it is awesome and the "Scene" in line is much that of Pink's (but the encased meats far more interesting)

      Lunches - I'd say the Bayless spots are quite different from LA Mexican, so consider that.

      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

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

      Bonsoiree
      2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

      Spiaggia
      980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

      Great Lake
      1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

      11 Replies
      1. re: uhockey
        nsxtasy Jul 12, 2011 06:31 PM

        Skip Hot Doug's. It will take you a long time to get to its inconvenient location, and then you have to wait a long time in line with all the tourists (90 minutes is typical). If you want creative sausages, there are two other places with equally good food that are more conveniently located AND where you don't have to wait in long lines: Franks n Dawgs in Lincoln Park ( www.franksndawgs.com ) and Westminster Hot Dog in the Loop ( www.westminsterhotdog.com ). As Chicago Magazine said about Franks n Dawgs, "No quibbles. Franks ’n’ Dawgs is as good as Hot Doug’s, without the line." - www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/July-2011/Chicago-Gourmet-Hot-Dog-Guide

        Oh, and Franks n Dawgs is walking distance from two of our best bakeries/pastry shops: Floriole ( www.floriole.com ) and Vanille ( www.vanillepatisserie.com ).

        1. re: nsxtasy
          d
          danimalarkey Jul 15, 2011 07:39 AM

          I like Chicago Magazine, but they're wrong about Franks n' Dawgs being as good as Hot Doug's. Sausages are very good there, don't get me wrong, there is rarely a long wait and I think their buns are streets ahead of those that Doug uses -- however, I think many of the sausages suffer from "Kuma's syndrome", going completely overboard with the amount of toppings and throwing the whole balance out of whack.

          Is Hot Doug's worth it? Depends on who's going there, really, and how much time they have. Without a doubt, though, it's not worth going just for a classic Chicago-style dog/polish/red hot/etc. Check out the current specials and see if they speak to you. Agreed, though, about the duck fat fries - the regular fries are outstanding on their own and there's no contest, IMO, that they're the better option every time. Hot Doug's is also BYO and cash only.

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

          1. re: danimalarkey
            c
            cettlinger Jul 18, 2011 01:27 PM

            thanks for your thoughts....really appreciate it!

        2. re: uhockey
          chicgail Jul 13, 2011 09:59 AM

          I have to add Trotters to the vastly overrated category these days. Not worth that kind money any more IMO.

          Big second to Bonsoiree, but Schwa is iffy enough about whether or not they will actually serve on any given night, irrespective of reservations, that I'm not sure I would consider it without a back-up.

          Cafe Spiaggia, Spiaggia's less expensive little sister (they share location, website & kitchen - but not price point), I think is well worth a stop.

          I would never bother with Hot Doug's for just a Chicago dog, but for the "encased meat" (especially the fois gras dog) and the whole experience (it is out of the way; you will wait in line, but it is fun and you will have the opportunity to interact with a lot of other folks) but only if you have the time. Franks n Dawg is, IMO, good, but not the same as Hot Dougs.

          If a good Chicago dog is really what you want - or for that matter a Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich - Portillos on Ontario will do just fine for you.

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

          Bonsoiree
          2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

          Cafe Spiaggia
          980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

          1. re: chicgail
            c
            cettlinger Jul 13, 2011 10:02 AM

            Thanks so much! OMG, a fois gras dog...I want one now!

            1. re: cettlinger
              nsxtasy Jul 13, 2011 10:09 AM

              The dog itself is not made of foie gras; it's a duck sausage topped by chunks of unheated foie gras (torchon?). I love seared foie gras, but thought the foie gras dog at Hot Doug's was nothing great. I was also disappointed by the duck fat fries, which weren't even as good as regular fries at many fast food places. I thought the whole thing was a lot of hype about nothing special, and the travel time and wait on line make it a ridiculous waste of time. But try it and decide for yourself - maybe you'll like it!

              1. re: nsxtasy
                l
                lbs Jul 13, 2011 10:51 AM

                Nsxtasty - the sausage is made out of duck meat and foie gras. It is a not a regular hot-dog in the least bit. It is topped with 3-4 rounds of foie gras mousse that were room tempature - not chunks of cold foie gras. I just ate one about 3 weeks ago and your description of it is so far off I what I had and what is described on most food boards/TV shows/blogs that I wonder if you got something else. I think that Hot Dougs is completely worth the trip IF an out of town visitor wants to go and is cognizant of the logistics to get there. I didn't go for the duck fat fries as I have read here and other places that they aren't worth the long waits so I can't comment on those.

                I went on on a Monday. Got in line around noon and waited for about 30-35 mins for to get in. It was well worth the wait especially the people watching. If people plan the trip correctly, it is not a hassle at all.

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

                1. re: lbs
                  nsxtasy Jul 13, 2011 11:01 AM

                  I had the same foie gras dog you had, with chunks of unheated foie gras mousse on it. If there was any foie gras in the duck sausage itself, I sure couldn't taste it. I went on a Friday around 1 pm and waited 90 minutes to get to the front of the line at the counter where Doug was taking orders. The line got even longer the entire time we were there, and extended past the alley by the time we left around 3 pm. My companion and I both said it's one of those things where you do it once to see what all the hype is about, and never go back because it's nothing all that great. Good for you that you feel otherwise.

                  cettlinger, if you decide to go, make sure you check their website at hotdougs.com a week or two before your trip. They close for vacation for a week or two at a time a few times a year, and they always post the vacation dates on their website well ahead of time. That way you can avoid the possibility of going to the time/expense to travel all the way there, only to find that they're closed for vacation.

                  1. re: lbs
                    chicgail Jul 13, 2011 11:01 AM

                    That matches my experience pretty closely, lbs. Two of us ordered 4 different dogs so we could try as much as possible. And I wouldn't bother with the duck fat fries either. Saturdays may well be a different story in terms of the wait.

                  2. re: nsxtasy
                    k
                    kathryn Jul 13, 2011 11:32 AM

                    The official menu description that I've seen is:

                    Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel

                    Photo:
                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kathryn/...

                    1. re: kathryn
                      uhockey Jul 13, 2011 01:17 PM

                      The Foie Gras Dog is pretty excellent - and that description is spot on.

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

            2. c
              cettlinger Jul 13, 2011 09:47 AM

              Thank you nsxtasy and uhockey. BTW, we are coming from Los Angeles...and we are staying on the Magnificent Mile. I actually went to high school in Chicago but haven't been back since so I am really looking forward to seeing a brand new city (yes, it was a long time ago!).

              2 Replies
              1. re: cettlinger
                nsxtasy Jul 13, 2011 10:01 AM

                Great! Just to follow up...

                Regarding deep-dish pizza, the new Malnati's at State and Rush is near the north end of the Mag Mile. Pizano's on State is near the Water Tower. And if you're towards the south end of the Mag Mile, the original Uno and Due are closest. All of these serve similar deep-dish - not a coincidence, since Malnati's and Pizano's were both started by sons of one of the main players in the early decades of Uno and Due, and they all grew up working there.

                >> 4. What would you recommend for nice, light lunches since we will be having big dinners?

                Near the north end of the Mag Mile, Cafe Spiaggia is a good place for Italian cuisine for lunch. Foodlife is an upscale food court concept in Water Tower Place. Towards the south end of the Mag Mile, Coco Pazzo Cafe is a good place for Italian. Fox & Obel is our premier gourmet food store, and they have wonderful baked goods and prepared foods like sandwiches and salads to go. 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.

                Incidentally, if you're interested in Italian cuisine, we have several new restaurants serving a more creative version of it, with contemporary global influences. Piccolo Sogno is fantastic, and Cibo Matto and the Florentine are both excellent as well. These are moderately-priced places, similar in price to Cafe Spiaggia but with a bit more unusual and diverse menu. All are open for lunch. Cibo Matto is convenient to the south end of the Mag Mile. Spiaggia itself is still thoroughly outstanding, though, and an excellent choice for a high-end, price-no-object meal. As always, you can check out their menus on their websites to get a better idea of what they have to offer:

                www.piccolosognochicago.com
                www.eatcibomatto.com
                www.the-florentine.net
                www.cafespiaggia.com (for both Cafe Spiaggia and Spiaggia)

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

                Coco Pazzo Cafe
                636 N St Clair, Chicago, IL 60611

                Foodlife
                835 N Michigan Ave Ste Mezz4, Chicago, IL 60611

                1. re: nsxtasy
                  c
                  cettlinger Jul 13, 2011 10:07 AM

                  This is so much appreciated. I just bought a book on Chicago, will plot our adventures--and might get back for a specific restaurant in a specific area as we will be there for four days. Thanks again for your time...and tastes!

              2. c
                cettlinger Jul 13, 2011 10:54 AM

                All good to know--thanks to both of you. Could also just go for a plain old good Chicago Vienna Dog. Would that be at Portillo's or Franks 'n Dawgs?

                1 Reply
                1. re: cettlinger
                  chicgail Jul 13, 2011 10:57 AM

                  Portillo's. Franks 'n Dawgs has 'em, but it's not what they're there for.

                2. Eaterlover Jul 19, 2011 05:12 PM

                  >>What would you recommend for nice, light lunches since we will be having big dinners?

                  Seconded with Nxtasy for Floriole. Definitely one of my favorite places and excellent for a light lunch. They do a mean tartine which is like the definition of light lunch. If you get there before 1, you might even luck out on a canneles--which are to die for.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Eaterlover
                    c
                    cettlinger Jul 28, 2011 12:05 PM

                    Thank you!!! Sounds perfect!

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