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3 days in Chicago, where to stay for best chow

k
KCMPLS Jul 19, 2011 08:09 PM

We are planning a trip to Chicago and are trying to make this a chow trip. Here's what we have in mind and we need some suggestions:

1. We will not have a car so we'll be walking or taking the trains/subway.
2. No chain restaurants.
3. We love places with great food and relaxed settings.
4. Open to all cuisines.
5. Would love to try typical Chicago foods like hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, deep dish pizza.

I'm looking at hotels in River North, Magnificent Mile, or Loop. Any location better than others for chow?

We'll be making a stop in Chinatown for lunch during one of the days. People on this board seem to like Lao Beijing. I love northern Chinese food so we will probably have lunch there. Also like Shanghai style. Sichuan is a little too much for my taste. I am not a fan of midwest Cantonese cuisine -- it's tough to do it right without the fresh ingredients ( got to go to California for those). Any other suggestions?

Thanks in advance.

-----
Lao Beijing
2138 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

  1. q
    Querencia Jul 21, 2011 06:39 PM

    The basic thing to know is that Chicago's downtown is divided by the Chicago River and what is south of the river ("the Loop") is the older part of downtown that now is mostly our business district. Since the 1970s most that is of interest to tourists is north of the river along the Michigan Avenue corridor ("Magnificent Mile" runs from river north to Oak Street Beach) or between Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan ("Streeterville") or just west of Michigan Avenue ("River North"). Here you will find most hotels, restaurants, shopping, and people. (Although to be fair I will add that the Loop area has some of the finer old hotels, principally the Palmer House and the Hilton, some restaurants, and legit theater, and the museums are at this end of town.) But most of the touristic action is north of the river. However, if you pick up a CTA pass (drug stores and supermarkets sell them) you can easily get to restaurants anywhere by hopping on and off buses, subway, and the EL.

    1. nsxtasy Jul 19, 2011 09:03 PM

      >> I'm looking at hotels in River North, Magnificent Mile, or Loop. Any location better than others for chow?

      We have hotels and restaurants all over the downtown area, including those and other nearby neighborhoods. But if I had to choose a place to stay for its proximity to both nearby restaurants and transportation to restaurants elsewhere, I would stay north of the river (i.e. not the Loop, but just north of there) and south of Delaware Place, west of Columbus Drive and east of LaSalle. The closer to one of the two CTA Red Line stops at Chicago and State or at Grand and State, the better. (The Red Line is what you'll take to Chinatown, and possibly to other places for food as well.) If you're booking on Hotwire, this area is called "Magnificent Mile Area - Streeterville" and also includes part but not all of "North Michigan Avenue - Water Tower - Gold Coast". If you're booking on Priceline, this area is called "North Michigan Ave - River North Area".

      As another alternative, the Loop itself also has quite a few hotels and restaurants, but not as many as the River North area. Two possible advantages of the Loop is that it's on the CTA el lines from both airports so you won't have to change trains, and you may find lower nightly rates at comparable hotels there. The Loop area is called "Chicago Loop - Millennium Park - Grant Park" on Hotwire, and "Millennium Park, Loop & Grant Park Area" on Priceline. Anywhere in the Loop is likely to be convenient to all of the CTA el lines.

      As for specific restaurant suggestions, you really haven't presented much to narrow down from the many hundreds of great restaurants in Chicago. Perhaps there are types of food you prefer or avoid; perhaps you will be spending time in one particular area or location so you would like places nearby; perhaps you have budgetary constraints or perhaps you want the very best that money can buy; perhaps you have other special needs in selecting a restaurant. And, of course, once you make a hotel reservation, letting us know your hotel's location will help us provide recommendations that are nearby, as well as telling you how far away other places are. Any of that additional information would help us in making recommendations for you.

      To help you think about what kinds of restaurants you might be most interested in, here are links to two discussions that will give you an overview of what Chicago has to offer. This discussion tells what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at:

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

      This discussion has an overview listing some of our best in various food categories, as well as advice for getting the best value for your dining dollar:

      Where are the best Chicago dinner *values* - the hidden gems? - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697829

      Please consider providing additional information to make your query more specific, and we'll be happy to provide appropriate recommendations!

      2 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy
        k
        KCMPLS Jul 20, 2011 10:37 AM

        Thanks nsxtasy. We'll probably be staying in the Comfort Suites at
        320 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60601

        More on narrowing down choices:
        1. Easy access via subway/trains or walking. We want to avoid buses or taxis if possible. We also have a very young child and need to keep the traveling simple
        2. Cheap to moderately priced, $50 tops for 2 lunches, $75 tops for 2 dinners. We love neighborhood type of joints. Given the fact that the child comes with us we will probably avoid formal high-end places.
        3. No spicy hot foods. Spicy is good, peppery hot is not
        4. Things we'd love to try: Greek, Northern Italian, French, Mexican, Polish, German, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese. We are looking for foods that people from other parts of the world would recognize as authentic.

        This is what I have so far from reading the links you provided, and reading postings on this board:

        1. One of Rick Bayless's restaurants (Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, XOCO)
        2. Portillo's ( www.portillos.com ), or Al's Beef ( www.alsbeef.com
        )3. Pizzeria Uno, or Pizzeria Due, or Gino's East. I need help picking one.
        4. Lao Beijing in Chinatown. Is there a good Shanghai style restaurant there? We are going to spend most of 1 day there and can do 2 meals.

        Thanks so much.

        -----
        Pizzeria Due
        619 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

        Pizzeria Uno
        29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

        Frontera Grill
        445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

        Lao Beijing
        2138 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

        Al's Beef
        7132 183rd St, Tinley Park, IL 60477

        Gino's East
        2801 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

        1. re: KCMPLS
          nsxtasy Jul 20, 2011 11:17 AM

          Great! That's very helpful.

          That location is in the northeast corner of the Loop, right across the river from the south end of the "Magnificent Mile" stretch of North Michigan Avenue. It's convenient to River North and the Mag Mile as well as the Loop. The closest CTA el station is at State and Lake, where you can catch the Red Line (underground) and all the elevated lines.

          >> 1. One of Rick Bayless's restaurants (Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, XOCO)

          That's a great idea. I strongly recommend Topolobampo for lunch, for a couple of reasons. One, it's expensive for dinner, when it's well above your stated budget. But at lunchtime it's moderately priced, similar in price to Frontera Grill. Two, it's pretty easy to get lunch reservations for Topolobampo, either at Opentable.com or over the phone, which you should be able to do only a few weeks in advance. (It would be a good idea to make them as soon as you know your dates.) Dinner reservations fill up shortly after they open the reservation book three months ahead of time. Oh, and it's about a 10-12 minute walk northwest from your hotel.

          >> 2. Portillo's ( www.portillos.com ), or Al's Beef ( www.alsbeef.com )

          Both are good, and in the downtown area on Ontario, also about a 10-12 minute walk northwest from the hotel. Some people caution against this particular location of Al's Beef (although I've not felt that way), so Portillo's might be a better choice. You can get Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches there.

          >> 3. Pizzeria Uno, or Pizzeria Due, or Gino's East. I need help picking one.

          Go to Uno or Due. They're excellent, as good as ever, and they are where deep-dish started, in 1943 and 1955. These are also a 10-12 minute walk northwest from the hotel. Some people claim there are differences between the pizza at Uno vs Due, but I've never noticed any. I'm sure you're aware that they are the same ownership and management.

          >> 4. Lao Beijing in Chinatown. Is there a good Shanghai style restaurant there?

          I don't know; maybe someone else can help. There is one excellent Shanghai-style restaurant in Chicago, but it is rather expensive and above your stated budget. It's called Shanghai Terrace and it's in the Peninsula Hotel, a 10-12 minute walk north of your hotel. The Pen is one of the most expensive hotels in the city, and the restaurant is in keeping with that. Dinner there can cost $75-100 per person including alcohol/tax/tip, so obviously it's a lot more expensive than anything in Chinatown. It's outstanding though.

          Here are a few more recommendations in keeping with what you've described.

          A terrific place to go for lunch or dinner is Sable. It's in the Hotel Palomar, a 5-10 minute walk northwest of your hotel. They specialize in contemporary American cuisine from Chef Heather Terhune. They're also known for their artisanal cocktails. But even for those who don't drink, the food is excellent, and it's also surprisingly affordable. (An adult can get quite full on $30 of food.) Many of the dishes are available in half portions, too, so you can try multiple items.

          Fox & Obel is our premier gourmet food store, and it's a 10-12 minute walk northeast from your hotel. They have the best of everything, not just meats and fish and cheese, but also prepared foods like sandwiches and salads. Their baked goods are phenomenal, including rich cinnamon swirl rolls, amazing bran muffins, fantastic breads, and lots of other good stuff. They also have a cafe in the rear where you can get anything from a cup of coffee to a complete meal prepared to order. For breakfast, I recommend the Cobb omelet.

          Other places you can get breakfast near your hotel include South Water Kitchen, Yolk (at Grand and McClurg), LB Bistro (in the Sheraton), and either location of Heaven on Seven (Wabash or Rush). For an unusual breakfast treat, you can hop on a Michigan Avenue bus or the CTA Red Line and take it south to Roosevelt Road. At Roosevelt and Wabash is Bongo Room, which specializes in unusual pancake dishes, such as their pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce.

          >> Things we'd love to try: Greek, Northern Italian, French, Mexican, Polish, German, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese. We are looking for foods that people from other parts of the world would recognize as authentic.

          You can find Greek food in Greek Town, just over a mile west-southwest from your hotel. For recommendations see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/119233

          For northern Italian cuisine, here are two recommendations, both for lunch or dinner. Cibo Matto is in the Wit Hotel a 3-5 minute walk southwest of yours. It is very contemporary, in decor as well as the menu itself. It may be marginally more expensive than you've outlined; if so, you might also consider Coco Pazzo Cafe, which is a 5-10 minute walk northeast of your hotel.

          There's a French bistro in the West Loop a little over a mile west of your hotel, called La Sardine, that's excellent.

          For Polish food, take the CTA Blue Line to Podhalanka, which is right at the Division stop.

          For German food, the Berghoff is in the Loop about a 10-12 minute walk southwest of your hotel.

          Chinese, you know about Chinatown, which is at the Cermak/Chinatown stop on the CTA Red Line.

          Some places for Thai food include TAC Quick at the Sheridan stop on the CTA Red Line, and Spoon Thai at the Western stop on the CTA Brown Line.

          For Vietnamese food, take the CTA Red Line to the Argyle stop, and there are many restaurants between the el stop and Broadway; the best known is Tank Noodle.

          For Indian food, you can take the CTA Red Line to the Loyola stop, then transfer to the #155 bus southbound, which turns onto Devon Avenue. There are many Indian restaurants on Devon between Western (2400W) and Sacramento (3000W).

          You might want to get familiar with the CTA information you can find on their website at www.transitchicago.com You can purchase fare cards at any CTA el station; some, but not all, also sell passes which provide unlimited rides for a specified number of days. If you need to transfer, fare cards have a big advantage over paying cash fares, because you can transfer up to two times (three rides total) within two hours for $.25, whereas if you pay cash you have to pay a full fare for each ride.

          Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

          -----
          Pizzeria Due
          619 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

          Pizzeria Uno
          29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

          Spoon Thai
          4608 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

          La Sardine
          111 N Carpenter St, Chicago, IL 60607

          Bongo Room
          1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

          Frontera Grill
          445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

          Podhalanka
          1549 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60642

          Shanghai Terrace
          108 E Superior, Chicago, IL 60611

          Topolobampo
          445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

          Heaven on Seven
          600 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

          Lao Beijing
          2138 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

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

          South Water Kitchen
          225 N. Wabash Ave., Chicago, IL 60601

          Cibo Matto
          201 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601

          Gino's East
          2801 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

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