Marathon Weekend 2011
I will be visiting Chicago for 5 days in October and aim to explore Chicago through art, food, and local coffee shops. I've read over most of the threads here but with some many rec's, I've become disconnected. In keeping costs to a minimum, can anyone share a quick rec. list on "must eats", "dives", and "coffee shops" ? Is Uno or Giordano's the go-to for Deep Dish? Also, where is the most romantic spot for drinks, thinking with skyline view, Peninsula Hotel? Thanks very much for your feedback!
I'd skip Frontera--IMHO (and people disagree) its a bit touristy and I've never found it distinguished. Instead, take the El and go to NuevoLeon--serves very inexpensive but high quality Mexican (border zone) type food. Quite good. I lived in LA for a long time and this is the kind of "regular" (not regional or haute cuisine) food you'll get in LA. Fits your budget and is very good. Again, not gastronomic (go to Mondiall, as noted above, for that).
You'll also enjoy a drink and some frites at Maude's Liquor Bar. Make a reservation in advance.
For dives, also try Hot Doug's (you'll need a car like Zipcar). Al's Beef is my fav for Italian beef sandwiches (IMHO much better than Portillos). You won't need a car for that.
For Vietnamese, I like Hai Yen on Argyle. Totally inexpensive and top quality. Its the "real deal" and I bet 60% LESS than Le Colonial. I went to Le Colonial recently and, with respect, it was so dumb downed Americanized it was almost embarassing. Go to the real thing and get much better tasting food for less than half the price. Hai Yen is also accessible via the El.
3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618
937 Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611
Hai Yen Restaurant
1055 W Argyle St, Chicago, IL 60640
I wouldn't recommend Nuevo Leon to visitors to Chicago from out of town. Nuevo Leon is good for what it is - high-quality, inexpensive, conventional Mexican food. However, it's the same kind of Mexican food you'll find in every big city and small town in the United States - enchiladas, tacos, carne asada, etc. By contrast, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, and Mexique all display the creativity of provincial Mexican cuisine, with much greater variety of moles and sauces, ingredients, cooking techniques, etc. You just can't find that in most of the United States, with only a few exceptions. But it's a specialty that's available in these and other places in Chicagoland. When you're visiting Chicago, enjoy what is unique to Chicago - including our provincial Mexican cuisine.
I would encourage those who are still not sure to check out the menus on the websites of these restaurants, to understand their food for yourself. If it sounds like something you might enjoy, try it!
Will this be your first Chicago marathon? Are you leaving on Monday after the race or staying for a couple days after? I ask because it might be fun for you to look at the race course map and go to some restaurants along the way either before or after the run. When I run it some of the "fun" of it is looking around and going - Oh so that's where so and so restaurant is. And if you are unfamiliar with city/route, it might be a cool thing for you to scout it out before hand so you aren't so overwhelmed during the marathon. Sometimes it is easier to have a landmark in your head, at say, Mile 18, heading down Taylor Street and going - Al's Italian Beef! I had a delicious Italian beef there (or I can't wait to go there tomorrow if I can walk). Or when you head into Pilsen (which by the way is one of my most favorite neighborhoods to run through. The supporters are out in droves and it smells amazing and the music is blaring. I turn my headphones off then) and recoginze Nuevo Leon, etc. It will make the 26.2 miles seem less daunting and more encompassing if you have eaten in some of the neighborhoods beforehand. And if you are bringing along your own support team, it will be easier to find them along the route if there is a restaurant as a landmark.
To answer your specific questions: The Signature Room is mainly for tourists but you know what, you are a tourist and you should go and see the city lights from that high up. Go right before dusk, order a cocktail (virgin before the run!), and get both day and night views. The food there is eh at best. Don't waste your money on it. Frontera is not as expensive and if you are looking to splash out, it would be a good choice. However look at Chicgail and Nsxtasy reccomendations for Mundial in Pilsen as well. Make your reservations for an Italian restaurant sooner than later because those will fill up fast.
Have fun exploring the city! I'll see you at the finish line!
Nuevo Leon Restaurant
1515 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608
Thank you again. You are all more than generous hounders. Unfortunately, I'll be leaving on Monday but I'll be coming up a few days earlier to check things out. Frontera Grill is at the top of my list so I will look into a booking asap. I'll digest your rec's over the weekend and put together a simple plan. I've been reading a number of positive reviews about The Aviary, what do you think? i.e drinks before dinner. Once again, thank you so much and see you at the starting gates!
445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
The Aviary is a great place to have some drinks before dinner. Note that they have a 3 course prix fixe with certain drinks that cannot be order a la carte.
It's very close to Girl and the Goat, Publican, iNG, etc.
Girl and the Goat
809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
@nsxtasy I can't thank you enough for your informative reply. Thank you very much. I'll be staying at the Sheraton (301 East North Water Street Chicago, IL 60611) over the weekend. I hope I'm able to sample some of your rec's from my hotel? I mean, i don't mind getting around the city so long as it doesn't break the bank.
It will be my first visit to Chicago so I'm adamant to leave with a thorough (local) tasting of the city's
offerings. Is the Signature Lounge a local fav. or more a tourist trap?
I'm quasi familiar the reputation of Frontera Grill but I worry it may be out of my budget. Is it really an experience not to be missed? If so, I'll reconsider.
Btw, are you familiar with any Vietnamese restos?
Thanks for the coffee rec. and wishes for the race.
I have no doubt that I will be well fueled for a PR.
445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
The Signature Lounge has a great view so it's a good place to have a drink before dinner. It is not a place locals would go and I would not recommend it for anything other than a drink and a view.
Frontera Grill is one of Rick Bayless's regional Mexican restaurants. It is not his most expensive restaurant. That would be Topolobambo. They share a location and a website. Dinner entrees at Frontera are priced in the $20s; entree prices at Topo are in the $30s which should help you determine if it is out of your budget. Both places have lower prices on their lunch menus. You also want to know that Frontera takes few reservations so you may wait for a table. One strategy would be to arrive early when Frontera opens for dinner (5:30 pm). If you eat at the bar, you can order from both menus.
Chicago has a neighborhood on the north side of the city (Argyle and Broadway), about 7.5 miles north of where you are staying, that has many excellent and inexpensive Vietnamese restaurants. There are many opinions about which is "best." I happen to like Pho Xe Tank on the corner of Broadway and Argyle. You can get there on public transportation by taking the Red Line El at Grand and State northbound to Argyle St. It would take you about a half-hour Alternately there is a more upscale restaurant, Le Colonial, on Rush St. that is nearer to where you will be.
You should check out all the web sites to see what appeals most to you and what will work with your schedule.
Pho Xe Tang (Tank Noodle)
4953 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640
445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
937 Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611
>> I'll be staying at the Sheraton (301 East North Water Street Chicago, IL 60611) over the weekend.
That hotel has a breakfast/lunch restaurant called LB Bistro, and it is run by a two-time world pastry chef champion. I've heard great things (still haven't been there yet, it's on my list to try). Among the choices there is an all-you-can-eat buffet that might be a good place to load up on carbs.
>> I hope I'm able to sample some of your rec's from my hotel?
Sure! My recommendations above are all shown on the map on the right of this page - so is LB Bistro, in your hotel - so you can use that to get a sense of where everything is, zooming in as necessary for close-by places. Here's how far away my recommendations above are from the hotel; as you can see, many of them are within WALKING DISTANCE:
Frontera Grill/Topolobampo - 15 minutes WALK west
Mexique - 2.5 miles northwest
Mundial Cocina Mestiza - 4 miles southwest
Intelligentsia (on Randolph) - 5 minutes WALK southwest
Lavazza (on Ohio) - 5 minutes WALK northwest
Fox & Obel - 2 minutes WALK northeast (practically around the corner)
Piccolo Sogno - 1 mile west
Cibo Matto - 5 minutes WALK west
the Florentine - 15 minutes WALK southwest
Vivere - 12 minutes WALK southwest
Cafe Spiaggia - 15 minutes WALK north
Coco Pazzo - 15 minutes WALK west
Coco Pazzo Cafe - 5 minutes WALK north
Sable - 5 minutes WALK west
Deleece - 5 miles north
La Sardine - 1 mile west
Portillo's (on Ontario) - 10 minutes WALK northwest
Chinatown - 3 miles south
Argyle (near Broadway) - 6 miles north
Devon (between Western and Sacramento) - 10 miles northwest
Uno and Due - 10 minutes WALK northwest
Giordano's (Prudential building) - 5 minutes WALK southwest
The Lobby in the Peninsula - 10 minutes WALK north
Signature Lounge - 15 minutes WALK north
North Pond - 3 miles north
Uno and Due are the closest recommended places to your hotel for deep-dish, so I didn't bother mentioning the nearest locations of Lou Malnati's or Pizano's, which are further (about 20 minutes walk).
Le Colonial, the Vietnamese restaurant recommended by chicgail above, is about a mile north of the hotel. It's an excellent choice; it's in a Gold Coast townhouse, so the atmosphere is more upscale than the storefronts on Argyle, as well as being closer. And it's not terribly expensive.
>> Is the Signature Lounge a local fav. or more a tourist trap?
As noted below, it's all about the view. I wouldn't call it a "tourist trap" because the view is really pretty darn great, and makes it a great stop for a drink. But it's not really a place where locals hang out. And, as noted below, you're not going for the drinks or the food; you're going for the view. If it's not a clear day and you can't see the top of the building, I'd skip it. If it's clear, go for it!
>> I'm quasi familiar the reputation of Frontera Grill but I worry it may be out of my budget. Is it really an experience not to be missed? If so, I'll reconsider.
The advice above from chicgail is excellent. At dinner, Topolobampo is fairly expensive, while Frontera Grill is moderately priced. At lunchtime, they are lower and priced very similar to each other. Topolobampo accepts reservations for the entire place, on Opentable as well as over the phone; dinner reservations (Tue-Sat) fill up 2-3 months in advance, while you can still get lunch reservations (Tue-Fri) now. If lunch works for you, then I recommend making a reservation now for Topolobampo. For dinner, if you can't get a reservation, then either go early to Frontera (as chicgail recommends), or else consider making a reservation and going to Mexique or Mundial Cocina Mestiza. Both of those other places are consistently excellent, and easy to get reservations for, but they're further from the hotel than Frontera/Topolo.
chicgail covered the Vietnamese recommendations well. (Pho Xe Tang is also called Tank Noodle.) I was hoping that lbs would chime in with her usual excellent marathon-related advice and I see that she has done so. Again, feel free to ask more questions!
301 E North Water St, Chicago, IL 60611
"At lunchtime, they are lower and priced very similar to each other."
The last time I had lunch at Topo I walked out after a $90 bill (with taxes and tip). I had 2 margaritas and actually had one dish comped (it was somewhat salty) after I mentioned it to the excellent server I had...although the lamb w/ mole negro was superb. So - you still need to be careful about what you order to keep the cost down.
Yes, Le Colonial is a decent more-upscale option for (French-)Vietnamese near his hotel. The place gets little attention on Chowhound. (I mentioned it to the OP in another thread but the post, plus the entire subthread including chicgail's and your posts got deleted...)
Up around Argyle, in addition to Tank I also like Pho 777 (on Argyle east of Winthrop) and Pho Le or Le's Pho (I think)(just besides the supermarket in the Tai Nam Market Center off Broadway just below Argyle), for a nice bowl of phở .
1065 W Argyle St, Chicago, IL 60640
937 Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611
4925 N Broadway, Suite G, Chicago, IL 60640
>> At lunchtime, they are lower and priced very similar to each other.
Most lunch entrees at Frontera Grill are $15-20, and most lunch entrees at Topolobampo are $15-20. www.rickbayless.com/menus
If you sit at the bar at Frontera Grill, you can order from either menu, Frontera Grill's or Topolobampo's.
Still, there are several delectable entrees in the $20+ range. Add an appetizer plus another side or equivalent, a couple of drinks, coffee, maybe dessert, and after tax and tip you are at the $100+ range.
I dare say that having just an entree without anything else would leave one still hungry.
>> I dare say that having just an entree without anything else would leave one still hungry.
That's not necessarily true for most people; it's all a matter of personal taste. Many people are perfectly happy eating only an entree for lunch, especially if they're planning a larger meal for dinner the same day, as is customary in the United States (although not in some other parts of the world). Heck, many people (not me, but others) are perfectly happy with just an entree for dinner; there's no law that states you have to order the traditional three-course dinner or the tasting menu.
According to what you have stated, YOU are still hungry after having just an entree for lunch, YOU prefer having four-course meals for lunch, and YOU prefer two alcoholic drinks with your four-course lunch. That's fine. Many others prefer to eat and drink less than you at lunchtime. No one I lunch with orders four courses OR two mixed drinks, let alone both, but hey, whatever works for you. There may be even be others who prefer eating and drinking more than you. It's everyone's privilege to eat and drink as much or as little as they want and are willing to pay for.
I've eaten lunch at both restaurants and have been perfectly satisfied ordering one or two courses of food , with lunch usually totalling anywhere from $30 to $45 per person including non-alcoholic beverage, tax, and tip; I have yet to break $50. That description also applies to most folks I lunch with, a bit more than that for those who have a drink with lunch. Anyone else here is welcome to chime in with what they've paid. But again, you can also spend more than that or less than that, whatever your heart desires and your pocketbook affords. By way of contrast, when I had dinner at Topolobampo a year ago, we ordered three courses a la carte; with moderate alcohol, tax, and tip, we paid around $100 per person. Go for the tasting menu or have a lot to drink, and you can pay considerably more; limit yourself and you can pay less than we did.
You can order whatever items you want, and your tab will reflect that. The facts remain, as stated: the lunch prices at both these restaurants are similar to each other, and are less than their dinner prices. And you can see all those prices on their website, except for the tasting menu at Topolobampo ($85).
"That's not necessarily true for most people; it's all a matter of personal taste"
True. I suppose I should have made it clear that it would have left ME hungry.
"You can order whatever items you want, and your tab will reflect that. The facts remain, as stated: the lunch prices at both these restaurants are similar to each other, and are less than their dinner prices."
Of course. However, what I said and all that you say does not contradict what I said earlier - that one still needs to watch what one orders. I wouldn't want folks to assume that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to have lunch at Topo or Frontera without spending more than is implied by your harping on most entrees being just $15-20 without further qualifications. Your not having alcohol is also admirable, but you seem to often not figure that in in the costing of meals. Not always, but often enough. ::shrug:: I myself don't always have alcohol either, particularly when I eat non-Western food; but I am always aware of the additional cost of having drinks/alcohol.
I was very clear in noting the difference in the price of the entrees. That's the easiest way to demonstrate a price difference; everyone orders an entree, but anything else is optional, especially at lunch. And anyone knows - without being told - that they will pay more than that price if they want additional courses and/or drinks, and they need to consider that when ordering. And anyone knows that the final total will include any such optional dishes and drinks, as well as tax and tip. People are smart enough to understand, without being told, that they aren't going to walk out paying only the price of the entree as their final total. That really doesn't need to be stated over and over and over and over and over - or, to use your word, your "harping". No one needs to be treated like a child and told to "watch what one orders"; anyone posting here already understands that at any restaurant they go to.
>> I've read over most of the threads here but with some many rec's, I've become disconnected.
That's normal. The problem in Chicago is that there are many, many great restaurants. Even if you narrow down what you're looking for, you're likely to find way more appropriate candidates than you could ever cover.
It would also help if you could mention where you're staying, either the hotel or an intersection. Chicago is huge, even larger when you consider the suburbs, and there are likely to be some great options available near where you're staying. But we can only recommend them based on proximity if we know where you'll be located.
>> In keeping costs to a minimum, can anyone share a quick rec. list on "must eats", "dives", and "coffee shops" ?
For "must eats", I'd go to one of our provincial Mexican restaurants. If you can eat early and arrive when they open the doors, Frontera Grill is a good option, for lunch or dinner (closed Sundays and Mondays). Otherwise, I'd make a reservation at Mexique or Mundial Cocina Mestiza, also for lunch or dinner or weekend brunch.
For coffee houses, Intelligentsia is our best and most well-known roaster, and has a couple of locations in the Loop. Around the Mag Mile, Lavazza, which is not local, is about the best you can do.
If you want to load up on carbs, Fox & Obel has some of the best baked goods anywhere. And there are lots of great Italian restaurants to choose from, including Piccolo Sogno, Cibo Matto, the Florentine, Vivere, Cafe Spiaggia, Coco Pazzo, and Coco Pazzo Cafe.
Many of our contemporary American restaurants are outstanding, and some of them are quite reasonable, where you can fill up on about $30 of food. My favorite one downtown is Sable, and on the north side is Deleece on Southport. Our French bistros are also quite reasonable; one of the best is La Sardine, in the South Loop.
In the "cheap eats" category, you might want to try our local specialties of Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. Portillo's is one of the best for both, and has a location on Ontario in River North.
And, of course, we have all kinds of ethnic foods, most of which are reasonable in price. Some of these are concentrated in neighborhoods away from downtown, such as the Chinese places in Chinatown, the Vietnamese places along Argyle near Broadway, and the Indian/Pakistani places along Devon between Western and Sacramento.
>> Is Uno or Giordano's the go-to for Deep Dish?
If you've never had it before, I'd stick to one of the places serving the original "pizza in the pan" style of deep dish. These include the original locations of Uno and Due, as well as various locations of Lou Malnati's and Pizano's, all of which share a family relationship. Tell us where you'll be and we can tell you which of these is closest.
Giordano's serves a double-crust "stuffed pizza" which is different from those above. If you try one of the others and are interested in trying a second style different from the first, Giordano's is a good choice. But I'd start with one of the others.
>> Also, where is the most romantic spot for drinks, thinking with skyline view, Peninsula Hotel?
The Lobby in the Peninsula - that's the name of their restaurant/lounge - is nice, but it doesn't really have a skyline view (it does have a large window along one side of the room though, looking out at the Allerton Hotel). For a great skyline view, go to the Signature Lounge at the top of the John Hancock Center. You also might consider eating at North Pond, which is in the middle of the park and whose outer dining room faces its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore.
Again, if you let us know where you'll be staying, we can advise you on which of the above are close by and/or recommend other places in the immediate vicinity.
Feel free to ask more questions, and good luck in the marathon!
Fox & Obel Food Market
401 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60611
Mundial Cocina Mestiza
1640 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608
111 N Carpenter St, Chicago, IL 60607
445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
55 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL
Coco Pazzo Cafe
636 N St Clair, Chicago, IL 60611
1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
Deleece Restaurant (on Southport)
3747 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago, IL 60657
464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622
Signature Room at the 95th
875 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
71 W Monroe Street, Chicago, IL 60603
201 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601
108 E Superior, Chicago, IL 60611
Sable Kitchen & Bar
505 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60654
151 W. Adams, Chicago, IL 60601