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First time in Chicago; brunch, italian lunch, and other suggestions needed

Hello all,

First time posting after a long time lurking. Coming from Toronto, Canada to Chicago on Thanksgiving weekend with my brother. We'll be staying at the Wyndham Chicago and we'll be shopping / sight-seeing Friday - Sunday. Between my brother and I, I'm more the foodie whereas my brother isn't too adventurous with his food. Based on my research on this board, I came up with the following lunch & dinner plans:

Friday
* Topolobampo - Lunch
* Bon Soiree - Dinner (Considered Schwa, but this season's menu didn't appeal to me)

Saturday
* Cafe Spiaggia / Coco Pazzo (I needed an Italian place but probably can't afford Spiaggia on this trip, so which one??)
* TRU - Dinner (Their tasting menu looks delicious)

Sunday brunch (courtesy of nsxtasy) - choice of:
* Bongo Room is in Wicker Park and the South Loop
* Kitsch'n in Roscoe Village and in River North;
* Orange in Lakeview and the South Loop;
* Wishbone in the West Loop and on N Lincoln;
* Flo in Wicker Park; and M. Henry in Andersonville.

We're also hoping to find some time during the day to randomly snack on the following 'cheap eats'
1) Chicago Hot Dogs (Al's or Portillo's)
2) Deep Dish PIzza (Lou Malnati's)
3) Encased meats - Franks n Dawgs

So my question is
a) Italian - Cafe Spiaggia or Coco Pazzo?
b) Brunch spot?
c) Any better choices for my cheap eats?

Note that I'd prefer to stay near where I'm staying and am without a car. I don't mind a cab ride of 10mins or so.

Thanks!

-----
Bongo Room
1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

Cafe Spiaggia
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

Topolobampo
445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

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

Spiaggia
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

M. Henry
5707 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60660

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  1. Sounds like you've already done a lot of research - great!

    A few quick comments before answering your three questions...

    >> * Topolobampo - Lunch

    If you don't already have a reservation, make one. They're on Opentable.com

    >> * TRU - Dinner (Their tasting menu looks delicious)

    Bring dress-up clothes. It's one of the few (half dozen) restaurants in Chicago where business attire is required (e.g. jackets for gentlemen).

    Now, for those questions...

    a) Italian - Cafe Spiaggia or Coco Pazzo?

    They're both good. I'm not sure whether you mean Coco Pazzo, which is near the Merchandise Mart about half a mile west of your hotel, or Coco Pazzo Cafe, its slightly less expensive sister restaurant across the street from your hotel. For geographical convenience, Coco Pazzo Cafe is the clear winner, vs walking half a mile. For the best food, I think Cafe Spiaggia and Coco Pazzo are both solid choices, very good (and slightly better than CPCafe), and either one is fine; call it a toss-up. Recently I've been to Piccolo Sogno a couple of times and I think it's better still; the food is a bit more contemporary than the others. However, it's about a mile west of your hotel, and desirable times have been booking up well in advance, even for weekdays. All of these are very good indeed.

    >> b) Brunch spot?

    Here, there's a trade-off between food and distance. Both locations of Bongo Room are about two miles away. It's my top pick, but primarily for those who enjoy sweeter dishes for breakfast/brunch, since their specialty is pancakes. I also love M. Henry, but it's even further; you're better off with their new sister restaurant, M. Henrietta, because it's right at the CTA Red Line stop at Granville, but that's still going to take you about 45 minutes from your hotel. Those are the places that aren't close by but are worth the trip. I'd also add Southport Grocery, too (CTA Red Line to Addison, then walk west).

    If you want to keep it close to your hotel - I'll make sure the proper locations are shown on the map at the right - Orange now has a location in River North (the one in the South Loop has closed, as has Kitsch'n River North). There are some other places I'd also recommend in that area. If it's a Sunday, Shaw's Crab House does a terrific Sunday brunch, with an all-you-can-eat buffet including plenty of seafood (Alaskan king crab, shrimp, and the best crab cakes in town), breakfast items (great thick-cut caramelized bacon, and benedicts), and desserts (best creme brulee in town, great chocolate pots de creme). Not cheap for brunch, but a bargain considering what you get (around $40-45). If you're just looking for good egg dishes, pancakes, etc, Yolk has a new location right near your hotel, and the cafe in the rear of Fox & Obel, our gourmet food store, is another choice (don't miss their bakery department, it's fantastic). Others here have recommended LB Bistro, in the Sheraton, which is run by a two-time world pastry chef champion; I haven't been there yet, but it's on my radar. All of these are with a ten-minute walk of your hotel.

    c) Any better choices for my cheap eats?

    I think your current choices are fine. For deep-dish pizza, the original Uno and Due are a bit closer to your hotel than Lou Malnati's. I'd also add Garrett's Popcorn on Michigan Avenue for a cheap snack.

    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

    Fox & Obel Food Market
    401 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60611

    Bonsoiree
    2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

    Bongo Room
    1470 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

    Bongo Room
    1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

    Tru Restaurant
    676 North Saint Clair, Chicago, IL 60611

    Cafe Spiaggia
    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

    Topolobampo
    445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

    Garrett Popcorn
    625 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL

    Southport Grocery & Cafe
    3552 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

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

    Shaw's Crab House
    21 East Hubbard St., Chicago, IL 60611

    Coco Pazzo
    300 West Hubbard, Chicago, IL 60610

    Piccolo Sogno
    464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

    M. Henry
    5707 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60660

    LB Bistro
    301 E North Water St, Chicago, IL 60611

    M. Henrietta
    1133 West Granville, Chicago, IL 60660

    Yolk
    355 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

    Orange
    738 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks for the replies. I pre-emptively booked all my selections already, but thank you for the reminders re: dress code.

      a) Italian lunch
      * Unfortunately, Piccolo Sogno isn't open for lunch on Saturdays
      * Given that Cafe Spiaggia and Coco Pazza is a toss-up. I'll go with Cafe Spiaggia. Thanks.

      b) Brunch spot?
      * Location being a key determinant, I took a look at Orange and Yolk, both look promising.
      * While I enjoy innovative brunches, I'm still favour innovation that involve the breakfast meats of eggs, bacon, or sausage relative to the sweeter innovations.
      * Regarding LB Bistro, the menu doesn't sound too enticing. I'll have to research some personal reviews on chowhound to decide.

      c) Any better choices for my cheap eats?
      * I considered Uno and Due, but based on a couple of my friends review, they had preferred Lou Malnati's over Uno's. So I may follow their recommendations.

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

      Piccolo Sogno
      464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

      LB Bistro
      301 E North Water St, Chicago, IL 60611

      1. re: 1azymf

        >> * I considered Uno and Due, but based on a couple of my friends review, they had preferred Lou Malnati's over Uno's. So I may follow their recommendations.

        That's fine; Malnati's is equally good, but is just a bit further. They have locations on Wells Street (about 3/4 mile west of your hotel), at State and Rush (about 3/4 mile north of your hotel), and at 8th and State (about 1.5 miles south of your hotel and convenient to the museum campus).

    2. One additional brunch spot I'd recommend you take a look at is North Pond. They serve an outstanding Sunday brunch; it is a three-course prix fixe for $33 per/person and is hearty food rather than breakfast food. Went there last week with another couple and all four of us loved us. Nice upscale ambiance and scenic view there too. It is a bit away from your hotel though, so you might have to spring for a cab (about a 10-15 minute cab ride likely). They also book up, so you'd have to reserve via Open Table in advance if you opt for this. I have been to M Henry, Orange and Wishbone and all are excellent, but North Pond IMHO is a step or two above. However the others are better if you are desiring breakfast foods for brunch.

      -----
      North Pond
      2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

      2 Replies
      1. re: Gonzo70

        Great recommendation - I like North Pond a lot too! Here's some more info. Its location makes it a treasure unique to Chicago. It's in the middle of Lincoln Park - the park itself, rather than the adjacent neighborhood of the same name. It faces its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The renovated building formerly served as a warming shelter for skaters on the pond in winter. Chef Bruce Sherman has been a finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef - Great Lakes for several years running; there aren't many places where you can get that level of quality for brunch. North Pond is about three miles north of your hotel, accessible by cab or the CTA #151 bus.

        Like Shaw's, North Pond does brunch on Sunday only. The other places mentioned for breakfast/brunch serve early 6-7 days a week.

        -----
        North Pond
        2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

        1. re: Gonzo70

          Definitely a choice to consider. I'll probably talk to my brother to decide if he's open to this menu :) Thanks!

        2. Sat: I used to be a regular at Coco Pazzo when I lived in the area and you won't go wrong there, but in a close race I'd give the blue ribbon to Cafe Spiaggia, which is close to you. And I find Spiaggia a little too overdone for my tastes, so I wouldn't miss that one. CP Cafe not bad, but definitely a step down in execution (and price) from the other two.

          On place not on your list you might consider is L2O. Its $$$$, but I've been there with and without Laurent Gras (founding chef who left) and it was outstanding both times.

          Sun. Most places on your list serve the standard eggs and pancakes type bruch, which is fine but nothing special. Only exception is M.Henry which is great if you're in the area, but a long wait in the cold unless you get there real early, and really not convenient by public transport or cab. I always scratch my head looking at the 20 deep line of brainwashed hungries hanging around Bongo Room on a Sunday morning. But for something really outstanding - one of the great under-rated chicago spots, try Local on North Ave. Michelin Bib Gormand. Fried Nutella Fritters. Delicious sausage and breakfast sandwiches. Interesting Salad options. Excellent Coffee. Shockingly, nevrer a line. My only gripe is that the menu doesn't change too often, but if you only go there once that's not an issue.

          For cheap eats, don't forget Xoco - Rick Bayless's place around the corner from Topo. If you like Japanese, Ginza Fish House on Ohio looks like a dump on the outside but has some of the best Japanese food in the city.

          -----
          Bongo Room
          1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

          Cafe Spiaggia
          980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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

          Ginza Restaurant
          19 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

          L2O
          2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

          Spiaggia
          980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

          XOCO
          449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

          4 Replies
          1. re: wak

            >> I always scratch my head looking at the 20 deep line of brainwashed hungries hanging around Bongo Room on a Sunday morning.

            The reason is obvious: Bongo Room has some of the most creative and delicious pancake dishes of any restaurant in the country. Examples include the pretzel pancakes topped with white chocolate caramel sauce, and the blueberry pancakes topped with almond panna cotta cream. Plus, a standard portion of pancakes consists of three GIGANTIC pancakes, but you can also get a one-third or two-thirds portion size at a reduced price, so you can try more than one dish. Not everyone enjoys sweeter dishes for breakfast/brunch, and those who don't may not appreciate the pancakes; however, Bongo Room does have omelets and other egg dishes, as well as lunch dishes like sandwiches and salads, all of which are decent albeit not unusual.

            Most of our breakfast specialty restaurants don't accept reservations, and waits to be seated are common on Saturdays and Sundays between roughly 9:30 and 12:30. (Thanksgiving weekend may or may not be an exception.) You can avoid the worst waits by avoiding those hours. Many of the restaurants that only do brunch on weekends, including Shaw's and North Pond, accept reservations for brunch, including on Opentable.com as well as over the phone, so that's another way to avoid long waits.

            >> try Local on North Ave. Michelin Bib Gormand.

            None of the winners of the Michelin Bib Gourmand is named "Local", and I cannot find a restaurant with that name on North Avenue.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              wak is referring to Lokal at 1904 W. North Avenue. I have not been there, but their website says they feature contemporary Polish cuisine and they have a brunch menu. Lokal is not named on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list.

              1. re: chicgail

                Right about the Michelin - but Lokal does have a great brunch. One of the beset I've had in the city. You should all check it out.

                1. re: wak

                  Checked out the menu. Another enticing choice to debate with. Thanks!

          2. Chicago is known for its Italian Roast Beef Sandwiches. Find an eatery that serves them. The sandwich is made with roast beef slices with seasoned gravy, not necessarily hot spices, provolone, roasted sweet peppers on a chunk of Italian bread. This delicacy is not to be missed.

            This Chicago sandwich is not to be confused with the Philadelphia Cheesesteak sandwich. Both of them are delicious when correctly made.

            9 Replies
            1. re: ChiliDude

              The sandwiches that ChiliDude refers to are universally called "Italian Beef". If you go to Portillo's or Al's for Chicago-style hot dogs, you can also get an Italian Beef at either one while you're there.

              They are wet so they are best eaten on site, and with care so as not to drip any on your clothing.

              1. re: ChiliDude

                I have never seen an Italian beef sandwich served with provolone. That's sounds more like a Philly beef steak.

                Typically an Italian beef is ordered wet (dipped in the au jus) and with hot (giardiniera) or sweet (roasted bell) peppers - or both. Another variation is a combo that adds an Italian sausage to the beef in the sandwich.

                And as nsxtasy notes, Portillos and Al's are two centrally located spots to get good versions of them.

                1. re: chicgail

                  So what cheese have you seen used? I was a delivery person in the 1950's when at U of I in Champaign-Urbana. I worked for a bar called Timpone's and it was my 1st experience with the Italian beef sandwich. Provolone was in the sandwiches made in the bar kitchen.

                  Also, I've had Italian beef sandwiches in Berwyn from an independent vendor with only one location. Provolone was in the vendor's sandwiches.

                  It seems that the current vendors with multiple locations are not including an important ingredient in the sandwich.

                  1. re: ChiliDude

                    There is no cheese on an Italian beef.....At least of the many I've had its never been included. Dipped with gravy, hot giardiniera and/or sweet pepers is all you need. Of course, it is reasonable and acceptable to add a sausage to that sandwich if you like!

                    1. re: ChiliDude

                      What cheese? (gasp!) No cheese. Ever. I was introduced to them at Johnnie's when I was a child and I have never seen cheese on an Italian beef sandwich. Anywhere.

                      Is it a South Side thing?

                      1. re: chicgail

                        >> Is it a South Side thing?

                        No. You will not find cheese in an Italian Beef sandwich. Not at most places, anyway. Not on the South Side, not on the North Side, not on the West Side.

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          Maybe in the lake?

                          1. re: chicgail

                            Byron's used to have a cheese option. But then it wasn't an Italian beef - it was a cheesy, juicy beef. Or at least that is what we called when we ordered it as kids. Proper Italian beefs never had cheese on them.

                  2. re: ChiliDude

                    Yup. I got them both on my list :) Thanks. I was a little disappointed with my experience with Philadelphia Cheesesteaks (I'm writing from Philly for work as we speak!), so I hope they're delicious!

                  3. BASTA COSI!!

                    Next time you order or make an Italian beef sandwich add some thinly sliced provolone. TRY IT, YOU'LL LIKE IT!!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ChiliDude

                      It may taste good, CD, but I wouldn't call it an Italian Beef sandwich. Not a problem. Just something other than an Italian Beef.

                    2. Brunch at Perennial Virant is great too, and a bit more centrally located than many of the others on your list.

                      -----
                      Perennial Virant
                      1800 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL 60614

                      1. After revealing my restaurant itinerary with my brother, I've removed TRU from the list. He didn't feel comfortable with the money that I intended to spend on it. So given an open opportunity for Saturday night dinner with a 'budget' of Cafe Spiaggia, are there any suggestions as to where I should begin my search?

                        I considered BlackBird (their menu looked delicious) and the Publican but neither have availability before 9PM.

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

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: 1azymf

                          I looked at Opentable.com for availability for a party of two on Saturday, November 26. (I'll also note that sometimes you can find an opening by phoning a restaurant when one is not shown on Opentable.) I ruled out any restaurant that doesn't show one between 6:00 and 9:00 (Blackbird, GT Fish, MK, Piccolo Sogno, Perennial Virant), and any restaurant that's a lot more expensive than Cafe Spiaggia. Of the remaining places, here are my nominees as the very best places in town (with a special emphasis on Italian), on which you should concentrate:

                          Boka (contemporary American, Lincoln Park)
                          Cafe Spiaggia (Italian, Mag Mile)
                          Carnivale (Latin fusion, River West)
                          Coco Pazzo (Italian, River North)
                          Deleece on Southport (contemporary American, Lakeview)
                          The Florentine (Italian, Loop)
                          Mercat a la Planxa (tapas, South Loop)
                          Mexique (provincial Mexican, West Town)
                          Mundial Cocina Mestiza (provincial Mexican, Pilsen)
                          Sable (contemporary American and artisanal cocktails, River North)
                          Vivere (Italian, Loop)

                          I'd probably save the provincial Mexican places for another visit, since you're already going to Topolobampo for lunch.

                          All of these are pretty much wide open, IOW they show openings on Opentable.com for just about any time on that Saturday night. I recommend making reservations as soon as possible, though, as some of these will book up between now and then.

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

                          Boka
                          1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

                          Cafe Spiaggia
                          980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                          Mercat a la Planxa
                          638 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605

                          Mexique
                          1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                          Coco Pazzo
                          300 West Hubbard, Chicago, IL 60610

                          Deleece Restaurant (on Southport)
                          3747 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago, IL 60657

                          Vivere
                          71 W Monroe Street, Chicago, IL 60603

                          Carnivale
                          702 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60661

                          Sable Kitchen & Bar
                          505 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60654

                          The Florentine
                          151 W. Adams, Chicago, IL 60601

                        2. I'm going to put in a dissenting vote for Coco Pazzo over Cafe Spiaggia. I had a disappointing meal at Cafe Spiaggia last week. Despite having a reservation and arriving 10 minutes early, we were seated next to the kitchen door after a 25-minutes wait. My pasta was underdone, not even close to al dente. The baby octopus appetizer was more like teenage octopus, and the char was too heavy. Our waiter tried to whisk away my friend's plate before she was done. And the place is a "cheap" option only in comparison to its incredibly expensive sibling.
                          I have never had a bad experience at Coco Pazzo.

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

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