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Dec 2, 2011 09:52 AM

10 hours in Chicago

Hi, ChiChowers!

So, I have about a 10-hour layover in Chicago tomorrow (Saturday, 12/3), from 8:30 in the morning to 7:15 in the evening. (I fly in and out of O'Hare. I am giving myself roughly 10 hours because of transportation time to and from the airport, as well as time for checking in for my departure flight, although I can probably do the latter online.) The last time I was in Chicago was the summer of 2010, but only for a few days, and I spent most of my time touring architectural/cultural highlights. This time, I want to go on an epic foodie binge. Any suggestions? I am open to pretty much anything, although I want to try and hit as many spots as possible and still be able to waddle back onto my return flight at night. In other words, I am fine with street food-type suggestions, including the city's best hot dogs, pizza, sandwiches. I might be able to squeeze in lunch at a sit-down restaurant, perhaps a nice tapas-style joint.

I've done a bit of preliminary research, and I would love to try Hot Doug's--perhaps first or second thing in the morning, as soon as it opens for business. I would also love to try one of Rick Bayless's restaurants for lunch or perhaps a really early dinner, but I don't want to spend too much time waiting for tables. (Would Xoco be a good choice for a Saturday lunch?) Alternates will be welcome.

FYI, my tastes run toward the exotic, but I am up for pretty much anything, as long as it is relatively quick to acquire, quick to devour, and highly recommended.

Thanks, and sorry for the super-late notice!

Oh, and I'm flying in from New York, and I consider myself a bit of an NYC foodie, so factor that in however you wish. (In other words, I have had some stellar pizza in NYC and do not necessarily need to have Chicago pizza--although I do love deep-dish for what it represents, I remain a thin-slicer.) AND, I don't drink alcohol, so unless the food is really good there, I probably would like to stay away from bars/pubs.


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  1. Will you be traveling on the CTA Blue Line? If so, consider Big Star, near the Damen stop, for Southwestern fare. Nearby is Bongo Room, which has great breakfasts.
    But Hot Doug's + Xoco would be a fabulous combination. Both can have long lines unless you arrive a bit outside of normal lunch hours. You would need to transfer from the Blue Line to a bus to reach Hot Doug's by mass transit. Duck fat fries on Saturdays!
    Also be aware that Bayless has a place at O'Hare:

    6 Replies
    1. re: camusman

      Thanks, camusman!

      I am up for taking any public transportation. I figure I'll use the Blue Line to get into the main city, and I'll be fine with using buses (as well as walking).

      I don't think I'll go to a traditional breakfast place, unless it is an exotic/unusual/groundbreaking location. I just don't have the time to grab a bite before hitting up Hot Doug's when it opens at 10:30 AM.

      I did not know about the Bayless-O'Hare location. I might just eliminate Xoco from my day and sample Bayless's Frontera fare at the airport, especially if the wait at Xoco is too long. (If the wait is not too long? Then I'll double up, of course!)

      I'm definitely keeping Hot Doug's on the list. The last time I was in Chicago, I really wanted to go there, but it was closed for some sort of staff holiday. And, yes, duck fat fries don't hurt. (So to speak.)

      I might spend an hour in Millennium Park, weather permitting. If the weather's crappy--and the weather report seems to indicate that it will be--then I'll just continue grubbing. I might do Lou Malnati's after Xoco, assuming that the wait won't be super long, and assuming that the Park will be out of the question.

      (Speaking of which, any good places to grub at the Park?)

      I was hoping to have an early dinner at The Goat and the Girl, but the walk-in wait will probably be terrible. Any recommendations for an alternative?


      1. re: balabat

        Slate the Park for early afternoon; the showers may clear by then. The Gage is pretty decent for lunch and convenient to that location.
        Hot Doug's at 10:30 is wise. You could get off the Blue Line at California and take a bus north. Put ten bucks on a transit card at the CTA kiosk at the O'Hare station. Card is good for both buses and trains.
        Give TGATG a shot if you can get there at the start of dinner; if it's mobbed, you can always try The Publican or Jaipur.
        Opt for the cochinita pibil torta at the Bayless airport place.

        1. re: camusman

          Thanks again, camusman!

          The Gage looks great, but I'm wondering if it'll serve only its brunch menu tomorrow early afternoon. Its lunch seems to be aces, but its brunch menu is not quite as alluring. I can't figure out the restaurant's brunch/lunch situation from its website.

          The Gage's lunch menu is particularly appealing to me because of its sandwich roster. I am a bit of a sandwich fiend (particularly less-than-traditional sandwiches, but also reverent updates of classic 'wiches), and I would like to have an excellent sandwich while in Chicago. If the Gage does not pan out, what are some good alternatives? This thread -- http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/635349 -- seems to recommend Jerry's and Pastoral. Any preference? I don't mind going a bit out of the way for Jerry's if it's exceptional. Pastoral is near Millennium Park, though, so that might be the clincher.

          Honestly, if I cannot make it into TGATG, then I'll be happy with hitting up Bayless's joint at the airport to finish things off. It'll be a nice topper, I think.

          In any case, thanks so much for the suggestions, camusman. Totally appreciate it!

          1. re: balabat

            The Purple Pig would be another idea for an early dinner. They are downtown (Michigan Avenue) and are open all day - so you can grab an early dinner and beat the crowd, but still enjoy their full menu. They have a vast menu with all sorts of good stuff. Here is a link to their website: http://thepurplepigchicago.com/menu.html

            1. re: balabat

              More options - Mercat a la Planxa for your tapas fix is right down Michigan Ave from the park and great for a sit down lunch. I'd go to Sable for a cocktail r two and apps (deviled eggs for sure) and then do Ohare's Xoco for dinner.

              Pastoral is good but not a destination in my book - I love the sandwiches and buy cheese there but you have the same and better in NYC.

              If you want food related shopping, don't miss the Spice House on Wells ... superb.

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

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

              Spice House
              1512 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60610

              1. re: Siun

                >> and then do Ohare's Xoco for dinner.

                O'Hare has Tortas Frontera, not Xoco.

      2. I'm looking for similar guidance - 7 hours - arriving o'hare around noon on January 8, should be at union station at 7 to catch a train south! Sunday may be a factor.

        We want to stay downtown and be fairly simple. I'll be re-reading replies to balabat carefully, too.

        2 Replies
        1. re: cjv

          You'll be saving some time because assuming you're downtown, it will be quicker to get back to the train station than the airport; because you won't need to allow time to go through security at the airport; and because you don't have to check in as far in advance as you do at the airport. So your 7 hours isn't all that different from his/her 10 hours.

          >> Sunday may be a factor.

          Hot Doug's and the non-airport Bayless restaurants are closed on Sundays. So is the French Market, which is otherwise a great choice near Union Station.

          I'd start off by doing Sunday brunch at either Lula or Jam. Both are a block from the Logan Square station on the CTA Blue Line, so it's on your way downtown from O'Hare. If your plane is on time, you'll be getting to either around 1:00 or so, a great time because it's when the long waits to be seated are winding down. Another brunch/breakfast-y option, already mentioned above, is Bongo Room, with their creative pancakes; their Wicker Park location is at the Damen stop on the Blue Line.

          Then, I'd continue downtown, to do whatever you like for a couple of hours or so - walk around the Loop, River North, the Mag Mile, etc; shopping; museums; architecture; Millennium Park and the Bean; etc.

          Then for dinner, I'd consider getting some deep-dish pizza, such as at Lou Malnati's (River North, Gold Coast, South Loop), Pizano's (Loop, River North), or Uno/Due (River North). You can phone ahead with your order (to Malnati's or Pizano's, but not Uno/Due), to avoid waiting 30+ minutes at the restaurant for your pizza to bake.

          If you want to buy some snacks to take with you for the train ride, there are several places downtown where you can get them, depending where you are downtown. Fox & Obel, our premier gourmet grocery with a terrific bakery department and great sandwiches, salads, and other prepared foods, is open all day, but not exactly convenient to Union Station. Pastoral has a great selection of cheese and makes sandwiches, and their Loop location on Lake is open till 6 on Sundays. Garrett Popcorn has stores all over the Loop; the one in the Ogilvie/Northwestern train station a few blocks north of US is open till 6 on Sundays, and the one on Jackson is open till 7. Beard Papa, with their great cream puffs, is open till 6. Toni Patisserie, a great French bakery in the Loop, is open till 5.

          Pizano's Pizza & Pasta
          61 E Madison St, Chicago, IL 60603

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

          Bongo Room
          1470 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

          Lula Cafe
          2537 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647

          Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine
          53 E. Lake St., Chicago, IL 60601

          Garrett Popcorn Shops
          2 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL

          Jam Restaurant
          3059 W. Logan Blvd., Chicago, IL

          Beard Papa's
          108 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601

          Toni Patisserie & Cafe
          65 E Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602

          1. re: nsxtasy

            thank you. I'll let folks know if we do anything interesting