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Dec 3, 2011 03:34 PM

How Would You Spend a 4 hr Layover at ORD?

I arrive at 9am on a Sunday and connect on a domestic flight. I really want to leave the airport and wanted to know if there was any place accessible by the train at the airport that I could go to. Maybe a great breakfast spot that isn't too far from a train stop?

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  1. There are great breakfast spots near train stops; Lula, Jam, and Bongo Room are among our best options, and are near the CTA Blue Line (Lula and Jam near the Logan Square el station, Bongo Room's Wicker Park location near the Damen el station). However, four hours might not be enough time to do the whole trip by el. The problem is that on Sunday morning, the trains don't run that frequently (up to 15 minutes apart), but the restaurants are packed for brunch (30-60 minute waits are typical). Walking from your gate to the el station, waiting for a train, riding the train, and walking to the restaurant will total 45-60 minutes each way, waiting to be seated 30-60 minutes, and ordering, getting served, and eating another 45-60 minutes. Add it up and the total is 165-240 minutes out of your four hours, not counting time to get back through security and arrive at your gate with plenty of time to spare. If everything goes smoothly, you would have just enough time to make it, but if you have to wait much for the train either way or have a long wait to be seated for brunch, you could miss your connecting flight.

    An alternative would be to take a cab either way or both, to one of the restaurants mentioned above. (In addition to being close to the Blue Line, they're also close to the Kennedy Expressway.) Obviously it would be more expensive - maybe around $20 - but it would cut the 45-60 minute el trip down to about 20-25 minutes. Do it on the way there, because it won't take you any time at all to catch a cab at O'Hare, but you might be better off taking the el back to the airport, since you might have to wait a little while before catching a cab from the restaurant.

    Food alternatives that don't involve traveling include the restaurants in the terminals (such as Wolfgang Puck's), or walking to Andiamo, the restaurant in the O'Hare Hilton. The food won't be amazing, but there are some acceptable options, and you wouldn't have to worry about missing your connection.


    Bongo Room
    1470 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

    Lula Cafe
    2537 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647

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

    Andiamo (O'Hare Hilton)
    O'Hare International Airport, Chicago, IL 60666

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Your response was so helpful and very appreciated! I never thought to consider that the train would be running on a different schedule. I realize today is Sunday, but in my world, it's my Monday, so I really hadn't thought about that part--until I read your post. I managed to find a place not too far from the airport (Al & Andy's) that served a very good breakfast with great service. Cabbed it both ways and breezed through security when I got back. Thank you again for your list (I'm especially curious to try Lula on my next LO there) and your time. :-)

    2. Since you have such a small window of time I would recommend that if you really want to dine out, you take a cab AND select a venue that takes reservations at 10:00am. Although this will cost you, at least it ensures you should be able to squeeze in a nice Chicago breakfast/brunch and make your flight. Here are some options:

      Mexique: Upscale Mexican cuisine in the West Town neighborhood. I have been here for dinner a couple of times and found it excellent; they have a nice brunch menu, but I have not been for brunch yet.

      Mercat a La Planxa: Spanish Tapas in South Loop.

      NoMI: Contemporary European in Streeterville. Was a Michelin Star venue, but lost the star when they revamped the restaurant into a more casual venue. Great location on Michigan Avenue Miracle Mile area.

      Perenial Virant: Contemporary American in Lincoln Park neighborhood.

      Sable: American Food in River North neighborhood.

      Seasons: Contemporary American in Streeterville neighborhood; this is the highest end venue on my list. In Four Seasons hotel. Michelin star venue.

      Sixteen: Donald Trump's venue; Contemporary American food in River North. Recently lost Michelin star, likely due to head chef leaving since they earned their star.

      There are more options, but these are the one's that might be worth the effort IMHO (all have received excellent reviews). Nsxtasy recommended some good places as well, but since you have such a time crunch you may want to opt for a place that takes reservations. I'd recommend you check out the menus and websites for these restaurants and see if any of them are appealing to you. Let us know what you decide; it should be a fun adventure if you go for it!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Gonzo70

        Thank you for taking the time to reply to me. I looked at some of the reviews of the places you recommended and think I'll save some of those for when I've got more time on my hands to appreciate both the food and venue. Thank you again!

      2. Honestly, I think you would be cutting it very close if you tried to get breakfast outside the airport. Public transportation is not a good bet, especially because it runs slowly on Sundays. Even with a cab, you would still be in a rush. The destination dining spots are not close. Security is usually not that bad, but I got stuck in a horrible line a couple of trips ago. It took me well over half an hour to get through.

        I suggest heading over to Tortas Frontera, the Rick Bayless restaurant in Terminal 1 (the United terminal). We make a point of eating there every time we fly United. Their tortas are really good, especially the cochinita pibil and garlic shrimp. They also have a bar. I have not tried the airport margaritas, but the margaritas at the Frontera Grill downtown are great.

        The website says there is another branch opening in Terminal 3 in "Fall 2011". I don't know whether it's open yet.

        5 Replies
        1. re: CathleenH

          Tortas Frontera is open now in Terminal 3 as well and as a friend said, between that and the Vosges chocolate stand, why leave?

          As a frequent traveler, I'd increase the time estimates on both blue line el ride and the cost of a cab ...we always allow an hour for blue line from river north to Ohare and a cab from Ohare to Old Town is typically $32-35 plus tip and longer than 20 minutes.,

          1. re: Siun

            Stanley's Kitchen and Tap from Lincoln Park has now opened at O'Hare. I can't find their menu online but one would hope for the same down-home fried chicken, pulled pork, and mac & cheese.

          2. re: CathleenH

            Tortas Frontera is indeed now open in Terminal 3 (the American terminal, next to gate K3), in addition to their location in Terminal 1. I haven't been there yet but it's worth checking out, if you decide to dine at the airport.

            Seasons, mentioned above, will be closing after New Year's Eve, and reconcepting for a new restaurant over the winter, as noted at

            Gonzo's idea of cabbing to and from a restaurant that accepts reservations would work. Note that those restaurants are mostly downtown in River North; they are somewhat further than the ones I mentioned in Logan Square, but the travel time by cab wouldn't take all that much longer on a Sunday when traffic is light. The extra travel time will be offset by the easier ability to catch a cab for the return downtown than around Logan Square, because lots of cabs cruise there and some wait at the hotels. Just watch the forecast, as catching cabs quickly can be dicey if it's pouring rain or snowing heavily, and if that happens you might want to cancel at the last minute.

            One other great Sunday brunch in River North where they take reservations is at Shaw's Crab House. They do an all-you-can-eat buffet including some of the best seafood in town (great crab cakes, king crab legs), a carving station with beef tenderloin, the usual breakfast specialties (great caramelized thick-cut bacon), and a dessert buffet (great creme brulee and pots de creme). Note, their earliest reservation is at 10:30; needless to say, you're going to want to check hours for ANY of these places when making your plans.

            >> As a frequent traveler, I'd increase the time estimates on both blue line el ride and the cost of a cab ...we always allow an hour for blue line from river north to Ohare and a cab from Ohare to Old Town is typically $32-35 plus tip and longer than 20 minutes.,

            That's mostly because the estimates above are for the Logan Square area, which is a much shorter distance than going all the way to River North or Old Town (13 miles all highway vs 18 miles including stretches in downtown traffic - see the map to the right on this page). And I may have underestimated; allow $26-29 plus tip by cab to Logan Square. By el, going to River North or Old Town requires not only extra distance, but also a change of trains and its associated wait for two trains instead of one; even an hour might not be enough when you include the possible Sunday morning waits as well as the 5-10 minute walk from the gate to the el station; I'd allow 60-80 minutes, depending on exactly where you're headed (60 minutes to Shaw's, which is walkable from the Clark/Lake stop on the Blue Line, 80 minutes to Old Town or Seasons).

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

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Such great tips and information! I've cut and pasted all of this into Evernote so I'll have all of this for my next trip to ORD (hopefully for an overnight rather than a long layover). I come into ORD a -lot-, so I've eaten at Tortas Frontera many times (so delicious). I just wanted a change of pace today, so I did a little research on highly rated places near the airport and went to a place called Al & Andy's. Total mom & pop place, hole in the wall with friendly service and good food. Thank you all for taking time to reply to me and giving me such a wealth of information. I would have been more adventurous if I didn't have to worry about the Sunday schedule for the el and brunch/breakfast crowds. :-)

              1. re: marshalmissy

                Glad to hear it worked out for you this time (and you didn't miss your connection!).

                For future reference, if you come back on a weekday, a four-hour layover would work for taking the el to and from breakfast at Jam, Lula, or Bongo Room. During the week, the el runs more frequently (every 5 minutes) and waits to be seated are non-existent.

          3. Bottom Line - get the best breakfast you can at O'Hare and bring a good book or apps on your phone.