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Feb 8, 2012 12:13 PM

First time Chicago tourist and Scranton, PA Hound looking for great, reasonably priced eats

Hi My Fellow Hounds:
This is my first-ever Chowhound post, so if I've repeated, I apologize. My Boyfriend and I will be visiting Chicago in April for a week and we are looking for some great Chicago eats. Specifically, I am looking at Gino's East for Deep Dish, Chicago Home of Chicken and Waffles, Geja's Cafe for Fondue, Giordano's for pizza, Hot Doug's, Big Jones for their Boarding House Lunch, and Al's Beef. I am originally from NY, so I am nervous about Chicago Deep Dish, as I was raised on thin crust. Are there any other great spots I'm missing? Staying in Schaumburg at Staybridge Suites, so I am aware of the distance, though we will be sight-seeing in the city each day. looking forward to some great recomendations. Thanks everyone!!!!

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  1. If you will be downtown - you can try Pizzeria Uno - the birthplace of Chicago Depp Dish not to be confused with the chain that has spread across the US or it sister resteraunt Pzzeria Due. Other pizza oplaces to check out would be Lou Malnati's or Pizzanos

    Others place to check would be Rick Bayless restaurants Xoco or frontera grill.for outstanding mexican food.

    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

    449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

    1. First off, if you can get a hotel in the city it will be worth the extra cash. Your commute is going to be brutal (IMO) and unless you are going to a conference there is no reason to stay in Schaumburg. Seriously, you will be spending at least an hour each way just to get downtown. Go to and check out the Chicago board. They can help find you a cheaper hotel downtown.

      For food:
      Gino's, Lou Malnati' or Pizano's for pizza. Giordano is good but known for their stuffed which is a lot of cheese. Might overwhelm you. Can't help on chix/waffles. Geja's is in the Lincoln Park area which you could combine with a day at the zoo. Hot Doug's will be a hike to get to on Public Transporation. I liked it a lot and the lines aren't so crazy during the week. Up to you if you want to trek all the way their. I love Big Jones but it is north neighborhood about 30-40 mins away on public transporation. But you could spend a whole day in Andersonville.

      4 Replies
      1. re: lbs

        Thanks for the tips. I did look into other hotels, and parking was a nightmare down town, hence why we did not choose a hotel in the city. Plus, our dates were not available for all nights, so major UGH :-(. Was considering the Lincoln Oark zoo. Also, SkyDeck adn Museum of Science and Industry. Any others worth doing?

        How abour Italian Beef? Is Al's really the best? (Working off of Man Vs Food, haha!)

        1. re: DJDiabla

 for tips on what to do. Not allowed here. Unless you are driving to Chicago, no need for a car. Al's Beef or Mr Beef are the best. I like mine dipped with hot and sweet peppers

          1. re: DJDiabla

            This is not the nicest hotel in the city but for $78 including parking you can't beat the location. I'm not sure if you looked here (or someplace else in the city). If I had to commute from Schaumberg, it wouldn't be a vacation.

            I think two of the stronger ethnic cuisines available in Chicago are Mexican and Thai. We have some remarkable, inexpensive places here. I would also imagine that our other Asian restaurants (Chinese, Japanese, Indian) would be something that you couldn't get at home. As I don't frequent many of the spots on your list I can't comment on them (and would not take up two meals at Gino's and Giordano's) but I would be happy to recommend a place or three if you give me some idea of what you like.

            I really enjoy the sausages at Hot Doug's but would counsel you to go close to when they open (10:30) early in the week (Monday or Tuesday) so that I didn't have to wait in line.

            1. re: deesher

              Great tips--thanks!!! We like pretty much everything, except vegan or thai/Vietnamese. I love some Mex, Japanese and Fusiona re my faves, ad I LIVE for a good burger/steak/ribs, as well as inexpensive, eclectic eats. My BF on the other hand, is pickier, but so long as he can get something basic liek a great burger, pasta, etc, he's in. Wings are another fave, etc. Just looking for those can't miss joints!

              We are taking the metro as many places as we can due to the hellish commute. :-)

        2. From one Scrantonite to another, I think Al's honks compared to Mr. Beef or Portillo's! The Portillo's at Clark and Ontario is most convenient for visitors and would be my first recommendation for you.

          For "traditional deep dish," I'd probably point you toward Pizzeria Uno or Lou Malnati's. That said, however, you're probably not going to like it as it's heavy, overly cheesey, and very un-pizzalike. Instead, take a cab to Pequod's. It's still deep dish pizza, but lighter and much tastier. And while you may have to wait for a seat, you'll avoid the touristy crowds and get a chance to see a different Chicago neighborhood.

          Hot Doug's is good, but can be logistically difficult. It also specializes funky dogs, not traditional Chicago dogs. I may be in the minority, but I happen to love a char dog with all the Chicago fixins' (pickle spear, tomatoes, sport peppers, neon relish, yellow mustard, onions, and celery salt). For THAT dog, go to The Weiner Circle, Downtown Dog, or even Portillo's.

          As for other Chicago eats, I'd recommend an early evening meal at Frontera Grill. They don't take reservations, so show up when they open (I think 5:30, but double check) and snag a seat at the bar for a classic Rick Bayless meal and a delicious margarita.

          I've not heard of Big Jones boarding house lunch, but I would say that Chicago has a wealth of brunch options. A quick search of this board will turn up numerous options, notably Lola, m.Henry, Toast, Publican, Bongo Room, Southport Grocery, Yolk, etc. Some tend to focus on sweet breakfasts (m.Henry, Bongo Room) while other tend to be more savory (Publican). Double check the menus to make sure whatever you choose is the right type of AM sustenance for you.

          I've not been to Geja's, but I think it's slightly silly to waste a meal in a great food town on fondue.

          Beyond that, search this board for other recommendations. There's loads to eat and drink, but it requires a little work on your part to determine where you're going to be, when you're going to be there, and what food options fit together with your sight-seeing agenda.

          I agree with lbs that you should, if at all possible, stay downtown. If you plan on renting a car, change your plans. Public transportation is very efficient for the most part, and cabs abound. Especially considering the cost of parking, you'll save money and a fair amount of headache if you let cabs, trains, and buses cart you around the city!

          17 Replies
          1. re: aburkavage

            Frontera Grill does take reservations, just not a huge number of them, and only over the phone, not on or online. For a weekend night, they recommend you call 8-10 weeks out.

            1. re: aburkavage

              Stick with your Big Jones idea -- it's an excellent one. I think Al's on Taylor absolutely does not honk. For a terrific burger, try Owen & Engine.
              If you're determined to stay in Schaumburg, try Chef Ping for good Chinese/Korean.

              1. re: camusman

                I've never been to the Al's on Taylor, so I can't comment on that particular location. IMHO, however, Al's has over-extended itself recently and the quality has severely suffered. In a blind test, I'd pick out Al's as having weird giardiniera, weird textured beef, and weirdly flavored broth for dipping.

              2. re: aburkavage

                You're from Scranton???? I live in Dickson City, but moved here for college (Marywood) back in 02 and never left.

                I'm seeing ALOT of great Chicago locales; the problem is, I'm getting overwhelmed. I want something that won't bankrupt us but that's not super touristy either. I am after unique things (not italian, because Scranton has an abundance of it---GOOD Italian, to boot). Thinking of chicken and waffles, great local brews, etc.

                As far as staying downtown is concerned, I'm not seeing anything afforadable or that matches my dates,e tc or has free parking. We plan to take the metro and busses constantly, as parking is a nuisance. We normally go to DC each spring, so we are familiar with public transport and inconvenient parking. Man, we really do have it easier here in Scranton.

                Thansk for the tips!

                1. re: DJDiabla

                  Are you driving in from Scranton?

                  1. re: lbs

                    yes, driving in over 2 days. Stopping in Ohio to stay with a friend, and then continuing on to Chicago the next day. Coming in for a week and planning on metro-ing everywhere since parking is so bad

                    1. re: DJDiabla

                      You may want to search for reservations for Woodfield since that is the area that you'll be in for night time suggestions. You may also want to consider driving to some places and bite the bullet on parking to save some time. For example, if you want to go Big Jones, I would drive there because it will take 2 hrs to get their via metra and public transporation.

                      1. re: lbs

                        I do plan on driving some places, and trying to plan daily activities around eats. Are any of the museums, navy pier or other assorted sights near Andersonville?

                        1. re: DJDiabla

                          No. But it is a really cute neighborhood

                        2. re: lbs

                          If your not tied to Schaumburg o for some other reason - you might want to look at evanston - there is Hilton Garden Inn which can be reasonable but it is a fun city and you would be right next to an EL and Metra station -

                          1. re: weinstein5

                            hotel is already booked in Schaumburg, but can always be changed. What about Oak Brook? how far is that from down town? and how far is Evanston?

                            1. re: DJDiabla

                              Evanston is the the first suburb north of Chicago on the Lake. It is about 12 miles north of Chicago's Gold Coast. The home of Northwestern University, Evanston is served by the CTA el system.

                              Oak Brook is an upscale suburb about 23 miles due west of the city.

                              Schaumberg is a large middle-class suburb approximately 30 miles northwest of the city.

                              If it were me, I would choose Evanston for convenience, but also because it is the most interesting of the three communities -- on its own.

                              1. re: chicgail

                                Folks, just a quick request that we try to keep the replies focused on food rather than general travel info. A little way-finding info coupled with chow talk is fine, but this sub-thread's getting pretty far afield. Thanks.

                    2. re: DJDiabla

                      Staying way out in Schaumburg, you'll have to take the Metra trains downtown, and they run less frequently on weekends. Once you're in Chicago it will be much easier to get around with buses and CTA trains. There are some good deals on one-day or three-days passes with CTA:
                      You mentioned wings -- Toons is a great bar that has terrific wings.

                      1. re: camusman

                        thanks for the tips--I appreciate it!

                        Wings don't appear to be a big thing in Chicago, I'm noticing.

                        Any great places for a local brew you can recomend? Also, our hotel has a full breakfast daily, but if you know of any must-try breakfast spots (preferably one with red velvet pancakes) let me know.

                        1. re: DJDiabla

                          In another post, I gave a quick rundown on some of my favorite places for beer in Chicago --

                          Short version is that I think the best overall brewpub in the city right now is Revolution (easily accessible by CTA). Wide variety of beers (not all of them are massive hop bombs, double/imperial/etc, too, which is nice) and un-fussy, well-executed food (their chicken wings are done really well and I cannot recommend enough their pork belly sandwich).

                          Some of the local breweries that you might see around town include Revolution, Metropolitan, Half Acre, 5 Rabbit, Three Floyds, Goose Island and Two Brothers. Finch's is relatively new, too, but I think there are better breweries out there.

                          1. re: DJDiabla

                            In general, Scranton wings are better than Chicago wings by a factor of 10! Spend your time in the windy city eating something else!

                            Piece is a New Haven style pizza place that brews its own beer. It's a happening place and the pizza is pretty darn tasty, so either go early or be prepared to wait for a table (no reservations).

                            Haymarket is another place that brews its own beer, but I think you'd be better off grabbing a beer at the bar and eating elsewhere.

                            Goose Island is probably Chicago's most well known brewery - they have two brew pub locations in the city.

                            As for bars with a plethora of relatively local (midwestern) beer, check out Sheffields in Lakeview. They also have underrated traditionally smoked barbeque. Watershed, located underneath Pops, is another bar that specialized in local libations.

                    3. anyone know anything about Fondue Stube? Looking at Geja's, but don't want to rule them out unfairly.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: DJDiabla

                        IMO - too far away from the city center to be worth it. Getting there would require a pretty long bus ride. Stick with Geja's as it is closer to other things