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ISO hole in the wall gems - quick eats ('hound visiting from LA)

I'll be in Chicago (Wheaton) and would love to know of any must-visit hole in the wall type places.

Some favorites from trips to other places: Pine State Biscuits in Portland (small shop, best biscuits sandwiches) or Sweet Georgia Brown for BBQ in Dallas (family run place, outstanding BBQ).

I'm looking for that place that does the best "X". That specializes in something amazing and will be a memorable food experience. I'm not looking for anything fancy that needs reservations. Just something I can stop in at, get a bite or a meal, and go on my way! :)

Open to all types of cuisines and foods.

Anything come to mind?

Edit to add: I'm in town for a couple days, so I won't have a lot of time. Just looking for that one spot that you'd tell someone to bee-line to! :)

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  1. I can't tell you anything about holes in the wall in or around Wheaton, which is about 30 miles from Chicago. I got that you won't have a lot of time. Will you have a car?

    8 Replies
    1. re: chicgail

      Yes, I will have a car - flying in and out of ORD - so, perhaps en route?

      1. re: The Oracle

        Ok, consider some of the following to start:

        Devon Avenue on the north side of the city has tons of hole-in-the-wall Indian and Pakistani restaurants. I am not a fan of that particular cuisine, but I'm sure other people could make specific recommendations.

        Argyle St. at Broadway is home to a lot of Vietnamese restaurants. I am a fan of Tank on the corner.

        There are three restaurants in town with very authentic Thai food: TAC, Spoon Thai and Sticky Rice (northern Thai).

        And I do recommend Hot Dougs, which is off in the beaten path, but a local legend. Don't go on a Friday or Saturday because the lines are longest then.

        1. re: chicgail

          Thanks for all your thoughts.

          It's the 'local legend' type places I'm looking for. Thanks for the tip on when to avoid Hot Dougs!

          I'm a Los Angeles native... we have a lot of ethnic, particularly Asian and South East Asian options here.... so, I'm looking for something more 'regional' and 'only in Chicago' type places....

          1. re: The Oracle

            I have a few really good friends who live in la. One of them is a chicago ex-pat. Their must haves when visiting are:
            Italian beefs
            Pizza - xtra thin or stuffed
            Taqueria style food (BIG DIFFERENCE, many think it's all just Mexican food. WRONG)
            Chicago dogs
            Chicago aquarium style bbq and hot links

            Do you plan on being in the city at all wen you come?

            1. re: gordeaux

              As an FYI, there are actually a couple of Portillo's locations in the LA area for any Californians missing the Chicago experience.

              1. re: gordeaux

                What's "Chicago aquarium style bbq"? I've never heard of it before.

                  1. re: mrsdebdav

                    Ok, so I've eaten it; I've just never heard of it. LOL.

      2. The first thing that came to mind was Hot Doug's (one of the touchstones of our local dining scene) but that isn't very amenable to your location or schedule.

        5 Replies
        1. re: ferret

          Sausage superstore?! Oh my. Do they sell sausages 'to go' (uncooked?). Would love to bring some home for DH who is a sausage fiend.

          1. re: The Oracle

            Since you mention O'Hare, you could do a lot worse than get one of Rick Bayless's tortas in Terminals 1 or 3.
            http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurant...
            Wheaton and hole in the wall don't really mix, but here are a couple of ideas:
            Great Szechuan food at Lao Sze Chuan House in Downers Grove
            Yummy Asian dumplings and noodles at Katy's Dumpling House in Naperville or Westmont

            1. re: The Oracle

              Not that they're interchangeable, but I've had some great sausage from Jeff's Gourmet on Pico in LA. It's Kosher, so you're limited to beef/lamb, but they do make a nice selection of sausages.

              1. re: ferret

                I second that recommendation of Jeff's - it is excellent

                1. re: weinstein5

                  Great recommendations, folks, and great question, Oracle. I disagree, however, with the guidance to avoid Hot Doug's on Friday and Saturday. It's like the old joke, "It's so crowded no one will go there." The reason it is especially popular on those days, aside from them being the most popular days for all restaurants, is those are the days they offer duck-fat fries. Try to get there close to opening time. Regardless, the line moves pretty quickly, and it can be fun chatting with others while you wait. Make the most of your time with Doug at the register when you place your order. Be aware Hot Doug's is closed for dinner and Sundays. And no, they do not offer raw meat to go.

          2. P.S. - Sweet Georgia Brown's is amazing.

            1 Reply
            1. re: gordeaux

              :) I'd love to know what they put in their baked beans! Best I've ever had!!

            2. UPDATE: Thanks, everyone, for you helpful tips and suggestions. I knew I was in for a whirlwind trip, but I didn't know just how whirlwind it really would be. I had zero time to explore and zero time to get to the city. All food was in the Naperville/Wheaton area, and all spots predetermined. I didn't get a Chicago dog :( and am disappointed I couldn't get to Hot Doug's!

              First night: Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in Naperville. The wait on a Saturday night was about an hour. I didn't quite get why they have you call your order in ahead of time - as the pizza was probably to our table 1.5 hours after we called. One cheese pizza, one cheese/sausage pizza, Malnati salad, and a house salad. I enjoyed the sausage pizza - a good cheese to sausage ratio and the crust was PERFECT. All California attempts for a cornmeal crust end up thick and hard. This was excellent - firm enough to hold together, yet light enough to be a perfect bite and consistency. Easy to chew, I could cut it with my fork - and, dare I say - it melted in my mouth with each bite. I wasn't wow'd with the cheese version. The crust was much thicker and most of the people in our party found it very difficult to cut into. The cheese just seemed like a big mass of congealed cheese. However, as I tried another bite of the piece that I left sitting on my plate, I actually liked it more as it got cold! The Malanti salad was excellent - a good balance of flavors in the salad.

              In general, not as good as I remember my very first taste of deep dish (years ago at Gino's East, I believe) - but still glad I got a chance to try GOOD cornmeal crust on this visit!! and not the bastardized versions we have in Los Angeles!

              Next morning: Egg'lectic Cafe (in Wheaton??) - another looong wait (about an hour). The coffee was the most disappointing... the worst I've had in a LONG time. B'fast was good - I had The Works omelet and it hit the spot. Everyone in our group seemed to like their food.

              Dinner: Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House (Naperville) - this was my least favorite meal, but we had the absolute best service here. I was still a bit full from the big bfast at Egg'lectic, or I would have had a steak. I had the Bookbinder's Soup. I'd never heard of anything like that before and it was DELICIOUS. I ordered a cup, and it was a large portion. I would have been happy with a bowl of that and a small side salad. But, I get the Crab Chopped Salad as my main (Alaskan King Crab, avocado, macarona almonds.... it was just 'meh'. For $18 I get I'm paying for the crab, but even that was completely underwhelming. I also tried frog legs for the first time - I really enjoyed the garlic butter it came with.... and we also ordered a sweet potato that had the most divine maple butter on the side. They seem to care about the quality of food, service, and overall dining experience. I'd go back here, when in the mood for a steak, if I was in the area again.

              Next Morning: Butterfield Pancake House (Naperville) - food came out quick, service was not very accommodating in the sense of not being able to mix and match b'fast foods. I had another omelet which was fine... coffee was heads and tails better than Egg'lectic.

              One last airport meal on the way out of town at Wolfgang Puck. I had scanned the directory for a Rick Bayless place and couldn't find it so I opted for a quick burger at WP. It was 'fine' but I was kicking myself as I rounded the corner to my gate and there was the Rick Bayless place. ARGH.

              I picked up some Garrett's popcorn to take home to folks, and then sat on the plane for an hour (such is my curse at ORD).

              Thanks again for all your suggestions (both in Chicago and LA!). This trip was atypical of my usual culinary adventures when I travel, but I look forward to coming back and REALLY diving in!

              1 Reply
              1. re: The Oracle

                Try Czervone Jabluszko ( The Red Apple )) in the 6400 Block of North Milwaukee Avenue
                the next time you're in Chicago. It's a great Polish buffet. Or try Isla Filipino on West Lawrence Ave for Phillpino. Both offer great examples of local ethnic dining frequented by locals.