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May 4, 2012 11:21 PM

Please critique my list

Will be staying close to Wacker and Michigan near the river loop area. This will be my 3rd visit and my wife's first. We're comfortable walking and taking public transportation. My trip report from a previous visit using the advice given to me in link:

We're going to be visiting museums and galleries. Also doing some walking tours and the boat architectural tour. I'm looking at places that are near the sights we're visiting and can drop in easily. We eat just about anything except for cilantro. Love small plates and have picked out several ones. She also wants to try some chicago foods such as Italian beef, pizza and sausages. Los Angeles is weak in Greek and Indian. I understand Chicago is strong in these. I really enjoyed India House.

We're from Los Angeles and not super interested in Asian or Mexican. Looking more for local and other ethnicities which are weak in LA.

Please critique the list of choices. My goal is to have a list of choices handy around the areas we'll be in.

Favorites from past visits, are these still good?
Cafe Spiaggia
Al's Italian beef
India House
Mr. Beef
Hot Diggity Dog
Maxwell Street Market
Luke's Italian Beef and Dog
Anything like the old Fox and Obel?

New to try
GT Fish and Oyster
Cafe Iberico
Purple Pig
Terzo Piano (lunch while at Art Institute
)Coco Pazzo Cafe
Heaven on Seven (closed Sundays)
D'amato bakery
Atwood Cafe
Park Grill
Custom House
Chicago French Market
Greek Island

Passing on thick crust pizza, just thin or stuffed
Lou Malnatti's

Steakhouses, she wants to do one Chicago steak meal
David Burke's
Hugo's (gibson steaks near our hotel)
Chicago Chop House
Chicago Cut Steak House

Appreciate any thoughts on my list. Thank you in advance.

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  1. That's quire a list.

    People who think of Chicago and food, often will think or say "steak or “meat.” Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle about immigrants working the the Chicago stockyards more than a century ago, but it is still what comes to mind for many people when they think of food and Chicago. Even Frank Sinatra sang about “The Union Stock Yards – Chicago Is.” The reality is not the same as the myth.

    While Chicago, like every other major city in this country, has its share of fine steakhouses, the city of Big Shoulders hasn’t been the world’s meat capital of the world in decades. Chicago’s meat packing district, which processed more meat than anywhere else in the world beginning in the Civil War, has been closed for nearly 60 years.

    If a steak is still important, the top two are David Burke or Chicago Cut. You don't mention price, but be aware that entrees are upwards of $30 here, unless you go for a burger at lunch.

    Otherwise, you have an enormous list. For trying small dishes, plan on going to at least one gastropub. You mention Purple Pig, but I don't see The Publican on your list. Both conveniently located. Also, for tapas you have Iberico on your list, but not Jose Garces' Mercat a la Planxa at the Blackstone hotel in the South Loop.

    Chicago has good thin-crust pizza like most other cities, but it's deep dish that we are best known for. It was invented here and I've never had any anywhere else that could hold a candle to it. It is not "just for tourists." Still, if you don't want thick crust pizza, don't bother with Giordano's or Malnati's.

    Best located, and one of the best for both a Chicago hot dog and Italian Beef is Portillos.

    10 Replies
    1. re: chicgail

      These are very comprehensive and thoughtful lists, past and future. I agree with Chicgail's thoughts on Mercat a la Planxa over Iberico (unless you're a 20-something on a budget no need to go there) for tapas; Mercat is also a good option. Adding Publican is a fantastic tip, also open for brunch, or a lunchtime sandwich at their sister spot, Publican Quality Meats. Girl and the Goat is another popular option in that West Loop neighborhood, if you can get a reservation at a decent hour. Atwood Cafe and Park Grill I'd consider fine if you're nearby and hungry but I wouldn't plan ahead for them. Your list is Italian-heavy: Florentine would have been my top pick in a close race, but I haven't been or heard much since Todd Stein left the kitchen. Because you seem adventurous and willing to leave the tourist area, Mundial Cocina Mestiza is a great choice. You might also consider Birrieria Zaragoza (off the Orange line train, just a couple stops from Midway Airport, although you might want to confirm there's not cilantro in the goat). Rick Bayless's Xoco would be a good breakfast or lunch spot walkable from your hotel; get churros, a torta, and maybe some house-ground hot chocolate. The Heaven on 7 listed at 600 N Michigan (the actual entrance is at Rush and Ohio then up an escalator on the way to movie theaters) is open on Sundays; decent for Louisiana-style food but not somewhere locals excitedly frequent. I like Bourdain's adage of approaching new locales with the question of "What do they do here that's original or better than anywhere else?" With that in mind, if you tried deep dish or stuffed (they are different) pizza and didn't like them, then skip pizza, you can do thin crust anywhere. For Greektown, I find most of the restaurants pretty similar; if it's a pretty day, I recommend the patio at Athena. Walk over to Artopolis and check out the pastry case. Have a great trip, and please let us know if you have more questions!

      1. re: GourmetWednesday

        That line was supposed to be "Mercat is also a good Sunday brunch option."

        1. re: GourmetWednesday

          Girl and the Goat seemed like it would be hard to get it. If it like Publican and Mrecat is easier to get into, I'll put it back on the list.

          Atwood and Park Grill made the list as places for us to pop in for a bite if we were wandering around the area and got hungry.

          Thanks for the other suggestions. I should have been clearer in my original post, dinner is about the only meal we usually make reservations. Other meals, we usually keep it loose and we like having options. We like to walk city streets exploring while visiting the various local attractions. I keep a list of the options in the area we're in for the day and just drop in when we're hungry.

          The list is Italian heavy by design as it's one of the weaker cuisines in Los Angeles. We figured Chicago would be a good place to eat good Italian. What many natives consider good would probably be considered very good at least in LA.

          1. re: Jase

            When are you coming? GATG books up 3+ months in advance, leaving only the 4:45 and 11pm spots, really. They take phone reservations 6 months out but OpenTable is only 3 months out. They also take walk in patrons.

            1. re: kathryn

              This month. I thought I remember reading that it had a long wait. As a rule, we're not big fans of making 3 month out reservations, maybe that makes us bad hounds *shrug* Thanks for the info about the late spots and walk in. We've had luck in the past with walking in during odd hour at places like this. We don't mind eating at off hours and taking whatever seats we can get.

              Oh, thanks again for all the help in our past couple of NYC visits. I posted a NYC trip report a couple of weeks ago. Your suggestions were great as usual.

              1. re: Jase

                You're welcome!

                You can also eat at the bar at GATG. Good luck and have a great trip!

              2. re: kathryn

                Hi Kathryn,what NYC restaurant doesGatg Compare to.? Also I used to love the Italian food at Mia Francesca, is there a better place than that for Italian food or is MF still good

                1. re: foodwhisperer

                  GATG kind of reminds me of an American Casa Mono and maybe a little bit of Empellon.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    Oh thanks.i like both of those,and I guess I can eat at the bar. I'm confident on getting in, so I will try. Not sure whether to do sushi tonite or not.GATG sounds good

          2. re: chicgail

            Thanks for the info. I tried to do some research on my list as I hate generic what's good to eat pleas.

            We usually like to have some choices in the areas we're exploring for the day to give us some flexibility.

            Understand about the steak. Part of the appeal of going to a steakhouse wasn't just the steak but also to experience a classic feel. We love Lugers not just for the steak but for the entire experience. I expected any great steakhouse to have a high price point.

            Publican and Mercat did crop up on my radar but I wasn't sure how busy they would be.

            We dislike thick crust. I tried it in my previous visits just because it was the signature style even though we were warned away by it by some other posters. I wish I had listened to them. She doesn't even want to waste a meal on thick crust. But in my previous research posts, it was suggested Chicago has some very good thin and stuffed crust too.

            Passing on Portillo's since there is an outpost here in Southern California. We want to hit the other spots instead. Thanks again for the feedback.

          3. "Favorites from past visits, are these still good?"
            Cafe Spiaggia - Still Good
            Al's Italian beef - The location in Little Italy is still good the one on Ontario not so great
            India House - Too long since I've been
            * deletions because I have no opinion
            Maxwell Street Market - Great weekend fun
            * deletion because I have no opinion
            Anything like the old Fox and Obel? It's still here just under different ownership. The dining in area has been expanded and it is still good.

            On your new to try list:
            GT Fish and Oyster - haven't been yet
            Cafe Iberico - I'm not a fan and probably would pick Mercat a la Planxa as a substitute
            Purple Pig - I like this place a lot
            Quartino - kind of "meh" to me but a lot of people like it
            Terzo Piano (lunch while at Art Institute) - Haven't been but hear good things
            Coco Pazzo Cafe - it's been a few years since I've been food was OK
            Heaven on Seven (closed Sundays) - I do not get the appeal of this place at all anymore. When it was just the loop location I enjoyed having lunch there but the location off Michigan offers the most mediocre food. The Purple Pig is your best option from this family of restaurants
            D'amato bakery - If you are on Grand Ave, for example, to visit Bari Foods for a submarine sandwich than by all means stop in. But it is hardly a destination.
            Bari - Good Subs and I love their house made sausages. I'd recommend Publican Quality Meats for even better sandwiches, soups and food stuffs. At Publican you can at least sit down which you can't at Bari
            Atwood Cafe - No opinion
            Florentine - Since you are staying in the loop I can see why this is on your radar. I went there reluctantly (the food at Marriot Hotels is not usually a promising venue) and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food. I think that the original chef has left however but both times that I was there for lunch and dinner it was quite good
            Vivere - The best of the Italian Village restaurants by a large margin
            Park Grill - no opinion
            Custom House -never been
            Chicago French Market
            Greek Island - I like Greek Islands and have been going there since before it moved to its current location (that means I am scary old) but it isn't the best Greek in the city. It's still fun
            Parthenon - in the same class as Greek Islands
            Mundial - No opinion

            As for steaks I like David Burke's. I don't like stuffed or deep dish pizza. Coal fire is good and is much closer to your location than Spacca Napoli or some of the similar type pizzas.

            Enjoy your stay!

            2 Replies
            1. re: KateBChi

              Coalfire is terrific if you like a pan pizza (not as thick or overflowing with stuff as traditional Chicago-style pizza but breadier than the Neapolitan kind.) If you're fond of Neapolitan pizza, Spacca Napoli is worth a detour. On the other hand, I'd scratch Quartino, CP Cafe, Atwood, Custom House, Vivere from your list--all are quite good if you're in the neighborhood, but I don't find them to be exceptional experiences, and a couple are a little inconsistent. Mundial, tho, is an excellent choice, particularly if you can't get into a Bayless place.

              1. re: KateBChi

                I had read some downhill reports on Fox & Obel after the ownership change. I did two breakfasts there previously and enjoyed it. Great for right before hitting the pier area.

                D'amata and Bari is about a half mile from a gallery we want to visit. I put it on the list for possible snacking.

                Mercat, as mentioned above, I was concerned about being able to get in.

              2. For Greek, I'd take a look at Taxim, in Wicker Park. A little more upscale and refined than what you'll find in Greektown and without some of the kitsch, too. Wicker Park is very easy to get to from downtown, too, and you might enjoy taking a walk through the neighborhood (and in particular, I'd be sure to swing by Big Star for a drink or two before or after dinner -- great people-watching).

                Tony Mantuano will be adding another dining option to the AIC, too, called Piano Terra. A little more casual, I think, it will be on the first floor in what's currently the North Garden. It's scheduled to open May 25.

                Another new spot that's been getting favorable reviews for truly decadent dishes is Au Cheval in the West Loop. Expect a 'scene', especially later in the evening, but the food gets rave reviews.

                3 Replies
                1. re: danimalarkey

                  Does Au Cheval take reservations? Couldn't figure it out by looking at their web presence.

                  1. re: brentk

                    I do not believe that Au Cheval takes reservations. I'm going over there in a couple of hours and will retract if I'm wrong. I really feel old in there. It is directly across the street from Girl and the Goat, and far easier to get into.

                    Although I agree with the opinion that Coco Pazzo Cafe and Atwood aren't really special, they both have pleasant outdoor seating, so if the weather is nice, they are good places close to where the OP is staying. That said, the Purple Pig is even closer, has outdoor seating, and has some exceptional items.

                  2. re: danimalarkey

                    Thanks for the Greek suggestion. I'm not sure what we have going on in that neighborhood, I'll have to check with her and see. We're doing a lot of museums, galleries and walking tours.

                  3. For thin-crust Pizza, you might try Pat's Pizza in Lincoln Park (2679 N Lincoln Ave, not to be confused with the other Pat's Pizzeria in the loop). They serve "cracker-crust" style pizza, which some would some would say is parcticular/indigenous to Chicago (there's a long-running debate about whether this is true or not).

                    It's my favorite thin-crust in the city, and quite a bit different than either NY style (big slices, floppy) or Neapolitan (coal-fired).


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Possumlad

                      Antica Pizza in Andersonville has great thin-crust pizza - the chef is Sicilian. Also if you go, the Octopus appetizer is outstanding as is their version of carpaccio. It's BYOB so stop at In Fine Spirits, also in Andresonville to pick up wine. If you go this far, don't miss HopLeaf - and of course get the mussels there. We recently went to Pizza Bianco's in Phoenix and didn't think it had anything on Antica.