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May 12, 2012 06:09 AM

Only in Chicago and not very expensive?

My wife and I will be visiting Chicago for a couple days later this month. We have a nice dinner planned at North Pond, but are looking for ideas for some less expensive food adventures that will give us a real sense of Chicago and will be different from what we're going to find at home in Boston. We're fairly adventurous, ethnic is fine, off the beaten path is okay too. We'll be staying in the River North area and traveling by cab/public transportation. Ideas?

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  1. There are a number of unique Chicago items - Chicago Deep Dish Pizza - Pizzeria Une or its sister restaurant Pizzeria Due, Lou Malnatis, Pizzano;s and Gino's East are all excellent - Stuffed Pizza - Giordanos and Bacinos are excellent examples of this style.

    Rick Bay;less's Frontera Grill is not to expensive but you might be in for a wait unless you go early

    A Chicago style hot dog or italian beef or the Billy Goat Tavern that was the basis for the SNL Cheezboiger sketches -

    1. The first place we hit on the way from the airport is Pop's in Dyer, IN for a "beef"...Italian beef sandwich, that is. You cannot get this outside of the Chicago area. I live in Georgia now and have Bari beef send me their 6-lb box with au jus, 8 Gonnella loaves, and a jar of giardinera every now and again.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Mayor of Melonville

        <The first place we hit on the way from the airport is Pop's in Dyer, IN>>

        Not sure how you did this. Indiana is not in any way on the way to Chicago from either MIdway or O'Hare.

        If you want an Italian Beef, there are all kinds of options in Chicago and the suburbs without going to Indiana. Most convenient - and a good option - for many people in the main tourist area is Portillos on Ontario St.

          1. re: aburkavage

            Having lived in NW Indiana for 50 years, I can navigate around Chicago and its environs. I didn't mean to intimate the OP should go to Dyer for a sandwich...but it's what I do when I come back for a visit. Beef stands are ubiquitous around the city; there should be no problem finding one convenient for the OP.

        1. Ethnic, inexpensive, travel, adventure? The only city that has more Polish people than Chicago is Warsaw so this is a good place to try Polish cooking. From River North get on the Red Line (at Division or Chicago or Grand) heading in direction Dan Ryan and get off at Monroe. Walk one block north to Madison and catch the 20 Madison bus on the NW corner facing Madison. Ask the driver to call Hamlin (about a 20-minute ride). You will get off right in front of The Red Apple, good representative of the local genre "Polish smorgasbord", an all-you-can-eat buffet of Polish home cooking constantly brought out fresh and hot by nice Polish kitchen ladies. There is a ton of food and this neighborhoody place is the opposite of North Pond, not elegant by a mile: soups, about twenty meats, four kinds of potatoes, four kinds of gravy, pierogies, potato pancakes, sauerkraut, stews, dumplings, lots of Slavic salads and pastries. Beer available but extra. Price depends on day of the week (weekends include self-carved roast beef, turkey, and ham) but total price will be between $10 and $15. BTW sometimes on Sundays they will bring you some roast duck if you ask for it---they don't seem to put it out on the buffet any more. After dinner you can browse Polish bakeries, delis, gift shops, and Avon Liquors that sells "Polish Cherry", a nice cordial. The Red Apple, which has a website, is quintessential Old Chicago.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Querencia

            Thanks for all the suggestions. The suggestion for The Red Apple is especially welcome -- part of my family is Polish and Polish food is not that easy to find in Boston.

            1. re: mangiamo123

              If you can find your way over to the Blue Line (the O'Hare Line) that will take you easily to Podahalanka at the Division stop. It's a good place for lunch or early dinner, and from there it's an easy walk up Milwaukee Avenue (to Damen say) and into Wicker Park for one of the more interesting local shopping areas:


            2. re: Querencia

              Taking the 20 Madison bus to 3800 west (Independence at that point) would leave you in a pretty sketchy neighborhood. The directions are appropriate for the 56 Milwaukee bus.

              The Polish buffets are very much Polish-American from people who immigrated from the late 19th century to the closing of the iron curtain although the buffets often employ a fair number of recent immigrants. Polish-Polish restaurants will be farther out in the northwest or southwest parts of Chicago on into suburbs and mostly not too accessible from downtown without a car. The differences are not as large as between Italian-American red sauce restaurants and more contemporary Italian restaurants to give some point of reference.

              1. re: Eldon Kreider

                I've never really found Bad Apple to be worth the trip. Podahalanka, on the other hand... great white borscht. Service can be a little pushy (with respect to ordering specific dishes), though, depending on the server. Don't be afraid to hold your ground if need be. :D

                1. re: danimalarkey

                  Podhalanka is the one Polish-Polish restaurant that is easily accessible from downtown via public transportation.

              2. re: Querencia

                Correction: from the corner of State & Madison I should have said to take the 56 Milwaukee. Sorry for any inconvenience. The Red Apple also has a private parking lot (free) behind the restaurant and the same is true of the Red Apple's other branch at N Milwaukee and Imlay one block north of Devon Avenue. And very sorry to see slams of the faithful old Apple, where I have enjoyed many meals over the past 21 years.