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May 12, 2012 02:37 PM

1st time Chicago - Loop and Near North - foodie input requested

I'll be visiting Chicago for the first time in July. I'm looking forward to trying out local food as much as seeing all the sights :) I won't have a car, so will be either walking or taking the El. I've been reading through the many posts on here to come up with the proposed itinerary below.

This post was particularly helpful as it reflected my own approach to this trip:

Thursday morning: Fly in from Europe, staying at the Silversmith
Thursday lunch: Heaven on Seven or Pizano's or Atwood Café
Thursday dinner: Pizano's or Atwood Café

Friday breakfast: Bongo Room
Friday lunch: Topolobampo

Leaving Friday evening to spend a week in Tennessee
Returning to Chicago on Sunday morning, this time staying at the Conrad

Sunday late lunch: Portillo's and/or Al's Beef
Sunday dinner: Sable

Monday breakfast: Fox and Obel or Meli Café
Monday lunch: Purple Pig
Monday evening: Fly home - many pounds heavier!

Thanks in advance for any thoughts and suggestions

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  1. You've done some impressive work.
    The one thing you might be missing is our outstanding Asian food. Consider using your Thursday dinner for Sun Wah in the Argyle area or, if you like spicy, Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown.

    1 Reply
    1. re: camusman

      Thanks camusman, will look into those!

    2. For Thursday lunch, Heaven on Seven is fine, but I think Chicago has better to offer.

      For breakfast/brunch, try instead Jam, Southport Grocery, Bleeding Heart Bakery, or Longman & Eagle. I was underwhelmed by the Bongo Room.

      I'd do Sable for drinks and a snack, but then try dinner elsewhere. Maybe a seat at the bar at Girl and the Goat or Publican.

      Purple Pig is a great choice.

      No pizza?

      9 Replies
      1. re: kathryn

        As far as the Bongo Room, I think one's enjoyment of it is directly proportional to how much you love sweet, syrupy breakfast items (nothing wrong with that!). They do great work with giant pancakes, french toast, etc. but if that's not your style, I think Kathryn made some great suggestions.

        And as far as Thursday dinner, I know those two spots are close to the hotel, but I think Chicago has better options if you don't mind traveling a little bit (also depending on budget/food preferences). Just to the west, Nellcote has seemed to have shaken off its training wheels and is popular; au Cheval, too, is new and very "in" (in a good way!) or even the Publican or (see below) or avec.

        Or hop on the blue line and head to Logan Square, home to Lula's cafe (farm to table, Michelin Bib Gourmand), Longman & Eagle (Michelin-starred gastropub) or even Yusho (Japanese-ish street food, but more upscale, by the former chef de cuisine at Charlie Trotters).

        Or you could stop in Wicker Park and grab dinner at HotChocolate (modern American, home to the 2011 winner of Outstanding Pastry Chef in America) or the Bristol (gastropub) before heading south for some bourbon and a lively crowd at Big Star (or a quieter, more refined setting in the Violet Hour - creative, well-balanced cocktails in a faux-speakeasy setting).

        But plenty of other options that are closer to your hotel and just as good, of course. Again, it mostly depends on your budget and/or food preferences.

        For Sunday late lunch, depending on the hours, I'd ditch the fast food route and look into the Publican. Again, it will depend on how hungry you'll be when you land and if brunch hours are still going, but their Sunday brunch is great. Alternatively, they have a new quick service deli/upscale grocery store called Publican Quality Meats with hours that may work better for you. Great sandwiches, salads, soups, etc. They don't have much seating inside, so hopefully the patio will be open.

        1. re: danimalarkey

          And to piggy-back on my comments about pricing/food preferences, what sort of atmosphere are you looking for? Lively, busy/bustling or something quieter and more refined, etc etc.

          1. re: danimalarkey

            Thanks danimalarkey, you're making me seriously reconsider my Thursday dinner plans! I'm happy to go somewhere further away from the hotel, but was playing it safe for my first evening in a new unfamiliar city. I'm travelling on my own, so safety is a concern for me when going out in the evening.

            Atmosphere-wise - I would probably say somewhere in between - not so quiet that you feel you have to whisper, but not so loud that I have to shout to make myself heard above the din :) Budget-wise - willing to treat myself, but probably no splurging for this trip, e.g. Alinea.

            I like the look of the Logan Square options and also Au Cheval. Both you and kathryn have mentioned Publican (and I've read lots of good reviews on it in other posts too). Looks like they serve Sunday brunch until 2pm, so that might be an option.

            Lots to think about now!

            1. re: Heheho

              Well, with this is mind... and, again, thinking about a dinner on Thursday night, one other idea is Vera, a Spanish wine bar in the West Loop. Very easy to get to from the hotel, they do a really nice job with traditional Spanish dishes and have an amazing wine program. Not quite tapas style, so it's easy to stick with a traditional started/main/etc. They have a decent-sized bar area where it's easy to sit on your own and chat with the bartender/cheese-monger (great cheese program, too!). Avec would also work really nicely for a solo diner, though it can get a little loud and the barstools aren't the most comfortable.

              Along similar lines, this is an instance when I will rescind my suggestion of the Publican. I love the food, don't get me wrong, but if you're a solo diner, they tend to seat you in a "bar" area -- I'm using quotes because you're seated in a normal chair, but the amount of space available to you is pretty limited and the bartender/server is in front of you on a raised platform making for an odd dynamic (I've found... but maybe I'm just weird). There also isn't a dedicated bar tender and it's never clear to me if you're supposed to stand up and reach across the bar/beer taps to flag someone down or wait for someone to stop by on your side of the bar. I'd call ahead and see if they'll give you one of the 2-tops -- otherwise, I would really think twice about eating there as a solo diner (and make a stronger case for avec). Avec would be a decent walk from the hotel (1.1mile or... 1.8km if that's more familiar!) while it would make more sense to take a Green or Pink line train to Clinton and then walk the ~.5mile (~1km).

              And I still think the Logan Square neighborhood would be a fun destination. From the Silversmith, it's about 10-15 minutes by train (very safe!) and Longman & Eagle and Lula's are literally steps from the Blue line station. Both have large bar areas and I've eaten solo on many occasions. L&E will probably skew a little louder, atmosphere wise, and saltier, food wise -- Lula's is a little quieter and more refined, overall. Take a look at both menus online and see what looks more appealing (though it's worth noting that both places change items frequently and I'd consider online menus representative, at best). Also, L&E does not accept reservations while Lula's does -- though the bar area is likely first-come/first-serve.

              1. re: danimalarkey

                Thanks again danimalarkey! Strongly leaning towards Thursday dinner in Logan Square now. But I'm beginning to wonder whether I can squeeze in an extra meal stop back in Logan Square on the way either to/from O'Hare to visit whichever place I don't try out on Thursday evening...! So many places to try out, so little time - and I need to get some sightseeing done as well :)

                1. re: danimalarkey

                  I also love Revolution Brewery in the Logan Square area, epecially for Burgers and of course, beer (flights if you want). PIzano in my view does have the best deep dish pizza in Chicago if you want to try that kind of thing.

          2. re: kathryn

            Katthryn, You took the words right out of my keyboard!

            1. re: kathryn

              Thanks kathryn. I'm planning to try out deep dish pizza from Pizano's as it's right round the corner from the hotel. I'm usually a thin crust fan, but when in Chicago...

              1. re: kathryn

                Been looking through those alternative brunch suggestions of yours kathryn, and now wishing that I had longer in Chicago to try them all! Thanks :)

              2. i was able to do both Portillos and Mr. Beef (just a personal preference because i heard it is mob ran) in the same morning…just dont eat the whole thing! split one wet and sweet beef sand and then just get a small pie and split that too. they are both big!

                i was excited about Sable on my first trip to Chitown… i was also disappointed. its just not delicious food… some fun ideas though. i wish i did Avec instead.

                your friday looks EPIC!

                i hope you have fun!

                2 Replies
                1. re: FoodHasTheRightToMe

                  Thanks! Very much looking forward to my first Italian beef sandwich - dipped :) Must remember to post a trip report here afterwards

                  1. re: FoodHasTheRightToMe

                    Mr. Beef is mob ran????

                    No wonder I like it so much. To me, that might be the best sandwich not only in Chicago, but possibly the United States. Portillos is good too, but nothing beats Mr. Beef.