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Jul 3, 2012 09:56 AM

Help w/ not so crowded venues, pizza, and 'biblical restrictions'

Forgive me for I am about to sin.

I am asking for help for -gasp- not the ‘best restaurants’. I am spending a week in Chicago (staying in the loop, Silversmith) touristing around with and without my college son, age 19 (can’t sit at bars). I’ll come back with my husband and do the truly top restaurants, but since I will be either on my own for a bit or with the kid, top spots aren’t on my list. Getting in and out in reasonable time and being flexible is more of a priority, which is why I think I am asking for places that aren’t on the main radar. Besides, I like the idea of supporting deserving venues that aren’t getting much love.

I’m looking for good, solid fare in places that don’t have extensive wait times, and add to that - I try to keep to the spirit of pseudo kosher- no pork or shellfish, and I can ask to hold the cheese off my burgers, etc. - but I don't go too crazy asking what kind of stock they use.

We won’t be renting a car, so we’ll be taking pub transpo and/or taxis. I’d rather not walk too much - save my knees for the museums. I don’t mind taking the trains out of the Loop as long as the walking isn’t too much.

The first challenge is deep dish pizza. I understand it takes 40 minutes or so to prepare - thats OK - but I’d rather not spend a lot of time in line for dinner. I’ve got the usual suspects on my list - Gino’s East, Lou Malnati’s, Pizza Uno or Due. Surely there must be more, especially if we jump on the trains. I can’t remember which of those places take phoned in orders, or you can place your order when you get in line, if that helps. I’d rather not do ‘take out’ because I have no place to take it before it gets cold. How about Pizanos, if we do late Thursday night at the Art Institute?

The second challenge is Italian - I keep opening menu pages of restaurants suggested here and find very nice items that I can’t order. I think I would do better downscaling from higher end Italian (plenty of those in Los Angeles that we frequent on our theater/opera nights). So far the not-so-stellar Gioco has the best ‘match’ - simpler fare, as does Quartino. I guess for this trip I am valuing solid preparation of standard items.

I’ll probably do Shaw’s on a weekend night (on my own, at the bar, for local lake fish), and with the kid I’m thinking Russian Tea, Pierogi’s, Cafecito, Al’s Beef. Those aren’t easily available in Los Angeles. Publican sounds too noisy and limited for me. If I get to Wrigley, I’ll try TAC Quick or Deleece.

Thank you Chicago CHs!

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  1. Pizano's and Malnati's do "phoned in orders" for pizza but that doesn't necessarily mean "no waiting." They will seat you within a reasonable time of when you arrange to get there but that doesn't mean you get a hot pizza as soon as you sit down. Still figure about 30 minutes.

    As for Italian restaurants, there's not a place in town that couldn't accommodate your requirements. Quartino is actually one of my favorite places for a casual meal and I don't get the mediocre reviews for Gioco - it's a decent place.

    Cafecito is a great spot as long as you know it's more of a sandwich/coffee place (no table service).

    We have a number of neighborhoods that are easily accessible by train. You can take the blue line to Bucktown or Logan Square (a number of very trendy spots in either neighborhood), brown line to Lincoln Square, red line (+ 10-minute walk) to Andersonville - the options are extensive.

    1. In lieu of Gioco, I'd recommend Trattoria No. 10 for Italian. Here is the link to their current dinner menu,
      Although there is a fair amount of shellfish and some pork on the menu, there are plenty of dishes with neither. I used to be a huge fan of Gioco but had a horribly disappointing meal there the last time; granted that was about 2 years ago and I hear that they recently got a new chef. Tratt. No. 10 is more reliable in my view. It's also only a few blocks from the Silversmith.

      2 Replies
      1. re: masha

        A couple of other thoughts, Trattoria 10 is fine for a meal but it's a basement location with no natural light and I wouldn't recommend it as a tourist spot. You'll have a better experience at Terzo Piano, which is in the Art Institute and has a lovely outdoor space with great city views. The Gage (upscale pub-food fare) is nearby and is in a prime location on Michigan Avenue, not as good view-wise, but a decent choice in the area.

        1. re: ferret

          Agree that Tratt No 10's basement location is a negative, although in the evening or when the temperatures are in the 90s, less of a concern -- and the basement locale of Tratt No. 10 is no more divorced from its environs then the deep interior of The Gage. I've only eating at Terzo Piano once but thought the food was only so-so and service was really slow; since the OP was looking for restaurants that she could get in & out of relatively quickly, I did not think it worth recommending, especiallly as it has a very limited menu (typically just a few apps and entrees), which would make it harder to avoid shellfish, pork, and dairy/meat combinations.

      2. "Deserving places that aren't getting much love" << Even though I understand what your asking for, unpopular places are unpopular for a reason, they stink.
        There's a Chinese place by my house that is forever awful, tons of seating!
        And a 19 year old in Chicago? It's a dream to visit great restaurants, with Chicago citizens, not average food tourist dumps.
        Try heading to Avec, early, should have no problem getting seated right when they open.

        1. I can't recommend specific pizza or Italian places (since I'm not from Chicago and don't know), but one time when I was visiting friends, I went to the Chicago Diner and it was pretty good. It's all vegetarian or vegan (and whatever is not already vegan can be made so), so that would fit with your pseudo-kosher requirement. It's also very easily accessible from the loop (click on the "Directions" link on the website). It's in the fun Lakeview/Wrigleyville area, so if you and/or your son are into baseball, you might want to try to make a night of it with Cubs tickets.

          Enjoy your trip!

          1. Trattoria #10 then! I just hate being 'When Harry Met Sally', I feel like if a chef has put together a menu item, it is his/her creation and I don't like to mess with it much. Yes, I know they don't mind. Do I need reservations or is it a walk in place (weeknights)?

            @Ferret: noted about the pizza phone in orders. Thanks. Cafecito etc. will be OK for grabbing a lunch in between sight seeing. I've also seen posts about other neighborhoods, I just haven't searched CH enough and I will do that. Thanks for the info on Quartino/Gioco.

            @Mahimahi - well, it was worth asking about less 'popular' places. And Avec was on my list!

            @asf78 - no baseball during our visit but I'll look into the diner. I do enjoy vegetarian fare, and a nice neighborhood is a plus for after dinner.

            Thanks all!

            5 Replies
            1. re: leetmom7

              Like I said, when I think Trattoria 10, I don't think "this would be great for tourists." Terzo is a good spot if you're already planning a visit to the Art Institute for an early Thursday dinner. OR you might consider Mercat a la Planxa, a great tapas place nearby.

              1. re: ferret

                Ferret, have you looked at the TP menu taking into consideration the OP's dietary restrictions? Only 5 entrees are offered and 3 are tref -- i.e., contain shellfish (the gulf shrimp pasta), pork (the. bacon cheddar burger), or mix meat and dairy (the bacon cheddar burger and the chicken with goat cheese). Given her stated parameters, it's far from ideal.

                1. re: masha

                  Seriously, the bacon cheddar burger is a deal-breaker? Because the bacon and cheddar are fused to the burger patty? I'm not trying to be flip, but if you express your preferences at a restaurant like that then there are human beings present who will accomodate the request. I was trying to be helpful to a visitor by suggesting a location that showcases the city rather than giving them a decent restaurant in a basement that may as well be anywhere on the planet. I have countless friends who have the same self-imposed dietary pseudo-kosher restrictions (and I grew up in a Kosher home)so I know very well what will and won't work.

                  1. re: ferret

                    We've gotten off on a tangent. The OP can read the menus and decide. As the original request was for "Italian" food, I tend to doubt that the burger is what she had in mind anyway.

              2. re: leetmom7

                Trattoria no 10 is very popular as a pre-theater destination, so reservations are recommended if you want to dine before 7. After 7 or 7:30 you can probably walk right in. It's on Opentable so it's easy to reserve.