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Help me create my own food tour

We want to customize our own tour instead of taking one. Looking for donuts, grocers, dogs, Neopolitan pizza, "joints" like Goat, Italian beef and any other items which we should try. We don't even mind doing take out since there may be more than one couple and we can share one order. Basically we're good for anything except fine dining and not dim sum, thai, oriental or indian cuisine.

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  1. Probably I will get shot-down by the experts.. but I will start you off with the following for casual Chicago-food:
    -Lou Malnati's Deep Dish pizza.--- or Peqoud's if you are near there.
    -Al's Italian Beef
    -Garrett's Popcorn
    -Hot Doug's or Gene & Jude's hot-dogs

    12 Replies
    1. re: GraceW

      Hot GDoug's and Perillos (SP?), Do Rite - all on our list from the start.

      1. re: itryalot

        Hot Doug's is not a place for Chicago-style hot dogs, which you can get just about anywhere, including Portillo's. Hot Doug's has creative sausages. Just go to Portillo's for the hot dogs, as well as for the Italian beef, and you'll have both covered.

        Lou Malnati's or Pizano's or the original Uno or Due for deep-dish. Giordano's for stuffed pizza, but do deep-dish first.

        Gotta do contemporary Mexican, which you can do for lunch, weekend brunch, or dinner. Pick one: Frontera Grill (beware, long waits to be seated), Mundial Cocina Mestiza, Mexique, Mixteco Grill.

        Donuts: Do-Rite, Glazed and Infused, Doughnut Vault.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Noted about Hot Doug's. I guess I had a craving after the Bourdain show. LOL

          Will go to Portillo's for sure.

          Was thinking of Fronterra for lunchish and ordering a few things and sharing; Xoco will be our back up. Have DoRite as our token donut place.
          Any worthy oyster bars or other fish places?

          1. re: itryalot

            Right in River North is GT Fish and Oyster. It's a short walk from Xoco/Frontera Grill/Topolobampo.

            Also the ceviche at Frontera Grill/Topolobampo is excellent, and they have oysters as well, so that might fit the "raw bar" bill.

            Note that Frontera, Xoco, and Topolobampo are closed Sundays and Mondays.

            1. re: kathryn

              I second the recommendation for GT Fish & Oyster for seafood served in a small plates format. I've been there several times and always enjoyed it. It even impressed my friends visiting from the Jersey Shore!

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Good rec. I have heard of them, but will do some more research.

            2. re: itryalot

              Hot Doug's is a bit out-of-the-way but totally worth the visit, just not for a Chicago dog. Its "encased meats" are a real treat and the people you meet during the wait enhance the experience. Fridays and Saturdays Doug serves duck fries which increased the wait, but doesn't make the fries THAT much better.

              Xoco is street food and not the same experience as Frontera or Topolobambo, which is affordable for lunch. I would put Fronter or Topo at the top of the list - or go to Mexique, which also has a great brunch.

              1. re: chicgail

                I really like both Frontera and Topolobampo but I don't think they're right for a noshing tour--better to dedicate an actual meal. I guess I can see only ordering 2-3 things, sharing at the bar, and going on your way, but some of the plates will be not as easy to share. How busy does the bar get at lunch?

                My thought was that Xoco would be easier to get in and get out. With takeout if necessary.

                For the Publican, some oysters, ham, and charcuterie at the standing tables (they don't have a real bar), then move on. Check their hours. I think they open at 3:30. Maybe to the lounge/bar area at Girl and the Goat afterwards around 4:30pm.

                The good thing about taking a food tour is that it's all prearranged for you to have a bite or two at each establishment and move on. And it's usually during the day, not during the dinner rush. It seems harder to do at night for dinner.

                Is this a weekday or weekend you're doing the tour?

                Starting with lunch, around noon?

                Also note that if you're doing this during the afternoon, you'll find a lot of places closed between lunch and dinner.

                1. re: kathryn

                  >> I really like both Frontera and Topolobampo but I don't think they're right for a noshing tour--better to dedicate an actual meal.

                  >> The good thing about taking a food tour is that it's all prearranged for you to have a bite or two at each establishment and move on.

                  It's not clear to me whether the OP wants to construct (a) a "food tour" in the sense that he/she wants to try different places around town, consisting of many full meals, as opposed to (b) a "food tour" the way some businesses conduct them, sometimes called a "progressive meal", where you have many many stops, with a small "nosh" at each one. Clearly, kathryn is assuming the latter definition, but I would have guessed the former. Perhaps the OP can shed some light on what he/she is looking for. Recommendations for grazing are likely to be rather different from those for full meals.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Interesting point. I assumed the latter because the original post starts with:

                    "We want to customize our own tour instead of taking one."

                    i.e. paying someone else to take us around town.

                2. re: chicgail

                  Beware of long waits (90 minutes is typical) at Hot Doug's, unless you go before 11 am (they open at 10:30). Also, they go on vacation from time to time, and always post that on their website at www.hotdougs.com so check there beforehand to avoid the long trip to their location turning out to be for naught.

                3. re: itryalot

                  It gets a lot of attention for its extreme pork-iness and beer, but the Publican is great for oysters & fish, too. It's a lively, raucous place as often as not and consists mostly of communal tables if that's a consideration for you (though you can request a 2-top when you make a reservation).

                  And for goat, Birrieria Zaragoza is your best bet (http://www.birrieriazaragoza.com/). Very friendly staff, fantastic goat.

          2. NB: Hot Doug's is closed until Wednesday, August 15. They are usually open Monday - Saturday, 10:30am - 4:00pm.

            Given its location and long lines, I don't think it's really that great for a food tour. Maybe if you have a car or are using the wait time to digest. If you DO go, get the foie gras dog, and split whatever sausages you order.

            For a food tour, Xoco would probably work, since it's more of a quick service style restaurant anyway.

            1 Reply
            1. Since you specify Neapolitan pizza instead of deep dish, try Spacca Napoli. Or, if you want to keep your tour near downtown, try Coalfire.

              2 Replies
              1. re: camusman

                Spacca for sure. That's the name I couldn't remember. Should do deep dish, but don't want to go out of there feeling like I ate a blimp.

                1. re: itryalot

                  >> Should do deep dish, but don't want to go out of there feeling like I ate a blimp.

                  The way to do that is by how much you order, and how much you eat. When they say that a small/medium/large pizza serves 2/3/4, that means as a dinner, and they're not exaggerating. If you consider yourself to have a light appetite, or if you want to leave room for other food elsewhere, then reduce the size of your pizza order accordingly.

                  You should definitely do deep-dish. It's our local specialty, it's delicious, and it's something you just don't get anywhere else. (There are places elsewhere that do a thick-crust pizza, but it's not like deep-dish here. And that especially applies to the Uno's Chicago Grill chain, although unlike the chain locations, they still use the original recipe in the original locations of Uno and Due in downtown Chicago.)

              2. If you're in town on a Sunday you might like the Maxwell Street Market, which is no longer on Maxwell Street but is alive and well near Roosevelt & Canal---see website for exact directions. It has a wealth of Mexican street food---ladies are making fresh corn tortillas, etc.

                1. Lots of great advice here. My goal is to add places to my spreadsheet (can you spell "type A"?) so that I can carry that around with us, then, when we happen to be in a specific area and something on the short list is near there, we'll see how it goes to get in and get a bite or two (mostly during the days or late nights). We are thinking of coming earlier in the week to avoid weekend crowds, but I am sure there are always crowds! It's not so much a "tour" in that it happens in a day and one right after the other, but more a Chicago food tour over the three days to get a wide variety of "must try" places. Considering how long it took me to put the spreadsheet together ahead of time, we found it was really useful (I sort according to neighborhoods then food types). So...keep 'em coming. Looking for outdoor markets and fresh veg markets too.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: itryalot

                    Are you staying downtown.. or are you staying in the suburbs and then driving in?

                    1. re: GraceW

                      We'll be all over the place, but mostly in the core. We'll have a car because there are a few things in the 'burbs we want to do.

                    2. re: itryalot

                      Green City Market is our top seasonal market.
                      If we're now talking spreadsheets, then a great resource is lthforum's list of Great Neighborhood Restaurants.

                      1. re: camusman

                        OMG - That is a gold mine of resources. Would have saved me some time! Thanks.

                      2. re: itryalot

                        Across the street from The Publican is their butcher/general goods (and sandwich/salad/soup spot) Publican Quality Meats. Probably some overlap with what's available at other upscale/gourmet grocery stores, but if you're in the area, it would be worth a stop. Excellent charcuterie program, too.

                        Along similar lines, Pastoral is a great store for cheese, wine, charcuterie and assorted condiments. They have two locations downtown -- one in the French Market and the other on Lake, between Michigan and Wabash.

                      3. I second Garrett Popcorn, and will throw in La Scarola for Old School Italian and super fun experience with owner Armando Vasquez. (If he's there, you will meet him.)

                        We also liked Grahamwich which has a delicious Grilled Cheese Sandwich (great tomato marmalade), unique popcorn and croissants.

                        On the "Old Town" Food Tour some of the standouts for me were:

                        Deli: Ashkenaz Deli for the Pastrami Reuben.
                        Macarons/Bakery: Delightful Pastries
                        The Spice House: Wonderful collection of spices and not expensive. Highly knowledgeable and interesting owner. I made an apple pie the other day with their Saigon cinnamon - so fragrant.
                        Old Town Oil: Terrific vinegars (You can sample everything). The Red Apple Vinegar and Walnut Oil make a terrific vinaigrette.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: TrishUntrapped

                          Here in Old Town we have a new Bakery option - La Fournette which tops Delightful by a mile.

                          1. re: Siun

                            I've checked out La Fournette. It was nothing special, some basic French breads, nothing exciting and nothing in the way of pastry. Not that Delightful Pastries is all that great, either. Oh, they're not terrible, just not anything more than okay.

                            Yesterday I was at Floriole and was once again amazed at how great it is, perhaps the all-around best bakery in the city now.

                            1. re: nsxtasy

                              >> Yesterday I was at Floriole and was once again amazed at how great it is, perhaps the all-around best bakery in the city now.

                              One of the nice things about Floriole is that they do a great variety of breads, pastries, and desserts, doing them all very well. For example, this past week I bought caneles there; it's the only place in the area, with the exception of the restaurant L2O, where I've ever seen caneles. (If you're not familiar with caneles, read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canele ). I also got a peach panna cotta and chocolate pot de creme, and a croissant. And I bought a large miche, a loaf of whole-wheat bread with a dark chewy crust, as pictured below. And when I say "large", I mean large; it's 11 inches long! And everything I've tried there has been outstanding. www.floriole.com

                              I also love the "one-two punch" of Floriole combined with Vanille Patisserie, a ten-minute walk away. Vanille has great croissants, terrific entremets (individual sized mousse cakes) and other individual sized pastries, and very good French macaroons. www.vanillepatisserie.com

                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                Thanks for posting and the picture. Looks sooooo good. Added to my "Rustic Italian and French bread" wish list for Chicago.

                        2. I was looking for a Jewish Deli or two so that's great! Cream puffs and Italian pastries, crepes...so many things so little time to research and eat.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: itryalot

                            My favorite Italian bakery is D'Amato's on W Grand about 1 mile west of River North. The have reall great roman style pizza, cookies, pastries and fresh bread that you see all over town in restaurants. If you have a car it's less than 10 minutes drive West from Mich Ave.

                            1. re: itryalot

                              My favorite Jewish deli in Chicago is Steve's Deli, conveniently located in River North (downtown). www.stevesdeli.com

                              1. re: itryalot

                                As counter-intuitive as it sounds, Chicago is not the place for great Jewish deli. We have ok deli - some better than others - but nothing great.

                                1. re: chicgail

                                  The best city for Jewish delis that I've been to outside NYC is Detroit. They have several that are outstanding - one of which is Steve's, which opened their additional location here in River North. I would indeed describe it as "great" overall. Some of their foods are as good as you'll find anywhere on the planet, including their exceptional beef stuffed cabbage, chicken pot pies, and knishes. Their deli sandwiches are excellent too, although the Detroit style of rye bread is a bit different and may take getting used to; unlike the New York style, it's not overly studded with caraway seeds, and benefits from re-warming before serving, which Steve's does.

                                  1. re: nsxtasy

                                    Thanks for the tips; I saw a list of rec restaurants you posted on another thread. I've added those to my list too.

                              2. Mr. Itryalot here - Mrs. Itryalot didn't log off! Can someone help me with some advice about Aviary? If we want to walk in later, say 10pm; will that happen. I really don't want to get pickled at 6pm. We are night owls. Is there a time say on Tues or Wed where that could realistically happen? Seems we can't get into anything else we want; it's a shame when my work schedule does not allow me to plan months in advance. Wanted to take her to El or Schwa.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: itryalot

                                  You can make a reservation for 10pm by emailing them. Will that work?

                                  1. re: kathryn

                                    Did that; waiting to be "selected". If we're not selected for Tues night, we'll chance it and walk in.
                                    Mrs. Itryalot here again. Now, where's Phillip Foss when I need him? I need to score a table "per due" on Wed night. I've given up on Schwa and their "filled mailbox"; even though their food is supposed to be spectacular, scoring a resie at El would make me happy. They like people so much they let them get up and walk around.
                                    Philip...oh, Philip....you open next Wed night?

                                    1. re: itryalot

                                      No surprise....quick reply by EL....booked. :o(((((

                                  2. re: itryalot

                                    This is just my opinion as a visitor from the East Coast. After jumping through all the email hoops we got a 10 p.m. reservation for a Friday night. Since it was the same day we arrived by plane... plus went to a baseball game....plus went to the Girl and the Goat.... by 8 p.m. we were getting very tired and my husband didn't think we could last until 10 for The Aviary. But since that was the only day we could go because we had plans the other nights - I decided to chance it, and we showed up at the Aviary around 8:15. I told them we had a 10 p.m. rezzie and asked if we could change it. NO PROBLEM! They couldn't be more gracious. Once inside, the place was only about half full. Where was everybody?

                                    My point... and I almost have one... I would show up and chance it. If they can accommodate you I think they will. It's such a cool experience it is worth going for.

                                    1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                      Around 8pm, probably eating dinner. I've seen big crowds/groups at the Aviary, but mostly before dinner or after dinner.

                                  3. Kitchen Table at Aviary - Sent a prayerful email; was put on a waiting list and got in after I emailed again earlier in the day. Just heard back and we're in for 10pm which is what we wanted. I guess we'll eat cheaply early dinner, so we have some food in our stomachs. Now, if El would come in...I'd be a happy camper!