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Aug 11, 2012 12:11 PM

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 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 ( 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.